Siah Posh ‘Kafirs’ of Kafiristan [Nuristan]


Family of Kafiristan, 1827-1842. Illustrations by Imam Bakhsh Lahori for the memoirs of General Claude-Auguste Court (French general of Ranjit Singh), Lahore.



People of Kafiristan, c.1830-1840. From an album of paintings held in the British Library. Photo courtesy Farrukh Husain.


Several British authors claimed for the Siah-posh tribes Hellenic ancestry but they themselves did not put forth a claim to such descent. The author of Hayat-i-Afghani (completed in 1865) informs us that, “They (Kafirs) make themselves to be descended from an ancestor Gurrashi, and claim kindred with all races that wear the hair long and drink wine.” [1]

Kafirs had traditions that they were the aboriginal inhabitants of regions south of river Kabul before the spread of Islam. Raverty in 1859 tells us ;

“According to the traditions preserved among them , they (Kafirs) affirm, that coeval with the spread of Islam, they occupied the countries to the south of their present location , and have been subsequently compelled to seek liberty and for safety, among the mountains and valleys of the Hindu Kush, from the insupportable tyranny of their Mohammedan neighbors whom they designate “Awdal”. They appear, therefore, unquestionably to be the remnants of the aboriginal inhabitants of the country to the south of river Kabul and central Afghanistan (i.e Pakhtunkhwa) as at present constituted.” [2]

The first distinct mention of Kafirs as a separate race appears in the autobiography of Amir Timur. When he arrived at Andarab (Baghlan province, Afghanistan) in 1398, the people there complained to him against Kator Kafirs and Siah-Poshan.



Timur describes Siah-Posh Kafirs as ‘people of powerful frame and fair complexion’, with a language different from Turki, Persian, Hindi and Kashmiri.



In one of the defiles of Kafiristan, Timur built a tower of skulls of Siah-Posh Kafirs ;


Babur mentions Kafirs as great wine-drinkers in his memoirs. Each Kafir had leathern wine-bag at his neck.



In circa 1550 A.D, the Safed-posh Kafirs acknowledged, nominally at least, allegiance to Khan Kaju, the famous chief of the Yusafzai and Mandanr Pashtuns. [Tawarikh Hafiz Rahmat Khani]



In 1581 A.D Akbar, on reaching Jalalabad, [after his return from his campaign against Mirza Muhammad Hakim], sent a body of troops against Kafirs of Kator. [Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh]


Portuguese Jesuit Benedict Goës, travelling from Peshawar to Kabul in 1603, heard of a city (or country) called Capperstam (Kafiristan).


In 17th century geographical work “Takwim al Buldan” by Sadiq Isfahani, Kator, “the country of Siah-Poshan”, is mentioned.


In 1625 the emperor Jahangir met with a deputation of Siah-Posh kafirs from Darra-i Nur in Jalalabad. Iqbal Nama-i-Jahangiri describes the customs and manners of Siah-Posh Kafirs as follow :-


(The author of Iqbal Nama-i-Jahangiri is telling us that Siah-Posh Kafirs worshiped idols resembling men, were mostly monogamous, were very found of red-coloured cloths, ate any kind of meat except pork, fish and chicken. etc)

We are told by the author of Khulasat-ul-Ansab (c.1750), that Kafirs of Lamghan, Pich, Kunar, Talash, Panjkora, Chumlah, Buner, Darmatur, Pakhli, Panjsher, Kohistan etc were either converted to Islam or killed by Pashtuns, and the latter were still at war with Kafirs in his times.



One of the wife of Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah I (or Shah Alam I) was a Kafiri slave girl captured during a raid on Kafiristan. She was known as Amat-ul-Habib (slave-girl of Habib). The faujdar of Mughal fort of Langarkot (in the Mardan district) had sent her to emperor Aurangzeb who presented her to his son.



Kafirs of the Katar tribe were accounted by the Afghans as the most bigot among Siah-Poshan. Pashtun poet Abdul Hamid Mohmand (died in 1732 A.D) refers to them as follow :

کافران به د کټار مسلمانان شي
که رقيب مې په ژړا او ترسېده
(Katar Kafirs will soon become Muslims as guardian of the beloved is softened by my tears)

Pashtun and Kafirs had deep seated enmity. Pashtuns sang ;

“As long as Kafiristan exists, i can not sleep in peace.
Let Kafiristan be destroyed and it may never be inhabited.
Go to the Katar tribe, and bring me a Kafir (slave).”



About the end of 18th century, the Afghan chiefs of Bajaur, Panjkorah, Kunar and others , confederated together and entered the Kafir country, where they burnt some hamlets and forced several persons to embrace Islam ; but the invaders were soon compelled to retreat , after sustaining severe loss. Five or six years since, the Bajaur chief made an inroad into that part of Kafiristan adjoining his own district ; burned and sacked some villages , whom he subsequently sold into slavery. [3]

Mountstuart Elphinstone, who visited Afghanistan in 1808, writes, “They [Tarklanris of Bajaur] frequently invade the Caufirs [Kafirs] for plunder, and to carry off slaves ; the Caufirs retaliate, but only by ambuscades and surprises, being too weak for open war.


1- “Afghanistan and its inhabitants”, p-314
2-  “Notes on Kafiristan”, H.G.raverty, 1859

3- Ibid



“Deenbur, A Siah-Posh Kaffir”, 1836. From “Cabool: Being a Personal Narrative of a Journey to, and Residence in that City” , Burnes 


The Siah Posh Kafir Jamshed, with a Swati Musalman. Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 26 September 1874.


Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 26 September 1874.


“Women’s dance to the gods when the men are raiding”, Kafiristan.Source: “The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush” by Sir George Scott Robertson (1852-1916)



A group of seven Kafir girls, Kabul, 1895. By Lillias Anna Hamilton



“Kaffir slave, Kabul”. 1836’s watercolour painting by Godfrey Thomas Vigne



`Chandur Seorposh Kaffir Boy’, 1836, by Godfrey Thomas Vigne.



A Kafir woman, 1885. Photo taken in the upper Bashgul valley by Surgeon G.M.J.Giles 



Hayat Khan, a “Nimacha”, a Kaffir, connected to Mahomedanism. Jellalabad, 24 March 1879. By William Simpson.

“Nimchah (نیمچه ) were descendants of those Kafirs who had intermarried with their Afghan neighbors, or the offspring of the Afghans females whom they might have captured in their forays. Nimchah is Persian derivative from nim, half or the middle, and chah, a particle added to nouns to form diminutives. The so called Nimchahs married with the Kafirs and Afghans indiscriminately. They also acted as guides on either side. They were excessively ignorant of the Muslim creed, and most of them even appeared ignorant of the necessary forms of prayers. They all used to drink a strong undistilled wine, which they kept a long time before broaching. [H.G.Raverty]


A group of women and children Kafir/Nuristani refugees in Kabul, 1896 (c). Photo by Lillias Anna Hamilton.



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