1902 Encyclopedia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan - Political Institutions

(Part 15)

(15) Afghanistan - Political Institutions

POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS. – The political institutions of the Afghans present the rude and disjointed materials of a free constitution. The nation is theoretically divided into four great stocks, supposed to spring from four brothers. But these four divisions are practically obsolete, and only come up in genealogies. Each tribe has split into several branches, and in the more numerous and scattered tribes these branches have separated, and each has its own chief. They retain, however, the common name, and an idea of community in blood and interests.

The type of the Afghan institutions is perhaps best seen in some of the independent tribes near the British frontier. These cling most closely to the democratic traditions. Their rude state of society is held together by a code as rude, which is acknowledged, however, and understood by every one, and enforced by the community, every member of which considers its infringement as an act committed against his own privileges. The Maliks or chiefs are the representatives of the tribe, division, or family to which they each belong, but they possess no independent power of action, and before they can speak in council, they must have collected the wishes of the bodies which they represent.

The men of the section (kandi) of a village, having come to a decision, send their representative to a council of the whole village, and these again to that of the sept (khail), and the appointed chiefs of the septs finally assemble as the council of the illus or tribe. These meetings, in all their stages, are apt to be stormy. If persuasion and argument fail to produce unanimity, no further steps can be taken, unless one party be much the weaker, when sometimes the stronger side will forcibly extort assent. When once a council has decided, implicit compliance is incumbent on council has decided, implicit compliance is incumbent on the tribe under heavy penalties, and the maliks have the power of enforcing these.

Justice is administered in the towns, more or less defectively, according to Mahommedan law, by a kazi and muftis. But the unwritten code by which Afghan communities in their typical state are guided, and the maxims of which penetrate the whole nation, is the Pukhtuwali, or usage of the Pathans, a rude system of customary law, founded on principles such as one might suppose to have prevailed before the institution of civil government.

A prominent law in this code is that called Nanawatai, or "entering in." By this law the Pathan is bound to grant any boon claimed by the person who passes his threshold and invokes its sanctions, even at the sacrifice of his own life and property. So also the Pathan is bound to feed and shelter any traveler claiming hospitality. Retaliation must be exacted by the Pathan for every injury or insult, and for the life of a kinsman. If immediate opportunity fail, a man will dodge his foe years, with the cruel purpose ever uppermost, using every treacherous artifice to entrap him. To omit such obligations, above all the vendetta, exposes the Pathan to scorn. The injuries of one generation may be avenged in the next, or even by remoter posterity. The relatives of a murdered man may, however, before the tribal council, accept a blood-price.

Crimes punished by the Pathan code are such as murder without cause, refusal to go the battle, contravention of the decision of a tribal council, adultery.

The Afghans are Mahommedans of the Sunni or orthodox body, with the exception of a few perhaps not truly Pathan, who are Shiahs. They are much under the influence of their Mullahs, especially for evil; and have a stronger feeling against the Shiah heretic than against the unbeliever; their aversion to the Persians being aggravated thereby. But to those of another faith they are more tolerant than most Mahommedans, unless when creed becomes a war—cry. They are very superstitious in regard to charms, omens, astrology, and so forth; and greatly addicted to the worship of local saints, whose shrine (ziyarat) are found on every hill-top. The shrine, a domed tomb, or mayhap a heap of stones within a wall, sometimes marks the saint’s grave, but is often a cenotaph. The saint may have been unknown in life for his virtues, but becomes after death an object of veneration, for reasons often hard to discern. In the immediate environs of Ghazni there are no less than 197 of these shrines.

A very marked feature in Afghan character is the passionate love of field sports, especially hawking. Deerstalking in the open plains, the driving of game to well-known points by a host of beaters, and will-fowls shooting with decoys, are others of their sports. They are capital horsemen, and unerring marksmen with the native rifle (jezail).

Among themselves the people are convivial and humorous. Festive gatherings are frequent, where they come together, not to buy or sell, or even to quarrel, but to make a noise and be happy. Titling, shooting, racing, and wild music vary the amusements.

They have a wild dance called the atan, in which the men work themselves into great excitement. Among some Kakar tribes it is said the atan is sometimes danced by both sexes together.

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Afghanistan - Table of Contents

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