Sunday, 27 March 2016

Raiders of Waziristan

(Excerpt from "Afghanistan and its inhabitants", pages-157 ,158 , English translation by Henry Priestley of Hayat-i-Afghani by Muhammad Hayat Khan, published in 1867)

Plunder is with the Wazirs more than a propensity ; it reaches the dignity of a principle. It is upon their dexterity and bravery in this kind of enterprise that they specially pride themselves. If degree there be among them , perhaps the Mahsuds may be allowed the palm. The chief foray-ground is the Gomal pass , but the property of all neighboring tribes , and specially of the subjects of the British government, is lawful prize. The curious thing is that the stolen goods of the subjects of a Christian government should be so highly regarded and invested , in the popular belief  with such remarkable virtues that the Wazirs make it a point , wherever possible to have their winding-sheet made of such stolen cloth. Every clan has a few bold and practiced robbers , called payawari (braves) who are in communication with each other, and when through a spy, or otherwise, information is received of the approach of a caravan , or wandering herds and flocks, or of the accessibility of any tempting prize , these payawari get together a band of such number as the enterprise may require. When such band consists of less than ten men who start under cover of night , they are called ghlah (thieves) ; if the band numbers more than ten but less than one hundred , its is called a ghadi; if more than one and less than two hundred , it is a tarak, and if more than 200 , a lashkar. In the three last cases horses are commonly associated , and the expedition is called a takht. Such marauding parties are headed by a noted payawari. When the enterprise is directed against some place within the British territories , the following order of procedure is usually observed. When the band reaches the British boundary, such of them are considered less suited for the more desperate work , are left in charge of the superfluous clothing and equipment of the rest. These are called tsarbani. The others,  arrived at the place of proposed robbery , are divided by their leader into two parties , of which one has to make a way into the house or other building and bring out the booty, while the other keeps watch outside to warn the first of danger, and prevent the escape of any one who might give an alarm. These watchers are armed with dagger and sword , and some time also gun and pistols , and carry in their hands round stones. Should the owner or any one concerned attempt to raise the alarm or lay hands on the marauders , the watchers throw these stones at him, and , provided the robbers emerge in safety, and make good their escape , attempt no further harm. But if any of them are in danger of capture , there is no scruple about laying murderous hands on the disturbers. Occasionally murder is committed out of pure wantonness , but more usually the proceeding is as described.  The prize secured , all possible haste is made to reach the mountains. On the boundary, the booty is transferred to the waiting tsarbani, who hasten forward with it into the heart of the mountains beyond all reach of pursuit, while the active perpetrators refresh themselves with bread prepared in readiness of their arrival, and afterwards , wearied with their exertions and hard marching , dispose themselves for a long sleep, during which one of their number keeps watch and ward against possible pursuit. The prize is divided into a number of shares (dadi) according to circumstances , and of these , each robber who entered the premises, made an opening by which admissions is gained , or drove out cattle , receives two ; the leader also receives two or more ; those remaining outside receive one each , and the tsarbani one-fourth of a share each (kaudagai). But besides this, regard is hard in the distribution to the weapons carried by each , one share each being allowed for sword, gun and pistol , and a half a share for shield , provided these are really the property of the bearer and not merely borrowed for the occasion. Probably this consideration , aided by the ambition that animates every Wazir of earning the title if payawari is why most of them have so many weapons. The property stolen on such enterprise commonly consists of either cattle , or of cloths, and household utensils. The latter are disposed of amongst the Wazirs themselves . The cattle are sold either to the Suleiman Khel or other Ghilzais, to the Tori of Khost, or to certain Mians of the Khattak country , all of whom are usually on close terms with the robber-leaders.

Mahsud tribesmen , 1868. From Watson and Kaye collection

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