George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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considered " pure." Great care had to be observed that
their semi-sacred garments were not defiled by coming
into contact with dogs. The Kaneash were nervously
afraid of my dogs, which had to be fastened up whenever
one of these august personages was seen to approach.
The dressing has to be performed with the greatest care,
in a place which cannot be defiled by dogs. Utah and
another had convenient dressing-rooms on the top of
their houses, which happened to be high and isolated,
but another of the four Kaneash had been compelled
to erect a curious-looking square pen made of poles
in front of his house, his own roof being a common
thoroughfare. The ceremony of the Sanowkun is always
performed in much the same way, although sometimes
the details are slightly varied.

xlnother curious duty undertaken by the Kaneash is
to grow a miniature field of wheat in the living-room
of the house. On February 25th I went to visit one
of them. Against the south wall of the room there was
a little mound of earth some three feet by two feet, about
one foot high, and levelled on the top. In this tiny
field wheat was growing ; the young shoots had already
attained the height of two or three inches. No woman
has anything to do with this wheat-growing ; it is
all done by the Kaneash alone, and among the Kam
is remarkable as the only agricultural operation the


men ever attempt. Just in front and to the east of
the tiny field was a fiat stone and an iron tripod, on
which some pine sticks were placed ready for lighting.
In front of this miniature altar was a stool, with a flat
piece of wood in front, which was to serve as a footstool.
The Kaneash every evening goes through the following
rite. He seats himself on the stool and takes off his
boots, while some friends or relations light the fire,
bring forward a wicker basket piled up with cedar
branches, a wooden vessel containing water, a small
wicker measure with a handful of wheat grains in it,
and a large carved wooden receptacle full of ghee. The
Kaneash, having washed his hands, assumes the crown-
less hat he must never be without except in his own
house, and begins by burning and waving about a cedar
branch while he cries " Such ! such ! " He thrusts
tliis into the water vessel before him, and then burns a
second branch completely, after waving it as before,
and sprinkles it with the now holy water. He then
proceeds to sprinkle the cedar branches, the fire, and
the ghee vessel. Next, he piles cedar branches in the
fire with a few wheat grains and a handful of ghee, and
beo^ins his incantation while the flames are dancintj
merrily and the smoke rolling upwards in clouds. He
pays tribute to all the gods in regular order, every now
and then pausing to sprinkle and cast his offering on
the fire, as at the beginning. The temperature of the
room gradually grows terrific, for the ordinary house-fire
is blazing on the hearth all the time. The scene alto-
gether is a strange one ; the walls of the room are fre-
quently adorned with grotesque figures painted in black
on the clay-coloured ground. The sprig of cedar worn


in front of the hat shows that the wearer is an ordinary
notable wlio has become a Jast. If he has gone through
the ceremony before, he wears two sprigs of cedar. This
is very rare indeed, but Avhile I was in Kamdesh Torag
Merak, who was a Kaneash, had his head-dress adorned
with three sprigs of cedar to show it was the third time
he had completed the food distribution. His associate
was his own wife. These facts were sufficient to tell
the initiated that Torag Merak must be the richest man
in the whole of Kafiristan, in all probability. The woman
associate of the Kaneash does her killing and feasting
at her house on the day following his. She has no
wheat-growing to do, nor does she make oflerings to
the gods.

There are all manner of side ceremonies connected
with the Jast. I went on one occasion to see a man
who was just beginning his feast-giving. One of the
Kaneash officiated as priest, which all, during the period
of purity, are capable of doing. A bull and some goats
were sacrificed. Into the flowing blood arrows were
dipped, and then, at the end of the proceedings, were
fired away promiscuously. A vessel containing blood
mixed with water was afterwards emptied ceremoniously
by ladlefuls on the ground, and subsequently a tub with
like contents was similarly emptied. No one seemed to
know the meaning of all this, or else none could or would
explain its meaning ; but on the whole I am inclined to
think that, allowing for my difficulties of understanding
the language spoken, it is probable that the original mean-
ing of many of their ceremonies has been lost by the
Kafirs ; that they continue the ritual handed down from
their forefathers without troubling about its meaning,


and, like most other people, mistake the ceremony itself
for the principles it symbolises. In the year 1891 the
Kaneash began their final duties on the i ith of February.
None of them were permitted to leave the precincts of
Kiimdesh, except for one particular sacrifice at Urmir,
until May 10. On the latter date the four put off their
crownless hats until they were finally wanted for a par-
ticular dance, and went about with their heads bound
round with a big piece of white cloth, put on as a crown
would be worn. They continued to wear the rest of their
uniform for an indefinite period.

The Duban festival at Kamdesh began on March 2 1
in 1 89 1. This is the period of the spring dances, and
Kafirs come in from the outlying villages to participate
in them. The Kaneash all have to be present to take
part in the performances, which were curious. On the
22nd the serious business of the festival began. The
dancers, all of them Jast, having arrayed themselves in
Sultanzari over-garments, gaudy turbans used as scarves,
their heads adorned with white turbans into the front
of which were thrust sticks ornamented with the crest
feathers of the pheasant, danced round and round to so
slow a measure that they hardly appeared to bend the
knee or to move forward. They were preceded by the four
Kaneash of the year, attired in their ofticial dress with
the crownless hat, and were followed by more or less of a
rabble, hunted up by the Ur Jast, who acted as a kind of
master of the ceremonies, to swell the throng. The pro-
cession tramped slowly round the dancing-house. In tlie
centre of the dense crowd was a man beating a drum,
and the Debilala hammering incessantly at a small one.
This surprised me greatly, for, as a rule, it is only slaves


that beat drums. These two individuals kept chanting^
line by line, what I believe was a hymn of praise to Imra.
Just as they reached the last word of the line, the rest of
the performers broke in with a " Ai-inge-e-e-e yuma derinja
tunamach ! " This went on for an indefinite time appa-
rently, the only variation being that occasionally the
leading four, the Kaneash, faced round and led the pro-
cession, creeping backwards instead of forwards. All the
performers were most solemn in feature, while the leaders
bore themselves with much dignity. At length an end
came to this part of the show, and Utah proceeded to the
door at the east end of the building, and with his back
to the opening, faced the fire and had water poured over
his hands. A bowl of water was then handed to him,
which contained a sprig of cedar. With the latter he
sprinkled water about three or four times, much of it
falling over the bright dresses of the Jast. Each time
he repeated the word " Such ! " Then he commenced
naming each god in turn, thus : " Ai Imra tunamach ! "
(This is in your praise, O Imra), and so on — the whole
audience chorusing the usual responses, " i-i-i-yamach ! "
There was no sacrificing, and consequently no sprinkling
of blood.

An interval followed, during which late arrivals, all
important men, began, with the help of admiring friends,
to robe themselves, covering their everyday dirty garment
with bright-hued silks from Peshawar and Badakhshan.
When all were ready, a single line of Jast stood ranged
round the dancing-house, all facing inwards, all dressed
in their best attire, and each holding his bright danc-
ing axe over his shoulder. Utah and the other three
Kaneash, having exchanged their crownless hats for the


cowrie-fringed turbans, threw each of them a Badakhshan
silk robe over his shoulders, and placed themselves at
the top of the room. Curiously enough, Utah, of the
four, was the only dancer, and the other three, from age
or other causes, preferred to lean against the pillars in
the centre and look on. The Debik'ila and the Pshur
occupied a position in the centi'e, and in front of Utah.
A big log fire was blazing between them. Between the
line of Jast, ranged round the centre group, and the
spectators, were a number of women dancers, who were
grotesque and dirty to look at, in spite of the ornaments
on their persons. The spectators crowded every corner
of the building, while its two open sides were filled up
for the most part by girls and young w^omen, who packed
themselves between the timbers of the heavy open frame-
work, and climbed into all manner of difficult places
where one would expect to see adventurous boys. The
latter, however, were, almost without exception, in the
place of honour on the floor of the house. Dances in
honour of Gish, Dizane, Imrti, Krumai, &c., were then
gone through. The Duban dancing continued until
February 27.

The last appearance of the Kaneash as exalted indi-
viduals is at the Munzilo festival in August. A careful
description of that event, at second-hand, went down the
Bashgul river with my lost note-book. But the chief
points connected with it were as follows : —

Each of the Kaneash had to dance with his female
associate. On the first day. No. i danced with his femi-
nine coadjutor; on the second day, No. i and No. 2 both
danced with the partner of the latter ; on the third day,
Nos. I, 2, and 3 all danced with the last named's asso-

472 Till": kAfirs of the hinuu-kush

ciute ; uud on tlie iiiial day, all the Kaneash danced with
No. 4's partner. Each day, while the man distributed
food in the mornin

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 28 of 38)