My most recent post Army-Anthropologists call Afghans “Savages” received a lot attention, so it might be necessary to write a new post after the debates in the comment field and via email.
It seems that the Sydney Morning Herald reporter misunderstood. The part about the The Zadran who are called “utter savages” and “great robbers” who live in a country that was “a refuge for bad characters” is not written by contemporary Human Terrain Team (HTT) army anthropologists. The quote is 90 years old!
As I was told, the HTT-report was quoting an old British ethnography “to highlight the terrible quality of historical documents on the area".
If you google “Zadran” and “utter savages”, Google Book Search directs you to Historical and political gazetteer of Afghanistan Volume 6
by India. Army. General Staff Branch, Ludwig W. Adamec (1985).
Adamec compiled his data from a 1919 British ethnographic survey.
The HTT-report quoted this book extensively - but as I was told - in order to question such notions as the Zadrans as savages.
I hope this is correct. For there are other researchers who use the same sources less critically.
Googling “Zadran” and “Savages” directed me also a a kind of fact sheet about the Zadranby the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies, Naval Postgraduate School that states:
They are probably a very small tribe living in very small villages; some of them cultivate the little land they have, but they appear chiefly to depend on their flocks for subsistence. They live, some in houses and some in tents. It was said that they are “great robbers”, and their country was formerly refuge for “bad characters”.
Here, these 90 years old characteristics are presented as facts.
What kind of institution is the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies?
Here is an extract from their self-description:
The Program for Culture & Conflict Studies (CCS) conducts research in support of United States initiatives in Afghanistan. Our research provides comprehensive assessments of provincial and district tribal and clan networks in Afghanistan, anthropological assessments of Afghan villages, and assessments of the operational culture of Afghan districts and villages.
(But although they conduct “anthropological studies, none of their researchers seems to be an anthropologist)
Then I stumpled upon a comment by a former army HTS-
anthropologist researcher in Afghanistan on the Open Anthropology blog. He writes:
“These insurgents are throwbacks to the Stone Age with very different ideas and convictions than we have. (…) Want to talk to them about gay rights, women’s rights, democracy, live and let live, respect for the rights of others, etc. with these insurgents? Go ahead!”
Maximilian Forte, editor of Open Anthropology, comments:
One of the things achieved by the new imperialism is an ideological expansion: the high civilizations and monotheistic religions, such as those of Islam, were the focus of Orientalism in the 1800s and much of the 1900s. So called “primitive tribes” were a concern of the kind of Savagism at the heart of early anthropology. What statements like yours do is to combine/confuse the two, and that is novel. Now there are no other civilizations, no competing ideas of complex society, it’s just “us” and the rest are “savages.”
There we have the term again! Savages!
UPDATE: I’ve found the book in question - the Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Volume 6, in our library and found out that the quote about those “utter savages” is even older. The book refers to Mountstuart Elphinstone, who lived between 1779 and 1859 and later became the Governor of Bombay. The whole quote goes like this:
Elphinstone says their manners etc resemble the Wazirs, and Broadfoot, those of the Kharotis, from which we must infer that they are utter savages, and, as Elphinstone says more like mountain bears than men.
According to the Gazeteer of Afghanistan, the Zadran “are of no importance whatever, and only in the case of the Dawar route being used to Ghazni…".
And here from the preface of the 1985 version som general information about the Gazetteer of Afghanistan:
This work is based largely on material collected by the British Indian Government and its agencies since the early 19th century. In an age of Imperalism, Afghanistan became important as the “Gateway to India” and an area of dispute between the British and Russian empires. It is therefore not surprising that much effort was expended by various branches of the British Indian government to amass information regarding the country’s topography, tribal composition, climate, economy, and internal politics.
Thus, an effort which began with military considerations in mind has now been expanded and updated with maps and data complied by both Western and Afghan scholarship to serve the non-political purpose of providing a comprehensive reference work on Afghanistan.