would be King"
(notes by John McGivering
and George Kieffer)
notes on the text
‘Kafiristan' was never a clearly demarcated country or nation – rather, an approximate region or terrain sprawled out across the Hindu Kush. The part of it that fell under Afghan jurisdiction was indeed invaded and forcibly converted to Islam and renamed ‘Nuristan’ in 1895; the part under (indirect) British jurisdiction, attached to the former princely state of Chitral (now Chitral district of NWFP/Khyber-Pukhburkhwa in Pakistan) is still known as “Kalasha” or “Kalash Kafiristan”. It consists of a narrow strip containing three main valleys, Rembor, Birir and Mumboret and is still home to a sizeable number of pagan Kalash/Kalasha people, sometimes termed ‘Kafirs’ ('infidels').See also KJ 256/49 for a letter from Mr F.H. Brightman referring to George Macdonald Fraser's novel Flashman and the Mountain of Light, concerning the first Sikh War of 1845-46.
The Kalash/Kalasha used to be divided into two major divisions: (a) the Siah-posh (black-clad) and (b) Sufaid-posh (white-clad), representing tribal rather than racial affiliations. The Siah-posh long remained dominant, and all the surviving Kalasha ‘Kafirs’ in Pakistan today are Siah-posh; according to the 2000-2001 census of Pakistan, some 8-9,000 still survive and follow their ‘old ways’, despite increasing ‘Islamization’ in Chitral following the entry of fundamentalist Taliban-like elements there in recent years.
There is a considerable amount of contemporary material, including several anthropological studies between the 1970s and 1990s. However the two great old ‘classics’ remain:
Other useful works include:
- John Biddulph’s sections on the Kafirs/Kalash in Tribes of the Hindoo-Koosh (based on his various expeditions c.1870s)
- Sir George S. Robertson’s The Kafirs of the Hindu-Kush (first pub. 1896)
- Sir Alexander Burnes’s paper on “On the Siah-Posh Kafirs", with specimens of their language and costume."
- H.G. Raverty’s “Notes on Kafiristan” in the Journal of the Asiatic Society, 1859
- H C Tanner’s “Notes on the Chigani and Neighbouring Tribes of Kafiristan” in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1881.
… the grossly overrated long tale “The Man who would be King” …….. The man …. would attain royal status among some tribe beyond the hills …. This silly prank ends in predictable and thoroughly deserved disaster. One of the aspirants is killed by the indignant natives , the other crawls back to Lahore or somewhere and survives just long enough to tell the tale to a newspaperman whom it is convenient to call Kipling. …… before setting off on their antic …. one of these buffoons long-windedly asks Kipling to take a message to the other…..This is a story with an unusually elaborate frame even for Kipling, who was much too fond of the device. The elaboration has fooled critics, who mistake it for complexity, which they are used to mistaking for profundity.Edmund Wilson believes this story is "...surely a parable of what might happen to the English if they should forfeit their moral authority." [Edmund Wilson “The Kipling that Nobody Read”, in Kipling’s Mind and Art ed. Andrew Rutherford, Oliver & Boyd, 1964.]