George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 37 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 37 of 38)
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accident is inevitable. The little party staggers over
the narrow shaking bridge, and then starts off at a run,
to the outspoken delight of the onlookers. Occasionally
the women dance on some convenient house-top. In the
afternoon they invariably feast and dance under the big
mulberry tree in the east village, and use the east or
west village dancing-place according to the position of
the sun. During the night all congregate at the east
village dancing-place.

" Although they all seem abandoned to feasting and
holiday-making, they are nevertheless engaged in strictly
religious ceremonies. To watch them at night, when the
majority are obviously thoroughly tired, leaves no doubt
in the mind on this point. I have more than once
secretly approached the dancing throng at midnight and
in the early morning, and have observed by the fitful
light of the wood fire how exhausted and earnest the
women looked. One young woman, shrugging her
shoulders in time to the music, had streams of per-
spiration rolling down her face, although she was all
muscle apparently. The exertions these women undergo
are astonishing to see. Many of the very old women
have to give up from sheer exhaustion, but the middle-
aged and the young work away singing and dancing









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hour after hour and night after nii^lit. I feel sure they
undergo quite as much exertion as their male rehitions
who are absent and fighting.

"The dancing measures are marked by a drum and
by general chorusing, or, when the slave-boy drummer
gets tired, by the cadences of the voices alone. Tiiose
in whose cause he labours might at night Ijc thouglit
the creatures of a dream. Very old women and girls of
ten or twelve, comely faces and hideous old crones,
every description of form and figure is represented in
the singing, shuffling crowd. The aged are very earnest
and solemn; the young girls, on the other hand, are ready
to seize every opportunity to make improper remarks
to any male spectator of whom they do not stand in
awe. Still the great majority of the dancers at all times
attend strictly to the dancing. On my arrival at Lutdeh,
on taking my seat on the dancing-platform, a very large
number of the women gave me the {■ustonuuy greeting of
welcome as they passed me dancing, but afterwards took
little or no notice of my presence, while none showed
the slightest sign of shamefacedness. They evidently be-
lieved themselves to be engaged in an occupation which
did them infinite credit in every way. I could read as
much in their faces and in their gestures.

"All wore horned caps except the little girls, and, with
the same exceptions, nearly all wore gaiters and soft
leather boots or dancing-shoes. Every woman ha simw
figure was kept for another day's ceremony, for Sunra
belonged to a great and wealthy family, and there was
to be more feasting on his account. Many animals wen-
slaughtered by Dan Malik, Sunra's grandfatlior. in order
to keep np the position of the family. All night lom;
the wailing over Sunra's straw representative continued,
and early on the morning of September 9 an old womau
was declaiming his genealogy with untiring persistence,
while a crowd of women and many men, seated on tin-
benches, listened to her words in rapt attention. When
she was at fault for lack of matter, she repeated her last
line over and over again until a fresh idea, or a new way
of expressing an old idea, formed itself in her brain, hut
she seemed to have considerable power of ringing thr
changes on the names of all the boy's ancestors on both
sides. Each fresh arrival, man or woman, went through
the form of kissing the straw figure before selecting his or
her seat. It seemed to be proper etiquette for the men to
drop their walking-clubs while performing this ceremony.
When the time for refreshment came, the men trooprd
off willingly enough, as did most of the women also, but
a few of the latter, near relatives of the deceased Sunra,
had to be greatly persuaded before they would consent
to be supported away and leave the lay figure which did
duty for their dead relation. A certain number always
remained with the figure till the end of the day, when it
was carried off to the cemetery.

On September 10 it was the turn of Basti to have his
grass figure taken to the dancing-house, and for his
relations to distribute wine and food, while the usual
weeping, oratory, and dancing went on. But as he was


a great warrior, the ceremonies in his honour transcended
those for the well-born but youthful Nilira and Sunra.
As Basti's dummy was being earned to the dancing-place
a regular fusillade of matchlocks was maintained. The
young men had no such honours allowed them. Indeed,
except when the heads were first taken to their homes,
I do not think a single gun was fired in their honour.

At the dancing-place, as soon as Basti's effigy arrived,
the drums and pipes struck up a lively measure, and the
dancing began. The dressed-up figure on the bed, with
feathered sticks in turban and in boots, was raised by
four men, not slaves, but people of importance. They
danced the bed round and round, first to the right and
then to the left, moving with a couple of springs in each
foot, which makes a very lively measure. At the same
time they jerked the bed up and down, so that if the
dummy had not been well secured it would certainly have
been thrown off. As it was, its position continually
shifted, and it had to be replaced at each pause in the
dance. After a time the exercise became less violent,
the bearers being content to stand still, or merely jog the
bier slightly in time to the drums and pipes. The other
dancers were in three circles. The innermost was of
women dancing and making the funeral gesture. The
middle one was of men edging sideways and twirling
their hands in front of their foreheads. The outermost
comprised the bulk of the dancers, who moved briskly in
pairs or singly. Several carried matchlocks, one carried a

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 37 of 38)