James W. Spain

The Way of the Pathans
The Pathan Borderland

Oxford University Press 1972, Indus Publications 1963
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999 http://dannyreviews.com/
The Pathans are an ethnic group of around twenty million, divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beginning with his reading of Kipling as a child, James Spain's The Way of the Pathans is a personal account of his experiences with the Pathans and an attempt to illuminate Pukhtunwali, their moral code. Mostly Spain describes people and places encountered on his own visits to different areas along the Pakistan frontier, and to Kabul, but he also includes traditional stories and elements of history — there is, for example, a whole chapter on the seventeenth century "warrior bard" Khushal Khan Khattak.
"Melmastia also demands that the Pathan accord protection to his guest and to all who claim it from him. In this regard melmastia takes precedence over badal, and even the enemy who comes seeking refuge must be granted it and defended against his pursuers. This custom was a constant irritant in the Pathans' relations with the British in the old days. The man proclaimed a criminal in Peshawar could flee to the hills and could not only expect but demand protection and sanctuary from every house he came to."

The Pathan Borderland is a more systematic and scholarly treatment of similar material, with a fair bit of overlap with The Way of the Pathans. Its first third covers the land, people, social organisation, and culture of the area in the manner of a traditional ethnography. The remainder narrates the history and politics of the area, from the coming of the British, through the "Great Game", the Afghan wars, and ongoing frontier unrest, down to Partition and the early history of Pakistan. It ends with a chapter on the role of the area in 1960s geopolitics.

October 1999

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%T The Way of the Pathans
%A Spain, James W.
%I Oxford University Press
%D 1972 [1962]
%O 2nd edition, hardcover, index
%G ISBN 0196360994
%P 190pp