From samsloan@21:1/5 to All on Sat Jun 24 06:21:14 2017
The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush
George Scott Robertson
Introduction by Sam Sloan
This is the authoritative work and really the only work about Kafiristan now known as Nuristan before the invasion of 1892 when all the inhabitants were forcibly converted to Islam.
This book was published in 1896 and is based primarily on visits by the Author to Chitral and Kafiristan in 1888-1892. The author was fortunate to have accomplished these visits, because most of those who had tried this had been killed.
In this visit, Robertson covered a vast area. He came up to Gilgit, then crossed Shandur Top into Chitral, then passed Mastuj and then reached Chitral where he was welcomed by Mehtar Aman-ul-Mulk. He then went down to Drosh and then to Urtsun where he
crossed the high mountain pass into Nuristan reaching Kamdesh. Later he went North reaching Bargematal and then crossed more high Mandal Pass reaching the Mirjan Valley in Badakhshan.
No European man had ever done this before and I believe that none of them have ever done it since either. I have done most of this but I have never reached Badakhshan.
This trip by Robertson was made possible because Aman-ul-Mulk, the ruler of Chitral welcomed the British and was friendly to them. He had good reason because Emir Abdur Rahman Khan the ruler of Afghanistan was constantly breathing down his neck and
making threatening overtures towards Chitral. It was because of the welcome reception Aman-ul-Milk gave to the British that Chitral is now part of Pakistan whereas what was part of Kafiristan is now in Afghanistan.
There are disagreements with Robertson's conclusions about the peoples there. On page 4 he says, “For my experience of Kalash Kafirs was that they were a most servile and degraded race” and those in Urtsun that he spells Utzun are more closely allied
with the “True Kafirs”.
However, research starting with George Morgenstierne and continuing with Richard Strand has established that the Kalash Kafirs are original in this area and have been here for thousands of years, whereas the Nuristanis arrived in 1000 AD to escape from
the Muslims who were conquering Jalalabad.
Robertson describes the Siah Posh Kafirs as almost coincidentally wearing black robes similar the black the Kalash Kafir women wear. However, others have thought of the Siah Posh Kafirs as being the same people as the Kalash. According to some, Siah Posh
Kafirs means “wearers of the Black robes”.
Richard Strand says there are many mistakes in this book, and this may be one of them. Another questionable area includes Robertson's discussions of “slaves” throughout this book but especially on pages 99-103. It is likely that these are not really
slaves but are merely a lower class of workers.
We will never know the true answers to these questions because only a few years after the Robertson expedition, Amir Abdur Rehman invaded the areas and converted them to Islam.
Richard Strand has been visiting these people and researching their culture for 50 years since 1967. It is essentially because of him that I first came to the area, because I read the article in National Geographic Magazine by him about this place.
Another question concerns the Nuristanis. Almost all people believe that the Nuristanis are the cousins of the Kalash.
This is Richard Strand's map on his website, “Nuristan, Hidden Land of the Hindu Kush”. It shows that there are five different Nuristani languages, all of which are mostly mutually unintelligible from each other.
However, Richard Strand, who has been studying these peoples for more than 50 years, says this is not true at all. The Nuristanis are not related to the Kalash. The Nuristanis are recent arrivals, interlopers who got there in One Thousand AD. When Mahmud
of Ghazni came sweeping through this area in year one thousand killing everybody along the way, the Nuristanis ran away by going up into the mountains and hiding there. The Kalash however were already there and had been there for thousands of years.
Of interest to us is the upper right corner of this map blown up here. This shows the three Kalash valleys marked by blue lines, Rumbur, Bumboret and Birir. The upper ends of Rumbur and Bumboret are the purple area occupied by villages called ShakhanDeh
which means “Village of the Shaikhs”. The Shaikhs are converted Muslims. Muslims who used to be Kalash or Nuristani but who have converted to Islam.
I have been to Nuristan twice, once in 1977 and once in 1978. I visited there because I read that the Government of Afghanistan had a rule that foreigners were not allowed to go there, so therefore I went there.
My visits were brief. I only spent one night in Bargematal each time. The first time I left because the chief of the village told me to leave but to come back next year.
The Chief of the Village of Bargematal who told me to leave Nuristan.
I left there the second time because it was May 1978 and the new Communist government of Nur Muhammad Taraki had just taken over on April 28, 1978. I was present actually in the new governor's office when the new governor was meeting with all the tribal
chieftians of Nuristan and telling them the new rules and government degrees. I could not understand the language at that time or even what language they were speaking in but I could see that the new governor was handing down strict new decrees and the
tribal chiefs were unhappy with them. In fact, I was predicting in my mind that they were just getting ready to kill him.
Nuristanis trying to help me get my car across the river.
I later learned that they did not kill him because he ran away in the night only a few nights later. It was then that the revolution against the Government of Nur Mohammad Taraki started.
Realizing I was in danger, I got the Hell out of there, driving my car quickly out of Nuristan and feeling relieved when I reached Jalalabad. However, I still did not appreciate the full danger and I was arrested far away in Nawzad in Helmand, Province
a few days later.
Years later, whenever I met Nuristanis they remembered me and especially they remembered my car which was unusual for the time and area. After the Afghan Civil War started, most of the Nuristanis I had met in Nuristan moved over to Chitral and lived in
refugee camps there.
I was in jail for three months in Afghanistan but fortunately I was released and not executed like so many other of my fellow prisoners.
I went over to Chitral in Pakistan in September 1978.
Here is picture of me with three Kalash Kafirs in Bumboret in 1979
On that visit in 1978 I went to Upper Chitral and then returned to America.
In 1979, I came back to Chitral and went to Bumboret where I got involved with the Kafir Kalash there. I was fascinated with Kalash culture so arrangements were made for me to marry a Kalash girl in Bumboret named Afiyat.
Here is a picture of Afiyat sitting in her own house in Village Anish in Bumboret, Chitral.
However, to everyone's shock and surprise, Afiyat refused to marry me.
Just as I was leaving Bumboret, another Kalash girl named Sunik met me on the road. I could speak the Chitral Language well by this time. She asked me if I was marrying Afiyat. I replied that I was not. She then asked me, “Why not?” I said that
Afiyat did not want to marry me.
I thought nothing more about this and returned to Chitral Proper. However, a few days later a messenger arrived at the home where I was staying in Chitral Proper saying that Sunik wanted me to marry her.
Naturally I was surprised. I was willing but to make a long story short the father of Sunik went to the police stating he was not allowing his daughter to marry me.
I went back to America but in America I received a letter from Sunik saying that she still wanted me to marry her.
So, I returned to Chitral but upon arriving learned that the father of Sunik had forced her to marry another man just eight days before my arrival.
By now, I had become famous in Chitral and I received many marriage proposals. Within a few days I was married to a Muslim girl named Honzagool (also spelled Khonza Gul). I took Honzagool to America and now we have a daughter named Shamema.
Here is the passport photograph of my actual wife Honzagool, whose name is spelled Khonza Gul by the Chitralis but is spelled Honzagool by the Americans. I married her there and brought down from these hills. She is not Kalash but she is from the former
Kalash Valley of Jinjoret.
All this time, I was meeting with Nuristanis who remembered me from my two visits to Nuristan in 1977 and 1978.
I was living in New York with my girlfriend Anda from Riga Latvia with whom I always had a difficult relationship. We were living at 99th Street and Broadway near Columbia University. I discovered there were a group of Afghani living there so in 1977 we
invited them to a party at Anda's apartment. One was named Karim. The other was named Aziz. They were graduate students at Columbia University Teachers College, the same college that had been attended by Hafizullah Amin who later became Prime Minister of
Later, I met Khalil Nuristani. He knew that I was in contact with the Nuristanis living in the refugee camps in Chitral, so when I went back to Chitral he gave me a camera he had just bought to give to Shah Wali, one of the leaders of the Nuristani group
in Chitral. Khalil Nuristani who was then living on 116th Street across the street from Columbia University. He bought a camera and gave it to me to take to Shah Wali on my next visit to Chitral.
At the same time he bought the camera, I bought a pair of mountain climbing boots to give to the father of Sunik. The father of Sunik had no shoes! This was probably mainly because he lived in the mountains with the goats. The best way to climb the
mountains is with bare feet, which grip on the mountain sides better than any shoe. Nevertheless, I bought him a pair of shoes. I had determined his shoe size by measuring his footprints he left on the ground.
I went to Chitral and met Shah Wali and gave him the camera. He then told me that two of Khalil Nuristani's daughters had been killed but the other two daughters had survived. However, he told me not to tell Khalil Nuristani that two of his daughters
were dead as it would be too upsetting to him. Nevertheless, when I returned to New York City, I told Khalil Nuristani that two of his daughters were dead and gave him the names as given to me by Shah Wali. I felt I had no right to withhold that
information from him.
It is apparently true that not long thereafter he returned to Pakistan. This was a mistake because had he stayed in New York a bit longer he might have gotten a green card as a refugee. I saw him again when I visited Chitral in 1983. By then he was
living in a house just outside the Royal Palace in Chitral, given to him by the ruler of Chitral. He was recognized as the chief of the tribe and he was issuing passes to allow the Nuristanis permission to cross the border into Afghanistan.
There was an article about this in the New York Times about this by his son, Kakail Nuristani. “One Afghan's Three-Generation Quest for Peace” However, this article contains some incorrect information. The information I gave Khalil Nuristani was
accurate. I told him that two of his daughters had died in the war. I gave him the names of the daughters who had died. However, I believe that they had not died by the bombings by the Soviets. They had died of disease. There were no doctors and
medicines in Nuristan during the war.
I told him that the other two daughters had survived. In fact, one of them, Zainab Nuristani, came to visit me in my apartment in Bronx New York in 2006 and put me on the telephone with her father.
Khalil Nuristani was then suffering from a severe case of diabetes and they were getting ready to chop off at least one of his feet.
Unfortunately, after spending several years living as a refugee in New York City, he had never gotten a green card. This was strange because of all the people I know, he had by far the best case for having refugee status because he was a recognized
political personality in Afghanistan and he probably really would have been summarily executed if he ever went back to his country.
Due to having left the USA without having a green card, Khalilullah Nuristani was never able to come back and return to USA. His daughter Zainab Nuristani who was a top level honors student in Canada and a very bright woman, tried to get him accepted in
Canada but the Canadians would not take him, so he apparently died not long after my last conversation with him.
On March 25, 2014, I went to Bumboret with DNA testing kits from Family Tree DNA. I was able to take DNA testing samples from 15 people, some from Nuristanis living there and others from Kalash people there.
Tragically, next day, high officials of the Pakistan CID came to the home where I was staying in Chitral Proper and forcibly took away all my DNA test samples. They promised to return them but never did.
Those testing samples would have solved the question of whether the Kalash and the Nuristani peoples are the same or different. That opportunity has now been lost. The people are afraid even to send me more DNA test samples by mail for fear of
investigation and action by the police.
However, I have been able to get DNA test samples of five Chitralis plus my own daughter whose mother is Chitrali. There are also a few DNA tests taken by others unconnected to me. Some results are surprising. A woman in St. Petersburg, Russia is a DNA
match with my daughter. She explains that her father was in the Soviet Army during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Her father brought back an Afghan woman from Nuristan as a spoil of the war. That Afghan woman gave birth to a child who provides the
DNA link to my daughter. Meanwhile, the Soviet Army officer who started this has disappeared and is presumed killed in the war.
When I first visited the Kalash Valleys in 1979, only two Kalash could speak English. They were Abdul Khaliq in Bumboret and Saifullah Jan in Rumbur. They are still there and now there are many other Kalash who speak English well. Back then, Kalash girls
made their black robes from goat hair. Nowadays, their black robes are made from store-bought cloth.
Almost all Kalash now seem to be on Facebook and many of them have cell phones. However, their roads have gotten even worse than they were in 1978 when I first came to Chitral, with many cave-ins and breaks in the road. The Pakistan Army is now there in
full force because of threats by the Taliban to attack and forcibly convert the Kalash to Islam.
Nowadays, there are a few Kalash boys and girls studying at the universities of Lower Pakistan. There is Kalash lawyer Nabaig Shahrakat who is a full member of the bar. A Kalash woman, Durdina, is a shopkeeper in Karakal. You will find no woman
shopkeepers in Lower Pakistan. I saw a Kalash woman strolling casually in the main bazaar in Chitral Proper. I had never seen a woman there before. There are Kalash policemen too.
However, the USA has been no help at all. I sponsored and obtained admission to the City University of New York for two Kalash Students in Bumboret, one male and one female. However, when each of them went to the US Embassy in Islamabad, they were both
denied student visas in a 30-second interview with a wave of the hand. I doubt the consular officials who interviewed them even understood what they were or what Kalash was. This in spite of the fact that they were highly qualified students who had made
good grades. This by the way had nothing to do with Trump as he had not been elected yet.
I arrived in Chitral by crossing Lowari Top on foot on February 3, 1980. I came there to marry a Kalash girl named Sunik who had written a letter to me in New York saying that she wanted me to come to marry her. By the way, Kalash girls write letters
like that, offering themselves in marriage. Muslim women never do that. Actually, I had been planning to reprint this book since 2009 but I felt I did not have enough knowledge to write this introduction. I tried to get Zainab Nuristani to write it but she did not seem interested. The best person to write it would be Richard
Strand, because he knows a million times more about Nuristan than I do, but he has his own extensive Nuristan website so I guess he does not have the time or the interest.
Unfortunately, the Nuristanis I knew all seem to be dead. I knew three Nuristanis in jail with me in Afghanistan. One was Anwar Amin, a friend of Richard Strand. I played him many games of chess on my pocket chess set while in Jalalabad Prison in July
1978. I won all the games. Of course, he could not expect to have a chance against me as I am an experienced tournament chess player. We apparently got released from jail at the same time, perhaps on the same day. He immediately went and became the
leader of the Nuristan Freedom Fighters. He claimed he had killed a hundred men before he was killed himself in battle. There is a lot about him on Richard Strand's Nuristan Website.
Another was Akhtar Jan who got out and went to England on a student visa in part because of my sponsorship of him. In England, he became a Pashto Language Radio announcer on BBC radio. He later came to Chitral, married into the family of Prince Mohay-ud-
Din, but then was kidnapped and taken to Nuristan and held for ransom. His ransom was apparently paid but after he got out he died in a helicopter crash.
Another Nuristani I knew in jail was named Jalaluddin. He had red hair and was always preaching the Quran. He spoke no English. Every time I tried to speak to him, he responded by preaching the Quran.
You will find reading this book, The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, to be disturbing. The Kafir Nuristanis are always bragging about raiding the Muslim Communities. The are very proud of themselves for hiding in the forest sometimes for days at a time and
then when they catch some women with her small children gardening they jump on them chopping them all into pieces. Then they go back to their Kafiristan Villages and have a big dance and celebration about all the people they killed.
How can grown men be proud for having mercilessly killed women and small children even if it was in revenge for some killings by Muslims of Nuristanis?
Then they have a big dance. The Kafir Kalash are famous for dances. When a man dies among the Kalash, they dance around his body for 48 hours without sleep.
The Nuristanis dance too but not for so long or in such an organized way. They just dance a little bit. The dead bodies are put in a coffin, like the Kalash, but not just one body. As many as 20 dead bodies can go in a single coffin. I have never asked
the Kalash how many bodies they put in a single coffin so I do not know the answer.
Scene from the movie “The Man Who Would Be King”. Billy Fish offers a Kafir girl in marriage. She is wearing a headdress decorated with cowrie shells similar to what real Kalash girls wear today. What normal man would turn down a delightful girl like
this one? But, according to this book, Robertson turned her down.
It is apparent that John Huston (1906–1987) writer and producer of “The Man Who Would King”, the 1975 movie starring Sean Connery (better known for playing James Bond), Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer, had read this book because many scenes
in the movie come directly out of this book and are not in the original novel by Rudyard Kipling. The Kafir Chief in this book is Utah, who has same name as the Kafir Chief in the “Man Would Be King”. The scene where they offer Robertson a wife but
he turns her down is straight out of this book.
However some scenes in the movie are not in this book. The Nuristanis do not use a man's head as a ball to play polo.
We know that John Huston never visited the real place Kafiristan, because if he had been here we would have known about it. Instead, he used Morocco for the scenery and several Moroccans as the actors.
The Taliban has released a video threatening the Kalash with Death if they do not convert to Islam. See The Guardian for 13 February 2014.
These threats by the Taliban were more than just threats. In 2013, the Taliban attacked Chitral and 35 members of the Chitral Scouts were killed. There was another attack on 29 July 2016 when two Kalash shepherds were killed and the Taliban stole 300 of
their goats. The Pakistan Army came in and retaliated, killing several of the Taliban.
Hundreds of US Servicemen fought and some died defending Bargematal from a Taliban Attack on 21 July 2009. This was similar to the scene in the movie Apocalypse Now (1979) where the US forces are firing through the jungle at an enemy they do not know and
can not see. The US forces killed several hundred Taliban and, feeling they had won the battle, withdrew.
As soon as they pulled out, the Taliban took over and Bargematal has been under Taliban control ever since. So, the American lives that were lost were wasted. This is the same place where I took the picture above where the chief of the village told me to
leave but to come back next year.
In 1981 I returned to the Kalash Valleys but not in the normal way. The new Deputy Commissioner Shakil Durrani prohibited me from entering the Kalash Valleys, but I was determined to see Afiyat, the Kalash girl who had turned me down in marriage two
years before. So I climbed a high mountain pass at Orgoch, reaching Rumbur that way. I was so tired reaching Rumbur at night that I crawled into an animal shed and went to sleep. The following morning I met the brother of the chief of Bargematal I had
met four years earlier. As I was going to Bumboret, he walked around with me. Our conversation was pleasant until I found Afiyat. When the Nuristani saw me talking casually with Afiyat, he went crazy. Being Muslims, the Nuristanis have no access to women. So when he saw me talking to a beautiful girl, the situation seemed to get
violent and potentially dangerous. I had to get out of there.
A Greek researcher, Athanasios Lerounis, had spent ten years in the Kalash Valleys setting up schools, establishing a writing system and building a Kalash museum. Unfortunately, in 2009 he was kidnapped by an armed group of twenty men. His bodyguard was
killed by the kidnappers. He was taken to Nuristan and held for ransom in Nuristan for more than one year. The ransom was paid probably by the Greek Government but nobody knows how much.
After he was released, he was ordered to return to Greece. Then the Greeks cut off all funds and visas for his projects and everything was shut down. He had always planned to publish a book in the Kalash Language. His project was never finished and never
will be because of the kidnapping.
Since then, Pakistan has severely limited visits by foreigners to enter the Kalash Valleys. Foreigners are rarely allowed to enter and no foreigner is allowed to go there without a police escort. Naturally this is distressful for one such as myself
because I actually married a Chitrali girl. I have a child by her.
I have had this book in my computer for 8 years since 2009. I had never published it because I wanted to find somebody better qualified than me to write it. I could never find that person. What pushed me to finally write it was Ansari Bugi, a Pakistani
living in the Netherlands and an inveterate campaigner for rights of the Kalash. For the past more than thirty years, he has been for campaigning recognition for the Kalash, so when he asked me to reprint this book, I naturally responded.