|This man is of the tribe or clan called Malikdin Khel. It is unclear what rank he is but his drab uniform has green shoulder straps and piping. The top of his green pointed kullah can be seen on his turban.|
When we hear the name Pathan we think of wild mountain tribesmen, the last people that the British would recruit into the army and trust with a weapon. But this is a misconception, because although the Pathans come from the inhospitable mountains of Afghanistan originally, it was natural for their tribes to spill out onto the plains and through the generations settle into a more peaceful way of life.
George Macmunn, a British officer who served many years in Northern India attempted to describe the caracteristics of the various Pathan clans in his 1911 book, 'The Armies of India'. Nowhere in his writings do I detect any sense of white racial superiority as one would expect from an 'Empire' man of this period, rather he effuses respect, where it is due. The worst he could be accused of is being patronising. It may be useful to list the types and tribes he mentions, which although not comprehensive, may help sort out a confusing but important subject. The Pathans are mainly to be found in the North-West Frontier province of what is today called Pakistan but was then India under British administration. Their language is Pukhtu (the hard dialect) or Pushtu (soft dialect).
THE DURANIS These are the Afghans proper, from Zemindawar and Ghor. A few of these came out of the mountains to join the cavalry, but a considerable number had already settled in British India near Multan and in the Derajat on the Indus. These serve mostly in the 15th Cavalry, the 21st Cavalry or the Baluch Horse. Apparently they claim Jewish descent, calling themselves the Ben-i-Yisrael (Children of Israel). Their legendary ancestor is one Kais, said to be 37th in descent from Saul. Settlements of professing Jews are to be found in Bokhara, claiming that they are descendants of Reubenites, Gadites and half of Manasseh carried away to central Asia by Tiglath-Pileser. Many Afghans have biblical mames like Jacob or Ya-acov, Abraham or Avraham, Isaac or Yitzhak.
THE YUSUFZAI Or the sons of Joseph, live in the Peshawar Valley or the bordering hills and the mountains towards Chitral. They make excellent soldiers and are to be found mainly in the Guides.
MOHMANDS and UTMAN KHEL They come from the region between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass. Khel translates as 'clan'.
AFRIDIS They inhabit the hills around the Khyber Pass and regard themselves as responsible for it. They are probably a Rajput or Aryan tribe. There are more Afridis in the Army than any other group. They make good skirmishers and work well indepentently. Some of them have fair hair and blue eyes.
ORAKZAI These come from the valley between the Afridi hills (Tirah) and the Samana Range.
KHATTAKS Further south, another widely enlisted tribe who live in the Khattak Hills also claiming Jewish descent. They have lived under British rule longer than many of the others so are less 'wild' and are regarded as reliable and courageous.
THE BANGASH Closely allied to the Khattaks. They are Shiahs and live in Miranzai.
TURIS A Shiah Moslem tribe from the Kurram Valley in Afghanistan. They only enlist in the local militia, but have a considerable military reputation.
MAHSUD CLANS Living in Waziristan, a tumbled mass of hills between the Kurram and Baluchistan. They include the Darwesh Khel. They cause immense trouble for the British but make remarkably fine soldiers especially when serving away from their own land.
Uniforms | Regimental History
Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames | British Empire on Ebay