Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kandahar Lady of Rank, Engaged in Smoking

Image: from the lithograph on plate 29 of 'Afghaunistan' by Lieutenant James Rattray, 1848, source: British Library

The subject of this portrait, Begum Jan, had been described by James Rattray only by a vague reference as a 'Lady of Rank in Kandahar', giving no further information about her real identity, and leaving much to speculation. As the title indicates, and as the other images of Afghan ladies in the other plates show, the woman is seen with a hookah for smoking tobacco (or sometimes cannabis).

However, Rattray followed it up with unrelated references to historical Afghan ladies such as Wafadar Begum (or, Wafa Begam, the favorite and senior most wife of Shuja Shah Durrani, the ruler of the Durrani Empire), and "the brave widow" of Muhammad Akram Khan (1817-1852), the powerful chief of Zamindawar, a historical region to the south of Kandahar.

According to Rattray, many of these Afghan ladies attained historical status because of their "conjugal attachment and devotion" to powerful rulers and clan leaders. For example, he refers to the "the brave widow" (unnamed) of Akram Khan, who was executed in 1842 after he refused allegiance with Shah Shuja. The bereaved widow threw off her burqa, organised his tribesmen and led them to battle with the forces of Shah Shuja, riding her husband's horse, though she was driven back after a desperate battle.

No comments: