The Nuristani reside throughout a 5,000 square mile area in the eastbordering Pakistan that is heavily forested and so rugged that much of it isaccessible only by foot trails. The Nuristani designate themselves by the localgeographical names of the five major north-south valleys and 30 east-westlateral valleys leading into the major valleys where they live. They speakIndo-Iranian dialects of Nuristani and Dardic called by village and valleynames; many are mutually unintelligible from valley to valley. In 1990 theprovince of Nuristan was created from parts of the provinces of Laghman andKunar. The population in the 1990s is estimated at 125,000 by some; theNuristani prefer a figure of 300,000.
The Nuristani are of the Mediterranean physical type with mixtures fromIndian stocks on the fringes. Historians accompanying Alexander the Great in thefourth century BC described this group as differing culturally and religiouslyfrom other peoples in the area. They were forcibly converted to Sunni Islam in1895 during the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman but retain many unique features intheir material culture.
The Nuristani are mountaineer herders, dairymen and farmers. They hold arespected place in the social order and many have risen to high governmentpositions, particularly in the army.
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