George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 27 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 27 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

his victory he has to feast the village. Some one or
other is certain to come forward and help him to do
this, often with the absolute certainty of never being
repaid. Kafirs are most lavish and generous in loans of
this description. On the other hand, I have known a
rich man belonging to a powerful clan trump up a chiim
on a suddenly enriched man of no importance (the Kiifir
who first went to India with me), that the father of the
latter, before he died, had borrowed from the former


many i^^oats. It seems every one knew this was false ;
but the man having once advanced the claim, had to
maintain it with threats of violence, until at length the
other man, having no family or clan behind him, found
it well to com|)romise the matter by handing over one or
two goats in payment of a demand for several score. A
powerful family, being creditors of a poor man, on the
death of the latter seized the daughter, and kept her
more or less as a bondswoman, until she ran away to
Chitral with her lover, who was not satisfied with mere
access to his sweetheart.

The great majority of debts are almost certainly never
paid at all, the debtors being usually very poor people.
They probably attach themselves to their creditors in
many ways, and perhaps pay back in unacknowledged
servitude the amounts they owe. In any civil disputes
about property the disputants fight, are separated, sacri-
fice a goat, and friends settle the matter. I saw this
procedure carried out. A quiet argument was the first
stage, abuse and a broken head the second, the inevitable
goat and a reconciliation the third. The man who was
actually in the wrong had to pay for the goat.

In all other disputes the good old law of the strongest
winning always prevails. It is that which makes tlie
headman with many sons and grandsons so important
a personage, since he can bring so much force to bear
on those numerous minor questions between men of the
same clan which so constantly arise, also in disputes
with families in other clans, which are not of sufficient
importance for the whole clan to interest itself in.
Wealth is also very important. The very rich man who
is popular in the tribe because he keeps going through


ceremonial feast-giving is certain to have a large number
of ordinary supporters on almost any question, in addi-
tion to the number to be got by bribery. The poor man
of unimportant family, no matter how brave he may be,
is no match for a rich man who is not a coward.

The law of Kafir inheritance starts with the assump-
tion that a woman cannot hold property. She has no
rights of any kind, and cannot inherit. The property
left by a father is divided equally among the sons, except
that the eldest has his share increased by some single
article of value, such, for instance, as a cow or a dancing-
robe, while the youngest inherits his father's house. It
might seem that by inheiiting the house of his father the
youngest son has a distinct advantage over his brethren.
This, no doubt, is true, but still the eldest of the brothers
is the head of the family. I do not know to what this
curious custom of the youngest inheriting the house pro-
perty is due, nor could any one explain it. It may have
been originally intended to prevent the youngest, while a
weakling, from being thrust out of the house by his elder
and stronger brothers. Of course, as the sons grow up,
they settle in houses of their own, which always remain
theirs. The inheritance is strictly confined to legitimate
sons by free mothers. Slaves' sons would not count. If
there are no children, the deceased's brother would take
all the property. If there were only one son, and he
very young, the brother would, as a kind of guardian,
practically do as he chose with the property, provided
always that he gave away large amounts of it in feasting
the tribe. The wives in such a case as this would also
be his to dispose of. He would keep them himself, or
sell them in marriage. The mother of the heir would


probably remain with her son in any case. If the heir
is a son, he may dispose of his stepmothers. I do not
know if he ever sells his mother in marriage. I know
she is often re-married, and it is probable her price goes
to the son. In one case, elsewhere referred to, the son
himself married one of his stepmothers. In the failure
of the immediate near male relations, the estate would
fall to distant male relations, and in failure of all such,
to the clan. Never, in any circumstances, does it go
to relatives by marriage, which, indeed, might mean its
going out of the tribe altogether.


The Jast — Compulsory feasts in connection with becoming Jast — The Mezhom
— The Sanowkun — Wlieat growing by the Kaneash — Minor ceremonies —
The Duban festival — The Munzilo festival — The Mirs — The Urir Jast
— Poor freemen — Recapitulation — The family — Authority of the father
— Succession to the headship — Family quarrels — Polygamy — A typical
Kiitir family.

An individual cannot become of great importance in the
tribe until he is a headman or Jast, one of those indivi-
duals who are permitted to wear the women's coroneted
earrings through the upper part of the ear, and to wear
whatever gorgeous dress he can procure for religious
ceremonies and dances — a man to be admired and envied
by all who have not attained the same rank, and one to
be always treated with respect, and given precedence.
Little boys can become Jast, that is to say, they can go
through the prescribed ceremonies, attain the earrings,
and probably be given a place in the dances also, but
they will not be considered as other than boys while
they are boys. They act sometimes as acolytes, and
hold water for the priest during certain special cere-
monies and feasts, at which none but the Jast and the
priest may be present. Amongst the Kam it takes nearly
three years to become a Jast, and involves the giving of
twenty-one feasts, ten to the Jast and eleven to the tribe
at large. There are also several complicated ceremonies
to be gone through. Among the Katirs their necessary
observances can be completed in about two years.


Tiie feasts arc most expensive. Amongst the K;im,
many men utterly ruin themselves in becoming Jast,
spen^ding their substance to the last goat, the last cheese,
the last pound of ghee, and take praise to themselves
for having done so. The feasts are not left to the dis-
cretion and liberality of the individual. If he were to
ofl'er cattle in poor condition, or male goats of inferior
size, he would be immediately heavily fined. While
soine: throusjh the ordeal, the man himself or his imme-
diate relations are all conscious of the dignified position
the fanaily is attaining. They often, at such times, pro-
fess a liberality they are far from feeling. More than
once or twice has a goat been promised by one of
them, but I never expected it to be sent to me. A
man cannot go through the ceremonies by himself; he
must have a female coadjutor. She may or may not
be his wife, but usually is not, for the expense of two
persons of the same family giving these compulsory
feasts at the same time is so great, that there is only
one man in the Kam tribe, Torag Merak, who can bear
such a strain on his resources. An arrangement is
usually made between two men, by which one of them
goes through the Jast ceremonies with the wife of the
other, whose husband will be associated with the first
man's wife in similar feast-o-ivins^s as soon as the flocks
have had time to recover the drain to which they have
been subjected. The initiatory proceedings are sacrifices
of bulls and male goats to Gish at the chief shrine. The
animals are examined with jealous eyes by the spectators,
to see that they come up to the prescribed standard of
excellence. After the sacrifice the meat is divided among
the people, who carry it to their homes. These special


sacrifices at the shrine recur at intervals ; but the great
slaughterings are at the feast-giver's own house, where
he entertains sometimes the Jast exclusively, and some-
times the whole tribe, as already mentioned. At Gish's
shrine, after a big distribution at the giver's house, one
or two goats are offered to the war-god, the meat is
distributed and carried away, while tchina cakes, cheese,
salt, and wine are consumed by all present. New arri-
vals sit down quietly and look expectant. They have not
to wait long before they are attended to. Handfuls of
tchina cakes, very thin, either circular, with a diameter
of two inches or so, or oval, with a maximum measure-
ment of three inches by one and a half inches, and small
cubes of cheese, are brought round on trays, with salt.
The wooden wine-bowl circulates at intervals. Little
family parties may be seen, the gaffer with a small cake
in his left hand heaped up with salt, into which he and
his four or five grandchildren dip as they eat.

The only privilege the woman gains is that she is
allowed to wear markhor or goat's hair round the top
of her dancing-boots, and to have a share in the dancing,
when, at the completion of all the formalities, there is a
ceremonial dance at a particular festival.

For the general distribution of food to the villagers
considerable preparation has to be made. The slaughter-
ing of the animals and the cooking are done in the after-
noon for the following morning's feast. I witnessed one of
these preliminary slaughterings. The place selected was
on two or three contiguous house-tops, which afforded
a level space of some twenty yards in length and twelve
to fifteen in breadth. There were several large stone
pots (valued at two or three cows apiece) boiling on their


respective iron tripods, each of which was declared to
be worth one cow, so valuable are utensils of all kinds
in Kamdesh. Two or three slaves attended to the fires.
Seated in tlie shade of a wall were all the notables of
the village, while sauntering about with the high slow
tread of mountaineers were many friends and neighbours
of the feast-giver. They were so numerous that they
had great difficulty in avoiding the large wooden bowls
full of blood, which stood about in different places where
animals had been slaughtered. Streams of half-congealed
blood marked the positions where the carcasses had been
draffffed on one side to be skinned and dismembered.


Several dogs were furtively lapping at the semi-solid
stream, keeping a wary eye on passers-by, who occasion-
ally aimed at them a blow or a kick, and drove them
off howling dismally. There were fifteen big male goats
and five bulls killed on this occasion. From the number
of people present, and from the way they behaved, the
spectacle was evidently regarded in the light of a highly
popular show. The goats were slowly driven forward
one by one, rapidly seized, and thrown across a stool, in
which position their throats were cut. The string of
goats was quickly disposed of. They were patted and
petted, and stood perfectly quiet awaiting their turn.
Only the last two or three struggled and tried to break
away, although the smell of blood was overpowering.
The bulls were seized one by one by the horns and the
heads depressed to the ground by a Kafir, the animals
not making the slightest resistance. Then a second
man with a small narrow axe, which, however, never
missed its mark, knocked them down dead, or paralysed
them by a single blow behind the horns, the blood spurt-


To face page 452.



ing forth copiously. Generally, one or two additional
blows were given while the bull lay prostrate. All the
time this was going on, the feast-giver was standing before
one of the fires over which the pots were boiling, and
kept adding certain branches and crying " Yamach ! "
stepping back every now and then for a handful of blood
to throw on the fire, and for a goat's head to singe in
the flames. No one joined in the responses, as all do
before the idols, but the individual had the entire cere-
mony to himself. The carcases were dragged or carried
away to be hung up and divided, in the case of goats,
or to be skinned and knifed on the ground, in the case
of oxen. In spite of the bowls placed to receive it,
blood covered the whole of the ground, the headless
carcases quivered as though still alive, and the smell
of raw meat became intolerable. The rapidity with
which the animals were killed, and their bodies scientifi-
cally cut into joints or properly shaped fragments, was
remarkable. One of the most unpleasant of the sights
was to witness the workers consume, with much relish,
the stray portions of raw fat. The women of the house-
hold stood by in readiness to receive into their conical
baskets the omentum and its fat, and showed much
housewifely anxiety in watching its course from the
animal's body until it was safe in their custody. This
was the show to which all Kiimdesh had gathered.
Those who could not find room in the confined space
on the housetop sat in groups some distance off, talking
l)olitics, discussing one another's garments, or else per-
forming friendly offices for one another which need not
be more particularly mentioned. The public banquet
is a common sight. It takes place on the housetop


of course, as there alone can sufficient level space be
procured. The spot is arranged for the company by
having deodar poles, six inches in diameter, placed
opposite to, and about four feet distant from, one an-
other. On tlicm the guests seat themselves, about
twenty-five on each pole, and cooked meat in fragments
is brought round in the usual conical baskets used by
the women. The servers were the men and women of
the family. The number of seats being limited, there is
usually a crowd of men waiting patiently until those
being served are satisfied. Every ten minutes or so
the latter are replaced by onlookers or fresh arrivals.
Bread is handed about in the shape of small chappaties,
ten inches in diameter, made with tchina flour. The
business-like manner in which people came, sat down,
were fed, and then went away without paying any kind
of compliment to their hosts, was very curious. These
feasts vary in magnificence. A man's entertainment
may not fall below a certain standard, but it may be as
expensive or ostentatious as he likes. A very rich man
will supplement these average banquets by giving wine
or other luxuries. On certain days meat is always con-
sumed ; on others it is not eaten at the place of enter-
tainment, but great heaps or portions skewered together
are in readiness for the guests to carry home with them,
while bread, ghee, &c., are partaken of at the house. A
miserly Kafir, a man remarkable for covetousness in a
nation where cupidity is esteemed a virtue, will do his
utmost, will try every shift and expedient, to render his
feast a success. He thinks nothing of ruining himself
completely to become a Jast, and ever afterwards refers
to his impoverished condition with a proud humility.



expecting', and generally getting, the sympathy and
admiration of his andience at every such allusion. Not
unfrequently, as one of the periodic food distributions are
drawing to a close, some man, often a visitor from some
other tribe, will suddenly raise his voice and sound forth
the praises of his host, dilating on his bravery and
generosity, on the wealth of his family, and the proud
position they hold as dispensers of food largess. The
Kj'im folk are particularly proud of their general enter-
tainments, and frequently asked me if in my country they
gave away in "charity" as largely as the Kam did.

The entertainments given to the Jast alone are con-
sidered by the people to be most imposing and exclusive
functions. They are named the Mezhom. As the num-
ber of the Jast is limited, an array of seven male goats
and one bull is sufficient for each day's entertainment. I
was invited to take part at a Mezhom, a compliment of
an unprecedented kind. A\'hen I reached my host's
house, the verandah was thronged with people, and one
or two carcasses. of goats were lying about. A small
party of slaves were drumming and piping before the door
of the living-room, which had all its furniture removed
and long planks substituted for the convenience of the
Jast, who were seated in a dignified, expectant manner
all round the room. The smoke-hole opening had been
enlarged till it was about four feet each way. Utah the
priest, who was also the candidate for the Jast honours,
was busily engaged tending the sacred fire burning on an
upturned iron girdle resting on an iron tripod. He was
adding ghee, wine, portions of chappaties, and tchina
Hour to the flames. At the threshold, which was raised
1 1 feet above the ground level, as is the case in Kafir


houses, sat a well-known Jast. The goats, brought one
by one to be sacrificed, had merely their heads thrust into
the room, when the Jast above mentioned at once seized
and killed the animals, catching the blood in wooden
vessels. Utah took a handful of blood as it was flowing
from each goat, and added it to all the other things on
the fire. The Debilala continued singing the praises of
the gods, while at each addition of blood to the fire, at
a signal from Utah, the whole audience chorused a re-
sponse. The several heads were then singed in the fire.
The usual response " i-i-i yamach ! " was repeated twice
by every one, and two of the Jast, in my corner, piped a
monotonous bar or two on the reed instruments. In the
verandah, the slaves, every now and then, came in with
terrible effect. In the enclosed space, their music had a
surprising clangour, and drowned the Debilala's chant
altogether. After all the seven goats had been killed,
the ceremony w^as practically at an end. An old woman
brought in a basketful of earth to throw over the blood
on the floor. She had, no doubt, been through the
necessary feasts, or she could not have been present in
the room. So also with the little boy who, acting as an
acolyte, poured water over Utah's hands. The entertain-
ment wound up with a general feast. The people outside
in the verandah who caught glimpses of the strange and
rather gruesome entertainment, considered themselves
honoured and gratified. The Kafir who went to India
with me explained that he liked such shows, just as I
liked the Calcutta theatres. The feast-givers are known
as Kaneash, while those who have already completed
their virtuous work are known as " Sunajma."
The Kaneash have a complicated ritual to go throuoh


quite apart from the food-giving ceremonies already de-
scribed. As the time approaches when they may don the
earrings, the formalities become more and more complex.
On February 11, I was camped a short distance from
Kamdesh, and my friend the priest, who was also a Kan-
eash, sent a breathless messenger to inform me that I
must be present at an important function at his house
that evening, called the Sanowkun. We hurried back to
Kamdesh, calling on our way on Utah, who was found
busy with the garments he was to wear in the evening.
At the time appointed I found Utah's living-room full of
guests seated on planks placed against the wall, or on
stools, M'herever there was sufficient room for them. In
the middle of the hearth a fire was blazing brightly.
Against one of the centre wood pillars Utah was seated.
It was the hour of his triumph. He was a simulacrum of
a man in that he closely resembled one of the decked-out
effigies. He had on a thick stumpy turban, having in
front a fringe of cowrie shells strung together with red
glass beads, and furnished with a tail. A plume-like
bunch of juniper-cedar was stuck in the front of this
striking head-dress, between the folds of the cloth. His
ears were covered with a most complicated collection of
earrings of all shapes and sizes. About his neck was
a massive white metal necklace, brass bracelets rudely
stamped with short lines and marks adorned his wrists,
while he had on his feet the ordinary dancing-boots with
long tops, ending in a markhor liair fringe. He wore a
long blue cotton tunic, reaching nearly to his knees, and
the curiously worked black and white nether garments
made for these occasions at Shdl in the Kunar Valley.
Perhaps the most striking part of the costume was a


liiuinklisliiini silk rol)e of the usual gaudy pattern, which
was throwu negliij^ently across the shoulders. In his
hand was the danciui^- axe of his fathers. He was burst-
iu^r with pride and delight at his own appearance. After
a short interval, Utah being unable to officiate as priest, a
Jast stepped forward and acted as deputy. He bound a
white cloth round his brows, took off his boots, washed
his hands, and began the night's proceedings by the sacri-
fice of two immense billygoats, the largest I have ever
seen, the size of young heifers. The sacrifice was con-
ducted in the usual way with the customary details. The
special feature of the ceremony was the dabbling of some
of the blood on the forehead of Utah and on the forehead
and legs of his son Merak, who, seated opposite his father,
was still weak and ill, for he w^as only just recovering
from small-pox. For the boy, this proceeding meant that
he might thenceforth wear trousers. Besides the ordi-
nary flour, bread, and ghee, placed by the fire ready for
the sacrifice, there were some enormous chappaties, about
15 inches in diameter, like those given to elephants in
India. At this point these were lifted up, a sprig of
blazing juniper-cedar thrust in the centre, and they were
then solemnly circled round Utah's head three times and
made to touch his shoulders, while the deputy priest who
handled them cried "Such, such!" The same thing was
then done to the boy. After an interval for refreshment
there was dancing ; but just before they commenced, a
visitor from Bragamatal burst forth into panegyrics upon
Utah and on his dead father, and spoke of the immense
amount of property which had been expended on the
feast. This fulsome flattery was rewarded according to
custom by the present of a lungi or turban cloth, which


To face page 462.


■was taken from the waist of the Httle hoy, Utah's son,
who was still suffering from the effects of small-pox. The
fire was then taken away and four or five visitors were
provided with turbans and dancing-boots, as well as
scarves to wear over their shoulders or round the waist.
Utah's sister and her little daughter, aged twelve, then
made their appearance in full dancing attire. As soon
as all were ready, pine-wood torches were lighted, and
the dancers began the usual i, 2, 3, pause, i, 2, 3.
pause, Utah with the Debilala and the Pshur took uj)
a position in the centre of the room on the hearth,
while the others danced outside the central pillars of
the room. The first dances, three in number, were
to Gish, the war-god, and then the Pshur, who had
been unusually quiet all the evening, saw a spirit, and
behaved in his most furious manner. His frantic ges-
tures in the direction of the smoke-hole made Utah
and the Debilala at once enlarge the opening by push-
ing up the covering with their axes ; he then seized
the ghee vessel and carried it off, to prevent the spirit
getting hold of it. He breathlessly explained that in
order to obviate a great calamity to Utah and to himself,
a goat must be sacrificed on the morrow. He was finally
interrogated in a formal way by his brother ecclesiastics^
they and the company generally chorusing responses in
the usual manner, at regular intervals. After Imr;i had
been danced to, Dizane was honoured in the same way^
the Debilala chanting her praises while he danced. Then
succeeded dances to other deities.

The following day music and amusements for the
young were continued all day at Utah's house, and then
early on the morning of the 1 3th, he, with the assistance


of many of his friends, ceremoniously changed his turban
for a broad-brimmed crownless hat, into the front of
which a sprig of juniper-cedar was thrust. This chang-
ing of the head-dress is called the Shara'ute. In their
uniform, which they wore till the spring, Utah and his
brother Kaneash, of whom there were three more, were

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 27 of 38)