George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

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turned from a place called by the Kam, Tsaru, in the
Pdch Valley, where they had murdered a Shaikh (i.e., a
Kiifir converted to IsMm) and his wife. Everybody
seemed interested about the treatment of the wounds,
but no one seemed to think much of the exploit which
occasioned them. It appeared that Md,lding, who was
the more severely hurt of the two w'ounded men, was
avenging his own father, who had been killed by the
Shaikh. The Kafir procedure was characteristic. The
four men crept into the Tsdru country, hiding on the hills
by day, and travelling with the greatest caution by night.
Finally," they reached the habitation of their enemy.
They then patiently waited, concealed near the edge of a
field. After a time the Shaikh and his wife, working in
the fields, gradually approached them. The Kdfirs then
sprang upon them, three of them seizing the man's arms
and hands and stabbing him to death, while the fourth
pursued and killed the woman. Nothing then remained
to be done except to strip the dead of as much of their
■clothing as possible, cut off their ears as trophies, and get
back to Kdmdesh quickly enough to outstrip the avengers
of blood, who would pursue for a certain distance as soon
as the murders were discovered. On their arrival at
Kdmdesh, the men were dressed up in all the finery their
relations possessed, and were then ceremoniously escorted
to the dancing-house, which Shermalik, in recollection of


his Indian travels, called the " church." There, with the
women of their families, they all danced together to the
glory of Gish, the war god ; and in the intervals of the
dance the braves were showered over with wheat grains
from the small wicker basket each woman carried. Tliis
is a type of what was continually going on in Kamdesh,
the marvellous thing being the comparative immunity the
warriors experienced in their murderous raids. It was
rare for a Kdmdesh man to be killed, while it was not at
all unusual to hear the peculiar shout or song with which
successful braves signified their return to the precincts of
their own village. They had to remain there until they
w^ere brought in triumphantly by their friends and rela-
tions ; while, if they arrived at night, they were obliged
to stay outside till the morning, their families carrying
them food, and keeping them company during the night
on the hillside. There was a magnificent cedar a short
distance above the village, and these little encampments
commonly sought the shelter of its brandies for the
night, rousing at intervals to sing their paean of victoiy
in unison. But the snow was threatening, and it was
clear that in a few weeks' time at furthest the raids must
all cease, and the Bashgul Valley tribes must confine
themselves to their ow'u country, to which there would
remain but a single outlet — that into the Kunar A'alley
at Arundu.


The narrative continued — Oisposition to my leaving Kamdesh — I determine
to visit the Dungul Valley — Start without escort — Shermalik's indigna-
tion — The Ardkon range- — Kashtan men on a shooting expedition —
Their attire — Chard and the Kashtans — Supposed murder — Cause of the
quarrel — Shermalik's love affairs — Camp in the Dungul Valley — Cause
of feud between the Kashtan and the Asmar people — The Kashtans
are susj)icious of my party — An anxious time — " Pshal" at Azharbai —
War party of wild Kafirs — Utah's arrival — Description of Utah — A
little story — Await return of raiders — Conversation — Shtaluk, the sick
Katir — News of ancient rock inscriptions — Description of Azharbai —
Precautions — The shout of victory — Kafirs on the war-path — Homeward
journey — Warrior's song of triumph — Return of main body of Kafirs —
Their arms — Interest in my sporting rifle — A. feu dejoie.

It soon became apparent that in whatever other respects
they might differ about me, and about the manner in
which they should treat me, all the Kamdesh people,
both my friends and my opponents, were united in a
resolve to prevent my leaving their chief village to
travel about the country. Every suggestion on my part
about the desirability of my making a short journey for
sporting purposes or for exercise was met by the raising
of every possible objection. Direct opposition was not
displayed at this time, but unremitting attempts w^ere
made to render my desire to move abroad impossible.
When I expressed a wish to go shooting up the Kamu
Valley, every one assured me that there were no supplies
whatever in that direction, that the Kamu villagers
were hostile to the idea of my going there, and that
consequently the projected journey must be abandoned.


They added that if I had expressed a wish to go down
the Diingul Valley in the Bailam direction, instead of
going to Kamu, such a journey could easily have been
arranged. Upon my eagerly accepting this suggestion,
and expressing a keen desire to visit the Dungul Valley,
they at once whipped round in the most shameless way,
and declared that the first fall of snow, which happened
on 2ist October, had so completely blocked the pass
over the Kd,mdesh hill that it had become altogether
impracticable ; that war parties infested the Dungul
Valley ; and that, in short, the thing could not possibly
be done. My reply was that my mind was made up,
and that nothing could prevent me from doing as I
wished. The Kam headmen appeared to give way and
acquiesce in my starting. Utah, Shermalik, and three
others of the tribe were told oft' to accompany me as
guide and escort, and a day for the journey was fixed.
The night before the appointed day, when everything
was packed up, the priest sent word begging me to
defer my journey for twenty-four hours, as he had
important professional work to do. Tliis seemed a
reasonable request, and was of course complied witli ;
but on the following day he sent over a similar message,
to which I naturally demurred, and finally declined to
wait for him any longer. He then pretended to be
oft"ended at my want of consideration for him and his
duties, and the following morning, instead of coming
over to me, he remained sulking in liis house, wliilo
Shermalik and the other guides were nowhere to be
found. So it was necessary to start without escort or
Kiifir companions of any kind. On the road to the
pass, Shermalik caught me up. He was in a state of


great indignation, and kept assuring me, in a loud
voice, that it was impossible for me to attempt to follow
the dictates of my own judgment in the Kam country
as I was accustomed to do in India, and that it was
necessary for me to submit to the Jast in all things.
He was quickly reduced to tears by my threatening to
discard him on the spot. He accompanied me, but was
ill at ease all the time, and could not control his
temper. The poor fellow was between two fires : he
feared my anger and its result in possible loss of wealth
to himself; yet he was terrified at the idea of disobeying
the orders of the Jast, who certainly have very decided
methods of enforcing their mandates.

My party consisted of Husala, my Kashmiri factotum,
Shermalik, and the five Balti coolies. Sayed Shah
elected to stay behind, and, as he was somewhat unwell,
his request was granted. My Pathan servant had been
giving way to outbursts of bad temper, and had in con-
sequence been sent to Chitral temporarily, to recover,
for a bad-tempered man was an actual danger in Kafiri-
stan. The pass over the curious outcrop of rock which
forms a semicircle to the south of Kamdesh, and is called
the Arakon range, is reached by a steady climb of about
four miles. It is a little over 10,000 feet in altitude,
and leads, by a singularly steep descent on the farther
side, into the top of the Dungul Valley. About half-
way between the village and the pass the deodar (cedar)
forest ceases. We were nearing the top, when three
Kashtan men passed us on a shooting expedition. All
had matchlocks, and each carried a small goatskin bag
which contained his food. Their attire was peculiar in
respect of its deficiencies. On their heads they wore


the ordinary Shin or Chitnili cap, a long bag like an
old-fashioned night-cap made of blanket cloth, and rolled
up to form a convenient round head-dress. Their legs
below the knee, and their feet, were encased in a rough
material made from goats' hair, which all Kafirs like to
use in the snow. The body garment was merely a goatskin,
hairy side out, which reached half-way down the thigh,
whence to just below the knee they were entirely naked.
I was commiserating their poverty in my mind, and
marvelling how they could withstand the cold in such
a dress, when the national garb of my own fellow-
countrymen, the Highlanders of Scotland, recurred to
my mind. This led to reflections on the probable origin
of the Highlanders' costume, which were abruptly put
an end to by an incident of a startling nature which at
this instant occurred.

Aramalick Chd,rd, came round a rocky corner with his
flocks and herds, which he was bringing home from their
grazing-grounds in the Dungul Valley. He hardly had
time to exchange a greeting with me, when he recog-
nised one of the Kashtan men as a private enemy.
He at once shouted to his followers and helpers, and
fastened on to the Kashtan man with cries of " Vi.
vi ! " (strike, strike). He, with some difficulty, pos-
sessed himself of the man's gun, and threatened him
with a sword he waved over his head. Then he struck
him several shrewd blows with his walking-club, enough
to break any one's skull, one would have thought ; but
it was not the man's head, it was the stick which l)roke.
I feared for the high-handed Chrird, a somewhat sickly-
looking man ; but the Kashtdn people, thinking we were
all of one party, made no real resistance, except that


the other two men clung to their guns resolutely and
successfully. Chiinl's natural attitude as he declaimed
and waved his broken stick would have made the
fortune of a tragedy actor, except that he did not work
himself up to a climax, but ebbed and flowed in his
passion, so that at times I thought he would let his
prisoner j^o. The latter tried all manner of blandish-
ments, putting his arms round Chard's neck and coaxing
him like a child, but all without avail. The captor flung
off his coat with a fine gesture, seized the Kashtdn man
by the goatskin coat, and dragged him down a side
path. We moved on, but had not gone more than a
hundred yards or so when we saw Chard returning
alone, stalking along with the stride of a stage villain.
I imagined the prisoner had broken away, but Shermalik
acutely pointed out that the Kashtdn man's dog accom-
panied Chara, and observed that had the man escaped,
the dog would certainly have followed him. A short
distance farther on my five Baltis were standing trans-
fixed. They had watched the whole tragedy, and had
seen Chdra plunge his dagger into the captive, and then
hurl the body aside. They also showed where the body
was lying exposed to view. There was certainly some-
thing dark lying on the ground, and the whole affair
made me sorrowful, for Charc4 was a friend of mine,
and Shermalik told me that to kill a man of a tribe
at peace with the Kam meant ruin to Chara. His
house would be burned, and his possessions divided.
Shermalik then related the cause of the feud, which
was as follows : — Chara s cousin, a Shaikh, lived at a
place in the Dungul Valley, where the Kashtdn man
also formerly resided. The Shaikh had three Pathan


To face page 128.


servants, whom the Kashtiin man murdered. Hence
the feud. Here we get an instance of a Kafir starting
a feud to avenge three Pathans because they were the
servants of a blood-relation, although the latter also was
a Musalman. This is another illustration of the racial
rather than the religious origin of the never-ending
fighting between Afghans and Kafirs. The evidence
that Chc4ra had killed his man was absolute, overwhelm-
ing. It would have convinced any one. Nevertheless,
it was completely false. The Kashtiin man had broken
away from Chara's feeble grasp uninjured, with merely
the loss of his gun and a few bruises. This, of course,
was told me subsequently. We all went on saddened
at having been present, as we supposed, at a tragedy,
and to change the subject Shermalik told me again all
his love affairs.

He never tired of relating the wrong which had been
done him, and which had eventually forced him to
abandon his own wife and child, and seek connubial
happiness in another clan. He began by explaining
that the reason he had been so late in coming to me
that morning was because his night's rest had been
disturbed. It appears that the previous night, to cele-
brate his marriage with a little girl of the Belizhedari
clan, he had taken a goat to his father-in-law's house,
and there feasted with the family. Following the rule
of sleeping where he dined, Shermalik had gone to bed,
but slept very little, because his father-in-law liaving
caught a Muman man trying to steal some of his slieep,
had tied him neck and crop and thrown him under
Shermalik's bed. Shermalik remarked that the captive's
groans and writhings were very amusing, but they had


greatly interfered with his sleep. His love story was
this. Before going with me to India, he was married
to a woman of humble birth and of Presun descent,
whom Dan Malik called his daughter. She had been
taken when quite young from her own parents in the
Presungul, and had been brought up as a field-slave
to all intents and purposes. It had been agreed between
Dc4n Malik and Shermalik that the price of the woman
was to be eight cows. The woman, as in all such cases,
remained at her own home pending the payment of her
ransom. She had a child by Shermalik, a pretty little
girl, whom her father professed to admire greatly. When
we returned to Kamdesh, and Shermalik was found to be
possessed of so much wealth, the avarice of Dan Malik
and his family was excited, and they declared that the
former arrangement was no longer in force, and that my
adopted son must pay up his rifle, his derringer, all his
gorgeous robes — in fact, everything he had received from
me — or he should not receive his wife. In vain Shermalik
offered twelve, and at last tw^enty cows. Dan Malik was
obdurate. He did not demand the bag of rupees my
adopted son had received from me, for that item of
wealth had been kept concealed from him. Shermalik
was furious, and talked about making a holocaust of
the whole Dan Malik family — at any rate, he would stab
them one and all ; but eventually more prudent counsels
prevailed. He was a small man, and the great Dan
Malik had always been in his eyes a kind of divinity.
So he quickly dried his tears of rage, w^ashed his gar-
ments, and having to pay a high price for a wife, paid it
for a particularly plain and dirty, if high-born, little girl,
and ever after took great pride to himself on account of


his marriage connections. The first wife and her child
were definitely abandoned.

As we reached our camp for the night on the south
side of the pass, a short distance down the Dungul
Valley, we met two or three little parties of Kashtdn
men returning from Asmar with slow steps. They had
been trying to catch a Pathan or two, but had failed.
When we sat round our camp-fire that night, and Sher-
malik had exhausted the subject of his loves, his wrongs,
and his marriage connections, he explained that the
Kashtdn had been at bitter feud with the Asmar folk
ever since the latter had burnt and completely destroyed
the village of Dungul. The people of that village
belonged to the Kashtan tribe, and being cut off from
the rest of the tribe by snow during the winter, had
tried to conciliate their Afghan neighbours in every
possible way, even to the extent of adopting their dress.
They succeeded for a time, but eventually the Asmar
men came to Dungul and utterly destroyed the village,
causing its inhabitants to return to and greatly over-
crowd the tribal headquarters near Kamdesh. Ever
since, there had been severe fighting, and the Afghans
were reduced to such straits that at night no inhabitant
of any of the villages near the Dungul Valley dare leave
his house. One of the Dungul men, a supposed convert
to Islam, had murdered the Khan of Asmar, seated in
the midst of his own men at the door of his own fort,
and had fled to Kashtan, to be honoured and admired
ever after. In reply to a question, Shermalik said that
the Kdm were at peace with the Asmar Afghans ; and
in answer to a further query, admitted that mistakes did
sometimes happen, and Kain people got killed sometimes


instead of Kashttins, and that a short time before my
arrival in the country Pathans had crept close to Kam-
desh over the pass, and had murdered four little Kdm
boys, tending goats, and had then decamped. This did
not incite the Kam to open war, but the latter contented
themselves with secretly and privately murdering Pathans
to avenge their own losses. In this way nine Oganis
(Pathans) had already been slaughtered. On my remarking
that the peace of the Kam with the Asmar men seemed
to me to be curious in its nature, Shermalik fell back on
the customary Kafir answer to almost eveiything, which
also authoritatively closes any discussion, " Insta charaza"
— "It is our custom." The one point in which their
peaceful killing differs from actual war is, that in the
former there is no dancing at Kd,mdesh, and the matter
is supposed to be kept a secret.

The next morning we started down the valley, from
our camp under a rock, as soon as the benumbed coolies
could be persuaded to take up their loads. We at once
began to fall in with small parties of ten or a dozen
Kashtdn men returning from the Asmar frontier. They
looked upon us with suspicion, although Shermalik was
well known to them. They could not be convinced we
were merely out shooting. "Does a man go out shooting
with five coolie loads of baggage ? " they argued, and they
decided that he did not. They believed we must be
leaving Kafiristan for Jelalabad. Each succeeding group
became more difficult to pass than the preceding. At
one place I was just in time to save my gun, which
Rusala was quietly handing over to a Kafir who had
demanded it. The only thing to do was to put a bold
face on the matter, swagger up to each little party, give


To face page 134.


the Kafir salutation, " Xirishtosha" — " Have you come
from below?" and then, " Le sher, lickti-le sher, poma
mangi adugan ashta " — "Are you well? — are you very
well? — are the people in your house well?" Then I
would rest my hand on the shoulder of some one of
them, and become curious about their powder-horns
and daggers. At a wink from me the poor coolies
stole by in almost ludicrous distress. Shermalik and
I would hurry after them as soon as possible, to
find, almost invariably, that they had been stopped by
another band. Shermalik was gradually getting hope-
less, while I must confess my anxiety was deepening,
when we reached a place called xlzharbai, whence a fine
valley runs to the north-west in the direction of Kamu.
This we entered, and shortly afterwards came upon a
" pshal " or grazing farm belonging to a man of Utah's
clan. There we felt comparatively safe, and decided to

We had no sooner turned out of the main Dungul
Valley than a large force, consisting of some two hundred
and fifty Kashtan, Madugc41, and Katir Kafirs, swept
down on their way to raid some flocks and herds near
the Afghan village of Bailam. On their heels came
Utah, who perceiving the danger wc might be in from
these wild Kafirs, cast aside his sulkiness, and hurried
to me with several trustworthy Kam men he had col-
lected together. His arrival was a great relief to us
all, for with him as our companion there was no
longer any risk, unless the raid failed and the Kafirs
returned followed by avenging Afghans ; for Utah was
known far and wide as the priest, the head of a clan
of the Kam tribe, as a wise man, very wealthy, and a


famous warrior. Indeed, if his years were taken into
consideration, he might be considered the show-man
of the Kam. He was a very interesting personage, and
deserves a detailed description. His real name was
Latkam, but he was known, except to his intimates, as
Utah — that is, the priest. He was just over forty, and
his hair was very slightly grizzled. In stature he was
a trifle over five feet eight inches, with shoulders square
and somewhat high, and a splendidly deep chest. The
arms and upper arms were moderately developed, the
flanks of average breadth, the legs very muscular.
His feet were beautifully modelled. He was the most
untiring walker it is possible to conceive ; indeed, he
could tramp all round the clock, and cover almost in-
credible distances over roads of every possible variety,
except that none of them were easy. The fact that he
was the sixth or seventh hereditary priest of the Kam
in regular succession, and the wealthy head of a wealthy
clan, gave him a personal prestige in the tribe inferior
only to that occupied by Torag Merak, Dan Malik, and
lame Astan. His opinion was highly valued by every
one, and if only he had been a little older, and had
finished the Jast ceremonies, on which he was still
engaged, he would have been the most influential, and
also the most respected member of the Kam after the
aged Dan Malik. He had marvellous tact. In a dis-
cussion he seemed to perceive almost by instinct the
view which would in the end prevail; he invariably
contrived to identify himself with that view, and to
make himself its exponent and representative. It was
interesting to watch the way he maintained his influential
position and his reputation for sagacity. If hot words



were passing during a tribal conclave, and Utah could
not make up his mind how the popular voice would

go, he would actually hide himself until the critical
moment, when, his mind made up, he would appear in


the assembly, add a few convincing words in support
of" the opinion which was about to triumph, and cover
himself with praises and with glory. He had a some-
what ruddy face fringed with a scanty beard, and eyes
which could narrow into mere slits under the influence
of avariciousness, his chief vice. Ordinarily he was a
shrewd, singularly clear-headed companion, with a con-
siderable reserve fund of geniality and humour. He
had a famous record of homicides, and was emphati-
cally what the Kafirs describe as " le manji" — that is,
a good man. There was no single tribesman who would
not say of Utah, "le manjiz," "He is a good man;" most
would prefix "biluk," which means "very," while enthusi-
astic supporters would emphasise the word until it be-
came " bil-l-l-l-l-l'-uk," brought out with a flourish of
the right arm, such as that which helps the tenor with
his chest C.

Perhaps I may be pardoned a little story in which
my friend Utah played a chief part, but which occurred
some time before my visit to Kafiristan. Utah and his
cousin and brother-in-law,'*Chandlu Astan, were down in
the Kunar Valley, hiding near a hostile village on the
left bank of the river. One dark night they crept into
the graveyard, which was to the north, and close under
the dead wall formed by the row of houses in that face of
the square-shaped village, and was an important feature
in the defensive arrangements of the place. Dogs were
barking loudly, and there was actually a party of travellers
camped on the continuous house-tops, cooking their even-
ing meal at a blazing fire. Utah and Astan scaled the
wall noiselessly and peered over the roofs, to find there
was no one at that particular spot. They crawled along


To face page 143.


the house-tops on their stomachs, till they came to a
square aperture leading by means of a notched pole
into an apartment below. Such apertures are practi-
cally the doors of the houses to which they belong.
(The two Kafirs listened attentively, then stole down
the ladder, and killed with their daggers every living

Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 9 of 38)