1902 Encyclopedia > Kafiristan


KAFIRISTAN. This Persian term, signifying "the country of Kafirs," or unbelievers (in Islam), has within the last hundred years become established in geography as the name of a mountain tract on the north of Afghanistan, occupied by tribes which have resisted conversion to the faith which prevails on every side. This faith has no doubt continually gained upon these tribes more or less, and with this encroachment the limits of the Kafir country have shrunk ; but the encroachment does not appear to have been large since the name became recognized in geography. Thus Baber (c. 1504) speaks of a certain place (Chaghânserâi, in recent maps " Chegarserai ") as in the very jaws of Kafiristan, and this continued to apply forty years ago, if not now. Only it is clear that in his time the Kafirs occupied tracts about Bajaur, east of the Kuner river, which they do not pass now except on raids. The country has never been entered, and even the bordering Mahometan tracts have only here and there been touched, by any European, so that we know hardly anything of its internal geography, and not even the external geography with any precision. The northern boundary may be taken as that unvisited part of the watershed of Hindu Kûsh which lies between the Dorah Pass (71° 17' E. long.) and the Khâwak Pass (69° 53' E. long.) leading into the Andarâb valley of the province of Kunduz (see AFGHAN TURKESTAN, vol. ii. 242). On the east it is limited by Chitrâl or Kâshkâr; on the south and west it is more difficult to define. But 35° N. lat. and 70° E. long, will mark these limits roughly, though the Kafir tribes seem still to extend south of the former line above Jalâlâbâd, whilst their limits are retracted north of the same line above Laghman. Indeed Kafir villages, though now deserted, exist within Darah Nur, only 20 miles from Jalalabad. It is believed that the Kafir settlements on some points also pass to the north of Hindu Kush.

Tribes of Kafir kindred, subdued and converted by the Mahometans in comparatively recent times are known as Nimcha, or " half-and-half." Many of these are on good terms with the Kafirs, and trade is carried on through their mediation. A most interesting account by Lieutenant-Colonel Tanner, of some tribes of this class, will be found in the Proc. Roy. Qeog. Soc. quoted below.

The most important portion of the Kafir tribes apparently occupies the valleys which drain (by the Pech river) into the Kuner or Chitral river, below Chaghanserai, in about 34° 49' N\ lat. The most easterly occupy the valley running south from the Dorah Pass, and joining the same river at Birkot, about 35° 15' N. lat. Others are on the headwaters of the Alingar and Alishang rivers, which join in Laghman, and the most westerly on the sources of the river of Tagao.

Surrounded by people professing Islam and cherishing slavery, the Kafirs are naturally objects of kidnapping incursions, and these they revenge by sallies from their mountain fastnesses to plunder and kill. Wood, in 1838, found the valley of the Upper Kokcha in Badakhshan deserted on account of Kafir forays. The Lahori Pass from Dir into Chitral was within recent years so beset by Kafir robbers that many Mussulman wayfarers were annually killed, whose graves were marked by cairns and flags, and designated " The Tombs of the Martyrs." Hundreds of those dismal memorials lined the road and damped the traveller's spirits. Baverty mentions a savage invasion of Kafiristan made some thirty years ago by the chief of Bajaur from the south-east, in which villages were sacked and burnt, and the people carried off and sold. Faiz Bakhsh speaks of a like invasion from the north in 1870 by the prince of Badakhshan, which penetrated by the Dozakh Darah or " Hell-glen " to Kator (which he calls the Kafir capital), bringing back a large number of captives, whom he saw at Faizabad. Whatever difficulty from within prevents the exploration of the Kafir country is due apparently to this atrocious treatment at the hands of their Moslem neighbours.

But the Kafir wars are far from being all external. Some of the tribes wage war with one another, so constant and deadly that Biddulph says their fights with their Mussulman neighbours are comparatively desultory and harmless. Kafirs are said, however, never to kill men of their own village.

The country is, as far as can be gathered, a land of lofty mountains, dizzy paths, and hair-rope bridges swinging over torrents, of narrow valleys laboriously terraced, but of wine, milk, and honey rather than of agriculture; the valleys on the eastern side, however, are described as thickly wooded and very fertile. Though table-lands are spoken of, arable land is scanty. Over the greater part of the country the winter is severe ; hence the people depend much on dairy-produce, and consume vast quantities of cheese and curd, besides meat, and fruit, fresh or dried.

The hill country of the Kafirs, and of kindred races long continu-ing in paganism, which extended from the north of Cabul to the borders of Kashmir, was known to mediaeval Asiatics, more or less loosely, as Bilaur, a name of ancient origin, which we find in Marco Polo as Bolor. Pasliai also, from the name of one of those races now Mussulman, seems to have had a vague application to part of this region ; this name also occurs both in Marco Polo and in Ibn Batuta. Katdr likewise has sometimes received a like vague extension.

The first distinct mention of Kafirs as a separate race seems to be in the history of Timur. When that prince, in March 1398, arrived at Andarab on his way to invade India, he was met with a cry for help against the Kator and Siah-posh (or "black-clothed ") Kafirs ; and he entered the country of the Kat6r from the upper part of the Panjhir valley. It was still winter in the highlands, and the difficulties were great. Timur himself was let down the snows by glissade in a basket guided by ropes. The chief of the Kafirs was called the ruler of Kator, a title which is possibly pre-served in the title of the king of Chitral (see KASHKAK), besides surviving in the name of one of the greater Kafir tribes. Timur distinguishes between Kator and Siah-posh; for he speaks of detaching 10,000 horse against the Siah-posh country, which lay to the left,—therefore, it would seem, to the north of the country entered by him. This detachment met with great disaster. Timur himself claims decided success, but probably found the country quite impracticable, for he speedily emerged again at Khawak. He speaks of the abundant fruit trees, of the wine, of the language "distinct from Turki, Persian, Hindi, and Kashmiri," of the weapons as arrows, swords, and slings. The ruler was styled 'AddlshA, his residence Jorkal, and another large place Shokal. Timor caused an inscription to be cut in the defiles of KatOr record-ing his invasion and its route. Masson tells us that in the Kafir country, on the Najil or Alishang river, there is a structure still known as Timur's castle.

We hear of the Kafirs again in the Memoirs of Baber, of their raids in Panjhir, of their wine and fondness for it,—every man carrying slung round his neck a kkig or leathern bottle. The occasional mentions of the Kafirs in the Ain-i-Akbari seem borrowed from Baber, but this work contains another passage (Gladwin's translation, 1784, ii. 195) which probably originated a story about the Kafirs' descent from Greeks, not yet quite obsolete in Europe. In fact, however, the passage does not appear to refer to the " Kafirs " at all, but to the claim to descent from Alexander of the princes reigning in Swat before the present Yuzufzai,—a claim remarkable enough in itself, and maintained by many other princes of the hill states north of Hindu Kush.

Again, Benedict Goes, travelling from Peshawar to Cabul in 1603, heard of a city (or country) called Capperstam, into which no Mahometan might enter on pain of death. Hindu traders might enter, though not into the temples. The people were said never themselves to enter their temples except in black dresses. The country abounded in grapes; the natives drank wine, of wdiich Goes tasted ; and all this was so strange that he suspected the people might be Christians. Little or nothing is heard of the Kafirs after this till the publication of Rennell's Memoir of a Map of ffindostan (17&&),—followed twenty-six years later by Elphinstone's Oaubul, in which a considerable amount of substantial information regarding the Kafirs was given by that admirable writer, of whom the Afghans believed, and with justice, that he had a telescope with which he could see what passed on the other side of a mountain.

The most favourable opportunity ever offered for the exploration of Kafiristan was during the British occupation of Cabul in 1839-40; and a Kafir deputation invited a visit from those whom they had been led to regard as kindred. But they were coldly received, owing to the great jealousy of such intercourse shown by the Afghans.

Colonel Tanner of the Artillery made a spirited attempt to reach the country from Jalalabad in 1879, and spent some time among the Mahometans of Darah Nur, whose language and customs indicate affinity to their heathen neighbours. But he was carried away dangerously ill, on the very day when a Kafir party arrived at the village to escort him into their country. Similar invitations were brought to Major Biddulph in Chitral in 1878. This officer was unable to avail himself of these, but he had unusual opportunities of seeing and gaining information about the people, and his chapter on the Siah-posh is the most authentic account yet available. But there are no doubt local differences, and we must not assume that to be untrue which varies from Biddulph's statements.

The Kafirs are in fact only an aggregation of tribes, probably belonging to one general race, but whose present close juxtaposition is the result of various accidents and invasions which have driven them, in part at least, from the lower countries, and concentrated them in this highland region. They have themselves vague stories to this effect, and (like the Karens of Burmah) one that they formerly possessed writing. Elphinstone heard a Kafir story that brought them from Kandahar. This may have been a dim tradition, not of the place now so called, but of the Kandahar of the older Arab geographers, Gandaritis of Ptolemy, and Gandhdra of the Hindu books, viz., the region

of Peshawar and Yusufzai. A clan of the now Moslem tribe of Safis is called Gandhdrai. The Kamoz tribe of Kafirs have been surmised to be living representatives of the Kambojas of early Sanskrit, whose name was borrowed by that region in the far East in whose forest depths religions of Indian origin reared weird and stupendous fanes, lately made known. In two other Kafir clans, Aspins and Ashkins, one is tempted to trace remnants of the Aspasii and Assaceni of Alexander's historians, whose seat was about Kuner, Bajaur, and Dir.

The people are recognized from outside as Kafirs (" infidels") or Sidh-posh ("black-clad"—compare the Melanchlseni of ancient Scythia) ; but they use no collective term as applicable to them-selves ; in many cases difierent tribes are unable to converse with each other ; and apparently they recognize no common tie of nationality. If hard pushed, or speaking with foreigners, they will thus employ the word Kappra (for Kafir), but so also a Hindu talking to an Englishman will sometimes use the term Kdld admi (" black man ") collectively of his countrymen.

The variations in the catalogue of tribes given are endless ; indeed, Tanner says explicitly that he never found two people who agreed in the names of four out of five, and the variation in actual lists is greater than this. Major Biddulph's information leads him to divide the whole body into three main tribes (or perhaps topo-graphical divisions) :—(1) Bashgalis, occupying the eastern valley adjoining Chitral, partially tributary to that state,—their principal clan being divided into Kamoz and Kamtoz; (2) Waigalis, occupy-ing the Pech valley and its upper waters ; (3) Bamgalis or Lam-galis, on the upper waters of the streams descending towards Laghman (formerly Lamghdn) and Cabul, and also apparently extending north ot the gre.it watershed. But these great tribes are subdivided into numerous clans, of which the Waigalis alone count eighteen. There are also broken clans, like the Kaldshas, adjoin-ing Chitral, a degraded race who are claimed by the Bashgalis as their slaves, and the Kittigalis, a small tribe near the watershed who are subject to Munjan, one of the highland cantons of Badakhshan.

More copious lists of tribes have been given by Elphinstone (three lists on different authorities), and by Baverty, Lumsden, Bellew, &c. We may notice that all lists give a prominent place • to the Kat6r or Katar (see above). Other names that appear in several lists are Wdi or Wdigal (already named from Biddulph) ; Kdm, in various forms ; Wdmah, and Sdnu, which, we learn from Tanner, are names for one great tribe ; Pasha-gar or Pashd-gri, suggestive of connexion with the now Mahometanized Pashais of the Cabul highlands, spoken of above ; Munde-gal, Paruni, Traiegama, Gambir or Gimir, Ashkong or Askin, Ashptn or Ishpi, Nisha or Nishai, &c. The affix gale or gali, which attaches to several Kafir names of place and tribe, is to be ascribed to a word gal signifying " country." The characteristics of some tribes were given to Tanner by their (nimcha) neighbours the Chuganis, and ran thus : "In Kafir land are many languages, many tribes with different tongues. The Katawas (Kators ?) are horsemen. The Parunis have no guns, they kill men with clubs. The Majgalis are beautiful ; they have guns and are marksmen ; they are men of the chase, very active and swift. The Wamas are the nicest of all. But the Katawas (Kaffirs ?) are chief before the Wamas. And the Nishai are fairer than the Wamas."

In regard to the general aspect and complexion of the Kafirs, accounts have varied. Dr Trumpp, a learned mis-sionary, who examined three Kafirs at Peshawar, declares them to have been in all respects like natives of Upper India, with dark hair and eyes and swarthy colour, tinged with ruddiness due to wine. On the other hand Burnes, Atkinson, Wood, and Masson all speak of their blue eyes, nearly all of their brown hair. Bellew describes Earamorz Khan, an officer of Kafir birth in the Afghan service, as of fair, almost florid complexion, and light brown hair, hardly to be distinguished from an Englishman. And, unless their fairness were a general characteristic, one hardly sees how the story current among themselves of their kin to us could have found vogue. The fact seems to be, as Biddulph states, and as the Chugani characterization quoted above implies, that they differ considerably in complexion, some of those living at high elevations being very fair. In feature those whom he s'aw were pure Aryans of a high type,—the women handsome (as all native reports make them), with brown hair and eyes, sometimes very fair. Indeed, Sir H. Rawlinson, who repeatedly saw Kafirs at Cabul in 1838-40, has stated that the most beautiful Oriental lady he ever had seen was a Kafir slave; by loosening her golden hair she could "-.over herself completely from head to foot as with a veil.

The current tale has always been like that told to Goes in 1603 that no Mussulman could enter their land and live. This is true of any one entering without warning ; but, on the eastern side at least, they receive visitors when passed in by one of themselves. Thus pedlers with wares from Peshawar enter; and Mahometans from Chitral are occa-sionally allowed to enter the country for sport, and enjoy the hospitality for which the Kafirs are famed. The assurance that they would welcome the visits of Christians has been general, and the invitation often given. Two Afghans from Peshawar, Christian converts, on the invita-tion of a Kafir who had been a soldier in the Guides under Colonel (now Sir Harry) Lumsden, visited the Kafir country in 1864, and brought back a very interesting journal. They witnessed, soon after entering the country, the treacherous massacre by the Kafirs, in fulfilment of an old vendetta, of a large party of Mahometans who had been invited across the border, but were themselves well treated.

The language of the Kafir tribes belongs, like their physical type, to the Aryan class. On both northern and southern slopes of Hindu Kush are spoken a number of languages and dialects, all of which, with the striking exception of the Khaiuna or Burishki in Gilgit. belong to the class named, some of them leaning more to the Persic, some to the Indie (or Prakritic) type. To the first belong especially the dialects of the north known as Ghdlcha, spoken in Sirikol, Wakhan, Shighnan, and other cantons of the upper Oxus. To the second belong the Shina language of Dardistan, and other dialects, spoken on the Indus and west of it as far as Chitral. Major Biddulph considers the Kafir languages, of which the Khowar or Chitrali is a type, to stand between the two classes, drawing on the whole nearest to the Indie side, but with a larger number of Persic roots than the Dard dialects. Vocabularies of Kafir or Siah-posh dialects have been published by various persons (e.g., Leech, Burnes, Kaverty, Lumsden, Trumpp, Norris, Leitner, Tanner, Biddulph). The most ample are by no means the most valuable ; and the data as yet, both as to copiousness and as to precision regarding the locality of the dialects represented, are scanty, though in these respects Major Biddulph's book marks a considerable step. The Hindi character of the lists of numerals in some of the dialects is very striking. They all seem to confirm Elphinstone's statement that in all the Kafir dialects the numeration is by scores, as in the French '' survival" of quatrevingt, quatrevingt-dix, &c.

Biddulph regards the religion of the Kafirs as a crude form of the old Vedic worship. Imbra is their chief god, a name suggestive of Indra. Mani is spoken of as mediat-ing with Imbra on behalf of man. There are many inferior divinities, some acknowledged to have been mortals wor-shipped after death. Names of some of these are given by Elphinstone and by Biddulph, and a large part of the two lists agree. Stones are set up as emblems of Imbra, but carved idols are not used, says Biddulph; we must perhaps interpolate,-—"as representations of Imbra,"—for there is much evidence that images are set up. Deogan is a name which several accounts give as that of a chief god, —perhaps a generic word connected with deo, div, cleus, &c. Colonel Tanner's informants told him of a temple of Deogan among the Wamas, hung about with bright-coloured cloths and ornaments, whilst Deogan was represented by a fierce image of wood, armed with club, knife, and gun. The temples are said to be stored with the accumulated spoils of ages. To all the deities cows are sacrificed, and cedar branches burned. On all occasions of slaughtering for food, some deity is invoked and sacrificial ceremonies observed. The Bashgalis showed Biddulph the sacrifice of a goat. The detail is most remarkable, as he points out, in its agreement, even in some of the minutiae (sucli as the ritual words used, such! and he-machf), with the account given by Elphinstone after Mullah Najib,—thus attesting the authenticity of the latter's narrative.

Polygamy is practised, and according to the balance of evidence woman's chastity is loose, and adultery slightly punished or easily compensated (but on these points the Afghan Christians give a strongly opposed statement). Female children are freely sold by the Bashgalis to their Mussulman neighbours, and the king of Chitral receives an annual tribute of children of both sexes (whom he sells doubtless). The black clothing, which has given the Kafirs a general name, varies in character. Tribes on the Cabul side wear entire goat's skins; the Bashgalis wear short-sheved black tunics of woven goat's hair, with a broad red binding, and girt with a leather belt bearing a dagger. On their feet they wear rude sandals of wild-goat skin, with a tuft on the instep. The women wear long sack-like garments of black woven goat's bair, with long loose sleeves, girt loosely at the waist, and with a coloured cotton scarf tightly bound over the shoulders. It is a general characteristic that men shave the whole head except a circular 3-inch patch on the crown, from which the hair hangs often to the waist. The Bashgalis at least wear no head covering. Women wear the hair plaited in many long thin tresses, coiled under their head-dress. The head-dress of the Bashgali women is remarkable, consisting of a black cap with lappets and two horns about a foot long, made of wood wrapt with black cloth and fixed to the cap. Such a head-dress, with horns of greater length, is described by Chinese travellers of the 6th and 7th centuries as worn in the valley of the upper Oxus, then held by the Yetha or Ephthalites, an indication probably of kindred with or influence over the ancestors of this Kafir tribe. Among the Sanus, Wamas, or Bed Kafirs, long, massive, silver chains presented by the tribe are worn over the shoulders by successful warriors. Their women tie up the hair with a silver band.

The Kafir arms are bows and arrows, battle-axe and dagger. The dagger is peculiar, of excellent fabric, with a deep I hilt of iron with brass studs, and slung in a triangular iron sheath. Their bows and arrows are short and weak-looking, but they make good practice up to 60 yards. Swords and matchlocks are spreading.

Among the notable and general customs are the copious use of wine, which at their feasts they drink from large silver cups which are among their most precious posses-sions ; their sitting habitually upon stools of wicker-work, whilst they find it as difficult as we do to adopt the cramped \ postures usual among Asiatics; their use of slip3 of pine ! for candles ; the custom of recording the deeds of a warrior 1 by a post beside his coffin, in which a peg is driven for ! every man he has slain. The Islamized Chugani people ' of Darah Nur also maintain this practice.

The people are fond of dancing. Men and women join. Biddulph witnessed a village dance, wild and strange,—the men brandishing arms, with whooping and whistling and discharge of guns. At times the whole would lock arms by pairs and revolve backwards and forwards in grotesque waltz, or following in order wind in figures of 8.

Their houses are neat and clean, generally of more than one story (communicating by rough ladder beams), and sometimes of five or six on the declivity of a hill. They are much embellished with wood carving. We may assume Tanner's striking description of a large Chugani village to give a fairer idea of the Kafir towns than we have yet any direct means of gaining :—

" It is built on the face of a very steep slope, and Ine houses, of which there must be six hundred, are arranged in terraces one above another. From the roof of one of the lower ones I gazed with astonishment at a vast amphitheatre of carved wood—at thousands of carved veranda-posts, and at tens of thousands of carved panels, with which the upper story of each house is constructed. . . . The carving completely covered the woodwork of the upper story of every house. The lower story is of stone and wood, and double the extent of the upper, and this allows an open roof-space on which the inhabitants mostly pass their time in fine weather."

A newborn child is carried with its mother to a special house outside the village, where they remain secluded. After twenty days mother and child are bathed and brought back with music and dancing. The dead are placed in coffins, and, after much dancing and waking and sham fighting, are carried to some lofty spot and there deposited, but no grave is made.
The Siah-posh dogs, cattle, sheep, fowls, and all their agricultural products are famous for quality, and much sought by their neighbours. Their cattle in appearance and size compare favourably with English breeds, but have large humps. The women are said to do much of the agricultural work.

On Kafirs, see Elphinstone's Caubul, ed. 1839, ii. 373 sq.; Burnes, C'abool, 1842, pp. 206 sq. and 381 sq.; Masson, Journeys, 1842, chap. xi.; Lumsden's Mission to Kandahar, Calcutta, 1860; Baverty, in Journ. As. Soc. Bengal, vols, xxviii. and xxxiii.; Bellew, " Lecture," in Journ. U. S. Inst. Ind., No. 41, Simla, 1879; J.eitner, ibid., No. 43, 1880; Biddulph, Tribes of Hindoo Koosh, Calcutta, 1880; Tanner, in Proc. Boy. Geog. Soc., May 1881; Church Missionary Intelligencer for 1865, reprinted in same for December 1878; also Church Missionary Intelligencer for September 1874; Wood's Oxus; Terentyef, Russia and England in, Central Asia, translated by Daukes, Calcutta, 1876, i. 298 sq. (this has some amount of nonsense, deducing the Kafirs from a Slav migration through Byzantium, &c); Quarterly Beview, April 1873, p. 534 sq.; Jour. Roy. As. Soc, vol. xix. p. 1 sq. (H. Y.)


The r sound does not occur; it is replaced, as in Chinese, by I.
This word Abantu is generally used by the Kaffres in speaking of themselves as the " men " in a pre-eminent sense in opposition to the Ama-hlwigi, or inferior white people. On this ground Abantu, shortened to Bantu, has been proposed by Bleek and generally adopted as the collective name of all the races and languages belonging to this great linguistic system, which reaches from four or five degrees north of the equator southwards to Cape Colony, and stretches right across the continent from the Ogoway delta to Zanzibar.
The regular plural of the inflex in is izin, as in in-hlu, house, izin-hlu, houses. But ama is extensively used instead of aba, izin, &c, in forming the plural, especially of personal nouns, nations, tribes, &c. Hence Ama-Xosa for Aba-Xosa from um-Xosa, Ama-Mpondo from u-Mpondo, Ama-Kose from in-Kose, &c. The northern and western Bantu nations preserve the aba under the forms ba, be, wa, whence Ba-suto, Be-chuana, Wa-nyamwesi, Wa-ganda, &c.

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