George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 26 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 26 of 38)
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entire ceremony. The " such " is replaced by the word
" shoo," and in adding the cedar branches, bread, ghee,
&c., to the fire, the Utah makes a soft, whining, half-
mewing noise, and any words he may utter are quite
indistinguishable, to my ear at any rate. The Presun
Pshurs never seem to be violent. They fall on one knee
by the fire when their turn comes, and go through their
performance in an abstracted, half-melancholy manner.
1 know nothing of the behaviour of the Wai ])eople at
sacrilices. When a goat was slaughtered for them at
Kiimdesh, they always liked to dabble some of tlie l)Kiod
on their foreheads.

Miracles are occasionally performed. L'tali has some-
times told me of such things, but I have never seen any
myself. The miracle usually related was of a man under
supernatural protection standing for some minutes in tlie
centre of a large fire without being in any way injured.

K;ifirs sometimes trv to cheat a god. l-'or instance,


they will wait a few hours after finding out which
deity must be sacrificed to for a change in the weather,
in the hope that the sky may clear and the wind stop
without an offering being necessary. Once a friend of
mine, named Chara, whose little son was apparently
dying from small-pox, after he had sacrificed a cow to
Imra on the boy's behalf, discovered from the swinging
bow that Bagisht wanted an offering of three fine goats.
He thereupon bargained with the god that he should
have the goats as soon as the boy got well, but not
before. The boy recovered, and I hope Bagisht re-
ceived the goats. Probably he did, Chara being a very
honest fellow for a Kjifir.

The Kafirs delight in stories of marvellous or super-
natural things. Dan Malik told me he had seen a
Musalman doctor perform an operation with a knife
on a man in the Kunar Valley, and draw out from
the bottom of the incision a large centipede, which was
the cause of the patient's illness. Dan Malik really
believed the truth of this story. My own stories of
Loudon, its great size, the conveyance of water and gas
through pipes, the use of coal as fuel, and so on, were
highly appreciated. The Kafirs used to cross-examine
me a long time afterwards to try and find discrepancies
in the details of my wonderful stories. Probably they
thought it required a great deal more credulity on their
part to swallow my narratives than they exacted in
trying to make me believe their fables. They believe
in love-philtres and love-charms, and long to possess
them. They tell of a ^vonderful grass which grows
near the hamlet of Agaru in the Nichingul, where, if
you take a gun and fire at the grass (it is not stated


what prompted the first discoverer to make such a
curious experiment), the broken blades, before tliey can
fall to the ground, are seized and carried off by pigeons,
large flocks of which rise at the report of the gun and
fly away. Once a man managed to secure a blade of
this grass and started for his home. More than ten
score women, such was the potency of the strange herb,
followed him with love-sick moans. As he neared his
home his mother came forth and cried out, " Oh, my son,
what is it you have about you which distracts me so
much ? Whatever it is, cast it away ! " With filial
promptitude the man complied with his mother's re-
quest. The fragment of grass fell in the fork of a
large tree, which was at once split asunder. Much was
related to me about certain magical pools of water.
There were three in particular, one near the village of
Pittigul, another in the Muman country, the third on
the road to Waigul. If any one approaches these pools
too closely, the water becomes visibly troubled, while
if an arrow were dipped into filth and fired at its sur-
face, a mighty torrent rushes forth inundating all the
surrounding country. In former times this was fre-
quently done, but it has never been repeated of late
years. My friends professed an anxiety to show nie l)y
practical demonstration that they spoke truthfully, but
they took care never to carry out their expressed wish.
At Pittigul they declared it could not be done, because
if it were, the furious water would sweep away all the
houses and fields.


A Kiifir tribe a tlieoretic democracy — The inner council — The orators —
A Kiifir parliament — The Urir — The Urir Jast — An Urir election —
Influence of tradition and custom — Tyranny of majorities — Punishments
for various offences — Disobedience to the Jast — Theft — Murder — " Cities
of refuge " — Atonement in kind — Vengeance — Assault — Adultery — Minor
offences — Oaths — Debt — Inheritance.

Kafirs are theoretically all equal. They maintain this
principle themselves. Actually there is an oligarchy, or,
in some tribes, an autocracy. The affairs of a tribe such
as the Kam are managed by the Jast nominally, but
actually by a small group of greybeards, who at ordinary
times rule in a more or less absolute way. The Katirs
and the Madugalis submit to the rule of one individual,
unless their cupidity is aroused, when all common rules
apparently snap of their own accord.

The Kam ruling authority in ordinary times consisted
of three Jast, who were also Mirs, and the priest. They
used their power tactfully, and always knew the bent of
public opinion.

Next to this inner council of the Jast came the orators,
a troublesome class, who have wonderful influence in
exciting or convincing the people. Volubility, assurance,
and a good voice are as powerful amongst the Kafirs as
elsewhere. All the orators of real influence were Jast
also ; one of them was one of the ^Ilrs. On all ques-
tions of policy, foreign or domestic, Kafirs sit in parlia-
ment and discuss the matter noisily. Yet in ordinary


times the opinion of the inner council, most likely ])re-
viously agreed upon among themselves, prevails.

A Kafir parliament is a strange sight. The clamour is
wonderful. A dozen men, perhaps, try to speak at once ;
each has his own little group of listeners, whose atten-
tion, if it wanders, he seeks to recall by loud ejaculations
of " ai ai ! " or by little pokes in the ribs with his walk-
ing-club. If some very exciting topic is being discussed,
perhaps all are talkers and none are listeners ; but, as a
rule, when one of the tribal orators begins to speak, he
gets the attention of the greater part of the assembly, his
efforts being helped by shouted illustrations, or further
arguments, by one or two of his admiring friends. K;itirs
love to argue among themselves, to decide on some defi-
nite line of action. Singly they are often reasonable, but
when they go ofi" in a mob to the dancing-platform, or
group themselves under a tree and begin excited discus-
sions, it is practically impossible to foretell what they
will decide. Moreover, the discussion arrived at on one
day is quite likely to be rescinded on the next day, and
reverted to on the third. But such occurrences are
exceptional, and only happen when the people arc labour-
ing under strong excitement on some subject, such as a
prospect of gain, which appeals to each individual per-
sonally, and maddens him with cupidity and indecision.
Generally the Jast, or its inner circle, manage every-

The Ur or Urir are thirteen individuals selected aunu-
aily to act as a kind of magistracy in the tribe. Their
chief, the Ur or Urir Jast, is an important man ; the re-
riiainder are merely his followers and assistants. The
duties of the Urir as a body are to regulate the amount


of water that each agriculturist is to receive from
the common irrigation channels. In ordinary times at
Kamdesh there is no difficulty about this ; the water is
brought down in canals from the snow-field behind and
to the south of the village, and is ample for all require-
ments, but if the snowfall has been light and the summer
hot and dry, great troubles arise. The women clamour
for water for their parched fields, and quarrel, abuse one
another, and fight viciously for the little water which
remains. The Urir, either alone or with the general
help of the community, keep the artificial watercourses
in good order.

Another important duty they have is to see that no
one picks or eats walnuts or grapes before the appointed
time. Many wild stories are told of the strictness with
which this duty is done. For visitors and guests great
exception is made, and the people are delighted to enter-
tain strangers just about the time when the fruit is ripe
but permission to collect it has not been given. A
traveller sometimes finds himself overcome with the
kindness of his entertainers, who, as a matter of fact,
are practising hospitality to themselves as much as to
him. But with this exception, the rule is strict about
the plucking of fruit. The Urir punish disobedience by
the infliction of fines, which, as they naively put it, they
" eat " themselves. It can only be the prospect of sharing
in the fines which make men willing to serve in the
often thankless office of the Urir. It is astonishing how
well the people obey their unwritten laws. There are
occasionally disputes and quarrels in consequence of
the penalties inflicted, but both the punishers and the
punished are obliged to be circumspect, for a public


opinion which avenges any outrage on itself by promptly
burning down the culprit's house and destroying his pro-
perty is a power not to be lightly disregarded. If the
Urir were flagrantly unjust or tyrannous, public opinion
would suppress them at once ; while, on the other hand,
disobedience to then' lawful and proper enactments would
be certain to be punished. The flaw in the arrangement
is that the Urir, being human, fear to offend the wealthy
or the strong families ; but the system seems to work
very well on the whole.

The head of the Urir, the Urir or Ur Jast, is not only
the chief elected magistrate, but he has other duties
also to perform, of a somewhat complex nature. Gene-
rally speaking, he acts as master of the ceremonies
at all the festivals and dances. He beats up recruits for
the dances, and stimulates flagging energies, not only
by exhortation, but also by example. He is the most
earnest chanter of responses, and the most untiring
dancer in the village. He has to light the fire at the
gromma every Wednesday night for the weekly T\;'ifir
Sabbath, the Agar. He also seems to be the oHicial
entertainer of guests.

The election of the Urir Jast and his twelve com-
panions in 1 89 1 took place on March 19, at the Durban
festival. I missed seeing the procedure for myself. It
seems that the proceedings were of a simple character.
First of all, a bull was sacrificd to Gish ; after that, the
Jast and the people present decided who should hold
office for the following year, l-'inally, Utah, tlie priest.
taking that portion of the Hour which rciiiaiiied over
from the sacrifice, carried it to the new Ur Jast's house,
when the election was considered coni|)lete. It seems

43.S rim kAfiks of the hindu-kush

that all the flour not used as sacrifice is similarly carried
to the Ur Jast's house. On the particular occasion
referred to, this newly elected Ur Jast was absent with
his flocks. So his brother at once adorned himself
with a fillet, threw a scarf over his shoulder, and began
to wander restlessly all over the village, as though very
busy, yet apparently doing nothing, the twelve Urir
stringing after him. The actual Ur Jast was sent for in
hot haste, and on his arrival had to feast all comers for
several nights at his house, where there was dancing,
as well as other festivities. On the last day of the
month, soon after noon, women from every part of the
village appeared, carrying each a wicker basket full of
flour to the new Ur Jast's house. The women all wore
their horned caps, which, among the Kam, are only
worn on occasions of special ceremony. The W'hole of
each basketful of flour was not bestowed upon the Ur
Jast, but a small quantity was carried home again by
each woman, where it was used in an offering to Imra.
It was burnt with cedar branches, ghee, and bread on
the family girdle. On the whole, in consequence of
the contributions he receives, the Ur Jast's appoint-
ment is believed to be lucrative as well as honourable,
although his expenditure on the village feasts must be

Besides the authority exercised by the Jast and by
the Urir, the Kafirs are influenced very strongly by tradi-
tion and custom — the unwritten, and even unspoken
laws of the people. If the perplexed stranger asks the
explanation of practices and usages which are new to his
experience, the reply will almost invariably be " Insta
charaza " (It is our custom), and this will be said in a tone


to imply there is nothing more to be said on the subject.
The fear of ridicule is a powerful factor in preventing a
Kafir from adopting novel procedures or inventing new
rules for action. If he can refer any given question to
central principles generally recognised and accepted by
Kafirs, he is happy ; but if he have no good cause for
action of his own initiative, he will do little or nothing ;
he will wait to have the matter settled by open tribal

The tyranny of majorities is very great. As a rule,
a minority gives way at once. Indeed it must be so,
for the final argument is usually a threat. A Kafir is
accustomed in all ordinary questions rapidly to calculate
what would be his chances of success if the matter in
dispute were to end in a fight, and he dearly loves to
fight with all the probabilities in his favour. If physical
superiority is against him, he generally gives way at once,
acquiescing without rancour in the views of the majority.
In his own way the Kafir has an immense amount
of Eastern fatality in his disposition, and is usually
intelligent enough to distinguish between what is and
what is not inevitable.

Disobedience to the Jast in council is punished
promptly and severely. The offender's house is burnt
down, and his property is dispersed and destroyed. As
the Jast come from all the clans of a tribe, their decision
is the decision of the whole people ; and he must be
a brave man indeed who would refuse to accept the
fiat of the council. The penalty mentioned is in reality
a theoretical one only, for no one ever incurs it. If
he felt himself unable to obey the rule of the Jast, a
man would run away from his tribe altogether. The


only instances known to me where the punishment was
ever tlireatened were two in number.

The penalty for theft is rather doubtful. Theoreti-
cally, it is a fine of seven or eight times the value of
the thing stolen ; but such a punishment in ordinary
cases would only be inflicted on a man of inferior mark,
unless it were accompanied by circumstances which
aggravated the original offence. I should say, as a
rule, that the loser would get his property back ; there
would then be high words and the prospect of a fight ;
neighbours would intervene, and a goat would be sacri-
ficed by the thief. Everybody would make friends, and
the sujfferer would be given some slight supplemental
payment, as recompense for the trouble he had been
put to in recovering his property. The tribe would
heavily punish any one who stole from another tribe or
people with whom they were anxious to keep on good
terms. Then the virtuous indignation expressed by
the tribe's orators is most edifying, and the penalties
are severe. In one case I know, restitution was ordered
by the Jast, and a fine of fifteen Kabul rupees was also

Murder, justifiable homicide, and killing by inadver-
tence in a quarrel, are all classed as one crime, and pun-
ished in the same way. Extenuating circumstances are
never considered. The single question asked is, Did the
man kill the other ? The penalty is an extremely heavy
blood-ransom to the family of the slain man, or perpetual
exile combined with spoliation of the criminal's property.
The man who has caused the death of a fellow-tribesman
at once takes to flight and becomes a "chile" or outcast,
for his clan will not help him in any way. His house is


destroyed and confiscated by the victim's clan, and his
property seized and distributed. If he has relatives, such
as a father or a brother, who hold goods in common, it is
asserted that their property is looted also ; while, if it is
known that their possessions are entirely separate, they
must not be touched. There seems, however, to be a
general impression abroad that the law in this respect is
more severe to the poor than to the rich. Nevertheless,
public opinion is strong enough to ensure that the shedder
of blood leaves his village, in any case, without any hope
of returning to it except by stealth. A murderer's family
is not despoiled of his landed property. The chile or out-
cast is not compelled to leave his tribe. He must merely
leave his village, and always avoid meeting any of the
family or clan of the murdered man. If by chance he
comes across any of them on the road, he goes aside and
conceals himself, or goes through the pretence of hiding
himself, so that his face may not be looked upon. In a
village, in similar circumstances, he will hide behind a
door or steal round the back of a house. His sons, those
not grown up, as a rule become chiles also, and the same
law holds good concerning his daughters' husbands and
their descendants. IVlusalmjin traders who have married
the daughters of chiles have to behave in precisely the
same way as any other chile when they visit K;lmdesh,
for instance.

The village of Mergrom is the largest of several " cities
of refuge.'" It is almost entirely peopled by chiles, the
descendants of slayers of fellow-tribesmen. I have known
one of those people, a wealthy man, who had to avoid the
Utahdari clan, go quietly to K;imdesh in the evening and
hold a secret conference with Utah, the chief of the Utah-


TIM-; kAfirs oy the hindu-kush

dari, concernin

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 26 of 38)