Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier


Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier is a first-hand account by Dr. Theodore Leighton Pennell of the 16 years that he spent as a medical missionary at the medical mission station at Bannu (in present-day Pakistan) on the Northwest Frontier of India. The book was first published in 1908; presented here is the fourth edition of 1927. Pennell begins with a chapter entitled “The Afghan Character,” which is followed by several chapters discussing Afghan traditions, the geography of the border region, and the prevalence of tribal feuds and conflicts. Other chapters include “Afghan Mullahs” and “Afghan Women.” Much of the work concerns Islamic customs and traditions, as practiced in Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province. Pennell discusses his medical work, which included treating eye diseases (which “form more than a quarter of the whole”), consumption (tuberculosis), and flesh and bone wounds suffered during the numerous blood feuds in which the local tribes engaged. He also discusses traditional medical practices, which included the nearly universal use of charms and amulets, and two widely used treatments, dzan and dam. The former, employed mainly to treat fevers, involved killing a goat or sheep and wrapping the patient in the skin of the animal, “with the raw surface next to him and the wool outside,” a process said to cause profuse perspiration and a breaking of the fever. Dam involved burning into the flesh with a cloth steeped in oil and then set on fire. Purgatives and bloodletting were also widely used. The book is illustrated with photographs; it also contains a small map of the Northwest Frontier Province and a “Glossary of Words Not Generally Used Outside India.”

Last updated: August 26, 2016