The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter VII

From Jatland Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Go to Index of the Book
«« Go to Chapter VI
Go to Chapter VIII »»

The full text of this book has been converted into Wiki format by Laxman Burdak
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 VII: The Yusufzai


The Yusufzai, after six years of constant warfare, drove the Dalazak across the Indus into Chach and Pakli, and thus acquired full possession of the plain country which now bears their name, and lies between the Swat cum Kabul rivers. During another succeeding period of fourteen years of constant warfare with their "infidel" kindred (called Gandhari and Hindki) and the Gujar settlers, the Yusufzai pushed their conquest into the hills on the north and north-west as far as the sources of the Panjkora and Swat rivers, and the country drained by the Barandu, which is a direct tributary of the Indus.

In this twenty years' war the Yusufzais exterminated some small sections of the natives, drove others across the Indus into Chach and Pakli in one direction, and across the Kunar river into Chitral and Katar (the present Kafiristan) in the other, and subjugating the greater number to serfdom, converted them to the Muhammadan creed, and called them Hindki in distinction to the idolatrous Hindu. These Hindki were in all probability the representatives of the remnant of the native Gandhari, who were subjugated by their Jat and other Scythic invaders in the fifth century, and the real kindred of their Afghan conquerors; a supposition which is strongly supported by language and family likeness, as well as by identity of manners and customs, and quick amalgamation.

For many years after this, the tenure of their conquest was a constant source of trouble to the Yusufzi, owing to the persistent efforts made by the expelled Dalazak to recover


their lost lands , until, finally, as the cause of tumult and dis-order, they were deported en masse by the Emperor Jehangir, and distributed over different parts of Hindustan and Dakhan (Deccan). There are still some scattered families of this people in the Peshawar, Chach, and Pakli districts, and there is said to be a colony of about four hundred families of them settled in Dholpur. In the time of their prosperity in Peshawar they were in two great factions named Gari and Gaumat; but these are not now known, though the terms point to a division of the people as to creed-profession of Zoroastrianism and Brahmanism.

The Yusufzai accounts of this conquest are interspersed with many amusing incidents, and the record of some remaikable feats of bravery, together with descriptions of their arms and military engines, for, at that time, fire-arms were unknown to them. Amongst the list of their heroic exploits, it is related how one of their young warriors leapt his horse across the Gadhar rivulet, at a point where it flowed mid-plain between steeply scarped banks, and, putting to flight hundreds of the Infidel crew, slew their champion who stood to fight. And, it is added, when the victor cut off his adversary's head "as much beer flowed from the cursed pagan's throat as blood"

The ruse by which the Yusufzai gained possession of Swat is graphically described by their historian and high priest, the Akhund Darweza Baba, in his Tathkira or " Memoirs." He relates how the Yusufzai sent their women and drummers with standards and tents to the foot of the easy Malakand pass to make demonstrations of forcing it, whilst their warriors entered the valley by the difficult and undefended one of Skakot. The Swatis, finding the enemy in the heart of their country, fled in all directions to the fastnesses of their mountains, and from those inaccessible retreats, for twelve years, maintained an obstinate guerrilla warfare ; till, finally, the calamity of a dreadful famine drove them to submission, after they had for a considerable time subsisted on the corpses of


their own dead. With the subjection of this people the two great divisions of the Yusufzai separated Mandar holding the plain country, and Mali the mountains. The natives who remained, meanwhile, became converted to Islam, lost their identity of race, and were called Swati. It was not so, however, with those of them who fled the country, for though they also subsequently became Musalmans they retained their original tribal names, as will be presently mentioned.

Whilst the Yusufzai were carrying on the war on the plain country before defined, their kinsmen and allies, the Mahmand, were prosecuting their conquest with equal success in the hill country between the Kabul and Swat rivers in the the Gandhar. They crossed the former river at Dhaka, and in the first instance established themselves in the Goshta district. Here they were soon attacked by a people called Gandhari (Gandharai in the singular) from the lulls to the eastward. The contest thus begun proved fierce and prolonged, till at last the Mahmand, favoured by the operations of the Yusufzai in the plains on the Peshawar side, forced their way into the heart of the country to Gandhar, its principal town. The name still exists as that of a considerable village or township, as well as of the district in which it stands, and the original inhabitants are still called Gandhari in distinction to the Mahmand conquerors.

From this central seat of the natives the conquerors descended into the plain, in the angle between the junction of the Swat and Kabul rivers. Subsequently they crossed the latter river, and established themselves along the hill skirts up to the Bara river, in front of the Afridi hills. In their victorious war with the natives the Mahmand appear to have acted with such fierce barbarity that the majority fled the country, and, crossing the Kunar river, found refuge and escape, among an apparently kindred people, in the fastnesses of Kama and Katar (Kafiristan), and in the valleys opening from them upon the Kabul liver as far west as Tagao,


For some considerable period these fugitive Gandhari retained their original religion and customs, and were styled by the Muhammadans Kafir or "Infidel" Gradually, how-ever, as Islam made its slow and steady progress among the neighbouring pagan peoples, they, or at least a large proportion of them who were in direct territorial contact with Musalmans, accepted the Muhammadan creed, first passing through the intermediate stage of Nimcha, or "Half-and- Half," that is, half Kafir and half Musalman ; for owing to their position between and dealings with the Musalmans on one side, and the Kafir on the other, they were Kafir to the Kafir, and Musalman with the Musalman ; and this was owing to the jealousy of each for his own religion. As Islam secured its foothold, the Nimcha became strong enough to become the full Musalman without the fear of vengeance from the Pagan. So long as they remained Nimcha or Kafir, they were simply known by those terms, but when they became Musalman, they were distinguished by the original patronymics of the race. Thus, whilst the fugitive Gandhari, who still remain pagans, are known only as Kafir, distinguished sometimes by the names of the localities they inhabit (such as, the Kafir Kamoji in Kama, Katari or Katori in Katar or Kator), those who have become Musalmans are distinguished by their original tribal names. Thus the converted Gandhari are now divided into two great sections, named Safi and Gandhari. Together they number about twelve thousand families, who are scattered about in small parties all over the country from Swat and Bajawar to Lughman and Tagao. In most places they occupy a Dependant or servile position, and are counted faithful servants and good soldiers. Being recent converts, they are extremely bigoted and fanatical, and furnish many aspirants to the Muhammadan priesthood, in the ranks of which some of them have risen to the dignity of saints. The late celebrated Akhund of Swat Saint and King combined was a Gandharai, though he was generally


called a Safai, because the latter name is commonly used by strangers as that of the two divisions of the people, just as the name Yusufzai is commonly used for Yusuf or Mandai, and Mali the two great divisions of the people. The now famous Mulla Mushki Alam priest and saint of Ghazni who has made himself so prominent a champion of the Faith against us in the Kabul campaign, is said to be an Akhundzada originally of the Safi tribe, though now he is reckoned a Ghilzai of the Andar section, owing to his family having been settled amongst them for three or four generations.

It is curious to note the character of the warfare by which these returned Gandhari recovered possession of their fatherland from their unrecognized kindred, who, retaining still their ancient creed and customs, were to them merely cursed infidels, and fair prey to the sword of Islam.

No less interesting is it to compare the aspect and condition of the country at the time of this conquest, with its flourishing state at the time of the first Muhammadan invasion, and that of its present prosperity under British rule.

It is a remarkable circumstance in the history of the march of these two Afghan tribes that they were nowhere seriously opposed on the road, and even traversed the now historic Khybar Pass without coming into collision with its Afridi possessors, who were yet infidels, as is proved clearly by a very important piece of evidence, which will be mentioned in its proper place. The Yusufzais probably compounded for a passage with the descendants of the neighbours of their own ancestors, and for a while remained stationary on the waste lands skirting the Khybar hills. Here quarrels ensued with the possessors of the country in respect to the use of its pastures and water channels, and the Yusufzais, discovering their strength, soon took the offensive and forced their opponents to give way. It would appear that though the bulk of the natives were infidels, the provincial and district rulers were Musalman, and it is probable that it was owing to the


support and countenance of these officials, that their invading co-religiopists were enabled to carry their aggressive proceedings to a successful issue.

Be this as it may, the Yusufzais, in the course of twenty years' warfare, completely conquered the country which now bears their name. And they found the country eminently adapted to then mode of warfare, moving as they did with their families and flocks, and possessing themselves of the pasture lands and townships as they advanced bit by bit.

The country was no longer the civilized, well regulated, populous, and highly prosperous kingdom that it was in the glorious era of the Buddhist rule. The numerous ruins of its for mercities and ecclesiastical towns, its monasteries and topes, which cover the country by the score, are the mute and desolate witnesses of its former prosperity and populousness, of the industry of its people, and their civilized and peaceable mode of life. The excavations which have been made during recent years in the ruins of "Takht da Bahai" the Pushtu for "Takhti Vihar" of the Persian, or in our language the "Monastery ridge" have revealed much that is of historical and archaeological interest, especially in the skill of the architect, and the delicacy and art of the sculptor, and the mode of domestic life of the inhabitants of the country in the years of its prosperity from the second century before our era to the tenth or eleventh after it Whilst the excavations 111 the ruins of Sawaldher, Shahri Bahlol, and Jamalgarhi have increased our knowledge, and contained the opinion that the Indian sculptors were originally instructed by Greek masters, not a tithe, however, of the ruins of the country have been as yet touched. Swat, Bajawar, and Buner, beyond the border, teem with these silent relics of the past, and the ruins of Nawagram, Khaiki, Paja, and many others, all within our bolder, wait to tell their tale so soon as any one will examine them.

It is the number of these monuments of past ages which


serve to guide us in our estimate of the former prosperity and fulness of life of the country in which they are found. That prosperity has passed away with the advent of Islam with its blighting and destructive influences, its bigoted and intolerant law, and its stagnant or retrograde rule.

During the closing years of the tenth and early years of the succeeding century of our era, Mahmud, the first Sultan and Musalman of the Turk dynasty of kings who ruled at Ghazni, made a succession of inroads, twelve or fourteen in number, into Gandhar the present Peshawar valley in the course of his proselytizing invasions of Hindustan. He was a fierce bigot and arch destroyer. File and sword, havoc and destruction, marked his course everywhere. Gandhar, which was styled the " Garden of the North," was left at his death a weird and desolate waste. Its rich fields and fruitful gardens, together with the canal which watered them (the course of which is still partially traceable in the western part of the plain), had all disappeared. Its numerous stone- built cities, monasteries, and topes, with their valuable and revered monuments and sculptures, were sacked, fired, razed to the ground, and utterly destroyed as habitations.

Left in this state of devastation and depopulation, the country soon grew into a wilderness, the haunt of wild beasts, and the refuge of robbers. The fugitive inhabitants, returning in small numbers to their destroyed homes, gradually re- peopled the country and reclaimed bits of the waste. But their numbers were greatly reduced, and the impression they made upon the desolation worked by their Muhammadan enemies was hardly perceptible, owing to the distances at which their restored villages were scattered. The country was over- grown with jungle, and overrun with wild beasts. The wolf, leopard, and tiger hunted the herds of antelope which had made their home in the wilderness, and the rhinoceros wallowed in the marshes that covered the hill skirt to the north and terminated in a small lake not far from the Indus at Topi.


Such was the state of the country when the Yusufzais during the rule at Kabul of Mirza Ulugh Beg about the middle of the fifteenth century entered upon its conquest. They seem to have reclaimed much of the waste, and, abandoning their nomadic life, to have quickly settled down in village communities as agriculturalists. The change in their mode of life and the cessation of wars had the natural effect of greatly increasing their numbers, and multiplying their wealth in cattle and flocks. So much so that, in the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Emperor Babur passed through their country on his way to Delhi, they were considered at important and powerful people. Babur considered their chief of sufficient rank to enter into alliance with him, to many his daughter, and to take a contingent of twelve thousand of his tribesmen as an addition to his army. The Emperor in his quaint and valuable memoirs records some interesting incidents of his progress through the Peshawar valley, and among them mentions having hunted the rhiuoceros at the mouth of the Khybar and in the Razar marsh before alluded to, and also the tiger- at what is now the Attock ferry across the Indus. Both the tiger and the rhinoceros have long since disappeared from this counriy. But it would appear that the latter was in former centuries a very common animal in the Razar marshes, for an adjacent pass and valley bear the name of Ambela (the scene of the campaigns of that name in 1863-64 against the Wahabi fanatics), which is the antique Persian word for rhinoceros.

Jumping to conclusions from mere names, however, is not a safe course, but in this instance the corroborating circumstances favour the notion that the localities derived their names from the animals which are known; to have haunted then. As an instance of the danger of drawing conclusions from mere names, it may be here stated that the Yusufzais reckon them-selves true Afghans and call themselves Bani Israil. Their name means st descendants of Joseph and their country


abounds with Israelitish names such as are found in the Scriptures. In fact, by the hasty enquirer, their claims would be at once admitted, and their country be eonsidered a second Palestine , for in support of the belief there is the hill Peoi (Pehor), the mount Moriah (Morah), the peaks of Ilam and Dumah, the valley of Sodom (Sudhum), the stream of the Gadarenes (Gadhar), the plain of Galilee (Jalala), &c , for places; whilst for tribes there are the Amazites (Amazai), the Moabites (Muhibwal), the Hittites (Hotiwal), &c.

After this it appears the Yusufzais increased considerably in population, and brought wide tracts of the wilderness under cultivation, but still not to such an extent as to effect any marked change in. the general desolate aspect of the country. This was partly owing to their village feuds and fights for the fair division of the pasture lands, and partly to their wars with another people, who, like themselves, had recently emigrated from their native country further west, and settled in the territory adjoining that of the Yusufzais, but on the south side of the Kabul river. The name of this tribe was Khattak, and though they were Pukhtana, or Pathan, they were not Afghan. They will be treated of separately later on. Here it may be stated that in their contests with the Yusufzai they were by no means unsuccessful, for they managed to possess themselves of two most important strategic positions in the Yusufzai country, winch they hold to the present day. In order to put a stop to the cattle-lifting forays of the Yusufzais, from which it appears they suffered great loss, they crossed the Kabul river, and possessed them-selves of the belt of land on its north bank from the point of junction of the Swat with the Kabul river to that of the latter with the Indus at Attock. But this position, did not protect them from the constant forays of the Yusufzais, especially of their raiding parties from Swat and Buner. The Khattaks were consequently forced to adopt measures to protect themselves from this source of annoyance and danger. They pushed a military colony straight across the plain, and taking


up a position which commanded the approach to Swat on one side, and to Buner on the other, these firmly established themselves. This spot is now called Jamalgarhi, and lies at the base of the Pajah hill. It is still in the possession of the descendants of the original colonists.

We need not here follow the history of the Yusufzais during the reigns of the successive Mughal Emperors, nor need we waste time in the relation of their home feuds and wars, nor of their stubborn opposition to the conquering Sikhs. It will be enough for our purpose to close this account of them by a brief notice of their present condition. The arid wastes and the turbulent people we took over from the Sikhs on the conquest of the Panjab in 1849, are now, after a brief thirty years of British rule, no longer the same, either in the aspect of the country or in the condition of the people. The wide plain which was formerly traversed by uncertain tracks is now crossed in all directions by good roads. The cattle-guards, armed to the teeth with an odd variety of weapons, who used formerly to take post on the numerous mounds of the ancient Buddhist topes and tumuli, and from their tops scan the wide expanse on all sides against the raider and robber, are now no longer known, and their place is taken by boys whose only weapon is a club or an ox-goad. The plain which was formerly mostly wilderness and uninhabited, is now dotted over with prosperous village communities, and cultivation has spread to such an extent that the cattle are hard put to for pasture in some localities. Lastly, the fanatic and turbulent Yusufzai of thirty years ago, though still fanatical, is a very altered man from his unreclaimed and independent brother in the hill parts of the country. He is now by no means the restless and troublesome fellow he was in his poverty and ignorance of only twelve or fifteen years ago. He is now- grown wealthy, luxurious, and as loyal to the British Government, under whose beneficent rule he has acquired these personal advantages, and blessings, as any other people in India.

End of Chapter VII
«« Go to Chapter VI
Go to Chapter VIII »»

Back to Index of the Book