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Suri Jagek Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding of UNESCO


© Atef Amjad (Trust for History, Art and Architecture [THAAP] - UCA research team), 2016


Suri Jagek (observing the sun), traditional meteorological and astronomical practice based on the observation of the sun, moon and stars in reference to the local topography was inscribed in 2018 on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

Suri Jagek, literally translated as ‘observing the sun’, is the traditional Kalasha meteorological and astronomical knowledge system and practice – enacted predominantly in the Hindu Kush mountain range – based on the observation of the sun, moon, stars and shadows with respect to the local topography. The system is a complex structure of empirically observed knowledge and is repeatedly referenced to allow the Kalasha people to predict the appropriate time for sowing seeds, animal husbandry and natural calamities. It is also used to govern the Kalasha calendar by determining the dates of important social events, festivals, feasts and religious ceremonies. The practice demonstrates the relationship of the Kalasha people with their surroundings and the importance of their immediate geographical context to sustain their way of life. The viability and transmission of the knowledge system rest on an innovative transfer of information through folk stories, songs, proverbs and rhetoric and certain aspects of it – such as the study of shadows and its use in rearing cattle and livestock – are being recreated to fit into modern society. However, with the advent of the digital age, people are increasingly opting for more technologically ‘advanced’ means of predicting weather conditions. While the practice remains visible as an oral tradition, there is currently a lack of awareness among the younger generation about its cultural significance and benefits.


© Meeza Rishi (Trust for History, Art and Architecture [THAAP] - UCA researcher), 2016


The knowledge system is transferred to the coming generation through songs, folk stories and proverbs. The names of the markings on particular mountains have literal etymological meanings themselves and are also related to folk stories of the area,e.g. some markings on the Goremon mountain visible from the Suri Jagaekein in Broun village in Mumuret are referred to as Satratadau which refers to 7 days and nights of snow, Mushthaiken – refers to a ‘lessening of burdens’ - after which period people normally pack away their warm clothes; while Gagazgagarum refers to a story in which the level of snow was up to the height of a cow’s neck. The viability and transmission of the knowledge system rest on an innovative transfer of information through folk stories, songs, proverbs and rhetoric and certain aspects of it – such as the study of shadows and its use in rearing cattle and livestock – are being recreated to fit into modern society. The direct survival of Suri Jagek’s knowledge system in all its complexity rests on the premise that the practitioners most of whom are above the age of sixty must transfer their knowledge to the younger generations to encourage future enactment. but currently, there has been no plan to document this vital practice With the advent of the digital age, globalisation and cell phones, people are increasingly opting for more technologically ‘advanced’ means of predicting weather conditions. In the absence of any form of documentation and formal means of education, the knowledge system and methodologies of its practice are only transferred to the younger generation by the physical observation of the practice and listening to the oral traditions associated with it by the community elders. The impacts of remaining an oral tradition in a period where traditional mechanisms of knowledge transmission have changed are already visible. Being an egalitarian society, the Kalasha have always had diverse opinions on matters of mutual concern, however the current situation has been referred to as a slump in values as there is no consensus amongst the community regarding the number of months (opinions vary between twelve and thirteen), or the semiotic significance of their names within the traditional Kalasha calendar. There is a lack of awareness amongst the younger generation regarding the cultural significance and utilitarian benefits associated with Suri Jagek. Although, about 95% of the younger generation is now attending schools, there is a complaint amongst community members that the curriculum taught along with the pedagogy used in schools has perpetually alienated the younger generation from their own culture. The curriculums lack of association with the Kalasha way of life does not provide community members with room for introspection and exploration of their way of life based on the content taught in schools. Furthermore, the ancient observatories i.e. Suri Jagaekein are under threat with increased construction within the valleys.



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