Facts About Pashayi People

afghanistan ethnicity

Facts About Pashayi People

Facts About Pashayi People

(Last Updated On: December 6, 2023)

Afghanistan’s rich ethnic tapestry comprises diverse groups, among which the Pashai, part of the Dardic ethnolinguistic cluster, reside in the northeastern region. This community, tracing its roots to an ancient Indo-Aryan lineage, has sustained a distinct identity over centuries. Presently, their population, estimated at approximately 500,000, primarily inhabits territories across Kunar, Laghman, Nuristan, Kapsia, and Nangarhar provinces in Afghanistan. Interestingly, some Pashai speakers also reside in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Pashai language, known as Pashayi, serves as a pivotal aspect of their cultural heritage and societal fabric. However, its usage faces challenges and considerations regarding language maintenance and preservation. Exploring the linguistic practices of these communities involves delving into the intricacies of their language policies, examining aspects of language maintenance, and understanding the role of the Pashai Language Committee in preserving their linguistic heritage. The significance of this linguistic enclave within the broader spectrum of Afghanistan’s ethnic identities warrants scholarly attention, inviting comprehensive research and documentation. Such investigations, often spearheaded by institutions like the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago or linguistics departments at renowned academic institutions like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, delve into descriptive grammar, historical linguistics, and sociolinguistic studies.

Cambridge University Press, known for its scholarly publications, might also contribute by disseminating research on Indo-Aryan languages, potentially including the Pashai language. Community language policy, an integral facet of sustaining linguistic diversity, gains prominence within these discussions. Understanding the nuances of language policies, their formulation, implementation, and impact on ethnic identities, forms a crucial part of comprehensive exploration.

In essence, uncovering the depths of Pashai language and society involves an interdisciplinary approach, encompassing linguistic, historical, and sociocultural perspectives. It requires collaborative efforts between academic institutions, linguistic committees, and scholarly publishers to preserve, document, and celebrate the linguistic heritage and cultural practices of the Pashai people.

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The scholars of historical linguistics at Oxford University Press have been studying Dardic and Nirustani languages, considering various issues in language documentation and language ecology, particularly in the context of language planning. George Morgenstierne, a prominent linguist, dedicated extensive work to Pashai Ethno-history, producing three comprehensive volumes (1944, 1956, 1967) on the Pashai language. His research included a descriptive work encompassing vocabulary lists, grammar analysis, and provided texts with translations, contributing significantly to the understanding of the language. Pashai communities historically practiced Ancient Hinduism and Buddhism alongside tribal religions, leading Morgenstierne to propose the hypothesis that Pashayi was the language of the ancient Kapisa and Lampaka-Nagarahara regions, pivotal in pre-Muslim Hindu-Buddhist civilization. Pashayi was widely spoken in the upper part of the main Kabul valley before Pashayi speakers were displaced to the north side valleys by Pakhtuns invading the Kabul valley. The native habitats of Nuristanis and Pashayis are the Laghman and Kunhar valleys, situated near Jalalabad in northeast Afghanistan. However, due to successive waves of immigration primarily from Ghilijis Pashtuns, many Pashayi communities relocated to less fertile mountainous regions. Presently, a minority of Pashayi identify as Nizari Ismaili Muslims, while the majority adhere to Sunni Islam, also known as Kohistani. Access to language and the evolving linguistic landscape play pivotal roles in understanding the historical and contemporary shifts experienced by these communities.

Pashayi language

Pashai, categorized within the Dardic group of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages, has its classification subject to debate within linguistic circles, particularly due to its limited prevalence among the Afghan populace, unlike other more widely spoken Dardic languages. Prior to 2003, Pashai lacked a written form, predominantly spoken by Muslims who, in the majority, are bilingual in Pashto.

The linguistic landscape surrounding Pashai encompasses Pashto, Kati, Farsi, Ashkun, Shumashti, and Parachi languages, each influenced to varying degrees by Pashai due to generations of interaction between its speakers and those of other languages. Regrettably, Pashai now faces endangerment, a consequence of the overwhelming dominance exerted by Afghanistan’s national languages—Dari and Pashto—in public domains such as commerce, education, and politics. This dominance severely impedes the preservation of minority languages, exacerbating their endangered status.

Considerations in language policy, including perspectives from institutions such as the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University, emphasize the vital need to address the transmission of heritage languages, understanding the typology of language endangerment and advocating for linguistic minority rights. Specifically, within the Afghan linguistic context, initiatives aimed at preserving Afghan languages, like Pashai, are pivotal to safeguarding linguistic diversity and cultural heritage.

This revised paragraph integrates the specified keywords while discussing the linguistic context of Pashai and its endangered status within the broader discourse on language policy and minority 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 Pashai-speaking communities, known for their distinct language and cultural heritage, have a significant reliance on agriculture and herding for sustenance. This dependence shapes their economic activities differently based on the elevation of their settlements. In the high valleys, maize and wheat dominate as primary crops, while in the lower elevations, rice takes precedence. Additionally, they cultivate various crops like mulberries, poppies, and walnuts, contributing to the diversity of their agricultural output. Goats are the primary domesticated animals, while sheep and cattle herding also occur in specific regions. Traditionally, men oversee herding activities, especially in remote high-altitude villages, while women play a pivotal role in agricultural work. Conversely, at lower elevations, men often manage all aspects of crop cultivation. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for framing effective perspectives in language policy that cater to the unique socio-economic structures and gender roles within Pashai-speaking communities.

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.

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