George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 11 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 11 of 38)
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As there are no rock inscriptions, no ancient books,
nor any literature of any kind to be found in Kafiristan,
and as the traditions of the people themselves give such
small help in forming any opinion concerning their origin,
the only hope which remain.s that the Kafirs may be
eventually assigned their proper place in the general his-
tory of the world is from a comparative study of tlieir
language, their manners and customs, and tlieir religious
ceremonies, as well as from their cranial measurements,
and other anthropometric observations. That they are
made up of different races appears certain ; that they have

i62 Till-; KAI'IJIS OF Till-: HINDU-KUSH

no admixture of Tartar blood seems obvious ; that they
came from the west, at least the great majority of them,
is their own fixed idea, and is more than probable. If
there be points of resemblance betw^een present Kafir
and ancient Greek sacrificial observances, and if certain
of their domestic utensils — such, for instance, as the Wai
wooden dish-stand — may seem to be fashioned in Grecian
mould, it may fairly be conjectured that some of the
Kafir tribes, at any rate, are still influenced, as the
ancient Indian populations of. Eastern Afghanistan were
also influenced, by the Greek colonists of Alexander ;
and that these Kafirs having never been under the rule of
]\rusalm;ins, may possibly represent some of the people of
Eastern Afghanistan as they were before the victorious
•Moslem defeated and converted them to Islam. If the
Kafirs resemble these peoples, the resemblance must be
partial, and possibly unflattering. Civilisation abruptly
fell asleep centuries ago in Kc4firistan, and is still dor-
mant. A conquering race may progress in the arts and in
civilisation, as it progresses and excels in warlike skill ; but
not so an isolated people like the Kafirs. They have degene-
rated until their tribal headquarters are merely robbers'
nests. In the various shifts and expedients to which
they have been forced in order to preserve their freedom
and their lives, lying, running away, and underhand de-
vices have been particularly serviceable. In their mode
of warfare no spark of chivalry is possible. The silent
watcher, his face protruding from a thicket, his wild eyes
glancing swiftly and fearfully around, or the lithe form
wriggling like a snake along the ground to stab his sleep-
ing enemy, man, woman, or child, — these are the pictures
which arise in my mind when I think of Kafir braves ;



not because this illustrates the sole method of warfare
employed, but because continued intercourse with the
people, and observation of their silent, stealthy gait and
shifty faces, taught me what must be the most popular
methods of attack. If it w-ere not for their splendid
courage, their domestic affections, and their overpowering
love of freedom, Kafirs w-ould be a hateful people. In
other respects they are what they have been made by
uncontrollable circumstances. For them, the world lias
not grow^n softer as it has grown older. Its youth could
not be crueller than its present maturity, but if they had
been different, they would have been enslaved centuries
ago. Their present ideas, and all the associations of
their history and their religion, are simply bloodshed,
assassination, and blackmailing ; yet they are not savages.
Some of them have the heads of philosophers and states-
men. Their features are Aryan, and their mental capa-
bilities are considerable. Their love of decoration, their
carving, their architecture, all point to a time when they
were higher in the human scale than they are at present.
They never could be brutal savages, like some of the
African races, for example, because they are of a different
type, but they are as degraded in many respects as it is
possible for this type ever to become.

The physique of the Kafirs is magnificent of its kind.
They are lightly-built men, who seem to be almost always
in hard training. Fat men are altogether unknown.
The average height of a numl)er of i\;ilirs wliom
I measured w^as from 5 feet 5 A inches to 5 feet 6 inclies.
The shortest was just over 5 feet, the tallest was 6 feet
I .' inches. The biggest man of the tribe was 6 feet
1 inch. He w^as a splendid object, heavily built, and


of prodigious strength. As a rule, however, the men
of medium height are not only the most active, the
fastest runners, and the most enduring travellers, but
are generally the most physically powerful as well. I
have frequently noticed this when watching Kafirs " lark-
ing," and have observed how the taller men could never
get away from the others in a short, sharp run over the
flat, nor disengage themselves from the grasp of men
much shorter than themselves. Actually the four or
five strongest men of the Kam tribe are above the
average height, but, with this exception, the rule holds

I once came across an old man, a Ivashtan, leaning on
his long matchlock, who was a striking figure. He was
of splendid, almost colossal proportions, but w4th all his
bigness there w^as a suggestion of activity about his limbs
which was surprising when one noticed his grizzled locks.

Admirers of form would delight in Kafirs in their own
country. They give such an impression of gracefulness
and strength when once the eye has become accustomed
to the vile robes they wear. As might be expected of a
wild, excitable people, their gestures are highly dramatic,
I remember always a group of malcontents leaving a
meeting which was discussing me. The dissentients rose
in a body, and moved slowly away, with flashing eyes
and white faces, heads thrown back, and walking-clubs
pointed upwards at intervals. As they kept turning back
in indignant protest to cast scornful glances at their
opponents, they made a fine picture.

Another fine sight" is to see two young men in a village
quarrel try to get at one another. All bystanders throw
themselves between the belligerents, in the hope of


securing them or of keeping them apart. It then
becomes more than ever a point of honour for the angrv
youths to strive to reach one another. In their attempts
to evade the peacemakers, they dash up and down the
steep village hill, and over the house-tops, at times
making remarkable leaps. On such occasions they flv
past the spectator like a tornado, really marvellous ex-
amples of energy and graceful strength.

Kafirs have well-developed chests. Their arms arc
muscular, but not remarkably so. There being no s})ccial
exercise for bringing particular muscles into prominence,
and no regular wrestling, their arms would not compare
to much advantage with those of a Panjabi athlete. The
arms are somewhat long, the wrists and hands rather
small. The squeezing power of the fingers is, as a rule,
not very great. The flanks, hips, and gluteal muscles
are light. The legs are splendidly muscular, but not too
big, and the feet are often extremely well shaped, with a
high instep.

In repose, a Kafir is usually not seen to advantage.
His clothes often obscure his proportions, and he is fond
of sitting forward on a stool, his elbows on liis knees,
and his hands grasping a walking-club erect between his
legs. He is generally also conscious of some ceremoni-
ousness in paying or receiving a visit. He looks better
when lounging and taking his ease on the ground with
his legs stretching out before him. He cannot sit com-
fortably on his liecls like a native of India, but prefers a
stool, a plank, or a billet of wood to sit upon, or else
to spread out his legs. His well-developed thighs and
calves must also make the squatting attitude an uneasy


On the march Kafirs travel with a quick, rather short,
untiring step. As hillmen they cannot possibly be sur-
passed, their wind being as excellent as their legs and
ankles are strong, while all are comparatively light
weights, and not too tall. Their pluck is immense ;
women and boys, apparently overcome with fatigue, still
struggle on till they reach their destination. Kafirs can
stand all temperatures. Heat does not unduly disturb
them ; they can sleep comfortably in severe cold in spite
of their scanty clothing. They can go without food when
necessary, as well as, or better, than probably any other

Their countenances are of a distinct Aryan type, the
nose, as a rule, being particularly well shaped. The
Kam and the Wai contain the handsomest people I
have seen, especially the Wai ; the Katirs have fewer
good-looking men, and the Presuns are spoilt by their
heavy, stupid look. There are distinct gradations in
type, from the best-looking of the chief families to the
patsas or shepherds, and so down to the slaves. In the
highest types, the men have well-shaped heads, good
features, and quiet steady eyes. The cast of feature
is grave, one might almost say intellectual ; rarely of
a beautiful Greek type. Of the latter description I
know one remarkable instance amongst the Kam young
men, and one still more striking example, who, curiously
enough, was a young to middle-aged Presun woman.
The lowest type of face is of two different kinds. There
is the bird of prey type — hooked nose, low forehead,
receding chin, and quick-glancing, close-set eyes. In
such cases the forehead is particularly bad, being narrow
and low, with the hair not unfrequently growing almost


down to the eyebrows. In fact, instances may be met
with where the only true hairless forehead is a circular
space just above the root of the nose, and about the
size of a florin. The other variety of the degraded
type is often seen among the slaves. It has stupid or
crafty, dark, rounded, somewhat heavy features, while
the nose is badly shaped and coarse. The hair grows
low on a narrow receding forehead, as in the other type.
Ijetween the extremes of the highest and the lowest
types there is eveiy possible gradation in shape of
feature, colour of skin, and size of head. The headmen,
as a rule, are the best-looking of the race, but among
them are often men with rather bad foreheads and shifty
glances, who yet contrive to hold their own among
their fellows.

The colour of the Kafirs is, on the whole, less fair
than that of the upper classes in Chitral, and less fair
than many Badakhshis I have met. They do not at
all approach the black races, but are equally removed
from those w'ith white skins. In tint they resemble
more the average inhabitant of the Punjab. Of the
various Kafir tribes, the Wai seem to be the fairest, and
some of the Katirs, some of the Kashtans, and some
of the Presuns the darkest. It is, however, hard to
estimate properly the darkness of skin of the villagers
of Pshui, for instance, for there the people use a fuel
which gives forth a particularly grimy smoke, the effect
of which on the Pshui men seems to be seldom or never
neutralised by washing. So also with the Presuns.
Living in a cold high valley, they are particularly reluc-
tant even to wash their faces, which are often literally
sooty. A Presun Kafir taken prisoner and sold to the



Khan of Lalpura, made his escape and visited me at
Kiimdesh. I was astonished at the comparative fair-
ness of his complexion. A few months later, seeing him
in his own home, I found him just as dark as the
rest of his compatriots. He had probably not washed
himself in the interval. The Presun children have
often light eyes and fair hair when quite little. The
Kafirs, in short, are thoroughly Eastern in colour, as
well as in every other respect. Red-haired or more
or less albino people are few in number, less than one
per cent, of the total population.

With very few exceptions, all Kafirs wear the
" karunch " or scalp-lock. This is formed in the fol-
lowing way. The whole of the head is shaved except
a round patch some four inches in diameter over the
occiput, where it is not cut at all. A tiny lock in
front of each ear is often permitted to remain also.
Children at the thirty-first or thirty-second day after
birth, both male and female alike, have their heads
shaved. A Kafir's hair is not very long, seldom more
than twelve or fourteen inches, and, with very rare
exceptions, is quite straight. It is usually extremely
dirty, and matted into rat's-tails. On the heads of some
of the boys the crop of hair is prodigiously thick, but
that is exceptional. A few of the Bashgul Kafirs do not
wear the karunch, but have the hair cut short all over
the head. These men can, and occasionally do, pass for
Pathans on their various thieving and murdering ex-
peditions. Kafirs who, after turning Musalman, revert
to their old religion, are said to be restrained from
wearing the karunch until they have slain a Musalman
in fight. This may or may not be true. The "reverts,"


To face page 173.


I know, all wear their hair in Pathan fashion, althoujLijh
one of them had assassinated the Khan of Asmar.

The Kafirs admire beards, and love to dye them red
as spon as they begin to get grey. The young men
are particularly fond of applying antimony to the eye-
lids, but only a very few have the opportunity of thus
ornamenting themselves.

The women are, as a rule, shortish and of light build,
with muscular limbs. Pretty faces are rare. Little
girls are often decidedly good-looking, but the hard
field-work and constant exposure to all kinds of weather
quickly darken the complexion and make it coarse. The
features are often good, and their type varies precisely
as it does in the case of the men. The handsomest
woman amongst the Katirs of the Bashgul Valley was
a slave, but she was merely one of those exceptions
which point an argument. The Wai women are the
handsomest of those I have seen, the Madugal those with
the fewest personal attractions.

The Presun women look the most powerful, hut all
alike are wonderful walkers, and capable of under-
taking extremely long journeys carrying loads. Old
grandmothers think nothing of marching over the diffi-
cult road between Lutdeh and Kamdesh in oiu' day.
Girls with their conical baskets lightly laden trot i)ast
one on the road, or march steadily and rapidly u}) the
steep hill-paths. At a slower pace they can carry enor-
mous loads, stones for house-building, grapes for the
winepress, walnuts for storing, or corn to be threshed.

Their attitudes and gestures are for the most part
clumsy. What we call gracefulness is rare, althougli it
is common enough in young men and huis. I'he little


girls from their earliest days run wild, and climb and
practise gymnastics just as boys do in other countries.
A boy comes to a stranger to be petted, a girl goes
into shy contortions at a distance, or climbs trees or
the wooden framework of the dance-houses. Women
also climb trees with facility. I have passed under a
large mulberry tree, and found it tenanted with matronly
figures literally grazing on the fruit. It is astounding
how big and old-looking many of the Presun girls are
before they attain the cap which marks maturity.

All Kiifir women roll the hair up and confine it in
some sort of cap. Girls confine their locks with a
double thread round the brows. Most female heads,
like most female faces, are appallingly dirty. The teeth
are perhaps the best feature of the women. Their gait
seems to depend for gracefulness on the length of their
garments, the less encumbered Kam women taking
lougish, more or less manly strides, while the Presun
women take much shorter and quicker steps.

The appearance of both men and women is often
spoilt by small-pox and its results, and by a terrible
ulceration which frequently attacks the bridge of the
nose, the cheeks, or the lower eyelids ; also in the
Bashgul Valley by goitre, which seems to be almost
exclusively confined to women.

As the result of very many observations of an un-
scientific kind, I could never discover that the Kafirs
displayed any superiority to other races in quickness of
eye, certainty of hearing, or skill in aiming with weapons.
My eyesight always proved as good as theirs, although
they could always see markhor on a hillside long before
I could. They are good throwers and good swimmers.


and play skilfully games requiring a good eye and a
good wrist. They never fail when slaughtering cattle
with their narrow axes ; the cut through the neck
vertebrae, which fells and paralyses the beast, is never
bungled. Their most remarkable physical characteristics
are their activity and their powers of endurance. In
these two qualities combined they far surpass any other
people with whom I am acquainted.

They are, moreover, wonderfully good at " locality " —
in remembering places and roads they have only once
visited and travelled over. I have sometimes in wind-
ing valleys many miles distant from the village asked
a Kafir in what direction Kamdesh was. He has always
correctly indicated the proper position without a moment's
hesitation. This faculty is almost an instinct, and has
been perfected by heredity. In their raiding expedi-
tions, when small parties set out witli the object of
secretly penetrating into an enemy's country and attack-
ing people unawares, the only hope the raiders have of
getting away, after a murder has revealed their presence
in the district, lies in their fieetness of foot and in this
instinct for locality.

The Kafirs, at least the younger men, have the enviable
faculty of being able to sleep at pleasure. Two or three
of them accompanied me on one occasion to Kila Drosh
in Chitral, where we were the guests of the governor.
As there was nothing for the Kafirs to do, and as it
was not advisable for them to be too much in evidence
outside the fort, they slept nearly continuously for t^^o
whole days and nights. Another time, at tlio cud of
a march, three Kafir youths with me noticed a blanket
which mv Pathan servant had cast aside while li

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 11 of 38)