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ETHNONYMS: Baloch, Baluch


Identification. The Baluchi are predominantly Sunni Muslim, seminomadic pastoralists, whose homelands straddle the Iran-Pakistan border as well as including a small portion of southern Afghanistan.

Location. Baluchistan is the name of the westernmost province of Pakistan, as well as of the transnational territory of the traditional Baluchi homeland. This larger region was carved up by the imperial powers concerned more with ease of administration than with recognition of the territorial limits of the inhabitants. The traditional Baluchi territory extends from the southeastern portion of the Iranian Plateau across the Kirman Desert to the western borders of Sind and the Punjab, and from the Gumal River in the northeast to the Arabian Sea in the south. This is a largely inhospitable land, much of it barren desert or harsh mountainous terrain. Baluchi territory lies outside the monsoon belt, and annual rainfall is very low, not exceeding 16 centimeters. Throughout the region, winters are harsh and cold, and summers are very hot. In the mountains, the rains come in October and March, while in the lowlands they come in July and August.

Demography. Population figures for the Baluchi are somewhat suspect, in part because of the unreliability of census-taking procedures across the three major political units that now control Baluchi territory, and partly because the criteria for ascribing Baluchi identity are not tightly defined. On the strength of linguistic criteria, there are an estimated 5 million or so Baluchi speakers living in eastern Iran, southern Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. However, Baluchi have in some areas become linguistically assimilated to Neighboring peoples while retaining a specifically Baluchi cultural identity; this means that if sociocultural rather than purely linguistic criteria were used, the population count could easily exceed 9 million. Many Baluchi have migrated to Pakistan's Sind and Punjab provinces, and to the emirates of the Persian Gulf.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Baluchi language is a member of the Indo-Iranic Language Family, having some affinity with Kurdish. There are three distinct divisions: Eastern, Western, and Southern Baluchi. Until the nineteenth Century the language had no written form, because Persian was the language of official use. Illiteracy is extremely high among the Baluchi.

History and Cultural Relations

Legend has it that the Baluchi people are directly descended from Amir Hamza, one of Mohammed's uncles, and migrated into the transnational region of Baluchistan from somewhere in the vicinity of Aleppo, in Syria. The migrations that brought them to their current territory began as long ago as the fifth century and were more or less complete by the end of the seventh. Prior to the twelfth century, theirs was a society of independent, more or less autonomous seminomadic groups, organized along principles of clan affiliation rather than territorial association. As the population of the region increased, access to land assumed greater and greater importance, giving rise to a system of tribes, each with a territorial base. The first successful attempt to unite several Baluchi Tribal units was accomplished by Mir Jalal Han, who set up the First Baluchi Confederacy in the twelfth century, but this unity did not long survive his rule. Warfare between various Baluchi tribes and tribal confederacies was frequent during the fifteenth century, largely owing to economic causes. By the sixteenth century the Baluchis were roughly divided up into three separate political entities: the Makran State, the Dodai Confederacy, and the khanate of Baluchistan (the Kalat Confederacy). In the eighteenth century, Mir Abdullah Khan of the Kalat Confederacy succeeded in reuniting all of Baluchistan, providing a centralized government based on Rawaj, the customary law of the Baluchi people. The arrival of the British in the region had profound effects on the future trajectory of Baluchi development. Uninterested in the Region economically, the British were solely concerned with establishing a buffer zone that could forestall the encroachment of the Russians upon the rich prize of India. To further this end, the British relied on the manipulation of Baluchi tribal leaders, cash handouts, and the establishment of garrisons, but they paid no attention to the economic development of the region itself.


The Baluchi have two types of settlements, consistent with their seminomadic way of life. Village settlements are clusters of mud houses, loosely oriented around the house of the local chief. These permanent settlements are found in the Mountains and valleys, and they are occupied chiefly in the Summer. In winter the people migrate to the plains and the coastal areas, seeking pasturage for the livestock that are Central to the traditional Baluchi economy. During this time, the Baluchi live in tents, moving freely across the landscape as conditions favor the care of their herds, and settlements are smaller, consisting of closely related kin.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The traditional Baluchi economy is based on a combination of subsistence farming and seminomadic pastoralism (cattle, sheep, and goats). Because of the harshness of the environment, agriculture is somewhat limited, but it nonetheless constitutes a Significant part of the economy. The principal crop is wheat. Wild fruits and vegetables also form a part of the household economy, and chickens may be raised as well. When the local economy cannot provide adequate opportunities, young men may migrate out in search of paid labor.

Industrial Arts. The Baluchi are a self-sufficient lot, as a whole, and they rely on their own skills to construct their houses and many of the tools necessary in their day-to-day life. Rugs are woven for household use and as items of trade also.

Division of Labor. The entire household participates in the work of tending the family's herd, but in other aspects of the economy there is a division of labor by sex: women work in groups to thresh and winnow the grain harvest, while plowing and planting are men's work. The gathering of wild foods, water, and firewood is done by groups of women.

Land Tenure. By tradition, land is not privately owned but rather is vested in the subsection of the tribe to which one belongs. It therefore is inalienable by the individual. However, during the British period, tribal leaders often managed to have title to some property conveyed in their own names.


Baluchi kinship is patrilineal, tracing descent through one of several lineages, ultimately back to the putative apical ancestor, Amir Hamza. Clan membership is based on familial ties, while tribal membership has a more specifically territorial referent. For both males and females, one remains a member of one's patrilineal group for lifeeven after marriage, for example, a woman's "real" home is that of her father, and her position in her husband's house brings to her only very Limited rights.

Marriage and Family

Baluchi marriages are arranged between the bride's father and the prospective groom upon the payment of a bride-price consisting of livestock and cash. On marriage, a woman passes from the control of her father to that of her husband. Marriage is monogamous and is expected to be for life. Adultery was traditionally punishable by the death of both parties involved. Marriage to a non-Baluchi is rigidly proscribed. Postmarital residence is patrilocal.

Inheritance. All heritable property passes from father to sons.

Socialization. Baluchmayar, or "the Baluchi Way," is the guiding principle of proper conduct for the Baluchi people. It is a sort of honor code, entailing the extension of hospitality, mercy, refuge, and honesty to one's fellows, and it is reaffirmed in the oral traditions of Baluchi song and poetry. Children learn proper behavior through observing their elders and through being subject to taunt and gossip should they behave badly.

Sociopolitical Organization

Baluch society is organized both into kin-based clans and territorially defined tribes. One could claim a rough correspondence between the clan and the social hierarchy as distinct from the tribe and the more specifically political sphere, but this correspondence is not absolute. The Baluchi people are an amalgam of many large units, or chieftaincies, each one of which is itself composed of a nested set of smaller organizational units. From largest to smallest, these constituent units can best be understood as clans, clan sections, and subsectionswith smaller segments of this last division being the level that most closely corresponds to actual settlement units. At each level of this hierarchy, leadership is in the hands of a male elder. At the least comprehensive level, such leadership is as likely to be achieved as inherited, but over time authority at the more inclusive levels has devolved to the elders of what have become hereditary "chiefly clans" (Sardarkel ). By the fifteenth century, the Sardarkel formed the organizational foci of a loosely understood feudal system, which had developed into a set of semiautonomous sovereign principalities by the eighteenth century. During the imperial period, the Sardarkel served as mediators between British and local interests, losing a great deal of their original autonomy in the process. However, as a result of their participation in securing the interests of the ruling power, much land and wealth accrued to these groups, establishing a new and more purely economic basis for their leadership role, as well as allowing them to develop something of a monopoly over access to the larger political systems within which the Baluchi People now found themselves. As a "stateless" people, the Baluchi political presence is today somewhat attenuated. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of groups sprang up in the name of Baluchi nationalism, but their activities have been largely of a guerrilla nature and, as yet, they have been unable to secure international support for their cause.

Social Control. Although Muslim, the Baluchi do not invoke Sharia (Islamic law) to deal with social transgressions. Rather, secular authority is vested in the traditional tribal leaders (Sardars ) and conducted according to Rawaj, which is based on the principles of Baluchmayar. The ultimate traditional sanction was provided by the mechanism of the blood feud, invoked by the clan to avenge the wrongful death of one of its members. Capital punishment was also traditionally applied in cases of adultery or the theft of clan property. Refusal to comply with the socially prescribed norms of hospitality is punishable by fines imposed by the local elders. Pardon for many social infractions can be obtained by the intercession of female representatives of the offender's family. In the case of all offenses except that of adultery, the offender may seek refuge in the household of a nonrelated clan, which obligates the household providing sanctuary to fight to the death to defend the refugee. Petitions for such sanctuary must be granted, according to the code of Baluchmayar. Formal public taunting, in verse as well as in direct speech, provides a further mechanism by which compliance with the Baluchi code of behavior is enforced.

Conflict. The warrior tradition of the Baluchi extends back throughout their history, reaching its fullest flowering in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, at a time coincident with their need to establish a settlement base from which to conduct their seminomadic way of life. During the imperial period the British imposed a policy of pacification upon the region and enforced it by maintaining a substantial garrison presence. The Baluchi reputation for producing fierce Warriors is today recalled primarily in the activities of the "free fighters" of the Baluchi nationalist movement.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Baluchi today are Sunni Muslims but, according to many of the traditional ballads of the Baluchi, they have in the past claimed to be followers of Caliph Ali and thus were once Shia Muslims. Prior to the coming of Islam, the Baluchi were probably followers of Zoroaster, and traces of earlier, non-Islamic beliefs are still retained in Current religious observance. In any case, and unlike the situation found in much of the Muslim world, religious belief and practice are considered to be a private affairthere is no Baluchi concept of a "religious state." Secular authority is quite distinct from the spiritual authority vested in religious leaders. It appears that their religious orientation (Sunni versus Shia) has something of a political component to it: when Iran was aligned with the Sunni sect of Islam, the Baluchi professed for Shia; whereas, when Iran embraced Shia, the Baluchi promptly realigned themselves as Sunni.

Religious Practitioners. Religious instruction and observance are led by the local mullah.

Arts. Although the Baluchi are largely an illiterate people and their language was until quite recently unwritten, they have a long tradition of poetic composition, and poets and professional minstrels have been held in high esteem. Their oral literature consists of epic poetry, ballads of war and Romance, religious compositions, and folktales. Much composition is given over to genealogical recitals as well. This poetic creativity traditionally had a practical as well as aesthetic aspectprofessional minstrels long held the responsibility of carrying information from one to another of the scattered Baluchi settlements, and during the time of the First Baluchi Confederacy these traveling singers provided an important means by which the individual leaders of each tribe within the confederacy could be linked to the central leadership. The earliest securely dated Baluchi poem still known today dates to the late twelfth century, although the tradition of such compositions is no doubt of much greater antiquity.


Baloch, Inayatullah (1987). The Problem of Greater Baluchistan: A Study of Baluch Nationalism. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden.

Pastner, Stephen L. (1978). "Baluch Fishermen in Pakistan." Asian Affairs 9:161-167.

Pehrson, Robert N. (1966). The Social Organization of the Mani Baluch. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, edited by Fredrik Barth, no. 43. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Salzman, Philip C. (1971). "Movement and Resource Extraction among Pastoral Nomads: The Case of the Shah Nawazi Baluch." Anthropology Quarterly 44:185-197.

Wirsing, Robert (1981). The Baluchis and Pathans. London: Minority Rights Group.


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ALTERNATE NAMES: Baloch; Balochi

LOCATION: Pakistan (Province of Baluchistan); Iran; Afghanistan; Turkmenistan; Oman; East African coast

POPULATION: 7.511 million


RELIGION: Islam (mostly Sunni Muslim; also the Zikr i sect)


The Baluch i (also Baloch, or Balochi) are a seminomadic people (they travel with their herds on a seasonal basis but also have a home area where they grow some food crops). They live in the southern mountains and coastal regions of South Asia's western borderlands. Their traditional homeland is divided among Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.

The Baluch i believe they are descendants of Amir Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. They settled in their present homeland sometime between the fifth and seventh centuries ad. Persians, Arabs, Hindus, and others have laid claim to parts of Baluch i stan, the traditional Baluch i home-land, at various times. Conflict within tribes and rivalries between tribes were frequent throughout the region. The reason was often competition for land, money, and resources. In the eighteenth century, almost all of the Baluch i tribes were loosely united.

In 1843, the frontier of British India bordered Baluch i stan. By the early twentieth century, the British had control over much of the region. The British Province of Baluch i stan passed to Pakistan when that country came into being in 1947. Pakistan also inherited the problems of the region. Opposition to the central government led to brutal battles with the Pakistani military in the mid-1970s. The military bombed villages and civilians in an effort to subdue the Baluchi rebels. Today, the Baluchi see themselves as a neglected minority in a country whose government is controlled by non-Baluch i ethnic groups such as the Punjabis.


The Baluch i population today is estimated at 7.5 million. In addition, there are many more people who are Baluch i in culture but have adopted the language of their neighbors. The Baluch i could total over 11 million in number.

The traditional homeland of the Baluch i extends west from the borders of the Punjab and the Sind (a province of Pakistan in the valley of the Indus River), across a small section of Afghanistan, to the areas of the Iranian Plateau southeast of Kirman. The southern boundary is defined by the coast of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.

The Province of Baluch i stan, in which some 6 million people (80 percent of the total Baluch i population) live lies within Pakistan. Just over 1 million Baluch i live within the borders of Iran, and there are 300,000 more in Afghanistan.


The Baluchi language is an Indo-Iranian language of the Indo-European family. Modern Baluch i shows borrowings from Persian, Arabic, Sindhi, and other languages. No written form of the language existed before the early nineteenth century. Persian was used for official purposes until that time.


The Baluch i respect bravery and cour a e. Many tribal heroes are honored in folk songs and ballads.

Doda, for example, is remembered for defending the principle of ahot, or protection. Legend tells of a wealthy widow, Sammi, who sought protection in the village of Doda Gorgez. One day, Beebagr, a relative of Sammi's deceased husband, carried off some of Sammi's cows. Even though Doda had just been married, he pursued the thieves because he was honor-bound to safeguard the property, as well as the life, of the widow. Doda was killed in the battle that followed. In keeping with Baluch i tradition, Doda's death was eventually avenged by his brother Balach.


The Baluch i are Muslim, mostly Sunni, but also including members of the Zikr i sect. Zikr i s (pronounced "ZIG-ris" in Baluch i) are estimated to number over 750,000. They live mostly in southern Pakistan. They are followers of a fifteenth-century mahdi, an Islamic messiah, called Nur Pak (Pure Light).

The Baluch i do not support the idea of a religious nation that underlies national policies put in place by Pakistani governments in the 1990s.


The Baluch i observe the festivals of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that falls at the end of the Islamic year. On these occasions, people put on clean clothes and begin the day with prayer. The rest of the holiday is spent in gambling, horseracing, and general merrymaking.

Eid al-Adha is celebrated with the sacrifice of goats and sheep. The meat is distributed among relatives, friends, and the poor. Alms (donations) are given to beggars. The tenth day of the month of Muharram is observed by visits to the graves of relatives, followed by prayers and the giving of alms to the poor. In general, the Baluch i pay less attention to celebrating festivals than do other Muslim peoples in South Asia.


The birth of a child is greeted with rejoicing, music, and singing. Food and sweets are prepared and given out. The birth of a boy is cause for greater celebration, and some groups barely recognize the arrival of a girl. Names common among the Baluch i include Lalla, Bijjar, Kannar, and Jihand.

Other ceremonies mark occasions such as the circumcision of boys, the time when a child begins to walk, and the first wearing of trousers. This last event, occurring around the age of fifteeen, was traditionally an important stage in a boy's life. It marked his becoming an adult and the time when he took up arms and joined his people in warfare.


When Baluchi greet each other, they normally shake hands. However, if an ordinary tribesperson meets a religious leader, the tribesperson reverently touches the leader's feet. A meeting usually begins with inquiries after health (durahi) and then goes on to an exchange of news (hal). It is considered the height of rudeness not to ask for news from the person one is meeting.

The Baluch i are guided in their daily lives and social relations by a code of conduct known as Baluchmayar, or "the Baluch i way." A Baluch i is expected to be generous in hospitality to guests, offer refuge to people who seek protection, and be honest in dealings with others. A Baluch i man must be merciful to women and refrain from killing a man who has found sanctuary in the shrine of a pir (Sufi saint). He is also expected to defend his honor (izzat) and the honor of the women in his family, and his other relatives.


Baluchi nomads live in tents (gidam) made of palm matting stretched on poles. A coarse goat-hair carpet forms the floor of the tent. There are permanent settlements to live in during the summer months. More recently, houses have been built of sundried brick. They are scattered along narrow, winding village lanes. Both old and newer houses have an open courtyard in front, enclosed by a low mud wall or palm fence.


Baluch i women are seen as inferior to men and are expected to be obedient to their husbands. However, Baluchi women are less restrained than women among other Muslim peoples in South Asia. Traditionally, the custom of purdah (seclusion of women) was not followed. But some upper-class families have now taken up the custom.

In addition to household chores, women share in tending the family's herds. The gathering of wild plants, water, and firewood is designated as women's work.

Baluch i have strong prohibitions against marrying outside the Baluch i community. Marriages are arranged, and it is common for first cousins to marry. Divorce occurs for reasons such as the inability to have children, but it is considered a matter of great disgrace. A widow returns to her father's home on the death of a husband, and she is allowed to remarry if it is acceptable to her family. Inheritance of property goes from father to son.


Traditional clothing for the Baluch i man is a long, loose shirt (jamag or kurta) that reaches below the knees, worn with baggy trousers (salwar), and a turban (pag). The turban is a long cloth wound around a turban cap on the head. Leather shoes or palm-leaf sandals are worn. A shawl or wrap (chaddar) provides extra warmth in winter but can also be used as a towel, sash, or headcloth; it can be used to carry things.

Women wear a long shift (pashk) reaching to the ankles, with a wrap used to cover the head, shoulders, and upper body. The wearing of trousers under the shift has been restricted to women of high status. Bright colors are usually avoided, but scarlet is popular among girls of marriageable age. Widows wear black. Women wear an assortment of jewelry, including rings (nose rings, earrings, rings on fingers and toes), necklaces, bracelets, and hair ornaments. Jewelry is made of gold or silver, depending on what a person can afford.


The Baluch i have two meals a day, in the morning and evening. The food for the whole family is cooked together, but men and women eat separately. The most important grain is wheat, but millet and rice are also eaten. Grains are ground into flour and made into unleavened bread (flat bread, without any ingredients to make it rise), which is baked in mud ovens.

Meat is an important part of the Baluch i diet. Sajji is a favorite dish that is often served to honored guests. A sheep is killed, skinned, and carved into joints. The meat is sprinkled with salt. The pieces of meat are spitted on green twigs, which are stuck into the ground in front of a blazing log. Once cooked, this dish is eaten with a knife, although Baluchi usually eat with their hands.

Milk is drunk and also made into fresh cheese, buttermilk, and butter. In summer, a sherbet (lassi) is made with milk, molasses, and sugar. Dates and wild fruits and vegetables also form an important part of the Baluch i diet.


Baluch i have little opportunity for formal education. Only an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of Baluch i children attend school, mainly in the more settled areas of the country. For this reason, illiteracy (the inability to read and write) among the Baluch i is high.


The Baluch i have a rich tradition of storytelling. Poets and storytellers are traditionally held in high respect. The oral tradition conveys the theme of Baluchmayar, the Baluch i code of honor. Among the more popular of these poems recount the legendary exploits of Mir Chakur, a sixteenth-century Baluch i warrior and chieftain of the Rind tribe.

Music plays a role in all ceremonies except death rituals. Dancing accompanies many events, such as weddings and other festivals. Men's dances reflect the warrior traditions of the Baluch i. The drum, the lute, and the shepherd's flute are the most common instruments for accompanying the singing and dancing.


The traditional economy of the Baluch i combines cereal (grain) farming and the seminomadic herding of sheep, goats, and cattle. Some Baluch i communities along the coast make a living from fishing. Baluch i think of formal trade and business as unworthy occupations.


Popular games include chauk, a type of checkers played with wooden pieces on a cloth divided into squares. Moves are directed by six or seven cowrie shells, thrown onto the ground like dice.

Ji, a game of tag, is played by village boys and young men. Games such as wrestling and horse racing are useful in developing the skills that young men will need for warfare. Shooting and hunting are favorite pastimes among the wealthier people. Card games and gambling are also popular among some groups.


Baluch i living in Karachi and other towns of southern Pakistan enjoy all the recreational facilities available to the city resident. Those who follow a traditional, seminomadic way of life in the remote Baluch i heartland rely on festivals, music, dancing, and folk culture for their entertainment.


The Baluch i are not known for their folk art or crafts. However, the women are skilled at embroidery and decorate their clothes with elaborate geometric and abstract designs. They make felt from sheep's wool, and also weave rugs for their own use and for sale.


The Baluch i do not live well in modern Pakistan. They are viewed as virtual "savages" by the ruling majority in the country. It is little wonder that the Baluch i do not have a very strong sense of identity with Pakistani nationalism.

This situation is not helped by the government. It has failed to promote economic development in Baluch i stan, one of the most underdeveloped areas of the country.

Even in major cities such as Karachi, Baluch i children are at a disadvantage. Although they speak Baluch i at home, at school they have to struggle with Urdu, Sindhi, English (the language of business and university education), and Arabic or Persian. Few Baluch i advance beyond high school or low-status jobs.


Bray, Denys. Ethnographic Survey of Baluchistan. Bombay, India: The Times Press, 1913.

Janmahmad. The Baloch Cultural Heritage. Karachi, Pakistan: Royal Book Company, 1982.

Pehrson, Robert N. The Social Organization of the Marri Baluch. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1966.


Embassy of Pakistan, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Pakistan. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Baluchi (bəlōō´chē), language belonging to the Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. See Indo-Iranian languages.

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