George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 30 of 38)
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brown aromatic ordure, which is increased every morning
by the daily sweepings.

The cows are mostly kept in the villages during the
winter, for protection and stall - feeding, but if a man
liave large herds he only brings some half-dozen or so to
the village, and keeps the rest at different pshals. Their
stables are similar to those used for the goats and sheep,
except that the internal arrangements are different. The
calves are kept apart in little enclosures which run down
one side of the building. At the pshals a Kafir is always
on the look-out for thieves and enemies day and night.
He never takes off his dagger, even at night, and during
the day may constantly be seen watching his property
fully armed with matchlock and other weapons.

In many Kafir houses a large heavy shelf, five or six
(ect from the ground, runs across the room and rests
against the wall opposite to the door. It is embedded in


the substance of the building; it is some two feet broad,
and two and a half or three inches thick. One or two
small pegs are knocked into the mud walls and serve as
nails on which small articles may be hung. On the
hearth there is either an iron tripod or three small
carved dogs of soft stone on which cooking-vessels may
be placed. The iron tripod is somewhat of a luxury,
as iron is an expensive commodity, and is not produced
in Kafiristan. The stone dogs are very commonly seen,
but in the poorest houses the people have to be content
with fragments of rock to stand their pots upon. The
cooking-vessels are either made of clay or of a peculiar
soft stone obtained in various places in the country.
For all ordinary purposes crocks are used. The other
variety is inconvenient except for big feasts. The stone
vessels are always of large size, and are said to be very
expensive. A large carved iron plate, somewhat like a
Scotch griddle, but rather larger and without the big
handle, is used for cooking chappaties (unleavened
bread cakes). It has a small iron handle fixed to the
edge, to enable it to be carried about conveniently. To
turn over the cakes while they are cooking, small iron
spuds are employed. Dough is kneaded in long and
shallow wooden trays, which look smooth and well
finished, although axes or knives are alone used in
making them. Carved wooden vessels of all sizes are
used to hold milk, honey, wine, and other articles of
food or drink. They are more or less cylindrical in
shape, and are nearly as deep as their greatest diameter,
w^hich is about midway between the top and the bottom.
An extraordinary amount of labour is sometimes ex-
pended in carving these vessels. They are sometimes


adorned witli pretty patterns, and are generally provided
with two handles placed opposite to each other. These
are usually wrought in the shape of rams' heads. Occa-
sionally a few fragments of brass are inlaid in the
handles. Some are quite plain except for the carved
handles, but the majority have a band of carving extend-
ing an inch or two below the brim. They are made by
laboriously cutting them out of blocks of walnut-wood.
The ornamenting must be a labour of love, so prettily
and carefully is the work done. Some of these vessels
are very graceful in outline.

Large plain wooden, tub-like vessels are to be seen
in most well-to-do houses. They are capable of holding
several gallons of wine. At large gatherings they are
placed in convenient positions for having their contents
dipped into, and handed round in bowls and drinking
cups. Clumsy long-handled cups are used for skim-
ming purposes and for tasting a stew. Wine is
sometimes handed round in shallow tin bowls, but
these are rare as compared with those made of walnut-
wood. Flour and small quantities of grain are carried
about in shallow wicker baskets, of which the diameter
rapidly diminishes from the brim to the small flat base.
These baskets are of different sizes and are used as

The fire is usually tended by hand, but the Kafirs
have small weak tongs, besides certain nondescript
fragments of iron, by which the ashes can be raked and
explored. Usually, however, sticks or half-consumed
brands are employed for the purpose.

The ordinary furniture of a room consists of bedsteads,
stools, and little tables, while planks are often employed


as benches. When used for that purpose they are raised
three or four inches off the ground by stones, for Kafirs
dislike high seats almost as much as they dislike the
absence of seats altogether. These benches are usually
seen in verandahs. In a room, if there is a deficiency
of stools, men sit upon billets of wood, two or three
inches thick, or on pieces of firewood.

The bedstead is of the common Eastern pattern, simi-
lar to the charpoy of India. It is usually too short for
Western tastes. It is of rough construction, but js not
uncomfortable. The wooden framework supports the
interlacing strips of narrow hide, or the goat's - hair
ropes on which the sleeper lies. The bedding consists
of goat's-hair mats or Presungul blankets, and whatever
spare clothes are available for such purposes. There
are no pillows of any kind. Kafirs do not undress on
going to bed. They loosen their clothes, and in the
villages the men take off their daggers. At the pshals
they merely draw them to the front so that they lie
between the legs. The bedstead is used as a couch
for distinguished visitors, the national broad-edged bud-
zun, a Chitral robe, or a blanket being spread upon it.
Although intended as a seat of honour, it is best avoided,
as it usually swarms with vermin. A baby's cradle is
simply a diminutive charpoy turned upside down, and
swung by having the four legs attached by string to a
hanging rope. When the child is a little older, the
cradle can be reversed and turned into a small ordinary

The tables used by the Bashgul Kafirs are of wicker-
work. They are small and not more than ten to twelve
inches high. The round tops are about fifteen inches


in diameter. They are contracted in the middle, and
exactly resemble the little stands used by sweetmeat
sellers in India. An extremely well-made little table is
occasionally seen in the Bashgul villages. It is manu-
factured by the Wai tribe. The three legs are of iron
curiously wrought. They clasp and hold in position a
shallow carved walnut-wood bowl. This little table is
about twenty inches high, and appears to be of Greek
design. It is rigid, however, and is not made in such
a manner that the legs can be folded up.

The stools for which Kafiristan is famous are small,
but of varying degrees of smallness. They are made in
the same way as the bedsteads, but are square. The
scat is about fifteen inches both ways, and is commonly
made of interlacing narrow strips of leather. It is usually
about nine inches from the ground. All Kafir houses
possess a certain number of these little stools. They are
also used to a limited extent in the Kunar Valley by the
Gabar villagers and others.

The large oblong box called the " sheni," besides being
used as a coffin, is also employed as a receptacle for the
storage of grain and other property. My dwelling-room
at Kcimdesh possessed two of these somewhat depressing-
looking objects. The shenis are always long enough for
a corpse, but are not all of the same size. Some are very
large ; all are heavy. The average size is probably six
feet to seven feet long, two feet six inches broad, and
some three feet six inches to four feet high. Tlicy arc
made with axe and knife alone. The sides, ends, lid, and
bottom are neatly fitted, and perforated projections from
one board pass through a hole in another board and are
secured with a peg. The ends serve the place of feet,


the bottom board being fixed to the same five or six
inclies from their lower edge. By this means the box
is raised off the ground. It is, of course, far too heavy
to be carried about. The various boards of which it
consists are carried separately and the whole fitted to-
gether in the house. After serving its purpose as a store-
chest it can be taken to the shenitan or cemetery, and
used as an above-ground cofRn.

On the rare occasions when I have been permitted to
enter a storeroom in Kafiristan, I have more than once
noticed a cupboard fixed on a shelf some distance from
the floor. It was like a small sheni. The front was
provided with two equal-sized folding doors, prettily

The other receptacles for food stores are large stone
or wooden vessels, which are ranged along the shelf
already referred to as being opposite to the door, and
goatskin bags and sacks. Wine, honey, butter, ghee,
grain are all kept in goatskins of appropriate size.
Some of the sacks are so large that when full of grain
or flour they constitute a heavy load for a strong man.
If all his store places are full, a Kafir is not particular
where he keeps his property. I have been to visit a
sick old man, and found the floor of his room covered
with cobs of Indian corn to the depth of a foot. The
legs of his bed were fitted into cleared spaces, and the
cobs Ground him were nearly on a level with the bed


Kiifir clothing in general — Dress of the Siah-Posh — The goatskin — Tlio
" Budzun " — Sewing — Women's cotton clothes — The horned head-dress —
Gaiters of the women — Kafir boots — Hunting-boots — Imfjorted dress —
Scarcity of clothing — Dress of the slaves — Siah-Posh blankets — Winter
clothing — Dress of the Kashtan — Toilette of a Kashmir "masher" —
Dress of the Presuns — Dress of the Wai — A Jast hat — Dancing-turbans —
Dancing-boots — Dancing ornaments of women — Two strange figures.

With the exception of very young children, none of the
Kf'ifirs go naked. The sexes are clothed differently,
although they have one garment in common. Eank is
usually indicated by the ear ornaments worn by the men,
and not by dress. Clothing is varied but slightly, and
in the case of women not at all, in accordance with
the season of the year. For special festivals particular
costumes are worn, or elaborate additions are made to
the ordinary attire.

There are distinct sumptuary laws relating to clothing.
The Afghan " postin " (sheepskin coat) seems to be pro-
hibited altogether, but, with this exception, tlie rule
appears to be that within certain limits any man may
wear what he chooses, provided that he first obtains the
sanction of his fellow-tribesmen by feasting them. For
instance, one man always wore red trousers at particular
dancing festivals. Although a good warrior, he was not
particularly distinguished above his fellows in that re-
spect. He presented six cows to the village, and was
then permitted to wear the bright coloured garments


lie longed for, of which, by the way, he always seemed
})articularly shy, and invariably covered as much of them
as possible with his long Chitrali robe.

Different tribes have recognised peculiarities of dress.
In some cases these differences are slight, in others they
are remarkable. All the tribes that use dark-coloured
garments appear to wear nearly identical clothing, while
the other tribes have distinctive costumes.

Woollen cloth is manufactured in Kafiristan. All cotton
clothing, and all silk, velvet, and so on, used for the
making of the headmen's dancing-dresses, are imported.
The thick blanketing used is woven on looms by female
slaves. There appears to be nothing of the nature of
what we call fashion. The clothes are shaped and
sewn. There is no difference between indoor and out-
door clothing. No clothing is removed in saluting or
in visiting. In making vestments and women's caps,
ordinary needles and thread, brought into the country
by pedlars, are employed. The gaudy dancing-dresses are
looked upon as valuable property, and descend from father
to son, although a certain amount is said to be put in
the coffin-boxes with the corpse of a great man. There
is no particular uniform worn by fighting men or by
the priests, but the latter have a wisp of cotton cloth
twisted round the head coronet-wise, or they use some
other kind of distinctive head-dress.

A man who has killed a certain number of enemies,
not less than four or five, is permitted to use the blue
turban taken from a dead Musalman, as a shawl or
wrapper. The long narrow turban-cloth is cut in half,
and the halves sewn tos^ether side bv side, so as to
give a shawl of the necessary breadth. The men are very

kAfir clothing 507

proud of wearing these sheet-like wrappers, and stalk
about in them in a highly dignified way.

The great majority of the male Kafirs wear nothing
whatever on the head, either in summer or in winter.
AN'lien it is very cold or very hot they protect the head
and face with anything they have. There seems to be
no prohibition against wearing head coverings, but they
can only be obtained with great difficulty. A favourite
head-dress is the soft roll-up Chitrali cap. This can
be worn in all but the hottest weather, and is soft and
comfortable, but it is practically only obtainable by the
Bashgul Valley Kafirs, and only by a small proportion
of them.

To speak generally, the women are well and sufficiently
clothed. The legs are often encased in gaiters, and the
feet covered with soft reddish leather boots, according
to the time of year, and the nature of their work, but
more often than not they go about with bare legs and

Having spoken generally of the clothing of the Kafirs,
particulars may now be given. It will be convenient
first to describe the dress of those tribes which, from
their custom of wearing sombre-hued garments, are
included under the name of Siah-Posh Kafirs. These
tribes include all those who inhabit the Bashgul Valley,
the Katirs, the Kam, the Madugal, the KashtVm, and the
Gourdesh, as well as those branches of the great Katir
tribe who live in the western valleys Avhich run down
from the Hindu Kush, and are known respectively as
the Kti, the Kulam, and the litimgul or Gabarik Kafirs.
Subsequently the dress of the Wai and of the Presungul
Kafirs will be described.



The simplest and commonest form of dress of the Siah-
Posh — of the males, that is to say — is the goatskin.
It is worn by boys and by poor men at all times. It
is also used by the great majority of all classes of the


people when engaged in raiding or hunting, or when
herding or watching their flocks. In the villages, only
those in poverty appear in this dress, except on the death
of a near relative, when it is assumed as a mourning
garb. When employed in this way, it is merely thrown


across the shoulders, over whatever other clothes are
being worn. The goatskin is a shapeless wrapper,
girdled at the waist by a leather strap. It only partially
covers the neck and chest, and in men reaches about
lialf-way down the thigh. In extreme cold a cape of the
same material is added, and rough sleeves also, which
are sewn into the body portion by huge stitches an inch
or an inch and a half long, made by boring holes and
then passing a stout thread through them. Imperfect
as must be the protection which this primitive garment
affords against rigorous cold, I have frequently seen
Kafirs on the war-path or during hunting expeditions
trudge through the snow with no other clothing except
perhaps goat's-hair gaiters and boots. Owing to its scanty
dimensions, and also on account of the defective method
employed in curing hides, which leaves them stiff and
unmanageable, it is difficult for a man to arrange his
goatskin decently when he sits down for formal conver-
sation, while in climbing trees he has necessarily to
abandon such attempts altogether. However, in villages
it is comparatively rare to see men, even slaves, \vearing
this garment, except with cotton trousers as well.

Although there is a thick blanket-like cloth made in
Kafiristan, yet fragments of goatskin are almost in\'ari-
ably employed for all the various purposes for which
pieces of cloth are usually required ; such, for instance,
as to make small bags, to bind up wounds or sore
places, or to protect broken limbs from injury by the
sustaining splints. Infants are also carried about wrapped
up in portions of goatskin. The fashion is to wear the
hairy side of the goatskin outside ; indeed, in rain or
snow it would be the only way to prevent the leatlier


from spoiling ; but in severe, dry cold the hairy side is
sometimes worn inside.

Another strictly national garment qf the Siah-Posh
Kjlfirs is called the " budzun " in the Kam tribe. It is
Avorn by all females, and by many men as well. Its
colour is a very dark brown ; its shape is peculiar. On
a woman it reaches from the neck to the knees and
covers the shoulders, but leaves the neck and a wedge-
shaped portion of the upper part of the back uncovered.
This particular fopm of the back part of the garment
permits the head of a baby, carried at the back inside
the dress in the usual Kafir way, to protrude into the
daylight ; yet there is no difference between the budzun
as worn by the men, who never carry children in this
way, and that worn by the women. The budzun opens
all down the front. The men rarely confine it at the
waist, but generally wear it thrown loosely over the
shoulders. The women, on the other hand, always
keep it closely and decently adjusted to the body ;
they usually fasten it about the level of the breast by
a large brass pin, or with a wooden substitute that
looks like a small packing needle, and at the waist,
by a long, dark red, fiat girdle about an inch and a
quarter broad, ending in black or red tassels. The
bottom of the dress has a regularly wavy outline, and
is edged with red. The most striking peculiarity of
the shape of the budzun is the way in which the
absence of sleeves is compensated for by the large
flaps which overhang the armholes. The Siah-Posh
Kafirs of the western valleys have proper sleeves
to the budzun, which in all other respects resembles
the Bashgul garment, except that it is slightly lighter


in colour, while the edging is different in tint, and is
narrower. The women bunch up their budzuns through
the girdle, and in the respectacles thus formed, carry
various articles, such as walnuts, food, and similar small

A Bashgul woman's mourning garment is simply a
tattered budzun, worn cloak-fashion over her every-day
dress, and a special cotton head-dress, which will be
referred to when we deal with funeral customs.

If we put aside those articles of attire which are
used merely for ornament, there is no other clothing,
that I am acquainted with, which is made in Kafiristan
from materials manufactured in the country itself, except
the caps of the women, their leggings, the soft red leather
boots worn by both sexes, and the goat's-hair gaiters and
foot-coverings worn by the men when travelling through
the snow.

All the sewing seems to be done by the men, who may
often be noticed leisurely at work on the small cotton
caps worn by the women. Old men often used to come
to sit with me, and frequently brought their "work"
with them. Distinguished warriors who are also dandies
are permitted to have their shirts rather prettily em-
broidered in colours, both back and front. One of these
young braves once told me, with a chuckle, that the
personal badge he himself wore had been worked by a
"yar" (i.e., friend), mentioning another man's wife, but
I never saw a woman using a needle.

The women's cotton clothes consist of a cap and of
an under garment. The latter, however, is only worn
by the females of comparatively wealthy fannlies. The
cap is a square piece of cotton cloth, folded in and sewn

512 1'jno kAfirs of the HINDU-KUSH

at tlic corners, so as to form a square head-dress about an
inch and a half high. It is worn at the back of the head.
Below the Katir part of the Bashgul Valley the cap is
worn on all occasions except at particular festivals and
religious ceremonies, when the peculiar horned head-dress
is used. Among the Katir tribes the custom is different.
The horned cap is worn in the fields, and for all outdoor
occupations, while the cotton head-gear is reserved for
the house after the day's work is done. The assumption
of a head-dress marks the age of puberty ; before that
event occurs the girls simply bind the head at the level
of the brows with a double string, occasionally orna-
mented behind with flat button-like silver beads.

The cotton under-garment or shift is of the same
length as the budzun, or a little longer ; it often shows
an inch or so below the woollen tunic. It is provided
with sleeves, and is often rather prettily embroidered at
the edges with blue. Poor women can never aflford this
luxury, so that in the fields under a blazing sun they
must always work in their heavy hot clothing, while their
more fortunate sisters can slip off the budzun down to the
waist, and still be sufficiently protected by the cotton
under-garment. Kafir women, though anything but
moral in their conversation and behaviour, are never
indecent in their clothing.

The horned head-dress is a very peculiar article of
attire. It consists of a pad six inches broad from front
to back, made of hair covered with black net. This pad
rests on the top of the head. From each side in front
project upwards and outwards two horns about seven
inches long. From the base of these front horns two
others run backwards and downwards over the pad,


parallel to each other, and two and a half inches apart,
tapering slightly to a blunt point. All the horns are
about an inch in diameter at the base, and are made of
the same material as the pad. At the front of the pad,
resting on the brow of the woman, is an ornamented
square iron bar five inches in length and about a third
of an inch in thickness, and immediately below this is a
spiral iron ornament, three inches and a half from side
to side and one inch in diameter. Some of the coils are
round, others are flat. The latter have rough designs
punched on their outer surface. Running backwards on
the top of the pad there is another iron ornament, lighter
and smaller than that for the brow. It is about two
inches long and half an inch in diameter. To the end
of this are attached four or five common brass thimbles
and perhaps a coloured bead or two, and then a couple
of brass spirals which look like springs, three or four
inches long, finished off" at the lower end by two or three
more brass thimbles with round brass bells fastened inside
them. At the base of the front horns two or three cowrie-
shells are often sewn on as an additional ornament. I
have seen on the brass thimbles short English inscrip-
tions, such as " For a good girl." These were the only
printed or written words I ever found in Kj'ifiristan. The
western Siah-Posh women wear an identical head-dress,
except that it is narrower and the front horns are much
shorter, not more than half the length of those worn by
the women of the Bashgul Valley. These short horns
sometimes peep out from a covering of cotton cloth
enveloping the whole head-dress. The back horns are
also comparatively small. One woman at Lutdeli orna-
mented her cap with a string of cowrie-shells twisted


rouiui the base of the front lioins. In tlic Katir district
of the Bashgul Valley the peculiar appearance of these
horned head-dresses is often enhanced by the custom
many women adopt of slipping cotton-bags over the
horns to keep them from dust and damp. The material
for the horned caps is made by female slaves on very
light looms constructed of a kind of cane. The entire
apparatus is easily held between the knees, and the
weaving is done by the fingers exclusively. A slave in-
formed me that the net-like cloth thus manufactured is
also useful for protecting the eyes from snow-blindness.

The gaiters worn by the women are made of precisely
the same material as the budzun. They extend from
just below the knee to the ankle. They have a reddish
stripe along the vertical edges, to which are fastened
strings for keeping them in position. There seems to
be no rule about wearing these rough, coarse, w^oollen
gaiters. In hot weather they are rarely seen, while even
when it is cold many young women seem to prefer

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 30 of 38)