Friday, May 9, 2014

The Kafirs

1. Kafir Girl.

2. Kafir Man.

3. A Kafir altar.

4-7. Kafir funeral totems in the Bumboret Valley.

8. Bones with totem.

9, 10. An 'on-jesta-mosh', or young male virgin, raises his arms aloft (having purified them in the torrent) and brandishes the knife that will be used to slaughter the sacrifical goat.

11. Another on-jesta-mosh runs round the altar several times, with a flaming juniper-branch in his hand; the scented smoke of this sacred tree is particularly pleasing to the gods

12. The goat has been ritually slain and beheaded, and its blood poured out over the altar. Now a shaman invokes the Shawan, or Fates, and passes into a hypnotic trance.

13, 14. The shaman in hypnosis: he walks on hot coals without feeling pain, and declares, on interrogation, that he can see the Shawan.

15. The shaman's psychic condition reaches a moment of high tension, he is in a state of collapse.

16-18. Three young Kafir girls in traditional costume.

Moslems use the term  kafir to denote 'the infidels who are not of the Book', neither Christian nor Jewish.
The small group of Kafirs in Chitral (they number only 2,500 to 3,000) are the last survivors of those archaic mountain tribes who, having retreated to well-nigh inaccessible strongholds, were able to endure the waves of conquest that overtook the peoples of the plain.  
There are two distinct types of Kafir  :  the kati, or 'Red  Kafirs', and the kalash, or 'Black Kafirs'. The Chitrali Kafirs are kalash ('black', or, to put it in a more plain, straightforward, and etymologically correct way, 'filthy'). Till a few decades ago the Kati formed a large tribal group that occupied the upper valleys of the Hindu Kush, along the Afghan frontier: they seem to have numbered several hundred thousands. In  1895  the Emir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan, 'a typical Oriental despot of the old school', decided, whether for political or strategical motives, that the time had come to subdue these recalcitrant idolaters and convert them to the True Faith of Allah. The Red Kafirs were massacred, broken up, or made slaves for the use of the Emir's troops (who had been trained by the latest Prussian methods and equipped with up-to-date weapons). Those few who survived had no option but to burn their ancient images and outlandish sanctuaries, and lose no time in building mosques instead. The very name of Kafiristan ('the land of the Kafirs') was changed to Nuristan ('the land of light').
We have very scanty evidence, taken all in all, concerning the Red Kafirs. Fortunately Robertson decided to investigate them a short time before Abdur Rahman's purge; and the resultant book forms a unique testament to an historical-cultural phenomenon (now vanished for ever) and offers precious data concerning the history not only of Asia, but also of the peoples in the Indo-European tradition.
The area occupied by the Kafirs, both Red and Black, consists of those high, remote valleys that lie on the south side of the Hindu Kush, and straddle the Afghan border. As Robertson observed, this is one of the most difficult and inaccessible mountain districts in the world, being not only inhospitable but also perilous in the extreme.

Excerpt from the book: Fosco Maraini - Where Four Worlds Meet. Hindu Kush. 1959 - A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book, Harcourt, Brace &  World, Inc., New  York, 1964. (translated from Italian by Peter Green). First published in Italy as Paropàmiso by Leonardo da Vinci Editrice, Bari, 1963.

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