The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter II

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The Races of Afghanistan

Being a brief account of the principal nations inhabiting that country.

By: H. W. Bellew, C.S.I.

Publisher: Thacker Spink And Co. Calcutta.1880.
Chapter II: The Afghan


The traditions of this people refer them to Syria as the country of their residence at the time they were carried away into captivity by Bukhtunasar (Nebuchadnezzai), and planted as colonists in dificieut parts of Persia and Media. From these positions they, at some subsequent period, emigrated eastward into the mountainous country of Ghor, where they were called by the neighbouring peoples "Bani Afghan" and "Bani Israil," or children of Afghan and children of Israel. In corroboration of this we have the testimony of the prophet Esdias to the effect that the ten tribes of Israel, who were earned into captivity, subsequently escaped and found refuge in the country of Aisareth, which is supposed to be identical with the Hazarah country of the present day, and of which Ghor forms a part. It is also stated in the Tabacati Nasuri a historical work which contains, among other information, a detailed account of the conquest of this country by Changhiz Khan that in the time of the native Shansabi dynasty there was a people called Bani Israil living in that country, and that some of them were extensively engaged in trade with the countries around.

This people was settled in the Ghor country, to the east of Herat, at the time that Muhammad announced his mission as the Prophet of God about 622 A.D. And it was there that Khalid-bin-Walid, a chief of the Curesh tribe of Arabs, came to them with the tidings of the new faith, and an invitation to join the Prophet's standard. The errand of this Arab apostle would apparently support the view held


by some that the Afghan people were originally of an Arab tribe, and had linked their fortunes with the Isiaelites in Syria, and shared the lot of the ten tribes which were carried away into captivity. Be this as it may, the mission of Khalid was not without success, for he retained to the Piophet, accompanied by a deputation of six or seven representative men of the Afghan people and their followers amounting in all to seventy-six persons. The chief or leader Of this pary was named Kais or Kish.

The traditions of the people go on to the effect that this Kais and his companions fought so well and successfully in the cause of the Prophet, that Muhammad, on dismissing them to their homes, presented them with handsome gifts, complimented them on their bravery, and giving them his Blessing foretold a glorious career for their nation, and promised that the title of Malik (or king) should distinguish their chiefs for ever. (The term "Malik," it may be here noted, is apparently peculiar to the Afghan nationality. At the present day it is the title of the lowest grade of nobility among the Afghan, the Pathan, and the Ghilzai, that is to say, the Pukhto-speaking races. Among the Persian-speaking races, the corresponding term is " Kalantar " among the Tajik, and " Mihtar" among the Hazarah, and Acsacal among the Turk tribes of Balkh. In each case the term signifies "chief" or "elder.") At the same time the Prophet, as a mark of special favour and distinction, was pleased to change the Hebrew name of Kais to the Arab one of Abdur Rashid- " the servant of the true guide " and, exhorting him to strive in the conversion of his people, conferred on him the title of "Pahtan," a term which the Afghan book-makers explain to be a Syrian word signifying the rudder of a ship, as the new proselyte was henceforth to be the guide of his people in the way they should go.

For centuries after this period the history of the Afghans as a distinct people is involved in much obscurity, and it


would seem that it was only some three or four hundred years ago that their priests began concocting genealogies and histories to give form and cohesion to the very mixed nationality which had at about that time grown into existence as a result of the political convulsions and dynastic revolutions, which during preceding centuries had jumbled up together within the area of the country now known as Afghanistan a variety of different races, some of which were original or early occupants, and others new-comers.

At what period the Afghans of Ghor moved forward and settled in the Kandahar country, which is now their home, is not known. It appeals, however, from the writings of the early Muhammadau historians, that in the first century of their era the seventh-eighth of ours the province of Sistan was occupied by an Indian people. At that time the territorial extent of Sistan was very much wider than the restricted little province of the present day. At that time Sistan, or Sajistan as it is written in native books, comprised all the country from the head waters of the Tarnak and Arghasan rivers and the Toba range of hills on the east, to the Nih Bandan range of hills and Dashti Naummed Desert of Despair on the west ; from the valleys of the Helmand and Arghandab rivers on the north, to the Khoja Amran range and the Balochistan desert on the south. It comprised, in fact, the Drangiana and Arachasia of the Greek writers. The former was afterwards called Sijistan after the Saka Scythians, who occupied it about the first century of our era, and the latter was called Gandhar after the Indian Gandhara, who, it seems, overpowered a kindred people in prior possession some time after the Greek conquest.

Who the Indian people occupying this country at the time of this Arab invasion were will be mentioned presently, but it seems clear they were not the only inhabitants thereof, but shared it with the native Persian and other immigrant tribes of Scythic origin. For the province itself derived its name


of Sakistan, Sagistan, Sajistan, Sistan from the Saka, -who were probably the same people as the Saka Hamuvarga mentioned in the tables of Darius (see Rawlmson's Herodotus) "Saka dwellers on the Hamu" or Amu, which has from the earliest times been the name of the lower course of the Oxus river , the latter term being the Greek form of Wakhsh, which is the name of the Upper Oxus above the point where it is joined by the Panjah.

It is probable that, in the course of the repeated military expeditions carried by the Arabs from the side of Persia against Sind, a variety of new races were brought into the country forming the southern part of the present Afghanistan, and that extensive changes occurred in the previously existing local distribution of the inhabitants In the beginning of the tenth century of our era, the country of Zibulistan (the old name of the southern half of Afghanistan, as Kabulistan was of its northern half) was inhabited by a variety of races speaking different languages, and even at that time the Arab writers were puzzled as to their origin and identification.

This being so, we may conclude that the Afghans when they advanced into Kandahar, which they did in all probability as military colonists under the standard of the Arab Khalif, at first held their own by force of arms, but gradually being in the minority as to numbers, blended with the conquered people, and became absorbed in the general population of the country. As conquerors, however, they retaaied their own national title, which in time became that of the conquered people with whom, by intermarriage, they identified themselves. This view is supported by the evidence afforded by their genealogical tables, which, it appears, were only concocted long centuries after the Arab conquest of the country, and the conversion of its heterogeneous population to the new faith which so rapidly spread over and changed the face of Asia.


The fictions of the Afghan genealogists and historians are absurd enough, and their facts wonderfully distorted ; but for the careful enquirer they have their value as guides to a right conclusion. Thus, from the Kais above-mentioned, whose own tribe was originally but an insignificant people as to numbers and power, the Afghan genealogists derive all the Pukhto-speaking peoples of Afghanistan, partly by direct descent, and partly by adoption on account of a similarity of language and social polity.

Kais, they say, married a daughter of that Khalid-bin-Walid who brought his people the first tidings of the Prophet and his doctrine, and by her he had three sons, whom he named respectively, Saraban, Batan, and Ghurghusht. These names are of themselves very remarkable, and at once afford a clue to the composition of the nation from an ethnic point of view, as will be seen in the further course of this treatise.

The Afghans Proper the Bani Israil, as they call themselves in special distinction to all other divisions of the nation class themselves as the descendants of Saraban. through his two sons, Sharjyun and Khrishyun. From Sharjyun there sprung five clans, the principal of which is called Sheorani, From Khrishyun there sprung three clans, namely, Kand, Zamand, and Kansi. The Kand was divided into the Khakhi and Ghori, and included the Mandanr and Yusufzai clans. They are all now settled in the Peshawar valley.

The Zamand were originally settled on the lower course of the Arghasan river and in Peshin or Foshang, as it was at that time 8-9 H or 630 A.D. called. They were subsequently ousted by the Tarin tribe of Afghans, and emigrated to Multan in large numbers. But their chief clan, called Khushgi or Khushgari, emigrated by way of Ghazni and Kabul to the Ghorband and adjoining valleys of Hindu Kush, and settled there. In the time of the Emperor Babur, most of them accompanied his armies into India, and there founded a settlement at Kasur near Lahore. Some of them remained in


the Peshawar valley, where the village of Khweshgi marks their principal settlement. There are still many of the clan in Ghorband and Kohistan of Kabul, where they are now known by the name of Khushkari or Kuchkari.

The Kansi early emigrated to Hindustan and the Dakkan, and are not now known in Afghanistan, though by some the Shinwari are supposed to belong to this division.

These several tribes are divided into a number of clans and sub-tribes, the names of many of which are distinctly of Indian origin. The special Afghan tribe, however, is called Abdali, and is more commonly known since the time of Ahmad Shah the first independent sovereign of Afghanistan of this race by the name Durrani. The Durrani comprise the following chief divisions or clans, namely, Saddozai, Populzai, Barakzai, Halakozai, Achakzai, Nurzai, Ishaczai, and Khagwani. Their home and fixed seat is Kandahar province the former country of the Gandhara, who, at an early period of our era, spread into the present Hazarah country along the courses of the Helmand and Arghandab rivers. Members of each clan, however, are found in small societies scattered all over the plain country up to Kabul and Jalalabad, and they are there settled mostly as lords of the soil or military feoffees, the people of the country, so far as concerns the agricultural community, being their tenants or serfs.

The Saddozai clan furnished the first independent Shahs, or kings, of the Durrani dynasty, and the Barakzai furnished the Amirs, or dictators. The line of the Shahs was over-thrown in the third generation, after a protracted period of anarchy and contention which broke out immediately after the death of the first king and founder of the national independence. The line of the Amirs, entirely owing to the consistent support of the British Government, has reached a fourth successor in the person of the now evilly notorious Yacub Khan.

We must now return to the ancestor, among whose descend-


ants the Afghans class themselves, namely, Saraban. This name is evidently a corruption, or perhaps a natural variant form of Suryabans the solar or royal race now represented in India by the Rajput. Similarly the names of his sons Khrishyun and Sharjyun, and of his grandson Sheorani, are clearly changed forms of the common Rajput and Brahman proper names Krishan, Surjan, and Shivaram or Sheoram.

How the Afghan genealogy-mongers came to adopt the name Saraban will be understood, if we refer to the anterior history of the country in which that people settled as conquerors. It was stated in a preceding passage that, during the first century of the Muhammadan era the seventh of our own the country of Sistan, which at that time included the present province of Kandahar, was inhabited by an Indian people, whom it was the persistent effort of the Arabs to conquer and convert. And we know from the records of history that, apart from the transfer or displacement of populations consequent upon prior irruptions of Scythic hordes from the north-east, there took place about two centuries earlier, or during the fifth and beginning of the sixth of our era, a very powerful emigration of an Indian people from the western bank of the Indus to the valley of the Helmand and its tributary streams, towards a kindred people already settled there.

This emigration en masse was owing, it would appear, to the irruption into the Indus valley of the Jats, and Katti, and other Scythic tribes, who about that period poured over the Hindu Kush. The Jats and Katti the Getes and Catti of European authors are now largely represented in this seat of their early conquest in the Jat (or Gujar as he is commonly styled) agricultural population of the Panjab, and in the Katti of Katti war or Kattiyawar.

In Afghanistan the Jat is known by the name of Gujar, which is a Hindi term expressive of his calling as a rearer of cattle and a husbandman, and he is found in the greatest


numbers in the Yusufzai country, especially in the hill districts of Swat, Buner, and Bajawar.

The KATTI are not known in Afghanistan as a distinct people, though, apparently, they have left a trace of their name in the district of Kattawaz, to the south-east of Ghazni, and in certain sub-divisions of the Ghilzai tribe who bear the names Kuttakhel and Kattikhel.

This body of Indian emigrants, who migrated from the Indus to the Helmand, was composed of a people professing the Budhist religion, and who, fleeing away from the irresistible wave of Scythic invasion, abandoned their native country, and took along with them the most sacred and cherished relic of their spiritual lawgiver the water-pot of Budha. The relic, which is a huge bowl carved out of a solid block of dark green serpentine, when I saw it in 1872 and most likely it is still in the same position was lying in an obscure little Muhammadan shrine, only a few hundred paces distant from the ruins of Kuhna Shahr "old city" ancient Kandahar. The descendants of the Budhists who carried it there have long since become Musalmans, and merged their identity in the common brotherhood of Islam. The sacred relic of the faith of their ancestors, unrecognized and uncared for, is now covered with Arabic inscriptions, and lies neglected and forgotten in an obscure corner close to the spot where it was in times gone by treated with the utmost reverence and most pious care. Its history is forgotten, and, like that of the Infidels connected with it, is an utter blank to the fanatic Musalman of the present day. It is enough for the people that they enjoy the blessing of being counted among " The Faithful," and bear the glorious name of Afghan. So powerful is the effect of Islam, in effacing class distinctions and ancient memorials, to reduce all its professors to a common brotherhood in the faith.

The Indian people who emigrated from the Indus and established themselves as a powerful colony on the Helmand


were the Gandarii, and their country was the Gandaria of the Greek authors. They were the Gandhdri, and their country the Sindhu Gandhara of the Hindu writers. This people and their country will be noticed more fully hereafter, but it may be stated here that the early emigrants not only gave the name of Gandhar, or Kandhar, or Kandahar to the prime seat of their new settlement and rule, but actually, some ten centuries later, sent a powerful colony back to their primitive home. Return emigrants entirely ignorant of their mother country, and, regenerated by Islam, treating their kindred and foreigners alike, without distinction, as cursed infidels and "Hindus".

The emigration of the Yusufzai and Mahmand, with the Khakhi and Ghoryakhel Afghans from the Kandahar province to the Peshawar valley, will be described further on. Here it will suffice to indicate the reason why the Afghan genealogist took the term Saraban for the name of the ancestor of the first of the three nations originally sprung from, or referred to, their great progenitor Kais. Suryabans was the distinctive race title of the Rajput people among whom the Afghans had become absorbed, and, independently of clan divisions and sub-divisions, it was also a title held in high respect among the people of the country at that time. Further, as it included a large and important population, it was a convenient term to adopt as an ancestral title.

Its adoption, however, in no way tended to keep alive the origin or influence of the term, nor that of the people to whom the title specially applied. This, perhaps, was partly owing to the disguised form of the word, but mostly to the leveling influence of the new religion. It appears from a comparison of the national character and customs of the Rajputs of India and those of Afghanistan, as represented by the Afghan, that there is a very remarkable similarity between the two peoples. As for instance in the laws of hospitality, protection to the refugee, exaction of vengeance,


jealousy of female honour, the brother becoming by right husband of his deceased brother's widow, and others which are also ordained by the Mosaic code. As to national character, the warlike spirit and insufferance of control, addiction to vices and debauchery, instability of purpose, pride of race, jealousy of national honour and personal dignity, and spirit of domineering are pretty much alike in the two peoples now parted more by Brahmanism and Muhammadanism than by mere territorial distance. Apart from these again, there is the very striking physiognomic resemblance, which is even more pronouncedly of the Jewish type in the Rajput of India than it is in his distant kinsman the Afghan.

By Muhammadans of Asia Minor and the Western countries the Afghan is usually called Sulemani, apparently from the supposition that he dwells on the Suleman range of mountains. If so, the name is misapplied, for there are no Afghans settled on that range. It would appear more probable that the name is connected with the ancient Solymi of Syria, who are mentioned by Herodotus, and who were in olden times much mixed up with the Israelites in that country. It is not improbable that some of these Solymi were also carried into captivity along with the Israelites, and that they may have become incorporated with that people, and accompanied them in their subsequent wanderings. In this case we might suppose that some of them were among the Afghans of Ghor, and the supposition would explain the mission of Khalid-bin-Walid to these Afghans, for the Solymi were an Aiab people of the same race as Khalid. It is possible, indeed, that the Solymi of the ancients and the Afghan of the moderns, were originally one and the same people, and that the Bani Israil were merely refugees among them, for, at the time of their first settlement in Ghor, they were always spoken of separately as " Bani Afghana and "Bani Israil".

By the people of India, and of the East generally, the Afghan is more commonly known by the name Pathan, in


common with all other Pukhto-speaking peoples. Sometimes he is also called Rohilla, but this name is properly applicable only to the true Pathan, the native of Roh (the Highlands), the true Highlander, as will be explained further on under the head of Pathan. Amongst themselves, and in their own country, the Afghans rarely, if ever, call themselves by these names. They are simply Afghan or Aoghan, as it is commonly pronounced, of such or such a clan; or they are Durrani, a term which only came into use with the rise of the nation to an independent sovereignty under Ahmad Shah in 1747.

It is the name, too, by which this people is known in India as repiesenting a distinct government. The Afghans admit that they are Pukhtana the Hindustani form of which is Pathan but they are careful in insisting on the distinction between Afghan and Pathan (or Pukhtana, the word in use among themselves). In fact, as they say, every Afghan is a Pukhtun (singular of Pukhtana), but every Pukhtun, or Pathan, is not an Afghan. The distinction thus made is a very proper one, for the two peoples are of different race and origin. The Afghan is a Pathan merely because he inhabits a Pathan country, and has to a great extent mixed with its people, and adopted their language. The people of the country, on their part, have adopted the religion, and with it many of the manners and customs of the Afghans, though most tribes still retain certain ancient customs peculiar to themselves, which have survived their conversion to Islam, and serve as guides to the elucidation of their previous history. To enter upon an investigation of this subject is altogether beyond the scope of this treatise. It is one, however, of absorbing interest, and would well repay the labour of research. From what has been stated, we see that the Afghans are a distinct and peculiar people among several other peoples, who together compose the mixed population of the country which is now named after them. They call themselves "Bani Israil," and trace their descent from King Saul (Malik Talut)


in regular succession down to Kais or Kish, the great ancestor of their nation in Afghanistan.

Of their numbers at the present day it is difficult to form an estimate, though I think it probable that they do not exceed a million souls, if even they be so many. They have for many centuries enjoyed a high reputation for their martial qualities, and have been largely employed in the armies of every conqueror invading India from the north-west or west. Numerous colonies and baronies of their people are to be found scattered about in different parts of the Indian peninsula, and they at one time the thirteenth century established a dynasty of kings at Delhi. They have risen into real importance, however, only within the last century and a half or so. And this by the accident of their sudden and unexpected bound to independence and the dominant rule of their country. As a people they have always been evilly notorious for their faithlessness, lawlessness, treachery and "brutality, so much so that the saying Afghan be-iman " the Afghan is faithless" has passed into a proverb among neighbouring peoples, and, oddly enough, is acknowledged by themselves to be a true count, not only in their dealings with the stranger, but among themselves too. So far as their history as an independent and ruling people goes they have certainly not belied the character assigned to them. A darker record of misgovernment, of vice, of treachery, of savage cruelty, and of oppression, than marks the career of the independent Afghans, is hardly to be found in the annals of any other independent state of modern times, or of the same period.

Let us glance at their history from the time they first became known to the world as an independent people under a king of their own race. It is not a long period to go over - only one- hundred and thirty-two years and the review brief and hurried as it must necessarily be, will show what they have done and what they have not done for their


country and their compatriots. For most of the facts and dates brought together in the following summary account I am indebted to MacGregor's Gazetteer of Afghanistan a perfect mine of information regarding that country, its tribes, its history, its geography, &c., &c.

End of Chapter II
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