July 27, 2016

The Princely Offering

Tuḥfah-i Amīrī (The princely offering) is a book on the topic of gunpowder published in Afghanistan at the end of the 19th century. The author, Gul Muhammad Khan Barakzayi, dedicates the work to the Afghan ruler, Amir ʻAbd al-Rahman Khan (reigned 1880–1901). The introduction gives the proportions of the constituent parts of gunpowder (saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur) used in European countries such as Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Sweden. The main body of the book is in two chapters, each of which is further divided into sections. The first chapter is on topics related to the physical and chemical characteristics of gunpowder, such as its composition, water content, and hardness. The second chapter deals with the industrial manufacture of gunpowder, but Barakzayi concludes this chapter with sections on the manufacture and storage of dynamite, an invention that predates the book by about three decades. The book lists as possible stabilizing agents for dynamite the diatomaceous earth known as Kieselgur (mined in Hanover, Germany, the author notes), sawdust, and paper. In his introduction, Barakzayi associates gunpowder with European progress, but he also offers a short account in which he claims that the compound originated in the East. In Barakzayi’s rather muddled rendering, however, gunpowder is said to have been in use by the Arabs before the birth of Christ and was subsequently transmitted to Europe during the Sassanian era (224‒651). The book was published by the Dar al-Saltana press in Kabul in 1315 AH (1897‒98).

Memorial of Calligraphers

Taz̲kirat al-khaṭṭāṭīn (Memorial of calligraphers) is a book of verse in the mathnawi form. This type of poetry is based on a scheme of individually rhyming couplets and is used in many important works of Persian literature. The author, Muhammad Idris Khvajah Raji Bukhari (died 1919 or 1920), was a literary figure in the fabled city of Bukhara (in present-day Uzbekistan), capital of the Emirate of Bukhara. As the title of the book suggests, the work belongs to the tazkira (memorial) genre, and Raji Bukhari includes in it the names of the Bukharan calligraphers of his day and short accounts of their life and work. These miniature biographical sketches are preceded by an extended and whimsical description of the art of calligraphy itself, and of the various proportions and shapes of the Persian alphabet. Raji Bukhari concludes his work with a list of short references to various branches of knowledge, including logic and grammar. The manuscript, in a nastaʻliq script, was copied in 1908‒9, possibly in Afghanistan. The scribe, Katib Kuchak Bukhari, notes that he based his text on the divan (or collected works) of Raji Bukhari. Bukhara came under the control of the Russian Empire in the second half of the 19th century. In 1920, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was declared the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic. It subsequently became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.

Mirror of the World

Mirʼāt al-arz̤ (Mirror of the world) is a text on geography, written for Afghan students. The work begins with a discussion of general topics, such as the shape of the Earth and its rotational motion and revolution about the sun, the great circles, and geographical longitude. It then presents information on each of the continents, listing the area of each and “well-known” countries and cities located therein. Each of the listed countries is further discussed by a presentation of boundaries in the cardinal directions, its capital, the name of the ruler, comments on the method of governance, its economic wealth, and the size of its army. The book concludes with a glossary of common geographical terms, such as gulf, peninsula, and so forth. It contains no maps or illustrations. The work was published in 1905‒6, during the reign of Habibullah Khan (ruled 1901–19). The author is not listed.

The Delight of Assemblies

Ṭarab al-majālis (The delight of assemblies) is a book of moral advice written in the 13th century by Husayn ibn ʻAlim, also known as Mir Husayni Haravi (1272 or 1273‒circa 1317), a well-known Sufi. Born in Ghor (in present-day Afghanistan), the author appears to have spent much of his adult life in nearby Herat, hence the appellation Haravi. The work is divided into five sections: creation; various classes of human beings; the superiority of humans to animals; ethical behavior; and vice. The edition presented here is a lithographic printing produced in Tashkent, Russian Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan) in 1914‒15, during the waning years of the tsarist empire. It was published at the Yakovlev printing press, which was known for printing works in Persian and other non-European languages during the first decades of the 20th century. The book has sustained considerable damage to a number of its initial and final leaves and has been partially repaired.

Rule Book for Measurement Standards

Niẓāmnāmah-ʼi miqyāsāt (Rule book for measurement standards) deals with the standardization of measurement systems pertaining to length and weight, as well as currency. It was published in Afghanistan during the reign of Amanullah Khan (1919‒29), the ruler under whom Afghanistan won its full independence from Great Britain. The book provides the names for the subdivisions and multiples of the units of length and weight in the metric system (i.e., the meter and the gram), but it does not provide information relating these new units to traditional units of measure, such as the dharʻ for length and the mithqal for weight. The introduction of the new standards was instead based on official prototypes that were shipped to various locations in Afghanistan and used as points of reference. The discussion of currency does provide conversion rates for the new monetary unit, the afghani, a silver coin weighing 10 grams that replaced the Kabuli rupee (at a rate of 11 Kabuli rupees to 10 afghanis). Also listed in the work are two gold coins, the amani and the half amani, named in honor of the Afghan ruler, and valued at 20 afghanis and 10 afghanis, respectively. The work includes an implementation timetable, which requests that the conversion project be completed by the spring of 1929, and warns that unspecified penalties will be imposed on those failing to make the conversion to the new system. The work was published in March 1926, in 50 copies, at the Rafiq printing press in Kabul. The author is unknown, but the book is stamped with the official seal of Amanullah Khan. Niẓāmnāmah-i albisah-i ʼaskarīyah (Military uniform regulation book), a slightly earlier work dealing with military uniform regulations under Amanullah Khan, appears to reflect a similar preoccupation with standardization as a key to progress.

Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab, and Kalât

Charles Masson (alias of James Lewis) was a traveler and explorer who was the first European to appreciate the archeological heritage of Afghanistan. Not much is known about his early life. He was born in London in 1800 and by all accounts received a good education that included Latin, Greek, and French. After a quarrel with his father, in 1821 he enlisted as an infantryman in the army of the East India Company. He sailed for Bengal in early 1822. In July 1827, he deserted his regiment, changed his name, and traveled westward to escape British jurisdiction. After wandering through Rajasthan and the independent Sikh territory, he crossed into Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass. Over the course of the next decade he traveled extensively throughout Afghanistan. He also spent time in Persia (present-day Iran) and Sind (present-day Pakistan). He began his archeological explorations in 1832 with a survey of the Buddhist caves at Bamyan. In 1833 he discovered the ruins of the ancient city of Alexandria ad Caucasum, founded by Alexander the Great. He collected more than 80,000 silver, gold, and bronze coins and made a particular contribution to science by recognizing the importance of bilingual bronze coins, whose Greek inscriptions could be used to decode unknown scripts that appeared on the reverse side. Masson’s real identity was discovered by the British authorities, but he received a pardon in recognition of his archeological work and the valuable intelligence about Afghanistan he provided. He left Afghanistan in October 1838. Living in Karachi, he wrote an account of his archeological investigations and completed his three-volume Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Panjab, which was published in London in 1842. With the first Anglo-Afghan War (1839‒42) underway, in early 1840 he attempted to return to Kabul, but was caught up in the siege and insurrection in the Khanate of Kalat (in present-day Pakistan) and for a time was imprisoned as a spy. Following his release in January 1841, Masson wrote Narrative of a Journey to Kalât, which was published in London in 1843. In 1844 his publisher reissued Narrative of Various Journeys, with Narrative of a Journey to Kalât added as a fourth volume to the original edition. Volume four opens with a large fold-out map showing Masson’s journeys. Presented here is the complete 1844 edition.