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I recently ventured back into the archive to find a new batch of images for the blog. I found this one from a story Ed did on Pakistan in 1997. I love how the interplay of shadows and highlights in the cornstalks forms a “V” shape at the tip of which stands the focus of the image, a highly adorned woman holding what could either be a doll or a religious artifact. The woman seems to have no awareness of the camera and is caught in an unguarded, intimate moment, lost in thought or perhaps prayer. It’s a beautiful and, dare I say, quiet moment, but it’s also a somewhat mysterious moment leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.
As I started researching this image, I was introduced to one of Pakistan’s ethnic minorities, the Kalash, who live in isolated mountain valleys in the Khyber-Pakhtunkwha Province of Northwest Pakistan (this image was taken in Bumburet). They have lived in this region for over 2,000 years. The Kalash practice a polytheistic/animist religion where nature plays a key role in both their spiritual and personal lives. They believe in a pantheon of gods similar to the ancient Greeks, beliefs that are not only diametrically opposed to the Muslim majority of Pakistan but also differ from other surrounding ethnic minorities in the area. They live in an autonomous zone, granting them certain freedoms, such as the ability to produce and drink alcohol which is used in many of their religious rituals. Despite these protections, their numbers steadily dwindled as they struggled against the spread of Islam. They speak Kalasha, of which there are only about 5,000 speakers left, which classifies it as a critically endangered language according to UNESCO. Languages and culture go extinct everyday and with them, hundreds if not thousands of years of knowledge and tradition. With the push toward globalization…I really hate to use that word, as it’s become such a watered-down cliché… with the push toward homogenization and conformity, this is a major part of what is at stake. When a culture or language goes extinct, the loss to the world is no less great than any other extinction. To me, the vast diversity of language, culture, and tradition is what makes this world such an incredibly rich, breathtaking, engaging, awe-inspiring place to live.