George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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soul the room contained — four people altogether, includ-
ing a child. Then they quietly withdrew as they came,
and started to swim the Kunar river to reach the Dungul
Valley. When they reached the farther bank, the alarm
had been given, and all the Musalmiin males in the
village, armed with matchlocks or fiintlocks, swords or
knives, crossed the river, by a solitary raft the place
possesses or by swimming, determined to avenge the
murders if possible, and feeling absolutely certain of
the road the fugitives had taken. At this juncture,
when the two Kafirs were bracing themselves with con-
fidence for a long hard run to the shelter of the pine
forests, Utah slipped over a stone and badly sprained
his ankle. The agony was so great he could only lie
still, and could scarcely help screaming with pain.
Astcin dragged him into the middle of some bushes,
which were hardly any cover at all, except that the
dawn was only just breaking, and the pursuers never
suspected the Kdfirs were still so near at hand. Utah
implored Astan to leave him and save himself, as his
own condition was hopeless, and on Astan resolutely
declining to agree, he threatened him with his dagger.
But Astan was equally resolute, and seizing Utali's
injured foot, he dragged at it till something or other
slipped into its place again. Then Utali, leaning on
Astiin's shoulder, hobbled on in the rear of tlieir


pursuers, contrived in some way to elnde them, gained
the forest, and eventually, after nearly suffering starva-
tion, reached Kamdesh to dance before their grim war
god and tell the story of their exploits.

We camped at the pshal that night and all the next
day. The question arose what we should do. Should
we, now Utah had joined us, follow the raiding party
down the Dungul Valley, or should we go shooting, and
try to get a markhor for food. To my intense surprise,
Utah, Shermalik, and the others warmly urged me to go
down the valley and see whatever was to be seen of the
warriors. I assented, made all arrangements about leav-
ing the Baltis behind at the pshal, and was up betimes
in the morning preparing for a start. Utah was most
genial, greatly admired the long sheepskin coat I wore at
night, but could not restrain his laughter at the sight
of a waistcoat, and the manner in which it was worn.
When everything was ready, Utah and Shermalik pre-
tended they had been misunderstood, and that to go down
the Dungul Valley with the possibility, nay, the certainty
of coming across Afghans following the returning raiders,
was simply suicidal for any man who could not run like
a Kd-fir. Finding that I refused to be cajoled, they finally
admitted that the previous night's talk was simply an ex-
periment upon me, and eventually Utah gravely asked
me to give up all idea of following out his former sugges-
tion, because he was expecting the raiders to return at
any moment. He was evidently sincere, and it was im-
politic to refuse his request, so we agreed to go shooting
on the hillside pending the return of the braves. We
accordingly started oft" for a hill-tramp, which lasted till
four or five o'clock in the afternoon. After ascending


eighteen hundred feet steeply through beautiful forest,
we skirted a grassy slope, to be finally stopped by a mag-
nificent bluff of rock extending straight down to the l)un-
gul Valley. The hill slopes of rock and forest were so
deeply indented, that the huge recesses almost deserved
the name of valleys. We passed one or two pshals per-
fectly concealed from any one who did not laboriously
search for them, and I learned that it is an act of good-
breeding and politeness to offer any stranger a piece of
bread. It is invariably accepted after a formal fear has
been expressed that it cannot be spared. We saw no
game, for at the place we tried for it, we discovered goats
grazing, and a large dog, in giving notice of our arrival,
sounded at the same time the knell of our hopes ; but we
had glorious views, and much curious conversation before
we returned to Azharbai. For instance, Utah suddenly
stopping and pointing to the south with an animated look
would exclaim, " Farang-a (O Frank), do you see that
high mountain far away there ? That is in Bajour. Just
the other side of it, below those two peaks which look
like fingers, there is a village. I went there five years
ago with two companions. We entered a house at night,
and killed six people as they slept."

Then Shermalik : "Tot-a (O father), look over there,
where those trees look like a row of towers. Tlicre were
Oganis (Afghans) camped there. In the night I killed
one man, one w^oman, and one child."

Utah, resuming : " Behind that mountain you see there,
twoscore and fifteen Afghans had gone to collect fire-
wood. There I killed a fine man — a very fine ninii."'
this in a musins: tone, with an abstracted look in his eves
and a slow movement of the head from side to side.


So we returned to camp, at least I did. Utah and
Shermalik prepared to go and sit at the cross-roads for an
hour or so, in the hope of getting news of the raiders,
and perhaps to continue their gruesome reminiscences.
After two or three hours they came back, and we sat by
the fire talking, and feasting on a sheep we had procured
with the greatest difficulty. The wealthy pshal owner
asked such an enormous price for a sheep, that Sher-
malik refused to translate the amount to me, and we were
within an ace of going supperless to bed, when a very
small proprietor insisted on giving me a goat, for hospi-
tality, as he said. He of course did not suffer any loss
by doing so, and his amiable action provided Shermalik
with a theme he elaborately discoursed upon, namely,
the curious liberality of the poor and the general mean-
ness of the rich. His remarks were couched in the terms
with which poor men criticise their rich neighbours all
the world over. I wrapped myself in my sheepskin coat
and went to sleep, but the Kc4firs feasted, talked, and slept
by turns all the night through.

Next morning there was still no news of the raiders.
This absence of information did not, however, make my
friends uneasy. On the contrary, it rather elated them,
because it showed that the Kafir force was returning deli-
berately. We sat round the fire all the morning with a
man out at Azharbai to bring us early news.

Aniongst the men Utah had brought with him ^vas one
named Shtaluk, who came from the Katir village of Pur-
stam to join the raid, but he fell sick and lagged behind, so
Utah brought him in to me. We gave him tea, also sym-
pathy, and he rapidly got well from his fever in our camp.
This day he, after a long preamble, begged me to adopt


him as my son, and invited me to go to his village, pro-
mising to show me on the road some wonderful rock
inscriptions. This inflamed my curiosity greatly, but
nothing would induce me to agree to his suo-grestion to
make him my adopted son. My remembrance of the
ceremony was too vivid to allow me to entertain the idea
for a moment. He was so greatly disappointed at my
decision, that I cross-examined him to find out the reason
for his insistency. It then turned out that he had mur-
dered one of the Mehtar of Chitral's servants a short time
before, and the Mehtar had demanded two males to be
sent to him as an atonement. This was considered
grasping and unjust, one man being worth one man, and
no more ; but lately the Mehtar had increased his claim,
and demanded four men in recompense for the one slain.
The Purst;im men were getting very much afraid of
Am;in-ul-!Mulk, and Shtaluk's only hope was that I
should make him my son, and that the Mehtar would
then abandon his demand. Secretly, this information
pleased me greatly, for it was only by such methods as
the Mehtar was then employing that a remedy could be
applied with any hope of success to the incessant mur-
dering of people on the Kafir frontier; but it also indi-
cated how the prestige and authority of the Mehtar of
Chitral were increasing in the Bashgul Valley.

About midday we all moved back to Azharbai. and
camped there in the enclosing walls of a ruined house,
for the spot formerly possessed a fort and cultivated
fields belongiu"- to the Chani familv ; but six vears
previously, a small force of Pathans had arrived there
and found the fort empty, every one being away tend-
ing the fiocks. The Pathans destroyed the building


with fire, and knocked down and partially burned the
wooden effigies also. The latter had been re-erected,
in spite of their being black and charred, but the
position itself had been definitely abandoned as unten-
able, because the snow on the pass prevented its being
reinforced during the winter months.

During the afternoon we made a short journey down
the Dungul Valley to see if there were any signs of
the raiders, but without result. The valley just below
Azharbai is a place of extraordinary natural strength
for a defensive position. The lateral cliffs, of enormous
height, approach so closely, that a stone could be thrown
from one to the other ; while at one place there is a
marvellous lateral rocky ravine, with perpendicular sides
which rise at least a thousand feet before the deodars
can get a foothold. The entrance to this wonderful
ravine is not more than a few yards broad. It looks
like a mere crack in the immense mass of rock. The
bottom of the valley, down by the stream, is blocked
and hidden by immense cedars. The scenery is of a
most romantic and most impressive kind.

As our camp was now in an exposed place, many
precautions were necessary for the night. "We had a
V)ig tire built up some short distance in front, and
behind this Shermalik and Utah, armed to the teeth,
kept guard in a most imposing manner, sitting bolt
upright, each with a spear in his hand and a gun
across his knees. However, getting up at midnight
to see if everything were quiet, I found them both
sleeping soundly. Every one had received instructions
that if he was roused by an unusual sound during
the night, he was at once to awake all the sleepers.


To face page 148.


The danger was not only that victorious, and indeed
all, Kafirs are thieves, and most of them ruffianly
disposed also, but that there was a fair chance the
raiding party might be followed closely by vengeful

In the early morning nothing had happened, and I
was quietly arranging my clothes by the camp-fire, when
a distant shout of " A-i-Gish " was brought on the wind
from the semi-darkness below. Its effect was electrical.
The Kafirs sprang to their feet and rushed out in the
direction of the shout, without waiting to give me one
word of explanation. It seemed that the cry not only
informed them that Pathans had been slain, but also
that there had been no Kc4fir loss, for had there been
any such loss, the party would have returned silently,
and bringing with them, if possible, their dead and
wounded. In the case of utter defeat, they are of
course compelled to abandon the dead ; but even then
they strive to carry away the heads of their slain. The
vanguard of the victorious Kafirs shortly reached us.
It consisted of nine or ten light-footed, irresponsible
young men, all so eager to get home first and tell the
news that they could not wait an instant. They shouted
their news and passed on rapidly. As far as plunder
was concerned, the expedition had been a failure, for
the Pathans had removed their herds ; but by a strata-
gem the Kafirs had succeeded in killing several of the
enemy. Two Kafirs had gone forward by themselves,
surprised a Pathan, killed him, and then retreated.
The friends of the slain man had chased the two K;ifirs
in a body, and had fallen into an ambush prepared for
them, in which they had all perished. Of the thirteen


thus killed, two were said to be holy men, which greatly
enhanced their victory in the eyes of the Kafirs.

When a large band goes on the war-path, as on this
occasion, each member of it goes nominally at his own
pleasure. There are no acknowledged leaders, and
whatever plans are made for the general conduct of the
enterprise, each individual may theoretically act upon
the dictates of his own private judgment. In this
instance, the attack was to have been delivered an
hour before dawn, but the Musalmans having shifted
their quarters, that plan had to be abandoned. The
spoil consisted almost entirely of arms (matchlocks and
flintlocks) and clothes taken from the slain.

We were all starting on our homeward journey w^hen
three men in Indian file emerged from the narrowest part
of the valley below. We waited for them. At a distance
of about 300 yards the leader stopped for his two com-
panions to join him, whereupon the three formed in line
and sang a sonorous chant, which made the hills ring
again. "A-i-Gish" was the beginning of the paean; it
wound up with a loud, sharp, and abrupt " wo," which
started the echoes. It was noticeable that in the singing
there were none of those high falsetto notes so admired
in the East. These men having joined us, we hurried on,
Utah, Shermalik and Co. getting very anxious about the
main body of the Kafirs, close behind, fearing lest some
of my things should be stolen. The Baltis w^ere kept
close by us, and were pushed on as fast as they could
travel, though they required but little urging. We were
soon overtaken by about thirty men from Muman, headed
by Bahdur's son, a friend of mine, and together we began
the steep climb leading to the pass over the Arokan


To face page 152.


ridge. Half-way up, these Muman men arranged them-
selves on a convenient flat stone and sani^ their song of
triumph. It was similar to that we had already licard.
Two men, side by side, a pace in advance of the others,
chanted a few words, apostrophising Gish, then all
joined in a refrain, which ended in a loud "wo." As
they finished and moved on, what seemed at first an
echo of the refrain far down the valley continued and
increased in volume, and told us that the main body
was near at hand ; shortly afterwards about two hun-
dred wild Kafirs surrounded us. Nothing unpleasant
occurred. They were quite civil, but stared at us with
all their eyes, and crowded round me with the keenest
curiosity. Truth compels me to say that a wilder or
more ill-looking company it never was my lot to behold,
'i'he really fine features of some of the men were lost
in the crowd of evil-looking, bad-shaped faces, with the
hair growing in many cases within an inch of the eye-
brows. Indeed, in some instances it seemed as if the
men had no foreheads at all. They were wretchedly
clad, in goat-skins for the most part, while a few had
coarse cotton garments. Firearms of any description
were remarkably few, not more than a third or a fourth
of the number having matchlocks. Bows and arrows
and spears constituted the ordinary equipment. They
were most interested in my sporting rifle. When I
opened the breech to show how the cartridges were
introduced, four or five of the younger men dived
down amongst the crowd as if they were gazing upon
a live shell, greatly to the annoyance and disgust of
the seniors at such an exhibition of fear being made
before me ; but it was clear that thov all had n most


exaggerated idea of tlie killing power of a rifle. One of
the captured matchlocks was brought for my inspection.
It was a really handsome weapon, ornamented with rings
and brass wire. They informed me it was worth thirty
rupees. Subsequently, to see if Kdfirs would sell the
weapons of which they stood in so much need, I offered
to purchase the matchlock at their own price — thirty
rupees. They agreed to sell it, but at once raised the
price to eighty rupees, which I declined to give, when
everybody laughed. They were all extremely happy,
and insisted that I must witness their performance at
the top of the pass. This, by the way, was of a ver}'
poor description. One or two matchlocks were let off
with much deliberation, there was a good deal of
shouting, a little singing, and that was all. After
everything I possessed had been carefully inspected, we
parted about three miles above Kamdesh, the warriors
going to their respective homes, while we went straight
on to that village.


Observations about the Kafirs — Probable early history — Aboriginal races —
Native tradition — Estimate of the evidences of Kafir origin — The phy-
sical characteristics of the people — Gracefulness — Agility — The Kafir
in repose — Kafirs on the march — K;ifir faces and complexion — Hair —
Characteristics of the Kiifir women — Diseases — General estimate — " Loca-
lity " — Power of sleeping.

We returned to Kamdesh on the 5th of November. It
will be convenient to give in the next two chapters some
of the information I had diligently been acquiring about
the Kdfirs, their origin and their physical character-
istics, and also about the character of the people. This
information Avas corrected and amplified by subsequent
observation and more extended experience.

It seems probable that eventually the view will be
accepted that, to speak broadly, the present dominant
races of Kdfiristan, the Katirs, the Kam, and the Wai, are
mainly descended from the ancient Indian population of
Eastern Afghanistan, who refused to embrace Isldm in
the tenth century, and Hed for refuge from the victorious
Moslems to the hilly countries of Kiifiristun. There they
probably found other races already settled, whom they
vanquished, drove away, or enslaved, or with whom they
amalgamated. It is possible that part of tlic present
slave population, also the Jazhis and the Aroms, are
remnants of these, while the l^resuns are probably a
more or less aboriginal race, who either successfully
resisted the new - comers, or were driven from more


fertile regions and milder altitudes to their present valley.
As there is no literature nor any written character of any
kind in Kafiristan, it is hardly possible to do more than
guess, in an unscientific way, at the meaning of the
stories related or the traditions repeated by the people.

The Kdm have two versions of themselves to offer.
One, proffered by what may be called the Agnostics, is
that the tribe originally came from the Salarzai country,
and that, beyond that fact, no one knows anything about
them. The other version is, that the Kam were origin-
ally Arabs, some say of the Koreish tribe, while others
affirm that it is the Wai, and not the Kam, who are
Koreish. The story goes, that after suffering many vicis-
situdes in consequence of the fighting connected with the
propagation of the Musalman religion, the Kam found
themselves at Kandahar, and, after another interval, at a
place called Kamich, in the Eamgul. There they warred
furiously with the Wai people, but in the end were vic-
torious, and compelled the AVai to pay them a yearly
tribute of four cows and four measures of wine. The
collecting of the tribute was, however, always a matter of
difficulty, and at length the Kam messengers who were sent
to receive it were all murdered. Soon after this, one day
when the Kam were engaged at a great dance, they were
surprised by a huge army of Wai people. A terrible fight
ensued, in which the Kam were successful, but at the
cost of a thousand lives. The defeated army suffered
still more severely, and lost at least two-thirds of their
number. It was immediately subsequent to this great fight
that the Kam left Kamich and migrated to the Bashgul
Valley. The reason for this move was, that the flesh of
the markhor of the Kamich district was found to cause


severe and fatal illness, and it Avas to obtain a better
variety of markhor meat that the Kam began to search
for a new countrj'. The tradition seems to have been
altered in the telling. It looks as if the great fight at
Kamich resulted in the defeat of the Kam, who had to
take to flight, and find a new home for themselves in
their present country. On reaching the Basligul Valley,
continues the story, the Kam found it inhabited by a race
called Jazhis, an aboriginal people, of whom there arc a
few families still remaining in Ishtrat (or Gourdesh), and
two households, at least, in the village of Pittigul. The
Jazhis were driven out from their lands and homes,
which were appropriated by the Kc4m. The dispersion
of the vanquished was complete. None of them were
made slaves, nor are the Kalasli of Chitral, nor any of
the surrounding natives, in any way akin to the dis-
possessed Jazhis.

The Ktim affirm that the whole of the country, from
the Eastern K;ifirist;in frontier as far as Gilgit, was in
former times inhabited by the Kalash, while the true
Kafirs extended at least as far as Swat in one direc-
tion, while on other sides their extent was practically

In Kafirist;in tradition the Gourdesh (Ishtrat) people are
said to be partly descended from the Arom people, and to
be partly of Jazhi descent. It is related that a man from
Aromgrom, in Arormia, formed a union witli an Ishtrat
(.lazhi) maiden under somewhat peculiar circumstances,
and that their son is the diiect ancestor of Shcrmalik, the
cliief of Ishtrat.

The Katirs in the Bashgul \'allcy infornu^d me that
they came from the west, and were once part of a numc-


roiis tribe which divided into two parties. One division,
consisting of all the wealthy and other notable persons,
went to London, while the other, comprising menials
only, settled in Kc4firistan. This depreciation of them-
selves is in the true spirit of Oriental politeness. They
warned me not to trust the Kam, or to believe them for
an instant if they declared that they and I were descended
from a common ancestor ; for it was notorious that it was
the Katirs, and not the Kam, who were of my race, the
Kam being really more akin to the Russians. This also
indicated that the Kafirs of the Bashgul Valley know
something of the antagonistic sentiments with which the
English and the Russians are supposed to regard one
another in the East.

Of the origin of the Presun, the Madugal, the Kashtan,
&c., and of the slaves, there is even less information to be
collected locally ; but some of the traditions related to me
are of value for two reasons. They show the nature of
the evidence placed at the disposal of the traveller by the
Kafirs themselves, and they illustrate the crude, bald nar-
rative which suits the present intellectual position of the
people. For instance, the Madugal tribe, according to Kam
greybeards, was created in the following peculiar circum-
stances. One day long ago, the people of Kamdesh were
startled by the fall of a thunderbolt from heaven. A
great noise and much fire were associated with the
phenomenon, and added to the fear and bewilderment of
the spectators, x-^-fter a time, venturing forth from their
homes, the Kam perceived seven men, two of whom were
playing reed instruments to two others who were dancing.
The remaining three were busily employed in performing
sacred rites to Imra. From these seven individuals, who


took wives from the Katirs, the whole of the Miidiigdl
tribe is descended.

The slaves also are accorded a semi-divine origin, as the
following narrative shows. It appears that one day up in
the sky a father blacksmith said to his sons, "Bring me
some fire." Just as the lad was obeying the order, there
was a lightning flash, and the boy fell through the slit thus
caused in the floor of the sky on to the earth. From
this youth one portion of the slave population is derived,
the remainder being the offspring of Waiguli prisoners,
taken in war. Of the Presun the following account was
given me. In the beginning of the world God created a
race of devils. Tie soon afterwards regretted having done
so, but felt Himself unable to destroy all those lie had
so recently endowed with breath. But Moni (sometimes
called Muhammad by Kafirs, under the impression that
prophet and Muhammad are synonymous terms), grieving
at the terrible state of aflairs, at length obtained a sword
from Imn'i, and was given permission to destroy all tlie
devils. He killed very many, but seven, the ancestors of
the Presun s of to-day, managed to escape him.

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 10 of 38)