Faculty concert on Tuesday, October 23, at 8 p.m. the Tsai Performance Center, featuring the world premiere of Dialogues III, Op. 37

Vol. V No. 10   ·   19 October 2001 


Search the Bridge

B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.

Contact Us


Tribal flag gives rare glimpse of Afghan past

By Hope GreenS

We're hearing a lot lately about the fierce tribes of Afghanistan and their legendary prowess at repelling foreign invaders. In light of current events, it is intriguing to discover an artifact from one of these tribes in the archives of Mugar Memorial Library.

  J. C. Johnson (COM'99), an archivist in BU's Department of Special Collections, with a banner that was carried by a 19th-century Afghan tribesman as he rode his horse into battle. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Stored away in the Department of Special Collections is a curious-looking triangular banner, faded and a bit stained, with an assortment of symbols appliqued onto alternating bands of red and white. Supporting documents reveal that the artifact is a standard once carried into battle by a Waziri tribesman near the border of Afghan-istan and what is now Pakistan in the late 19th century.

The banner was donated to BU by British media magnate Cecil King (1901-1987), who owned newspapers and television stations on three continents. According to archivists, it originally belonged to King's father, Sir Lucas White King, a professor of Arabic and Persian languages and a veteran of Great Britain's Indian Civil Service.
Sir Lucas was a high-ranking commissioner in the service during a period when England and Russia were vying for influence over central Asia. The British Empire aimed to protect its most important colonial possession, India, by controlling trade routes through Afghanistan.

Supporting documents for the banner reveal that Cecil King's father was staying at a British encampment in the town of Wano, on what is now Pakistan's northwestern frontier, in November 1894. His group was on a mission to determine a border with Afghanistan. On November 3, a Waziri leader named Powindah led a dawn raid against the encampment to avenge the imprisonment of five of his men, whom the British had charged with murder.

The tribal offensive was not a success, although the British lost 44 men. Among the 300 tribesmen killed were two horsemen whose bodies were found not far from the camp. On the ground near them were two battle standards. Sir Lucas writes that one of these had been carried by "a Talib of Daur" and the other by "the notorious Abdal Rahman Khel raid-leader Isaf," although supporting documents do not clarify which one he kept as a souvenir.

Accompanying the banner in the King collection are several news clippings on the battle at Wano. One newspaper featured a patriotic poem, which concludes:

But while we give our troops their meed of praise for valour shown,
Let's not forget the men whose grit was equal to our own,
For never yet in border fight was charge more boldly made
Than that by those Waziris on the Wano First Brigade.

Cecil King donated several boxes of personal and ancestral documents to BU, including diaries of his experiences during World War II and his correspondence with politicians. The Department of Special Collections welcomes scholars wishing to review these and other archival materials; to schedule an appointment, call Sean Noel, assistant director of public services, at 353-3696.


19 October 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations