George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 13 of 38)
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it on a neighbouring housetop, to which the Minjdni
could not climb, and could only reach by a roundabout
road, while the girls went straight up the difficult walls
like monkeys. While the Minjani seized one child and
pulled her down, the other got beyond his reach. He
rushed to seize her feet, letting go of his first capture,
but he was too late. The girl got the comb, and both
disappeared, leaving the poor trader distracted and

The mere killing of an individual is looked upon as a
small afi"air, provided that he does not belong to the tribe,
or to another near tribe with which it is at peace, for in
the latter case it might result in war. Killing strangers
might or might not be considered inexpedient, but it
would hardly be considered a crime.

In the Kafir's opinion, a really fine manly character,
what he emphatically calls a " good" man, must possess
the following attributes : — He must be a successful homi-
cide', a good hill-man, ever ready to quarrel, and of an
amorous disposition. If he is also a good dancer, a good
shot with bow and arrow or matchlock, and a good
" aluts " or stone-quoit player, so much the better. These
qualities constitute a fine man ; but to be really influential
in the tribe, an individual must be also rich. The pos-
session of wealth gives enormous power to any one in


To face page 194.


Kiifiristan. A man may be brave, devoted to his country,
clear-headed, and sagacious, and yet have little or no
weight in the tribal councils if he is poor, unless, in-
deed, he be also an orator, when, to a certain extent, his
eloquence may make amends for his lack of riches. It
might appear that the knowledge of this fact could be
used by a traveller to bend the people to his own ends,
but it is not so. Kaiirs can be easily bribed, and will
do almost anything for money ; but their natural boast-
fulness'compels them to publish the fact that they have
been clever enough to get money from the stranger,
when the cupidity of their friends and relations is at
once inflamed, reason is thrown to the winds, and the
gravest difficulties arise.


The narrative continued — Utah takes me to see the rock-markings — Our
jonrney there — A bad bridge — The Kdm frontier village of Urmir —
Difficult i^athways — A nerve-trying bridge — Village of Bagalgrom —
Coffins — Effigies — Stone sacred to the god Bagisht — An isolated Kafir —
Markhor hunt — The marks in the rock — The sick, the maimed, and the
blind at Bagalgrom — Embarrassing attentions of the people — Difficult
return joiirney ^Conversation — Laine Astan — Visit to the Kamu Valley
— Unpleasant experiences.

A DAY or two after my return from the Dungiil Valley,
my curiosity to see the rock-markings mentioned by
Shtaluk of Purstam became irrepressible, and with some
little difficulty I persuaded Utah to take me to them.
At first he was ver)' reluctant to undertake the little
journey, for although we could go and return in a single
day by starting early enough in the morning, yet the
road lay through the Muman or Madugal country, and
the Kam never got over their suspicion of, and their
dislike to, my going among other Kafir tribes. How-
ever, finding that, whether he accompanied me or not,
my determination to go was unalterable, Utah, after a
day or two, gave way, and very early on the morning
of the 9th of November we started off in the dark.
Our party consisted also of Utah's brother, Aramalik,
his relative Tong, and Shermalik. In the darkness I
continually blundered over the rough village paths or
over the smoke-holes, for the road frequently ran over

the continuous roofs of houses ; while my companions



moved as nimbly and confidently as only those can
move who know a road so well that even in the dark
their feet can recognise the locality. Next we passed
near the " Shenitdn," the place where the tribal dead
repose in huge coffin-boxes placed in the hillside —
near, but not too close, for such places are impure for
the higher ecclesiastics of the Kafir faith — and then
by steep zig-zags we trotted down eighteen hundred
feet to the Nichingul stream, by which time mv shin
bones felt as if they were red-hot Ijars of iron. The
old bridge was broken, and a couple of pine poles had
been substituted for it. They were, fortunately, not
very high above the water, yet still it was necessary
to summon all my nerve-resources to enable me to
cross the torrent. If Kafirs would only secure such
temporary bridges, it would not be so bad ; but they
seem to think all men are born slack-rope dancers.
My companions, not perceiving my difficulty, crowded
on my heels, their heads probably turned in every
direction except towards me. The biggest jump I ever
accomplished saved me from a ducking, and from being
carried down-stream as well perhajjs. A short dis-
tance farther there was a steep rocky mound to l)e
traversed as we turned out of the Nichingul into the
Bashgul Valley. At the top of this steep rock, which
marks the point of junction of the Nichingul with the
Bashgul river, is perched the K;im frontier village of
Urmir, which consists of about twenty squalid houses.
As soon as we left the precincts of Urmir, we were
at once in the jNladugjil or jNlumiin country, which is
practically in the absolute })Ossession of the redoubtable
Balidur. It only extends for six and a half miles of


the Bashgul A'alley, and has but three villages of any
size, namely, Mnman or Bagalgrom, Mungul, and Suskn.
The last two are both hidden up lateral valleys.
There are also a few hamlets scattered about. We
kept to the right bank of the Bashgul river for
about a couple of miles, the pathway being extremely
difficult, in one place particularly so, where there was
a perpendicular climb which it required considerable
muscular strength and activity to surmount, and up
which dogs had to be dragged the best way possible.
Then we reached a bridge by w^hich we crossed to the
left bank. It was quite new and strong, but one of
the worst it has been my fortune to attempt, for it
was built over the water — some thirty feet — and the
roadway consisted of a single plank one foot wide,
flanked by two long poles four inches in diameter.
In the middle it began to vibrate greatly under my
weight, and a glance below at the rushing water caused
my brain to swim. I stopped, and bent my knees to
try and sit down. Utah, who was ahead, saw my
predicament, and ran back to help me, making the
bridge vibrate more violently than ever. Suddenly my
head cleared a little and my knees unbent. I rejected
Utah's help and reached the high built-up pier safely.
On my return journey, I swaggered over this bridge as
though my heart were not in my mouth and my sight
obscured with dizziness all the time. Less than half
a mile farther we passed a second bridge which con-
ducts the traveller straight into the village of Bagal-
grom, which is built almost down to the water's edge.
I stopped to count the number of houses across the
river. This is never an easy task in a Kafir village,


for one house runs into another in a most perplexinj^
way, and buildings which you take to be domiciles
turn out to be cattle-sheds, and vice versa. Bagalgrom
is built at the mouth of a wide, short, snow-bound
valley, between it and the river, and is mostly on tlie
level. The rocky entrance to the valley behind is
covered with weather-worn coffins for the dead, many
of them broken or falling to pieces from age. The
usual effigies were crowded in large numbers near the
bridge, on some level ground to the north, and at a
distance could not be distinguished from a group of
villagers, until attentive observation proved that they
never moved, and that the whole group never changed
its shape. There were effigies on our side of the river
also, and near them was a blood-stained stone sacred
to the god Bagisht. The people came flocking over
the bridge, and were most cordial in their salutations
and hand - shakings. One man rushed up to me and
carefully placed my right foot on the top of his ; he
seemed gratified at the performance, as if he had done
something praiseworthy. Balidur himself was away at
his pshal, but Utah called upon a friend of hi.s to
accompany us to the rock-markings, as it appears it
would have been wanting in Kafir etiquette for Utah
to have taken me to them by himself and without a
Muman man ; it would have looked as if T'tah con-
sidered the whole country to be his own.

About a mile or so farther we came upon a liainkt
called Punja, inhabited by a man from Hagalgroni, wlio,
during times of peace, had slain a member of the K;ini
tribe. Ilis house had been burnt, his property destroyed
or confiscated, but he had been perniitt(Ml to settle in



this place and begin life all over again. A mile and
a half farther we had an unsuccessful markhor hunt,
and eventually about midday, thoroughly tired, we reached
the place where the rock-markings were. It was down

by the water's edge,
and separated from
it by merely a few
yards of pebbles
and boulders. It was
well that I had already
become accustomed to
disappointments. These
markings were about
twenty feet from the
!': ground, on the under
surface of a cornice-
like projection of rock.
It was said that they
were inaccessible,
but they might cer-
tainly have been
reached without much diffi-
culty by an athletic man
helped by others. They
consisted of nothing more
kAfir carving. than some rude rough de-

signs similar to those con-
stantly seen in Kafir carvings. The marginal figure
gives an idea of their general form. Some of the rows
were horizontal, others vertical, and faded oft' at the
ends into indistinct forms. In places the dentated lines
were absent altogether, and only the spots remained,



which looked like the splashes on a target caused by
bullets. The Kafirs looked upon them with reverence,
and said that they were very old, the handiwork of
the Creator himself. It was impossible to get near
enough to see if they were cut into the rock, but it
looked as if the effect had been produced by some paint
of a whitish colour. In any other country it might have
appeared that a practical joke was being played upon
me, but the Kafirs were evidently quite sincere in
their belief that the markings were ancient and holy

Having seen as much as I cared to, we started back,
and found at Bagalgrom that all the sick, the maimed,
and the blind, had been brought over the river for my
inspection, and that it was necessary for me to say some-
thing about each unfortunate. It was with the greatest
diflfiiculty that we could get away at all, the villagers
begging me to stay at least one night in their village. I
had to decline, for having no blankets with me, it was
inr[)ossible to accede to their wish. All the time Utah
curbed his impatience with the greatest difficulty. He
was thoroughly disgusted at the friendly overtures made
to me by the people. Their attentions were at times
embarrassing. One fantastically dressed old man related
how he had dreamed a dream in which he had been
adopted by me as a son. When he reached this point
of his narrative he seized my little finger, and, to my
speechless" astonishment, put it in his mouth and sucked
it pensively. I was glad to say good-hyo to my too
enthusiastic friend.

If we had found the difficult rocky climb lianl to
manage on our way up the valley, it was infinitely


more difficult now. The leading man had a most
adventurous scramble. Once down, he was able to
help us by placing our feet in the niches and crannies
we could not see or find for ourselves. At one
place in the day's march a very bad bluff had to
be passed by wading in the river. When we reached
the spot, I was leading, and the sheer precipitous rock
in front and on one side, with the swift river on the
other, was highly bewildering to me, until the matter
was explained. In wading, although the stream at this
time of the year was not very rapid, it was ten'ify-
ing for my poor dogs. In some places they had to be
dragged through the water until they were half drowned,
or had to be pushed with poles into stiller channels, to
prevent them from getting carried into the main current
of the river.

On the way our conversation was principally of an
instructive kind ; the style of talk in which some of the
Chitrali princes would have revelled, but which is some-
what difficult to a man who desires to be exact and truth-
ful. It consisted in a great measure of my answering
questions and then adding remarks suggested by the
subjects under discussion. We, after a time, talked
about coal, which Shermalik had seen in India, and
had described to the Kafirs. He now evidently desired
my corroboration of the statements he had made, and
which had not been received with simple faith ; so I told
of coal-mines, and attempted, in our imperfect medium
of conversation, to explain what coal was, and how it
was employed in the manufactures of my country. The
Kafirs became more and more astonished, until at length
Utah merely expressed the sentiment of all when he


To face page 204.


said, "If we did not know that Franks never lie, who
would believe a word of this ? It is wonderful."

When we reached Urmir it was getting dark. Just
short of the village the Kafirs had suddenly, and in a
characteristic fashion, sat down and consumed a nu'al.
The irregularity with which a Kafir takes his food is
astonishing. He has no fixed rule about eating wlien
on the march. Sometimes he appears never to leave off
eating, at others he seems to do without food altogether.
As we passed the sacred stone and the effigies at Urmir,
one of the party, at any rate, knew that the most tiring
part of the journey had yet to be accomplished — this was
the climb up the Kamdesh hill. It was a long, tedious
tramp. I got home with my chapplies and leather socks
cut into ribbons, and my feet wounded and blistered hv
the excessively rough road.

Mention has more than once been made of a headman,
referred to as Lame Astan. The Kdfirs called him Katr
Astdn, which has the same meaning. He was a man of
much consequence amongst the Kilm, for he was not only
one of the Mirs — i.e., individuals allowed to sit on a stool
outside a house — but he was old, reputed to be sagacious,
and was a tribal orator. At heart he was a friend of mine,
but he was also a time-server. He was very wealthy, and
a sagacious, far-seeing man. Five wives owned him as
lord, and indeed he possessed every attribute which
should have placed him in popular Kafir estimation on
a par with Ddn Malik and Torag Merak, had he not
lacked liberality. He was stingy, and, with all his
ambition to be the controller of the destinies of his
nation, he could not bring himself to incur the continual
expenditure in banquets and in sacrifices by which alone


that position could be attained. So he had to fall into
the position of sycophant to Torag Merak, and at the
latter's feasts he used to run about excitedly helping the
servers, going through all the delightful experiences of
the liberal entertainer vicariously. This man clearly saw
the value to the tribe of ray staying amongst them,
because he believed that while 1 remained in the valley
neither Chitrali nor Afghan would venture upon an
attack. He was, in consequence, a sincere supporter of
mine, and would have been of great service to me had
he not been obliged to succumb to the wishes of the
wild Torag Merak, and change round as often as the
latter altered his views, either from caprice, or perhaps
merely to show he was powerful enough to change his
opinions, and make his followers change theirs, as often
as he chose. As it was, I was greatly indebted to
Lame Astdn for the tact with which he managed, at
times, to smooth my path ; but after my return from the
Dungul Valley on the 5th of November, neither he nor
Dan Malik could do much to ease my existence, which
was embittered by the persistent endeavours of several of
the headmen to obtain a position of authority over me ;
so I gladly seized the opportunity of going to Kamu,
nominally to see some sick people there, and to shoot up
the valley at the mouth of which Kamu stands. This
little expedition was now urged upon me by the very
people who were formerly so opposed to my undertaking
it. The Kdmdesh folk were very anxious concerning
the illness of a certain man named Gutkech, who was
not only an individual of considerable importance in the
tribe, but was also the officiating priest of the Kamu
village. My friends confessed that all that had been


told me about the impossibility of my visiting that place
was untrue, and that the false statements had simply
been made to meet the supposed exigencies of the

We left Kamdesh on November i 2th, and after staying
two days at Kamu, went a short journey up the Kamu
Valley. Shermalik again accompanied me as interpreter,
for Sayed Shah, on the ground of old age and indiHcrent
health, still persistently refused to leave our headquarters
at Kamdesh. My experiences at Kamu were anything
but agreeable. The people who had been deputed to
accompany me on my shooting expedition were most
troublesome. Their intention was to reduce me to sub-
jection, so to speak, and in every small particular to
make me obey the directions of the chief of the party.
This, of course, was an impossible state of affairs, my
position being not very unlike that of a prisoner taken
out for an airing. Before I had succeeded in relieving
myself of this annoyance, high words had been spoken.
Shermalik, terrified at the threats of the Kamu men,
became openly rebellious, threw down his rifle and car-
tridges, and decamped altogether. I went on my way as if
nothing whatever had happened, and tried to demonstrate
that my will was at least as inflexible as any K.i fir's.
After being left alone the best part of the day on the
hillside, for the Kamu men also went away in anger,
they all came back again, and calmly recommenced
their system of directing and ordering my footsteps
just as before. However, they gaiiuMl notliiug by this
move, and before we reached the village of l\auiu nn
our return journey, 1 led the march myself, having
turned the tables on my companions, who were now


obliged to accede to my wishes. Nevertheless, before
this satisfactory state of things was obtained, there had
been considerable unpleasantness. After this experience
I never allowed any K;ifir to go just in front of me on
the march, unless in the capacity of guide. I made an
exception in the case of Utah, partly because he was
extremely helpful to me, but chiefly because it was his
right and privilege to precede everybody of his tribe.

D n ir\'r^i


To face page 213.


The narrative continued— Return from Kamu — I adopt Torag Merak as my
" brother " — The ceremony — Utah takes umbrage, and is also adopted as
my brother — Chief reason for this custom amongst the K.4firs — Three
days' dancing in connection with erecting etiigies to the dead — ^ly attire
on such sjiecial occasions — The male ettigy — Deso-iption of the performei-s,
dances, costumes, ceremonies, &c. — The band — The okl men dancers —
Addresses to the effigies— Tlie choir leader — The female etiigy — Declama-
tion by old Astan — Dancing and feasting for the female effig}' — Place
aiix dames — November troubles — Growing discontent— Jealousv of Sher-
malik — Ut^ih's enmity— S([uabbling all round by everybody — Bachik's
high-handedness — More (quarrelling — Kamdesh again — Advantages of not
knowing too much of a language — Dmner en famille with Torag Merak —

The day after my return from Kamu, the 19th November,
I decided to accept Sayed Shah's repeated suggestions
to try and disarm Torag Merak's increasing hostility by
secretly going through the peculiar Kafir ceremony of
making him my brother. The rite was enacted with all
due mystery, with closed doors, at the dead of night. A
sheep was killed, and the kidneys cooked and served up
on a plate. Torag Merak and I were placed side by side,
each with an arm round the other's shoulders. Sayed
Shah stood in front, and fed us with fragments of the
kidneys from the point of a knife, we every now and
then turning our faces towards each other, and mak-
ing the motion of kissing. Torag Merak then uttered
a short invocation to Imni. He was unusually sub-
dued in manner, perhaps the closed doors and tin*
mysterious secrecy of the proceedings impressed his wild


mind with some suggestion of solemnity. He quickly
recovered from this, for him, unusual state of quietness,
and launched forth with perhaps justifiable bragging
about the extraordinary expense he had incurred in
continually feasting his fellow- tribesmen, a circumstance
of which he was inordinately proud. He also discoursed
to me for hours on the manners and customs of Kdfirs in
general, and eventually left me much in the state of mind
of a man who has diligently looked at all the pictures in
a large collection during one morning, and then tries to
remember what he has seen.

I had long become convinced that it was absolutely
necessary to conciliate Torag Merak by every means
in my power, for, owing to the influence he had ob-
tained through his prodigious banquets, it was a posi-
tive danger to have him against me ; but the secret
brother-making proved a valuable lesson to me, showing,
as it did, how impossible it was to keep anything of the
kind from the knowledge of the Kdfirs, for the very next
day the affair was all over the village ; while the chief
result of my action was that Utah, the priest, was greatly
incensed, and declared that his prior claims on my friend-
ship had been publicly and openly slighted. There was
obviously only one way out of the difficulty, and that was
to adopt him also as my brother. He pretended at first
that the thing could not be done, hinting that one
stranger could not have more than one brother. Subse-
quently he changed his mind, and entered into the sub-
ject warmly. Finally, he became my brother with real

This custom of the Kd,firs of adopting strangers as
their brothers is one of their methods of levying con-


tributions in the Kiinar Valley and in othor places, as
has been already explained. 'J'heoretically the Kilfir is
supposed to give presents also, but practically he con-
tents himself with handing over some gift of triHing
value, while he himself receives robes, money, and other
gifts, according to the importance of his safeguard. But
it was no part of my plans at this time to excite the
jealousy of all the other headmen by making presents to
one or two of their number. So I declared that Torag
Merak and Utah had become my brothers on preciselv
equal terms, and that, as our friendship was from the
heart alone, it was unnecessary to symbolise the senti-
ment by the exchange of gifts. This was not at all
Torag Merak's idea of the situation, but the priest ac-
cepted it readily, so the other was compelled to acquiesce
in this decidedly unconventional arrangement.

For three days towards the end of tlie month there had
been incessant dancing from morning to night, with
intervals for feasting, at the village dancing-house or
" gromma," in the upper village, in connection with the
erection of two wooden effigies to deceased people — one
to a man, the other to a woman. I went to watch the per-
formances for an hour or two each day, and as usual, on all
special occasions, attired myself in a plain suit of black
at the particular request of the Kafirs, whose admiration
for such a costume had been imparted to mo in India l)y
Shermalik, at whose suggestion I had l)rought the gar-
ments with nic. A stranger or more fantastic ceremony
it is difficult to imagine. Perhaps to an onlooker my
own appearance, dressed in the quiet garb of Knglisli
civilisation, the black coat of a London tailor, would
have been sufficiently remarkable amidst its uncommon


Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 13 of 38)