The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter XI

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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 XI: The Ghilji


THE Ghiljai (plural Ghilji) as he calls himself Ghilzai, as strangers call him is a numerous and widespread people, extending from Jalalabad in the east to Kalati Ghilji in the west, and occupying the adjoining slopes and spurs of Sufed Koh, Suleman Koh, and Gul Koh (west of Ghazni). The Afghan traditions place their original settlements in the Kohi Kais or Koh Kasi, but there seems to be some doubt as to the whereabouts of this locality, some considering it to be on the Suleman range, and others on the Siyah-band range of the Ghor mountains. The latter, it would seem, is the more probable, as it was the scene of the romantic episode by which the Afghan genealogists account for the name.

The story runs to the effect that the second son of Kais (the great ancestral progenitor of the Afghan nationality), who was named Batan, was settled with his people on the Siyah-band range of the Ghor mountains the Paropamisus of the ancients, the Hazarah of the moderns. It appears that they occupied the western hills of the range, and led a migratory life between the highlands in summer and lowlands in winter. Batan, the patriarch of the tribe, was noted for his piety and devotion, and for his earnest attachment to the new faith established in those parts. In consequence of his leading position and religious reputation, he was reverenced as a saint and honored with the title of Shekh.

During the reign of the Khalif Walid towards the close of the first century of the Muhammadan era, and during the early part of the eighth of our own an Arab army was


sent from Baghdad for the conquest of Khurasan and Ghor (a name the signification of which is "mountainous "). On its approach to the northern mountains of Ghor, which were at that time inhabited by Bani Israil and Bani Afghan, and other castaway tribes, one of the princes of the country, who, it appears, was himself of a refugee family, since many generations exiled from Persia, fled his retreat, and sought asylum with Shekh Batan, whose tuman or " tribal camp" was in some neighbouiing mountain recesses. Batan, perceiving that the stranger was of noble birth, welcomed him to the hospitality and protection of his people, and took him into his own house as a member of the family. The stranger guest soon ingratiated himself with his hosts, and won the confidence of the chief, who always consulted him in the affairs of the tribe as if he were a member of it. In fact he was made quite at home, and treated with the fullest liberty and trust.

The Shekh had a daughter, whose name was Matto, a handsome maiden in the bloom of youth. In the simple manners and freedom of action that characterize life in camp, the inmates of the tent or booth were thrown much together in the routine of daily domestic life. Well, to cut a long story short the guest and his host's daughter fell in love with each other, and carried on a clandestine amour with the natural consequences. The first signs were early discovered by the quick eye of the mother, who at once communicated her suspicions to the girl's father. The old Shekh Afghan- lite was for summary punishment and the swift execution of both the guilty parties. But the mother, with keener perception and more far-seeing calculation, suggested the propriety of first ascertaining whether their guest Shah, Husen by name really was of the royal descent he had represented himself to be, and whether the future of his prospects were as bright as he had colored them.

For this purpose a trusted domestic was despatched to the home in Northern Ghor, indicated by Shah Husen, to find


out all about his family and antecedents. He duly returned with a favourable report; and even more than confirming all that Shah Husen had said of himself. On this, the parents, accepting the situation, hastily married the couple to avoid the imminent scandal Shortly after these occurrences, Bibi Matto presented Shah Husen with a son, whom the irate old Shekh, in allusion to the circumstances connected with his birth, named Ghazoe "son of a thief" the father having stolen his daughter's honor. The name in time came to be used to distinguish the whole tribe, and by vulgar usage became changed to Ghilzai.

Such, in brief, is the Afghan account. It seems to point to an early mixture of the original Ghilji with some tribe of Ghor, perhaps of Persian descent, though the name Batan sounds of Indian origin (the Sanskiit name of the Brahman priests being Bata), and the title of Shekh being the one usually applied in India to converts from Brahmanism to Islam.

Bibi Matto had a second son, who was named Ibrahim, continue the Afghan accounts, and he was surnamed Loe, or " Great," by his grandfather , on account of some act of infantile precocity. This name became corrupted into Lodi, and was adopted as the title of his descendants, who afterwards formed a considerable tribe, which, in the fifteenth century, furnished the Lodi dynasty of kings on the throne of Delhi. Such are the idle tales by which the Afghan historians attempt to account for the presence in their midst of a foreign race of whose antecedents they know nothing. That the Lodi and Sur kings of the house of Ghor, who reigned at Delhi as sovereigns of Hindustan, were of the Ghilji race, there seems no reason to doubt, but that they were in any way connected by tribal affinity with the Afghan is by no means clear.

Besides the sons already mentioned, Bibi Matto is said by the Afghan accounts to have borne Shah Husen a number of other sons, viz , Turan, Tolar, Buran, and Polar. Here are


names of quite a different stamp, and their character is maintained m the subdivisions of tribes springing from them in succeeding generations. Thus Turan is divided into the clans of Tokhi and Hotak, whilst amongst those classed as sprung from Buran are the Andar and Taraki. All these names are distinctly of Turk origin, and the evidence of the Afghan accounts, such as they are, go to show that (even if there had been a prior immigration of some part of this Turk tribe) about the beginning of the eighth century of our era, when the Arabs were over running Transoxiana the country called Turan in contradistinction to Iran with the sword and Kuran, certain Turk tribes, known by the name of Khilich or Khilichi, and said to be Christians of the Nestorian Church at that time a flourishing patriarchate in both Western and Eastern Turkistan emigrated from their native country and sought refuge in the inaccessible mountains of Ghor.

The word Khilich means a "sword," and Khilichi, a "swordsman," just as, according to the Turk custom of naming their tribes after some individual peculiarity or characteristic, Cazzac or Cossack means a "robber," Kirghiz or Cirghiz, a " wanderer;" Uzbak, an "independent ," Cara Calpac, a "black hat," Kizil bash, "redhead," &c. The Khihchi, when they entered Ghor, probably consisted only of the true Turk clans of Hotak, Tokhi, Andar, Taraki, Tolar, and Polar (the last two of which are lost in the Afghan reckoning), and made good their settlement there by force of arms amongst a mixed population of Jews, Israelites, Afghans, Indians, and Persians. How long they stayed in Ghor is unknown, but it is probable that from their nomade habits of life, and the constant military expeditions of the Arabs through South-western Afghanistan at that period, they early moved forward, and finally settled in the country they now hold , that is, from a little to the east of Kalat-i-Ghilji to Shalgar and Abistada to the south of Ghazni. The eastern part of this country, at the head waters of the Tarnak and Arghasan


rivers, is a rich pasture tract in the summer season, whilst the open plain and steppe to the westward affords good winter quarters in the sheltered hollows of the undulating surface. This country was the first real and permanent settlement of the Ghilji in Afghanistan, and during the early centimes of the Muhammadan era was known by the name of Turan probably, from the name of the combined clans just as at the same period, the country to the south, including the present Peshin and Shal or Quetta, was called Budha from the Budhists inhabiting it.

From Turan, the Khilichi or Ghilji, it would appear, spread eastwaid to the rich pastures of the Suleman range, till they possessed themselves of tho western slopes up to the present Waziri and Kakar borders. And this extension was effected not so much by direct conquest, or actual overflow of their own tribal population, as by the absorption and assimilation of weaker and obscure clans whom they found upon their borders. And this view is supported by the change in name of the new clans successively enrolled under the name of the dominant one. Doubtless they included a variety of different races, and some of them were possibly of kindred stock, such as the Babur Ghilji, who had been planted here in earlier invasions of Turk tribes from the north.

What the origin of these new clans was, whether they were conquered and converted Pathans, who became absorbed into the dominant tribe, and thus, by the mere force of numbers and other favouring circumstances of the period, gave them both their language and social code of laws , or whether they were kindred tribes of Turks imported by Sabaktakin (that is, the one called Sabak, as Alaptakin, the one called Alap, takin being a distinctive affix of the names of Turk slaves), the founder of the Turk Tatar (as distinguished from the Mughal or Mongal Tatar) dynasty at Ghazni, is not clearly ascertained. Without excluding the possibility of their increase by the occasional immigration of other kindred Turk


clans from across the Oxus, it may be considered more probable that the increase in the clans of the Ghilji took place mostly by the absorption and adoption of subjugated native tribes. For we find several instances of Chaghatai Turk clans living in close proximity to the Ghilji, yet quite distinct from them, and entirety ignorant of any kindred connection with them Such Turk clans are the Bayat about Ghazni and Herat, the Carlugh, Chung, and Mughal Turk (Yaka, Chirikcha, &c.) of Balkh, &c Such, also, are the Mongol and Chaghatai Turk clans of Mangal, Jaji, Jadran, Khitai, &c, who are settled about the Pewar and the head waters of the Kurram river, and who were brought to these situations on the invasions of Changhiz and Tymur the Tatar scourges of the world during the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. These clans, with the exception of the Jadran, though they have almost entirely lost the typical physiognomy of their race, their mother-tongue, and, indeed, everything else but their names, which would connect them with their original stock, nevertheless hold themselves entirely distinct political relations always excepted from the Ghilji, who are their neighbours. The study of the history and origin of these obscure clans is a very important one, and interesting as well on its own merits, as yet it has hardly been even thought of.

The Ghilji of Afghanistan first come prominently into notice in the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni, who employed them largely as soldiers in his numerous invasions of India for the conversion of the land to Islam. It is probable that the tribe in the course of these successive expeditions, which extended over a period of eighteen or twenty years, and were sometimes conducted by the route south of Sufed Koh, that is, by the Pewar and Gomalor Ghawarlari routes, and sometimes by those to the north of that range, that is, by the Khybar, Abkhana, Hinduraj, &c , through Swat to Peshawar, enlarged their original borders by the conquest and colonization of the tern tones


they now hold to the eastward of Ghazni, as far as the Suleman range and the valley of Jalalabad, an operation the more easy to them by reason of their nomadic and military mode of life a characteristic in their manners which still distinguishes tins people from all tho other races inhabiting Afghanistan.

As a race the Ghilji mix little with their neighbours, and indeed differ in many respects, both as to internal government and domestic customs, from the other races of Afghanistan. Those small sections of the people, who are settled in the plain, live in villages and follow agricultural pursuits ; but the great majority of the tribe are pastoral in their habits of life, and migrate with the seasons from the lowlands to the highlands with their families and flocks, and easily portable black hair tents. They never settle in the cities, nor do they engage in the ordinary handicraft trades, but they manufacture carpets, felts, &c , for domestic use, from the wool and hair of their cattle. The pastoral clans are notoriously predatory in their habits, and continually at fued amongst themselves and with their neighbours. Physically they are a remarkably fine race, and in stature, courage, and strength, of body are second to none in Afghanistan ; but they are a very barbarous people, the pastoral clans especially, and in their wars excessively savage and vindictive.

Several of the Ghilji or Ghilzai clans are almost wholly engaged in the carrying-trade between India and Afghanistan, and the northern states of Central Asia, and have been so for many centuries to the exclusion almost of all the other tribes of the country. The principal clans employed in this great carrying-trade are the Niazi, Nasar, Kharoti, and, to some extent, the Sulemankhel. From the nature of their occupation they are collectively styled, or individually so far as that goes, Povinda and Lawani, or Lohani. These terms, it appears, are derived from the Persian words parwinda, "a bale of merchandise," and rawani, a "traveller."


Their principal routes to India are by the Ghawailari or Gomal and the Zhob parses, and they fight their way back-wards and forwards every journey in enormous caravans of the combined clans, disposed in regular military order against the attacks of the Waziri and Kakar, through whose territories they pass. The several clans travel with their families and flocks and dependents, as well as with their merchandize, and the whole together form a vast assemblage, numbering many thousands of fighting men and beasts of burden, besides the families and flocks. They assemble in autumn in the plains of Zurmat and Gardez and Kattawaz to the east of Ghazni, and, after making good their way through the passes to the Derajat, they leave their families and flocks to pasture there, whilst a portion of each clan goes on into India with the merchandize. These enterprising merchants carry their long files of camels straight across country to Delhi, whence they disperse by rail or road to the principal cities of India, and always arrange so as to return to their families in the Derajat early in the spring for the homeward journey. They bring down various productions of their own country, such as fruits, madder, asafoetida, wool and woollen fabrics, furs, drugs, &c., together with horses, raw silk, shawl, wool, &c , from Bukhara. And they take back cotton piece-goods, chintzes, broadcloth, velvet, &c , of English manufacture, together with tea, spices, metals, and variety of other articles, such as brocades, silks, and muslins, &c , of Indian manufacture.

During the cold weather, the Povinda is to be seen in most of the larger cities of India, and at once attracts attention in the crowds of the bazar by his thorough strangeness of appearance and rude independence of manner. His loose, untidy dress, generally in a state of dirt beyond the washer-man's cure, and often covered with a shaggy sheep-skin coat, travel-stained and sweat-begrimed to an extent that proclaims the presence of the wearer to the nostrils though he be out of sight in the crowd; his long unkempt and frayed locks,


loosely held together by some careless twists of a cotton turban, soiled to the last degree, if not tattered add to the wildness of his unwashed and weather-worn features ; whilst his loud voice and rough manners complete the barbarian he is proud to pass for. Such is the common Povinda and caravan driver as seen in the bazar. There are others of superior stamp, wealthy merchants, or well-to-do traders, who drop the barbarian role, and appear in decent flowing robes, with capacious and carefully adjusted turbans, well modulated voices, manners studiedly polite, and a keen- ness for business second to none. But these are the few, and they mix not with the public throng.

These Povindha clans, though classed as subdivisions of the Ghilji people, differ from them in one or two important respects. The Kharoti and Nasir, for example, differ markedly in features, complexion, and stature from the Sulemankhel and Turan clans, and, moreover, keep a good deal to themselves in their internal clan government , whilst their hereditary occupation, as travelling merchants for a long course of centuries, without any other clans of the tribe joining them in it, is a remarkable fact, and, with the other circumstances stated, would seem to indicate a difference of origin.

Of the history of the Ghilji as a distinct people in Afghanistan little or nothing is known till the beginning of last century, when they revolted against the Persian Governor of Kandahar. The Persians, it appears, had for several years been most oppressive in their rule over the people of this province, and the Ghilji sent numerous petitions to the court of Ispahan praying for a removal of their grievances. These petitions receiving no attention, the Ghilji deputed one of their chief men, named Mir Vais, or Wais, to lay their complaints before the Shah, and obtain for them some redress for the sufferings they groaned under. The mission of Mir Vais proved unsuccessful, but his journey was not altogether without advantage, for his residence at the Shah's court opened his eyes


to the weakness of the government and the venality of its officers.

Mir Vais returned to Kandahar by way of Mecca, the pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of which city added the title of Haji to his name, and much increased his influence amongst his countrymen ; and, immediately on his arrval at home, he set to work to raise the people in revolt. The rising proved successful, the Persian Governor was slain, his troops were defeated and dispersed, and Mir Vais became independent ruler of Kandahar. He reigned eight years, during which he repulsed three Persian armies sent against him, and died in 1715 AD, leaving the government to his son and successor Mahmud. The repeated failures of the Persian government to recover their authouty at Kandahar, encouraged Mahmud to assume the offensive, and in 1720 he invaded Persia by way of Kirman, but was signally defeated and driven back by the Governor of that province.

Two years later, however, he renewed the attempt with a larger and better equipped army, and with complete success. He overran the whole of Southern Persia, taking city after city, and spreading terror and devastation wherever he went, till, at the end of the second year's campaign, he became master of Ispahan, the Persian sovereign, Shah Husen, abdicating the throne and surrendering his capital to the conqueror. Flushed with his rapid and great successes, the pride and ambition of Mahmud increased, and giving way to unbridled excesses of all kinds, he soon became an insane and bloody savage.

His cruelties and unreasonable despotism at length became intolerable to his own chiefs, who assassinated him, and put his nephew, Mir Ashraf, on the throne in his place. He had not long enjoyed the government when he had to face a better man, a soldier of fortune, who was soon to make himself of world-wide repute as a great conqueror. This was Nadir, a Turkman highwayman by birth and occupation, who entered


the service of Tamasp, the heir of Shah Husen, as general of his army. As soon as Nadir took the field Ashraf boldly advanced to meet him, but was completely defeated. The Ghilji, however, did not give up the game as lost, but vigorously maintained the contest for some years, till, finally, having sustained a succession of crushing defeats, his heterogeneous and rabble army was either destroyed or dispersed, and he himself forced to flee the country with only three or four personal attendants. He took the way to Kandahar by Sistan, and was murdered in that district by a petty Baloch chief. And thus ended the Ghilji rule in Persia, after a term of only seven yeais , but it was a period of terror and savagezy, and sufficed to steep the country in the blood of its inhabitants, and to over spread its surface with desolation and ruin. After he had cleared Persia of the Ghilji invaders and secured his successes against the Russians and the Turks, Nadir assumed the crown himself, and then set out on his conquest of India.

In 1738, after a siege of a year and-a-half, during which he devasted the districts around, he took the strong city of Kandahar and razed it to the ground. He then proceeded to Kabul and India, and took a strong contingent of Ghilji troops along with his army. At Kabul he left as chandaul, or "rear guard", a detachment of twelve thousand of his Kizilbash (so named from the red caps they wore), or Mughal Persian troops. After the death of Nadir they remained at Kabul as a military colony, and their descendants still occupy a distinct quarter of the city, which is called Chandaul. These Kizilbash hold their own ground here as a distinct Persian community of the Shia persuasion against the native population of the Sunni profession. They constitute an important element in the general population of the city, and exercise a considerable influence in its local politics. Owing to their isolated position and antagonism to the native population, they are favourably inclined to the British authority.


On the death of Nadir Shah and the rise of the Durrani to the independent sovereignty of Afghanistan, the Ghilji were bought over by Ahmad Shah, and acquiesced in his elevation to the throne. On the death of the Abdali king, how-ever, their long suppressed discontent burst out, and, impatient of their position as a subordinate race in the seat of their recent supremacy, they openly contested the sovereignty against his successor, the Shah Tymur. The struggle was continued in a desultory and intermittent manner for many years, till, finally, the Ghilji power was crushed by Shah Zaman in the early part of the present century by a decisive battle fought in 1809 at Jaldak near Kalat-i-Ghilzi.

Since that time coeval with the establishment for the first time of diplomatic relations between the Governrnents of India and Afghanistan the Ghilji have made no effort to recover their lost position, or to attain to the dominant authority in the country , but they have, in consequence, by no means sunk into insignificance. On the contrary they have maintained a considerable amount of tribal independence, and have uniformly exercised a very powerful influence in the councils of the Durrani rulers, so far, at least, as concerns the guidance of state affairs. Our own experience of this people on each occasion of our contact with them in Afghanistan has been that of unmitigated hostility and the deepest treachery, not acting by themselves alone, but in conceit with the Durrani.

The trouble they gave us in harassing our communications between Kabul and Kandahar during our occupation of the country in 1839-42, the unrelenting ferocity of their attacks upon our defenceless and retreating army in 1842, and their persistent opposition to our avenging force later in the same year upon the Khybar route, are all matters of history, and need not be here further referred to. But with all this against them, the Ghilji is not an implacable foe to us, and by judicious management can be converted into a very useful friend,

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