George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 32 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 32 of 38)
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the least attention to the dancing women. They are
neither admired nor disparaged ; they are simply ignored.
At religious dances they move outside the circle of pos-
turing, stamping men, and often seem to have a bad time
jammed up between dancers and spectators.

In addition to the more characteristic ornaments worn
by Kafirs, there are many others in the shape of cheap
rings with imitation stones, worth about a penny a dozen,
and strings of beads and such like articles, which are
brought by pedlars from Peshawar and other places. The
W^ai women have a peculiar kind of earring, large, flat,
and more or less like a kidney in shape.


In the Presungul one day, while nursing a sprained heel
tendon, I saw a man clothed in a long red coat, his head
covered with an Afghan kullah and turban. In his hand he
carried a long spear, while across his back was a double
curved bow and a quiver full of arrows. He stamped
along vigorously, making the most of certain bells he had
about him, which clanged at every step. He made a
])rofound obeisance at an Imni shrine close at hand, and
at once started off again energetically. In my disabled
state it was impossible to get near enough to him to
examine his ornaments. He was the owner of the house
which contained the iron pillar, and was travelling down
the valley on duty, inspecting all the herds in the country,
to select the two fattest cows for sacrifice at Imni's shrine.
Another fantastically ornamented figure — the equivalent,
I was informed, of the man becoming a Jast in the Bash-
gul Valley — accompanied me on the last march from
Presungul to Kamdesh. AVe were supposed to be
"shadowed" at the time, and probably for that reason
there is no account of tlie man's ornaments in my diaries.
I only remember that he wore, among many other articles,
the kidney-shaped AVai earrings.


The position of women — Marriage — Polygamy- Exogamy of clan— Divorce-
Family life.

\Kafir women are practically household slaves. They
seem to have no civil rights of any kind. To all intents
and purposes they are bought and sold as household
commodities. While they are young their life is one of
incessant labour and trouble. In some cases the entire
work of agriculture is in their hands, as well as all carry-
ing work, except the very heavy kinds for which they
have no strength ; such, for instance, as dragging timbers
from the forest for house-building operations. Probably
for the same reason the men alone do the threshing of
the corn. Women are rarely actively ill-used ; they are
merely despised. The only females who receive any
share of respect are the aged, the mothers and the
grandmothers of the tribe. They, especially if they
have been through the Jast ceremonies, do receive a
certain amount of consideration. Young women are of
course sought after by the men, who are ever ready to
indulge in an intrigue, but even with this object they
appeared to be valued merely in proportion to the diffi-
culty involved in making conquests of them. A Kafir with
three or four young wives is still always on the look-out
for love-charms or philtres. He will ingenuously explain
that he does not wish his own wives to get more fond
of him, but longs to attract and fascinate other women.

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Young women are very immoral, not because their
natural average disposition is either better or worse than
that of women of other tribes and races, but because
public opinion is all in favour of what may be called
"gallantry." When a woman is discovered in an in-
trigue, a great outcry is made, and the neighbours rush
to the scene with much laughter. A goat is sent for on
the spot for a peace-making feast between the gallant
and the husband. Of course the neighbours also par-
take of the feast ; the husband and wife both look very
happy, and so does every one else, except the lover, who
has to pay for the goat, and who knows that he or his
family must also pay the full penalty sooner or later.
There is no getting out of that, for his clan will not
help him, unless the husband demands a higher penalty
than that sanctioned by custom — namely, the payment
of six cows. There are several households in Kamdesh
whose sole property in cows consists of the number thus
paid. Among themselves the women are wonderfully help-
ful and kind when there are no disputes going on about
the irrigation of the fields or other business matters.
They are very industrious and work incessantly. They
start off at daybreak, and drag their wearied limbs home
from the fields just before it gets dark. They are fond
of their husbands, and are devotedly attached to their cliil-
dren, especially to the boys. In other respects they are
like women generally ; some are good and some are bad.

ISIarriages are very simple affairs : they are actually
the purchase of women by men. When a man wants to
marry a particular girl, he sends a friend to her fatlicr to
ask his consent and arrange about the price. On tlio
latter point there is often much haggling. When the

2 F


amount to be paid has been settled, the suitor visits the
gill's liouse ; a goat is killed, then there is some feasting,
and the marriage is completed. Many a young girl is
married before she has arrived at the age of puberty ;
indeed they generally are. Infants in arms are some-
times married, or at least affianced, to grown men. It
is comparatively rare to find a girl of twelve who is un-
married. A young woman who remains unmarried must
be a hopelessly bad character. If an unmarried girl
were found to be misconducting herself, she would pro-
bably be only scolded by her parents, and the matter
would be hushed up. Full-grown young women, and
even middle-aged women, are sometimes married to
boys, for the former are field-slaves quite as much as
wives, so that an orphan lad who is the owner of fields
must marry in order to get his land cultivated. As the
Kafirs are polygamists, there is no hardship involved in
this custom — to the boy.

All well-to-do Kafirs have more than one wife, but
rarely more than four or five. It is considered a re-
proach to have only one ^vife, a sign of poverty and
insignificance. There was on one occasion a heated
discussion at Kamdesh concerning the best plans to
be adopted to prepare for an expected attack. A man
sitting on the outskirts of the assembly controverted
something the priest said. Later on the priest turned
round fiercely and demanded to be told how a man with
'' only one wife " presumed to offer an opinion at all.
The spectators laughed at the interrupter's presumption,
and partly hustled, partly led him aw^ay, for he had to
pretend a desire to assault the priest in reply to the scorn
poured out on him. The man's conduct was excused


to me on the ground that he must be mad. As a matter
of fact, he was right about the expected attack, and the
priest was wrong. The price paid for a wife depends
entirely upon the status of the suitor. If a poor man,
he woukl have to pay eight cows ; if fairly well-to-do,
twelve. If the girl's father were very wealthy, he would
probably refuse to entertain a poor man's proposals at
all. If both families were wealthy and important, the
suitor would have to pay a very large price, but not
nearly so much as he would ever afterwards declare he
had given, for he would almost certainly get Avith his
wife a female slave, certain silver ornaments, or sundry
measures of corn. In such an instance as this, the Kafir
love of bragging would have to be allowed for. Both
fainilies would try to exaggerate their own importance
by the fables they told about the marriage expenditure.
Although a man may marry a woman with the full con-
sent of all concerned, and although she may bear him
children, neither she nor her children would be allowed
to leave her father's house until the last penny of her
price had been paid. It is not quite certain, however,
if sons would not belong to the father. Daughters
certainly would not. It is paying the full price wliich
gives the man the right to take his wife to his home for
her to work in his fields.

As mentioned before, a man may not marry in his own
clan, nor in his mother's, nor in his father's mother's,
but he may marry all sorts of female connections by
marriage. A brother takes over his dead brother's wives
to keep himself, or to dispose of as he thinks fit. A
woman in Kafiristan is really a chattel. She cannot
inherit ; she has no property even in herself.


Divorce is easy. A man sells his wife or sends her
away. An old Kafir, after telling me he had had alto-
gether twelve wives, added that he had only two remain-
ing. He explained that some had died, while he had
tired of the others and had sold them. If a woman be-
haves very badly, and her husband, although he dislikes
her, cannot dispose of her, he may send her back to her
parents. I remember an instance of this kind. The
woman was the prettiest I ever saw in Kafiristan, and
would have been considered a beauty anywhere, but she
was so bad and troublesome that no one would take her.
She w^as sent back to her father's house and worked for
him. If diny one were found intriguing with her, he
would have to pay the usual fine to the husband. If a
girl were born to her, the woman would keep her ; if a
son, the husband would claim him. AVhen a woman runs
away with another man, the husband tries hard to get an
enhanced price for his fugitive wife. His power to do
this, and the power of the seducer to resist any unusual
demand, depend very greatly upon the respective import-
ance of the two families, i.e., the number of men each
can produce as family connections to argue the question.
If both men were of the same rank, the price the husband
originally gave for the woman would probably suffice ; but
endless squabbles, followed by peacemakings, would have
first to be gone through. Although divorce is theoreti-
cally so simple, and usually is so in practice, yet with
well-born wives the woman's family and public opinion
have sometimes to be considered. If the woman had
misbehaved badly in the Kafir sense, there would be no
difficulty in the matter, but if the husband simply tired
of her and wanted to get rid of her out of the village,


there might be obstacles raised by her family against his
doing so. But this reservation woukl apply only to a very
few families in the Kum tribe, for instance. The power
a Kafir has over his wife to beat or otherwise ill-use her
is also limited by public opinion. It is a sacred duty for
all Kafirs to separate quarrelling persons, so that if a hus-
band and his wife were quarrelling, the neighbours would
step in and insist on being peacemakers. Husbands Avho,
on returning from a journey, receive hints, but not proofs,
that their wives have been behaving badly and unprofit-
ably, do maltreat them, but the punishment has to be
inflicted secretly, late at night, and as a rule is not very
severe. Kafirs rarely divorce their wives unless the
women run away from them. Young boys who find them-
selves married to old women, when they grow up com-
monly acquiesce in the arrangement, and procure younger
wives as soon as possible.

The family life of Kafirs is kindly on the whole. A
well-to-do man with several wives may have two or three
different homes. In Kamdesh, where there are plenty of
spare houses, this is certainly the case. The women seem
to get on very well together. It is not invariably the
youngest and prettiest wife who has the most influence,
except with old men. I\Iiddle-aged men sometimes,
though rarely, are influenced by a woman's force of will
rather than by personal attractions, especially if the
woman is the mother of many children. Husbands and
wives enjoy playing with the baby together, and will
glance significantly and delightedly at one another when
their offspring makes some achuiniblc childish remark.
All very young children are spoiled, both hoys and
girls, but very soon the girls are neglected and the boys


indulged. A Kafir asks nothing better than to carry
about or be followed by a tiny son. He allows himself
to be bullied and tyrannised over by the mannikin in a
most amusing way. If he have not a son to play with,
he will sometimes take care of a little girl with a natural
fondness, but without any pride. A small child may, as
a rule, have anything it cries for, from an enormous
meat-bone bigger than its arm to a bundle of lighted
faggots from the fire. Indeed, everybody is kind to
children. A little slave-girl on her way to be sold is
treated with as much apparent affection and pride in
her baby tricks as if she were her conductor's own
daughter. As soon as girls grow to the age of eight,
they begin to experience the evil destiny assigned to
their sex. The women of the house are always very
respectful to their lord and master, and hover about
serving him and his, even when they appear scarcely
able to stand. They fare very badly and only get coarse
food themselves, except when feasts are going on, when
at the end they eat up the scraps. There is, however,
every variety of attitude in the way different men treat
their wives, except that none are treated too well. Boys
generally tyrannise over their mothers, mothers are often
stern and harsh with their daughters, while the husband
and father is a very great man indeed, and much puffed
up with his own importance in his own house. A Kafir
woman and her dirty little baby, when looked at aright,
are just as charming to watch as similar human pictures
anywhere else. Men often fear their mothers-in-law as
well as their fathers-in-law in a very amusing way. Sons
are, as a rule, kind to their aged mothers. One poor
old woman had a bad fall, breaking her arm and lacerat-


ing the deep-seated blood-vessels. The bleeding was
stopped for a time, but without permanent success. The
woman's son, a well-known warrior, was greatly con-
cerned about his mother for three days, during which
period he w^as very miserable. On the fourth day,
however, he came to me to say that he had work to
do, and so doubtless had I also ; that if it seemed advis-
able to cut off the old woman's arm, he was quite willing
that it should be done, but that it was no good trifling
any longer. He then went away and began to prepare
the funeral feasts, which were really wanted a few days
later. Connections by marriage are looked upon as
relatives and kindly treated. Old people of both sexes
are devoted to their grandchildren, especially the old
men. The old women are often so physically exhausted
after their hard life that they appear to be emotionally
dead a long time before they actually expire. Kcifirs
have a natural turn for politeness and ceremoniousness,
odd as it may sound to say so ; and this, in spite of
the furious quarrelling which occasionally arises, makes
their domestic affairs run smoothly on the whole. Young
boys soon learn to be wonderfully independent, and are
placed in charge of their father's flocks at an absurdly
early age, w^hile those belonging to important families
quickly acquire habits of command and a sober style
in business matters. The worst feature in the domestic
life of the Kc4firs is the idea they seem to have that
anything is good enough to feed a child upon. The
little children are, on the whole, even w^orse fed than the
poor women. A goat's hoof, the dirty rind of cheese,
or any other garbage, is thought good enough for


External trade — Exports — Measures and currency — Miscellaneous trades —
Yersatilit_y of the craftsmen — Crops — Plou

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 32 of 38)