1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kafiristan
KAFIRISTAN, a province of Afghanistan. Very little of this country was known with accuracy and nothing at first hand until General Sir W. (then Colonel) Lockhart headed a mission to examine the passes of the Hindu Kush range in 1885–1886. He penetrated into the upper part of the Bashgal valley, but after a few days he found himself compelled to return to Chitral. Previously Major Tanner, R.A., had sought to enter Kafiristan from Jalalabad, but sudden severe illness cut short his enterprise. M‘Nair, the famous explorer of the Indian Survey department, believed that he had actually visited this little-known land during an adventurous journey which he made from India and through Chitral in disguise; but the internal evidence of his reports shows that he mistook the Kalash district of Chitral, with its debased and idolatrous population, for the true Kafiristan of his hopes. In 1889 Mr G. S. Robertson (afterwards Sir George Robertson, K.C.S.I.) was sent on a mission to Kafiristan. He only remained a few days, but a year later he revisited the country, staying amongst the Kafirs for nearly a year. Although his movements were hampered, his presence in the country being regarded with suspicion, he was able to study the people, and, in spite of intertribal jealousy, to meet members of many of the tribes. The facts observed and the information collected by him during his sojourn in eastern Kafiristan, and during short expeditions to the inner valleys, are the most trustworthy foundations of our knowledge of this interesting country.
Kafiristan, which literally means “the land of the infidel,” is the name given to a tract of country enclosed between Chitral and Afghan territory. It was formerly peopled by pagan mountaineers, who maintained a wild independence until 1895, when they were finally subdued by Abdur Rahman, the amir of Kabul, who also compelled them to accept the religion of Islam. The territory thus ill named is included between 34° 30′ and 36° N., and from about 70° to 71° 30′ E. As the western and northern boundaries are imperfectly known, its size cannot be estimated with any certainty. Its greatest extent is from east to west at 35° 10′ N.; its greatest breadth is probably about 71° E. The total area approximates to 5000 sq. m. Along the N. the boundary is the province of Badakshan, on the N.E. the Lutkho valley of Chitral. Chitral and lower Chitral enclose it to the E., and the Kunar valley on the S.E. Afghanistan proper supplies the S. limit. The ranges above the Nijrao and Pansher valleys of Afghanistan wall it in upon the W. The northern frontier is split by the narrow Minjan valley of Badakshan, which seems to rise in the very heart of Kafiristan.
Speaking generally, the country consists of an irregular series of main valleys, for the most part deep, narrow and tortuous, into which a varying number of still deeper, narrower and more twisted valleys, ravines and glens pour their torrent water. The mountain ranges of Metamorphic rock, which separate the main drainage valleys, are all of considerable altitude, rugged and difficult, with the outline of a choppy sea petrified. During the winter months, when the snow lies deep, Kafiristan becomes a number of isolated communities, with few if any means of intercommunication. In the whole land there is probably nothing in the shape of a plain. Much of the silent, gigantic country warms the heart as well as captivates the eye with its grandeur and varied beauty; much of it is the bare skeleton of the world wasted by countless centuries of storms and frost, and profoundly melancholy in its sempiternal ruin. Every variety of mountain scenery can be found: silent peaks and hard, naked ridges, snowfields and glaciers; mighty pine forests, wooded slopes and grazing grounds; or wild vine and pomegranate thickets bordering sparkling streams. At low elevations the hill-sides are covered with the wild olive and evergreen oaks. Many kinds of fruit trees—walnuts, mulberries, apricots and apples—grow near the villages or by the wayside, as well as splendid horse-chestnuts and other shade trees. Higher in elevation, and from 4000 to 8000 ft., are the dense pine and cedar forests. Above this altitude the slopes become dreary, the juniper, cedar and wild rhubarb gradually giving place to scanty willow patches, tamarisk and stunted birches. Over 13,000 ft. there are merely mosses and rough grass. Familiar wildflowers blossom at different heights. The rivers teem with fish. Immense numbers of red-legged partridges live in the lower valleys, as well as pigeons and doves. Gorgeously plumaged pheasants are plentiful. Of wild animals the chief are the markhor (a goat) and the oorial (a sheep). In the winter the former are recklessly slaughtered by hunters, being either brought to bay by trained hounds, or trapped in pits, or caught floundering in the snow-drifts; but in the summer immense herds move on the higher slopes. The ibex is very rare. Bears and leopards are fairly common, as well as the smaller hill creatures.
All the northern passes leading into Badakshan or into the Minjan valley of Badakshan seem to be over 15,000 ft. in altitude. Of these the chief are the Mandal, the Kamah (these two alone have been explored by a European traveller), the Kti, the Kulam and the Ramgal passes. Those to the Passes and Roads. east, the Chitral passes, are somewhat lower, ranging from 12,000 to 14,000 ft., e.g. the Zidig, the Shui, the Shawal and the Parpit, while the Patkun, which crosses one of the dwindled spurs near the Kunar river, is only 8400 ft. high. Between neighbouring valleys the very numerous communicating footways must rarely be lower than 10,000, while they sometimes exceed 14,000 ft. The western passes are unknown. All these toilsome paths are so faintly indicated, even when free from snow, that to adventure them without a local guide is usually unsafe. Yet the light-framed cattle of these jagged mountains can be forced over many of the worst passes. Ordinarily the herding tracks, near the crest of the ridges and high above the white torrents, are scarcely discoverable to untutored eyes. They wind and waver, rise, drop and twist about the irregular semi-precipitous slopes with baffling eccentricity and abruptness. Nevertheless the cattle nose their way along blunderingly, but without hurt. Of no less importance in the open months, and the sole trade routes during winter, are the lower paths by the river. An unguided traveller is continually at fault upon these main lines of intercourse and traffic.
All the rivers find their tumultuous way into the Kabul, either directly, as the Alingar at Laghman, or after commingling with the Kunar at Arundu and at Chigar-Serai. The Bashgal, draining the eastern portion of the country, empties itself into the Kunar at Arundu. It draws its highest waters from Rivers. three main sources at the head of the Bashgal valley. It glides gently through a lake close to this origin, and then through a smaller tarn. The first affluent of importance is the Skorigal, which joins it above the village of Pshui. Next comes the noisier Manangal water, from the Shawal pass, which enters the main stream at Lutdeh or Bragamatal, the chief settlement of the Bashgal branch of the Katir tribe. By-and-by the main stream becomes, at the hamlet of Sunra, a raging, shrieking torrent in a dark narrow valley, its run obstructed by giant boulders and great tree-trunks. Racing past Bagalgrom, the chief village of the Madugal Kafirs, the river clamours round the great spur which, 1800 ft. higher up, gives space for the terraces and houses of Kamdesh, the headquarters of the Kam people. The next important affluent is the river which drains the Pittigal valley, its passes and branches. Also on the left bank, and still lower down, is the joining-place of the Gourdesh valley waters. Finally it ends in the Kunar just above Arundu and Birkot. The middle part of Kafiristan, including the valleys occupied by the Presun, Kti, Ashkun and Wai tribes, is drained by a river variously called the Pech, the Kamah, and the Presun or Viron River. It has been only partially explored. Fed by the fountains and snows of the upper Presun valley, it is joined at the village of Shtevgrom by the torrent from the Kamah pass. Thence it moves quietly past meadowland, formerly set apart as holy ground, watering on its way all the Presun villages. Below the last of them, with an abrupt bend, it hurries into the unexplored and rockbound Tsaru country, where it absorbs on the right hand the Kti and the Ashkun and on the left the Wai rivers, finally losing itself in the Kunar, close to Chigar-Serai. Concerning the Alingar or Kao, which carries the drainage of western Kafiristan into the Kabul at Laghman, there are no trustworthy details. It is formed from the waters of all the valleys inhabited by the Ramgal Kafirs, and by that small branch of the Katirs known as the Kalam tribe.
The climate varies with the altitude, but in the summer-time it is hot at all elevations. In the higher valleys the winter is rigorous. Snow falls heavily everywhere over 4000 ft. above the sea-level. During the winter of 1890–1891 at Kamdesh (elevation 6100 ft.) the thermometer never fell below 17° F. In Climate. many of the valleys the absence of wind is remarkable. Consequently a great deal of cold can be borne without discomfort. The Kunar valley, which is wet and windy in winter, but where snow, if it falls, melts quickly, gives a much greater sensation of cold than the still Kafiristan valleys of much lower actual temperature. A deficiency of rain necessitates the employment of a somewhat elaborate system of irrigation, which in its turn is dependent upon the snowfall.
The present inhabitants are probably mainly descended from the broken tribes of eastern Afghanistan, who, refusing to accept Islam (in the 10th century), were driven away by the fervid swordsmen of Mahomet. Descending upon the feeble inhabitants of the trackless slopes and perilous valleys The Kafirs. of modern Kafiristan, themselves, most likely, refugees of an earlier date, they subjugated and enslaved them and partially amalgamated with them. These ancient peoples seem to be represented by the Presun tribe, by the slaves and by fragments of lost peoples, now known as the Jazhis and the Aroms. The old division of the tribes into the Siah-Posh, or the black-robed Kafirs, and the Safed-Posh, or the white-robed, was neither scientific nor convenient, for while the Siah-Posh have much in common in dress, language, customs and appearance, the Safed-Posh divisions were not more dissimilar from the Siah-Posh than they were from one another. Perhaps the best division at present possible is into (1) Siah-Posh, (2) Waigulis, and (3) Presungalis or Viron folk.
The black-robed Kafirs consist of one very large, widely spread tribe, the Katirs, and four much smaller communities, the Kam, the Madugalis, the Kashtan or Kashtoz, and the Gourdesh. Numerically, it is probable that the Katirs are more important than all the remaining tribes put The Siah-Posh. together. They inhabit several valleys, each community being independent of the others, but all acknowledging the same origin and a general relationship. The Katirs fall readily into the following groups: (a) Those of the Bashgal valley, also called Kamoz and Lutdehchis, who occupy eleven villages between Badawan and Sunra, the border hamlet of the Madugal country, namely, Ptsigrom, Pshui or Pshowar, Apsai, Shidgal, Bragamatal (Lutdeh), Bajindra, Badamuk, Oulagal, Chabu, Baprok and Purstam; (b) the Kti or Katwar Kafirs, who live in two settlements in the Kti valley; (c) the Kulam people, who have four villages in the valley of the same name; (d) the Ramgalis, or Gabariks, who are the most numerous, and possess the western part on the Afghan border. Of the remaining tribes of the Siah-Posh, the chief is the Kam or Kamtoz, who inhabit the Bashgal valley, from the Madugal boundary to the Kunar valley, and its lateral branches in seven chief settlements, namely, Urmir, Kambrom or Kamdesh, Mergrom, Kamu, Sarat, Pittigal and Bazgal. The next Siah-Posh tribe in importance is the Muman or Madugal Kafirs, who have three villages in the short tract between the Katirs and the Kam in the Bashgal valley. The last Siah-Posh tribe is the Kashtan or Kashtoz, who in 1891 were all located in one greatly overcrowded village, their outlying settlement having been plundered by the Afghan tribes of the Kunar valley. One colony of Siah-Posh Kafirs lives in the Gourdesh valley; but they differ from all the other tribes, and are believed to be descended, in great part, from the ancient people called the Aroms.
Our exact knowledge of the Waigulis is scanty. They seem to be related in language and origin with a people fierce, shy and isolated, called the Ashkun, who are quite unknown. The Wai speak a tongue altogether different from that spoken by the Siah-Posh and by the Presungalis. The Waigulis.The names of their ten chief villages are Runchi, Nishi, Jamma, Amzhi, Chimion, Kegili, Akun or Akum, Mildesh, Bargal and Prainta. Of these Amzhi and Nishi are the best known.
The Presungalis, also called Viron, live in a high valley. In all respects they differ from other Kafirs, in none more than in their unwarlike disposition. Simple, timid, stolid-featured and rather clumsy, they are remarkable for their industry and powers of endurance. They The Presungalis.probably represent some of the earliest immigrants. Six large well-built villages are occupied by them—Shtevgrom, Pontzgrom, Diogrom, Kstigigrom, Satsumgrom and Paskigrom.
The slaves are fairly numerous. Their origin is probably partly from the very ancient inhabitants and partly from war prisoners. Coarse in feature and dark in tint, they cannot be distinguished from the lowest class of freemen, while their dress is indistinctive. They are of two classes—household The Slaves. slaves, who are treated not unkindly; and artisan slaves, who are the skilled handicraftsmen—carvers, blacksmiths, bootmakers and so forth; many of the musicians are also slaves. They live in a particular portion of a village, and were considered to a certain extent unclean, and might not approach closely to certain sacred spots. All slaves seem to wear the Siah-Posh dress, even when they own as masters the feeble Presungal folk.
Little respect is shown to women, except in particular cases to a few of advanced years. Usually they are mistresses and slaves, saleable chattels and field-workers. Degraded, immoral, overworked and carelessly fed, they are also, as a rule, unpleasant to the sight. Little girls are sometimes quite beautiful, Women. but rough usage and exposure to all weathers soon make their complexions coarse and dark. They are invariably dirty and uncombed. In comparison with the men they are somewhat short. Physically they are capable of enormous labour, and are very enduring. All the field-work falls to them, as well as all kinds of inferior occupations, such as load-carrying. They have no rights as against their husbands or, failing them, their male relations. They cannot inherit or possess property.
There are certainly three tongues spoken, besides many dialects, that used by the Siah-Posh being of course the most common; and although it has many dialects, the employers of one seem to understand all the others. It is a Prakritic language. Of the remaining two, the Wai and the Presun have no similarity; Language. they are also unlike the Siah-Posh. Kafirs themselves maintain that very young children from any valley can acquire the Wai speech, but that only those born in the Presungal can ever converse in that language, even roughly. To European ears it is disconcertingly difficult, and it is perhaps impossible to learn.
Before their conquest by Abdur Rahman all the Kafirs were idolaters of a rather low type. There were lingering traces of ancestor-worship, and perhaps of fire-worship also. The gods were numerous; tribal, family, household deities had to be propitiated, and mischievous spirits and fairies haunted Religion. forests, rivers, vales and great stones. Imra was the Creator, and all the other supernatural powers were subordinate to him. Of the inferior gods, Moni seemed to be the most ancient; but Gísh, the war-god, was by far the most popular. It was his worship, doubtless, which kept the Kafirs so long independent. In life as a hero, and after death as a god, he symbolized hatred to the religion of Mahomet. Every village revered his shrine; some possessed two. Imra, Gísh and Moni were honoured with separate little temples, as was usually Dizáni goddess; but three or four of the others would share one between them, each looking out of a small separate square window. The worshipped object was either a large fragment of stone or an image of wood conventionally carved, with round white stones for eyes. Different animals were sacrificed at different shrines: cows to Imra, male goats and bulls to Gísh, sheep to the god of wealth; but goats were generally acceptable, and were also slain ceremonially to discover a complaisant god, to solemnize a vow, to end a quarrel, to ratify brotherhood. The ministers of religion were a hereditary priest, a well-born chanter of praise, and a buffoon of low station, who was supposed to become inspired at each sacrifice, and to have the power of seeing fairies and other spirits whenever they were near, also of understanding their wishes. The blood of the offering, together with flour, wine and butter, was cast on the shrine after the animal and the other gifts had been sanctified with water sprinkled by the officiating priests, while he cried “Súch, súch!” (“Be pure!”). Dense clouds of smoke from burning juniper-cedar, which crackled and gave forth pungent incense, added to the spectacle, which was dignified by the bearing of the officials and solemnized by the devout responses of the congregation. There was no human sacrifice except when a prisoner of war, after a solemn service at a shrine, was taken away and stabbed before the wooden tomb of some unavenged headman. Kafirs believed in a kind of Hell where wicked people burned; but the Hereafter was an underground region entered by a guarded aperture, and inhabited by the shapes which men see in dreams. Suicide was as unknown as fear of dying. Melancholy afflicted only the sick and the bereaved. Religious traditions, miracles and anecdotes were puerile, and pointed no social lesson or any religious law. Music, dancing and songs of praise were acceptable to the gods, and every village (grom) had its dancing platform and dancing house (grom ma), furnished with a simple altar. No prayers were offered, only invocations, exhortative or remonstrant.
The great majority of the tribes were made up of clans. A person’s importance was derived chiefly from the wealth of his family and the number of male adults which it contained. The power of a family, as shown by the number and quality of its fighting men as well as by the strength of Tribal Organization. its followers, was the index of that family’s influence. Weak clans and detached families, or poor but free households, carried their independence modestly. The lowest clan above the slaves sought service with their wealthier tribesmen as henchmen and armed shepherds. By intricate ceremonial, associated with complicated duties, social and religious, which extended over two years, punctuated at intervals by prodigious compulsory banquets, rich men could become elders or jast. Still further outlay and ostentation enabled the few who could sustain the cost to rank still higher as chief or Mír. Theoretically, all the important and outside affairs of the tribe were managed by the jast in council; actually they were controlled by two or three of the most respected of that class. Very serious questions which inflamed the minds of the people would be debated in informal parliaments of the whole tribe. Kafirs have a remarkable fondness for discussing in conclave. Orators, consequently, are influential. The internal business of a tribe was managed by an elected magistrate with twelve assistants. It was their duty to see that the customs of the people were respected; that the proper seasons for gathering fruit were rigidly observed. They regulated the irrigation of the fields, moderating the incessant quarrels which originated in the competition for the water; and they kept the channels in good repair. Their chief, helped by contributions in kind from all householders, entertained tribal guests. He also saw that the weekly Kafir Sabbath, from the sowing to the carrying of the crops, was carefully observed, the fires kept burning, and the dancers collected and encouraged. Opposition to these annual magistrates or infraction of tribal laws was punished by fines, which were the perquisites and the payment of those officials. Serious offences against the whole people were judged by the community itself; the sentences ranged as high as expulsion from the settlement, accompanied with the burning of the culprit’s house and the spoliation of his goods. In such cases, the family and the clan refusing to intervene, the offender at once became cowed into submission.
Habitations are generally strong, and built largely of wood. They are frequently two or more storeys high, often with an open gallery at the top. Wealthy owners were fond of elaborate carving in simple designs and devices. A room is square, with a smoke-hole when possible; small windows, with shutters and bolts, and Houses and Villages. heavy doors fastened by a sliding wooden pin, are common. The nature of the ground, its defensible character, the necessity of not encroaching upon the scanty arable land, and such considerations, determine the design of the villages. Specimens of many varieties may be discovered. There is the shockingly overcrowded oblong kind, fort-shaped, three storeys high, and on a river’s bank, which is pierced by an underground way leading to the water. Here all rooms look on to the large central courtyard; outwards are few or no windows. There is also the tiny hamlet of a few piled-up hovels perched on the flattish top of some huge rock, inaccessible when the ladder connecting it with the neighbouring hill-side or leading to the ground is withdrawn. Some villages on mounds are defended at the base by a circular wall strengthened with an entanglement of branches. Others cling to the knife-edged back of some difficult spur. Many are hidden away up side ravines. A few boldly rely upon the numbers of their fighting men, and are unprotected save by watch-towers. While frequently very picturesque at a distance, all are dirty and grimed with smoke; bones and horns of slaughtered animals litter the ground. The ground floor of a house is usually a winter stable for cows and the latrine, as well as the manure store for the household; the middle part contains the family treasures; on the top is the living-place. In cold valleys, such as the Presungal, the houses are often clustered upon a hillock, and penetrate into the soil to the depth of two or more apartments. Notched poles are the universal ladders and stairways.
In height Kafirs average about 5 ft. 6 in. They are lean; always in hard condition; active jumpers, untiring walkers, expert mountaineers; exceptionally they are tall and heavy. With chests fairly deep, and muscular, springy legs, there is some lightness and want of power about the shoulder Characteristics. muscles, the arms and the hand-grasp. In complexion they are purely Eastern. Some tribes, notably the Wai, are fairer than others, but the average colour is that of the natives of the Punjab. Albinos, or red-haired people, number less than 12% of the population. As a rule, the features are well-shaped, especially the nose. The glance is wild and bold, with the wide-lidded, restless gaze of the hawk; or the exact converse—a shifty, furtive peer under lowered brows. This look is rather common amongst the wealthier families and the most famous tribesmen. The shape of a man’s head not uncommonly indicates his social rank. Several have the brows of thinkers and men of affairs. The degraded forms are the bird-of-prey type—low, hairy foreheads, hooked noses with receding chin, or the thickened, coarse features of the darker slave class. Intellectually they are of good average power. Their moral characteristics are passionate covetousness, and jealousy so intense that it smothers prudence. Before finally destroying, it constantly endangered their wildly cherished independence. Revenge, especially on neighbouring Kafirs, is obtained at any price. Kafirs are subtle, crafty, quick in danger and resolute, as might be expected of people who have been plunderers and assassins for centuries, whose lives were the forfeit of a fault in unflinchingness or of a moment’s vacillation. Stealthy daring, born of wary and healthy nerves and the training of generations, almost transformed into an instinct, is the national characteristic. Ghastly shadows, they flitted in the precincts of hostile villages far distant from their own valleys, living upon the poorest food carried in a fetid goatskin bag; ever ready to stab in the darkness or to wriggle through apertures, to slay as they slept men, women and babies. Then, with clothing for prize, and human ears as a trophy, they sped, watchful as hares, for their far-away hills, avenger Pathans racing furiously in their track. Kafirs, most faithful to one another, never abandoned a comrade. If he were killed, they sought to carry away his head for funeral observances. As traders, though cunning enough, they are no match for the Afghan. They were more successful as brigands and blackmailers than as skilled thieves. In night robbery and in pilfering they showed little ingenuity. Truth was considered innately dangerous; but a Kafir is far more trustworthy than his Mahommedan neighbours. Although hospitality is generally viewed as a hopeful investment, it can be calculated on, and is unstinted. Kafirs are capable of strong friendship. They are not cruel, being kind to children and to animals, and protective to the weak and the old. Family ties and the claim of blood even triumph over jealousy and covetousness.
The national attire of the men is a badly-cured goatskin, confined at the waist by a leather belt studded with nails, supporting the I-hilted dagger, strong but clumsy, of slave manufacture, sheathed in wood covered with iron or brass, and often prettily ornamented. Women are dressed in a long, Dress, Weapons, Utensils, &c. very dark tunic of wool, ample below the shoulders, and edged with red. This is fastened at the bosom by an iron pin, a thorn, or a fibula; it is gathered round the body by a woven band, an inch wide, knotted in front to dangle down in tassels. On this girdle is carried a fantastically handled knife in a leather covering. The woman’s tunic is sometimes worn by men. As worn by women its shape is something between a long frock-coat and an Inverness cape. Its hue and the blackness of the hairy goatskin give the name of Siah-Posh, “black-robed,” to the majority of the clans. The other tribes wear such articles of cotton attire as they can obtain by barter, by theft, or by killing beyond the border, for only woollen cloth is made in the country. Of late years long robes from Chitral and Badakshan have been imported by the wealthy, as well as the material for loose cotton trousers and wide shirts. Clothing, always hard to obtain, is precious property. Formerly little girls, the children of slaves, or else poor relations, used to be sold in exchange for clothes and ammunition. Mahommedans eagerly bought the children, which enabled them in one transaction to acquire a female slave and to convert an infidel. Men go bareheaded, which wrinkles them prematurely, or they wear Chitral caps. Certain priests, and others of like degree, wind a strip of cotton cloth round their brows. Siah-Posh women wear curious horned caps or a small square white head-dress upon informal occasions. Females of other tribes bind their heads with turbans ornamented with shells and other finery. Excellent snow gaiters are made of goat’s hair for both sexes, and of woollen material for women. Boots, strongly sewn, of soft red leather cannot be used in the snow or when it is wet, because they are imperfectly tanned. For the ceremonial dances all manner of gay-coloured articles of attire, made of cheap silk, cotton velvet, and sham cloth-of-gold, are displayed, and false jewelry and tawdry ornaments; but they are not manufactured in the country, but brought from Peshawar by pedlars. Woollen blankets and goat’s-hair mats cover the bedsteads—four-legged wooden frames laced across with string or leather thongs. Low square stools, 18 in. broad, made upon the same principle as the bedsteads, are peculiar to the Kafirs and their half-breed neighbours of the border. Iron tripod tables, singularly Greek in design, are fashioned in Waigul. A warrior’s weapons are a matchlock (rarely a flintlock), a bow and arrows, a spear and the dagger which he never puts aside day or night. The axes, often carried, are light and weak, and chiefly indicate rank. Clubs, carefully ornamented by carving, are of little use in a quarrel; their purpose is that of a walking-stick. As they are somewhat long, these walking-clubs have been often supposed to be leaping-poles. Swords are rarely seen, and shields, carried purely for ostentation, seldom. Soft stone is quarried to make large utensils, and great grim chests of wood become grain boxes or coffins indifferently. Prettily carved bowls with handles, or with dummy spouts, hold milk, butter, water or small quantities of flour. Wine, grain, everything else, is stored or carried in goatskin bags. Musical instruments are represented by reed flageolets, small drums, primitive fiddles, and a kind of harp.
Isolated and at the outskirts of every village is a house used by women when menstruating and for lying-in. Children are named as soon as born. The infant is given to the mother to suckle, while a wise woman rapidly recites the family ancestral names; the name pronounced at the instant Peculiar Customs. the baby begins to feed is that by which it is thereafter known. Everybody has a double name, the father’s being prefixed to that given at birth. Very often the two are the same. There is a special day for the first head-shaving. No hair is allowed on a male’s scalp, except from a 4-in. circle at the back of the head, whence long locks hang down straight. Puberty is attained ceremoniously by boys. Girls simply change a fillet for a cotton cap when nature proclaims womanhood. Marriage is merely the purchase of a wife through intermediaries, accompanied by feasting. Divorce is often merely a sale or the sending away of a wife to slave for her parents in shame. Sexual morality is low. Public opinion applauds gallantry, and looks upon adultery as hospitality, provided it is not discovered by the husband. If found out, in flagrante delicto, there is a fiscal fine in cows. There is much collusion to get this penalty paid in poor households. Funeral rites are most elaborate, according to the rank and warrior fame of the deceased, if a male, and to the wealth and standing of the family, if a woman. Children are simply carried to the cemetery in a blanket, followed by a string of women lamenting. A really great man is mourned over for days with orations, dancing, wine-drinking and food distribution. Gun-firing gives notice of the procession. After two or three days the corpse is placed in the coffin at a secluded spot, and the observances are continued with a straw figure lashed upon a bed, to be danced about, lamented over, and harangued as before. During regular intervals for business and refreshment old women wail genealogies. A year later, with somewhat similar ritual, a wooden statue is inaugurated preliminary to erection on the roadside or in the village Valhalla. The dead are not buried, but deposited in great boxes collected in an assigned place. Finery is placed with the body, as well as vessels holding water and food. Several corpses may be heaped in one receptacle, which is, rarely, ornamented with flags; its lid is kept from warping by heavy stones. The wooden statues or effigies are at times sacrificed to when there is sickness, and at one of the many annual festivals food is set before them. Among the Presungal there are none of these images. Blood-feuds within a tribe do not exist. The slayer of his fellow, even by accident, has to pay a heavy compensation or else become an outcast. Several hamlets and at least one village are peopled by families who had thus been driven forth from the community. The stigma attaches itself to children and their marriage connexions. Its outward symbol is an inability to look in the face any of the dead person’s family. This avoidance is ceremonial. In private and after dark all may be good friends after a decorous interval. The compensation is seldom paid, although payment carries with it much enhancement of family dignity. All the laws to punish theft, assault, adultery and other injury are based on a system of compensation whenever possible, and of enlisting the whole of the community in all acts of punishment. Kafirs have true conceptions of justice. There is no death penalty; a fighting male is too valuable a property of the whole tribe to be so wasted. War begins honourably with proper notice, as a rule, but the murder of an unsuspecting traveller may be the first intimation. Bullets or arrow-heads sent to a tribe or village is the correct announcement of hostilities. The slaying of a tribesman need not in all cases cause a war. Sometimes it may be avoided by the sinning tribe handing over a male to be killed by the injured relations. Ambush, early morning attacks by large numbers, and stealthy killing parties of two or three are the favourite tactics. Peace is made by the sacrifice of cows handed over by the weaker tribe to be offered up to a special god of the stronger. When both sides have shown equal force and address, the same number of animals are exchanged. Field-work falls exclusively to the women. It is poor. The ploughs are light and very shallow. A woman, who only looks as if she were yoked with the ox, keeps the beast in the furrows, while a second holds the handle. All the operations of agriculture are done primitively. Grazing and dairy-farming are the real trade of the Kafirs, the surplus produce being exchanged on the frontier or sold for Kabul rupees. Herders watch their charges fully armed against marauders.
History.—The history of Kafiristan has always been of the floating legendary sort. At the present day there are men living in Chitral and on other parts of the Kafiristan frontier who are prepared to testify as eye-witnesses to marvels observed, and also heard, by them, not only in the more remote valleys but even in the Afghan borderland itself. It is not surprising therefore that the earlier records are to a great extent fairy tales of a more or less imaginative kind and chiefly of value to those interested in folk-lore. Sir Henry Yule, a scientific soldier, a profound geographer and a careful student, as the result of his researches thought that the present Kafiristan was part of that pagan country stretching between Kashmir and Kabul which medieval Asiatics referred to vaguely as Bilaur, a name to be found in Marco Polo as Bolor. The first distinct mention of the Kafirs as a separate people appears in the history of Timur. On his march to the invasion of India the people at Andarab appealed to Timur for help against the Kator and the Siah-Posh Kafirs. He responded and entered the country of those tribes through the upper part of the Panjhir valley. It was in deep winter weather and Timur had to be let down the snows by glissade in a basket guided by ropes. A detachment of 10,000 horse which he speaks of as having been sent against the Siah-Posh to his left, presumably therefore to the north, met with disaster; but he himself claims to have been victorious. Nevertheless he seems quickly to have evacuated the impracticable mountain land, quitting the country at Khawak. He caused an inscription to be carved in the defiles of Kator to commemorate his invasion and to explain its route. Inside the Kafir country on the Najil or Alishang River there is a fort still called Timur’s Castle, and in the Kalam fort there is said to be a stone engraved to record that as the farthest point of his advance. In the Memoirs of Baber there is mention of the Kafirs raiding into Panjhir and of their taste for drinking, every man having a leathern wine-bottle slung round his neck. The Ain-i-Akbari makes occasional mention of the Kafirs, probably on the authority of the famous Memoirs; it also contains a passage which may possibly have originated the widespread story that the Kafirs were descendants of the Greeks. Yule however believed that this passage did not refer to the Kafirs at all, but to the claims to descent from Alexander of the rulers in Swat before the time of the Yusufzai. Many of the princelings of the little Hindu-Kush states at the present day pride themselves on a similar origin, maintaining the founders of their race to be Alexander, “the two-horned,” and a princess sent down miraculously from heaven to wed him.
Benedict Goes, travelling from Peshawar to Kabul in 1603, heard of a place called Capperstam, where no Mahommedan might enter on pain of death. Hindu traders were allowed to visit the country, but not the temples. Benedict Goes tasted the Kafir wine, and from all that he heard suspected that the Kafirs might be Christians. Nothing more is heard of the Kafirs until 1788, when Rennell’s Memoir of a Map of Hindostan was published. Twenty-six years later Elphinstone’s Caubal was published. During the British occupation of Kabul in 1839–1840 a deputation of Kafirs journeyed there to invite a visit to their country from the Christians whom they assumed to be their kindred. But the Afghans grew furiously jealous, and the deputation was sent coldly away.
After Sir George Robertson’s sojourn in the country and the visit of several Kafirs to India with him in 1892 an increasing intimacy continued, especially with the people of the eastern valleys, until 1895, when by the terms of an agreement entered into between the government of India and the ruler of Afghanistan the whole of the Kafir territory came nominally under the sway of Kabul. The amir Abdur Rahman at once set about enforcing his authority, and the curtain, partially lifted, fell again heavily and in darkness. Nothing but rumours reached the outside world, rumours of successful invasions, of the wholesale deportation of boys to Kabul for instruction in the religion of Islam, of rebellions, of terrible repressions. Finally even rumour ceased. A powerful Asiatic ruler has the means of ensuring a silence which is absolute, and nothing is ever known from Kabul except what the amir wishes to be known. Probably larger numbers of the growing boys and young men of Kafiristan are fanatical Mahommedans, fanatical with the zeal of the recent convert, while the older people and the majority of the population cherish their ancient customs in secret and their degraded religion in fear and trembling—waiting dumbly for a sign.
See Sir G. S. Robertson, Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush (London, 1896). (G. S. R.)