George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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difficult to keep warm in spite of our exertions. On the
pass an icy bhist was blowing, which numbed fingers,


nose, feet, and ears. The descent on the Kafir side was
also fatiguing, the slippery snow surface betraying all of
us several times ; and when the sun appeared we began
to fall through the snow in a most unpleasant manner.
A short distance beyond our first camp we rested for two
or three hours by the edge of the tarn, and we finally
spread our blankets for the night by the river-edge, close
to a pshal a mile or so above Ahmad Diwana. We were
extremely tired, and all night long the cow-flies revelled
on our hapless bodies.

From Bragamatal I wrote a letter to H.H. the Amir of
Kabul, expressing a wdsh to visit the Minjan Valley, and
asking for permission to do so, and also explaining the
circumstances which had led to my finding myself on his
frontier while travelling in Kafiristan. This letter was
never delivered. It was burked ; and so well was the
secret of my journey kept, that three months later, when
I met in the Presungul some Minjanis of the lower vil-
lages, they assured me that they had never even heard of
my short visit to their valley.

We reached Bragamatal on the 6th of June. The
Baltis who crossed the Mandal with me, although their
eyes quickly recovered, remained weak and ill for some
days, on account of the severity of the march they had
undergone. A fourth Balti had been left behind at th^^
village of Pshowar in charge of my baggage. He had
been particularly well treated by the villagers. The
remaining Balti was sick at Kamdesh. He had been in-
structed to follow me, bringing my tent as soon as he
was fit to travel.

We remained at Bragamatal for ten days, very pleased
with the general friendliness of the people. A letter


reached me there from the Mehtar of Chitriil, in whicli
he assured me he never had the intention of attacking
the Kam people while I remained in their country, but
had simply been trying to frighten them into compliance
with his wishes. This was satisfactory, but the news from
Kamdesh itself was less so. It appeared that the K;ifirs
had stripped and beaten two of the Mehtar's messengers
on the road, and that a small armed force of Chitralis
had been very nearly attacked in Kamdesh itself.

On June 14th the Balti who had been left behind
arrived at Bragamatal, but without my tent. lie had
been told by Dan Malik to leave it where it was. Mv
somewhat prolonged absence had created a suspicion
in the minds of the Kam men that I was not going back
at all, so Dan Malik detained my tent as a kind of hostage
for my reappearance. Another man was therefore sent
to fetch it, who met me with it on the road.

We returned to Kamdesh on the 19th of June. Before
leaving Bragamatal, Kan Mara declared he could and
would take me to Presungul (Viron), but he strongly
deprecated my making any attempt to get into the more
western valleys. However, he said that if I was deter-
mined to try and get there, he would do all in his power
to help me. As the Katirs were just then on most fricndlv
terms with the Presungul people, it would obviously be a
great advantage to go into that country under Kan M;'n;i's
auspices. The Katirs, moreover, were at peace with the
Wai and the Ramgul Kafirs. The K;im, on the other
hand, had been at war with the Ramgulis for generations,
and were always liable to be attacked by them when
travelling in the Presnu country.

Nothing could be pleasanter than my relations with


the Kiim from the date of my return up to the end of the
month. The Chitr;il difficulty was settled, the Mehtar
had admonished Shah-i-Mulk, the Kafir prisoner had
been set at liberty, and friendly relations were again
established. The Kam headmen rightly thought that I
had had a principal hand in bringing about this satis-
factory state of affairs. They talked about building me
a house, there were no longer difficulties about supplies,
and an unusual deference was paid to my real or supposed

We planned a journey into the Presun (Viron) Valley.
It was arranged that I was to go with a few Kam Kafirs
up the Baprok Nullah, and cross the Mami Pass into the
Presun country with the help of the Katirs ; while Utah,
with a strong escort of Kam men, was to travel by an-
other road, meet me in Presungul, and escort me back
to Kamdesh. Nearly everybody seemed amiable and
helpful. There were, indeed, false rumours flying about
that I had distributed large sums of money at TiUtdeh ;
but as the authors of those rumours were known to
be men persistent in their hostility to me, their state-
ments were received with a good deal of reserve. The
inveterate enmity of the men referred to could only have
been overcome by bribing, when the remedy would have
been worse than the disease, for the thing could not
have been kept secret, while to bribe an enemy often
means paying a premium for ill-will. Umra Khan con-
tinued to send in his messengers, who explained that
the only obstacle to a complete ra2^2'>^'Oche7nent between
their master and the Kafirs was my continued presence
in Kamdesh, and to assure them that as soon as ever I
left the valley he was prepared to enter into a firm alii-


ance with them, and use all his military power to help
them against either the Mehtar of Chitnil or the Amir
of Kabul. These matters were openly discussed, but the
great majority of the people were still quite satisfied with
things as they were. Whether at that time we were
living in the calm which precedes the thunderstorm, or
were merely in a fool's paradise, I have never been able
to decide ; but it seems to me that the end of June was
really the period when my popularity reached its zenith,
in spite of the discontent which my journey to Lutdch
had undoubtedly awakened in the minds of many.


The narrative continviecl— Mersi again — Widing Chandlu in disgrace — Mii-
Jc'in's efforts for Umra Klian — The question of building a house for nie
— Quarrel between the three divisions of the village — The issue — General
disturbance in the upper village — From bad to worse — Testing my
friendship — Impossible demands — I am dismissed from Kamdesh — Utah
escorts me out of the valley — Arrival at Lutdeh — The tribe absent raid-
ing — The Avomen dancing to Gish — General ill-fortune — March up the
valley — Pshowar — Unpleasant experiences — Karlah Jannah receives "me
kindly — We become brothers — He escorts ]ne up the Skorigul — Return
to Lutdeh — Ten weary days there — Resolve to go to the Madugiil tribe
— Shermalik joins me at Glial )U with good news.

Early in July there was clearly something wrong with
the people of the upper village. One or two of their
headmen came to tell me they feared the Kam people had
lost favour in my eyes since I had been to the Katir
country. They were assured that such was not the case,
and they went away apparently satisfied with my assur-
ances. Nevertheless, there was obviously some soreness
in the minds of many of the villagers concerning my visit
to Lutdeh. The ungrateful Mersi, who had left me at that
place on our return journey to Minjan, brimming over with
gratitude for my kindness in treating his broken fingers,
and for the wages he had received for accompanying me,
no sooner arrived in Kamdesh than he began to grow dis-
contented with the money he had been paid. He appears
really to have convinced himself, against his own reason,
that I had given much more money to the Katirs than to
him. He went all over the upper village complaining of


the treatment he had received, and gradually infuriating
himself with his own eloquence.

Widing Chandlu, the Kam headman who started with
me frofti Kamdesh, was in much disgrace with his fellows,
for allowing me to cross the Mandal Pass. Public opi-
nion was indeed so strong against him that he kept to his
house and was terribly cast down. It gradually came to
be accepted as a fact that not only had I given a splendid
largess to the Katirs, but that the headmen, particularly
those of the eastern village, were receiving regular pay-
ments from me.

Mersi attempted openly to blackmail me. He was so
obviously in the wrong, and had behaved so badly
throughout, that he could get no single man to openly
support him. He uttered vague threats about murdering
me, and conducted himself so violently that there was
no possibility of our coming to terms. Indeed, he had
gone to sucli lengths before my return to K;imdesh
that he had closed every door of possible reconciliation,
lie had so furiously excited himself, and had indulged
in so many wild vapourings, that if an attempt had been
made to buy him off, his sudden change of front would
certainly have been attributed to its true cause. He
would have been admired for his successful tactics, and
would at once have found many imitators.

All this time Mir Jan, Umni Khan's adherent, among
the headmen, was untiring in his efforts to impress the
people with his own belief in the irresistible power of the
Khan of .Jandul, and with the sincerity of his wish for a
friendly alliance with the Kam.

My old friends of the east village remained fairly tirm,
although the rumours of the excessive favours which had


been bestowed on the Katirs were not without an unfor-
tunate effect on their minds also. Their jealousy of the
Lutdeh people did not make them exactly hostile to me,
but somewhat sore and a little indifferent.

On July 14th there was a large gathering of the head-
men to decide whether a house should be built for me,
and if so, where it was to be erected, and who was to do
the work. It seems that the proceedings opened quietly
enough, when some remark was made which stirred up
those feelings of jealousy so characteristic of the Kafirs.
Soon the representatives of the three divisions of Kam-
desh — the upper, the lower, and the east villages — were
hard at work quarrelling. At first they were all against
one another, but before the end, the east division had to
contend against the other two united. No news came to
me of what was going on, but subsequently it was re-
ported that my friends in the assembly grew more and
more excited, and finally quitted the council in great
anger. A small deputation from the east village after-
wards waited on me to say that in future they alone must
be relied upon to make all my arrangements. They
would build me a house, arrange for my supplies, and act
as guides and escorts, while the rest of the tribe were to
have nothing whatever to do with me. It appeared, also,
that in the acrimony of discussion the upper villagers had
declared that the Frank was of no use to them, as he gave
theni nothing, but reserved all his favours for the eastern
villagers ; while the latter indignantly, and with truth,
denied the accusation.

The next few days were busily employed by me in
pouring oil on the troubled waters. These efforts were
attended with a fair measure of success, when an unlucky


-» *> T
■> ■» 1

fight between two women in the upper ^ ilhi^jje led to a
general disturbance there. The quarrel itself was soon
settled, but the general excitement remained, and soon
found an outlet for its energy by re-starting the old con-
tentions about me with the east village.

And now matters went from bad to worse. The mal-
contents Avere careful to explain that against me person-
ally they had no complaint, and several of them added,
that should existing dissensions go to an extreme length
and fighting occur, every one respected me so much that
not a hair of my head would be injured. But my friends
were rapidly becoming cowed by the majority, and there
was no real danger of a fight. They were alternately
accused of receiving my money and taunted with not
supporting me better. It was at length agreed that a
certain test should be applied, to discover if my friend-
ship for the Ktim were sincere or not. Acting on this
suggestion, headmen representing the whole of the tribe,
came to ask me to send for a force of Chitr;ilis, to co-
operate with the Kafirs in a raiding expedition. The
spokesman declared that it was well known to all the vil-
lage that the Mehtar would do anything to please me,
and that if he were asked for rifles, he would certainly
send them. They argued, also, that the Mehtar would be
delighted at the chance afforded him of capturing prisoners
and selling them as slaves. It was fairly obvious that no
raid was contemplated ; nevertheless, the question could
not be trifled with. Quietly, but in unmistakable terms,
I declined to do as they asked, pointing out that my mis-
sion was one of ])eace above all things, and winding u])
by saying, that although they were well aware of my
readiness to help them to tlio extent of my ]iower if they

332 THE kAfir.s of the hindu-kush

ever were wantonly attacked by an enemy, yet such a pro-
posal as the one they were advancing could not be enter-
tained for an instant. INIy answer was listened to in
sullen silence, and the people shortly afterwards went
away without offering any comment on what they had
heard. The next day Torag Merak came to me with
another deputation ; indeed, the suggestion to test me in
the way described originated with him, and on getting
the same reply, he, in a real or simulated fury, ordered
me to leave the valley forthwith. Then followed two or
three days of interminable talk, until it was at length de-
cided by the great majority of the Kam that I must go
away. My own friends acquiesced in this decision. They
argued that it was not worth while, nor were they strong
enough, to fight. In this they were perfectly right, but
as they felt a little ashamed of abandoning me, they kept
murmuring half-hearted complaints against my having
rewarded the Katirs excessively.

One or two tentative experiments on a small scale,
to see the result of bribing antagonists, did not answer.
It only made the recipients shamefaced and silent in
council, where they had before been vociferous and

So, bearing in mind the extreme friendliness of the
Katir people, and their obviously sincere promise to take
me to Presungul (Viron), it seemed to me useless to
struggle any longer against the inevitable, and that my
dismissal must be accepted as gracefully as possible.

At the last moment I determined on a plan which
might not only enable me to return to Kdmdesh if it
were absolutely necessary, but would, at the same time,
enable me to reward all those who had served me.


although it was certain to cause great dissensious amongst
the people. So every man, woman, or child who had
in any way been helpful to me received a present of
money after my departure from the village. Every one
knew what each individual received, and that it was
payment for actual service rendered, while all tliose who
had opposed me, or who had looked on passively, of
course got nothing.

Once more the village divided itself into parties, the
minority not only devoted to me by the payments they
had received, but driven into my arms, so to speak, by
the resentment of those who got nothing ; while among
the majority there must necessarily have been a certain
number who, whatever they might say, would be natu-
rally anxious to curry favour with me at some future
time, in the hope of being handsomely repaid for their
good offices.

In spite of all that passed, we parted on very fair
terms. The only discordant note was the determination
on the part of the majority of the Kdm, that whatever
my destination might be, the straight road up the Bash-
gul was closed, and that the only way for me to get to
Lutdeh (Bragamatal) was by first going to C'hitrj'il.

Utah, the priest, who had expressed his intention of
escorting me out of the valley, was told that my deter-
mination to go to the Katirs was fixed and unchangeable.
In reply to a question if, in the event of my wanting to
return to the Kunar Valley through K.tni territory, any
objection would be raised to my doing so, he scouted
the idea of my being opposed by force, or indccMl in any
way, adding, "You have done no one any wrong, either
with their wives or female relations ; no one would drenm

334 Tin^^ kAfirs of the hindu-kush

of interfering with you." This was satisfactory enough
as far as it went, which was perhaps not very far.

My real intention was not announced until we had
passed the village of Pittigul, in order that there might
be no tribal discussion on the point. The general belief
was that as our road was up the Pittigul Valley, we
intended to enter Chitral by the road we had left it,
viz., over the Parpit Pass leading to Bamboret, When
my K;im companions were informed of my determination,
they raised no objection. Utah detailed his brother and
several other Kam men to accompany me, as well as
two or three of the Pittigul villagers.

Many little kindnesses on the part of poor people were
shown me when quitting the Kc4,m valley. Men brought
me goats and sheep in acknowledgment of my surgical
treatment of their relatives. Of course all were hand-
somely rewarded in return, but the offerings were
certainly not made in the hope of getting presents.
Just before we left Kamdesh a number of poor people
went to the headmen without my knowledge, and begged
them to accept certain cows and other property, and
then to ask me to remain in the country. They had to
be threatened with a beating before they desisted from
their amiable but mistaken efforts on my behalf.

We left Kamdesh on July 24th, and reached Braga-
matal (Lutdeh) on the 30th by the circuitous mountain
road already mentioned.

A severe disappointment awaited me at Lutdeh, which
was as entirely unexpected as the fantastic ceremonies of
the women which we were in time to witness.

It appeared that during a sacrifice to Gish, the Katir
Pshur had announced that great Gish was offended at


the paucity of his offerings, and had instructed him to
order the people to "attack." After he had delivered
himself of this sacred mandate, the inspiration of the
Pshur suddenly ceased.

The headmen collected together to consider tlie
question. It was eventually decided that it was un-
desirable, on every ground, to raid either the territory
of the Amir of Kabul or that of the ^lehtar of Chitnil,
while there were many objections to attacking the fierce
Kam people. It was also known that in a certain valley
belonging to the Wai tribe there was abundance of
flocks and herds, so it was ultimately decided that the
raid should be made there. A few days before my arrival
the expedition had started, and there was no single male
remaining in the Katir district over twelve years of age,
except the Pshur, and such as were too old or too
ill to undertake the journey. The women mcanwiiilc,
abandoning their field-work, collected in the villages to
dance day and night in honour of, and to propitiate,
the gods.

All this was bad enough, but it was not till two days
later that the full measure of my bad luck disclosed
itself, for in their progress through the Presungul ^'alley
the Katirs had managed to come to loggerheads with
the Presun tribe, and had slain two or tlirce (if them.
So when the warriors returned with immense spoil, but
lamenting many killed and wounded, they found them-
selves involved in war with the Wai and with the Presun
Kafirs as well. All idea of the Lutdeh ukmi b(Mng
aide to take me to Presungul had to lie given uji. in
fact, the only people by whose assistance tlic Tresnugul
could now be reached were the K.iin. wIki hnd just


turned me out of their territory, not unkindly, but most
decisively. The problem to be solved was how to get
back to the Kam again. It was a most difficult one, yet
it had to be faced.

Kcin Mara, the chief of the Katirs of the Bashgul \'alley,
acting under instructions from the Mehtar of Chitral,
obviously wanted me to leave his village, although he
was reluctant to tell me to go in so many words, while
two other of the headmen of Lutdeh were beginning to
grumble about my remaining any longer amongst them ;
not that they had any strong feeling on the subject, but
because they thought there was an off-chance of their
being bribed to silence when their discontent was made

I decided at length to march up the Skorigul Valley,
and there pay a second visit to Ahmad Diwana, in order
to gain time for Shermalik to try his utmost to carry out
my new plan of inducing the Kam to ask me to return
to them. He was carefully instructed in all the details
of the scheme, and was to keep me informed of the
course of events by sending trusty messengers to Lutdeh
at frequent intervals. Kan Mara, who maintained a
predominating influence over his tribe by reason of the
consistent support he received from his son-in-law, the
Mehtar of Chitral, gave a great sigh of relief when he
heard of my intention to leave his village and travel
about the country ; he hurried me off with as much haste
as decency permitted.

On reaching the village of Pshui or Pshowar, we
found the people in anything but an amicable frame of
mind. They conceived that they had been badly treated
by the Lutdeh men in the division of the spoils taken in


the recent raid. They absolutely refused to allow any
of the Lutdch men to enter their village. The latter
laughingly admitted that the Pshowar men had been
swindled, but remarked that they were " slaves," and it
did not matter. However, the ''slaves" made our visit
very uncomfortable ; not because they had any personal
resentment against me, but because, knowing me to be
a friend of Kan Mara, they hoped to annoy him by being
rude to me. As a matter of fact, old Mara, provided that
he was able to retain his unjust share of the })lunder,
cared little or nothing about the inconvenience any one
else might suffer on his account.

One of the headmen of Pshowar, a man who had
accompanied me into the Minjan valley a month or so
before, agreed to conduct me through the Skorigul.
Everything was settled, when a second headman swag-
gered up, and positively declared that unless he were
promised that his son should be taken to India as
Shermalik had been taken, he would not allow us to
travel in the Skorigul. This was merely a prelude to
many other demands of a toll-paying character, ^^'e
passed a most uncomfortable night. In the morning
one of my cooking-vessels was stolen from a P>alti in a
most impudent manner in broad daylight, while the men
of the village looked ripe for anything. A formidable
Ramguli desperado, who was also present, wavered in
his mind whether to join forces with me or incite the
Pshowar men to further mischief. He wanted me to
buy him over, but in an emergency of this sort it would
have been dangerous to have shown any symptoms of
wavering ; so high-handed proceedings were ado))te(l. and
the Kamguli was sternly warned oH". Tiie villagers were


threatened with the vengeance of my old friend, Murid
Dastgir of Urusp, a prince to whose attack they were
peculiarly exposed, if they gave me any further trouble.
Then, ostentatiously examining my pistol, cocking both
barrels of ray rifle, and putting myself at the head of
my frightened coolies, we marched out of the village
with as much dignity as possible.

The Pshowar men evidently did not wish to proceed
to extremities, as they knew that but a short distance off,
at Bad;'iwan, there was a firm friend of mine in the
person of old Karlah Jannah, who, although he was an
outlaw from the Katir tribe, was yet sufficiently strong
to inspire fear in such people as those who inhabit
Pshowar. So we went on our way unmolested. Karlah
Jannah received me with great warmth and kindness.
We became " brothers " in the usual Kafir way. We were
both of us more or less outcasts, and each had a liking
for the other. We remained together at his fort for
several days, after which he escorted me up the Skorigul
in defiance of Pshowar people, but had to confess his in-
ability to take me anywhere else without several months'
previous preparation and tribal negotiation.

Impatience for news from Kamdesh now impelled
me to return to Lutdeh, in the hope of meeting some
Kam messenger from Shermalik ; so we said good-bye

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 20 of 38)