George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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is remarkable. I have already referred to this in another
place. Kafirs are most curious and inquisitive. They
long to finger the garment of a stranger and examine
him minutely. On my first visit to Kc4firistan, before we
had come to an understanding on the subject, it was
difficult to perform my ablutions except when it was
dark. Subsequently the curiosity of the elders could
always be kept within bounds, but that of the children
could only be combated successfully by driving them
away and treating them sternly. They were very curious
about the w^onders I told them of my own native land,
the size of London, the carrying power of a big ship,
and particularly about her Majesty the Queen. The
headmen on one occasion asked me how it was that
such a wonderful nation as mine could submit to be
governed by a juhor (a woman). I replied that in the
first place they must not speak of my sovereign as a
juko)\ and told them the Persian designation of the
Queen, which has a fine rolling sound, " Hazur Malika
Muazima Kaisar-i-Hind." This impressed them very
greatly, as was intended. I then remarked that rulers of
great kingdoms were in the hand of Imni, and added that


it was a small matter for Him to bestow wisdom and
justice quite irrespective of sex. To this they agreed.

Among the most striking mental peculiarities of Kjifirs
are their extreme cupidity, their extraordinary jealousy
of one another, and the intensity of their inter-tribal
hatred. Their cupidity is indeed a wonderful sight to
see. A Kafir will come into your house or tent, sit
down on a stool, and talk quietly until he begins to
cast his eyes round the place. You may then notice,
in many cases, that the man's eyes half close, his face
flushes, and his whole demeanour becomes a striking
example of extreme covetousness. Kafirs are always
ready to starve themselves for the sake of hoarding ;
they are remarkably avaricious. Their jealousy of one
another is so great that they are often ready to break
out into murderous quarrels on the mere suspicion that
an English traveller like myself was giving away presents
with partiality.

Their inter-tribal hatred is so intense that it often
entirely deadens their political foresight. A tribe is
always ready to beg the help of its most inveterate
Musalman enemy during a temporary peace, and intro-
duce him into its territory in order to help in the chas-
tisement of some other Kafir tribe.

Kiifirs are very fond of blackmailing, and seem to
prefer to attain their ends by threats, even when
other methods are obviously more promising in their
results. The zVshrath and Damir Valleys, and the
Kunar district as far down as Sou, at any rate, were
favourite hunting-grounds for the Bashgul Valley Kiifirs.
In those districts almost every villager is a "brother" to
some Kafir. This means that he is more or less protected


from the exactions of other Kafirs, and in return supplies
his "brother" with food and lodging whenever called
upon to do so. In times of peace a traveller of any
importance on his way from Asmdr to Chitral generally
finds it expedient to get a Kafir to escort him up the
dangerous part of the Kunar Valley. While I was at
Kamdesh, the Amir of Kabul released a number of
Chitnili slaves, gave them handsome presents, and dis-
missed them to their native country. The instant news
of this event was brought many Kafirs raced down the
valley, as far as they dared go, to intercept these Chitralis,
go through the ceremony of brotherhood with them, and
then escort them up the valley. The man who made the
most profit by this transaction was greatly envied and
admired by his fellows, and on his return to Kamdesh
related to me with proper pride how he had outrun old
Torag Merak, and subsequently successfully resisted the
latter's insidious attempts to get a share of the spoil.
After bidding good-bye to the victim, from whom he
had received a horse, a valuable coat, and many rupees,
the Kafir a few days later started for Chitral with a small
cheese as his return present for his "brother," and in the
hope of coaxing something more fi'om him ; but this
attempt was a failure, for a Chitrali on sure ground is
quite a match for most Kafirs. Into such a habit of
threatening do Kafirs fall, that I have heard a man
threaten Imra. The individual referred to had a little
son grievously ill and likely to die. Talking to me
about the child's condition, he spoke of the feasts he
had given in Imras name and the sacrifices he had
made in his honour. "Yet," he complained, "I have
lost twelve sons by sickness." Then he shouted out,

kAfIR mendacity 183

"If this little one dies I shall turn Musalmiiu." The
child did die eventually, but the father did not change
his faith, though, like the French king, he ever after-
wards felt that God had behaved ungratefully, after all
he had done for him.

The Kafirs are very untruthful. A successful lie excites
their admiration, and a plausible liar is to them a sensible,
sagacious man. Their want of veracity is most striking
on first acquaintance, for they, like so many other wild
or savage people, evidently hold the belief that telling
the truth, merely because it is the truth, must necessarily
be harmful to them. Other reasons which make them
untruthful are their boastfulness and love of admiration.
These three causes taken together made them weave
tissues of lies around me, some of which I did not detect
until several months had passed, w^hile others have pro-
bably remained undetected to the present day. To pre-
vent my starting on some particular journey, on more
than one occasion, almost the whole village of Kamdesh
must have entered into a conspiracy to give me false
accounts of the dangers to be encountered. The know-
ledge of such facts as these makes it sometimes most
difficult for a stranger to decide on his line of action.
For instance, on one occasion, believing the people were
adopting their usual tactics in dissuading me from a
])articular journey by exaggerating its difficulties and
dangers, I started regardless of their protests, and then
discovered that in that particular instance they had
spoken truthfully.

Their love of admiration and their desire to stand
well in the estimation of their fellows give to public
opinion an almost irresistible force. When a Kafir finds


himself more or less isolated in his views on some par-
ticular question, he seems at once to grow distrustful of
himself, and, unless he have some sort of following, will
cease to argue the point altogether, and sit shame-faced
and silent in council. This characteristic of Kufirs
seems to be quite apart from their natural and well-
grounded fear of contumaciously opposing: the wishes
of a majority, which has, indeed, very forcible methods
of making its opinions respected, A Kafir, wild and
independent as he appears at first sight, has a strange
reluctance to act on his own responsibility on any im-
portant doubtful question. He loves to go off with his
fellows and noisily discuss what should be done. With
a single Kafir it is easy to do as you please, provided
that you do not transgress his unwritten code of manners
or run athwart his national customs. He will probably
prove a pleasant and helpful companion. So also with
Kafir boys. But if you have a party consisting of several
men to deal with, it is necessary to be continually on
your guard against little schemes and plots to your
detriment. One or other of the men is certain to be
always trying to originate some plan by which, at your
expense, he may pose as a kind of public benefactor
to his friends and excite their admiration for his astute-
ness. It is not only to get money that these little
conspiracies are hatched. It is just as likely as not, that
their object is to take you off the road you want to
travel in order that the Kafirs may visit some place
where they have friends, or to save them crossing a
pass, or journeying in a direction which has no interest
for them. Kafirs love to talk, to give or receive advice.
The giver of advice is always in a more or less dignified


position, while the listener is sure of being Hiittered,
unless indeed the conference is to end in a row.

'Witkin the limits which their customs provide, Kafirs
love personal freedom. Theoretically, every man acts on
the impulse of his own wishes. He changes his mind
whenever he thinks fit to do so. He walks into a house
and sits down, and gets up and goes away, just as he
pleases. If he undertakes to accompany you on a
journey, he thinks nothing of breaking his promise.
He generally offers some slight, obviously untrue, ex-
cuse, which must be taken as it is intended. It is
merely a form of politeness. Little boys go off to visit
distant friends and relations without a word of warning
to their own people. Women also, to a less extent and
when not at work, wander over all the districts it is safe
for them to travel in.

One of the greatest surprises in store for a traveller
who has only seen Kafirs out of their own country is
to observe their wonderful sense of personal dignity.
When the Jast are attired for the dance, their solcnni
manner and proud bearing are remarkable. In spite
of the frequently grotesque nature of their dress, they
are not in the least comical, but distinctly impressive.
At all religious ceremonies and sacrifices, even in their
games, they strike the onlooker as both merry and self-
respecting. Men capering at a funeral while the tears
run down their cheeks are only fantastic. Odd they un-
doubtedly appear to a stranger, and intensely interesting,
but they are rarely or never the cause of derisive laughter.

A Kjifir in his own way is a model of politeness. He
gives precedence to a superior, and unaffectedly takes his
own proper position. On a uiarcli tlie most inn)(»rtaiit


individual usually leads the party, all in Indian file.
Everybody gives way to the high priest. In a crowded
assembly indoors, the advent of an important man would
be announced by every one rising and saying, " Here also
is Basti," or whatever the man's name was.

On the road every one met receives a salutation, formal
and kindly. A man travelling up the valley would be
asked, " Have you come from below ? " He would answer,
"Yes," and ask an appropriate question in his turn.
When parting, they would bid each other good-bye. If
they had sat down to talk, the man leaving would use a
particular form of address, and not merely say good-bye,
but give the equivalent of " Good-bye ; please do not
rise." An acquaintance on the road would be greeted
heartily. His hand would be held while he was asked,
"Is it well ? — is it very well ? — are the people of your house
well ? " and after these formal inquiries many kindly ques-
tions would follow. At a meal by the roadside, a por-
tion or portions of the food would be offered to any one,
man or woman, coming along the road. It would be at
first politely declined, on the ground that it could not be
spared. It would then be pressed on the wayfarer and

There are regular forms to be gone through on arriv-
ing at a strange village in the Bashgul Valley. At the
village of Oulagul I arrived one day wet through and
tired. ' We knew with whom we were to take shelter,
but at a hint from my Kam companions, we all went into
a cow stable and sat humbly on top of our loads. This
gave our host time to clear out a room and make proper
arrangements for our reception. He finally came down
the terraced village and invited us to climb up to his


abode. On another occasion, at Bagalgrom, in somewhat
similar circumstances, we sat in a row on a plank on the
opposite side of the river, and my companions produced
food and began to eat it ostentatiously, as though that
were our camping-place. We were then invited to a
half-finished house, very leaky. Finally, the redoubtable
Bahdur himself appeared, and escorted us to his house
with great ceremony.

In visits of this kind it is etiquette to entertain
the guest, not only with meat, drink, and firing, but
also ^Vith conversation. A circle is formed round the fire,
every one seated on a stool. The host leads the conver-
sation, which usually is formal and without a spark of
interest, for every one has the bearing of a man who feels
he is giving and receiving honour by his mere presence.
As far as appearances went, the company would, witli the
help of relays, have sat in this dignified but sociable way
all night, while my host was always anxious to sleep in
the same apartment with me. In the cold weather, after
being entertained for an hour or two, I used to beg that the
tire might be put out on account of the pain its smoke
caused in my eyes, and that windows and doors might be
kept open for the same reason. This always made the
company ready to fall in with my suggestion that it should
adjourn to some other apartment.

In spite of their avarice, which in some instances al-
most amounts to a mental disease, Kafirs are most hospi-
table. No man, however reluctant to expend his supplies
in entertaining guests, dare break tlic unalterable law s on
the subject. The only exception to this rule is in the
Presungul, where the people are so plundered and bullied
by visitors from other tribes, that they try to evade the


sacred rites of hospitality in every possible way, and are
in consequence generally despised. Among other Kafirs
the expenditure on food supplies in entertaining guests
must be very great. I was particularly struck with the
kindliness and readiness with which visitors were received
and fed in the upper part of the Bashgul Valley. At my
first visit to any village, a sheep was killed for me as an
offering from the whole community. At subsequent visits
particular men received me in turn and provided food.
It was known that the reward would be liberal, so the
chief men decided who were to be my hosts, but for my
first visit no payments were taken. I once sat down for
a chat at Badamuk village near Lutdeh. My whole party
had been lavishly entertained at another village a short
time before, but, in spite of my protests, a goat was imme-
diately killed, and all my followers were regaled, while
the question of payment was waived aside, the villagers
declaring that they were honoured in being allowed to
entertain us. As a rule, the Kam hospitality was of a less
generous kind. Their system was once explained to me.
I was told that visitors from non-Kafir countries were
always entertained well, for it was obvious that the guest
on leaving could not, for very shame, refrain from giving
a present exceeding in value the food he has received.
My experience was that the longer I remained amongst
the Kam the more difficult it became to get supplies, even
at exorbitant rates ; but there is no doubt that to feed my
following, limited in number as it was, must have been a
considerable strain on the resources of a single household,
while a village as a whole could seldom or never be
treated with. Kafirs among themselves, both by nature
and of necessity, are most hospitable.


Family affection in Kafiristan is very strong. Some
tribes are in the habit of selling little girls, and monev
will tempt some men even to sell children who arc nearly
related to them, but as a rule, it is the offspring of the
slaves that they dispose of most readily. Boys are rarely
sold in this way, but little girls are often looked upon as
goods and chattels. Men of good family in the F)ashgul
Valley would not sell female relations other than the chil-
dren of slaves, except to men of exalted station like the
Mehtar and the princes of Chitral. In spite of these
sales, Kafirs are very kindly in their family relationships.
I have known a man tend a poor crippled brother, an
epileptic, with the affectionate kindness of a woman, and
have observed innumerable instances of devoted affection
on the part of men for their brothers, their children, and
their relatives generally. A Kafir's delight in a son is
very great. He is fond of his old parents, and of his re-
latives by marriage, and is obviously of an afi'ectionate
disposition. He is extremely kind to all children.

Kafirs are never rough and cruel to animals. They tlo
not care much for dogs, though they employ them for
hunting and as watch-dogs. Goats are treated as if they
were domestic animals, and are quite used to being petted
and handled. The animals attach themselves to the
people. A common sight is to see a goat licking a man
or a boy. If a flock of goats is wandering away in a
forest or on the hillside, the herdsman throws stones at
them and abuses them to make them return. Ho would
rarely think it necessary to run round and head tliciii
back. Goats follow little boys about in an amusingly
affectionate way. Once a boy accompanied by a goat
came to my camp. The boy went to sleep, upon which the


goat went trespassing into a neighbouring field. The boy
was roused up. lie threw a fragment of granite at the
anima], which immediately ran to him, bleating loudly.
Then the boy went to sleep again, and the goat remained
by him until he awoke a long time afterwards. Of course
the Kdfirs do not show the slightest reluctance to kill their
petted animals. Hulls and cows are so accustomed to
being handled, that no ropes are required to hold them
when they are about to be sacrificed. A man takes hold
of the horns and depresses the head, when a second man
with a blow of a small axe divides the cervical spine.
The kindness with which the Kafirs treat animals saves
much trouble in slaughtering them.

Although a Kafir thinks it a virtue and in accordance
with religion to kill Musalmans, and gives himself the
benefit of any doubt about their being enemies ; although
in his raids into hostile territory, whether Kafir or Musal-
man, he spares neither women nor children ; although he
holds human life as of very little account ; and although,
in hunting, he may appear to employ brutal methods of
getting game, he is not a cruel man by nature. To any
one who considers how wild he is, his comparative free-
dom from brutality is astonishing.

] Kafirs are wonderfully brave. Little parties of two or
hree wdll stealthily penetrate many miles into an enemy's
country, where they would be at once killed if caught.
They will creep into forts and villages during the night,
stab right and left, and then fly to their own hills with a
hue and cry after them. In ^•iew of the inferior nature
of their weapons they achieve wonders. The extreme
difficulties which the country presents to an invader have,
no doubt, much to do with their being able to maintain



their independence, but the chief reason, after all, is the
gallantry, the reckless bravery, and devotion with which
the Kafirs defend themselves, or carry any war into the
enemy's country. It is curious to notice the almost super-
stitious fear the Kafirs have of rifles — a feeling generated
by ignorance. At the capture of Nilt Fort, in December
1 89 1, I had six Kafirs with me. The IIunza-Nagar
people had a good many rifles, and their fire utterly de-
moralised the Kafirs. They became so unhappy, then
and subsequently, that a few days later I sent them all to
Gilgit to await my return when the expedition was over.

Kafirs are splendidly loyal to one another, and are
accustomed to acts of self-sacrifice. Two youths were
killed on one occasion while I was in Kafiristan. One
of them was badly hurt, and could not possibly have got
away from the enemy, but the other, a magnificent moun-
taineer, was killed simply because he refused to run off
by himself and abandon his companion.

Kafirs are very quarrelsome among themselves. It is
absolutely necessary for a man to take a quarrel up on
the instant, to assert his manhood. I have never been at
any gathering of Kam or Katir men without seeing one
or two rows. Hardly a day passes without a disturbance
somewhere, due to this cause.

But if quarrelling is a manly thing, peace-making is a
sacred virtue. Men, boys, even dogs, are separated at the
first indication of a probable fight. The K:ifirs are so
extremely quick in their movements that an instantaneous
quarrel is followed by a lightning-like onslaught, and so
one or other of the combatants often gets more or less
hurt, but there is never time for a second blow. 'I'he
fighters are at once seized, hurled aside, and separated,


or thrown down and literally sat upon by the bystanders.
Any one who did not lend a hand in stopping a village
fight would be looked upon, and would consider himself,
as mean and unworthy.

There is nothing like religious intolerance among the
Kafirs. There would be something of that nature in
Presungul if the people there were braver. They have
the desire, but not the power, to be intolerant. Other
Kafirs think nothing of a man going away in the sulks
for a year or two and becoming a Musalman. He
generally reverts after a time, but many families of
Bashgul Kafirs have Musalman relations settled in the
Lutkho Valley or Chitritl, or in the Kunar Valley. They
treat these renegades in every way as if they had never
changed their religion. The Kafir is always loyal to his
blood. It is blood and race that the Kc4fir clings to ;
about religion he is comparatively indifferent. If a Kafir
slave-boy, sold out of his tribe by its members, were
executed, say for murder, in Chitral, he would be avenged
by his tribe.

Kafirs are extremely sociable, as I have already indi-
cated. They have some sense of quiet humour. Their
badinage with w^omen is of course obscene, and most of
their jokes have the same flavour, but they are greatly
amused at ironical remarks, and also at anything, how-
ever simple, in the nature of repartee. A man, for
instance, came grumblingiy and half-angrily to me on one
occasion, to complain that the medicine he had received
for a sore tongue had done him no good, and that his
tongue was very bad. He seemed to infer that I was
responsible for his tongue being painful, and spoke rudely
to me. My reply was that his tongue must be bad indeed


to cause him to speak to me in such a manner. He and
the bystanders alike seemed to think this a very good
joke, and good feeling' was at once restored. Women, of
course, are an endless theme of small witticisms. Kafirs
never give way to fits or shouts of laughter, but occa-
sionally beam with geniality and cheerfulness. In making
little jokes I was careful that they should be of a kindly
nature, and by always assuming the expression of facetious-
ness, left no doubt in the minds of my hearers that a
joke was intended. My "son" Shermalik, and one or
two others who knew me well, used to laugh in advance
when they saw the expression, and before they heard what
there was to lauoh at. It alwavs showed the Kafirs that
I was in a pleasant humour, and also gave them the
opportunity of displaying their politeness. There are
not a few Kafirs whose conversation, at present princi-
pally referring to unworthy subjects, displays an intense
curiosity which may perhaps be the germ of scientific

It is as natural for a Kafir to thieve as it is for him to
eat. The children are encouraged to steal. If anything
is stolen, traced, and finally returned, the excuse always
made is that it was carried off by boys, INIy maximum
and minimum thermometers, dry and wet bulb thermo-
meters, and other meteorological instruments, were all
taken away and destroyed by boys the first time they
were set up. The villagers thought this only natural.
There was one boy, about sixteen years old, who was
really attached to me, but he could never resist an
opportunity of pilfering. He always had to make resti-
tution, but it did not cure him. Once, in the Kunar
Valley, this boy stole a kid from his own particular


friend, and carried it for miles inside his shirt without
any one knowing of the theft, until the rightful owner,
suspicious of his friend, caught us up and recovered his
property. In short, Kafirs are born thieves. Little girls
are accomplished pilferers. I watched once two innocent-
faced little girls persuade a Minjan trader to show them
a comb. The instant it was in their hands they threw

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 12 of 38)