Kho people

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Kho people
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Chitral and neighbouring areas
 Pakistan313,000 (2016)[1]
Hanafi Sunni Islam,[2] Ismaili Islam[2]
Related ethnic groups
Kalasha people

The Kho (/k/,[3] Khowar: کھو‎) or Chitrali people are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group associated with the Dardistan region.[2] They speak Khowar, which is a member of the Dardic subgroup of the Indo-Aryan language family.[2] Many Kho people live in the Chitral, Ghizer and Gilgit-Baltistan districts of Pakistan.[1]


The Kho people are likely descendants of those who migrated to their present location in Chitral from the south.[4] In ancient times the Kho people followed a culture that is described to be of the Peristani-type, and practiced a faith akin to that observed by the Kalash today. During the Hindu Shahi rule over Chitral an ancient Sanskrit inscription near Barenis mentions that the inhabitants of Chitral were Buddhists.[5][6][7] After the arrival of Muslim rule in India, many of the Kho converted to Islam though some previous customs continue to persist.[8] With respect to Islam, the Kho are primarily Sunni Muslims although there exists a substantial population of Ismaili Muslims in the North.[9]


Historically the Kho people reside in the Dardistan region. As such, they are a Dardic ethnic group located primarily in South Asia. Many of the Kho people live in the Chitral District of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a smaller number also live in Ghizer District of Gilgit Baltistan (including the Yasin Valley, Phandar Ishkoman and Gupis). They are also found in few numbers in northern Afghanistan, where the majority of them live in the northern provinces of Badakhshan.[1]


Kho culture places heavy emphasis on poetry, song and dance. Kho people also have a great respect of law and order. Much of this can be attributed to Chitral being a stable kingdom for most of its history,[citation needed] where the rule of law and the will of the ruler came before tribal concepts such as revenge and isolationism. Many Kho believe that their customs and language is much more rich, polite, and sophisticated in comparison to their neighbours.[10]

Polo is a popular sport and pastime for the Kho people. The polo traditionally played by the Kho has little rules or organisation.[10]

Dance and music play a large role in Kho society. Common clothing include the salwar kameez (long tunic and trousers) and headwear includes the pakol (chitrali hat).[10]

Because of Chitral's location at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia, the Kho display a wide variety of cultures, largely depending upon their ancestral ethnic group and family history.


The Kho people speak the Khowar language, a member of the Dardic subgroup of the Indo-Aryan language family. The ethnologists Karl Jettmar and Lennart Edelberg noted, with respect to the Khowar language, that: "Khowar, in many respects [is] the most archaic of all modern Indian languages, retaining a great part of Sanskrit case inflexion, and retaining many words in a nearly Sanskritic form.”[11]

Khowar is spoken by about 247,000 Kho people in northern Pakistan,[12] Some of the Kho people use Urdu as a second language.[13]


According to Aziz et al. 2019, the western Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups were observed predominantly and mostly shared in Kho samples with overall frequency of 50%. These include HV8, H19, H57, H24, C and, C4a haplogroups. The South Asian haplogroups and its relevant subgroups including U4, U4c, U6, U5a, and W were also found in Kho samples with overall 37.5% frequency. Another South Asian haplogroup, M30 was also identified for Kho samples with frequency of 6.2%. The haplogroups and haplotypes specify the origin and linkages of an individual and population. The mtDNA haplogroup analysis eventually demonstrates the western Eurasian ancestral origin of Kho samples. However, the presence of few South Asian haplogroups with a minor proportion revealed that Kho might be an admixed population of south and western Asian genetic components. This indicates the genetic affiliation of Kho with the South Asian populations.[14]

Folk music[edit]

Folk singers and reed instrument players have a special respect in the Kho society and are featured in their festivities. The most common instruments are Surnai Shehnai, Sitar, and reed instruments. The Kho sitar is a popular musical instrument in Chitral. It is made out of mulberry wood with five steel strings arranged in three courses, the outer ones have double strings, tuned in unison, while the inner course is single. Popular music of the area includes:

  • Shishtoo-war (Sauz), a popular folk music played with shehnai on happy occasions, mostly at marriages.
  • Shab-daraaz (Dani) is a sad tone based on heartbroken love poems.
  • Ghalhwar is a combination of Dani and Sauz. This is a mixture of fast and classical music played at the starting of a polo match.

Notable people from Chitral[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Khowar". Ethnologue. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Olson, James Stuart (1998). An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 177. ISBN 9780313288531.
  3. ^ O'Leary, Clare F.; Rensch, Calvin Ross; Decker, Sandra J. (1992). Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan: Languages of Chitral. National Institute of Pakistan Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University. p. 22.
  4. ^ Cacopardo, Alberto (1991). "The Other Kalasha A Survey of Kalashamun-Speaking People in Southern Chitral: Part I: The Eastern Area". East and West. Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente (IsIAO). 41 (1): 273–310. JSTOR 29756980. ... the language even today, while the rest are Kho people who have moved in from the south.
  5. ^ Khan, Hussain (June 2003). Chronicles of Early Janjuas. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-28096-4.
  6. ^ Bashir, Elena; ud-Din, Israr (1996). Proceedings of the Second International Hindukush Cultural Conference. Oxford University Press. p. viii. ISBN 978-0-19-577571-6. Before conversion, the Kho people had the same beliefs as the Kalasha have even to this day.
  7. ^ Cacopardo, Alberto M.; Cacopardo, Augusto S. (2001). Gates of Peristan: history, religion and society in the Hindu Kush. Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente. p. 48.
  8. ^ Bashir, Elena (1996). Proceedings of the Second International Hindukush Cultural Conference. Oxford University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-19-577571-6. This was a pre-Islamic custom in Kho society which has continued to exist even after the people converted to Islam in the fourteenth century, even though there is not any room for such beliefs in the religion.
  9. ^ Olson, James Stuart (1998). An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-313-28853-1. In the Upper Chitral region, most Kho are Ismaili Muslims, who the Hanafi Sunnis consider to be an inferior people.
  10. ^ a b c Winston, Robert, ed. (2004). Human: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 433. ISBN 0-7566-0520-2.
  11. ^ Jettmar, Karl; Edelberg, Lennart (1974). Cultures of the Hindukush. F. Steiner Verlag. p. 3. ISBN 9783515012171.
  12. ^ "Khowar Language". 25 January 2012.
  13. ^ Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. (2017). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twentieth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.
  14. ^ Aziz, Shahid; Nawaz, Mehwish; Afridi, Sahib Gul; Khan, Asifullah (1 April 2019). "Genetic structure of Kho population from north-western Pakistan based on mtDNA control region sequences". Genetica. 147 (2): 177–183. doi:10.1007/s10709-019-00060-8. ISSN 1573-6857. PMID 30887215. S2CID 81976969.

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