Introduction / History The Kohistani tribes live along the upper banks of the Swat and Panjkora Rivers in northern Pakistan, with a few in Afghanistan including the Wotapuri-Katarqalai speakers. Today, there are several different ethnic groups living in the Kohistan region that are subgroups of the Kohistani people. They include the Turvali, the Bateri, the Galo, the Rajkoti, the Wotapuri-Katarqalai, and the Kohistani themselves. The Kohistani have been described as a powerful, well-built, brave, but quiet people. The tribes speak several distinct Dardic dialects, but their main language of communication is Pashto, the language of the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. Some would say that the Wotapuri-Katarqalai language is extinct, and they are now speaking Pashto. The Pashtun have dominated the Kohistani tribes for years, either buying their land or forcing them out with violence.
What are their lives like? The Kohistani tribes are located in the narrow valleys formed by the tributaries of the Indus, where irrigation is possible. Since the Indus River flows through a steep rocky gorge, it is useless for irrigation. The people are primarily farmers and shepherds. They plant grain on terraced fields and the use oxen for plowing. There is very little rain, so the crops are irrigated by water channels known as kuhls, which require constant and skillful management. In the areas that are irrigated by the kuhls, the Kohistani raise barley, wheat, maize, millet, and rice, supplemented by potatoes and a variety of other vegetables. Since they can only grow one annual crop, the people rely on the "transhumant" herding of their dairy goats and cattle. This means that they transfer their livestock from one grazing ground to another with the changing of seasons. During the summer months, they leave their permanent villages and drive the cattle, goats, and sheep to alpine pastures. The surrounding mountain ranges and the Afghanistan border tend to isolate Kohistani tribes like the Wotapuri-Katarqalai. Families usually have houses in four or five different locations at the higher altitudes. Only in the winter do they live together in their compact villages, which lie along the rivers. Kohistani villages are made up of several lineages. In addition to farmers, a village population normally includes blacksmiths and carpenters who are bilingual in Pashto. There are also a number of tenant farmers and hired farm laborers. The Kohistani generally practice endogamy, meaning that they only marry within their own groups. Their societies are also patrilineal, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males. The women are not secluded, as is customary among many Muslim groups, because they are needed to help with the farm work. The opening of the Karakoram Highway, which follows the Indus River Valley, has had the greatest economic impact on the Kohistani society. Although the extensive road-building project is providing them with greater access to the mainstream of Pakistani society, it is also encouraging the influx of Pashtun from farther south. There is a growing resentment among the Kohistani toward the Pashtun, who dominate bureaucracy in the district government. However, the government of Pakistan has created the Kohistan district in order to give the Indus Kohistani their own administrative area.
What are their beliefs? Centuries ago, their area was primarily Buddhist. Later, Buddhism was replaced by Hinduism. However, around 1000 A. D., the Islamic faith spread through the region. At that time, the Kohistani converted from their polytheistic Aryan beliefs to Sunni Islam. Traces of traditional, pre-Islamic beliefs still linger in a few areas. Some of the tribes practice shamanism. They believe that there is an unseen world of gods, demons, fairies, and ancestral spirits. They depend on shamans (priests or priestesses) to cure the sick by magic, communicate with the gods, and control events.
What are their needs? The Wotapuri-Katarqalai and other Kohistani peoples need better farming techniques that will allow them to have abundant harvests each season even without rain.
Prayer Points Pray that the Lord will raise up laborers who are willing to invest long term service to the Kohistani of Pakistan. Pray for a Disciple Making Movement to flourish among all Kohistani group, especially the Wotapuri-Katarqalai. Pray for the Lord to raise up friendly "persons of peace" who will welcome Christ's ambassadors into their community.