George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 29 of 38)
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villages in K;ifiristan. At that place advantage has been
taken of the flat upper surface of a huge detached piece
of rock, and upon it some thirty different domiciles have
been crowded and superimposed one on the other. The
only Avay to reach the houses is by a bridge which con-
nects the village with the hillside behind. This bridge

can be easily broken away, and then the houses are

2 c


absolutely inaccessible. Tbe drawback to the position is
that the river is a little distance away, and there is no
other water supply for the people. There are two or
three little hamlets in the Skorigul built precisely after
the fashion of Bajindra on fragments of rock, but they
are all on the river-bank by the water's edge. The
village of Gourdesh is a densely populated cluster of
some twenty-five houses, built on the knife-edge of a
rocky spur which projects into the Gourdesh Valley,
and compels the river to flow in a pear-shaped course
round its base. This spur, 200 or 300 feet high, is
precipitous, except at its point of connection with the
main range of hills, where there is a watch-tower, and
where the village can be easily defended. To enable all
the houses to perch on the rocky ledge many ingenious
contrivances have had to be adopted. In some instances
the verandahs or wooden galleries are supported on long
wooden pillars, the bases of which fit into crevices in the
rock. An additional appearance of insecurity has been
produced in some places where the sustaining pillars,
having proved too short, have been supplemented by the
placing of smooth water-worn stones beneath them. The
insecurity of this arrangement is, however, more apparent
than real, for experience has taught the Kafirs so much
skill in the management of weights, that even the most
fragile structures they erect rarely, if ever, collapse.
Villages like Gourdesh cannot possibly grow larger, and
in consequence they are greatly over-populated.

Places like Kamdesh, Bagalgrom, and Bragamatc41
(Lutdeh) depend for their protection on the strong arm
of a numerous population rather than upon fortifications
or the happy selection of a good defensive site. Any


detached towers which such villages may possess are
more for use as watching places than for defensive pur-
poses, although they are capable of being employed for
the latter purpose also. In some portions of Kamdesh
the houses are built in regular terraces, which rise one
above the other like a giant's staircase, or they are made
to overhang steep drops or low precipices. They are
likewise crowded into many awkward and inconvenient
positions, with the obvious intention of not curtailing or
interfering in any way with the cultivation. In many
other villages the same cause and the same result are
seen to a very much greater extent. Kamdesh, Bagal-
grom, and that portion of Bragamatal which is on the
right bank of the river, are built on no regular plan,
houses being erected wherever there is room for them.
That part of Bragamatal which is on the left bank is laid
out in the form of half a regular hexagon, open towards
the south. The enclosed space is occupied by the gromma
and dancing-platform, and by detached clusters of houses.
The only regularly walled villages with which I am
acquainted are in the Presungul. Their general con-
struction is as follows. The houses are packed together
on and in the substance of a mound or rounded hillock.
Many of the rooms are underground. At the foot of the
slope, a short distance away, there is a protecting wall
topped with brushwood. At Pushkigrom, the lowest
village in the valley, the arrangement is somewhat dif-
ferent. There the houses are built on a slope which is
surmounted by watch-towers, from which extend walls
which run down to and encircle the houses. This sur-
rounding wall is strengthened with barricades at different
points, and looks very strong.


There are some villages in Kafiristan which are both
small and defenceless, and are also easily accessible.
From svich places the inhabitants must bolt at once if
a formidable enemy makes his appearance. There are
others which could be defended if the people were brave,
e.g., Kstiggigrom in the Presungul. There, however, the
villagers prefer to retire to a large cave overlooking their
homes, where they cannot be followed. From that safe
and elevated position they have more than once watched
their houses being sacked and burnt. Other small vil-
lages seem to find a sense of security in the fact that
they are more or less hidden away in the hills, or up
difficult and unpromising ravines. Of these, as of all
other villages in Kafiristan, it may be said that they find
their chief protection in the easily defensible nature of
the main roads of the country.

The simplest form of house consists of one apartment,
oblong or square in shape, and measuring some i8 by
1 8 or 1 8 by 20 feet. It is usually well built, of cedar
timber, and rubble stones embedded in mud mortar.
The timbers, fashioned with the axe alone, and roughly
morticed together at the angles of the building, form a
series of wooden frames upon and between which the
masonry is built. These wooden frames are about nine
inches apart. The thickness of the walls is about five
inches. They are well plastered with mud both inside
and out, and are strong and durable. There are some-
times two doors, but usually only one. The door is a
solid piece of wood, shaped by the axe alone. There
are no hinges, but small projections from the upper and
lower edges are made to revolve in sockets in the door-
frame. The Kc4fir slaves, if we consider the indifferent



tools at their disposal, are extremely clever at carpentry.
In addition to the door or doors there is often a little
window. It is usually fifteen or eighteen inches square,


and is closed by a wooden shutter revolving on pivots.
The doors are fastened by a wooden bolt, which is made
to run easily in a grove cut in the solid substance of the
door, and thence into a socket in the door frame. The

486 'niK KAFJliS OF 'rilF lllXUU-KUSJl

bolt has vertical notches all along one side. Just above
the groove in which it works is a small round hole in the
substance of the door. This is the keyhole. The key
is a piece of iron wire, about the thickness of the top of
the little finger, and more than a foot long. It is bent
back in such a way that it is somewhat of the shape of
a pot-hook, and can be pushed through the keyhole,
and then if it is turned downwards, the end can be
made to catch in the slots in the bolt, and the latter can
be pushed back and the door opened. Sometimes, how-
ever, it is a very tedious operation to get the end of
the iron wire to catch in the notches of the bolt. I have
often watched a tired-out woman come home from field-
work and spend a wearisome time before she could get
the arrangement to act. When my own bolt proved
recalcitrant, I was accustomed to solve the problem by
lowering some small boy into the room through the
smoke-hole to open the door from the inside.

In the centre of every room, at each corner of the
square hearth, are four wooden pillars, which are often
elaborately carved. These pillars are usually between
five and six feet apart, and are either rounded or more
or less square in shape. Their diameter varies from nine
to fifteen inches. From the lateral walls of the apart-
ment two large beams cross over, and are mainly sup-
ported on the top of the hearth pillars.

Boards covered with beaten-down earth form the roof,
but they do not fit accurately, so that snow-water and
rain find easy access into the room. The only way to
minimise this discomfort is to keep adding earth to the
roof, and to get it beaten down or trampled by men or
goats. The roof is the worst feature of all Kafir houses.


As they are all made in the way described, and are all
fiat, there is not one which is even moderately water-tight.
It is necessary that they should be Hat, for contiguous
roofs form the only level spaces which can be found in
some villages where corn can be winnowed or thrashed,
or fruit be spread out to dry.

The smoke-hole is over the middle of the hearth. It
is usually about a foot square, and has enclosing boards
which project a few inches above the level of the roof.
It is closed by a flat board with a long handle in the
middle being placed over it. The long handle hangs
down into the room, whence it can be pushed up and
the smoke-hole opened. The hearth square in the centre
of the room is raised a few inches above the level of the
surrounding floor, and, like the latter, is made of beaten
earth. The height of a room does not exceed seven or
eight feet.

The foregoing description applies to the house of an
average poor Kafir of the Bashgul Valley. In such an
apartment he brings up his family. There would pro-
bably be also a stable or rough kind of shed leaning
against one wall of the house, and more or less com-
pletely closed in by mud walls, or by screens made by
twisting twigs together.

A better kind of house in the Bashgul Valley consists
of two stories, the upper part being reserved for the
dwelling-place, and the lower half being used as a cow
stable or a wood store. The best built habitations in
the Bashgul "S^alley are those used by the wealthy Kdfirs
of the Kam tribe. Such dwellings consist of three stories.
The top floor is the living place, the middle story is the
store-room, while the bottom room is employed as a cow

488 TllK KAFlJiS OF TllF HlNDU-KL'Sli

stable or wood store in the winter. In this variety of
house a verandah is almost always projected from the
top storey. These verandahs, or open wooden galleries,
are well-made structures, closed on all sides except in
front. They are frequently elaborately ornamented with
carving. The projecting floor of the verandah is sup-
ported on long wooden pillars, the lower ends of which
are securely kept in their proper position on the ground
by the nicety with which the weights above are adjusted.
The roof of the verandah is upheld by the wooden frame-
work of the structure, and by a row of pillars which runs
down the centre of the floor. Frequently all the pillars
and the front of the verandah are prettily carved, and its
roof-beams, which are allowed to project a foot or more
beyond the walls, are fashioned at the ends into effective,
if grotesque, animals' heads.

In the Katir part of the Bashgul Valley the houses
are, on the whole, distinctly inferior to those of the Kam
tribe, for instance. This is more particularly the case in
the fort villages, where the exigencies of space require
that each floor, consisting of verandah and living-room,
shall house an entire family. But however the rooms
may be arranged, and however large or small a house
may be, the principle on which it is built remains the
same. It is either one cubical apartment or several
apartments superimposed, and wdth or without verandahs.

The houses of the Presun or Viron Kafirs differ in
many respects from those already described. Perhaps
the most obvious and striking peculiarity of the Viron
houses is that their accommodation is principally under-
ground. This arrangement is more particularly notice-
able in the upper, and consequently colder, part of the



valley. In that position, also, wood being scarce, it is
sparingly used in the construction of the walls. The
timber used is not shaped with the axe, as in the Bashgul
Valley, but is used in the form of round poles. The
large proportion of mud and rubble to timber gives the
houses a somewhat badly built appearance. There are
no verandahs to break the ugly lines of the buildings. In
the lower part of the valley, at Pushkigrom, wood is
abundant, and the domiciles are built almost exclusively
of round poles, very little masonry being used in their
construction. The villages themselves are either built on
u hillock or on a slope. There is one exception to this
rule in the case of the village called Diogrom, which is
on level ground close by the river. In the villages of the
upper part of the valley, that part of the houses which
emerges above ground is very like the doorways which
open on to the lanes, being rarely more than 3 feet 6
inches or four feet high. The houses are packed together
closely, and the paths between them are hardly broad
enough for a man with moderately broad shoulders.
Many of the houses have three apartments, one below the
other, one being half underground, and the other two
completely so. I carefully examined the house of the
Shtevgrom priest. From the roadway, a 3 feet 6 inch
doorway opened on to a short ladder, by which the floor
of the dwelling-room was reached. That apartment was
twenty feet square, but only seven feet high. The roof was
supported bynumerous pillars, all of which were grotesquely
carved into a supposed resemblance of gods or goddesses.
Four pillars, carved with more than usual care, bounded
the hearth in the ordinary way. Each was made to re-
semble, more or less, a man on horseback. The horse-



Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 29 of 38)