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Image of Illustration of a man sitting on the ground by a fire
Amim Khan the bow reader - Illustration by Tom Crowley

Illustrating anthropology: drawings from the Kalash Valleys

Drawings by Jesus Anthropology PhD student Tom Crowley (2016) are being are being exhibited by the Royal Anthropological Society as part of their touring 'Illustrating Anthropology' exhibition.

Tom spent several months completing fieldwork in the Kalash Valleys, on the Afghan-Pakistan border, where he lived with the Kalasha - a religious minority who speak an endangered language. Tom’s drawings were made as illustrations for the first book to have been written by a Kalasha person.

We spoke to Tom about his drawings:

What led you to your research in the Kalash Valleys?

I first visited the Kalash Valleys as a 21 year-old backpacker in 2006. Over the following years I returned several times, keeping up the friendships I had made there and working on projects including a documentary and a collecting trip for the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

In 2016 I put together an application for a PhD project which would enable me to purse my interest in the Kalasha in a much more consolidated way. I ended up living in the Kalash Valleys for several months and learning a basic version of one of the languages spoken there. When I returned, two Kalasha friends who were living in Greece joined me in Cambridge as my housemates. So my Kalasha 'experience' has continued all the way through my PhD!

What is the book about?

The book was written by my friend Sikandar who is Kalasha. The story follows a teenage girl’s attempt to put a halt to the local logging industry which in recent years has contributed to a succession of devastating floods. Bound up in Sikandar’s narrative are Kalasha beliefs and practices which he fears are disappearing and which have also helped people maintain a balanced relationship with their environment.

What are you studying at Jesus and how has your time here been so far?

I have just submitted my PhD, "To Change Is to Be: the Kalasha of Afghan-Pakistan Frontier and the Age of Heritage". I've enjoyed my association with Jesus College, but my relationship has been at a distance since I do not live in College.

What are your plans for the future?

Before starting at Jesus I worked as a curator in London and I plan to move back into the world of museums and heritage. The Kalasha imagine themselves with a flexibility which I think we could all learn from, especially since ethnic identities across the world appear to be hardening. I hope to bring some of the insights which I gained from my time spent with the Kalasha to my future work here in the UK.


You can read more about the Royal Anthropological Society’s 'Illustrating Anthropology' exhibition here.




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