The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter XII

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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 XII: The Tajik

[Page-109]:

THE TAJIK, or, as he is frequently called, the Parsiwan, constitute a numerous and widely spread portion of the inhabitants of Afghanistan, from whom they differ in language, internal government, and manners and customs. They are the representatives of the ancient Persian inhabitants of the country, as the Afghans are of its ancient Indian inhabitants. It would appear that as the Afghans (whose true home and seat are in the Kandahar and Arghandab valleys) mixed and intermarried with the Indian people whom they conquered, and gave their name to the mixed race, so the Arabs, who did the same with the Persian people whom they conquered, left their name as the national designation of their mixed posterity, that is, the name by which they were called by the Persians, Where the Arab progenitors were Sayyids, that is descendants of the Khalif Ali, son-in-law of Muhammad, they gave their own designation to the tribes sprang from them. There are several Sayyid tribes in Afghanistan, the principal being the Wardak and Ushturani. The term Tajik, it is said, is derived from the ancient Persian name for the Arab. The ancient Persian writers distinguishing their hereditary enemies on the north and south respectively by the terms Turk and Taz or Taj. And hence it is that the term Taz applied to the Arab only in Persia; and every thing connected with him, or proceeding from him, was called by the Persians Tazi or Tazik, which are the same as Taji or Tajik. In course of time, it seems these terms became restricted to designate things of Arab origin in Persia in contradistinction to the pure and native article, Thus

[Page-110]:

an Arab settling in the country, and not intermarrying with its people, retained his proper national title through successive generations. But the Arab intermarrying with the people of the country lost his proper nationality, and, in the succeeding generations, was called Tajik by the Persians. An imported Arab horse or dog, &c , was not called Tazi but Arabi, Their offspring, however, from a Persian mare or bitch received the name of Tazi, and were no longer called Arabi. By some, however, the term is said to signify " Persian," and there is also reason to believe that the Taochi of the Chinese is the same word as the modern Tajik. If so, and this latter appears to be the correct version, the former explanation must be rejected, and Tajik be held to be merely the ancient name for the Persian cultivator or peasant. The word, in fact, being a Persian one, is restricted to the territories which formerly owned the Persian sovereignty.

Hence its absence from India, and its presence in Turkistan. The Tajik extend all over the plain country of Afghanistan from Herat to the Khybar and from Kandahar to the Oxus, and even into Kashghar. The name is applied nowadays in a very loose way, and is made to include all the Persian-speak-ing people of the country who are not either Hazarah, Afghan, or Sayyid. Thus the Indian races on the southern slopes of Hindu Kush, who have been converted to Muhammadanism and speak Persian (as well as to some extent their native dialects), are commonly called Tajik. The term is also applied to the representatives of the ancient Persian inhabitants of Badakhshan and its inaccessible mountain glens.

These people are divided into distinct communities, who have for long centuries maintained their independence, though they are now nominally subjects of the Kabul Government. They are professedly Musalmans of either the Sunni or Shia sect, claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great and his Greek soldiers, differ in appearance, as well as in some of their manners and customs, from the Tajiks of the plain country, and

[Page-111]:

speak different dialects of Persian, which are supposed to be offshoots of the ancient Pahlavi. They are known as the Badakhshi, the Wakhi, the Shughnan, the Roshani, &c , of Badakhshan, Wakhan, Shughnan, &e, and in this respect differ from the Tajik of the plains, who has no such subdivisional distinctions, but is simply a Tajik, whether of Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, or elsewhere. Further, the Tajik has no divisions into Khel and Zai, as have the Afghan, the Ghilzi and the Pathan. The terms Khel and Zai, added to a proper name, signify the "association " or "descendants" sprung from that individual, but they do not necessarily imply that the members of the association, or the descendants, are the actual off-spring of his own loins. The word Khel is Arabic, and signifies a "troop" (especially of horse), "company," "party," &c The suffix zai is Persian, and means literally "born of," but is commonly used in the same sense as Khel, as Musazai or Musakhel, the " offspring " or " party " of Moses. A very recent illustration of the use of these terms is found in the formation of two factions at Kabul, shortly after the establishment of our envoy there, a few months ago. The party in favour of the British alliance being called Cavagnarizai, and those opposed to it, Yacubzai. The suffix khel might have been used with equal propriety, but euphony gives the preference to the other. These divisions in fact correspond to the Got and Sakha of the Rajput peoples. Amongst the Tajiks are some agricultural communities who are called Dihwar in the west of Afghanistan, and Dihgun or Dihcun in the eastern provinces. They represent, it would appear, the Dahae of the ancient Greek writers, and are merely rustics or villagers, as the above Persian words imply; though the ancient Scythian tribe of the Daae or Dahae were a numerous and powerful people in their day. As a race the Tajiks of the plains are a handsome people, of tall stature, and robust frames. They are of a peaceable disposition, industrious, and frugal in their habits, and fond of social gatherings and amusements. They occupy

[Page-112]:

a subordinate and, to some extent, servile position amongst the inhabitants of the country, and have no voice in its governent or politics. In the rural districts they are entirely devoted to agriculture and gardening, either settled in village communities of their own, or scattered about as farm servants, gaideners, &c In the towns and cities they furnish the several industrial and mechanical trades with their handicraftsmen, act as shopkeepers, petty traders, and merchants of substance and position. The accountants, secretaries, and overseers in public offices and private establishments are almost wholly recruited from their ranks, and they enjoy a high reputation for their intelligence, fidelity, and industry. They freely take service as household domestics or personal attendants, and are esteemed for their activity, diligence, and general tidiness. They rarely engage in military service, though some of them occupy high positions in the army of the Amir. They possess naturally many estimable qualities, but, being a subject and down-trodden people, they are very suspicious of their rulers, and meet force by deception. In intelligence, sobriety, industry, and fidelity to just masters, they surpass all the other inhabitants of the country, and they are, moreover, the best disposed towards the British Government.

In this last respect they are in the same category as the Kizilbash colony of Kabul, the Hazarah under the Durrani rule, and the mercantile and trading community through-out the country. In fact, with the exception of the Ghilzi, who are semi-independent, and, to some considerable extent, participators in the government and direction of the policy of the country, and the Pathan, who are almost wholly independent and know nothing of any ruler, the Durrani or Afghan is our only real and implacable enemy, and it is astonishing how, through our own countenance and support of his authority, he has been able so successfully to embitter and stir up the hatred of the other races towards us, for he himself is detested and feared by all classes of the people.


End of Chapter XII
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