George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 31 of 38)
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marching and working without them.

The boots made for the Kc4firs by the slaves are of
soft reddish leather, reaching to the ankles, and are
fastened by leather thongs. They are highly esteemed
by the surrounding Musalmau tribes, and are often
given by a Kafir to his Musalman friend or "brother."
They are by no means uncomfortable to wear for short
journeys, but for long distances they are insufficient pro-
tection to unhardened Western feet. The Kafir methods
of curing leather are defective, and, as a result, their
boots cannot be worn when it is raining, and have to be
taken off and carried whenever the ground is wet from
overflow from irrigation channels, or for any other reason.


For the snow the Kafirs cover the legs and feet with a
thick material woven from goat's-hair, which has the
especial advantage of being warm, while at the same time
it is not spoilt by damp.

A Kafir youth starting on an expedition to cross a
snow pass or kill markhor would generally be attired
as follows : — The head would be covered with any cloth
the sportsman possessed, in addition, perhaps, to the very
popular soft brown roll-up Chitnili cap. The body would
be clothed in a goatskin coat, usually open at the neck
and leaving the arms bare, but possibly fitted also with a
cape and sleeves. A leather belt would not only keep
the body garment in position, but would also support,
on the right side, the inevitable dagger, and on the left
a set of bandoliers. The legs would in all probability
be protected by the goat's - hair leggings already men-
tioned, and the feet by coverings of a similar material.
In the case of an ordinary poor man, the leg from the
middle of the thigh, where the goatskin coat ends, to
just below the knee, where the leggings begin, might
be altogether bare. The above articles of attire compre-
hend all the clothing made by the Siah-Posh themselves.
The goatskins are prepared by anybody. The women's
horned caps, the woollen cloth for the budzun and
leggings, and the goatskin gaiters, as well as foot-cover-
ings of all kinds, are manufactured by the slaves exclu-
sively, while the cotton cloths and cerements are sewn
and fashioned by men of all classes.

Of imported articles of dress the Kafirs are very fond,
the men of the Bashgul Valley favouring brown Chit-
r;'ili robes and caps, while the western Siah-Posh tril)e,
and indeed all K;ifirs, appear to prize chiefly the black


woollen robes made in Minjan, and no doubt in other
places as well. A Siah-Posh Kafir, well dressed, accord-
ing to his own idea, wears a cotton shirt and trousers,
a Chitrali cap on his head, a Chitrali or similar robe
flowing from his shoulders, footless Chitrali stockings
and soft red leather Kafir boots ; in short, with the
exception of his boots, the whole of his dress is either
imported or made from imported materials.

The budzun, though still worn by a few old Kc4firs of
conservative instinct, has been almost completely ousted,
in the Bashgul Valley at any rate, by the long Chitrali
or Minjan robes, which are now worn by all those rich
enough to wear what they please. The arms are very
rarely thrust into the unnecessarily long sleeves of the
" shukr." The garment is preferably hung loosely on
the shoulders, and a characteristic gesture is the one-
handed hitch up of the robe by the collar part (the
other hand being usually occupied with the walking-
club) as a young or youngish Kafir springs out through
the doorway of a house or darts away at the close of
an interview. The long arms of the trailing garment
are often tied up at the wrists, and then used as con-
venient bags for the reception of small quantities of fruit,
grain, flour, and so forth.

The Kafirs like a certain coarse cotton cloth made
and sold to them by their Musalman neighbours, and
infinitely prefer this rough variety to much better speci-
mens, the product of Indian looms. They maintained
that the cotton they procured was both stronger and
warmer than mine. The trousers they fashion are short
and very wide, while the shirts are worn in the usual
Oriental way, outside, not tucked into the trousers. If


a man have only enough cotton cloth to make one g-ar-
ment he uses it for trousers, as then he can wear his
goatskin coat open in the hot weather.

It is always a matter of considerable difficulty for Kafirs
to get sufficient clothing. Hardly any man has more
than one suit of cotton clothes ; so, on the rare occa-
sions on which it is being washed, such, for instance, as
his undertaking a long but peaceable journey, the man
has in the meantime to keep very much out of the way,
or must appear in public with a Chitnili robe bound
tightly round him. On meeting a man thus clad, it
would be a relevant and proper thing at once to ask him
where he was going, and how many days he expected to
remain away. The women generally have but one budzun
after they have arrived at full growth, and their clothing-
is sometimes desperately tattered and torn, as well as
dirty. Many of them, indeed, look as if the\- were in
mourning for deceased relatives when they are merely in
their usual everyday attire. But if the inhabitants of the
Eashgul Valley are hard put to it for clothing, the Sitih-
l^osh of the western valleys are frequently in still more
desperate straits, according to all accounts. It is said
that one of the commonest reasons for their selling their
young female relatives is to procure clothes. Some of
them are compelled to substitute for a body-garment a
strip of turban or other cloth with a slit in the middle
through which the head is thrust, the sides of the body
as low as the waist remaining uncovered. For head-
covering they frequently have a wisp of cloth bound round
the brow, and, Chitrali caps being unattainable, they have
cither to go bareheaded, or else to bind anything on their
heads which is at hand, as the poorer Bashgul Kiifirs are


also compelled to do ; but with this trifling exception,
and in the slight difference in the edging of the budzun,
and the presence or absence of sleeves to that garment,
there appears to be but small difference in the dress of
the different tribes which collectively constitute the Siah-
Posh Kafirs.

Oddly enough, the slaves are by no means the worst
dressed among Siah-Posh communities. This may be
because they are the manufacturers of so much of the
clothing worn. A slave cannot be detected by any pecu-
liarity of his attire. His budzun is precisely the same as
everybody else's, nor has it any distinctive marks or
badges of any kind. Nevertheless, he is usually readily
recognisable after a little practice, on account of the more
or less degraded type of his features. There is one point,
however, about the slaves. They never in my recollection
are seen wearing a Chitrali or Minjani robe or a Chitrali
cap, or indeed any regular head-covering.

The only blankets made by the Siah-Posh are of goat's-
hair. They may be warm, but look rough and most un-
comfortable. Indeed, though used as blankets, and spread
as such on beds, they look far more like door-mats.

Cold does not seem to affect the Kd,firs in any way ;
indeed, they are hardly less scantily clad in the winter
than in the summer. Except when wearing goat's-hair
foot-coverings, which are hardly ever used in the villages,
they discard boots altogether in the snow, lest they should
be spoilt, and the men go about bare-legged. The women
also trudge to the water-mills with a similar absence of
all protection to the legs and feet. Children used to
come to see me clad merely in short goatskins, open
everywhere, except at the waist.


There is one tribe of Sijih-Posh called the Kashtan.
They inhabit the village of that name, which is close to
Kc4mdesh. They formerly had another village called
Dnngiil in the Dungul Valley, from which they were
ejected by the Pathans. It appears that a long time
before this event the Dunaul villagers were in great fear
of their Pathan neighbours. During the winter months
the Kcifirs were so entirely cut otf from the rest of the
tribe at Kashtan that, to avoid wounding delicate suscep-
tibilities, they adopted the Pathan dress more or less com-
pletely. This compliment failed in securing the desired
result, but some of the refugee Dungul women still wear
in Kiifiristan the ordinary attire of a Musalman Avoman.
Tliat they are rather proud of the distinctiveness it gives
them is certain, while one or two incidents have come
under my notice which incline me to think that the
Bashgnl Valley Kafirs, at any rate, certainly admire the
blue costumes of the Gabar Musalman women of the
Kunar Valley.

"With the scanty toilette at his disposal it might seem
that a Kafir youth of the "masher" type would find
small opportunity of satisfying his ideal ; but human
nature seems to be much the same everywhere, and a
blue shirt, or some special mode of wearing his apparel,
supplies the Kafir dandy with the solace which young
men of his age and temperament undoubtedly require.
I have watched a youth at the end of a march dress him-
self in the clothes he had carefully carried over his arm
throughout the day. He first went down to the river
and washed until he was reasonably clean. Then he
arranged his long scalp lock with a piece of wood, in
jjlace of a comb. The piece of wood was not run through


the hair, but the lad tossed his wild, wet locks back with
his left hand and then forward on to the stick in alter-
nate motions. Next, taking a pair of footless Chitrali
stockings, he drew them on to his legs with great circum-
spection, and tucked the extremities of his coarse loose
trousers into the tops of them. Lastly, he put on his
single upper garment, an ordinaiy shirt-like thing, and
fastened his dagger belt round the waist. But this was
by no means so simple an operation as it sounds. The
shirt or upper garment had to be pouched up, so that
the folds fell in a particular way, and the plaits on the
hip required to be drawn down tightly, but with regu-
larity and smoothness. When all was finished he strutted
about before me, taking steps about six inches long.

On account of the sad colours they use, and by reason
of the excessive dirtiness of their cotton garments, a Siah-
Posh crowd, except when arrayed for a religious dance,
presents a sombre and squalid appearance. The women
are fantastic without being always picturesque. Sepa-
rately they are often comical. They sometimes appear
as if they were arrayed in an Inverness cape. At other
times, from behind, one would imagine they wore a frock-
coat and boots, an illusion which their somewhat lengthy
stride helps to increase. When, startled from field-work,
w)iile wearing the horned cap, they suddenly look up
from a bent posture, their resemblance to some kind of
black goat is certainly curious. On the other hand, the
sight of a tired woman, with a heavy load in the conical
basket on her back, and possibly a lusty infant at her
breast, crawling wearily home from work, is very depress-
ing. I believe the black garments of the Siah-Posh are
preferred by the people because they hide the dirt, and


in wet weather the lilthy water-drops from the sooty ceil-
ing, better than lighter-coloured clothing would.

The Presun or Viron people wear a dress entirely
different from that of the Siah-Posh, It is made ex-
clusively of thick grey blanketing, which has a ribbed
appearance. The men wear a kind of w^rapper coat
with sleeves, confined at the waist with a leather strap
supporting the dagger, which no Kafir likes to be with-
out. The coat is open in front almost to the middle
of the body. It reaches to the knees. Long wide
trousers of the same material as the coat cover the
legs as far as the ankles. They are folded on them-
selves, and secured in that position by narrow coloured
woollen tape wound round and round the leg, which
enables them to be tucked comfortably into the ordinary
soft leather boots, worn according to circumstances. No
head-covering of any kind is used except by a few on
religious ceremonial occasions.

The women w^ear a kind of skull-cap, small and round,
which fits on to the back of the head. Girls not yet
arrived at puberty — and it is astonishing how old-looking
and big some of these girls are — wear merely four large
cowrie shells on a string which passes over the crown
of the head and behind the ears. The body-garment
is very long and grey. One might almost call it a gown
which reaches to the ankles. Into the back of this
garment woollen cloth of a dark brown, or even black
colour, is often woven. This is done, so they say, to
hide the dirt marks caused by sitting on the ground.
When it is very cold the women wear a cou})le or more
wrappers. Babies are not tucked into the back of the
dress, as is the custom in the I3ashgul Valley, but arc


taken care of by little girls, who carry them on their
backs slung in a small blanket.

There appears to be no cotton cloth in the Presun
Valley. The clothing of the people is all made by
themselves. The thick heavy robes of the women, hang-
ing about the legs, cause them to take short mincing
steps, very dift'erent from the more or less manly stride of
the Sidh-Posh women.

The Presun people use blankets made of the same
material as the other clothing. They are some five and
a half feet in length, and about four feet wide. They
consist of two lateral pieces sewn together with strong
rough stitches. They are often elaborately embroidered
at the ends in square patterns of blue and red chequers.
For their excellent woollen cloth the Presun people are
as famous as for their elaborate wood-carving. The
heavy loose clothing of the Presun people gives its
wearers a certain air of clumsiness, which their stolid-
looking faces accentuates.

A detailed description of the Wai people's dress
was unluckily lost with a notebook carried away in a
torrent. This loss has to be supplied chiefly from
memory, but partly also from a few notes found in my
diaries. The Wai men affect white cotton clothes,
and blue and other colours, whenever they can pro-
cure them. There is nothing remarkable about the cut
of the upper garment or shirt and the short wide
trousers. I well remember three splendid-looking men
of this tribe, with high aquiline features, marching up
the Kamdesh hill with a slow, decided, almost stamp-
ing tread, their shoulders thrown back, their chests
expanded, their mouths half opened for easy breathing.


They seemed too proud or indifferent to show the
slightest curiosity on meeting me. They wore white
cotton shirts and trousers, and had blue shawls carried
over the shoulders, the Aveather being hot. I have
also seen Wai men on one or two occasions in goat-
skin coats, or wrapped in the blue shawls made from
Afghan turbans ; but I have no recollection of any
distinctive thick garment, nor of any peculiar blanket.
The women wear, at times at any rate, shallow turbans
of white or drab-coloured cloth, w^ith strings of cowries
in front of each ear, and necklaces of red and white
beads. From the centre of the front of the turban
there projects a small red tuft. Their clothing is of
light-coloured material. At a short distance they appear
to have a body-garment and a skirt reaching to the
knee. Coming closer to them, the observer perceives
that they are hard put to it to procure clothes, and
that their light-coloured garments arc of poor quahty.
They have a small pad fitted on the lower part of the
back, which supports the apex of the conical baskets
they use, in which custom they differ entirely from all
other Kafir women I have seen.

It will be convenient to describe ornaments and dan-
cing-costumes together. The particular dancing-dresses
are never used for any except ornamental purposes.

There is one particular crownless hat furnished with
a short tail. It is exclusively Morn by men who, after
much feast-giving, are on the point of assuming the car-
rings, wliicli proclaim the fact that they have become
.last, or headmen. This peculiar hat consists entirely
of a brim about two and a half inches broad, which is
apparently composed of layers of cotton webbing, some-


thing like the " JN'awdr " tape used in India for making
beds, except that it is only about half as broad. Into
the front of this hat, between the layers of the webbing,
a sprig of juniper-cedar is thrust, or more than one in
the case of men who have been through the Jast cere-
mony more than once. This particular hat is never
Avorn at dances. It is the only unusual and ornamental
article of dress which is not also employed in adding to
the spectacle of a religious ceremonial dance.

Kafirs at their dances, and at no other times, wear
turbans. These turbans are generally white, and are
tied round the ordinary "kullah" or peaked cap. Being
usually somewhat skimpy, they require to be adjusted
with considerable nicety. Those about to become Jast
put aside at dances the crownless hat already described,
and replace it with a large turban furnished with a short
tail behind, and decorated in front with a fringe of cowrie
shells strung alternately with red glass beads. Into the
front of the turban are fastened sticks tipped with the
€rest feathers of the manal pheasant, a very popular orna-
ment. Some peacocks' feathers we took up from India
were greatly admired when used in this decorative way.

Those who are headmen are entitled to wear, through
the upper edge of the cartilage of the ear, the small silver
earrings, somewhat resembling a baron's coronet, which
almost all Siah-Posh Kafir women possess ; while from
the lobe of the ear depends a narrow twisted silver bar
about two inches long, terminating in a ring two-thirds
of an inch in diameter. Those completing the obser-
vances required for the rank of headman wear such a
complicated collection of brass earrings, in addition to
the above, that it is impossible to describe them. They


look like gigantic Indian puzzle-rings open. The neck
is not uncommonly encircled by a silver, or what looks
like a silver, fluted ornament, solid and heavy like those
worn by Hindu women. The wrists may be adorned
with brass bracelets rudely stamped with short lines and

The body-garment used at dances consists of a long
flowing robe with sleeves. It reaches to the heels, and has
to be tucked up through the iron- studded leather belt or
its substitute to prevent the skirt trailing on the ground.
Kafirs love to have their robes inordinately long in the
skirt and the sleeves, so that they may in one garment
possess as much valuable cloth as possible. The robes are
made of Badakhshan silk, sham kinkob or sultanzari from
Peshawar, cotton velvet, or coloured cloth, according to
the wealth of the owner. He may, in addition, wear a
spare piece of silk, or a cloth belt worked with cowrie
shells, sashwise over one shoulder and under the oppo-
site arm. The trousers worn are of coarse cotton, and
are made wide and short. They are often tucked into
tlie pretty Chitnili stockings. Men about to become
Jast wear a special pair of trousers made for the Kam
people by the inhabitants of Shal in the Kunar Valley.
These trousers are only worn in conjunction with a cer-
tain long blue coat reaching to the knees, which hides
the nether garments except below the knees, where the
latter are prettily embroidered in a black and white
chequered pattern. They do not extend as low as the
ankles, and have deep lateral slips of four or five inches
long at the bottom on both sides.

The dancing-boots worn both by men and women wlio
have gone through the necessary ceremonies for the rank


of Jast are elaborate and peculiar. The part correspond-
ing to the golosh of Finglish boots is ornamented in red
and straw-coloured squares, and the whole boot is deco-
rated with red woollen rosettes ; while from the long
soft drab-coloured uppers, which reach nearly half-way
to the knee, depend long fringes of white goat's hair
or markhor's hair dyed red at the tips. This fringe falls
over the ankle part of the boot, and increases its fantastic
appearance. The boots are secured to the legs and ankles
by narrow woven tape.

The above description applies, first, to men of the
Jast class, and second, to those completing the obser-
vances by which alone this rank can be attained. At
the spring religious dances it is these classes which
supply the performers almost exclusively, although occa-
sionally young men of good family and renowned in war
are invited to supply vacant places in the throng. Each
dancer is provided with the peculiar-shaped dancing-axe
described elsewhere.

But although a headman may array himself in this
fashion for the great festivities in which he occupies so
prominent and striking a position, there are yet many
gradations of style, according to the wealth of diflferent
individuals, or, in ordinary dances, according to the tribal
status of those taking part in them. Some men only
add a silk or other turban cloth worn scarfwise over one
shoulder and under the opposite arm. Others may wear
as their sole ornament a kind of fillet, consisting of two
rows of flattened half-spherical silver buttons behind and
at the side, while the part for the forehead and brows is
of some black material, or is merely a double string, such
as girls wear. Some appear in footless Chitrali stockings


as their only additional ornament. Nearly all wear soft
leather boots, but a certain number dance in bare feet

On certain particular occasions the women actually
wear the men's ornamental costumes in addition to their
own. At the village of Lutdeh, for instance, after the
men of the district had started for a raid, and the women
had abandoned their field-work and were collected in the
village dancing day and night to their gods for the suc-
cess of the expedition, many of the women were arrayed
in men's dancing-robes worn under the budzun, and only
partially displayed by the budzun being slipped oflf one
shoulder and down to the waist. Many also brandished
daggers or twirled dancing-axes ; but this was the only
occasion on which I witnessed this curious observance.

For ordinary ceremonial and other dances women
appear in various degrees of finery. The horned caps
already described arc sometimes adorned by having a
piece of coloured silk or white cloth bound round the
front horns. Large silver blinkers are worn by the lucky
few who possess them. They appear to be only permitted
to women who bring them as part of their dowry on mar-
riage. All women wear the serpentine earrings. 1 hey
are heavy, and depend from the lobe of the ear. A string
over the top of the head helps to sustain them. These
earrings, like the small coroneted variety, are worn at
all times ; the blinkers, on occasions of great importance
only. Women never, except in such instances as those
already mentioned, wear any special garment for dancing ;
but the budzun is sometimes slipped ofl' one shoulder so
as to show the white cotton garment beneath ; but even
that is unusual. As a rule, only ornaments are worn. Of


these, the most common are silk or coloured cloth sashes,
or else belts stiidded with cowrie-shells hanging from
one shoulder ; or perhaps a small turban cloth wound
round the waist, on the top of which may very likely
be seen a band of cowries prettily worked on cloth, while
suspended from the lower edge are a number of metal
discs, odd-shaped implements like trepanning-saws, and
hollow metal balls, which clang and clash with each
shuffle of the dancer. In front a couple of ends of cloth
covered with cowrie-shells sometimes hang down from the
belt. Girls, if adorned at all, merely wear a few cowries
and beads, and the ordinary beaded band round the head.

When arrayed for dancing, the women wear their belts
so low that their waists appear of a prodigious size. No
doubt the Kafirs consider this in itself a point of beauty
in a woman. Women who have gone through the regular
feast-giving may wear, on high occasions, the strange
hairy dancing-boot, just as the men do ; in other cases
they jerk and shuffle about in the ordinary boot of the
country, or with bare feet merely. Nobody seems to pay

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 31 of 38)