Bannu District, 1908

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.


Physical aspects

One of the four trans-Indus Districts of the North-West Frontier Province, lying between 32 16' and 33 5' N. and 70 23' and 71 16' E., with an area of 1,670 square miles. The Dis- trict forms a basin drained by two rivers from the hills of Waziristan, the Kurram and the Gamblla or Tochi, which unite at Lakki and flow into the Indus south of Kalabagh. It is shut in on every side by mountains : on the north by those in the Teri tahsil asnects Kohat District ; on the east by the southern extre- mity of the Maidani Pahar or Khattak Niazi range and the northern spur of the Marwat range, which separate the District from the Isa Khel tahsil of Mianwali District in the Punjab ; on the south-east and south the Marwat and Bhittanni ranges divide it from Dera Ismail Khan ; and on the west and north-west lie Waziristan and independent territory inhabited by the Bhittanni tribe.

These hills nowhere attain any great height. The highest point of the Maidani range at its centre, near the hamlet and valley of Maidan, has an alti- tude of only 4,256 feet. The Marwat range culminates in Sheikh Budin, the hill which rises abruptly from its south-west end to a height of 4,516 feet, and forms the summer retreat for this District and Dera Ismail Khan. From these ranges numerous spurs jut out into the Bannu plains, but no other hills break their level expanse. Of the rivers the larger is the Kurram, which, entering the District at its north- western corner close to Bannu town, runs at first south-east, then south, and finally winds eastward through the Darra Tang or ' narrow gorge ' which lies between the extremities of the Maidani Pahar and Marwat ranges.

The Tochi river enters the District about 6 miles south of the Kurram and flows in the same direction, gradually drawing closer to it until their streams unite about 6 or 7 miles west of the Darra Tang. Between these rivers, and on the left bank of the Kurram in the upper portion of its course, lie the only tracts which are perennially irrigated. For the first 10 miles of its passage through the District the Kurram runs between banks of stiff clay which rise abruptly to a height of 10 to 30 feet, and its bed is full of stones and boulders ; but lower down it spreads over long stretches of marsh land. Its flow is rapid, but it is highly charged with a rich silt which renders it most valuable for irrigation.

At the south-east edge the western flanks of the hills bounding Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan Districts expose Tertiary lower Siwalik soft sandstone and upper Siwalik conglomerates, a thickness of which dips regularly under the alluvium and gravels forming the greater part of the great Bannu plain. On its western side the border area has been examined along one line of route only, namely, the Tochi valley \ 1 F. H. Smith, ' Geology of the Tochi Valley,' Records, Geological Survey of India, vol. xxviii, pt. ii.

Here long ridges striking north and south expose upper and lower Siwaliks, Nummulitic limestone, sandstone and shales, some mesozoic limestone in the ridge east of Minim Shah, and a great mass of Tertiary igneous rocks (diorites, gabbros, and serpentines) west of Muhammad Khel.

In the irrigated portions of the District trees abound of the same species as are common in Peshawar ; elsewhere there is little but thorny shrubs of the same kinds as are found in Kohat. The more common plants are Reptonia buxifolia, Dodonaea viscosa, Capparis aphylla, Fla- conrtia sap/da, F. sepiaria, several species of Grewia, Zizyphus nummu- laria, Acacia Jacquemontii, Alhagi camelorum, Crotalaria Burhia, Prosopis spicigera, several species of Tamarix, Nerium odorum, Rhazya stricla, Calotropis procera, Periploca aphylla, Tecoma undulata, Lycium europaeum, Withania coagulans, IV. somnifera, Nannorhops Ritchieana, Fagonia, Tribulus, Peganum Harmala, Calligonum polygonoides, Poly- gonum aviculare, P. plebejum, Rumex vesicarius, Chrozophora plicata, and species of Aristida, Atithistiria, Ce/ic/irus, and Pennisetum.

Bears occasionally come from Wazlristan and leopards still frequent the hills, while hyenas are sometimes found where there are ravines. Wolves are common, rewards having been paid for destroying 168 from 1900 to 1904. The Sulaimani markkor is found on all the higher hills, including Sheikh Budln. Uridl are also to be found on the hills, and ' ravine deer ' (gazelle) in the neighbourhood of Jani Khel. The general elevation of the plains is about 1,000 feet, and the temperature would be much the same all over the District did not special local causes affect it. Trees, excessive irrigation round the town, and the closeness of the hills combine to make Bannu moist and close in the hot season, and to equalize the temperature throughout the twenty-four hours. The sandy plain of Marwat is hotter by day and cooler by night, and far more healthy in spite of the intense heat.

Fevers are common from September to November, and respiratory diseases cause considerable mortality. The annual rainfall averages 21/2 inches, rarely rising above 16, but at Bannu in 189 1-2 less than 5 inches fell in the year. The fall is frequently unseasonable.


The population of Bannu is, and has been for many centuries, essen- tially Afghan. There are, however, remains which tell of an older Hindu population, and afford proof that the District came within the pale of the ancient Graeco-Bactrian civilization of the Punjab. The close of the era of prosperity indicated by these remains is attributed in local tradition to the ravages of Mahmud of Ghazni, who is said to have utterly demolished the ancient Hindu strongholds, leaving no stone standing upon another. For upwards of a century the country appears to have lain waste, till at length the

Bannu valley was gradually colonized by immigrants from the western hills, the Bannuwals or Bannuchis, who still remain, and the Niazai, who subsequently gave place to the Marwats. The advent of the Marwats is placed in the reign of Akbar. The Niazai, whom they expelled, spread across the Khattak-Niazai hills, and colonized the plains upon both banks of the Indus. The Marwats still hold the southern portion of the Bannu valley.

At this time, and for two centuries later, the country paid a nominal allegiance to the Delhi emperors. In 1738 it was conquered by Nadir Shah, who laid it completely waste. Ahmad Shah Durrani subsequently led his army three or four times through the Bannu valley, levying what he could by way of tribute on each occasion. So stubborn, however, was the opposition of the inhabitants, that neither conqueror made any attempt to establish a permanent government. In 1818 the Nawab of Mankera annexed Marwat, but was speedily forced to give way to Ran jit Singh, who first crossed the Indus in 1823.

From that year to 1836 the Sikh troops and those of the Nawab in turn harried the country. In 1838 the valley passed by cession to the Sikhs. Ranjit Singh lost no time in attempting to occupy his new territory. Else- where in the District he had met with little opposition ; but in the Bannu valley he was forced, after several efforts, to fall back upon the expedient of his predecessors, and to content himself with the periodical dispatch of a force to levy what he was pleased to term arrears of revenue : in reality to devastate the country, and carry off whatever booty could be secured.

Such was the state of affairs when, after the first Sikh War, the District first came under British influence. In the winter months of 1847-8, Lieutenant (afterwards Sir Herbert) Edvvardes was dispatched to the frontier as the representative of the Lahore Darbar, and accom- panied by a Sikh army under General Van Cortlandt. Arrived in Bannu, he found a large portion of the District practically independent. In the Bannu valley every village, was a fort, and frequently at war with its neighbours, while the Wazfr tribes on the frontier were ever seek- ing opportunities for aggression. Within a few months Edwardes reduced the country to order, effecting a peaceful revolution by the force of his personal character, and without the firing of a single shot.

The forts were levelled ; arrangements were made for the collection of a regular revenue ; and so effectual were his measures that on the out- break at Multan he was able to hurry to the scene of action with a force of levies from this District, who served loyally throughout the campaign. The Sikhs in garrison at Edwardesabad meanwhile rose against their officers, and, having murdered them, marched to join their brethren in arms. A force from the hills at the same time invaded the District, but was held at bay by Lieutenant Reynell Taylor, Edwardes's successor.

In the following year the Punjab was annexed, and the District passed without a blow under British administration. The area covered by the present District at first belonged to Dera Ismail Khan. In 1861 the District of Bannu was constituted, comprising the present District and the Mianwali and Isa Kliel tahsils of what is now the Mianwali District of the Punjab, which were taken away on the creation of the Frontier Province in 1901. The even tenor of administration has been at times disturbed by frontier raids, but no trouble has at any period been given by the inhabitants of the District itself. During the Mutiny of 1857 the country remained perfectly quiet. The border is guarded by a chain of outposts, eleven in number.

At Akra and other places in the Bannu valley mounds of various sizes exist where, amid fragments of burnt brick and tiles, of broken images and Hindu ornaments, coins occur with Greek or pseudo- Greek inscriptions. The Akra mound near Bannu presents features of great antiquarian interest. This mound, which at its highest point does not rise more than 70 feet above the surrounding plain, has long been excavated by the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, who find the soil of its ' culture stratum,' generally about 2 to 3 feet in thickness and composed of ashes, rubbish, and bones, to be possessed of valuable properties as manure. Above this ' culture stratum ' are layers of earth lighter in colour, and ranging from 8 to 20 feet in thickness.

These probably represent the debris accumulated during centuries from struc- tures of clay or sun-dried brick. In these layers are found plentiful fragments of ancient pottery and hard bricks, as well as rubble. The coins, terra-cotta figures, and fragments of small sculptures representing Hindu deities, which have been unearthed from this mound, point to the period from the first century B.C. down almost to the advent of the Muhammadan conquerors as that in which the site was inhabited. There is a curious resemblance in character and contents between the layers composing the Akra mound and the ' culture strata ' of the ancient capital of Khotan in Chinese Turkestan.


Bannu District contains 2 towns and 362 villages. The population at the last three enumerations was: (1881) 182,740, (1891) 204,469, and (1901) 226,776. It increased by 10-9 per cent, during the last decade., the increase being greater in the Marwat tahsil than in that of Bannu. It is divided into two tahsils, of which the head-quarters are at the municipalities of Bannu, the head-quarters of the District, and Lakki. Statistics according to the Census of 1901 are shown in the table on the next page.

Muhammadans number 201,720, or more than 89 per cent, of the total; Hindus, 22,178; and Sikhs, 2,673. Pashtu is the language of the District, but Hindki is also spoken among the non-Pathan element. About 129,000 persons, or 56 per cent, of the population, are Pathans. Of these, the most numerous group is that of the Marwats (52,000), who live mainly in the tahsil named after them. In person, they are tall and muscular; in bearing, frank and open.

Almost every officer who has administered the District has left on record a favourable mention of them. To these the Bannuchis (30,000) form a painful contrast. They are indubitably of mixed descent, and exhibit every Afghan vice, without possessing the com- pensating virtues of bravery and self-confidence. They are generally small in stature and inferior in physique, sallow and wizened in appearance, and in disposition mean and revengeful. They are, on the other hand, industrious cultivators, and have been uniformly quiet and submissive subjects to the British Government.

The Wazlrs in this District, all Darwesh Khel, number 24,000. They are divided into two great sections, the Utmanzai and the Ahmadzai. Last come the Bhittannis (2,000), who live on the border of the District on the southern slopes of the Gabar mountain. In the District itself they are recent settlers. Besides the Pathan races, the chief of the Hindkls, as they are called, are the Jats (15,000) and A wans (9,000), all of whom live by agriculture, as do also the Baghbans (2,000) and Rajputs (3,000). Saiyids number 12,000. The Aroras, the only important commercial and money-lending class, number 15,000; other castes of this class are the Bhatias and Khattrls, numbering 2,000 and 1,000 respectively. Of the artisan classes, the Tarkhans (carpenters, 5,000), Lohars (blacksmiths, 4,000), Rangrez (dyers, 3,000), Kumhars (potters, 3,000), Sonars (goldsmiths, 2,000), and Mochls (shoemakers and leather- workers, 2,000) are the most important ; and of the menials only the Nais (barbers, 3,000) and Chuhras and Kutanas (sweepers, 2,000) appear in some strength. Agriculture supports 75 per cent, of the population.


The difference between this figure and that given on p. 392 is due to the exclusion here ol the non-revenue paying portion of the administrative District. The Church Missionary Society began work in Bannu in 1864, and has a hospital which possesses a wide reputation on both sides of the frontier. The District contained 63 native Christians in 1901.


The prevailing soil is a sandy gravel, sometimes degenerating into mere sand, as in the Marwat tahsil, and sometimes affording a light and easy cultivation. The central portion of the Bannu valley, between the Kurram and the Tochi, is highly irrigated, and the demands on the soil are incessant. It is preserved, however, from exhaustion by the use of manure and the deposits of silt brought down by the Kurram river. Their fertility being thus renewed, the lands of a great majority of villages are sown year after year, for two harvests, without showing signs of deterioration. The rest of the District, with the exception of the tract between the Bhittanni hills and the Tochi, is sandy and entirely dependent on the rainfall. Saline efflorescence is common in parts of the District. The spring crop, which in 1903-4 occupied 80 per cent, of the area matured in the year, is sown chiefly from the beginning of October to the end of January ; the autumn crop from May to July, though sugar-cane is planted as early as March.

The village tenures of this District as a rule present few peculiar features, and fall naturally under the standard communal types recog- nized throughout the Province. An exception, however, exists in the custom, once general and still surviving in a few Marwat villages, of the periodical redistribution of holdings among the shareholders. This custom is called khulla vesh, literally ' mouth division,' and received official sanction at the last revenue settlement. Cultivation is chiefly carried on by peasant proprietors, and money-rents between tenant and landlord are rare. There are no large proprietors, and the land is minutely subdivided. The following table shows the main agricultural statistics in 1903-4, according to the revenue returns, areas being in square miles : —


Wheat is by far the most important crop, covering 334 square miles in 1903-4, or 49 per cent, of the net cultivated area. Next in impor- tance is gram (158), after which the areas occupied by individual crops diminish rapidly, but maize (52) and bdjra (41) may be mentioned. Sugar-cane, cotton, and rice are grown to a small extent. The area cultivated in 1903-4 had risen by 43 per cent, above that cultivated at the settlement of 1872-9, the increase being chiefly due to the more peaceful state of the District. Little has been done as yet in the way of improving the quality of the crops grown. The amount of advances outstanding under the Land Improvement Loans Act at the end of 1903-4 was Rs. 14,267, while that of advances under the Agriculturists' Loans Act was Rs. 15,483. The amounts advanced in 1903-4 under these two Acts were Rs. 300 and Rs. 9,270 respectively. There is a constant demand for loans to buy plough bullocks. The quality of the cattle is poor, and the attempt to introduce Hissar bulls into the District was a failure. The buffaloes, however, are of an excellent breed. Large numbers of camels and donkeys are kept in the Marwat tahsl/, and of fat-tailed sheep in the Bannu tahsil The Wazir breed of horses used to be popular, but is now virtually extinct, though the District is well adapted for horse-breeding. The District Board maintains 2 horse and 2 donkey stallions.

Of the total area cultivated in 1903-4, 242 square miles, or 30 per cent., were classed as irrigated ; of this, all but 93 acres irrigated from wells was supplied by canals. The canals take off from the Kurram and other hill streams, and are mostly the property of the people them- selves, though in some cases the water belongs to the Government. Many date from an extreme antiquity. Babar, writing in 1505, says : 'The Bangash [Kurram] river runs through the Bannu territory, and by means of it chiefly the country is irrigated.' Many centuries of contention and compromise have evolved a most elaborate system of irrigation and rights in water, which is now administered by the Deputy-Commissioner.

The forest lands are quite insignificant, and outside the Bannu oasis the District is badly wooded. Bannu possesses few minerals of commercial value. Rock-salt exists, but is not worked ; and limestone, building stone, and flint are the only mineral products utilized. Impure carbonate of soda is made from the ashes of the Caroxylon Griffithii.

Trade and communication

Cotton is woven in most villages, but in quantities only sufficient for local requirements. The woollen-pile rugs locally known as nakhais and the silk-embroidered phitlkaris of the District communications. nave some artistic merit, but are not largely made. The lac work is inferior in technique to that of Dera Ismail Khan. Otherwise the District is destitute of any arts and manufactures, beyond the wares turned out to supply the everyday wants of the people. The clay used in unglazed pottery work at Bannu is of a superior quality and some of the designs are quaint. The chief exports are raw cotton, wool, gram, wheat, oilseeds, millet, and pulses ; and the chief imports are sugar, piece-goods, indigo, ghl, wood, oil, iron, and tobacco. Bannu and Lakki are the only centres of commerce. The District has a surplus of agricultural produce, but depends on the Punjab for all manufactured articles.

No railway traverses the District, but the North-Western Railway has an out-station at Bannu for forwarding goods. This town is connected with Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat by a metalled road under the Military Works department, on which a line of tongas runs. The road up the Tochi is also metalled and possesses a tonga service. All other roads are unmetalled and are managed for the most part by the District board. Some of the roads are little better than sandy tracts ; others, however, passing over firmer soil, are well defined, having a clayey surface, which is as hard as iron in dry weather but quickly becomes cut up after heavy rain. In the Bannu tahsil the roads are much intersected by irrigation channels and the courses of mountain streams. The most important are the road between Lakki and Naurang Sarai, and the frontier road, a mule track connecting the outposts on the border. There are 81 miles of metalled roads, all under the Military Works department, and 432 miles of unmetalled roads, of which 22 miles are Imperial, 91 Provincial, and 319 District.


Though the District was classed by the Irrigation Commission as secure from famine, the Marwat tahsil has recently been declared insecure. The area of crops that matured in the famine year 1899- 1900 amounted to 77 per cent, of the average of the preceding five years.


For administrative purposes the District is divided into the two tahsils of Bannu and Marwat, each under atahsildar and a naib- tahsildar. The Deputy-Commissioner is aided by an Assistant Commissioner (who holds the office 01 District Judge of Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, and also that of additional District Magistrate of Bannu), an Assistant Commissioner in charge of the border military police, and two Extra Assistant Commis- sioners, one of whom is in charge of the District treasury. The Deputy-Commissioner, as District Magistrate, and the District Judge are both supervised in judicial matters by the Divisional Judge of the Derajat Civil Division. The District Judge has one Munsif under him and one honorary Munsif, both at head-quarters.

Violent crime used to be the chief characteristic of the District ; and murder, dacoity, highway robbery, and armed burglary were common, being carried out by the trans-border outlaws with the connivance of the leading men of the District. The military operations, however, against the Kabul Khel in November, 1902, which ended in the surrender of a large number of outlaws, had an excellent effect in tranquillizing the border, and crime has much diminished since that year. Rigorous enforcement of the preventive sections of the Frontier Crimes Regulation and Penal Code does much to preserve the security of the border. The inhabitants of Bannu are notoriously litigious, civil cases being more frequently instituted than in any other District on the frontier.

Our knowledge of the Bannu tahsil before annexation is of the vaguest description. The administrative unit, political or fiscal, was the Zappa, a block of villages whose limits varied with the authority of its chief. Each Zappa was a little independent state, warring with its neighbours from time to time and gaining or losing territory as the case might be. Force was the only method of revenue collection. When the tax- gatherer, whether Durrani or Sikh, came with his army and demanded tribute or revenue, he levied his demand on the chief man of the tappa, who proceeded to exact the sum required from such of the landholders as had not absconded, bribing the Saiyids to help by exempting them from contributions, and rewarding any one who paid a defaulter's share with that defaulter's land. For the first four years of British rule (1849-53) the revenue was collected by crop appraisement of each field.

In 1852-3 the first summary settlement was made on the average of these collections. This was revised, with a slight increase, in 1859. The first demand was Rs. 1,04,000 and the second Rs. 1,13,000. Marwat under native rule was administered with a firmer hand. Under the Durranis the Marwats paid a sum varying from Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 40,000 as revenue or tribute, generally exacted at the point of the sword, while under the Nawab of Mankera or the Sikh rulers of Multan, both of them uncomfortably near neighbours, a full demand was exacted. Herbert Edwardes took over Marwat from Malik Fateh Khan Tiwana, the Sikh lessee, in 1847, and imposed a revenue of one-fourth of the gross produce in cash. This proportion was maintained by John Nicholson, who made the first summary settlement in 1853. The demand was severe and large remissions were necessary. The second summary settlement was made on the same lines in 1858, and pressed un- equally on the people, besides raising the total demand from 2-2 lakhs to nearly 2-4.

In 1872 the regular settlement of the District began. Although the actual assessments fell very much below the standard rate of half the net 1 assets,' the new demand for the two tahsils was 3 lakhs (including cesses), while the revenue of the preceding year had been 2| lakhs. The settlement has nowhere pressed severely, but suspensions have been found necessary in years of scarcity.

The latest revision began in 1903, when it was found that the area under cultivation had increased since settlement by 43 per cent, and the irrigated area had doubled in Marwat and increased by 46 per cent, in Bannu, while prices had risen at least 25 per cent. After allowing for frontier remissions and considerations of general policy, it is estimated that the result will be an increase of Rs. 1,17,000, or 47 per cent., of which Rs. 1,10,000 will be realized by Government. The rates of assessment at the last settlement were, per acre : ' dry ' land, R. 0-6-6 (maximum, 12 annas; minimum, 1 anna); and ' wet ' land, R. 0-9-6 (maximum, 15 annas; minimum, 3 annas).

The collections of land revenue alone and of total revenue have been as follows, in thousands of rupees : —


These figures are for the old District, including the Mianwali and Isa Khel tahsils. The District contains the two municipalities of Bannu (Edwardesabad) and Lakki. Local affairs elsewhere are managed by the District board. Its income in 1903-4 amounted to Rs. 36,300, chiefly derived from cesses, and its expenditure to Rs. 33,400, public works forming the largest item.

The regular police force consists of 410 of all ranks, of whom 58 are municipal police. The village watchmen number 334. There are 8 police stations, 2 outposts, and 7 road-posts. The border military police number 421, under a commandant who is an Assistant Commis- sioner. The force is directly under the orders of the Deputy-Commis- sioner, and is chiefly employed on the watch and ward of the border. The District jail at head-quarters can accommodate about 320 prisoners. Only 4-1 per cent, of the population were able to read and write in 1901, the proportion being 7-3 among males, 0-2 among females. The Sikhs, with 53-7 per cent., are by far the most advanced community. Next come the Hindus (21-8), while the Muhammadan cultivators are still markedly backward (1-5). The District is, however, making distinct progress in literacy, and even Wazirs are sometimes met with who appreciate the value of reading and writing. The spread of female education, due mainly to the missionaries but partly also to the Arya Samaj, has been steady.

The number of pupils under instruction was 6,501 in 1880-1, 5,166' in 1890-1, 7,234' in 1900-1, and 3,447 in 1903-4. In the last year the District possessed 3 secondary and 22 primary (public) schools, and 48 advanced and 127 elementary (private) schools, with 55 girls in the public schools. The total expenditure on education was Rs. 25,000, of which Government contributed Rs. 4,700, Local funds Rs. 5,100, municipal funds Rs. 11,200, and fees Rs. 3,900. Besides the civil hospital at Bannu, the District possesses one dis- pensary at Lakki, with 53 beds in all. In 1904 the number of cases treated was 31,888, including 687 in-patients, and 1,330 operations were performed. The income was Rs. 7,400, of which Local funds contributed Rs. 1,500 and municipal funds Rs. 5,900. 1 These figures are for the old District, including the Mianwali and Isa Khel tahsils. VOL. VI. u d

The number of successful vaccinations in 1903-4 amounted to 10,424, representing 45 per 1,000 of the population. Vaccination is compulsory only in the town of Bannu. [District Gazetteer (

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