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"Darwaz and Karategin: An Ethnographical Sketch" by Charles Johnston is a description of the Darwaz and Karategin regions during the turn of the last century. This article was written less than 20 years after the conquest of Darwaz and Karategin by the Bukharan Khanate. In 1895, three years after this article was published, Darwaz was divided between Afghanistan and Bukhara. Much of the population in southern Darwaz fled the Afghans and resettled in northern Darwaz. Today northern Darwaz  is situated in central Tajikistan and southern Darwaz is a district in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan. Karategin is a district in central Tajikistan. Only a few grammatical changes have been made from the original article, including the replacement of foot notes with bracketed notations. 

Useful links: 

 Political Map of Tajikistan - 1995 
 Map of Central Asia in 1895 

 List of name changes of cities and sites in Tajikistan since 1900 


Bekdom - province in the Bukharan Khanate 

Bek - provincial ruler 

Khan- ruler of the Khanate of Bukhara; local sovereign 

Kokan - the Khanate of Kokand, which fell to the Russian is 1864 and was annexed to Russia in 1876

 The Tajikistan Update 
Asiatic Quarterly
New Series – Volume III.
January— April, 1892.
The Oriental University Institute.

Darwaz and Karategin:
An Ethnographical Sketch.

Looking southwards from the citadel of Kokan, over the dark green plains of Fergana, the snowy ranges of the Alai mountains are seen on the horizon, their tall white summits marked out like lace against the sapphire sky. 
 The country beyond Alai, limited eastward by the heights of the Pamir, is held between the two mighty arms of the Oxus, the Kyzyl-Su to the north, and the Pyanj to the south. [Kizil-Su and Panj]. The territory, drained by these two great rivers, slopes westward from the lofty glaciers and icy peaks of the Pamirs, descending gradually to the plains and desert wastes of Bokhara. It is seamed by huge granite ridges, towering up into the eternal snows, from whose margins mountain-torrents descend through the slate and clay of the valleys, to swell the waters of the Pyanj and Kyzyl-Su. The Kyzyl-Su bears various names, alluding to it ruddy stream, being called also Surkh-ab, the Red River; and, on its lower waters, Vaksh, under which name it joins the Pyanj at Sarai-Katagon, in the Bekdom of Kurgan-Tyupe [Tépé]; thence the united streams flow west toward the Sea of Aral, under the names of Oxus, Amu Darya, or Jai-Khun. The Kyzyl-Su and Pyanj rivers are walled off from each other by the Darwaz Mountains, running almost due east and west, and dividing the waters northward to the Kyzyl-Su and southward to the Pyanj. 

    The Bekdom of Darwaz stretches southwards from the Darwaz mountains, across the Pyanj, to the highlands of Badakhshan, with a breadth varying between forty and eighty miles. Eastward, Darwaz is bounded by Roshan-Shugnan; and westward, by the Bekdoms of Kulyab (Koláb) and Baljuan, its greatest length being about 270 miles. Darwaz is divided into two wide valleys, the valley of the Pyanj to the south, and that of the Khing-ab— a tributary of the Kyzyl-Su – on the north. Some of the streams of Darwaz, the Khing-ab, the Sagrydasht, the Yazilon and the Kafua, bring down fine grains and flakes of gold, sought for amongst the broken conglomerate of the banks by the Darwazan mountaineers; the Khing-ab has also layers of sulphur, and the river Vanch, a tributary of the Pyanj, supplies rich deposits of iron ore. 

    Trees and vegetation generally are very scare in all the mountain Bekdoms, including Darwaz; here and there a birch, sycamore, wild apple, pear, or silver poplar breaks the monotony of the wild scenery; and, in the villages of the mountaineers, apricots, plums, pears, and cherries are common enough, with, more rarely, a few carefully tended vines. Barbary-bushes, white thorn, and almonds are occasionally met with; but vegetation is general is so scarce that almost the only fuel is cow-dung. There is, however, a rich zone of grass along the rivers, especially on the banks of the Khing-ab in Darwaz, to which great herds of cattle are driven for the summer pasturage from Hissar, Baljuan, Kulyab, and Boisun. The summer pasturage lasts from the middle of May till the middle of September, when vast flocks of sheep gather along the Khing-ab, while herds of horned cattle and horses graze in the valley of Dasht-Bidon, below the junction of the Khing-ab and Kyzyl-Su. 

    The horses are large, big-boned, and broad-nosed, and are sought after by merchants from Bokhara and Samarkand, who buy them from the mountaineers for strips of calico and cotton, combs, mirrors, bracelets, and necklaces, the price of a good horse from £2 to £4. 

 The merchants drive their herds by the old roads across the mountains, reaching Karategin and Baljuan by the Nurak bridge across the Surkh-ab (Kyzyl-Su), or descending to Bokhara through Hissar-Pirshad. At these two points a toll is levied upon the herds, at the rate of about sixpence for a horse, threepence a head for horned cattle, and a penny for a sheep; the sum realized every year being about £6,000. 

    The absence of trees, the severity of the winter, lasting from the middle of September till May, the temperature often reaching 35°C. of cold, especially during the season of storms, and the rugged, inhospitable mountains, all act together to produce a wild, hardy people, full of the rugged power of the nature around them. Their mountains give shelter to leopards, brown bears, wolves, foxes, wild sheep and goats, boars, and hares, whose skins are sent to Bokhara, Afghanistan, and India. 

    Birds are scarcer; a few jackdaws and rock pigeons nest among the mountains; and in the villages are sometime found peacocks, brought from India. 

    Karategin lies to the north of Darwaz, and occupies the narrow valley of the Kyzyl-Su, running along both sides of the river for about 230 miles. In climate and natural conditions, Karategin is much like Darwaz, though perhaps rather more fertile, especially along the river banks. 
   Darwaz and Karategin, both by their position behind the Alai and Altai mountains, and by their rugged, inhospitable climate and six-months snow-bound winter, have been shut off from the migrations and raids which spread again and again over Turkestan. The Arab, Mongol, Turk, and Uzbek tribes, who successively dominated Central Asia, have never found a footing in Darwaz and Karategin, where the aboriginal population remains almost intact. The history of these two Bekdoms is, briefly, as follows: — Almost the earliest notice of their existence we have, is the fact that for a brief period Darwaz was subject to the Bokharan Khan, Abdulla Khan, who reigned from 1538 to 1597 of our era; and to his son Kyrgiz-Khan, who named his residency in Darwaz Kaloi-Kumb, and a Kumb, or jar of granite, supposed to have been left by Alexander the Great. Darwaz, which did not fulfill Abdulla Khan’s expectations of mineral wealth, soon succeeded in casting off the Bokharan yoke, and from that time was harassed by intrigues between opposing parties of indigenous Shahs, who alternately seized the citadel of Kolai-Kumb. The Darwaz Shahs at various times managed to subjugate Karategin, Baljuan, Shugnan, and Roshan, in which similar intrigues were constantly carried on. This state of things went on till about twenty-five years ago, when Isamil Shah succeeded in not only subjugating Karategin and Shugnan, but even, for a time, Hissar and Kulyab. In trying to push his dominion still further to the west, Ismail Shah was taken prisoner by Sary Khan, the ruler of Kulyab, and Darwaz lost not only Karategin, but even its own province on the Khing-ab (Vahia and Kulyas). Then the Khan of Darwaz sought the protection of Bokhara, and became the vassal of the Bokharan Emir. Subsequently Hissar and Kulyab, in 1868, and Karategin, in 1869, came under the power of Bokhara and were occupied by the Emir’s troops in 1877. At present. Darwaz is governed by a Bek, who has his headquarters at Kolai-Kumb, and is supported by a battalion of Bokharan infantry (Sarbazis). 

    At the present time the Darwazans are making frequent raids into the territories of Pyanj, Khing-ab, Surkh-ab, and Shugnan, to supply the slave market of Bokhara. With the power of Bokhara, a thing veneering of Mussulmanism was introduced into Darwaz and Karategin; and the Bokharans have made the wives of the mountaineers wear the chashban, or horse-hair veil. But in spite of these innovations, the life of the mountaineers remains almost exactly the same as it was a thousand years ago. 

    M.G. A. Arandarenko, a member of the Turkestan administration, who recently visited Darwaz and Karategin, has published a very interesting account of the life and customs of the mountaineers of the two Bekdoms, from which I have extracted the following details. "The mountaineer," writes M. Arandarenko, "is the child of wild, fierce nature. His type, his character, and conception of life, reflect the influence of the physical characteristics of the country, with which he has to wage a perpetual war, and to which he is compelled to adapt himself. Driven hither by unknown historical events, probably religious persecutions, the old aborigines of Central Asia have not lost even now the typical character of the old Persian tribes. The mountaineers must by no means be considered half-breed Tajiks, whose representatives, the inhabitants of Khodjent, Urgut, and other settlements in Turkestan, are sharply separated from the Karategin and, even more, the Darwaz mountaineers, not only in type, but also in the structure of their language, which has become so much differentiated among the mountains, that the inhabitants of Central Darwaz hardly understand the pure Persian speech of Karategin, comprehend with difficulty the Vanch mountaineers, and are quite unable to understand the speech of the neighboring Shugnan. 

    "The type of mountaineers of Darwaz and Karategin is very similar: dusky skin; straight, thick, black, red, or brown hair; eyes, black or light-brown; features, regular and expressive, with an open, perpendicular, or low forehead, and straight nose; generally above middle height, with powerful physique, well-developed chest, powerful muscles, and fine calves; well-knit frames, often thin, but always strong. We also saw a number of women in Darwaz and Karategin, and many of them were very handsome. 

    "The character of the country, the Alpine climate, with its chilly summer and extremely cold winter, when the snow is often twenty-feet deep, with its frequent rain-storms, have habituated the mountaineer to a confined laborious life, which, in turn, has attached him thoroughly to his native land; and has endowed him with a patient, taciturn, though kindly character, a strong will, great endurance and courage, as well as the capacity of travelling from fifty to eighty miles a day across the mountains, carrying a leather sack of provisions on his back, or a package weighing a hundred pounds. 

    "This capacity for mountain travelling arose of course from the necessity of reaching the ledges and terraces of the mountains to sow their corn; from the necessity of climbing for weeks among the ravines and precipices in pursuit of wild sheep, mountain goats, and bears; and from the necessity of travelling hundreds of miles during the winter to Kulyab, Hissar, Kokan, and even Bokhara, for winter work, from the proceeds of which— some £2 or £4— the mountaineer will buy cotton stuffs, kerchiefs for his wife, flour, and salt. 

    "If you ask one of these mountaineers, wintering in Bokhara, why he does not bring his family there, as life is better, and money more easily gained, you receive this answer: ‘We know that, in Bokhara and Samarkand, life is better, there is arable land, and rice, and sheep bigger than ours; but still our sweet home (shirin voton) is dear to us; and when we have to live in Bokhara we feel it wearisome, like a prison (zindon), and we are in a hurry to return’ 

    "Everywhere in Darwaz and Karategin arable and irrigated land is held in full possession by the owner, while pasture belongs to the whole village in common. 

    "The density of the population in both Darwaz and Karategin shows that civilized life has been long established here; and agriculture has occupied every space that can be reached by a plough, up to the height of 9,000 feet; still, the holdings in general are small. Land is very scarce in the south of Darwaz, on the Pyanj River. The produce here is so limited that it does not suffice for the wants of the inhabitant; and the mountaineers, instead of wheat and barley flour, use a flour made from the mulberry, or from the root of the wild tatarkok, resembling a turnip in taste; while the Bokharan battalion quartered in Kolai-Kumb receive supplies of grain from Vahia or Karategin, where the tilled land is comparatively more extensive. 

    "In both Karategin and Darwaz, agriculture is possible only during the summer months; ploughing and sowing take place in May, and the harvest is reaped in September. 

    "In Karategin there are about 500 villages, with 10,000 houses, and about 60,000 inhabitants; in Darwaz, 350 villages, with 6,000 houses, and 40,000 inhabitants. 

    "The chase, carried on in the mountains under great physical difficulties and dangers form the deep snow and the inaccessible rocks, is nevertheless the mountaineer’s favorite occupation. Among them it is either carried on in bands (khalk-shikar), or by single hunters (duzy-shikar)." 

    "The former method of hunting is only practicable in the mountains near the villages, on the appearances of a large herd of wild sheep and goats. In this case, in order to bring home as many as possible, all the young and old men of a village gather together, then divide themselves into parties, and, under the direction of leaders experienced in the chase, surround a large district with their dogs, trying to turn the quarry in the direction of the ambuscade, whose duty it is to shoot the advancing game with matchlocks, at a distance of from forty to eighty paces. If this results in the slaughter of five or six head of game a day, a feast is celebrated by all the villagers, and the feat forms a topic of conversation for months to come. This form of a chase is not so difficult, as it generally lasts only a single day, beginning before sunrise. Much more dangerous and difficult are the expeditions of hunters who start off alone amongst the mountains, carrying on their backs a leather sack of bread, with a few cakes of mulberry flour and a supply of sulfur matches; regardless of the weather and the season, these hunters pierce the mountains for hundreds of miles, following the tracks of bears, leopards, or sheep, which they never miss, firing only at close quarters. In case of speedy success, the hunter drags his game home; but if he only succeeds in shooting a few sheep or goats after several days’ pursuit, he buries them, and goes for help to bring them back. 

    "In case of failure, the mountaineer advances among the mountains, crossing deep snows, and sleeping in burrows or under rocks, for a week or more, as long his provisions last. A serious danger menaces the hunter, if he comes unexpectedly on a bear while his matchlock is unprimed; or if he misses a leopard, which will attack him without warning, often with a fatal result. Fox-hunting is universal in Karategin through the autumn and winter; the mountaineers chase the foxes with dogs, carefully trained not to injure the skins, which sell for about 2s. each. Martens are caught in traps, their skins being worth about 6s. each; while a leopard skin costs about 4s., and a bear skin, 10s. 

    "Probably about 3,000 foxes, 1,000 martens, 100 bears, 40 leopards, and 1,000 wild sheep and goats are killed in Darwaz and Karategin every year. The pursuit of mountain partridges and of ducks, with falcons, on the banks of the rivers is also common, especially in Karategin and Kulyas on the Khing-ab. Conies, that live together in considerable numbers in burrows at the edge of the snows, also supply a large number of skins for furs and carpets. 

    "The villages of Darwaz and Karategin are situated either on the banks of the great rivers and their tributaries, or in the mountains, almost at the summit of the eternal snows, always on such a declivity that the danger from landslips and avalanches is minimized. The villages are not large, generally containing from ten to a hundred houses; but the number of the inhabitants of each house is considerable, because amongst the mountaineers the married sons do not leave their father’s household, but live together in undivided families. The type of mountain villages is somewhat different from those in the valleys, having almost the appearance of a single widely-extended dwelling, as the houses of the different families are joined together for better protection against the cold. 

    "The domestic utensils of a Darwaz or Karategin mountaineer consist of an indispensable iron kettle; an iron kungon for boiling water; several different sized clay pots for water, or sour milk, and for cooking; two or three rough clay cups; bags, culinary and medicinal herbs; a moderate supply of home-made soap; a piece of half-tanned leather, used as a baking board; and a leather sack of provisions— the inseparable companion of the mountaineer in any prolonged absence from home. In the mountaineer’s hut you may also find a matchlock, a sword, some thin boards for crossing crevasses, annular snow-shoes of willow, high wooden pattens for winter, a small old-fashioned loom, placed in the corner of the room, over a hollow for the weaver’s seat, and a supply of five or six pine torches. 

    "The mountaineer generally marries at about the age of sixteen, and gives his daughters in marriage at about the age of twelve, which is rather early, considering the severity of the climate, as the women grow up more slowly than in warmer regions; but they also grow old more slowly, in spite of the hard circumstance of their lives. Either the parents betroth their daughters in infancy— a custom which gives rise to much litigation in case the girl refuses to accept the chosen bridegroom; or the betrothal takes place when the girl comes of age, without the intervention of the parents. 

    "Divorce takes place very rarely amongst the mountaineers, and only in case the woman is ill-natured, a bad worker, and unable to live in peace with her husband’s other wives. 

    "The mountaineers of Darwaz and Karategin are Mussulmans of the Sunni sect, but they are not very devoted to their religion, and their mosques are often neglected. 

    "Like all aboriginal, unsophisticated peoples, the character of the mountaineers is marked by a kind-hearted consideration for orphans, quarrelsomeness, obstinate blood-feuds, and respect for elders, for the property of others, straightforwardness, faithful adherence to promises, courage in danger, unbounded contempt for cowards, patience, stoical endurance of very privation the struggle with nature and the curse of events, a willing hospitality, and a general readiness to divide even the last crust with any chance guest. 

    "The mental qualities of the mountaineers rind expression in keen powers of observation, a retentive memory, which the Darwaz and Karategin mountaineers manifest especially in knowledge of their genealogies and legends, and in the study of Eastern science in the medreses of Samarkand and Bokhara, where the sons of the mountaineers always learn the Scriptures, laws, and philosophies of the East more rapidly and better than the natives of the lowlands, 

    "The conception of life held by the mountaineers, coloured by their complete isolation and absence of correct understanding of the laws of nature, are full of superstition and fear of evil spirits. 

    "In Darwaz they know neither the Muhammadan era nor the names of the months, nor the names of the divisions of the world. They consider the sun as the source of life and light; the moon, as the home of the dead; and the pole-star, as the indicator of the way. They consider lightning and thunder as the attempts of the devil to ascend to heaven, when the angels pelt him with fiery stones. Spring and summer are sent by God from Paradise, and autumn and winter from hell; and they believe that the frequent earthquakes that threaten their villages are caused by the souls of sinners writhing in Purgatory. 

    "The imagination of the mountaineers finds an outlet in songs, stories, fables, and proverbs; in sentimental poems on the joys of flowers, the songs of the love-lorn nightingale, and the family happiness of affection doves." 
 A word in conclusion. These Bekdoms of Darwaz and Karategin are, as we have seen, tributaries of Bokhara; and it can hardly be doubted, as Bokhara comes more and more under the power of the Tsar, that Darwaz and Karategin will ultimately be absorbed into the Russian Empire. For this reason I have marked them as potentially, if not actually, within the boundary of the Russian protected area in the accompanying map [map was not included in the article], in which, for the sake of completeness, I have also included the Sares, Alichur, Tagdumbash, Khurd, Kalyán, Rangkul, and Khargorsh Pamirs, which Russia will probably claim as former vassals of Kokan. 

    It is startling to note how close the Russian and English boundaries will be,— in one place separated by only thirty-five miles,— should these probabilities become actualities. 

Charles Johnston, 

 Bengal Civil Service 

* The above article was compiled by David Straub (davidstraub@geocities) and posted 
 at the Tajikistan Update ( August 27th , 1998.