The kâtʹa, kʹom, mumʹo, kṣtʹo, biniʹo, ǰâmčʹo, and ǰâšʹa

Eastern Nuristan

Native Names: kâtʹa, kʹom, mumʹo, kṣtʹo, biniʹo, ǰâmčʹo, and ǰâšʹa, all speaking dialects of a single language.

Other Names: kântozi, kâmozi, kuštozi (Pashto names), "Katir", "Kam" (Robertson [1896]), "Bashgali" (from Khowar bašgali 'Nuristani; person from bašgal [the lanḍai sin Valley]').

Location: the ktʹivi (Kântivâ) Valley in central Nuristân, the řâmgʹal and kulʹem Valleys of upper Laghmân (western Nuristân), the lânḍâi sʹin Valley of eastern Nuristân, some tributary valleys of the kunʹař (Kunar) River in Afghanistan, and pockets along the Afghanistan border in Chitral District, Pakistan.

Population: perhaps 40,000 – 60,000 for all ethnic groups.


Multi-Ethnic Language Name: kâmkʹata-vari or kâmkʹata-mumkṣtʹa-vari, terms coined (in the Kâmviri dialect, but with the Kâta-vari form varʹi 'language") to encompass the dialects of the different ethnic groups. Non-indigenous names include "Bashgali" (from Khowar) and "Kati" (Morgenstierne 1926).

Western Kâta Region

Linguistic Position of Kâmkʹata-viri: Kâmkʹata-vari forms with Vâsʹi-vari the Northern Group of Nuristâni languages (see the Table of Languages). A major dialect division separates the kom, who speak kâmvʹiri, from the kâtʹa, who speak kâtʹa-vari. Within kâtʹa-vari there is a division between Western kâtʹa-vari, spoken in ktʹivi and řâmgʹal, and Eastern kâtʹa-vari, spoken in the Lanḍai Sin Valley (except in the village of pʹeřuk, where they speak the řâmgʹal dialect). The dialects of ktʹivi and řâmgʹal are separated by minor differences. The mumʹo speak an essentially Eastern kâtʹa-vari dialect that incorporates features of kâmvʹiri. The kṣtʹo, biniʹo, ǰâmčʹo, and ǰâšʹa speak the kâmvʹiri dialect. Being somewhat isolated, speakers on the Pakistan side of the boundary diverge slightly from the dialectal norms of their more numerous cousins in Afghanistan.

Fârsi (Persian) from the neighboring Panjshir Valley has displaced kâtʹa-vari in the villages of kivʹiṣṭ, basʹaidar, âćʹagar, and gulnʹaṣo in řâmgʹal, and Pashto has displaced kâmvʹiri in the villages of pʹâšaŋar, gâṇʹür, ćünʹuk, šʹâŋir, šâlʹikuṭ, and mâc̣ʹiamon in kunʹař.

Central Nuristân, ca. 700 years ago

History: After fleeing the Afghân takeover of their ancient lands around the confluence of the Kâbul and Kunar Rivers, the ancestors of the Kâta, Mumo, Kṣto, and Binio settled a single region: the Ktivi Valley and the area of its confluence with the Pârun Valley. There they encountered the autochthonous Jâša people, whom they displaced. Later, apparently, the Kom arrived at kâmʹaṭol (‘Kom Cliff') in the Kâmgal Valley south of Ktivi by a more circuitous route through Řâmgal. Their later arrival may account for their being branded as outsiders by their neighbors, who claim a common origin for themselves.

Some popular accounts of the origins of these peoples assert that they were Arabs who adopted the Jâša language when they settled in Ktivi. Such accounts were perpetrated by Muslim clerics eager to incorporate the pre-Islamic Nuristânis into the brotherhood of Islam. Claims of Arabic origins conflict with traditional accounts of Nuristâni origins and must be recognized as historical revisionism.

Popular accounts also raise the question of the relationship of the language of the Jâša people to the language of the Kâta and Kom. Such accounts assert that the latter peoples adopted the Jâša language after they entered Nuristân, and that they used to call their language ǰâšvʹiri ‘Jâša Language'. If the Kâta and Kom had indeed adopted the Jâša language, we would have to infer that the Jâša spoke a Nuristâni language; but such an inference does not accord well with popular accounts of the Jâšas' origin.

By such accounts, the Jâša are considered to be descendants of Alexander the Great's army, with their name derived from Arabic "ǰaš" ‘army' (properly ǰaiš, from the root *ǰyš ‘be agitated'). This account is viewed by local intellectuals as apocryphal; why should alleged Greeks call themselves by a name taken from Arabic centuries later, and from whom would such Greeks have adopted a Nuristâni language? Furthermore, descent from Alexander's army is attributed in often conflicting popular accounts to other groups in the region, including the Vâsi, the people of the bârʹi caste, and the Kalasha of Chitral, and one suspects that such attribution is merely a romantic way of accounting for otherwise uncertain origins.

Other accounts assert through the similarity of names that the Jâša are related to the Pashto-speaking Jâji tribe of the province of Paktiâ to the south. Such a view probably arises from the Kâmviri voiced pronunciation of the palatal spirant š intervocalically, which some speakers have confused with ǰ. The more conservative Kâtaviri pronunciation shows no such voicing, and it is improbable that a š and a ǰ would have been phonetically confused in earlier times.

The š in the name ǰâšʹa does imply a non-Nuristâni source; if the name were "true" Nuristâni, we would expect from the historical sequence of sound changes a ć rather than a š. If the Jâša were originally outside the Nuristâni linguistic community, as the popular accounts seem to indicate, then they could not have supplied a Nuristâni language to the Kâta and Kom. More likely the Jâša were originally an Indo-Aryan-speaking group, just like the other peoples of the region before the Nuristânis sought refuge there. After the Kom and Kâta occupied Jâša territory, they coined the epithet ǰâšvʹiri to refer to their own language, and the Jâša ultimately adopted the language of the Nuristâni-speaking invaders.

For a native view of the history of the Kom and the Jâša, see the text on Kom history.

Today the Jâša and all the peoples of Nuristân who emanated from the Ktivi region, including the Kâta from Ktivi proper, the Kṣto from Kust, the Mumo from Mum, the Binio from Buni, and the Kom from Kâmaṭol, speak one language, albeit with dialectal divisions. These divisions were furthered as the people emigrated out from their upper Pech homeland.

At the outset, most likely, the Jâša occupied the highlands above the confluence of the Ničangal and Lanḍai Sin Valleys at the site of the present Kom town of Kombřom (Kâmdesh), as well as other unspecified sites up and down the Lanḍai Sin Valley. It is uncertain whether they were exiled there from the upper Pech region as a result of the Kâtas' arrival or were already dispersed throughout central and eastern Nuristân.

Migrations to Eastern Nuristan

Probably the next to emigrate were those Kâta who moved to the upper Lanḍai Sin Valley. They alone maintain present tense verbal stems in -ta-, which is the regular phonetic development in Kâmkata-vari of the ancient present participal ending -nta-, with loss of nasal before a voiceless stop. The remaining groups later adopted an Indo-Aryan form of this participial base, -nda-, with voicing of the postnasal consonant, perhaps from the south via Âṣkuňu; later this ending became -na- through the normal Kâmkata-vari development of nd to n.

Subsequently, the peoples of Buni, Kust, and Mum may have migrated to the middle Lanḍai Sin Valley around its confluence with the Ničangal Valley. The Binio from Buni occupied the highlands on the Lanḍai Sin side of the watershed, and the Kṣto from Kust occuped the Ničangal side and the lowlands along the Lanḍai Sin downriver from the confluence. The Mumo from Mum occupied the region above the confluence. The inhabitants of četrâs, a community at the first bend of the Pârun River, reportedly migrated to the Bumboret Valley in Chitral. These people may have been related to the Mumo, as evidenced by the local names for that valley: Kâmkata-vari mumʹaret, Kalaṣa-mun mumurʹet ("Bumboret" is a Khowar [Chitrali] corruption). Today Četrâs, Kust, and Buni fall within Vai and Saňu territory.

The remaining Kâta population of Ktivi expanded to the west into the Kulem and Řâmgal Valleys.

The migrations of these groups were probably driven by the usual processes of social fission in the region: exile resulting from murder or incest-taboo violations, and pressure to find new pasturelands resulting from economic competition and population growth.

With the lack of better accounts, any chronology of these migrations is speculative. The order given above is inferred on a principle of "first gets best," which assumes that the most recently arrived group appropriates the most desirable land available. A ranking of groups according to the desirability of their territory would indicate the order of their arrival, providing no group expropriated another's land.

Nuristânis classifiy land by use: they must have flat areas (tul) that they can cultivate and mountain pastures (so˜) to feed their livestock in the summer. Low-lying land that supports livestock in the winter (ṣor) is desirable; areas without ṣor require stockowners to stall feed their animals during winter. A group's territory is thus more valuable if it has both so˜ and ṣor. Grazing land being equal, value is proportional to the agricultural output of the territory's tul.

It appears that ṣor in the homelands of Ktivi and Mum was lacking, while the communities of Kust and Buni commanded marginal ṣor. Each of these groups apparently occupied ecological niches simliar to those that they left, so that in eastern Nuristân the Kâta and Mumo lacked ṣor, the Binios' ṣor was marginal, but the Kṣto and the Jâša had it downriver along the Lanḍai Sin.

Making up for their lack of ṣor, the Kâta occupied the most tul, dispersed among several villages along the Lanḍai Sin. Kâtagal, as this area is called, supported some 6000 persons in 1970, in a territory greatly expanded since their initial entry into the area. The Mumos' tul in 1970, around the villages of mumʹořm, mâṇgʹül, and sâskʹü˜, supported a population of perhaps 700. Of these two groups, we would infer that the Kâta beat the Mumo to the best land.

Of the groups that had ṣor, the Jâša occupied the best contiguous tul in the area, around the present site of Kombřom. This land supported a population in 1970 of around 2000 persons. The Kṣto had the next best tul, along the Ničangal and Lanḍai Sin Rivers, encompassing what are today the villages of kṣtořm, âgʹuru, ürmʹür, merʹořm, and kâmʹu. In 1970 the land around these villages supported a combined population of about 900 persons. The Binio had an allotment of perhaps a third of the tul currently around Kombřom, on the Lanḍai Sin side of the watershed. Although the Binio have been reduced to only about twenty households today, their former land could have supported some 500 persons. Of these groups we would infer that the Jâša got the best land first, followed by the Kṣto, followed by the Binio.

The Kom, who had been harassing their neighbors with raids and demands of tribute, arrived later at their present site of kʹombřom, after the aggrieved neighbors summarily drove them out of Kâmaṭol. The story is told, both among the Kom and among the people of central Nuristân, that a young woman from Ktivi, married to a man from SaNu, set out from that village to show off her new baby to her father back home. As she passed the entrance to the Kâmgal Valley, some Kom men accosted her, killed her baby, and spirited her off to their home in Kâmaṭol, where she was held prisioner. Taking pity on her, a bârʹi (lower caste artisan-slave) of the Kom helped her escape, and she arrived home in Ktivi to tell her blind old father what had befallen her. He was so outraged that he induced the people of Ktivi, Saňu, Jâmac, and Amešdeš to rid their area of the Kom scourge. They attacked Kâmaṭol during a Kom festival, when the inhabitants were stupefied after days of drinking, and killed everyone there. Only a few score people, who had been tending their flocks in the outlying pastures, escaped.

The escapees fled east to the Landai Sin Valley, settling at the site of the present village of sâskʹü˜. A misfortunate omen rendered that site unsuitable, so they set their eyes on the level ground of Clay Ridge, high above the confluence of the Landai Sin and the Ničangal Rivers. The Jâša population of that spot, intimidated by the approaching Kom, retreated down the valley to the side valleys of Pitigal and Uštroṭ, where they remain today, encapsulated in Kom territory. The Binio were likewise encapsulated within Kom territory in their small village of Binořm. The Kom maintained generally hostile relations with the Kâta, Kṣto, Mumo, and Saňu.

In the succeeding centuries the Kom fought a series of wars with the Kṣto, leaving them until quite recently with only the land around their separated settlements of Kṣtořm and Dungal. The ninth war (if that was indeed the proper count, or merely an auspicious number) was fought in 1929. Allied with the Kṣto at that time was the entire Kâta tribe, led by General Abdul Vakil Khân of Ktivi, a great hero of the third Anglo-Afghan war. Despite their overwhelming superiority in manpower, the Kṣto and Kâta forces were defeated by the Kom, who burnt down Kṣtořm and drove the inhabitants into exile. The ensuing settlement was long and litiginous. The Kṣto eventually regained most of their land, but they had to pay a heavy tribute to the Kom, including twenty-five girls as wives for the victors.

As the recent war against the Soviet Union progressed and the initial unity of the Nuristâni forces gave way to the factionalism of the foreign-backed Afghân parties in Pâkistân, ethnic differences between the Kom, Kṣto, and Kâta flared up once again. In 1986 fighting between Kom and Kṣto broke out briefly, with the Kâta again supporting the Kṣto. The demands of the national conflict forced cooler heads to quell the fighting before much damage was done, but the hostility evidently smoldered.

After the defeat of the Soviet Union and the fall of the communist government in Kâbul, disputes between the Kom and the Kṣto over water rights sprang up. The Kom alleged periodic Kṣto acts of sabatoge against the channel that brings much of the Koms' irrigation water from the mountain above Kṣtořm. Hostilities were narrowly averted several times since 1992, until the last week of June, 1998.

Details are still scarce, but during that week the Koms' patience was pushed past the limit. Two men from Kombřom were killed in a skirmish with some Kṣto. A Kom tribal force from most of the Kom communities gathered together and marched on Kṣtořm. They demanded that the killers be handed over for justice. The Kṣto refused, and hostilities ensued. In the end a dozen people were killed and a score were injured. In a repeat of the scenario of 1929, but with the Kâta too divided to intervene, the Kom routed the Kṣto and burned Kṣtořm to the ground.

It remains to be seen whether a settlement reminiscent of that of the 1929 war will allow the Kṣto to regain their land, or whether they will be consigned to permanent exile. Some Kom, including those from Ćünuk and Pâšaŋar in the Kunar Valley, abstained from the hostilities, and many Kom with close kinsmen among the Kṣto feel ambiguous toward the action. These neutrals will most likely play a key role in any reconciliation.

Further topics:

[Phonemic transcription updated 5 Oct 2007, 16 May 2011]