1902 Encyclopedia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan - Inhabitants. Afghan Tribes. Afghan Clans.

(Part 14)

(14) Afghanistan - Inhabitants. Afghan Tribes. Afghan Clans.

INHABITANTS OF AFGHANISTAN. – These may first be divided into Afghan and non-Afghan, of whom the Afghan people are predominant in numbers, power, and character.

The Afghan themselves do not recognize as entitled to that name all to whom we give it. According to Bellew they exclude certain large tribes, who seem, nevertheless, to be essentially of the same stock, speaking the same language, observing the same customs, and possessing the same moral and physical characteristics. These are recognized as Pathans, but not as Afghans, and are all located in the vicinity of the Sulimani mountains and their offshoots towards the east. We do not attempt to name them, because the information on the subject seems contradictory. There are tribes of somewhat similar character elsewhere, such as the Wardaks, to the south of Kabul; and there are again some tribes, in contact with these and with Afghan tribes, who speak the Afghan language, and have many Afghan customs, but are different in aspect and seem not to be regarded as Pathan at all. Such are the Turis and Jajis of Kurram.

Of the Afghans proper there are about a dozen great clans, with numerous subdivisions. Of the great clans the following are the most important: -

Durranis, originally called Abdalis, received the former name from a famous clansman, Ahmed Shah. Their country may be regarded as the whole of the south and south-west of the Afghan plateau.

Ghilzais are the strongest of the Afghan clans, and perhaps the bravest. They were supreme in Afghanistan in the beginning of last century, and for a time possessed the throne if Ispahan. They occupy the high plateau north of Kandahar, and extend, roughly speaking, eastward to the Sulimani mountains, and north to the Kabul river (though in places passing these limits), and they extend down the Kabul river to Jalalabad. On the British invasion the Ghilzais showed a rooted hostility to the foreigner, and great fidelity to Dost Mahommed, though of a rival clan. It is remarkable that the old Arab geographers of the 10th and 11th centuries place in the Ghilzai country a people called Khilijis, whom they call a tribe of Turks, to which belonged a famous family of Delhi kings. The probability of the identity of Khilijis and Ghilzais is obvious, and the question touches others regarding the origin of the Afghans, but it does not seem to have been gone into.

Yusufzais occupy an extensive tract of hills and valleys north of Peshawar, including part of the Peshawar plain. Except those within our Peshawar district, they are independent; they are noted even among Afghans for their turbulence.

Kakars, still retaining in great measure their independence, occupy a wide extent of elevated country in the south-east of Afghanistan, among the spurs of the Toba and Sulimani mountains, bordering on the Biluch tribes. But the region is still very imperfectly known.

Of the non-Afghan population associated with the Afghans, the
Tajiks come first in importance and numbers. They are intermingled with the Afghans over the country, though their chief localities are in the west. They are regarded as descendants of the original occupants of that part of the country, of the old Iranian race; they call themselves Parsiwan, and speak a dialect of Persian. They are a fine athletic people, generally fair in complexion, and assimilate in aspect, in dress and much in manners to the Afghans. But they are never nomadic. They are mostly agriculturists, whilst those in towns follow mechanical trades and the like, a thing which the Afghan never does. They are generally devoid of the turbulence of the Afghans, whom they are content to regard as masters or superiors, and lead a frugal, industrious life, without aspiring to a share in the government of the country. Many, however, become soldiers in the Amir’s army, and many enlist in our local Panjab regiments. They are zealous Sunnis. The Tajiks of the daman-I-Koh of Kabul are said to be exceptional in turbulent and vindictive character.

Kizilbashes may be regarded as modern Persians, but more strictly they are Persianised Turks, like the present royal race and predominant class in Persia. They speak pure Persian. Their immigration dates only from the time of Nadir Shah (1737). They are chiefly to be found in towns as merchants, physicians, scribes, petty traders, &c., and are justly looked on as the more educated and superior class of the population. At Kabul they constitute the bulk of the Amir’s cavalry and artillery. Many serve in our Indian regiments of irregular cavalry, and bear a character for smartness and intelligence, as well as good riding. They are Shiahs, and heretics in Afghan eyes.

It is to the industry of the
Parsiwans and Kizilbashes that the country is indebted for whatever wealth it possesses, but few of them ever attain a position which is not in some degree subservient to the Afghan.

Hazaras have their stronghold and proper home in the wild mountainous country on the north-west of Afghanistan proper, including those western extensions of Hindu Kush, to which modern geographers have often applied the ancient name of Paropamisus. In these their habitations range generally from a height of 5000 feet to 10,000 feet above the sea.

The Hazaras generally have features of Mongol type, often to a degree that we might call exaggerated, and there can be no doubt that they are mainly descended from fragments of Mongol tribes who came from the east with the armies of Chinghiz Khan and his family, though other races may be represented among the tribes called Hazaras. The Hazaras generally are said by Major Leech to be called Moghals by the Ghilzais; and one tribe, still bearing the specific name of Mongol, and speaking a Mongol dialect, is found near the head waters of the Murghab, and also further south on the skirts of the Ghur mountains. But it is remarkable that the Hazaras generally speak a purely Persian dialect. The Mongols of the host of Chinghiz were divided into tomans (ten thousands) and hazaras (thousands), and it is probably in this use of the word that the origin of its present application is to be sought. The oldest occurrence of this application that M. de Khanikoff has met with is in a rescript of Ghazan Khan of Persia, regarding the security of roads in Khorasan, dated A.H. 694 (A.D. 1294-95).

Though the Hazaras pay tribute to the Afghan chiefs, they never do so unless payment is enforced by arms. The country which they occupy is very extensive, embracing the upper valleys of the Afghand-ab and the Helmand, both sides of the main range of Hindu Kush, nearly as far east as the longitude of Andarab, the hill country of Bamian, and that at the head waters of the Balkh river, the Murghab, and the hari-Rud; altogether an area of something like 30,000 square miles. The Hazaras are accused of very loose domestic morals, like the ancient Massagetoe, and the charge seems to be credited, at least of certain tribes. They make good powder, are good shots, and, in spite of the nature of their country, are good riders, riding at speed down very steep declivities. They are said to have a yodel like the Swiss. They are often sold as slaves, and as such are prized. During the winter many spread over Afghanistan, and even into the Panjab, in search of work. Excepting near Ghazni, where they hold some lands and villages, the position of the Hazaras found in the proper Afghan country is a menial one. They are Shiahs in religion, with the exception of one fine tribe called the Zeidnat Hazaras, occupying the old territory of Badghis, north of Herat.

Eima is a term for a sept or section of a tribe. It has come to be applied, much as hazara, to certain nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes west of the Hazaras of whom we have been speaking, and immediately north of Herat. These tribes, it is said, were originally termed "the four Eimaks." It is difficult in the present state of information regarding them, sometimes contradictory, to discern what is the broad distinction between the Eimaks and the Hazaras, unless it be that the Eimaks are predominatly of Iranian or quasi-Iranian blood, the Hazaras Turanian. The Eimaks are also Sunnis. Part of them are subject to Persia.

Hindkis. – This is the name given to people of Hindu descent scattered over Afghanistan. They are said to be of the Kshairi or military caste. They are occupied in trade; they are found in most of the large villages, and in the town form an important part of the population, doing all the banking business of the country, and holding its chief trade in their hands. They pay a high poll-tax, and are denied many privileges, but thrive notwithstanding. The Jats of Afghantistan doubtless belong to the same vast race as the Jats and Jats who form so large a part of the population of the territories now governed from Lahore and Karachi, and whose origin is so obscure. They are a fine athletic, dark, handsome race, considerable in numbers, but poor, and usually gaining a livelihood as farm-servants, barbers, sweepers, musicians, &c.

Biluchis. – Many of these squat among the abandoned tracts on the lower Helmand; a fierce and savage people, professing Islam, but not observing its precepts, and holding the grossest superstitions; vendetta their most stringent law; insensible to privation, and singularly tolerant of heat; camel-like in capacity to do without drink; superior to the Afghans in daring and address, which are displayed in robber raids carried into the very heart of Persia.

There remain a variety of tribes in the hill country north of the Kabul river, speaking various languages, seemingly of Prakritic character, and known as Kohistanis, Laghmanis, Pashais, &c.; apparently converted remnants of the aboriginal tribes of the Kabul basin, and more or less kindred to the still unconverted tribes of Kafiristan, to the Chitral people, and perhaps to the Dard tribes who lie to the north of the Afghan country on the Indus.

An able officer of the staff in India (Col. Macgregor) has lately made a diligent attempt to estimate the population of Afghanistan, which he brings to 4,901,000 souls. This includes the estimated population of Afghan Turkestan, the people of Chitral, the kafirs, and the independent Yusufzais. We shall deduct the three first: -

Afghan Turkestan 642,000
Chitralis and Kafirs 150,000

which may be thus roughly divided –

Eimaks and Hazaras 400,000
Tajiks 500,000
Kizilbashes 150,000
Hindkis and Jats 500,000
Kohisytanis, &c. 200,000
Afghans and Pathans, including 400,000in
Dependent Yusufzais, &c. 2,359,000
Total 4,109,000

The Afghans, in government and general manners, have a likeness to other Mahommedan nations; but they have also many peculiarities.

Besides their division into clans and tribes, the whole Afghan people may be divided into dwellers in tents and dwellers in houses; and this division is apparently not coincident with tribal divisions, for of several of the great clans, at least a part is nomad and a part settled. Such, e.g., is the case with the Durrani and with Ghilzai.

Nomad Afghans exist in the Kabul basin, but their proper fields is that part of their territory which the Afghans include in Khorasan, with its wide plains. These people subsist on the produce of their flocks, and rarely cultivate. They may, perhaps, pay something to the Kabul government through their chief, and they contribute soldiers to the regular army, besides forming the bulk of the militia; but they have little relation to the government, and seldom enter towns unless to sell their produce. They are under some indefinite control by their chiefs, to whom serious disputes are referred. Petty matters are settled by the "graybeards" of the community, guided by the Afghan traditional code. Many of the nomad tribes are professed and incorrigible thieves. Among certain tribes the ceremony of naming a male child is accompanied by the symbolical act of passing him through a hole made in the wall of a house, whilst a volley of musketry is fired overhead.

The settled Afghans form the village communities, and in part the population of the few towns. Their chief occupation is with the soil. They form the core of the nation and the main part of the army. Nearly all own the land on which they live, and which they cultivate with their own hands or by hired labour. Roundly speaking. Agriculture and soldiering are their sole occupations. No Afghan will pursue a handicraft or keep a shop, though, as we have seen, certain pastoral tribes engage largely in traveling trade and transport of goods.

As a race, the Afghans are very handsome and athletic, often with fair complexion and flowing beard, generally black or brown, sometimes, though rarely, red; the features highly aquiline. The hair is shaved off from the forehead to the top of the head, the remainder at the sides being allowed to fall in large curls over the shoulders. Their step is full of resolution; their bearing proud and apt to be rough.

The women have handsome features of Jewish cast (the last trait often true also of the men); fair complexions sometimes rosy, though usually a pale sallow; hair braided and plaited behind in two long tresses terminating in silker tassels. They are rigidly secluded, but intrigue is frequent. In some parts of the country the engaged lover is admitted to visits of courtship, analogous to old Welsh customs.

The Afghans, inured to bloodshed from childhood, are familiar with death, and are audacious in attack, but easily discouraged by failure; excessively turbulent and unsubmissive to law or discipline; apparently frank and affable in manner, especially when they hope to gain some object, but capable of the grossest brutality when that hope ceases. They are unscrupulous in perjury, treacherous, vain, and insatiable, passionate in vindictiveness, which they will satisfy at the cost of their own lives and in the most cruel manner. Nowhere is crime committed on such trifling grounds, or with such general impunity, though when it is punished the punishment is atrocious. Among themselves the Afghans are quarrelsome, intriguing, and distrustful; estrangements and affrays are of constant occurrence; the traveler conceals and misrepresents the time and direction of his journey. The Afghan is by breed and nature a bird of prey. If from habit and tradition he respects a stranger within his threshold, he yet considers it legitimate to warn a neighbour of the prey that is afoot, or even to overtaken and plunder his guest after he has quitted his roof. The repression of crime and the demandof taxation he regards alike as tyranny. The Afghans are eternally boasting of their lineage, their independence, and their prowess. They look on the Afghans as the first of nations, and each man looks on himself as the equal of any Afghan, if not as the superior of all others. Yet when they hear of some atrocious deed they will exclaim – "An Afghan job that!" They are capable of enduring great privation, but when abundance comes their powers of eating astonish an European. Still, sobriety and hardiness characterize the bulk of the people, though the higher classes are too often stained with deep and degrading debauchery.

The first impression made by the Afghans is favourable. The European, especially if he come from India, is charmed by their apparently frank, open-hearted, hospital, and manly manners; but the charm is not of long duration, and he finds that under this frank demeanour there is craft as inverterate, if not as accomplished, as in any Hindu.

Such is the character of the Afghans as drawn by Ferrier and other recent writers, and undoubtedly founded on their experience, though perhaps the dark colour is laid on too universally. The impression is very different from that left by the accounts of Elphinstone and Burnes. Yet most of the individual features can be traced in elphinstone though drawn certainly under less temptation to look of the darker side, owing to the favourable circumstances of his intercourse with the Afghans, and touched with a more delicate and friendly hand, perhaps lightened by wider sympathies. Sir H. Edwardes, who had intimate dealing with the Afghans for many years, takes special exception to Elphinstone’s high estimate of their character, and appeals to the experience of every officers who had serve in the country. "Nothing," he sums up, "is finer than their physique, or worse than their morale."

Many things in Afghan character point to a nation in decadence – the frank manners and joyous temper, the hospitable traditions, the martial and independent spirit the love of field sports, the nobility of aspect, suggest Time when these were more than superficial and deceptive indications of character, and were not marred by greed and treacherous cruelty.

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Afghanistan - Table of Contents

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