Afghanistan Table of Contents
The Nuristani reside throughout a 5,000 square mile area in the east bordering Pakistan that is heavily forested and so rugged that much of it is accessible only by foot trails. The Nuristani designate themselves by the local geographical names of the five major north-south valleys and 30 east-west lateral valleys leading into the major valleys where they live. They speak Indo-Iranian dialects of Nuristani and Dardic called by village and valley names; many are mutually unintelligible from valley to valley. In 1990 the province of Nuristan was created from parts of the provinces of Laghman and Kunar. The population in the 1990s is estimated at 125,000 by some; the Nuristani prefer a figure of 300,000.
The Nuristani are of the Mediterranean physical type with mixtures from Indian stocks on the fringes. Historians accompanying Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC described this group as differing culturally and religiously from other peoples in the area. They were forcibly converted to Sunni Islam in 1895 during the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman but retain many unique features in their material culture.
The Nuristani are mountaineer herders, dairymen and farmers. They hold a respected place in the social order and many have risen to high government positions, particularly in the army.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress