The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter VIII

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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 VIII: The Afridi


The Afridi (or Afridai in the singular) are without doubt the present representatives of the Aparytae of Herodotus, Both the names and the positions are identically the same.

The extent of the ancient country and the character of its people appear to have undergone a considerable change, but still not so great as to mar identity. The original limits of the Afridi (or Afreedee, as the name is often spelt) country, probably, comprised the whole of the Sufed Koh range and the country at the base of it on the north and south sides to the Kabul and Kurram rivers respectively whilst its extent from east to west was from the Pewar ridge, or the head waters of the Kurram further west, to the Indus; between the points of junction with it of the Kabul and Kurram rivers, in the former direction.

With the Afridi of the present day are now reckoned as kindred tribes the Orakzai and Bangash, of whose origin very little is known, though they are, perhaps, of Scythic descent, and came into their present positions with the Scythic irruption before alluded to.

By the Afghans they are classed as Turklanri, which is a division of the Ghurghusht tribe of Afghans. The Ghurghusht tribe is held to be composed of the descendants of the third son of Kais the great ancestral progenitor of the Pukhto-speaking peoples and will be again referred to hereafter.

The Turklanri people, according to the Afghan writers, include the Afridi, Orakzai, Bangash, Tori, Waziri, &c., &c,,


who are mostly settled in the northern half of the Suleman range. The word itself means " the Turk brotherhood " or "kinsfolk," just as Khorlanri means "sisterhood," or the affinity between sisters or maidens associated together ; but there seems to be some confusion in the tribes so put together, as the list includes also the Khattak and several petty Indian tribes on the north of the Kabul river, as well as the Jaji and others to the south of it, and to the west of the Khybar.

The Turklatiri are also known by the names of Kararai or Karalanri (the n is nasal) , and the story connected with their origin is to the effect that, two brothers of the Khattak tribe were on the march together when they came upon the camping ground of an army which had recently left it. The one brother who was childless, found an iron cooking-pot, called karrhai in Pukhtu, and the other, who was over blessed with children, found an infant boy amongst the refuse of the camp. The brothers exchanged their windfalls, and the boy was called in connection with the above circumstances Kararai, which afterwards, as the tribes sprung from him increased in numbers and power, was changed to Karalanri. The drift of the legend indicates the invasion of foreigners, and their settlement in the country, but the absence of dates and particulars leaves their identification altogether uncertain, especially as no locality is indicated. From the mention of the Khattak people, however, it would seem that the Turklani were composed of various sects of different Turk tribes who successively came into these parts with the invasions of Sabaktakin in the tenth, and of Tymur in the sixteenth centuries of our era. They very probably maintained their national identity till the collapse of the Chaghatai or Tymur dynasty, after which they lost power and became absorbed into the general nationality of the country. It seems certain, also, that some Turk tribes came down and settled on the Suleman range at a much earlier period than the time of Sabaktakin, for the early Arab historians mention the fact of their armies being


opposed by a Turk people in the country now held by the Kakar. This was in the first century of the Muhammadan, and eighth of our own era, and the facts alluded to may probably be relegated to the Scythic invasion already mentioned. The subject is one well deserving careful investigation.

Whatever the origin of the Orakzai and Bangash, they appear to have shifted from their first positions in this country, for the Bangash are stated to have been originally settled in Zurmal or Zurmat, next to the Katti of Kattawaz. Here they were constantly at feud with their neigh bouts, the Farmuli, as well as amongst themselves, the two great national factions of Samal and Gara being always at war. They were ousted from Zurmat, say the Afghan accounts, about five hundred years ago, by the Ghilji, and driven into Kirmam, and, finally, after a prolonged contest there with the Tori, they were forced into their present position in Miranzai and Kohdt. Many of these tribes, however, emigrated to Hindustan, where the Orakzai established a colonny at Bhopal, and the Bangash another at Farukhabad in the North-west Provinces. The family of the present Nawab of Farukhabad belongs to this tribe, as does that of the Begam of Bhopal to the Orakzai.

The Afridi country, it would thus appear, was at an early period encroached upon by a variety of petty Turk tribes, and the natives, unable to withstand them, retired to the interior of their mountains, to Tirah and Mydan, and to the fastnesses of the Khybar hills, in short, to the hilly country which extends from the main range of Sufed Koh to the Indus. The tract lying to the south of this, from Mydan in the west to the Indus at Karabagh in the east, was held mainly by Orakzai, whilst the Miranzai and Kurram valleys were held by the Bangash, A division of the ancient Afridi country, after something of this sort, held good, it appears, till about six or seven hundred years ago,


when the original inhabitants were ousted by encroaching tribes entirely foreign to the country, and of distinct race. Thus the traditions of the Toris of the Kurram valley trace their arrival in the present seat of their people from northern Sind, where they formed a powerful section of the Toghiani Turks. And the date of their conquest they carry back to some six hundred years ago. It was about this time also that the ancient neighbours of the Aparytae, being driven from their native seats, forced themselves into the Aparytae territories, and, under the name of Khattak, established them-selves in all the country from the lower Kabul river on the north to the Kurram on the south.

It would thus appear that the Afridi of to-day holds but a small portion of the territory assigned above as the possession of his ancient progenitors, the Aparytae mentioned by Herodotus. The northern base of Sufed Koh is now in the possession of several different tribes of whom the Ghilji, the Khogiani, and the Shinwari are the principal. The latter people whose proper name is Shirwani are the latest new arrivals in these parts, and are said to have come from the Persian Shirwan in the time of Nadir Shah. They have mostly lost their own language, and have adopted that and the manners and customs of the Pathans. They occupy the western end of the Khybar Pass and the adjoining valleys on the northern base of Sufed Koh. They are a fine race of people of different physique to their neighbours, and are the great carriers of this part of the country between Kabul and Peshawar. Their mules and donkeys are of superior breed and much in demand both at Kabul and Peshawar. The Shinwari is considered a good soldier and a clever robber.

The southern base of the Sufed Koh is now in the possession of the Toris, before mentioned, and the Khostwals, who appear to be an allied tribe ; whilst the whole of the Indus riverain, between the Kabul and Kurram rivers, as far west-wards as Kohat and Bahadur Khel, is held by the Khattaks.


All that now remains to the Afridi and his ancient joint partners in the territory assigned to the Aparytae is the heart of the country the Kohat Pass and valley, the Khybar Pass and hills, the Miranzai valley, and the uplands at the eastern end of the Sufed Koh range. In the south-west corner of this central tract is located a small and obscure tube, the Zymukht, supposed to be Afghans, and celebrated mostly as expert and desperate robbers

The Afridi, Orakzai, Bangash, Khattak, Tori, Zymukht, Khostwal, Jaji or Zazi, Mangal, &c , tribes are all classed together under two political factions known by the name of Smal and Gar or Gara, respectively. The factions are of no political importance nowadays, though of great interest as a guide to the former affinities and relations of their respective members. The people themselves have not the smallest idea of the origin of the opposite factions under which, as a matter of hereditary duty, they are enrolled , yet they are very tenacious of the distinction, and never change from one to the other. The factions, evidently, came into existence on the conversion of the people en bloc to Islam, when all became a common brotherhood in the faith, and called themselves Musulmans, though yet they maintained a distinction expressive of their original religious separation a sign that their conversion was effected by force, and was more nominal than real at first. And thus the peoples of the two rival religions at that time flourishing side by side in this region namely the Budhist and the Magian ranged them-selves naturally under the respective standards or factions of their original religions , the Budhist Saman or Sraman giving the name to the one, and the Magian Gabr, Gaur or Gar to the other.

Looking at the Afridi as we find him to-day, it is difficult to imagine him the descendant of the mild, industrious, peace-loving, and contemplative Budhist, abhorrent of the shedding of blood or the destruction of life of even the minutest or


meanest of God's creatures , or even to imagine him descended from fire- worshipping ancestors, whose tender care for life was almost equal to that of the Buddhist, and whose sincere and punctilious devotion to the observance of the minute ceremonies and ordinances of their religion was surpassed by none. The Afridi of to-day, though professedly a Muhammadan, has really no religion at all. He is, to a great extent, ignorant of the tenets and doctrines of the creed he professes, and even if he knew them, would in no way be restrained by them in pursuit of his purpose.

Whatever he may have been as a Buddhist, or as a Fire-wor- shipper, he has now sunk to the lowest grade of civilization, and borders upon the savage. Entirely illiterate, under no acknowledged control, each man his own king, the nation has dwindled down to a small community of less than three hundred thousand souls, mostly robbers and cut-throats, without principles of conduct of any kind, and with nothing but the incentive of the moment as the prompter to immediate action. Even among his own nationality (the Pathan) he is accounted the faithless of the faithless, and is held on all sides to be the most fierce and stealthy of all enemies. As we know him, merely in the character of an independent neighbour, he is a wily, mistrusting, wolfish, and willful savage, with no other object in life but the pursuit of robbery and murder, and the feuds they give rise to.

His ignorance and barbarism are a bye-word among neighbour tribes, and many amusing stories are told against them. One to the effect that, although professedly Musalmans, they showed no reverence for the Mulla, or Muhammadan priest, and plundered and despitefully used the too confiding members of the profession who ventured among them so impartially, that their country was soon shunned by the whole clergy class as a dangerous place. Thus neglected in religious training they became a laughing-stock to their better instructed co-religionists in the plain country, and through


shame they were driven to entice a zealous " Mulla " of the Peshawar city to their mountain home. The priest installed in his new place, as in duty bound to do, urged upon his untutored flock the great advantages to be derived from the pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of saints and martyrs for the Faith, and enlarged upon the untold benefits that followed upon the offerings there made in the name of the Saint. This was enough for the Afridi mind. He was to gain advantages by making visits to sacred shrines and depositing offerings in the name of the saints to whom they were dedicated to propitiate their favour and protection, and he determined to make pilgrimages and offerings. But there was not such a thing as a " Ziyarat " in the whole country, and to go to the sacred shrines in the territories of their neighbours was not to be thought of, for the Afridi's hand was against every-body, and everybody's hand was against the Afridi. In this dilemma, what easier than to have a "Ziyarat" in their own country, and who more suitable as a martyr for the faith than their venerable priest So the " Mulla " was sacrified, and a " Ziyarat " raised over his remains, and Tirah had its first sacred shrine Perhaps it is the only one, for the Afridi is no ways noted for any devotion to this form of piety.

The Afghan account of the Afridi genealogy indicates his long ancestry, for they derive him from nobody, and to account for his name have concocted a feeble story, winch, however, is highly characteristic of the pride of race of the whole tribe. The story goes that in ancient times some Governor of the province of Peshawar summoned some members of the tribe to his "Darbar," or Court of Audience. One of them, with native self-possession and independence, took his seat at the entrance to the darbar, and as the Governor approached to enter his Court, made no move to rise. The Governor stopped, and asked him who he was. Dzah tsok yam ?" Who am I ? " he replied with stolid indifference, Dzah hum Afridai yam


" I also am a creature of God !" In the Persian Afrida means " a created being." From this circumstance the tribe received the name of Afridi.

As our immediate independent neighbours during thirty years of British rule on the Trans-Indus frontier, the Afridis, or Khybaris, as they are often called from their holding (until only the other day) possession of that famous pass, have given us great and almost continuous trouble. Their bold robbenes in the very centre of our Peshawar cantonments, with its garrison of eight thousand men, have passed into the stock history of the place. Their highway robberies and murders, and their village raids and cattle-lifting forays brought them into constant collision with our frontier officers.

The result of thirty years' contact with them has in no way attached the people to us, nor has the example of British rule made any visible change in then condition, except perhaps in enabling them, through our own neglect, to protect our- selves manfully, to become the best armed of any of our frontier tribes. We shall have some day to conquer this people and annex the country, and we shall then find what a born race of marksmen can do with our own Enfields and Sniders and Martini Henri's in their hands partly acquired by a weakness the Afridi has for enlisting into our Native Army and then deserting, and, quite naturally, taking his arms with him ; but mostly by clever theft in the barracks of every newly-arrived regiment, European or Native.

The End Chapter VIII
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