Known as the “roof of the world,” the Pamir Mountains lie at the junction of the Himalayas with the world’s highest mountain ranges.
In the midst of these tall mountains in Pakistan lies an ancient town known as Gulmit. Gulmit – the land of flowers – is home to the Wakhi community, whose origin can be traced back about 4,000 years. Wakhi, the language of these people, is an Indo-European language in the Eastern Iranian branch of languages, and is spoken in some parts of northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Tajikistan.
UNESCO’s Endangered Languages Project has declared Wakhi a vulnerable language. According to one estimate, only 40,000 native speakers of this language are left in the world. Out of these, roughly 10,000 reside in the Hunza Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan Province, Pakistan.
In 2016, USAID, through its U.S. Ambassador’s Fund, awarded a one-year grant to the Gulmit Educational and Social Welfare Society, a civil society organization based in Hunza, for the preservation of the near-extinct Wakhi language and culture by teaching music, arranging concerts, and documenting folk songs.
CULTURE HELPS PEOPLE UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER BETTER
Bulbulik is a song sung by Wakhi women while grazing livestock in the highlands of Pamir to let people who are on lower ground know that everything uphill is well. Taking inspiration from this folk song, the Bulbulik Heritage Center, set up by the organization, aims to pass on the Wakhi language to the new generations through music.
Established in Gulmit village in the Gojal valley of Hunza, the center acquired a traditional house, inducted trainers and collected artifacts, including old photographs, written material and musical instruments.