The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush


Kafiristan, or “The Land of the Infidels,” was a region of eastern Afghanistan where the inhabitants had retained their traditional pagan culture and religion and rejected conversion to Islam. The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush is a detailed ethnographic account of the Kafirs, written by George Scott Robertson (1852‒1916), a British administrator in India. With the approval of the government of India, Robertson made a preliminary visit to Kafiristan in October 1889, and then lived among the Kafirs for almost a year, from October 1890 to September 1891. Robertson describes his journey from Chitral (in present-day Pakistan) to Kafiristan and the difficulties he encountered in traveling about the country and in gaining information about the Kafir culture and religion. The latter, he writes, “is a somewhat low form of idolatry, with an admixture of ancestor-worship and some traces of fire-worship also. The gods and goddesses are numerous, and of varying degrees of importance or popularity.” Robertson describes religious practices and ceremonies, the tribal and clan structure of Kafir society, the role of slavery, the different villages in the region, and everyday life and social customs, including dress, diet, festivals, sport, the role of women in society, and much else that he observed first-hand. The book is illustrated with drawings, and it concludes with a large fold-out topographical map, which shows the author’s route in Kafiristan. In 1896 the ruler of Afghanistan, Amir ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan (reigned 1880−1901), conquered the area and brought it under Afghan control. The Kafirs became Muslims and in 1906 the region was renamed Nuristan, meaning the “Land of Light,” a reference to the enlightenment brought by Islam.

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Lawrence & Bullen, London


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658 pages : illustrations, maps ; 26 centimeters


  1. Dorothy Anderson, “Robertson, Sir George Scott (1852‒1916),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Last updated: September 16, 2016