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Chapter 8

A visit to the eight-towered village--A hostile
demonstration--Quaint houses--Stoned--Brigand villagers--A
device--Peculiar characteristics of natives--Picturesque
features--Constant intermarriage and its effects--Nature's
freaks--Children--Elongating influence of the desert--Violent
women--Beasts of burden--Photography under difficulty--Admirable
teeth of the natives--Men's weak chests--Clothing--A farewell
demonstration--Fired at.

I climbed up to the village, accompanied by one of my camel men, but our friend the giant had preceded us and given the warning that a ferenghi had arrived, and we were met on the road by a number of boys and men who were running down the hill to see the new arrival. The people were not particularly respectful, and freely passed remarks, not always complimentary--in fact, most offensive; but as I was bent on seeing all that there was to be seen, I paid no heed and continued to go up.

The camel man, who was getting quite alarmed--especially when a stone or two were flung at us--begged me to return to camp, but I would not, and as I had my rifle with me I thought I could hold my own, and certainly did not wish the natives to think that an Englishman feared them.

It appears that a European had visited this spot some time previously, and they had some grievance against him, but although it seemed rather hard that I should come in for the punishment which should have been meted to my predecessor, I well knew that the only way out of the scrape was to face the music. To run away would have been fatal.

So we entered the village by a narrow path, while men, women and children collected on the house-tops and in the doorways and gesticulated and spouted away as fine a collection of insults as one may expect to listen to in one's life. The Naiband people may certainly be congratulated on the possession of a most extensive and complete vocabulary of swear words.

Pretending unconcern, but keeping a watchful eye on what was taking place all round, I stopped here and there to examine the small water-skins hanging in couples or more outside each doorway, and halted in the small square of the village to admire the wretched buildings all round.

The lower portion of the houses was of mud, the upper of stone. Down the side of the main street gurgled the limpid little stream. Each house had a sort of walled recess outside the front door, reached by a step or two, where tilling tools rested against the wall, and where the women's spinning wheels were worked during the day. The wheels, however, were now idle, for the women had joined the men in the demonstration.

It was most evident that ferenghis were not popular at Naiband, but, come what might, here I was, and here I would stay as long as it suited me. A stone flung with considerable force hit me in the knee--stones always have a way of striking you in the most sensitive spots--and it took me some minutes before I could recover from the pain and move on; but I never let the natives suspect what agony I was enduring, or they would have done worse.

The slow march through the village up to the highest point was decidedly not pleasant, missiles flying pretty plentifully all round. Fortunately, no more hit me quite as badly again. The camel man had warned me that the population of Naiband was a mixture of robbers and cut-throats, and the facts fully proved his words, so I was rather glad that I had taken not only my rifle with me but a pocketful of cartridges as well.

Things were getting rather hot, and it was only when, having reached a high point of vantage, I stopped and, in full view of the crowd, inserted a five cartridge clip in the magazine of my Mannlicher, that most anxious inquiries were made from the camel man as to what I was about to do. The camel man, amid a sudden silence and eager attention, explained the terrific powers of a ferenghi's rifle which, he said, never misses and ever kills, even ten miles off; and to add more humour to his words he explained that shots could be fired so quick that one had not time to count them.

At this point of the lecture I casually produced a handful of cartridges from my coat pocket, and having counted them aloud, proceeded to count the people, who watched, somewhat flabbergasted. The device answered perfectly. They dropped the stones which, during the short armistice, they had carefully nursed in their hands, and some thought they had better return to their homes, the bolder ones only remaining, who put a grin of friendship on their faces, and made signs that they would try to do no further harm.

Peace being proclaimed, and after making them pay their salaams, which seemed the most unusual thing they ever had to do in their lifetime, I spoke to them in a friendly way and patted them on the back. They were much impressed with the rifle and wanted me to let them see it in their own hands, which, of course, I did not do. They showed me some of their houses, which were very dirty--people, fowls, and in some cases a donkey or a goat, occupying the same room.

These brigand villagers were most interesting as a type. They were quite unlike the Persians of the West, and they certainly had nothing in common with the Afghan; nor did they resemble the people of the northern part of Persia. The Beluch type came nearer. It would be curious to trace exactly where they came from--although undoubtedly their features must have been greatly modified, even altogether altered, by the climatic conditions of the spot they live in.

One was struck by the abnormal length, thinness and disjointedness of their limbs, and by the long, well-chiselled faces, with handsome aquiline noses, broad and high foreheads, well-defined eyebrows in a straight line across the brow, piercing eyes well protected by the brow and drooping at the outer corners, with quite a hollow under the lower eyelid; very firm mouths full of expression and power, also drooping slightly at the corners, and high cheek bones.

Their appearance was certainly most picturesque, and they possessed the cat-like manner and general ways of feline animals which made them appear rather unreliable but in a way quite attractive. They were evidently people accustomed to high-handed ways, and they needed very careful handling. They were frank and resolute enough in their speech--ever talking at the top of their voices, which, however, sounded quite musical and not grating.

They possessed dirty but very beautifully-formed hands and feet, the thumb only being somewhat short and stumpy, but the fingers supple, long and tapering. The few lines which they possessed in the palms of their hands were very strongly marked. There was a good deal of refinement about their facial features and hands which made me think that these people came from a good stock, and even the ears--which were generally malformed with all the natives of Persia which had so far come under my observation--were in this case much more delicately modelled and infinitely better shaped. The chins were beautifully chiselled, even when somewhat slanting backwards.

I give here a photograph which I took of two typical young men, and which I think bears out my remarks.

There was an extraordinary family resemblance in nearly all the heads one saw, which made one suspect constant intermarriage among relations in the small community. In fact, on asking, they professed to be all related to one another.

Another very curious point about the faces of the male members of Naiband village, which contrasted with other natives of Persia, was that, whereas the latter can grow heavy beards from a comparatively very tender age, the Naiband young men were quite hairless on the face, almost like Mongolians--even at twenty or twenty-two years of age. When they had reached a fairly advanced age, however, some forty years, they seemed to grow quite a good black beard and heavy moustache, somewhat curly, never very long, and of a finer texture than with modern Persians. The hair of the skull was perfectly straight, and was worn long, parted in the middle, with an occasional fringe on the forehead.

Nature's freaks are many and varied. While the men had invariably long aquiline noses, elongated faces, and eyes well protected by the brow, the children, until the age of ten or twelve, had rather stumpy faces with noses actually turned up, and most beautiful large eyes softened by abnormally long eyelashes, the eyes themselves, strangely enough, being quite à fleur de tête. I noticed this curious phenomenon in members of the same family, and the older ones told me that when they were young their faces were also stubby and their noses turned up.

The inference I drew was that it must be the climatic conditions of the desert that have the elongating effect, not only upon the facial features, but on all the limbs of the people. The people were not naturally born elongated. The climate certainly has an elongating effect on plants, or leaves, which all tend to come to a point, such as the leaves of the elongated palm trees, for instance, or any of the other spiky plants one finds in parts of the desert.

There was a good deal of the demon about the women of the place, a superabundance of fire in their movements and in the expression of their flashing eyes, which was a great contrast to the slow, dignified manner of the men, when seen under normal circumstances. Their frame was much more powerfully built than that of the men. The ladies seemed to be in a perpetual state of anger. That they were industrious there could be no mistake, and one could but be amazed at their muscular strength in lifting heavy loads; but, taking things all round, one was rather glad to have no friends among the Naiband fair sex when one saw how their men, relations or otherwise, were pulled about by them. The men positively feared them, and the women seemed to have it all their own way.

They were so violent that it was most difficult to approach them, but with some careful coaxing I succeeded in persuading the wildest and most typical of the lot to sit for her photograph, which I look upon as quite an achievement, considering that it might have cost her life or mine or both. As it was it went pretty well, and when I gave her a few silver pieces, she screamed with delight and sounded them on a stone to make sure they were good.

Women blackened their eyes underneath artificially, which gave them a languid but ardent appearance. Their long, wild, curly hair hung loose at the side of the head, over which they wore a kerchief fastened into a knot under the chin. Their costume was simple, a mere short blue cotton skirt reaching below the knee, and a little red loose shirt with ample sleeves. Various silver ornaments and charms, mainly old coins, hung round their necks from leather cords.

The arms and legs, quite bare, were well-shaped in most cases, and showed abnormal muscular development, due, no doubt, to the hard work the women were made to endure. They were positively used as beasts of burden--which occupation they seemed to like--while the men, I presume, lazily sat about smoking their tobacco or opium. But the body--very likely owing to the same reason--is, from a European point of view, quite shapeless, even in comparatively young women hardly above twenty. Their little blouses, generally torn or carelessly left open, display repulsively pendent breasts and overlapping waists, while the abdominal region, draped by a thin skirt, appeared much deformed by undue development.

These facts are given as they were typical of the majority of women in the place. The diet and the strain of lifting and carrying huge weights on the head may, to a certain extent, account for these evils. I also saw one or two cases of varicose veins.

The children seemed very pale and anaemic, a condition which has been mainly brought about, I think, by the constant intermarriage among relations.

Men, women and children possessed admirable teeth, of a slightly yellowish tint, very thick, powerful and regular enough, although the front teeth were rather too long, especially in adults. They were, however, generally well protected and covered by the lips, almost invariably tightly closed.

The people, I noticed, had a tendency to breathe mostly through the nose. Their nostrils were wide, well-cut and healthy looking. They all possessed very keen eyesight, but not good hearing.

The want of expansion of the men's chests was a striking feature of masculine anatomy at Naiband, and, in fact, the profile silhouette of members of the Naiband strong sex was not unlike that of a phonograph trumpet resting on the ground, for they wore trousers of enormous size, divided skirts of the largest pattern, pure and simple, and little jackets over them with broad sleeves and buttoned over on the right shoulder. It seemed almost that the further we got into the desert the larger the trousers of the men in the oases. Some of the men had several yards of material draped round their legs, in Hindoo fashion, instead of trousers.

The colours of their clothes were white and dark blue, while their headgear consisted of a double skull cap, a thin, coloured one underneath and a light brown, thick felt one over it. The men were either barefooted or wore sandals.

Things went fairly well while we remained talking in the village, but in the meantime the entire population had turned out, and for some reason of their own again became rather boisterous. Having seen all there was to be seen I made my way down to camp as slowly as possible, followed by a howling mob. The moment one had one's back turned stones flew in abundance. The camel man and I went down the steep incline, and when we reached the last houses of the village a great number of people were congregated on the roofs, who gesticulated frantically and yelled something or other at me as I passed. One or two of them had long matchlocks. We had gone but a few yards when a shot was fired at us, and a minute or so later another, but no damage was inflicted.

We went on with assumed calm and stopped, apparently to look at the scenery all round, but really to watch what the howling mob behind were doing, and eventually, when we reached the foot of the mountain and were out in the open instead of among rocks, the mob, taken by panic, bolted, and we saw them scrambling with great speed up the rocky path to the village like so many rabbits.