George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 34 of 38)
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fanaticism. Even in times far remote it may be doubted
if race antagonism was not at least as strong as difterence
of creed in keeping Afghan and Kjifir at bitter fend.
Both are brigands by instinct, and both are careless of
human life. Perhaps the Kafir is the worst of the two
in both respects, but the Afghan makes the account more
than even by his added perfidy and cunning.

As war, and not peace, may be said to be the normal
condition of Kafiristan, peace arrangements may be con-
sidered before methods of warfare are described. Peace
generally happens when two tribes feel themselves equally
exhausted, or when one tribe has proved itself over-
whelmingly superior to the other. Peace might some-
times be defined as a cessation of hostilities for a longer
or shorter period, rather than as peace in our sense of the
word. Among themselves it is probably arranged in the
first place by some neutral tribe friendly with both. The
ratification of such preliminaries depends greatly u])on
the peace-offerings suggested, which the stronger tribe
receives, giving nothing in return. Within the present
generation the Kam have been at war witli the AVai, the
Kashtan, the Madugal, and the Bashgul Katirs, in
addition to their other long-standing feuds, which have
never yet been settled. At the diiferent peace-makings,
the Kum and the Katirs exchanged a cow for a cow,
showing that they considered themselves still equal in
strength, while the Wai paid the Kam four cattle and
the Kashtan paid eighteen cows and eighteen axes, in
this way indicating that they were more desirous of peace
than the K Kafir weapons are the dagger, bows and arrows, spears,
and matchlocks. The peculiar shape of the Kcifir dagger
is too well known to require an elaborate description.
The commoner and cheaper varieties are about a foot
in length ; from the top of the hilt to the point of the
blade is just under thirteen inches. The blade is eight
inches long, and gradually tapers from the hilt, where it
is just over an inch in breadth, to the point. It is double
edged, and a little over a quarter of an inch thick at the
hilt. It is grooved down the middle and both sides,
nearly to the point. The hilt guard is five and a quarter
inches from side to side, and ornamented at each ex-
tremity by a circular convex brass button, firmly riveted
to its upper surface. Three and a half inches above the


guard, and parallel with it, is another cross-piece of iron,
very strong and carefully ornamented. 15etwcen this and
the guard, the shaft of the hilt is so fashioned that four
fingers may close on it firmly, each in its own groove.
The weapon as a whole is much more powerful than
it looks. The riveting of the blade to the handle allows
a sliglit movement of the blade, which gives a deceptive
appearance of weakness. The sheath is made of iron
or brass with an inner backing of wood. The back of
the sheath is incompletely closed by metal, and permits
the wood lining to be seen. The top of tlie shcatli
has an ornamented brass collar, while at the lower end
it terminates in a metal knob with a constriction just
above, which is often tightly bound round with brass
wire. Costly daggers have brass sheaths, which are fre-
quently ornamented with silver studs at the top.

Kafir bows are distinctly feeble-looking, but a skilful
man will shoot with fair accuracy up to eighty yards. The
arrows are unfeathered. They arc twenty-four inches
long. The shaft is made of reed, bound in the middle
and at both ends with very fine string. The arrow-head
is of a peculiar shape. It is three-sided, and has three
sharp edges which meet at the point, and are peculiar
from the fact that their other extremity is prolonged
backwards from a quarter to half an inch beyond the
base of the bayonct-sliapcd arrow-head. This must make
the arrow very difficult to extract from a wound. The
sharp edges are two and a half inches long.

The spears are fitted with a straight blade pointed
at the end, and are often ornamented with a brass stud or
two. At the base they are furnished with a stout prong
for thrusting into the ground. A peculiarity of some



of the spears is, that a single prong is substituted for
the straight double-edged blade mentioned above.

The Ki'ifir matchlocks are purchased at the frontier.
None are manufactured in the country itself. They
make extremely bad shooting, and cannot be trusted
to go near a small mark — an envelope, for instance — at

a greater distance than
twenty or thirty yards.
Kafirs brag a good deal
about the power of their
fire - arms, but I have
watched them practising
at a mark using a rest,
and have seen them shoot
markhor many times, and
I should much prefer them
to shoot at me with a
matchlock at forty or fifty
yards, than to have a good
man aim at me with an
arrow at the same dis-
tance when I was not
looking. For the match-
locks, the Kafirs carry
leather pouches for ammunition, flint and steel of an
ordinary description, and bandoleers, which at a short
distance look like Pan-pipes.

Shields are all imported, and are more for ornament
than for use. There are very few swords, and\niutilation
of a dead enemy is never practise^ What swords there
are, have been received by their owners as presents from
Musalman chiefs.



The Kam are very proud of possessing a cannon. It
is kept in the ground-floor of a house at the top of
the village. It was made by Dir men, who were brought
to Kamdesh for the purpose. It is very solid and heavy.
The metal on the outer surface is rough and knol)l)y.
The length of the barrel is three feet six inches, and the
diameter of the muzzle four inches. A leaden ball and a
block of wood are said to be fired simultaneously by this
weapon. It is carried about from place to place on
cross-pieces of wood, and requires for its transport three-
score or fivescore men, according to different informants.
It has been in action and performed prodigies, according
to the Kam, notably on one occasion during a siege of
the village of Apsai in the last Katir war. It must be
fastened to a tree in order to fire it. It has no stand
or carriage of any kind. The Kam are inordinately
proud of the possession of this weapon, but I doubt if
they would care to use it again, except for the sake of
its moral effect.

The dancing and other axes are not intended for
fighting purposes, although the small variety might be
so employed on an emergency. The walking-club of
which Kafirs are so fond, and wliicli they delight to
ornament with carving about the handle, is only used
in quarrels. I was told that an ordinary head would
smash the club unless the latter were shortened in the
grasp, and merely the thick lower end used to strike


The Basligul Kalir festivals — The seasons — Various dates of festivals — The
Agar — Festivals beginning in the evening — Giche — Veron — Taska — The
throwing of the Shil — Marnma — Duban — Azhindra — Diran — Gerdulow
— Patilo — Dizanedu — Munzilo — Nilu.

The Kafir year, at least in the Bashgul Valley, is divided
into 360 days, and marked by special festivals. These
festivals are twelve in number, and start with Giche, the
first day of the new year. The following list gives all
these particular days, and the dates on which they
occurred in 1891. The festivals marked with a dagger
(t) are those at which I was present with the Kam
tribe : —

1 . Giche t

2. Veron

3. Taska and

4. Marnma

5. Duban t

6. Azhindra f

7. Diran f

8. Gerdulow

9. Patilo t

10. Dizanedu t

11. Munzilo

12. Nilut

the throvt^ing of the Shil f

January 16.
February 3.
February 18.
March 8.
March 19.
April 4.
May 9.
June 5.
June 30.
July 9.
August 17.
September 17,

After Nilu there is a long interval — 120 days, it is
said — until the next Giche or New Year's Day.

For the purposes of the calendar only three seasons
are enumerated, namely, Wazdar (Summer), Sharwar



(Autumn), and Zowar (Winter), each of wliich is com-
puted at 120 days. There is a word in the Kam lan-
guage, "Wazat," which means spring-time, but it is not
referred to in counting up the year.

The holidays of the other tribes in the IJashgul Valley
were not coincident with those held at Kamdesh, although,
as a rule, there was only a difference of a few days in
point of time. I do not know why identical festivals
were not held on the same date in all the villages.
Presumably it had nothing to do with the influence of
varying altitudes in the sowing and reaping of crops, nor
with any desire on the part of the different tribes to show
tlieir complete independence of their neighbours in evcrv
particular ; while it may have been the result of an
amiable wish to receive or pay visits from or to distant
villages on the recurrence of the annual festivals, which
would be impossible if the feast-days clashed.
^ In addition to the holidays enumerated in the above
list there is a series of rest-days or Sabbaths, which occur
every Thursday during the time field-work is in progress.
These rest-days are called Agars. In 1891 the first Agar
was on April 3, the last on September 17. They usually
began at Kamdesh on a Wednesday night, when a fire
was lit at the dancing-place in honour of Imr;i, and the
. people danced and sang to the music of drums and pipes.
The duty of lighting the fire for the Agar devolves on
the Urir Jast, and was never neglected, even when the
village was in mourning for the death of a warrior, or
was depressed by reason of epidemic sickness or simi-
lar calamities. I failed to discover anything concerning
the origin of these Agars. Their observance may have
become a national custom, the origin of which is as


difficult to determine us the Sabbaths of other ancient
peoples. As the Kam people were averse to starting on
a journey on the Agar days, and as all the women left
their field-work altogether on those occasions, it is pos-
sible that the Agar was originally considered an unlucky
day. This, however, is mere conjecture ; my imperfect
knowledge of the Kafir tongue and the inefficiency of
my interpreters may have combined to prevent my
arriving at the truth, quite as much as the dislike of
the people to being cross-examined and their impatience
at being questioned on points they assumed that every-
body understood or ought to understand. As far as the
women were concerned it was only field-work which was
stopped, for they were constantly to be seen carrying
stones or earth for building operations, and engaged in
other coolie labour.

In the upper part of the Bashgul Valley the Agar
usually fell on a Saturday. Although the Kdmdesh
Agar usually began on a Wednesday evening, this was
by no means invariably the case, the alteration of the
day being usually dependent on some other festival fall-
ing on the Agar day, and so necessitating the change.

Kafir festivals frequently begin in the evening, and
thus a so-called one-day festival often lasts for two nights
and one day. I was never able to count up the Kc4fir
calendar satisfactorily, even with the help of the most
intelligent of my Kamdesh friends, and failed entirely
to discover how the days were fitted in so as always to
make the Giche, the new year, fall on the same date.
The impression left on my mind was that the Kafirs
did not trouble themselves about such niceties, yet
when away from their villages, the men with me always


To face page s^3-


knew accurately the number of days intervening be-
fore the next festival. The following are the principal
festivals : —

(i.) Giche, New Year's Day. The surrounding Musal-
nuins call this the Kafir Eed. In 1891 the Giche
ceremonies were shorn of their customary splendour on
account of the severity of the weather and the unusual
snowfall. All men who had had sons born to them
during the year took a goat each, and in the course of
the day sacrificed it at the shrine of the goddess Dizane.
In the evening and throughout the night there were
feastings and rejoicings in most houses at Kiimdesh.
At the first glimpse of dawn on the morning of the 17th,
in spite of a heavy snowstorm, men and women issued
from every house carrying torches of pine-wood, and
marched up the hill crying " Siich, siich," and de-
posited their brands in a heap in front of Dizane's
shrine. The blaze was increased by ghee being thrown
on the fire. The Debilala chanted the praises of the
goddess, the people joining in the refrain at regular in-
tervals. I saw very little of the ceremony, because on
account of the heavy fall of snow no one came to show
me the road. I awoke and hastened up the hill at the
first cry from the shrill female throats, but being almost
immediately caught in a snow-drift, it was necessary for
me to turn all my thoughts and all my energies to getting
out again. In the far distance the huge bonfire could
be faintly seen through the falling snow. The sight was
a pretty one even in my miserable plight, the outline
of the intermittent blaze being broken by the trees wliich
it fitfully illuminated.

(2.) Veron. This festival is of inferior imijortance.


and such Kafirs as happened to be absent from their
villages made no attempt to hurry back for it, as is their
usual custom when a feast-day approaches. On this day
the thirteen Urirs entertain the whole of the village,
probably in consideration of the fines they have collected
in virtue of their office.

(3.) The Taska day is looked forward to with con-
siderable interest by all Kiifirs. In 1891 the festivities
began in the evening, when a goat was sacrificed at
almost every house in Kamdesh. A peculiar feature of
this festival is that during its continuance little boys are
not only permitted, but are encouraged, to use vile abuse
towards grown-up men. During the evening of the i8th
of Februarj^ the boys from the upper village collected
near my house to shout out foul remarks concerning the
men of the east village, whence the same kind of lan-
guage was used in response. This continued all night, and
early on the morning of the 19th, the boys, now rein-
forced by grown-up youths, went round from house to
house shouting obscene abuse against the owners. This
was supposed to be very amusing, especially when the
chief of the headmen was assailed. During the day
there were one or two dances in different places, but
there had been recently so terrible a mortality amongst
the young children from small-pox, that the people were
too depressed to indulge in the snowball fights which in
happier years mark this anniversary. On the 20th the
Taska festivities wound up at the dancing-house with a
subdued revel called the Prachi Nat (Prachi dance), said
to be indulged in by boys of the lower orders exclusively.
My friends asked me not to go to that performance, and
I complied with their request ; but previous to this, in


the afternoon, there was a great dance in the grorama, at
which the Kaneash were present in their robes, and all
the Jast who participated in the revels were gorgeously
attired. All the functionaries of religion were also pre-
sent. Gish seemed to be the most honoured of the gods
on this occasion. The proceedings began with dances in
his honour, and ended up in a similar way after Dizane
and Imni had also received three rounds each.

On February 21, 1891, the first day after Taska, the
annual competition in throwing an iron ball called the
shil took place, according to custom. The occasion is
always observed as a general holiday. The shil is about
the size of a lawn-tennis ball, and is faceted all over in
an irregular manner. It is one of two precisely similar
balls said to have been made by Imni when he created
the world, and only one of which is used for the throw-
ing competition, the other being buried under a stone
in the middle of a spring of water near the top of the
village hill. I was informed that in very ancient times
the two shils were discovered rolling over and over in a
running stream, and were then taken out and reverently
preserved by certain Kam Kafirs, who appear to have
known by direct inspiration what the iron balls were, and

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 34 of 38)