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World's Indigenous Peoples Spotlight: Zubair Torwali tells us about the Torwali People and Language

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

In celebration of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, The Lingua-Cultura Experience, 7000 Languages and the Global Coalition for Language Rights have partnered to highlight indigenous peoples and communities throughout the month of August on our multiple social media channels and websites. You too can share your community's language and culture with the world, by completing this survey.


Zubair Torwali is a writer and activist for the rights of all the marginalised linguistic communities of north Pakistan. He is the founder of the civil society organisation Idara Baraye Taleem o Taraqi, and the author of Muffled Voices: Longing for a Pluralist and Peaceful Pakistan (2015), among others. He lives in Bahrain, Pakistan.

The Torwali People and Language

The Torwali language is said to have originated from the pre-Muslim Dardic communities of Pakistan (Viaro & Inam-ur-Rahim, 2002). The people who speak the language are called Torwalik or Torwal (Grierson, 1929). The area where Torwali is spoken is also known as Torwal by other Dardic communities like Gawri and Kohsitani. In Torwali folk literature, the entire area is referred to as Tu:aal (Torwal).

For instance in this Torwali couplet: Du zar Tu:aal hu shid egi Saidu si Bachaa, Thamurd Jaen Chi Dherina wa ni hi yi Panah ” (Torwali Z. , 2016) “Two thousand Torwal as well as the Ruler of Saidu knew, that (she) is still alive—didn't sink into the earth.” An another old couplet in Torwali says “Tu:aal Shid Hu Maasho Aa Khae Burai Ingola, Mhery Sha-e Theli Hey Mhi Sherin Lupata (Gul, 2017)”. “Auntie, Torwal came to know [of my love]; how I hide my beloved. Now let me put it [beloved] on my head as it is now my sweet dupatta”.

George A. Grierson has also shown the area from Madyan town to the boundary of Kalam as Torwal in his map of the area. (Grierson, Torwali, 1929) Aurel Stein (Stein, Reprint 2000, p. 89), however, mentions the entire area beyond Churrai (Madyan) as Swat Kohistan or Torwal in his book On Alexander’s Track to the Indus. A history of the Pushtuns known as “Towarikh Hafiz Rahmat Ali” i.e. Histories of Rahmat Ali, written by ancient scholars and reproduced by a person Mirza Muhammad Ismail Qandahari in 1864 CE for the orientalist , H.W. Roverty (Tahir, 1979), and compiled by Pir Muazzam Shah states that the entire Swat to Torwal and Tirat (Shah, 1979)...were under the rule of Khan Kaju. The Torwal area was brought under the Swat State by 1922 (Barth, 1956) after a number of small scale wars with the Torwali people, though they used to be wild but had no cohesion (Hay, 1934). Dr. Leitner mentions the area as Torwal in his travel account, ‘A Rough Account, collected in 1886, of Itineraries in the “Neutral Zone” between Central Asia and India’ (Chaghatai, 2002) and states, ‘There are many wealthy people in Branihal [today’s Bahrain], which may be considered to be the capital of Torwal’.

Like other Dardic communities, the Torwali people do not know where they and their language originated. Majority of the Torwali attributed their descent to Arabs by ‘boasting an Arab origin’ (Hay, 1934) and call themselves Kohistanis, an identity given by the Pathans (Barth, 1956) who captured their lands and converted them to Islam. This can be due to the fact that “the Dards unfortunately did not succeed in arousing comparable interest” (Jetmar, 1961); and their history and origin remained shrouded in the debris of history. Although few reports have been done by the British colonial officers during their service in the mountains but that was more superficial (Jetmar, 1961).

More about the Torwali Language

Torwali is a Dardic language of the Indo-Aryan family. It is spoken in the Bahrain and Chail areas of the Swat District in Northern Pakistan. There is an estimation of 120 000 to 130 000 speakers of the Torwali language. ‘Possibly half of them live in the heartland, which is located in northern Pakistan, in the Swat River Valley in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.'

Rigorous work on the revitalization of the Torwali language has been carried out since 2004. Under this program, a mother-tongue-based ‘MLE program was established in 2005 by IBT, a registered community-based organization which includes a large volume of locally-produced curriculum and resources, and two glossaries (not full dictionaries) have been produced and published by Torwali speakers’.

So far considerable written material has been produced in Torwali which include books on the folk Torwali poetry, folktales, daily usage trilingual book, small dictionaries for students and ‘also several biographies about well-known historical figures which were written by respected scholars in Urdu have been translated into the Torwali language’ . The organization, Idara Baraye Taleem wa Taraqi (IBT) has also produced six music videos that portray traditional Torwali musical songs that have been adapted to incorporate some contemporary sounds. These videos are watched and liked widely, even among the Torwali diaspora, and greatly appreciated by Torwali speakers everywhere. A local cable TV station, which includes some Torwali programming, was established with help and support from IBT. Most of the activities described above have happened since the year 2006. In 2021, IBT also published a Torwali poetry collection by a Torwali poet, a translation with brief explanation of the last ten surahs (chapters) of the Holy Quran with the six basic kalmas of Islam and namaaz (the prayers performed by Muslims five times a day). IBT also published a journal, Sarbuland, in Urdu about the languages, histories, myths, cultures and societies of northern Pakistan.

According to researchers and writers, ‘The Torwali language revitalization and development program stands out as one of the prominent and large-scale programs in Pakistan’. IBT has also won the Lingua Pax International Award 2021 for its extraordinary work. Despite the higher literacy rate among Torwali language speakers, it is still too low to sustain the community. Only about 19 percent of the population can read or write the language.

More about Torwali Cultural Practices

Zubair Torwali's YouTube channel features many Torwali songs, music, talks, interviews and documentaries check out Zubair's channel to learn more about the Torwali culture.

Zubair's Hopes and Desires for the Future of the Torwali Language and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032

Given what we have achieved so far, I am hopeful that my language and the languages of North Pakistan will get enough attention from the government and international organizations and researchers. In the next ten years we plan to publish more, implement other literacy programs in our community and will be able to produce dictionaries, course books and other materials.

A project Zubair would like to highlight

We are IBT (Idara Baraye Taleem wa Taraqi), an organization in the areas of research, advocacy, education, publications and media campaigns for the Torwali and other such languages. There are several activists, writers, researchers and social leaders associated to this organization.

Resources to learn more about the Torwali Language, Culture, History and Community


  • Barth, F. (1956). Indus and Swat Kohistan-an Ethnographic Survey (Vol. II). Oslo: Forenede Trykkerier.

  • Chaghatai, M. I. (2002). Writings of Dr. Leitner: Islam, Education, Dardistan, Politics and Culture of Northern Areas. Lahore, Pakistan: Government College Research and Publication Society & Sang-e-Meel Publications.

  • Grierson, G. A. (1929). Torwali An Account of a Dardic Language in Swat-Kohistan. UK: Asian Educational Services.

  • Gul, S. (2017, August 26). (Z. Torwali, Interviewer, & Z. Torwali, Translator) Bahrain Swat, Pakistan.

  • Hay, R. W. (1934). The Yousafzai State of Swat. 241.

  • Jetmar, K. (1961, February ). Ethnological Research in Dardistan 1958 preliminary report. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 105(1), 79-97.

  • Shah, P. M. (1979). Tuwarikh Rahmat Khani. (P. Academy, Trans.) Peshawar: Pashto Academy, University of Peshawar.

  • Stein, A. (Reprint 2000). On Alexander's Track to the Indus. New Delhi, India: Bahvana Books & Prints.

  • Tahir, M. N. (1979). Preface to Tuwarikh Rahmat Khani. (P. Academy, Trans.) Peshawar: Pashto Academy, University of Peshawar.

  • Torwali, Z. (2016, September 22). (N. A. Torwali, Interviewer)

  • Viaro, A., & Inam-ur-Rahim. (2002). Swat: an An Afghan Society in Pakistan. Geneva, Switzerland: City Press and Graduate Institute of Developmental Studies.

Publications by Zubair Torwali


We would like to thank Zubair Torwali for sharing about the Torwali people, language and culture with us. You can also find this spotlight feature on the 7000 Languages website here.

Do you want to share your community's language and culture with the world? Learn more about the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples campaign, by clicking here. We look forward to learning about you, your language, culture, history and community.


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