July 18, 2016

The Ameer Abdur Rahman

This book is a biography, published in London in 1895, of ʿAbd al-Rahman Khan (circa 1844‒1901), amir of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901. ʿAbd al-Rahman Khan was a grandson of Dost Mohammad Khan, the founder the Barakzai dynasty of Afghanistan after the fall of the Durranis in 1842. ʿAbd al-Rahman was driven into exile in 1869, when his father and uncle lost a long struggle with Sher ʿAli to succeed Dost Mohammad. ʿAbd al-Rahman lived in Samarkand (in present-day Uzbekistan) in what was then Russian Turkestan until 1880, when, amid the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878–80, he returned to Kabul, where he was installed as amir. He negotiated a settlement with the British, whereby the British recognized him as amir while he acknowledged the British right to control the foreign relations of Afghanistan. The book recounts these events, as well as ʿAbd al-Rahman’s subsequent rule and his consolidation and partial modernization of the country up to 1895. The concluding chapter, entitled “A Ruler in Islam,” describes the amir’s accomplishments as an administrator in reforming and strengthening the Afghan state and its institutions, including the army. An appendix contains excerpts from the amir’s autobiography, translated from a Russian text produced during his exile in Russian Turkestan. The book includes a genealogical table of the Barakzais, a chronology, illustrations, and two maps. The author, Stephen Wheeler, was the editor of Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), a daily newspaper that was published in Lahore (in present-day Pakistan), which circulated in the Punjab, at that time part of British India. Wheeler wrote or edited several other books, but he is best known as the editor who employed the young Rudyard Kipling in his first job in journalism.

At the Court of the Amīr: A Narrative

At the Court of the Amīr: A Narrative is an account by John Alfred Gray, a British doctor who served as surgeon to ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan (circa 1844–1901), ruler of Afghanistan, for a number of years in the late 1880s‒early 1890s. Along with several British engineers, Gray had been recruited in England to provide advice and services to the amir. The book includes several chapters that relate specifically to health and the practice of medicine in Afghanistan at this time, including on Afghan hospitals, Afghan surgeons and physicians, an outbreak of cholera, and the illnesses and health of the amir and various members of the royal household. Other chapters cover primarily non-medical topics, such as Gray’s journey from Peshawar to Kabul, the inhabitants of Afghanistan, Afghan dwellings, life in Kabul, the seasons, and bazaars in Kabul. Gray recounts his meetings with the amir, who he describes as “a swarthy heavily built man,” who “seemed the personification of watchful strength,” and “who added to the courtesy of the Oriental something of the bluff heartiness of an Englishman.” He also describes his meetings with the sultana, wife of the amir, and conversations with her. A major role in the book is played by Gray’s interpreter, an Armenian Christian who had been educated at a missionary boarding school in India and had lived for many years in Kabul. A photograph of Gray and the interpreter, both in Oriental dress, is in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde

Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde is a first-hand account of a journey taken in 1810‒11 through parts of present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. The author, Henry Pottinger (1789‒1856), was a lieutenant in the East India Company who, along with a friend and fellow officer, Captain Charles Christie, volunteered to undertake a mission to the region between India and Persia (present-day Iran), about which the East India Company at that time had little knowledge. The two men journeyed from Bombay (present-day Mumbai) to Sind (present-day southeast Pakistan) from where, disguised as Indians, they traveled overland to Kalat. They were quickly recognized as Europeans, but they were able to continue their journey to Nushki, near the present-day border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There the men separated. Pottinger continued westward to Persia, through Kerman to Shiraz and Isfahan. Christie traveled north from Nushki into Afghanistan, through Helmand to Herat and from there into Persia to Yazd and Isfahan, where he rejoined Pottinger. Christie was directed to remain in Persia, where in 1812 he was killed in a Russian attack. Pottinger returned to Bombay via Baghdad and Basra. The book is in two parts. The first is a detailed account of Pottinger’s journey, with observations on climate, terrain, soil, plants and animals, peoples and tribes, customs, religion, and popular beliefs. The second is an introduction to the history and geography of the provinces of Baluchistan and Sind. An appendix reproduces part of the journal kept by Christie on his travels through Afghanistan. The book contains one colored illustration at the front and a large fold-out map after the end of the text. Pottinger went on to have a distinguished career with the East India Company and the British government. In April 1843 he was appointed the first British governor of Hong Kong.

Central Asian Questions

Demetrius Charles Boulger (1853–1928) was a British orientalist who wrote prolifically on topics mainly related to the British Empire. With Sir Lepel Henry Griffin (1840–1908), a British administrator in India, he co-founded the Asiatic Quarterly Review, which he edited for a time. An unapologetic imperialist with strongly anti-Russian views, Boulger criticized the British government for its lack of assertiveness, as he saw it, in defending British interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Central Asian Questions: Essays on Afghanistan, China, and Central Asia is a collection of 24 of his previously published pieces dealing with Russian policy in Central Asia, Anglo-Russian rivalry, British policy toward Afghanistan and, in by far the largest part of the book, China. In the introduction, Boulger writes prophetically about the future of China: “The power of China is not yet equal to the vastness of her pretensions, but it will some day enable her to make them good in face of every rival. When England and Russia have reached the limit of their resources and authority in Asia, China will still be developing the power to hold her own and to exercise on the future history of the world that influence which cannot yet be measured with any degree of accuracy. China is now the least powerful factor in the Central Asian problem; but unless her rulers are extremely apathetic, she is the Power that will acquire material strength in the greatest degree.” The book has three maps, one showing “the acquisitions of the Russian Empire towards India,” another “the valleys of the Murghab and Hari Rud,” and a third the Chinese Empire.

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.

Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara, in the Years 1843-1845, to Ascertain the Fate of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly

In December 1838 Colonel Charles Stoddart arrived in Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan), where he had been sent on a mission by the British East India Company to try to arrange an alliance with the khanate against the Russian Empire, whose expansion into Central Asia was of concern to the British. The ruler of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan (reigned 1827‒60), had Stoddart imprisoned in a vermin-infested dungeon under the Ark Fortress for failing to bow before him, bring gifts, and to show signs of respect that the emir regarded as his due. In November 1841, Captain Arthur Conolly, a fellow officer who is best remembered as the coiner of the phrase “the Great Game” (the competition between Great Britain and Russia for influence in Central Asia) arrived in Bukhara to try to secure Stoddart’s release. He was also imprisoned by the emir and on June 17, 1842, both men were executed. Word of the executions did not reach Britain, and in 1843 Dr. Joseph Wolff (1795‒1862) undertook a mission to Bukhara to try to ascertain the fates of the two men. Wolff, who had extensive experience in the Middle East and Central Asia, volunteered his services to a committee that had been formed in London to try to help the captives. Wolff was brilliant, courageous, and eccentric. He was born in Germany into the family of a rabbi but had converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism at a young age. He studied theology and Near Eastern languages in Austria and Germany and then went to Rome intending to become a missionary. After falling out with the church over theological issues, he became an Anglican. In 1821 he began his career as a missionary to the Jews of the Middle East and Central Asia, and in that capacity spent many years working in the region as far east as Afghanistan. Wolff was himself nearly executed in Bukhara, but he managed with the help of the Persian government to return to England and to bring word of the fate of Stoddart and Conolly. Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara is Wolff’s account of his mission. It contains much information about the countries through which he traveled (present-day Turkey, Iran, and Uzbekistan), particularly concerning the religious beliefs and practices of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians he encountered. Wolff denounces Nasrullah Khan as a “cruel miscreant” guilty of the “foul atrocity” of the officers’ murder. The book, which ran to seven editions in its first seven years after publication, contains line drawings of notable and common people.