domingo, 18 de agosto de 2013

Frontier Tribesmen

Group of Afridi fighters, 1878
Now, it is the time to write something about the Afghan tribesmen.
 
At the begining of the war, the Amir´s call to a Holy War had not been received with general enthusiasm by the tribes of the Frontier. The Afghan Pathans between Jalalabad and Dakka were eager for war whilst the Afridi and Mohmands of the British side of the Durand Line were not so actively hostile; and this was a problem for Amanullah Khan because the true strong of Afghanistan lies in the armed tribesmen rather than in the regular army raised by a form of conscription which took a man in eight for life service. Of course, they were not the pick of the country...
 
The most warlike of the inhabitants of Afghanistan were the Pathan tribes of Eastern Afghanistan, precisely those situated in front of the British forces. All these Pathans were serious Mohammedans, susceptible to be called to a religious war by the Amir or by the many mullahs that hated the British and also overwhelmingly hard hillmen in contrast with the Afghan, that were mainly plains dwellers. They were first-class fighters, and the best armed and more warlike of them lived in the area between the Durand Line and the Administrative Border.
There was, in fact, an order among the tribes in terms of their fighting quality. The Mahsuds were the most formidable adversaries followed nearly by the Afridis and Mobmands but all of them shared the same broad characteristics: hardy, implacable in their vengeances, tactically sophisticated, fiercely Muslim and independent and hostile to ALL authority. They lived under a common and rigid code of behaviour, Pakhtunwali, based in badal (blood vengeance), malmastia (hospitality) and nanawati (asylum). Living in a hill country of low fertility, the tribesmen had for centuries been accustomed to raiding down into the plains of India or levying tolls on travellers through their lands

There were, probably, half a million Pathan fighting men, many of them armed with more or less modern rifles and all of them very expert in mountain guerrilla war. Although British subjects and receivers of annual allowances of money from the British Government, all of them enjoyed an almost complete independence in their tribal areas and didn´t think they were subjects of the Crown.
 
The Pathans were expert in guerrilla warfare; were full of Muslim fanatism and, also, love of plunder. They were quick to rally under the Amir´s standard if it suited their interest or it was not too dangerous, but they rarely fougth at any great distance from their homes. Each man carried his rifle, ammunition, a knife and a supply of flour in a bag of undressed sheepskin. Because this flour was easily spoiled by the action of rain or perspiration, or when it was consumed, the men went of at any moment to their homes for more.
 
The brave tribesmen made an effective use  of the rugged terrain and could be very aggresive if the prospects of exit were good but they could not compete with the weaponry and discipline of the British forces in set-piece actions, so sniping at columns on the march was more effective (and safe) for them; also, the attack against picquets or rearguard units.

 
By this time, the tribesmen had replaced their old jezzails with breech-loading rifles such as the Martini-Henry or the Lee-Metford. In adition, the tribesmen carried tulwars (curved swords) and chora (heavy knives) for the close combat. Tribes that were not sustained by the British (or Afghan) subsidies made do with older weapons, but those tribes who could afford them, bought European rifles. From 1908, most tribesmen carried Martini-Henry and the luckier - or more skilled thieves of them - carried Lee-Metford or Lee-Enfield. The tribal craftmen were also really skillful at reproducing European weapons so these tribesmen were now the most dangerous adversary of the British forces.
 
The Pathan were tall and lean men dressed in a coarse home-spun angarka (shirt), loose white trousers, sandals ans a cummerbund holding a knife. The common headdress was a pointed cap (kullah) rounded with a strip of material (lungi) to form a medium-size turban.
The headmen (maliks) had a more ornate costume, with, by example, crimson waistcoats covered with gold lace.
The turban could be of a bright red, white, blue, etc. and the lungi (sash) could have solid colours or narrow stripes of black, yellow, red or blue.
Although white was the most common colour used for the angarka, red, blue and grey were also worn. To counter the bitter Afghan winter, tribesmen wore a poshteen, a shepskin coat with hair on the inside. Its ammount of embroidery depended of wealth and status.

 
The clothing worn by the Pathans varied from tribe to tribe but the basic garment was that indicated here. The Waziris, by example, tended to favour a dark-red or indigo turban and a dark-red or pink waist sash; the Kurram Valley tribes wore an angarka of dark blue and the Khyber Pass Afridis usually wore a grey or blue angarka with off-white trousers.
 
For this entry I would like to have had the command group of the Empress Miniatures Afghan tribesmen painted, but it has been not possible; some painting commissions and this horrible hot have prevented it.
In their place, I have this figure from Scarab Miniatures, a downed pilot in the middle of a very delicate moment that I´m thinking about to use in a "Rescue the Pilot" game, perhaps in the middle of the Kabul valley...
 

I like a lot the figures from Scarab Miniatures; they are not anatomically perfect, and are, in fact, a bit "chunkies" but they have a lot of character in them and I like to paint them!

13 comentarios:

  1. Respuestas
    1. Thank you, Fran. I like a lot these brave tribesmen!

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  2. This sounds like a great scenario, I just love the downed pilot miniature.

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  3. I love this blog and all its content, you're doing such an interesting and suggesting work! Keep on! :)

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    Respuestas
    1. Thank you a lot! The subject is really interesting.

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  4. Cool post. Great miniatures. Well done as always.

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  5. Thank you, sir. The moment of glory of my red fort is coming fast!

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  6. I like that pilot figure a lot. The gangster pistol grip really adds a lot of character.

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  7. Like the downed pilot, your eye for colour is very good. The RAF uniform, leather coat, helmet and goggles all look really good. Can't remember where I read it but RAF pilots and observers flying over tribal territories were issued with what were half jokingly refered to as "ghoolie chits" a written promise in various of the local languages and dialects promising a reward for the safe return of the gentleman in question. This would hopefully saved the downed crewman from a very unpleasant end at the hands of the pathan women. I beleive the practise was continued into WW II and similar chits in the appropriate languages were issued to aircrew both in the far east and the balkans.

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    Respuestas
    1. It must have been a true adventure to be down in such places! And without a C-SAR team coming fast!!!

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  8. When I was in Afghanistan in the, we were issued "Blood Chits" Pretty much the same thing.

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