National Geographic : 1968 Sep
still have little effect-but let's take a look at the bari quarter." Strand led me across rooftops and down the steep narrow streets through the heart of the village. We passed a bari lumberjack with a pair of axes on his shoulder. "Lesta sha!" he said. "How are you!" Strand returned the Kom greeting, adding, "Kor yenji! Kaa unji!" meaning "Where are you going? What are you doing?" He was not prying; these inquiries are part of the normal greeting ceremony. Shy women in black dresses-some with eyes outlined in red mascara-hurried past, lugging baskets of firewood. I was surprised by the light complexions among the villagers. A few even had blond hair and blue eyes. "Some say the Nuristani descend from an early Greek colony," Strand said, "but judging from the language, it's unlikely. The truth is, nobody knows their origins." We stopped to watch a young shoemaker sewing a pair of red goatskin boots. We were joined by a villager who introduced himself as Abdul Hanan. "Once such a shoemaker would have been a slave," he said. "Slavery is illegal now, but years ago a good artisan like this one could be bought for 12 cows or 120 goats." Despite the baris' inferior position, they often fight beside their social superiors in trib al wars. Some have been elected to village councils. One bari, Wakil Abdullah, served as wakil, or representative, from Nuristan to the Afghan parliament in Kabul. I met Wakil Abdullah at his house in Kushtus, a two-hour walk around the moun tainside from Kamdesh. Abdullah offered us fresh grapes and green peaches and told us stories of his life, his visit to Singapore as a young merchant sailor, his years in Kabul. Now he was content to spend his last years back home. He had been saddened, he said, by the recent death of his wife, but added philosophically: "Allah be praised, I still have two left." It was pleasant for a change to sit up off the floor again. In most Afghan homes the only furniture is a carpet, but the Nuristanis use simple chairs and tables. Abdullah's col lection, dating from pre-Islamic times, was elaborately carved. Unlike many Nuristanis, Wakil Abdullah was not ashamed of his infidel ancestors. "Islam was our salvation, but it's a pity so little of our old culture survived it." Then, tapping out the rhythm on the floor with the handle of a small ceremonial ax, 336 he crooned an old Kafir song his father had taught him: 0 Sunmri, open your door, For tomorrow I string my bow And march to war. Warfare is still the Nuristani's way of set tling an injury to the tribe. As I packed my rucksack to leave Kamdesh, talk continued of the coming winter skirmish with the Gujars. The gunsmith was the busiest man in town. Even after December snows had closed the high trails of Nuristan, the weather remained mild in Mazar-i -Sharif, 250 miles north west in Balkh province. Mazar stands only KODACHROMES (C) N.G.S . Wrapped against wind and sand, a kuchi mother lifts her baby to a camel. Only chil dren and the elderly ride between camps; all others walk, helping drive herds of fat-tailed sheep on the tribe's seasonal migrations. Word of Allah refreshes the spirit of Hadji Mahmud Karim Khan Girnayl, a kuchi patri arch who claims to be 111 years old. He uses one half of his broken spectacles as a monocle. The King recently commissioned him a general for his role in the 1919 war of independence against the British.