Baloch Tribesman from the Hingol National Park, Balochistan, Pakistan - January 2011
The Baloch or Baluch (بلوچ) are an ethnic group that belong to the larger Iranian peoples. Baluch people mainly inhabit the Baluchestan region and Sistan and Baluchestan Province in the southeast corner of the Iranian plateau in Western Asia.
The Baloch people mainly speak Balochi, which is a branch of the Iranian languages, and more specifically of the North-western Iranian languages, that is highly influenced by that of Mesopotamia and shares similarities with Kurdish and other languages of the region. It also contains archaic features reminiscent of Old Persian and Avestan. They inhabit mountainous terrains and deserts, and maintain a very distinct cultural identity.
About 60 percent of the Baloch live in Balochistan, a western province in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Around 25 percent inhabit the eastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan Province in the Islamic Republic of Iran; a significant number of Baloch people also live in Sindh and South Punjab in Pakistan. Many of the rest live in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and in some parts of Africa. Small communities of Baluch people also live in Europe (particularly Sweden) and in Perth, Australia, where they arrived in the 19th century.
Origins and history
Superimposed on modern borders, the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus's rule extended approximately from Turkey, Israel, Georgia and Arabia in the west to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Indus River and Oman in the east. Persia became the largest empire the world had ever seen.
In 334 BC, the Achaemenid empire fell from its western borders following Alexander's conquest. The last 30-day stand by Achaemenid forces was made at the Battle of the Persian Gate, around 825 kilometers from present-day Sistan va Baluchestan.
This also includes the harsh desert path where previously Cyrus the Great and Semiramis are thought to have lost large portions of their army. These stories are thought to have inspired Alexander to do better than Cyrus and Semiramis. Later Ferdowsi in his book "Shahnameh" Chapter 11 also mentions this desert path and tells the story of army of Kai Khosrow that decided to avoid the desert and instead took the road that leads toward Kelat for rest and refreshment where Kai Khosrow's brother Firoud had been the ruler.
Today the economy of Makrani Baluch is largely based on use of the oceans; practices like designing boats and fishing are traditional to the Baluch. The ancient Mesopotamian text "Adapa and the Food of Life" mentions Adapa (a wise man and a priest) and fishing in the Persian Gulf as one of his sacred duties.
The Baluch people of today are descendants of ancient Median and Persian tribes. Historical references of ancient Persia have made it possible to arrive at this conclusion. Maka is mentioned by Greek historian Herodotus as one of the early satraps of Cyrus the Great, who successfully united several ancient Iranian tribes to create an empire. In the Behistun Inscription, Darius the Great mentions Maka as one of his eastern territories. Darius is recorded to have personally led his elite forces, whose ranks were restricted to those with Persian, Mede or Elamite ancestry, to fight the invading Scythians of Asia and then led the conquest towards the Indian sub-continent, where he conquered Sindh in 519 BC, constituted it as his 20th Satrapy, and made use of the oceans there. Darius wanted to know more about Asia, according to Herodotus; he also wished to know where the "Indus (which is the only river save one that produces crocodiles) emptied itself into the sea". The present region of Makran, which is inhabited by Baluch people, derived its name from the word "Maka". The Babylonians had also made voyages using Maka to communicate with India. Maka had also communicated with Euphrates, Tigris and Indus valley, objects from the Harappan culture have also been found in modern-day Oman, other archaeology suggest that Maka was exporting copper. Herodotus mentions the inhabitants of Maka as "Mykians" who were also previously involved in several conquests with Cyrus the Great and after the conquest of Egypt with Cambyses, they went to Sindh in command of Darius I, and also took in army of Xerxes the great at the battle of Thermopylae, where they were dressed and equipped the same as Pactyans, Utians and Paricanians, the tribes adjacent to the Mykians. The word Maka later became Makran as it is common in closely related ancient Avestan and Old Persian languages to use "an" and "ran" at the end of plurals, which then translates as "the land of Mykians". They are mentioned as "the men from Maka" in daeva inscriptions. The "daeva inscription" is one of the most important of all Achaemenid inscriptions; in the Baluchi language, dêw translates as "giant devil or monster". Mykians were also responsible for many inventions, such as qanats and underground drainage galleries that brought water from aquifers on the piedmont to gardens or palm groves on the plains. These inventions were important reasons behind the success of the Achaemenid Empire and survival of Mykians in their largely harsh natural environment. Other inscriptions also record that gold, silver, lapis lazuli, turquise, cornalin, cedar wood, wood and the decoration for the relief at Susa were from Maka. The Mykians of the other side of ancient Maka, the present-day region of Balochistan and Sindh had later taken independence because they are not mentioned in the book written by Arrian of Nicomedia about campaigns of Alexander the Great but he only mentions the Oman side of Maka which he calls "Maketa". The reasons for this may have been the arguably unjust rule of Xerxes. It is highly likely that the ancient Mykians were one of the Median or Persian tribes and an important part of Achaemenid empire, as they are not mentioned as one of the ancient Iranian tribes that Cyrus the Great and Darius I had fought with. Cyrus himself was of both Persian and Median ancestry as his father was Cambyses I, who is believed to have married Mandane of Media, the daughter of Astyages, a Median king.
Historical evidence suggests that Baluch people were the ancient inhabitants of the Maka satrapy in Achaemenid empire. Baluch inhabiting the coastal areas in the region of Makran (Chabahar, Gwadar), Gulf (Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain) and Arabian Sea (Karachi and other parts of Sindh) and tribes including the Rind, Bizenjo, Brahvi and Gabol are highly skilled in designing boats, fishing and other skills required to survive in their environment. Herodotus also mentions that Darius had made use of the ocean in this region of Sindh. The Slemani Baloch who inhabit the region of Baluchistan including Makran—for example, tribes including the Brahvi, Marri, Bugti, Buzdar, Mazari, Mengal, Rind, Bizenjo, Hasni, Zehri, Dehwar and others—carry different skills to survive in their mostly mountainous environment and have a history of aggressive behavior towards invasions. These tribes are not confined to one specific location as they also contain sub-tribes and can be found all over the region.
The origins of the word "Baluch" are shrouded in controversy. According to German archaeologist and Iranologist Ernst Herzfeld, it is derived from the Median word brza-vaciya, which means "loud cry", while others claim the word derives from ancient Iranian languages.
The origins of Baluchi culture and traditions can be traced back to Mesopotamia, which is widely accepted as the origin of the Baluch people.
However, due to poverty and fear of radical Islamic organizations, cultural fashion has become very limited. Radical Islamic organizations have repeatedly targeted Baluch people, including bombing Baluchi cultural celebrations.
Baluchi customs and traditions are conducted according to codes imposed by tribal laws. These strong traditions and cultural values are important to Baluch people and have enabled them to keep their distinctive ancient cultural identity and way of life with little change to this day.
Baluchi culture is mentioned in the Pirmohamad M. Zehi's account of his travel to the province of Sakestan, or the present-day Sistan va Baluchistan province of Iran, which holds strong significance to the culture of Baluch people. Baluch people have preserved their traditional dress with little change over the centuries. The Baluch men wear long shirts with long sleeves and loose pants resembling the Achaemenid outfits of ancient Persians; the dress is occasionally accompanied by a turban or a hat on their heads. The dress worn by Baluch women is one of the most interesting aspects of Baluchi culture. They are of strong significance to the culture of Iran and hold a special place in the society. The women put on loose dress and pants with sophisticated and colorful needlework, including a large pocket at the front of the dress to hold their accessories. The upper part of the dress and sleeves are also decorated with needlework, a form of artistry that is specific to the clothing of the Baluch women. Often the dress also contains round or square pieces of glass to further enhance the presentation. They cover their hair with a scarf, called a sarig in the local dialect. These customs are unique to the people of Iran and the art of this needlework on women's clothing may provide one with a picture of the freedom and high status of Baluchi women in Achaemenid era. Gold ornaments such as necklaces and bracelets are an important aspect of Baluch women's traditions and among their most favored items of jewelry are dorr, heavy earrings that are fastened to the head with gold chains so that the heavy weight will not cause harm to the ears. They usually wear a gold brooch (tasni) that is made by local jewelers in different shapes and sizes and is used to fasten the two parts of the dress together over the chest. In ancient times, especially during the pre-Islamic era, it was common for Baluch women to perform dances and sing folk songs at different events. The tradition of a Baluch mother singing lullabies to her children has played an important role in the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation since ancient times. Apart from the dressing style of the Baluch, indigenous and local traditions and customs are also of great importance to the Baluch.
Baluch people are culturally and traditionally regarded as secular. However, Baluch people are a minority, and growing Islamic fundamentalism in the region is seen as a threat to Baluchi culture. Other challenges include violations of basic human rights, psychological warfare, propaganda in mass media of their modern geography enabled by poverty, illiteracy and inaccessibility to information in the digital age. According to Amnesty International, Baluch activists, politicians and student leaders are among those who have been targeted in forced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrests and cases of torture and other ill-treatment. Islamic radical organizations such as 'Sepah-e-Shohada-e-Balochistan' and others claims responsibility for killing Baluch nationalists in order to secure Islam and Pakistan. Bodies of missing Baluch student activists and nationalists are later found dumped with signs of severe torture. Baluch sources claim that these missing Baluch students and activists are picked up by civilian dressed officials who come with the Pakistan's security forces.
Folk music has always played a great role in Baluchi traditions. Baluchi music and instruments belong to the same branch of Iranian music performed by many other Iranian peoples including Persians, Kurds, Lurs, Tajiks and others. Traditions like the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation by singing lullabies to children and praising warriors also have a significant role in Baluchi music traditions. The fact that both men and women participate in folk music reflects on the pre-Islamic significance of folk music in Baluchi culture. Many years of invasions, wars and later adopted religious values have prevented Baluchi music from prevailing further in the 21st century[clarification needed]. However, a Swedish folk band, Golbang, has made progress in introducing Baluchi folk music to the Western world. The most commonly used instruments in Baluchi folk music are tanbur, long-necked lutes. Lutes have been present in Mesopotamia since the Akkadian era, or the third millennium BCE. The dohol, a large cylindrical drum with two skin heads, is the principal accompaniment for the surna, an ancient Iranian woodwind instrument that dates back to the Achaemenid Dynasty (550-330 BCE). The ney is also commonly played, using single or double flutes. The suroz, a Baluchi folk violin, is also commonly played. Other Baluchi musical instruments include the tar and the saz. Balochi music has also influenced Sindhi and Seraiki folk music.
The total population of ethnic Baloch people is estimated to be around 9 million worldwide. However, the exact number of those who are Baloch or claim to be of Baloch ancestry is difficult to determine. As of 2010, the Baloch are 4.97% of Pakistan's 177,276,594 million people. They make up 2% of Afghanistan's roughly 30 million people and 2% of Iran's estimated 67 million.
Baluch ancestry is also claimed in the neighboring areas that adjoin Baluch majority lands. The Brahui are also considered Baloch but they speak the Brahui language. Despite very few cultural differences from the Baluch. Many Baluch outside of Balochistan are also bilingual or of mixed ancestry due to their proximity to other ethnic groups, including the Sindhis, Saraikis and Pashtuns. A large number of Baluch have been migrating to or living in provinces adjacent to Balochistan for centuries. In addition, there are many Baluch living in other parts of the world, with the bulk living in the GCC countries of the Persian Gulf. The Baluch are an important community in Oman, where they make up a sizable minority.
There is a small population of Baloch in several Western countries such as Sweden and Australia. Some Baloch settled in Australia in the 19th century; some fourth-generation Baloch still live there, mainly in the western city of Perth.
Baluch in Oman
The Baluch in Oman have maintained their ethnic and linguistic distinctions. The Southern Baloch comprise approximately 22% of the country's population. The traditional economy of Baluch in Oman is based on a combination of trade, farming and semi-nomadic shepherding.
The Balochi language is spoken in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf Arab states, Turkmenistan, and as far as East Africa and some Western countries. It is classified as a member of the Iranian group of the Indo-European language family, which includes Kurdish, Persian, Pashto, Dari, Tajik and Ossetian. The Baluchi language has the closest similarities to Kurdish, Avestan, old Persian and other Iranian languages.
Two main dialects are spoken in Sistan va Baluchestan and Baluchestan: Eastern and Western. The exact number of Baluch speakers is difficult to know, but the estimated number could be around six million. The majority speak Western Baluchi, which is also the dialect that has been most widely used in Baluchi literature. Within the Western dialect are two further dialects, Rakhshani (spoken mainly in the northern areas) and Makkurani (in the south).
The Baluch have several tribes and sub-tribes. Some of these tribes speak Brahui, while most speak Baluchi. Multilingualism is common, with many Baluch speaking both Brahui and Baluchi. The Marri tribe Domki and the Bugti tribe speak Baluchi. The Mengal tribe, who live in the Chagai, Khuzdar, Kharan districts of Balochistan and in southern parts of Afghanistan, speak Brahui. The Lango tribe, who live in central Balochistan in the Mangochar area, speak Baluchi as their first language and Brahui as their second. The Bizenjo tribe living in the Khuzdar, Nal, and parts of Makran, speak both languages, as do the Muhammadsanis. The Bangulzai tribe mostly speaks Brahui, but has a Baluchi-speaking minority (known as Garanis).
The Mazaris widely speak Baluchi or both dialects. The Malghani are part of the Nutkani tribe, which is the largest tribe in the tehsil. The Talpur, Mastoi, Jatoi, Gabol, Lashari, Chandio, Khushk, Khosa, Bozdar, Jiskani, Heesbani, Magsi, Zardari, Rind, Bhurgri, Jakhrani,MIRJAT,JAMALI and other Baluch tribes that settled in Sindh speak Sindhi, Baluchi and Saraiki. The Qaisrani Baluch living near Taunsa Sharif in the Punjab province of Pakistan speak Saraiki and Baluchi, while their clansmen living the Dera Ghazi Khan tribal areas speak Balochi. The Lund Baluch living in Shadan Lund speak Sindhi, Sairaki and Balochi. The Leghari, Lashari, Korai, and Kunara Baluch in the Dera Ismail Khan and Mianwali districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa speak Saraiki as their first language. The Tauqi Baloch in the Khara, Noshki, Chaghai and Washuk districts of Balochistan can speak both Baluchi and Brahui, but their primary language is Baluchi. The Buzdar are one of the largest tribes of Baloch in southern Punjab, living in the Koh-e-Suleman range.The Mashori are also one of the large tribe of Baloch in southern Punjab and in large area of Sindh.