George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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There is very little differentiation of trades. The
carpenter does wood-work of every description. The
blacksmith can often act as silversmith ; at any rate the
silversmith can always do the work of the blacksmith.
The leather-worker makes belts, pouches, boots, and
certain parts of musical instruments. The versatility
of the craftsmen prevents anything like supreme excel-
lence being maintained in any one branch. The nearest
approach to new ideas in the manufacture of novel forms
of utensils which my visit suggested to the Kafirs was
in utilising my empty jam tins. These were in one or
two instances fitted with small iron rings at one point
of their circumference and carried about as drinking
cups, being fastened to the owner's girdle by a thong
of leather. The best carpenters and wood-carvers in
Kafiristan are to be found in the Presun Valley ; the
best iron-workers in the Wai country, while the best
bootmakers and leather-workers are in the Bashgul

The chief crop produced in Kafiristan is a kind of
millet, called in the Punjab " tchina." Others are wheat,
barley, and Indian corn. Rice is not cultivated. A
considerable quantity of wheat is grown, but it is some-
what of a luxury, and is reserved for guests and feasts.
Tchina (millet) is the staple food of the people. Indian
corn is produced in considerable quantities ; barley less
than any of the other food grains. Field operations
begin at different dates in different localities, in accord-


ance with their altitude and aspect. The amount and
duration of the snowfall naturally determine the dates
of the spring sowings also. Kamdesh village is between
6000 and 7000 feet above the sea-level. On April 4,
1 89 1, ploughing began in that village, while on October
2, 1890, I had watched the Indian corn crop being har-
vested. In the same place, on September 7, 1891, the
wheat and tchina crop were cut. The wheat was being
dried on the house-tops preparatory to being winnowed ;
the tchina was being threshed. At the beginning of
April 1 89 1 there was still a good deal of snow all over
the cultivated fields. It melted wonderfully quickly, and
little torrents, streams, and runnels were draining away
from the arable land. At the Sheikh hamlet of Agatsi,
on the opposite side of the river, some 1800 feet lower
than Ktimdcsh, the fields were already green with the
young wheat, which had been sown before the snowfall.
At the end of September 1890 we had seen people
ploughing in the Pittigul Valley.

When the ploughing began the land was very soft
from the lately melted snow. The ploughs used are
so light that they can be easily carried over a woman's
shoulder. They are furnished ^^■ith an iron tip, and
have a prominent heel which stands high out of the
shallow furrow. They are of rough and primitive con-
struction. Two women manage a plough, which is drawn
by a small ox. The animal's movements are controlled
by one of the women placed on the off side, who grasps
in her hands a long handle, fixed at the other extremity
to the yoke, which works on the ox's neck just in
front of the hump. With the leverage afforded by this
long handle the woman seems to have no difficulty in


keeping the animal on a level course, or in turning him
as she pleases. The plough itself is controlled by the
second woman, who works alongside instead of behind
the handle, which is fore and aft, and made to be grasped
with both hands. After traversing the small field a few
times, the women change places, so as to equalise the
labour. Stooping over the handles sideways is more
arduous than directing .the course of the ox, although
the woman staggering along and pushing against or
dragging at the animal's neck with the long yoke-pole
appears to be doing more work. Musalmans beyond
the border always maintain that in Kafiristan a woman
is harnessed to the plough with the ox, but this is not
true. In the Kam tribe a man never touches the plough
handle, but in other places men do work in the fields,
even when they are not slaves. Musalmans within the
borders of this country, as at the little settlement near
Gourdesh, plough in the usual way, one man doing all
the work and driving a pair of oxen. At this place the
two systems may be seen in operation in adjacent fields.

No time is lost in getting the seed into the ground.
On April 5, in a particular field near my house, the
plough started breaking up the ground. On the follow-
ing day the seed grain was being sown. After the plough
had done its work, strings of women, in an irregular line,
began breaking up the clods with hooked sticks or
with implements like blunt axes, furnished with wooden
handles and iron heads. Another instrument looked like
a light open crutch without the arm-rest, and was used
upside down. One woman worked the single end, while
a second, with ropes fastened to the forked extremities,
dragged it up after each plunge into the broken-up furrow.


The sower casts handfuls of grain in wliat seemed a very
niggardly fashion from a small goatskin bag earned
in the left hand. On May 5, 1891, all the Kamdesh
fields were ploughed, and in several places the crops were
showing above the ground. The women were hard at
work carrying manure.

On May 14 the women were weeding. They worked
eight or ten in a line, except when the space was very
limited or the slope very great, when they worked singly
or in couples. Each used a stick which had an oif-
shoot from the end at right angles to the handle. They
were kneeling, stooping, or sitting, but a few, especially
tlie old women, were bending down in the characteristic
attitude of female field-workers in England.

By May 18 the Avheat had grown up several inches.
Such of the women as Avere not weeding were busily
occupied in manuring the fields with stable and latrine
refuse, which was carried in their conical baskets and
then distributed in handfuls over the crops.

In July irrigation of the fields was necessary almost
everywhere. The quantity of water allowed to each was
regulated by the Urir, but in 1891 there was a good
supply of water, and consequently no fighting and (|nar-
rclling among the women, as there frequently is in years
of drought. The women turn the water into their fields
and regulate its flow in a very deft way. Their only
implement is a short hooked stick, but they thoroughly
understand what they have to do.

On September 7, on my return to K;imdesh, the wheat
was already cut and threshed. The grain was spread
out on blankets on the house-tops to be picked, cleaned,
and winnowed. The tchina was l)einir threshed, 'i'lie


flail is a long stick with a strong curve at the handle end.
It is used by twirling the wrist backwards in a circular
way, while the hand never relaxes its grasp. The imple-
ment is continually being shifted from one hand to the
other. Little friendly parties are made up for threshing,
which is usually the men's sole share in the work of
agriculture. The workers circle round a heap of grain
in a regular manner, bending and swinging their flails
in unison, often forming a very graceful picture. On
October 2, 1890, I marvelled at the huge loads of this
crop which the merest " slips of girls " contrived to carry
up the severest slopes.

Winnowing is done with a small wooden vessel, shaped
like a flat-bottomed boat, and furnished with a handle
five inches long projecting from the square stern. A
woman ladles up the grain and the wind does the rest.

When necessary, at the mouth of ravines and valleys,
and in other situations, fields are carefully terraced, espe-
cially in the Presungul, where the natural difficulties of
the country have made the inhabitants skilful and pains-
taking agriculturists.

To speak generally, the Kafir cattle are good. They
are inferior to good English breeds, but reach the average
of those seen in Kashmir. A certain number specially
fattened for sacrifice to Gish in connection with the Jast
ceremonies are really handsome animals, as big as Eng-
lish beasts, and much resembling them in shape and
colour. Seeing them in India, one would conjecture that
they were English, or at least half English. Some varie
ties are humped.

The beef obtainable in Kafiristan is extremely tough, a
quality which is due no doubt to the method of killing


cattle, and to the fact that the meat is never hung. Kafirs
like it, but then they also eat the flesh of cattle which
die from disease.

In the autumn, when feeding is difficult, horse-chestnut
branches are utilised as fodder. A certain amount of
stall-feeding is practised. At the end of a day's weed-
ing, the long grass stalks- are collected into bundles by
the women to be carried home, dried in the sun, and
stacked for winter use. These grass stacks are very com-
mon objects. In the Presungul they are built on the top
of the pshals. In Kamdesh they are often built on speci-
ally prepared platforms. My kitchen in Kamdesh was
made by building up walls under one of these platforms.
Until the stack was nearly consumed the kitchen was the
only place which could be relied upon to be always dry.

Every man in Kamdesh who possesses cows brings as
many of them as possible into the village during the
winter, partly on account of the facility for feeding the
animals, and partly because the ghee and cheese making
may be done there comfortably.

The goats are a fine breed. The males in some in-
stances attain a prodigious size, especially those reserved
for sacrifice and fed up with that object.

The sheep are very poor. It is rare indeed to get any
of even comparative excellence. They are ill-fed, and
consequently are diminutive, thin, and bad eating. Their
flesh is not much liked by the people, but a certain
number have to be kept for the sake of the wool.

Butter is churned in goatskins. The ghee is made in
the usual way by driving off the water of the butter by
heat. The K;ifirs are famous for their ghee. It is rarely
adulterated, and is of excellent quality. In the summer


months, while the men are away at the dairy farms, they
live almost entirely on butter-milk, bread being difficult
to obtain, and animals being comparatively rarely killed
for food.

For cheese-making the following is the process. A
short length of goat's intestine (challah) is fully inflated,
and tied tightly at both ends with goat's-hair. It is
hung up over a fire for days, months, or even for a year.
When wanted for use, it is untied and well washed. It
is then placed in a dried hollo wed-out pumpkin filled
with water, which is covered with a wooden top and
placed by the fire from morning till midday. Equal
portions of this, of water and of " aillah " (the residue in
cheese-making), are then mixed together and poured into
the vessel holding the milk. The whole is stirred and
set down by the fire, and in two hours the cheese is
ready to be worked.

One day I went to see wine being made at Binaram, a
hamlet close to Kamdesh, The arrangements were very
simple. A flat-topped boulder conveniently placed by the
roadside formed the floor of the wine-press, and one side
of a second boulder did duty for one of its walls. The
other walls, more or less semicircular in continuous out-
line, were made by stones placed one on the top of the
other and raised to a height of two and a half feet, the
interstices being filled up with clay. The greatest length
of the vat was about five feet six inches, and its greatest
breadth about four feet. The floor sloped naturally, and
at the lower end, in front, an aperture had been left,
partly closed by a little brushwood, from under which a
deeply-grooved piece of wood, with its edges still further
deepened by clay from the vat, protruded, and afibrded


To face page 559.


an outlet for the expressed juice. At the time of my
arrival a considerable quantity of grapes had already been
thrown into the receptacle, and a woman kept emptying
into it fresh basketfuls which she brought uj) the steep
hillside from below, where the vines grew. AMien every-
thing was ready, and the vat was full of grapes, its owner
laid humorously violent hands on a big man who was
looking on. He was persuaded to tread the grapes.
They took him aside and carefully washed his legs and
feet, and then put him into the press. He enjoyed him-
self thoroughly, treading with so much vigour that he
had to be frequently checked to prevent the juice from
overflowing the receiving vessels. These were at first
large wooden cups, which when full had their contents
ladled back into the press. This was explained to me
as a "necessary custom always observed." Then goat-
skins were filled with juice through a kind of wooden
funnel. That was all. The first sweet grape juice in
the goatskin is very pleasant. In eight or ten days it
becomes sour by fermentation, and is then wine. There
is no process of straining, and the fluid is most uninviting
in appearance. Probably it is to remove the scum from
near their lips that the Kafir always blows into tlio wine-
bowl before drinking. The wine is usually ])oor and
thin, but even then is usually diluted with water. Wine
which had been kept for two or three years was, however,
clear, and sometimes distinctly strong. Some Europeans
think ordinary K;ifir wine pleasant to drink. I have
never seen a K;ifir drunk^

When the juice is nearly all extracted from the vat,
a semi-solid residue remains. This is taken out, a small
quantity at a time, and placed on a flat stone, some two


feet or so in diameter, with a raised edge of clay two
inches high all round. Here, protected by circles made
of twigs, two large stones are put on the top and pressed
down by a long pliable pole used as a lever, one end
being firmly buried in the ground, while a number of
men hang with all their weight on to the free end. The
amount of force used can be easily regulated by the
number of men employed. This dried residue is made
up into cakes for food. It looks and tastes most un-
pleasant, but it is nevertheless highly appreciated by
Kafirs, who believe that it possesses most sustaining


Tribal feuds — Blood for blood — Tlie murder at Niiri fort — The avenging
of Dan Malik — Beginning of war — Casics belli — IntertriVjal jealousy —
Foreign foes — Musalniiin hatred of tlie Kiifirs — Peace-making— Fort-ign
alliances — Methods of warfare — Guerilla warfare — Provisions — CeleVirat-
iug a triumph — Weapons — The K;ifir dagger — Bows and arrows — Spears
— Matchlocks — Shields and swords — The cannon of the Kam.

It is probable that there is no single tribe of Kafirs
at the present day which is at peace with all the other
tribes. Some of their wars, if wars they can be called,
have continued for generations. For instance, that be-
tween the Kam and the most western Katirs, the Ram-
gulis, is said to have lasted over a hundred years. As
the two districts are far apart, very little damage is done
by one tribe to the other. Years probably pass without
a single man being killed on either side, or a single head
of cattle being captured or lost. U'he one dangerous
place for both people to meet is in the Presungul,
or on the road from Presungul to Minjan, because the
Presungul people are not strong enough to protect so-
journers in their country. In the upper part of the
Bashgul Valley, Kam and R.-imguli can, and do, meet.
Each may want to murder the other, but such an act
would be followed in all probability bv war witli tlie
P>ashgul Katirs. The murdered man's tribe would hold
the Lutdehchis responsible for their fellow-tribosman,

while the I^utdeh men would possibly declare war or



exact compensation from the murderer's tribe. In a
wild country like Kafiristan such events do happen,
though rarely.

For instance, a Wai man murdered a Kamguli at
Lutdeh, and then fled to his own country. Shortly
afterwards the Bashgul Katirs raided the Wai country,
and the murder, although it was not the stated reason
for the attack, no doubt influenced them considerably
when they had to decide in what direction to raid
after Gish had, through the Pshur, ordered them to
get more sacrifices for his shrines. The murder of a
Kafir in the territory of a people, or by a member
of a tribe, with whom his tribe is at peace, is not
necessarily followed by war. As an example, two Kafir
youths were killed by a distant tribe, through whose
valley they were travelling to try and murder in a
third tribe closely connected with the other. The
Kam did not want war jiist then, so the affair was
compounded in the following way. The fathers of the
two young men who had been killed went to the valley
where the event had occurred, and after much negotia-
tion obtained two persons, a man and a w^oman, whom
they conducted a short distance on the road home to
Kdmdesh, and then slew. Thus their honour was satis-
fied and the two tribes remained at peace.

A man of any position who has been killed must be
atoned for by blood. In 1891 some Kam Kafirs were
hunting some Jandiil Musalmans down the Kunar ^'alley.
The Jandiilis ran for shelter to the Mehtar's new^ fort at
Nursut, which was garrisoned by Chitrali soldiers. The
fort door was banged to just as the last Musalman,
closely followed by the leading Kafir, passed through.


It was a near shave, and the C'hitrali at the gate had
to fire, killing the Kj'ifir, to keep him from entering.

Time passed on until, in 1893, I found myself at Chitral
on a special mission from the Government of India to the
Mehtar Nizam-ul-Mulk. One day a messenger came to
me from a well-known Kafir named Shyok, who sent
word that, as an old friend of mine, he was anxious not to
cause trouble of any kind in the then critical state of
affairs at Chitral, but that the man who had been killed
at the Nari fort was a member of his (Shyok's) family,
and although the slain man was an individual of no tribal
importance, yet Shyok must have a Chitnili to kill. In
the circumstances, to prevent complications, and particu-
larly out of friendship with me, Shyok was prepared to
accept any Chitnili, a slave even, but a Chitrali of some
kind or other he must have. As I knew Shyok to be
remarkable for cupidity even among Kafirs, it seemed as
if there should be little difficulty in settling matters by
paying him a ran§x)m for the slain man; but on broaching
the subject to my Kafir son Shermalik, who had been
sent to see me as Shyok's ambassador, he remarked,
" You know Shyok well. There is nobody in Kafiristan
so avaricious as he is, yet if you offer him a lakh of
rupees he cannot accept it. For his honour's sake
lie must have a Chitrali to kill in front of the dead
man's coffin." All my arguments and persuasions were
in vain. Shermalik said that the Mehtar would under-
stand the situation, and would readily supply a victim if
advised to do so. ITow the affair ended I do not know.
Probably Shyok or some of his friends caught sonu^ un-
happy Chitrali and killed him, and the Mehtar winked
at the deed, if he heard of it at all.


While on this subject the following incident may be
recorded. At the end of 1891 old Dan Malik was killed
in the Kunar Valley during a treacherous raid on the
Kafir grazing- grounds there by Umra Khan of Jandtil.
Some time afterwards a Pathan was caught in the Kunar
Valley by some of Dan Malik's relatives and taken to
Kiiradesh, where the poor captive was placed on the
ground in front of Gish's shrine. The whole village
assembled there, and a regular worship of Gish was
conducted in the orthodox way by the high priest.
At its close the prisoner was taken to the Kamdesh
cemetery and stabbed to death in front of Dan Malik's

It is open to doubt if, among themselves, Kc4firs have
any custom equivalent to a declaration of war. War
begins with a raid by one tribe on another. When a
people intend to participate in an existing w-ar, or to
start one on their own account, they sometimes, at any
rate, merely content themselves with killing some mem-
bers of the tribe they dislike. Probably there has been
some anterior straining of the intertribal relations, and
such an act of war is held to be quite sufficient without
any formal declaration of hostilities. With Musalman
enemies the procedure is different. At one time during
my stay in Kdfiristan there was a fierce dispute between
the Kam and the Mehtar, which culminated in the former
threatening to send the latter a bullet or bullets, which
was equivalent to a breaking off of all negotiations, and
a notification that war had begun. Sometimes it is said
arrows are sent by Kafir tribes to intimate to the recipient
that hostilities had commenced, but of my own know-
ledge I can say nothing on that point.



The commonest cause of war among- Kafirs themselves
is robber}'. One tribe knows that another tribe has fine
flocks and herds, and decides to make a raid. Some-
times the Pshiir starts a raid, as in the case already
referred to, by declaring, during temporary inspiration,
that the gods order it. Another cause is the general
excitement of a tribe seeking to find some outlet for its
energy. As an example of this, on one occasion, in
1 89 1, the Wai retaliated on the Bashgul Katirs for
raiding, by secretly marching down the Nichingul and
exterminating the hamlet of Sunru, the lowest settle-
ment of Katirs in the Bashgul Valley. In their rage
at this reprisal the Katirs very nearly attacked the Kam,
declaring that the latter were cognisant of the whole
affair. They contended that the Kam had permitted
the Wai to raid on them through Kam territory, and
ignored altogether the fact that the Wai men must
have marched through the Madugal country also ; but
then they were friendly with the Mfidugjilis. On an-
other occasion the Kam very nearly attacked the A\'ai
because they believed the latter might possibly have been
implicated in the killing of two Kam men.

All Kafir tribes are extremely jealous of one another,
no matter how they may have intermarried. K;itir hates
Kafir far more intensely than he hates Musalmans, and
this sentiment is always liable at periods of unusual
excitement to start internecine strife.

With foreigners the Kafirs are, as often as not, the
actual though remote aggressors. Ambitious Musalni.iii
chiefs may raid into Kjifiristan, burning with the desire
to earn the title of Ghazi, and fanatics may be maddened
by Mullahs to draw the sword for I shim, proselytise, or


exact tribute from the infidel, or die the pure death of
the "martyr"; but the Kafir is an uncomfortable neigh-
bour at all times. He is incessantly robbing, black-
mailing, or murdering on the frontier unless completely
overawed by the power of some particular chief, as the
Bashgul Katirs were by the Mehtar, Aman-ul-Mulk, of
Chitnil, or the Kam by the Khan of Jandiil. ^Slany
of the attacks by Musalmans on Kafiristan have been
in revenge for murdered relations and plundered cara-

A Mil Salman people entering on a Kafir war would be
careful to keep their design as secret as possible. The
Kafirs, although their suspicions might be aroused, would
receive the first definite intimation that war had begun
by the irruption of the enemy into their territory. In
1 89 1, at the end of the year, Umra Khan lulled the Kam
tribe into false security by lying promises and honeyed
words. Then he suddenly raided the Narsut grazing-
grounds with great success. That is the origin of the bitter
strife which until last year was raging furiously. From his
own point of view Umra Khan acted with statesmanlike
astuteness, and his action would be applauded by general
Musalman opinion. A Musalman is under no obligation
to behave honourably in his dealings with " infidels."

All the neighbouring Musalmc4n tribes have an intense
hatred of Ktifirs, with the exception, perhaps, of the
Kunar Valley Gabar villagers and the Minjanis. This
does not arise, I am convinced, from religious prejudices
so much as from the injuries they have received from the
Kafirs through long ages. Similarly, the Kc4firs love to
dance to Gish after killing Musalmans, but their hatred
of Afghans is far more a race hatred than religious

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 33 of 38)