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The Burusho are a small ethnic group living in the sub-Himalayan region of Pakistan, called the Hunza Valley or simply Hunza. They would not be particularly notable, except for two rather unique and interesting features. The more interesting, but less famous, of these features is that their language (Burushaski) is unrelated to any other in the world. This in itself is not unusual, as there are many language isolates throughout the world. Their better known feature is their spot as a ploy in one of the most egregious instances of diet woo that has ever been perpetrated in history.
Happy, Healthy Hunza, where everyone has just enough!
James Hilton's 1936 novel Lost Horizon introduced the world to the notion of Shangri-La, a too-good-to-be-true Himalayan paradise of near-immortal godlike beings who have achieved perfect health and contentment. While Shangri-La is usually portrayed as a quasi-Tibetan paradise, the idea itself appears to have been based on fabricated accounts of the Burusho. Robert McCarrison, a leading nutritionist of the British Empire, made a report on their supposed perfect health and lack of sickness or disease — claims which were later picked up by writers such as J. I. Rodale (neé Jerome Irving Cohen of organic farming fame), Allen E. Banik, Renée Taylor, and Dr. Bronner. None of these authors spent a significant amount of time with the Burusho, and all of them essentially parroted what their king told them.
The devil in the details
It turns out that virtually every single one of these writers aformentioned had based their "scholarship" on nothing more than hearsay by the mir (king) and his attendants. Hunza was, at the time, an absolutist and isolationist monarchy, and the mir was very careful about what sort of information he let others hear. Like certain other absolutist, dictatorial states throughout history, Hunza was closed from the outside world and the privileged few who were allowed to enter were given a guided tour in which they learned, among other things, that Hunza was greatest country in the world, and all other countries were run by little girls. Like any good despot, the mir made sure to drill into the minds of everyone who graced his halls that his kingdom was the greatest, noblest, purest, and yes, healthiest place on Earth. That his guests took everything he said at face value is perhaps a stunning testament to the power of wishful thinking on an unsceptical mind.
John Clark, a geologist, lived with the Burusho for almost two years and gained the favor of the mir. Unlike all the other writers who had travelled to Hunza over the years, Clark managed to win the confidence of the mir and his retinue so well that he was allowed to stay for quite a while and see the grittier and more real Hunza. While at first he bought into the usual garbage about the "clean mountain air" and the "land where everyone has just enough", sustained contact with these people brought him to the realization that they were actually a very poor, frequently starving populace oppressed by both a very harsh, dictatorial elite and backward agricultural methods. Many of them had very debilitating diseases such as intestinal worms, and malnutrition. Most people had friends or family who had died very young. D. L. R. Lorimer, another writer who had more sustained contact than the average woo-peddler, found the people so economically insecure that widespread starvation happened every spring.
But that doesn't stop us!
Woo-peddlers very rarely have any reaction to fact or evidence (besides an occasional "we don't believe you, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah), so it is perhaps no surprise that the Burusho/Hunza have been propelled to the status of pop-culture legend within the pseudoscience community. They have been used to sell everything from special water to veganism, and their likeness has been exploited shamelessly by such paragons of reason as NaturalNews (who unironically buy the claim that there are 200-year-olds living in Hunza to this very day).
The usual reaction of Hunza enthusiasts to being presented with evidence against their claims is to ignore/disbelieve the evidence, accuse the skeptical individual of being in 'collusion' with Agribusiness or Monsanto, or (if they are truly at their wits end) lash out at you for being a "racist", "ethnocentric" and a "carnivore". This reaction is especially interesting, since it appears not to occur to them that perhaps their own view of the Burusho — peaceful, happy noble savages who possess secret, ancient Eastern knowledge which us westerners can't possibly comprehend — is maybe a tad ethnocentric and condescending. In addition, one finds it just a skosh difficult to take seriously any accusation of racism coming from a (presumably white and privileged) Westerner who appropriates a native culture in order to sell magic beans.
- Lost Horizon: A Novel by James Hilton (2012) Harper Perennial. ISBN 0062113720.
- Secrets of the Happy, Healthy Hunza: The Magical Qualities of 'Natural Foods', a Talk by Prof. Harvey Levenstein, report by A. Lynn Martin. Research Centre for the History of Food & Drink
- The Healthy Hunzas by J. I. Rodale (1949). Rodale Press
- [Hunza Land: The Fabulous Health and Youth Wonderland of the World by Allen E. Banik & Renée Taylor (1960) Whitehorn Publishing Company.
- Hunza Health Secrets for Long Life and Happiness by Renée Taylor (1978). Keats Publishing. ISBN 0879835494.
- 18-IN-1 DR. BRONNER'S HEMP ROSE PURE CASTILLE SOAP Dr. Bronner's soap label
- Hunza: The Truth, Myths, and Lies About the Health and Diet of the "Long-Lived" People of Hunza, Pakistan, and Hunza Bread and Pie Recipes Bible Life Ministries
- Hunza, Lost Kingdom of the Himalayas by John Clark (1956). Funk & Wagnalls.
- Household Food Supply in Hunza Valley, Pakistan by Nigel J. R. Allan (Oct., 1990). Geographical Review, Vol. 80, No. 4 , pp. 399-415.
- Live long and prosper, the secrets of the Hunza by Adrian Cooper (Sunday, December 01, 2013) Natural News
- Also, it should be pointed out that almost all the woo-meisters and their disciples make very little effort to understand the Burusho or their culture — except for their value as a talking point. Almost all pseudoscientific sources call them the "Hunza people" — a term which is unknown to the Burusho themselves, who prefer either Burusho or Hunzakuts. Saying Hunza people is like saying America people or France people — it sounds a little condescending. Also, there is much woo about Alexander the Great and the ancient Greeks abound in these circles; many of woo-pushers desperately want to believe the Burusho represent an island of wholesome Aryanity in a vast sea of brown Muslim savages.