Facts About Pashayi People

afghanistan ethnicity

Facts About Pashayi People

Facts About Pashayi People

(Last Updated On: May 1, 2021)

Afghanistan’s ethnicity is popular for its multiethnic groups and numerous tribal societies. Pashai is also known as Pashayi is an ethnic group of people living in north-eastern Afghanistan. However, Pashai people are known as the Dardic ethnolinguistic group, living in an area north of the Kabul River that extends for about 170 kilometers. Pashai speakers are the oldest known ethnic linguistic minority of Afghanistan.

Hence, Pashai people are the descendants of an Indo-Aryan group. Their estimated population is about 500,000 in and out of Afghanistan. However, some of the speakers of this lingo also live in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Pashai people living in parts of Kunar, Laghman, Nuristan, Kapsia, and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan speak the Pashayi language. In this article, we are going to explore the language practices of Pashai-speaking communities. Moreover, it also covers the origin and distant past of Pashai society. So let’s learn about these people a bit more.

afghan people


The scholars of historical linguistics have been studying Dardic and Nirustani languages including Pashai Ethno-history. George Morgenstierne has written three volumes (1944, 1956, 1967) on the Pashai language. Hence, he has done the most comprehensive work on this lingo. He composed a descriptive work on a vocabulary list, grammar, and provided texts with translations. Pashai people practiced Ancient Hinduism and Buddhism along with the tribal religions. However, Morgenstierne proposed the hypothesis that Pashayi was the language of the ancient Kapisa and Lampaka-Nagarahara. These are the two north-westernmost centers of pre-Muslim Hindu Buddhist civilization.

Hence, it was spoken all over the upper part of the main Kabul valley, and later Pashayi speakers were driven up to the north side valleys. These are the areas where they are now found by Pakhtuns invading the Kabul valley. Nuristanis and Pashayis are native to the Laghman and Kunhar valleys. Hence, these valleys are located near Jalalabad in northeast Afghanistan. Due to the successive wave of immigration from Ghilijis Pashtuns, these Pashayi had to move to the less fertile mountainous regions. A minority of Pashayi today are Nizari Ismaili Muslims whereas the Majority of Pashayi are Sunni Muslims. Hence, the latter is also referred to as Kohistani. 

Pashayi language

Pashai belongs to the Dardic group of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages. This categorization of Pashai lingo is not universally accepted. Because Pashayi is only spoken by some of the Afghan people, whereas a wide range of areas speaks Dardic languages. Before 2003, there is no written form of the Pashai. Hence, today Muslims majority speak this lingo and most of them are bilingual in Pashto.

People living in the surrounding areas of Pashayi speak Pashto, Kati, Farsi, Ashkun, Shumashti, and Parachi languages. Hence, Pashayi has a great influence on these languages because of the interaction of Pashai speakers with the speakers of other languages for generations. Today, it is one of the Endangered languages because of the dominance of the national languages of Afghanistan Dari and Pashto. However, public spaces of commerce, education, and politics use these two languages. This is hurting the maintenance of the minority languages making them endangered languages.

Researches and case studies

Despite the role played by today’s women, men, and technology in the preservation of this language, it is still on the verge of endangered languages. Hence, there are several studies and research papers that are finding the reasons behind language endangerment. They also explore the geographic space and gender role in language use patterns within the Pashayi-speaking communities of Afghanistan and other regions such as Diaspora. Moreover, they also examine the language use patterns among young members of the communities.

The studies and researches show that the reproduction of Pashai among men has been eroded because of the increase in multilingualism. In the case of Female Pashai speakers when they have little access to public space, then they are more likely to be monolingual. Hence, studies find very little or no language learners of this language in the present-day. Scholars and students of different universities explore this lingo for getting the knowledge of history and past cultures.

Varieties of Pashayi language

There are four unintelligible varieties of this lingo. Hence, they have only 35% lexical similarities between them. 


Kandak, Aret, Korangal, Chalas (Chilas), Kurdar dialects


Alasai, Gulbahar, Najil, Kohnadeh, Bolaghain, Wadau dialects, Shutul, Laurowan, Pachagan, Shamakot, Pandau, Parazhghan, Nangarach, Uzbin, Pashagar, Sanjan, 


Damench, Sum, Laghman, Upper, and Lower Darai Nur, Wegali dialects


Tagau, Ishpi, Isken dialects

pashayi people

Facts about Pashayi people

Following facts are common about Pashayi people:


Origin of the Pashayi has two conflicting theories: One theory suggests that they do not belong to the Gandhara culture according to the ethnographic evidence. All-mountain people in the area have the same culture and social structure. Hence, this theory says that Pashayi people along with all these groups share common historical roots. However, they precede the rise of the Gandharan civilization. Another theory suggests that they were native to the Gandharan culture. Hence, due to the invasion of Pushto-speaking Afghans from the Sulaiman mountains, these people had to move out from their original homeland to the lowlands. They took shelter in the high mountain valleys of Hind Kush. Hence, most of their descendants are living there today.


The economy of Pasahyi depends on agriculture and herding. Hence, there is more focus on agriculture in the lower elevations. In the high valleys, maize and wheat are major crops while in the lower elevations they cultivate rice. Some other crops that they cultivate include mulberries, poppies, and walnuts. The primary animals which they domesticate are goats whereas, they also herd sheep and cattle in some areas. Men take care of herding activities in remote villages at high elevations and women are responsible for agricultural work. Men at lower elevations are responsible for all aspects of crop cultivation.

Facts about Pashayi people


Based on occupation, there are two hierarchical categories of the Pashayi people:

  • The siyal, the highest-ranking group consists of women and men who own property.
  • The lower-ranking group is the artisans or Peshawar and the rayat consisting of the landed resident.

Hence, endogamy is the norm in these groups. They form caste-like systems.


Leadership skills include age, generosity, ability to resolve disputes, and reputation for being honorable. Hence, this is the criteria for judging the skills of a leader. The influence of the authority is very less than the political leaders. A group of people forms a village council and they have the authority to deal with serious matters. However, they look over agricultural matters such distribution of irrigation water. Each person is responsible for enforcing his rights. He can avenge any wrong committed against him.


It is an important part of Pashayi culture. Hence, feud reflects many cultural values. They have strong values for honor and masculinity. Men strive to fierce warriors and they are ready to fight whenever necessary. Men carry rifles, knives, and wielding knives. However, men without these values are called men without honor.


These are mostly Sunni Muslims like their closest neighbors Pashtuns and Nuristanis. However, like other ethnic groups, saints do not have an important role in local politics in the more remote villages. Women may freely interact with men, they do not have to hide.

pashayi language
Questions? Get in touch 24/7

Request quote
[brb_collection id="37019"]