George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 22 of 38)
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pressed my determination to visit the Kamah Pass, when,
at something one of their number said, there went up a
shout of approval, while Shermalik looked scared and
burst into tears. Most of the men half started to their
feet, and, in spite of Utah's " Matah-matah " (gently,
gently) and his imploring gestures, they glared at me
furiously. I was obviously within an ace of being seized,
and there was no time to be lost. My worries had been
so incessant, and I had been so badly used of late, that
for an instant a thought of the delight it would be to
give two of the ringleaders the contents of my heavy
Lancaster pistol if an actual attack occurred, clouded my
judgment. But in a flash of thought I saw that such a
proceeding must inevitably result in the massacre of my
whole party ; and as I got up from my seat and looked
at the wild faces, the first part of my subsequent plan
formed itself in my mind. I moved slowly to the door,
but once through it, jumped hastily on to the house-top
where my tent was pitched and flung the pistol on my
bed. The next instant I was several yards away walking
up and down and whistliug unconcernedly, looking over
the parapet. Presently the Kam came slowly towards me
from the three other sides. One or two of them began
to speak soothingly, telling me not to mind what had been
said, that it was all Shermalik's nonsense, and so forth.
All the time they edged up to me continually. By an
assumed natural movement I flung open my rough ulster
and put my hands in my trousers pockets. By this


To face page 363.


action they discovered I was not wearing my pistol. At
the same instant a shout from that little rascal Chandlu
Torag, who was spying into the tent, told them that the
weapon was lying on my bed. They at once rushed the
tent and seized all my firearms. I tried one last act of
" swagger," and loudly ordered them to put the guns
back. They were so surprised at my manner and tone
that they seemed on the point of obeying, when some
one cried out, " You obey this Frank as if you were his
dogs." Then there was no more hope. My Baltis had
been all put under arrest and warned that on the least
disobedience of orders they would be killed, while I was
now bluntly informed I was a prisoner and was to be
carried away to Kamdesh tied to two poles. For the first
and last time in Kafiristan I was in imminent danger of
being subjected to personal ignominy. I replied quietly
that I was seriously annoyed with them, and did not
wish to speak with them any more. They stood and
whispered for a few moments, and then all, except two or
three, went back into the gromma.

After walking up and down for half-an-hour, just
as if nothing had happened, I shouted as usual for
Mir Zaman, one of the Baltis, to bring me hot water
for my teeth. He was allowed to do so. The poor
fellow Avas trembling with fear and weeping. AMtiiout
detection I managed to tell Gokal Chand to get hold
of Chandlu Torag, and promise him anything he liked if
he would procure me a guide to take me out of Shtevgrom
during the night. Gokal Chand in the middle of the
conclave in the gromma gave my message to Chandlu
U'orag, who Avas the only one amongst them who could
speak Chitrali. In the meantime, I had ostentatiously


undressed and got into bed and put out my light, to
arise immediately afterwards and redress myself. A
goat was just then being sacrificed in the gromma, and
all the Kafirs went to the feast, believing me safe for
the night. While the ceremony was proceeding and the
responses were being made, Gokal Chand, Chandlu Torag,
and a Presun man crept into my tent. In a few minutes
we had packed up a few stale chappaties, and two or
three blankets. The parapet was only a few feet distant,
so holding our breath, we silently dropped over it on to
a slope of stony fragments below, all except Chandlu
Torag, who crawled back to the gromma, where he made
himself prominent, and took care of his alibi. On the
moving stones it was a little diihcult to keep our foothold,
and poor little Gokal Chand more than once sat down
unintentionally and violently, on each of which occasions
the shingle slipped with him, making an appalling rattle.
We stopped, palpitating, and listened intently ; but the
stars in their course fought for us, for a war-party of
the Presungulis just then issued from the village with
anticipatory shouts of victory, and under cover of this,
the only kind of psean they were ever likely to raise, we
managed to get clear of Shtevgrom. Our guide would
at times bid us lie still, while he crept forward to re-
connoitre. It was impossible not to remember the stories
which had delighted one's youth. It almost seemed as
if we were playing at Indians over again. Finally we
crossed the river and hid in a labyrinth of goat-pens,
where the only possible fear of discovery lay in our
being tracked by my dogs.

Our hiding-place was perfect. Not only were we in
the labyrinth of pens already mentioned, but we were

A*. \.


To face page 364.


also concealed in an inner small apartment, the presence
of which could have hardly been suspected by any one,
while in the big outer room a woman came at daylight
with her children, who played about noisily and un-
consciously, although it is certain that the woman must
have known where we were. Chandlu Torag himself
could not find us in the evening, until we revealed our
presence by whistling, although he knew the particular
block in which we were concealed. In the evening
the coast being reported clear, we emerged from our
hiding-place. We learned that our absence had not
been discovered by the Kafirs until the early morning,
when Chandlu Torag had at once been suspected of
helping us ; but he declared, and most of the Kjifirs
believed, that he had never left the gromma for a single
instant during the night, while all remembered that
he was one of the foremost in rushing my tent. They
knew instinctively that he must be in some way con-
nected with our getting away, but he had managed so
cleverly, that they could prove nothing against him. He
had confided everything to Utah, who contrived to be
left behind, on the remote chance of my having gone
down the Presun Valley. From our hiding-place we had
watched the K;im people hunt everywhere, scour the
country to find us, and eventually start off with my poor
Baltis as prisoners, under the impression that I had gone
to the Katir part of the Bashgul Valley.

Next day we ascended and examined the Kamah
Pass, which leads from Presungul to the MinjVm Valley,
and after a night's rest, hurried after the K;im men,
rightly conjecturing that they would be hard put to
it to explain in a satisfactory way to my friends, or even


to my opponents, in Kumdesh, the cause of my absence.
The Baltis were certainly safe, provided I put in my
appearance without delay, while it was nearly certain
that, after a few days' reflection, my late companions
would cool down, and, after separating each to his own
home, would rapidly grow shamefaced and depressed
when deprived of the support of their fellow-rascals.

I got back to Kamdesh on October 14th, after we
had suffered considerable hardships on the road, when,
on account of my inflamed heel-tendon, we had been
obliged to take up our quarters in a cave for a time,
to find my prognostications were true. The men who
had behaved so badly to me were now become humble.
The whip was in my hand, and it was applied as freely
as was consistent with prudence. After haranguing the
people many times, I only consented to return to my
house in the upper village after receiving profuse apolo-
gies, and when we had reached a point beyond which
it would have been unsafe to carry the matter farther.
When Kc4firs are excited, it is necessary to keep absolutely
calm and cool ; but when they are ashamed of them-
selves, it is good policy to assume anger and indig-
nation. In all circumstances a traveller should seek,
at all hazards, to maintain his personal dignity in an
unbending manner. There was now a considerable revul-
sion of tribal feeling on my behalf; nevertheless it was
clear that the time for my going away had arrived. My
sole remaining object was that my departure should be
a friendly one on both sides. The Kam had become tired
of their internal dissensions, and were more desirous
than ever of entering into an alliance with Umni Khan
of Jandiil. They were prevented with difficulty from


adopting the suicidal policy of introducing a large Jandul
force into their valley to help them against the Tsaro-
gulis. They indeed stopped short of this mad scheme,
but they were all agreed in the opinion that they had
nothing to lose and everything to gain by accepting the
Khan's overtures. He had always made a great point of
the necessity of my going back to Gilgit before he and
they could become friends. It was a knowledge of this
fact which made the Kam willing and anxious for me to
leave their country without further ado. I also wished
to start for Gilgit, where frontier troubles were threaten-
ing, and where it occurred to me that my presence might
possibly be useful ; besides which, it was extremely
doubtful if my temper could have borne the strain of a
longer residence in Kafiristan, without a change of some
kind. My best friends thought it expedient for me to
go away from Kamdesh for a time, ^^'e all parted on
good terms. At our final interviews the statesmen of
the tribe begged me to remember them with good- will.
They were evidently well assured of my kindly inten-
tions towards them, and plumed themselves greatly on
having secured my friendship, while they at the same
time felt certain of securing the alliance with Umni Khan.
My warnings against the designs of that wily and ambi-
tious ruler were entirely disregarded. Only a very few
people paid the slightest attention to my words, and
those were men of little or no influence in the village.
The Kafirs were simply fatuous on the subject of Umra
Khan, and paid dearly for their credulity.

Just before starting, the Kiiiirs were informed of my
readiness to take a certain number of the Ki'im tribe to

India with me as guests of the Viceroy. Nearly the



whole village clamoured to go. Instead of finding it
hard to get men to accept my invitation,- as was the case
on my first visit to Kamdesh, the difficulty was how to
make any selection from the crowds of volunteers. Once
more angry discussions broke out all over the village.
The different clans became jealous of one another, and
fighting was only avoided with difficulty, and not before
one or two dagger-wounds had been inflicted. To pre-
vent further disturbances, it was decided by the Jast that
no one should be allow^ed to go. To enforce this decision,
a large company of the Kam was deputed to escort me to
the frontier, nominally to ensure my suffering no incon-
venience on the road, but really to prevent any of the
tribe going away with me. It was also decided and pro-
claimed that, should any one be presumptuous enough to
disregard the orders ol the Jast and accept my invitation
to India, his wives, his houses, his flocks, and his herds,
would be seized and sold, and the proceeds divided
among the clans. At the time it was my fixed reso-
lution to return to Kafiristan after a winter's rest, to
penetrate into and explore the western valley. I had,
therefore, been careful to secure young men of good
family belonging both to the Kam and the Katir tribes
to go with me on a visit to India. It was all very well
for the Kam elders to threaten all kinds of penalties to
any one who accepted my invitation, but it was perfectly
certain that nothing would or could be done to anybody
who accompanied me, provided that he belonged to a
sufficiently powerful clan.

I left Kamdesh on October 22, and crossed the
Chitral frontier three days later. The large number of
Kafirs who escorted me bade me good-bye in a cordial


and friendly spirit just short of the border. It certainly
did not surprise me when, an hour or t^YO later, the young
men invited to accompany me began to catch me up one
by one. They fell into their places calmly and naturally,
and listened with the greatest fortitude to the messages
that were sent after them by the Kara headmen. They
knew well that the clans to which they belonged were
not only strong enough to protect their property from
being pillaged, but were at heart delighted that their
representatives were with me.

We halted five days in Chitral to collect the whole
party and make final arrangements for the journey to
Gilgit. The Mehtar was extremely kind and helpful,
while the Chitrc'ilis, especially Shah-i-Mulk, the governor
of Kila Drosh, and others who lived near the Kafir
border, viewed me with great interest, not unmixed with
some feeling of disappointment. They had predicted,
with conviction, that I should never be seen again, espe-
cially after the disturbances broke out in Kamdesh con-
sequent on my return to that village ; and they were,
perhaps, just a little hurt at finding their prophecies
falsified. Shah-i-Mulk never tired of slightly paraphras-
ing an old saying, "It is all very wonderful, but the most
wonderful thing is that you have returned."


The narrative concluded — Reach Gilgit — The Hunza-Nagar expedition —
I officiate as British Agent at Gilgit —Give up the idea of returning to
Kiifiristiin —Conclusions.

My party reached Gilgit on November i6th. The
Hunza-Nagar expedition was on the point of starting,
and shortly afterwards, owing to the unhappy accident
of Colonel Durand being wounded at the storming of
Nilt Fort, it fell to my lot to officiate as British Agent
at Gilgit until the end of the war. Since then my time
has been so constantly employed on frontier "political"
duty, that my once cherished design of returning to
Kafiristan will now never be carried out.

My work in that country is consequently most incom-
plete, but one chief object ever present to my mind has,
I believe, been accomplished. It was this : that in every-
thing I did or said, the possibility of some other Eng-
lishman following me must always be remembered. I
invariably acted on the supposition that I was the first
of a series of travellers about to visit Kafiristan, and
that the success of those coming after me would largely
depend on the way the people were managed by me,
and on the general impression they were given of my

Without being didactic, it may be well to put down
my opinion of the methods which should be adopted by
travellers who may have dealings with a people like the


Kafirs, The first thing is to try and impress tlieir minds
with the idea of a strong personahtj'. Geniahty and
grave kindness of manner are as valuable as anything
like buffoonery or "chaff" is hurtful. The Kafirs would
at times shout with laughter at good-tempered ironical
remarks of a very simple kind. ^^'ith an excitable
people, such as they are, perfect coolness and command
of the temper when they are effervescing or clamouring
are indispensable. Ignorance of the language spoken
has its advantages as well as its drawbacks. It is
even necessary sometimes to assume a greater ignorance
than you possess. On more than one occasion at K;'im-
desh, a furious conclave has been completely discomfited
by my quietly bringing a chair, sitting down in a con-
venient position, watching the proceedings with a sym-
pathetic interest for a few minutes, and then turning to
my book.

Once the rascal Mersi had the assurance to harangue
a small crowd, inflaming them against me, close to my
house. I stepped up to the orator, nodded pleasantly
to him, and offered the Kafir salutation for "How are
you?" &c. He was so embarrassed that all his eloquence
left him, and the people laughed heartily, enjoying the
fun of my supposed unconsciousness of what was going
on. Another time a man, peacocking before a group
of women, shouted to me to leave the valley within a
day, or he would — and lie made a sign with his hand
of plunging a dagger into his stomach. 1 went up to
the man, touched the place he had so violently indicated,
and told him to go to Gokal Chand for medicine. 'J'hat
man was shouted at by his fellows for weeks afterwards.
It is needless to multiply instances, for any Englishman


with the faintest sense of humour can always score off
wild men up to the actual outbreak of hostilities, pro-
vided that he keeps cool. No particular amount of
courage is required, for anxiety is a transient emotion,
and goes away of itself after a day or two. The real
cause of my troubles in Presungul was my own illness,
which prevented me from restraining the first beginnings
of the outbreak. After my recovery, it had made too
much headway, and there w^as no remedy, for the people
had gone mad. Truthfulness is very important. The
Kafirs used to test my word by coming back a week
or two after they had been told stories of things which
appeared marvellous to the verge of impossible in their
eyes. They would with assumed ingenuousness revert
to the former conversations, and would cross-examine
me with great skill. I always took care that numbers
and other facts never varied in my answers.

The people gradually came to trust me to a con-
siderable extent. At first they would never give sheep
or other provisions without the money being paid down
on the spot ; but later on, men w^ould go for w^eeks
without taking the price of their property. They treated
me, in fact, as a kind of bank.

A traveller cannot, in short, be too rigid in keeping
all promises. I adopted the plan of insisting upon
having my own way, as far as possible, whenever my
fixed determination had been definitely announced, even
when a persistence in my resolution might appear almost
churlish. On the whole, the results of this experiment
were good, but it taught me caution, and the necessity
of never declaring a fixed resolve except after proper


Lastly, it is always of the utmost importance to try
and discover the drift of public opinion. It is dangerous
to disregard it merely because it often appears illogical
or inconsequential, although it may be politic to set it
at defiance on exceptional occasions, if you feel suffi-
ciently sure of the ground beneath your feet. A greater
mistake cannot be made than to strive unduly to win
the affections of the people. The thing itself is practi-
cally an impossibility. If you retain their respect and
confidence, and possibly their gratitude also, nothing
more is necessary. The only way to gain the love of
their hearts is voluntarily to abdicate the heirdom of
centuries of civilisation, to sink to a lower level of
conduct, to approve of what cannot be defended, and
to affect an indifference to most of the Christian virtues.
It is well also to remember that you cannot change the
nature of an adult, however much you may be desirous
of doing so. Wild men may be controlled or influenced
by the methods universally known, but their instincts
are immutable.


Tlie Kiifir Pantheon — Difficulty of investigation — Scepticism — Bashgulis and
Presuns contrasted — Theology — List of the chief deities — Storj- of Bagisht
— Legends of Imra — Imrii's sacrifices and temples — Imrd's handwriting
— The mysterious hole — Imra's iron bar — Other places sacred to Imra —
Gods grouped for worship — Sacred stones outside temjiles — Moni — Other
deities — Dizane — Nirmali — Krumai.

The Kdfir religion is a somewhat low form of idolatiy,
with an admixture of ancestor- worship and some traces of
fire-worship also. The gods and goddesses are nume-
rous, and of varying degrees of importance or popularity.
Probably Imra the Creator, Moni (commonly spoken of
as "the prophet"), Gish the war-god, Bagisht, Dizane,
Krumai, and Nirmali are common to all the tribes, but
there are several inferior deities, or godlings, who seem
to be peculiar to particular localities. It is probable,
almost certain, that the same god is known by different

names in different tribes ; but even if we allow for this,



there must still be many gods who are unknown or dis-
regarded except by particular tribes, or even in particular
villages. In Presungul every village is supposed to be
under the care of one special god, whom the villagers
worship and honour above all others. The god Arom is
the tutelary deity of the Kam tribe ; but he appears to
be rather unpopular, and to be chiefly sacrificed to when
a peace is concluded.

The difficulty of getting information from the Kafirs
about their religion is very great. In Presungul the
people at first protested against my being shown their
gods at all, and it was only after they had been assured
by my companions that I was a Kj'ifir like themselves
that they gave a somewhat reluctant consent. The Bash-
gul Kafirs had no objections of this kind ; indeed, they
seemed to take a peculiar pleasure in showing me their
little temples, and in inviting me to be present at their
ceremonies. On those occasions they were in the habit
of watching my face narrowly, as if anxious to discover
from my features my opinion about their observances.
With them the chief difficulty was that they seemed to
know so little about their own theology. People were
constantly referring me from one man to another for
information, but each succeeding informant seemed to
know less than his predecessor, while the little he had
to tell was only extracted after the expenditure of much
time and trouble. Cross-examination of a K;'ifir irritates
w^hen it does not bore him or send him to sleep. If
pressed with what he considers tiresome questions, the
man not unfrcquently jumps up and makes a clean bolt
of it. My information was mainly derived from the little
stories of the gods which were related to me and to other


listeners in the evening round a fire by Utah, the high-
priest, and by Karlah Jannah, who was a born story-
teller ; but the latter, unhappily, was extraordinarily
impatient of anything like interruption, and equally dis-
liked subsequent questions designed to clear up doubtful
points in a narrative. Dc4,n Malik of Kamdesh was the
man who, by common repute, knew more about the prin-
ciples of his religion than any other person, but it was
impossible to obtain much information from him. He
had a habit of always turning the tables upon me by
plying me with questions ; besides which, he seemed to-
think that the most interesting points for discussion were
whether the English or Russians were created first by
Imra ? which country was first created ? how many daugh-
ters Baba (father) Adam had ? and many other similar
speculations, which he would return to again and again,,
to the exclusion of all other religious questions.

It must be remembered that the Bashgul Kafirs are no
longer an isolated community, in the strict sense of the
word. They frequently visit Chitral, and have dealings
with other Musalmc4n peoples as well. Many of their
relatives have embraced Islam without abandoning the
ties of relationship. One of the results of this free inter-
course with Musalmdns is that Bashgul Kafirs at the
present day are very apt to mix up their own religious-
traditions with those of their Musalman neighbours.
This greatly confuses matters, and it is hopeless for me
to try to write anything final, or even moderately compre-
hensive, concerning the religion of Kafiiistan ; a modest
record of what I actually saw and actually heard is all that
can be attempted. Possibly a better acquaintance with
the Bashgul language might have made many things clear


to me which now remain dark, and perhaps had my inter-
preters been better the same result might have followed ;
but it appears to me that the chief reason why I discovered
so little about the Kafir faith is because the Kafirs them-
selves know so little on the subject. It would seem that
in Kafiristan the forms of religion remain, while the philo-
sophy which those forms were originally intended to
symbolise is altogether forgotten. This is not, perhaps,
surprising in a country in which there are no records of

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 22 of 38)