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 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.