ETHNONYMS: Baloch, Baluch
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 life—even 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.
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.
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 subsections—with 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 affair—there 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 aspect—professional 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.
NANCY E. GRATTON
"Baluchi." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi
"Baluchi." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
ALTERNATE NAMES: Baloch; Balochi
POPULATION: 7.5–11 million
1 • INTRODUCTION
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.
2 • LOCATION
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.
3 • LANGUAGE
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.
4 • FOLKLORE
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.
5 • RELIGION
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.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
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.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
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.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
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.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
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.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
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.
11 • CLOTHING
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.
12 • FOOD
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.
13 • EDUCATION
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.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
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.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
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.
16 • SPORTS
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.
17 • RECREATION
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.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
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.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
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.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
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 http://www.pakistan-embassy.com/, 1998.
Interknowledge Corp. [Online] Available http://www.interknowledge.com/pakistan/, 1998.
World Travel Guide, Pakistan. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/pk/gen.html, 1998.
"Baluchi." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi
"Baluchi." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
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.
"Baluchi." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi
"Baluchi." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
ALTERNATE NAMES: Baloch; Balochi
LOCATION: Pakistan (Province of Baluchistan); Iran; Afghanistan; Turkmenistan; Oman; East African coast
POPULATION: 7.5–11 million
RELIGION: Islam (mostly Sunni Muslim; also the Zikrī sect)
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 4: Pakistanis
The Balūchī (also Baloch, or Balochi) are a semi-nomadic tribal people inhabiting the southern mountains and coastal regions of South Asia's west+ern borderlands. Though united by a common language and culture, they have suffered the fate of many groups in the region in that their traditional homeland is divided between several political units—Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
The Balūchī, who believe they are descendants of Amir Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, trace their origins to tribes living in the region of Aleppo, in Syria. Migrating eastward, these tribes reached the southern shores of the Caspian Sea and from there settled in their present homeland sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. Isolated by the remoteness and inhospitable nature of their lands, they existed for several centuries as more or less independent groups organized along clan lines. Persians, Arabs, Hindus, and others have laid claim to parts of Bal ū ch ī stan, the traditional Balūchī homeland, at various times. None, however, succeeded in effectively establishing political control over the area. In the 12th century, Mir Jalal Han succeeded in uniting some of the Balūchī tribes under the short-lived First Balūchī Confederacy. Tribal conflict and intertribal rivalries were commonplace throughout the region, often instigated by competition for land, revenues, and resources. By the 16th century, the Balūchī were organized into three political entities—the Makran State, the Dodai Confederacy, and the Kalat Confederacy. In the 18th century, virtually all of the Balūchī tribes were united in a loose confederacy under the banner of Mir Adbullah Khan of Kalat.
The British annexation of Sind in 1843 pushed the frontier of British India to the borders of Balūchīstan. Concerned with a possible Russian threat to their Indian Empire, and also with gaining access to the strategic Afghanistan frontier, the British sought to extend their influence over the Balūchī. They achieved this by playing local leaders against each other, exploiting the Balūchī through a policy of divide and conquer. Tribal chiefs were guaranteed local autonomy and cash payments in return for allowing British garrisons in their territory. Some areas along the Afghanistan border were brought under direct British administration. By the early 20th century, British control over the region extended to the borders of Afghanistan and Iran.
The British Province of Balūchīstan passed to Pakistan when that if country came into being in 1947. Pakistan also inherited the problems of the region, with the fiercely independent and warlike Balūchī tribes resisting integration into the new political state. Opposition to the central government led to brutal confrontations with the Pakistani military in the mid-1970s. Indiscriminate air attacks were mounted on villages and civilian populations in an effort to subdue the Balūchī dissidents. Today, the Balūchī see themselves as a neglected minority in a country, whose government is dominated by non-Balūchī ethnic groups such as the Punjabis.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Balūchī speakers today are estimated to number about 8 million people. This figure is based on linguistic data, as census information from the countries in which the Balūchī live is unreliable. (The 2002 Pakistan Census estimate for the population of Balūchīstan Province is 7,215,700.) In addition, there are perhaps half as many people again who, though essentially Balūchī in culture, have adopted the language of their neighbors. Thus, if cultural rather than linguistic criteria are used, the Balūchī in Pakistan could total around 11 million in number.
The traditional homeland of the Balūchī extends west from the borders of the Punjab and Sind, across a small section of Afghanistan, to the areas of the Iranian Plateau southeast of Kirman. The southern boundary of the region is defined by the coast of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. The section of this territory falling within Pakistan makes up the Pakistani Province of Balūchīstan, in which some 7 million people or 70% of the total Bal ū ch ī population live in Balūchīstan.. Some 1-2 million Balūchī reside within the borders of Iran, and a further 300,000 are found in Afghanistan. Balūchī communities are also found in Turkmenistan in Central Asia, in Oman in Arabia, and along the coast of East Africa, and also in the Pakistani city of Karachi.
Apart from the fringing coastal lowlands in the south and the arm of the Indus flood plain that extends towards Sibi in Pakistan, the entire region is characterized by harsh, inaccessible terrain. Rugged mountain ranges are interspersed with upland plateaus and desert basins. In Pakistan, the eastern margins of Balūchīstan are defined by the north–south-running Kirthar Hills and the Sulaiman Ranges. The latter average 1,800–2,100 m (6,000–7,000 ft) in elevation, but in places mountain peaks exceed 3,000 m (10,000 ft). Zargun, near Quetta, reaches a height of 3,591 m (11,738 ft). In southern Balūchīstan Province, the mountain ranges swing westward to parallel the Makran coast. The northwest of the province is made up of the desert basin of the Hamun-i-Mashkel, a region of bare sun-cracked clay, sand dunes, and marshes. The entire region experiences an arid climate, with the hot summers and cold winters typical of desert regions.
The Province of Balūchīstan is rich in natural resources, though its inhabitants perceive that they receive little benefit from this and that they are exploited by the central government.
The Balūchī language is an Indo-Iranian language of the Indo-European linguistic family. Related to Kurdish and Pashto, its origins are apparently to be found in the civilization of the ancient Medes or Parthians. Modern Balu chi shows borrowings from Persian, Arabic, Sindhi, and other languages. Distinctions are made between Western, Southern, and Eastern Balu chi, and six individual dialects of Balūchī are identified. No written form of the language existed before the early 19th century. Persian was used for official purposes until that time. Subsequently, Balūchī was written in the Persian and Urdu scripts. With the rise of Balūchī nationalism, an adaptation of the Arabic script known as Nastaliq has been adopted for writing purposes.
Bravery and courage are respected by the Balūchī, and many tribal heroes who remained true to Balūchī values are revered and honored in folk songs and ballads. Doda, for example, is remembered for defending the principle of bāhot, 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 ensuing battle (a similar tale is found in Rajasthani folklore). In keeping with Balūchī tradition, Doda's death was eventually avenged by his brother Balach.
Balūchī culture incorporates many elements that pre-date Islam. The veneration of tribal heroes and belief in the power of ancestral spirits reflect these ancient practices. In the past, it was customary for the Balūchī to perform certain rituals and even sacrifice at the graves of heroes. No doubt under later Islamic influence, such rites are now undertaken at the shrines of Muslim saints.
The Balūchī are Muslim, mostly Sunni but also including members of the Zikrī sect. Zikrīs (pronounced "Zigris" in Balūchī) were estimated to number over 750,000 people in 1998. If they increased in numbers at the same overall rate as Pakistan's population, today they would number close to 1 million people. They live mostly in Makran and Las Bela in southern Pakistan and are followers of a 15th-century mahdi, an Islamic messiah, called Nur Pak ("Pure Light"). Zikrī practices and rituals differ from those of orthodox Islam. For example, they do not observe the month of fasting during Ramadan. Zikrīs see themselves as Muslim, but in the eyes of Sunnis they are nonbelievers. This is because they place the teachings of their mahdi above those of Muhammad. As a result, Zikrīs are discriminated against by the dominant Sunni majority in Pakistan. They are also subjected to personal violence as well as attacks on their places of worship by Muslim extremists.
Balūchī Sunnis follow the teachings of Muhammad, keeping to the practices and principles of Islam as set out in the Koran (Quran). Religious instruction and the performance of religious ritual and observances lie in the hands of the mullahs (priests). However, many Baluch, and particularly the Zikrīs, are ardent followers of Sufisaints or pirs. These mystics, who can cure illnesses, foretell the future, and are reputed to perform miracles, are seen as evidence of the direct hand of God in the affairs of humans. For the Balūchī, religious beliefs and practices are very much an individual matter. The Balūchī do not support the idea of the religious state that underlies national policies implemented by Pakistani governments in recent years.
The Balūchī observe the festivals of Id ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Id ul-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that falls at the end of the Islamic year. On these occasions, clean clothes are worn in honor of the occasion. The day begins with prayer, and the rest of holiday is spent in gambling, horse-racing, and general merry-making. Id ul-Adha is celebrated with the sacrifice of goats and sheep and the distribution of the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. Alms are distributed at this time. The tenth day of Muharram is observed by visits to the graves of relations, followed by prayers and the distribution of alms to the poor. In general, the Balūchī pay less attention to celebrating festivals than do other Muslim peoples in South Asia.
RITES OF PASSAGE
The birth of a child is greeted with much rejoicing, music, and singing. Food and sweets are prepared and distributed to commemorate the event. The birth of a male child is cause for greater celebration, and some tribes barely recognize the arrival of a girl. The naming of the child usually takes place on the sixth day after birth. Children may be named after deceased ancestors, days of the week, trees, plants, or animals. Names peculiar to the Balūchī include Lalla, Bijjar, Kannar, and Jihand. Other ceremonies mark occasions such as the circumcision of males, the child beginning to walk, and the first wearing of trousers. This last event, occurring around the age of 15, 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 tribal warfare.
Balūchī burial rites follow usual Islamic practices. The corpse is taken to the graveyard, where it is washed and dressed in a shroud. A mullah (Muslim priest) reads the prayer for the dead over the body before it is committed to the grave. The body is laid in a north–south direction, with the head turned toward the west, i.e., facing Mecca. Sweets are passed among the congregation, and prayers are offered up before the mourners disperse. For nomads on the move, the body is placed in a pit dug to serve as a grave, rather than in a cemetery. A goat or sheep is killed, and the meat is cooked and distributed instead of sweets. The initial mourning period lasts for three or five days, depending on the sex of the deceased. During this time, normal activities are restricted, and women discard their jewelry and wear black dresses. The end of this period is marked by asrokh, a ceremony involving prayers and the distribution of meat. A second period of mourning lasts several months, during which friends come from a distance to offer condolences to the family of the deceased.
When Balūchī 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 commences with inquiries after health (durāhī) and then proceeds to an exchange of news (hāl). Not to ask for news of the person one is meeting is considered the height of rudeness.
The Balūchī are guided in their daily lives and social relations by a code of conduct known as Baluchmayar, or "the Balūchī way." It is expected that a Balūchī be generous in hospitality to guests, offer refuge to those who seek protection (bāhot), and be honest in dealings with others. A Balūchī man should be merciful to women and refrain from killing a man who has sought sanctuary in the shrine of a pir (Sufisaint). He is equally expected to defend his honor (izzat) and that of his women and family. Some insults are avenged only by blood, leading to reprisals and blood-feuds that have lasted generations. When both parties involved agree to it, such feuds are settled by the tribal council or jirgāl. Invariably blood-money or some form of compensation is required to be paid. Another means of resolving disputes is through med, a informal gathering of tribal leaders and elders who volunteer their services to help reach an end to the conflict.
The Balūchī are organized into territorially based tribes such as the Marri and the Bugti, each under the leadership of a central chief or Sardār. The tribes are made up of various kin-groups such as clans, clan sections, and subsections, with the smaller of these groups coinciding with the actual units of settlement found throughout the region.
Balūchī nomads live in tents (gidām) made of palm matting stretched on poles. Two upright poles are driven into the ground and a third connects them in the form of a crosspiece. The matting is thrown over this, with the corners and sides fastened to the ground with pegs and heavy stones. In winter the matting is replaced by goat-hair blankets. A coarse, goat-hair carpet forms the floor of the tent. Typical contents of the tent include a hand-mill for grinding grain, waterskins, and goat-hair sacks for holding grain, salt, and clothing. Flint and tinder are carried for making fires, and various cooking and eating utensils complete the list of household belongings. Both the tent and its contents are transported on the backs of pack animals when the camp is on the move.
Permanent settlements are usually occupied during the summer months. They generally consist of small villages comprising a collection of mud huts clustered around the fort of a chief or headman for protection. More recent structures may be made of sun-dried brick, with houses built 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.
As in all Muslim societies, women occupy a subservient role among the Balūchī. However, they are less subject to social restrictions than are women among other Muslim peoples in South Asia. Traditionally, purdah (seclusion) was not followed, although some upper-class families have now taken up the custom. In addition to household chores, women share in the tending of the family's herds. The gathering of wild plants, water, and firewood are specifically women's work.
Balūchī have strong prohibitions against marrying outside the Balūchī community. Marriages are arranged, with the union of first cousins being common. Such a match has the advantage of strengthening the ties between related families that are already familiar with each other. A bride-price (lab) consisting of cash and livestock is customary, although in certain instances an exchange of brides is negotiated. Islamic law permits polygamy, but monogamy is the norm among the Balūchī. Adultery was traditionally punishable by the death of the guilty parties under tribal law. Divorce occurs for reasons such as barrenness but is considered a matter of great disgrace. A widow returns to her father's home on the death of a husband, although she is allowed to remarry if it is acceptable to her family. Inheritance of property passes from father to son, a woman keeping only her personal belongings such as utensils, clothing, and jewelry.
Traditional clothing for the Balūchī man is a long, loose shirt (jāmag or kurtī) that reaches below the knees, baggy trousers (salwār), and a turban (pāg) made of a long cloth wound around a turban cap. Shoes of leather or palm-leaf sandals complete the dress. A shawl or wrap (chāddar) provides extra warmth in winter but can also be used as a towel, waistband, or headcloth, or to carry objects. In the past, Balūchī wore only white, although this is now changing. An embroidered waistcoat or vest is sometimes worn over the shirt. Baluūchi men may wear rings in the ears and on their fingers, but they disdain other jewelry. Hair is worn long, and most Balchī men sport beards.
Dress for a woman is simpler, consisting of a long shift (pashk) reaching to the ankles, and a wrap used to cover the head, shoulders, and upper body. The wearing of trousers under the shift was restricted to women of high status. The clothes of better-class women are often made from silk and are elaborately embroidered. Colors are usually avoided, but widows wear black, and scarlet is popular among girls of marriageable age. Women wear an assortment of rings (nose-rings, earrings, rings on fingers and toes), necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments in the hair. Jewelry is made from gold or silver, depending on one's means.
The Marri Balūchī take food twice a day, in the morning and evening. The food for the family is cooked together, but men and women eat separately. The most important food-grain is wheat, though millets (juārī and bājra) and rice are also eaten. They are ground into flour and baked into unleavened bread in mud ovens. Meat is an important part of the Balūchīdiet, sajjī being a particular favorite that is often served to honored guests. A sheep is killed, flayed, and carved into joints, with the meat being slashed and sprinkled with salt. The pieces of meat are spitted on green twigs, which are stuck into the ground in front of a blazing log. This dish is eaten with a knife, although Balūchī normally eat with their hands. Milk is drunk and also made into curds, buttermilk, and butter. In summer, a sherbet (lassī) is made with milk, molasses, and sugar. Dates and wild fruits and vegetables also form an important part of the Balūchī diet.
With their traditional seminomadic life-style, Balūchī have little access to formal education. Only an estimated 10% to 15% of Balūchī children attend school, mainly in the more-settled areas of the country. As a consequence, illiteracy among the Balūchī is high.
Although they lack a tradition of written literature, the Balūchī are heirs to a rich body of oral literature that extends back atleast to the 12th century AD. Poets and minstrels are traditionally held in high regard by Balūchī society. Epic poems, heroic ballads, romances, folk tales, and proverbs all form part of the Balūchī cultural heritage. Many works recount tales of Balūchī heroes and all embody the very essence of Balūchmayār, the Balūchī code of honor. Among the more famous and popular of these poems are those relating the legendary exploits of Mir Chakur, a 16th-century Balūchī warrior and chieftain of the Rind tribe. Music plays a role in all ceremonies, except death rituals which are of a more solemn nature. The Lori and Domb castes, though not of Balūchī blood, serve as professional musicians. Dancing accompanies many events such as weddings and other festivals, men and women forming separate dancing circles. Men's dances reflect the warrior traditions of the Balūchī. The drum, the lute, and the shepherd's flute are the most common instruments used to accompany singing and dancing.
The traditional economy of the Balūchī combines dry-crop cereal farming with seminomadic pastoralism based on the herding of sheep, goats, and cattle. Of particular interest in central and southern areas is the cultivation of date palms, irrigated by underground aqueducts (karez). Some Balūchī communities along the southern Makran coast derive their living from fishing. Balūchī tend to look down on trade or commerce, these activities being viewed as unworthy occupations. Such business is left largely in the hands of non-Balūchī.
Popular games include chauk, a type of checkers introduced from Sind and played with wooden pieces on a cloth divided into squares. Moves are governed by six or seven cowrie shells, which are thrown on the ground in the manner of 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 skills in young men for war. Shooting and hunting are favorite pastimes among the upper classes. Card games and gambling are also popular among some groups.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Balūchī living in Karachi and other towns of southern Pakistan enjoy all the recreational facilities available to the urban resident. Those who follow a traditional seminomadic way of life in the remote Balūchī heartland have to rely on festivals, music, dancing, and folk culture for their entertainment.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Balūchī are not particularly known for their folk art or crafts. However, women are skilled at embroidery and adorn their garments with elaborate geometric and abstract designs. They make felt from sheep's wool, and weave rugs for their own use and for the purposes of exchange.
The Balūchī have not fared well in modern Pakistan. They form an ethnic and cultural population that has a transnational distribution, and whose natural affinities are more with their fellow Balūchī in Iran and Afghanistan than with other Pakistanis. Indeed, they are viewed as virtual "savages" by the dominant Punjabi and Sindhi majority in the country. It is little wonder that the Balūchī have very little sense of identity with Pakistan. This alienation is intensified by the failure of the national government to promote economic development in Balūchīstan, one of the most underdeveloped areas of the country.
Many see poverty and lack of education as a major hindrance to Balūchī economic and political advancement. Even in major urban centers such as Karachi, Balūchī children are at a disadvantage. Though they speak Balūchī at home, at school they have to struggle with Urdu, Sindhi, English (the language of commerce and higher education), and Arabic or Persian (the languages of Islam). Few advance beyond high school or low-status or menial jobs. The sense that they are viewed as second-class citizens, combined with resentment against their treatment by a central administration seen as heavy-handed and corrupt, has in the past given rise to Balūchī separatist movements. This has occasionally led to armed conflicts such as the Marri insurrection of 1973–77. Though defeated in the 1970s, a resilient Balūchī nationalist movement lingers on, garnering recruits and support from a population disaffected with establishment policies that emphasize resource transfer. In October 1992, ethnic tempers ran high and clashes took place between the Balūchīs and second largest ethnic group, the Pathans in Balūchīstan. After the Chagai nuclear tests by Pakistan in 1998, some Balūchī students hijacked a PIA (Pakistan International Airways) plane to register their disapproval and draw international attention to the prevailing sense of discrimination in Pakistan against Baluch people and Balūchīstan. Balūchī nationalism remains a sensitive issue, especially given the strategic location of Balūchīstan on the shores of the Arabian Sea and the political dynamics of the region. A proposed pipeline will carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to India through Balūchīstan, although the security of the pipeline remains an issue for the Pakistani government, under Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in the face of the continuing low level insurgency in Balūchīstan.
Increasing levels of violence in southern Afghanistan since 2005 have been attributed to Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters finding safe haven in the border areas of Balūchīstan along with support from local Balūchīs, with whom the Islamic extremists have cultural affinities. Indeed, from this time, extremists involved in the anti-U.S. conflict in Afghanistan have converted areas of Balūchīstan into an operational rather than a logistical base. Quetta is a hotbed of extremist activities and, though the Pakistani Army is fully aware of this, the Islamabad government under President Musharraf did little to bring the area under government control. It remains to be seen whether the newly elected government will tackle the situation.
In August 2006 Pakistani security forces killed Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the 79-year-old chief of the Bugti tribe and former Chief Minister of the province, an incident which was followed by widespread unrest in eastern Balūchīstan. Since early 2005, Bugti, who was seen by locals as a leader, had been fighting the Pakistani Army with a private force of 5,000 loyal tribesmen in the mountains of eastern Balūchīstan. Bugti claimed only to be seeking provincial autonomy for Balūchīstan, a view which, naturally, was not shared by the Pakistani Army and security forces, who saw him as "anti-Pakistani."
As is to be expected in a Muslim society, Balūchī women are seen as inferior to men and are expected to be obedient to their husbands. However, Balūchī women are less restrained than women among other Muslim peoples in South Asia. As noted earlier, they are not subject to the custom of purdah (except in some upper class families). Monogamy is the norm, while divorce is permitted. A Balūchī woman is responsible for household chores, as well as tending the family's herds and the gathering of wild plants, water, and firewood.
"Honor killings," originally common among the Balūchī tribes, is occasionally still faced by Balūchī women who still, even in urban areas, have low literacy and face difficulties in accessing education. Sexual and physical abuse by male family members also remain issues.
Women in Balūchīstan remain extremely poor, illiterate and bound by traditional norms of a tribal society that is patriarchal in nature, but they are nonetheless becoming involved in politics and play an increasingly influential role in society and in determining the future of the province.
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Rooman, Anwar. Balochi Language and Literature. Quetta: Institute of Writing & Research, Balochistan, 2005.
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—by D. O. Lodrick
"Baluchi." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi-0
"Baluchi." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baluchi-0