George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 21 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 21 of 38)
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to Karlah Jannah, who shortly afterwards, finding the
valley too hot for him, retreated over the Mandal Pass,
and went over to the Afghans in Badakhshan.

The Pshowar people on my return journey gave me
no trouble, but were clearly anxious to be friends again.
They had found a strayed dog of mine, and made the
amende honorable by feeding the little animal to such


To face page 341.


an extent that it was scarcely able to walk. I'lieir over-
tures were accepted in the spirit in which they were
offered, but an invitation to stay a night in the village
was declined, everything being now satisfactory, and it
being undesirable to run any risk of a rupture to our
newly restored friendship.

Ten weary days passed in Lutdeh, during which period
my time was incessantly employed in watching with field-
glasses for Kam messengers who never came. At length
T resolved to march leisurely to the Mc4dugal tribe, and
see what effect my presence on their actual border would
have on the Kamdesh people. While halting at the
village of Chabu, Shermalik joined me, bringing the best
of news ; indeed it was altogether too good to be true.
He asserted that the Kam hungered for my return, and
that since my absence there had been such unhappincss
in the tribe, that wives would no longer speak to their
husbands. The upper village headmen were prepared
to do anything they were asked, for a consideration,
while the common people would know no happiness
until they saw me again. One piece of information
was decidedly cheering. The Kafirs had allowed my
baggage to be taken away to Chitral immediately after
my departure, and in their scrupulous honesty had
insisted on sending away also various articles which
had been discarded as useless. This was intended to
show that the tribe was friendly towards me personally,
and that we had no ground of complaint against one

Shermalik's roseate account of the friendly feelings
the Kam had for me was somewhat discounted by a
row, nearly ending in a fight, which he had wiih two


compatriots we met on the road ; the latter abusing him
for trying to take me back to Kamdesh.

Nevertheless, we started down the valley in high
spirits. We arranged that two of the upper village
headmen were to meet me at Bagalgrom (the chief
village of the Madugal Kafirs), and thence conduct me
up the Kamdesh hill. Shermalik hurried forward to
warn the people of our approach, while my party fol-
lowed slowly behind.


The narrative continued — Reach Bagalgrom — L. C. Merak and Bahdiir com-
bine against me — C4okal Chand — Critical position — Opportune arrival of
two Kiim headmen — The 5th of September ; an exciting day — Extracts
from diary — The successful coup — The 6th of September — Chandlu
Astdn's miracle — A day of woe — Biblical form of grief — An impossible
request— The Mehtar of Chitnil's envoy — The Mehtar's price for Kiim
assistance — Flight of the Mehtar's envoy — Revolt of the young "braves"
against the Jast — Changes in tribal opinion — Hurried start for Presun-
gul — MiUkiin's ultimatum— My opponents form my escort — Cross the

When we reached Bagalgrom, on the 3rd of September,
there were no Kam headmen to meet me, but on the
following day one of the lower village Jast made his
appearance. He was the orator, L. C. Merak. So far
from helping me, he at once set to work, in conjunction
with Bahdur, the chief of the Madugalis, to bully me.
We could get little or no food, and those two rascals
behaved most violently.

Finding at length that nothing was to be got out of
me, even in the way of promises, by such tactics, L. C.
Merak went away vapouring. Bahdur at length demanded
that my "native doctor," Gokal Chand, wlio some time
previously had joined me from Chitnil, should be left in
his hands.

A man well instructed in surveying and in road
sketching had been sent up to me from l*eshawar, and
had actually got as far as Lutdeh, when, at the sight
of the Kafirs, his courage failed liini, and ahhough lie


was then within a few easy miles of my camp, he turned
round and fairly bolted back to Chitral. I thereupon
sent for Gokal Chand, who had been with me once
before in Kamdesh, a man whose single-hearted loyalty
could be implicitly relied upon, and whose premature
death in India in May 1892 I shall never cease to

Gokal Chand was really a compounder of medicine
in the Chitral dispensary, but he possessed an extra-
ordinary amount of empirical skill in the treatment of
ordinary diseases, while his earnestness and industry
delighted the Kafirs, who could sincerely admire many
qualities of which they were themselves totally desti-
tute, Gokal Chand was unusually even-tempered and
kind-hearted, and was as popular in Kafiristan as he
was in Chitral, where for some reason or other he was
universally known by the Hindustani word meaning
" Uncle." His professional enthusiasm was great. To
watch Gokal Chand prepare a poultice, affectionately
pat it, and then apply it with pedantic care and exacti-
tude, was amusing and interesting. He was courageous
to fearlessness in his own peculiar way. On the march
I once offered him a spare revolver to carry, but he
turned his head away with something like annoyance,
and declared he did not know how to shoot. At the
village of Badamuk, where we were staying for a few
days on one occasion, he hurried indignantly to v/here
the headmen were seated round me in solemn conclave,
and declaring he had caught a culprit throwing stones
at one of my thermometers, produced a little boy cer-
tainly not more than two years old, who smiled upon
us, while he sucked as many fingers of one hand as


he could cram into liis mouth. Gokal Chuiid demanded
that the prisoner should be punished, but we could not
restrain our laughter or give him any answer, so he
hurried off, his shrugging shoulders and outspread hands
disclaiming all future responsibility concerning my instru-
ments. He was born devoid of all sense of humour, but
possessed that strong feeling of conscientiousness which
frequently more than atones for the defect.

It was this man that Bahdur announced his intention
of detaining, ostensibly as a doctor, but presumably for
ransom. When his demand was refused, Bahdur in-
formed me that we were his prisoners, and he behaved
so outrageously, that I made an excuse to pitch my
tent by the village bridge, and carefully studied the
ground with a view to making a bolt with my baggage
to Kamdesh if necessary, as it would be better to go
back to the Kam uninvited than to run the risk of
an almost certain conflict with the Madugiil folk.
Bahdur was so sure of his position and so careless,
that it is probable we should have got away in the
night, and, with ordinary luck, have had no necessity
for using my firearms.

We were, however, saved this experience by the
opportune arrival of two Kamdesh headmen, C. Ast;in
and Malk/m, who represented the upper and lower vil-
lages respectively. They were accompanied by several
followers, and announced that they had been sent fmui
Kamdesh to escort me to that village. They further
declared that all the tribe were gratified at my coming
back to them, and were prepared to receive me warndy ;
but private information reached me that this was hardly
a true description of the sentiments of the tribe, and


that those t\\o headmen, with a few others, were play-
ing a bohl game to take the Kam by surprise ; all the
conspirators feeling sure that they would be handsomely
rewarded for any help they were able to give me.

The 5th of September was a somewhat exciting day.
The following extract from my diary gives some
details : —

" Bahdur furious, but dares not oppose the Kam Jast.
At suggestion of latter I gave Bahdur handsome present,
which he shortly afterwards thrusts back into my pocket,
demanding five times the amount. I make no sign,
liahdur rages, but eventually heads procession over
bridge, and sulkily bids me farewell. We reach foot
of Kcim hill, and begin ascent. Half-way up meet
scared messenger, who says village has gone mad,
and Shermalik's house has been burnt because he was
suspected of bringing me back. Resolve to go on.
Rioting at north end of village. People rushing about
with mad cries, waving weapons. C. Astan views pro-
ceedings from top of small rock, jumps down girding
up his loins, and swears he is prepared to die for me.
Malkan had gone on ahead. Troops of women have
followed us for some time. Thought women disliked
me, but at a word from Astdn that I am in danger
they rush to collect my friends. Utah Ding, Shyok,
and other fighting men, few in number but nearly all
famed in war, collect around me. A big fight seems
inevitable. Coolness of little Gokal Chand. Clever
suggestion of my friends. They advance up the hill
in a body, while I, conducted by one man, slip through
the Indian-corn fields and down to the lower dancing-
platform, where my friends are rapidly collecting. They


receive me respectfully, many kissing my hands ; mean-
while men of upper village, finding I am not with
advancing party, rush to upper dancing-platform, wlu ncc
there comes terrible uproar. Malkan makes admirable
suggestion. Acting on it, I, accompanied by him alone,
start for his home in upper village. Malcontents
astounded at our quiet and matter-of-fact approach.
They sit in silent wonder. I greet all I know in the
customary manner, and try to express by my features
my entire ignorance of what is going on, and what the
row is about. Our triumph complete."

The success of this little coup was due to three causes.
First, Malkan was the head of one of the clans most
hostile to me, and no one suspected that he was my
friend, as he had been bought over secretly. Secondly,
there was no strong feeling against me personally. I
should probably only have been attacked if surrounded
by my own friends. Thirdly, most important of all, the
rioters were taken by surprise. Kafirs almost invariably
require time to sit in conclave and decide on a definite
line of action.

But our troubles were very far from ended. In my
diary under date 6th September is the following note ; —

"There seems no doubt that had I gone to C.'s
house last night there would have been a severe fight,
and in all probability many men must have been killed.
Most violent discussions everywhere. At big conference
tliis morning, the disaffected, white with rage, left the
dancing-platform in a body at nine o'clock in a most
dramatic manner. Old Sumri, A. Chdrii's mother, had
come down to cheer me up. The feeble old woman with
her big heart is quite capable of fighting on my behalf,


or rather, of getting badly hurt by persistently sitting
in front of my door. The Kafir idea of comforting one
is peculiar. A man just observed to me that there was
not much risk for me personally ; that if people were
killed they would be villagers, and that did not matter.
About ten o'clock C. Astan, the ' Debilala,' and several
others, came to say they would have no other ' king ' but
me ; they intended to build a fine house for me at once,
and so on. All the time a furious rabble were rushing
up and down outside with deafening outcries, which were
sometimes actually drowned for a few seconds by the
clamour in my room. I repudiated all wish to be a
king, declaring that I only desired friendship, and add-
ing that my heart was so sad at the internal discords of
the village, that until peace were restored it would be
impossible for me to discuss such questions."

It was shortly after this that C. Astan performed a
miracle. The mob outside had been growing more
and more furious every moment. My room was full
of friends, stripped to the waist, waiting for a
general attack. They looked anxious but determined.
Once or twice there were false alarms, when the men
jumped to their feet. The last of these alarms was
peculiar. The mad crowd sweeping backwards and for-
wards over my house-top (my roof was contiguous to
many others, which together formed a thoroughfare of
the village) suddenly seemed to gather itself about my
smoke-hole. The general shouting and excited speak-
ing all at once collected itself into one swelling roar,
when one of the Demidari, named Chara, was dragged
in through the door. It seems he had made some
remarks on my behalf to the crowd, which at once fell


To face page 348.


upon him. Luckily, a few friends were at hand, wlio
dragged him out of the clutches of the maniacs, and
then rushed together into, and in front of, my room.
Most of my friends in the east village were lying low,
fearing to excite still more the already raging crowd by
sliowing themselves ; but Utah had sent me word secretly
that they were all ready, and the instant there was a real
attack he and the others would hasten to my assistance.
I think that, in spite of the numbers against it, my party
would have won in the end, although it must have been
a touch-and-go business. It was just at the moment
when Chani was pulled in, and the end seemed to have
at last come, that C. Astan performed his miracle. He
rushed out, and in some extraordinary way managed to
make himself heard above the awful din. In an instant
there was absolute silence, and almost immediately after-
wards the riotous throng quietly dispersed. Waking
up from a nightmare could not have produced a more
remarkable effect on the senses. I was never more
astonished in my life.

The truth was that the wily Asttiu had shouted out
that sixteen thousand rupees would be paid by me to
make friends again ; and that the Kafirs believed this
daring lie. But knowledge of this did not reach me till
afterwards, and at the time Astan's power over the ])eople
seemed simply marvellous.

On the morning of the 7th the village was quiet, but
on that day, when every scrap of good fortune was re-
quired to enable me to weather the storm, a surjirising
piece of bad luck happened. Two youths, iSunra, the
grandson of Dan Malik, and Nilira, Utah's son-in-law,
were killed during a raid on the Tsarogul people. Ihesc


lads belonged to the party most devoted to me, and were
personal friends of mine ; indeed Nilira, in virtue of my
adopted relationship to Utah, always addressed me as
" father."

The whole village was in an uproar again, and when
the heads of the slain were brought in for funeral cere-
monies, all the women wailed piteously, while the men
were furious for vengeance. The bereaved fathers threw
themselves from their house-tops and rent the air with
their lamentations. The grief of these unhappy people
was most tragic. Nilira's father in particular, ordinarily
a mean-looking man, now became like an inspired seer.
Though badly hurt by his fall, he yet with outspread
hands kept crying out in a mighty voice, " O Nilira,
Nilira, my son, my son ! " No w^onder his sorrow-laden
accents touched the hearts of the people. It is difficult
to imagine anything more intensely pathetic. On my
going to try and comfort him, he, all bandaged as he
was, threw himself at my feet and implored my help,
although how he was to be helped was not apparent.
But on the following day, two of my firmest adherents
from the east village came as a deputation to again ask
me to w^rite to the Mehtar for a large force to help the
Kafirs to destroy Tsarogul. Although in declining to
accede to the request all my reasons were given as con-
vincingly as possible, and all my tact was expended in
trying to soften the disappointment my reply must neces-
sarily cause, my interviewers left me in sullen anger,
scarcely able to conceal the resentment they felt.

During the next few days the funeral rites of the two
youths and of a third man, a famous warrior, who had
died suddenly, fully occupied the attention of the village.


To /ace page SS^.'


and my own personal following became a little more
reconciled to me, although the greatest caution was
necessary in dealing with them.

At the time Snnra and Nilira were killed, two others
of the Kum were made prisoners by some of the A\'ai
people, although the latter were at peace witli the K;lin.
On the 14th the prisoners were returned with honour,
and a Kafir equivalent for an apology. This was good
news, but on the same day C. Astan came to ask me to
pay down the sixteen thousand rupees he had promised
the people in my name. Mian Gul, the ancient tliorn in
my side, had fully convinced the tribe, who knew nothing
about money, that more than double that sum was in my
possession ; so C. Astan played a bold game, and declared
he could not go back and face the Jast without tlie
money. His ambition was to pose as the wisest man and
the greatest benefactor of the tribe. He was impervious
to reason, and kept repeating, " How can I now face the
Jast? what can I say?" My reply was, "Speak the
trutli." He went away sorrowful. For the next three
days the village was simmering.

On the 17th an envoy from the Mehtar arrived. He
also brought me a letter from the C"hitr,il news-writer,
which told me that the Mehtar had detcnuincd to li(>lp
me in every possible way, and had promised to help tiie
K;im against the Ts;irogulis on certain conditions, among
which was that he must be sent beforehand a certain
number of beautiful girls. On the 20th the Ohitnil
diplomatist brought tlu^ headmen to me with iiiiicli com-
placency of heart, but the meeting quickly resolved itself
into something approaching a faction fight ; and on the
following day the Mehtar's ambassador left the country

356 Tlll

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 21 of 38)