Baloch speak Balochi , an Indo-Iranian language that belongs to the Indo-European family of languages and is related to Kurdish and Pashto, the language of the Pashtun. There are Baloch divisions: Eastern, Western and Southern Baloch. Until the 19the century Baloch had no written form because Persian was the language of official use. Illiteracy rates have been very high among Baloch.
Linguistic evidence indicate Baloch to be in the pre-Christian Medean or Parthian civilizations. The modern form has incorporated elements from Persian, Sindhi, Arabic, and a number of other languages. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, Baloch intellectuals used Persian and Urdu script Baloch into written form. Since Pakistan's independence and with the rise of Baloch nationalism, Baloch have favored the Nastaliq script, an adaptation of Arabic script. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
According to the Government of Balochistan: Balochistan, despite its scarce population, has an uncommon racial and tribal diversity. Most of the people in the cities and towns understand and speak more than two languages. In addition to Balochi, Pashtoo and Brahvi, the majority of the population understand and speak Urdu, the national language. In Kachhi and Sibi districts, people speak Seraiki and Sindhi. Quetta city, the confluence point of all linguistic groups accommodates not only Urdu, Balochi, Pashtoo, Brahvi and Sindhi speaking people but Darri and Persian speaking ones as well. Dehwar tribe of Sarawan sub-division in Kalat, also speaks a language derived from Persian. [Source: Government Of Balochistan, balochistan.gov.pk]
Most Baloch are Sunni Muslims. Some belong to the Zikri sect. According to their epics and ballads the Baloch were once Shia (Shiites) who followed the Caliph Ali. It seems that when the Persians were largely Sunnis, the Baloch were Shia. When the Persians converted to Shia Islam, the Baloch became Sunnis. Before they converted to Islam the Baloch practiced Zoroastrianism. Some of their old pre-Islamic beliefs have been kept alive. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
Unlike other parts of Pakistan, especially Pashtun area, where Islamists have considerable power, Baloch have traditionally looked upon religion as a private affair and there has never made an effort to push for a “Muslim state.” Religious leaders have traditionally been separate from secular ones.
The majority of Baloch are Hanafi Sunnis, but there is a community of an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Zikri Baloch, who live in the coastal Makran area and in Karachi. The Zikris believe in the Messiah Nur Pak, whose teaching supersede those of the Prophet Muhammad. Their beliefs, considered heretical, have led to intermittent Sunni repression of their community since its founding in the fifteenth century. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]
Religious observances are overseen by mullahs. Baloch Sunnis and Zikris are enthusiastic followers of Sufi saints or pirs. Sometimes these mystics claim they can cure illnesses, foretell the future, and perform miracles which are see as evidence of the direct hand of God in the affairs of Baloch. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
The Zikris, like the Ahmadis, form a group that regard themselves Muslim but are rejected as such by Sunni leaders because they practice ceremonies that are considered non-Muslim. Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community, located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals. Zikris means "those who recite the name of God".
The majority of Baloch are Hanafi Sunnis. A community of an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Zikri Baloch live in the coastal Makran area of Balochistan and in Karachi. The Zikris believe in the Messiah Nur Pak, whose teaching supersede those of the Prophet Muhammad. Their beliefs, considered heretical, have led to intermittent Sunni repression of their community since its founding in the fifteenth century. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]
The coastal Baloch are in greater contact with non- Baloch and manifest a concomitantly greater sense of group solidarity. For them, being "unified amongst ourselves" is a particularly potent cultural ideal. Because they are Zikris, they have a limited pool of eligible mates and do not generally marry outside of the group of Zikri Baloch. *
Zikri practices and rituals differ from those of orthodox Islam. They do not observe the Ramadan fast and place the teachings of their mahdi above those of Muhammad. These are among the main reasons they are considered heritics. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The Zikris “subscribe to the main tenets of Islam but consider the fifteenth-century Sufi teacher Sayyid Muhammad Jaunpuri (1443–1505) as the Mahdi, or messiah. Their central ritual, which they refer to as the hajj, takes place on the 27th day of Ramadan, when supplicants perform a pilgrimage to Koh-i-Murad, a mountain in Turbat where their prophet made an appearance before vanishing into Afghanistan. In recent years there has been an intensified campaign by the Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam to declare the Zikris non-Muslims. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]
Baloch Holidays, Festivals and Funerals
Baloch celebrate the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha (Eid-ul-Azha), the Feast of Sacrifice that falls at the end of the Islamic year. During these festivals people adorn their houses, wear new dresses, cook special dishes, visit each other and begin the day with prayers. Many spend their time gambling, horseracing and merrymaking. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
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. Baloch pay less attention to celebrating festivals than do other Muslim peoples in South Asia. /=\
Eid-Meladun-Nabi honor the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Other colorful social festivals are held. The Sibi festival traces its roots back to 9,000-year-old Mehergar, an archeological site, and attracts people from across the country. It features folk music performance, cultural dances, handicrafts stalls, cattle shows and a number of other amusing activities. Buzkashi is a favorite sport in Balochista. It is played on horse-back by two teams that use their skills to snatch a goat from the each other. [Source: Government Of Balochistan, balochistan.gov.pk]
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Baloch burial rites follow usual Islamic practices. The corpse is taken to the graveyard, where it is washed and dressed in a shroud. A mullah 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.” [Source:D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “When Baloch 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. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
Baloch are guided in their daily lives and social relations by a code of conduct known as the Balochmayar Baloch Way, in which a person is expected to be generous, hospitable to guests, offer refuge to people who seek protection, and be honest in dealings. The " Balochmayar Baloch Way" is the guiding principle of proper Baloch people and covers things like hospitality, mercy, refuge, and honesty to one's fellows Baloch men 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. The Balochmayar Baloch Way is reaffirmed in Baloch songs and poetry.
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: 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 jirgal. Invariably blood-money or some form of compensation is required to be paid. Another means of resolving disputes is through mediation, in which an informal gathering of tribal leaders and elders volunteer their services to help reach an end to the conflict. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Baloch are organized into territorially based tribes such as the Marri and the Bugti, each under the leadership of a central chief or Sardar. 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.” *\
The Baloch have traditionally been forced by their harsh environment to be nomads. They need to escape the extremes of hot and cold and find water and grass for their flocks of sheep and goats has required them to be on the move. One of the primary traditional migration routes is between the Kalat highlands and the Kacchi plain in the east.
Most Baloch have traditionally lived a semi-nomadic existence: occupying permanent mountain and valley settlements most the summer and migrating to plains and coastal areas in search of pasture for their animals in the winter.
Goats are kept for their skins and hair. Their give Baloch camps their distinctive appearance. Sheep provide wool for the clothes and rugs and meat. Camels and donkeys are kept as beasts of burden, with the wealthiest tribesmen possessing horses, with horse racing being their passion,
Camels have traditionally been allowed to wander a bit while donkeys have been kept closer to home. An old Baloch saying goes: “If you see a donkey, you’ve found a camp, if you see a camel you’re lost.”
One desert plant the is exploited is a dwarf palm called pesh. It contains a heart that can be eaten and produces a fiber that the Baloch put to a number of different uses,
Baloch marriages are generally arranged between the prospective groom and the bride’s father and are often sealed with the payment of a bride-price in livestock and cash. After marriage a woman is no longer regarded as the property of her father but is considered the property of her husband. Marriages to non-Baloch are discouraged. After marriage the couple generally lives with the husband’s family. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
As in many parts of West Asia, Baloch say that they prefer to marry their cousins. Actually, however, marriage choices are dictated by pragmatic considerations. Residence, the complex means of access to agricultural land, and the centrality of water rights, coupled with uncertain water supply, all favor flexibility in the choice of in-laws. The plethora of land tenure arrangements tends to limit the value of marrying one's cousin, a marriage pattern that functions to keep land in the family in other parts of Pakistan. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
Only among the coastal Baloch is marriage between cousins common; there, nearly two-thirds of married couples are first cousins.The coastal Baloch are in greater contact with non- Baloch and manifest a concomitantly greater sense of group solidarity. For them, being "unified amongst ourselves" is a particularly potent cultural ideal. Because they are Zikris, they have a limited pool of eligible mates and do not generally marry outside of the group of Zikri Baloch.
Marriages generally are monogamous and expected to be for life. Girls often get married at a very young age. It is not unusual for two cousins, one 11 and one 12, to marry a pair of brothers. Young girls were sometimes sold to suitors. Adultery has traditionally been punished by death to both parties. Polygamy is sometimes practiced. The man often lives in one house while the wives live in a separate compound together.
At a wedding party for the bride hands are painted with elaborate henna designs and women dance and place banknotes on the bride’s head. According to the Government of Balochistan: Marriages are solemnized in presence of mullah and witnesses. Life partners are commonly selected within the family (constituting all close relatives) or tribe. Except for a negligible fraction of love marriages, all marriages are arranged. A lot of marriage rituals are celebrated in different tribes. In some tribes, the takings of “Valver”, a sum of money paid by the groom to his to be wife’s family, also exist. But this custom is now gradually dying out since it has given rise to many social problems. [Source: Government Of Balochistan, balochistan.gov.pk]
The divorce rate is very low. Divorces occurs for reasons such as the inability to have children, but it is considered shameful. 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. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999]
Baloch Family and Children
Nancy E. Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Baloch 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. All heritable property passes from father to sons”. A woman generally keeps only her personal belongings such as clothing, utensil and jewelry. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
Children learn proper behavior through observing their elders and through being subject to taunt and gossip should they behave badly. The birth of a male child is taken as a source of p ride since he is though t to be the defender of this family and tribe. 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.
According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “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 for Baloch 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. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999]
Baloch Men and Women
Baloch society is organized along patrilineal lines. The eldest son is usually in charge of the extended family and inherited property is passed from father to sons. Males and females remain part of their patrilineal group for life — even for women after marriage. A woman’s “real” house is regarded as that of her father’s house. Her rights in her husband’s home are limited.
Both sexes are involved with taking care of animals. Women are generally responsible for collecting water and firewood, gathering wild foods and threshing and winnowing grain while men do the planting and plowing The men in Balochistan talk about things like camels gone lame, their pride or disappointment in their first born sons or chieftains who travel to London for medical treatment.
Baloch women are seen as inferior to men and are expected to be obedient to their husbands. Women are expected to take care of the house and raise lots of children, preferably boys. The customs towards women are similar to those of the Pashtuns. Society is segregated by sex and women are expected to do what they are told and obey tribal customs. the punishment for a adultery for a woman is death.
Baloch women have traditionally been less restricted than women in other Muslim groups in South Asia. Traditionally, the custom of purdah (seclusion of women) was not followed except among some upper-class families. Women in Balochistan remain are often illiterate and bound by tribal, patriarchal codes but some are active in politics and run businesses and play other influential roles in society. “Honor killings" — in which a woman is killed for bringing shame to her family by doing things such as marrying a non-Baloch or having pre-marital sex — is sometimes practiced by Baloch tribes. Even in urban areas, girls face difficulties going to school and getting an education. Domestic vioelnce and Sexual and physical abuse by male family members are also problems. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
Clan membership in Baloch society is determined mainly by family ties while tribal affiliation is determined more by region. Status is often determined by one’s place in tribal, clan and political terms. Nancy Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: “Baloch people are an amalgam of many large units, of chieftancies, each one of which is itself comprised 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 most closely corresponding to actual settlement units. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
Great respect and authority are commanded by tribal leaders known as sadars and “waderas”. Gratton wrote: “At each level of this hierarchy, leadership is in the hands of a male elder. At the comprehensive level, such leadership is likely to be achieved as inherited, but over time authority at the more inclusive levels has devolved to the elders of what has 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 Baloch People now found themselves.” |~|
Kinship and social relations reflect the exigencies of dealing with the harsh physical environment. Like other Pakistanis, Baloch reckon descent patrilineally. Lineages, however, play a minimal role in the lives of most Baloch. They are notably flexible in arrangements with both family and friends. Ideally, a man should maintain close ties with relatives in his father's line, but in practice most relations are left to the discretion of the individual, and there is wide variation. It is typical for lineages to split and fragment, often because of disputes with close kin over matters such as inheritance and bad relations within marriages. Most Baloch treat both mother's and father's kin as a pool of potential assistance to be called on as the occasion demands. Again, the precariousness of subsistence favors having the widest possible circle of friends and relatives. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]
Baloch society is stratified and has been characterized as "feudal militarism." The significant social tie is that between a leader, the hakim, and his retinue, consisting of pastoralists, agriculturists, lower-level leaders, and lower- level tenant farmers and descendants of former slaves (hizmatkar). Suprafamily groups formed through patrilineal descent are significant mostly for the elite hakim, whose concern for rivalry and politics is not shared by other groups. The basic exchange traditionally underlying this elaborate system was the hakim's offer of booty or property rights in return for support in battle. In more modern times, various favors are generally traded for votes, but the structure of the system — the participation of the lower-level leaders and the hizmatkar through patron-client ties — remains much the same. *
Baloch Honor and Blood Feuds
In common with the neighboring Pashtuns, Baloch are deeply committed to maintaining their personal honor, showing generous hospitality to guests, and giving protection to those who seek it of them. However, the prototypical relationship is that between the leader and his minions. A Baloch suffers no loss of status in submitting to another. Although competition for scarce water and land resources characterizes social relations between minor leaders and hizmatkar, competition coexists with a deeply held belief in the virtues of sharing and cooperation. Sharing creates networks of obligation among herders, mutual aid being an insurance policy in the face of a precarious livelihood. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
Baloch follow a strict code of honor called “mayar” that incorporates hospitality, loyalty, mercy, refuge, honesty and is backed up by defense of honor through revenge called “her” . Hospitality and defending to the death those who seek refuge are the cornerstones of this value system. These ideas are kept alive in ballads and epics. One the best known is a about a Bihar chief who is killed by Buledi tribesmen who roast his remains and throw them to the kites. In revenge the Bihars catch the Buledi chief and cut off his head and use his skull for a drinking cup.
Blood feuds have traditionally been common and can be long-lasting and bloody. A Baloch proverb goes: “A Baloch revenge remains as young as a two-year old deer for two hundred years.” The British were able to curb the practice of blood feuds by ending long standing ones through marriages involving rival groups and initiated a set payment system involving cash, animals and girls for each murder, loss of face or violation to honor.
Nancy E. Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Although Muslim, the Baloch 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 Balochmayar. 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 Balochmayar. Formal public taunting, in verse as well as in direct speech, provides a further mechanism by which compliance with the Baloch code of behavior is enforced. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“The warrior tradition of the Baloch 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 Baloch reputation for producing fierce Warriors is today recalled primarily in the activities of the "free fighters" of the Baloch nationalist movement.”
The Baloch have traditionally eaten two meals a day: in the morning and evening. Food for the entire family is cooked together, but men and women eat separately. The most important grains in order of importance are wheat, millets (juari and bajra) and rice. Grains are ground into flour and made into unleavened breads (flat breads without ingredients that make them rise), which are baked in mud ovens. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999; D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
Meat comes from sheep, goats and to a lesser extent camels and cattle. Pork is not eaten due to Muslim dietary restrictions. Sajji is a favorite dish that is often served to honored guests. A sheep is slaughtered killed, skinned, and divided into portions. 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. /=\
Balochi often eat with a knife, but also eat with their hands. Milk is consumed as a drink and made into and butter, curds (fresh cheese) and buttermilk. In summer, lassi (sherbet) is made with milk, molasses, and sugar. Dates and wild fruits and vegetables are also consumed. Forage Other favorite Baloch include kaak, a very hard bread often served with sajji; dampukht, a meat dish cooked in its own fats; and khaddi kabbab, whole lamb or goat roasted over a fire. The latter usually has raw rice in the stomach and the rice cooks in the fats and juices of the roasted animal. Baloch that live near the sea eat fish prepared their own way. [Source: Wikipedia]
Baloch Homes and Tents
Baloch have traditionally have lived in mud houses in fortified villages set up around springs in valleys and mountains during the summer. The houses are loosely oriented around the house of the local chief. Permanent settlements are usually occupied during the summer. Newer settlements are made up of sun-dried brick 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.
In winter, Baloch nomads migrate to the plains and the coastal areas, seeking forage for their animals. When the Balochi are on the move they live in goat hair tents. Nomadic groups are generally smaller than village groups and consist mostly of closely-related kin. Women keep their pots, pans and spoons in special net bags that can be hung from animals while traveling. Nets bags for babies serve a similar purpose. Children are often hung. from poles while women tend to their chores. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
D. O. Lodrick wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “ Baloch nomads live in tents (gidam) 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. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
Pesh (Dwarf Palm): the Baloch Wonder Plant
The Balochi make a number of things from the pesh (dwarf palm), which grows in the mountains of Balochistan and put the Baloch wonder plant to a number of uses. Waheed Wahid, a Baloch, wrote in the Daily Times: “Pesh is really a blessing plant which is helpful for us in many ways of life....We Baloch of rural areas cut dwarf palm in mountains and put it on the open ground to make it, and later bring it the aid of camels to villages, where we use it to build huts, kitchens and kapur, a kind of hut built in courtyards for shadow. The process of building kitchens, huts, and kapur is called ‘kumbband’ in the Balochi language. [Source: Waheed Wahid, Daily Times, June 27, 2019
Some of the things made from pesh — in the Balochi language — are cheluk, kacho, saptuk, teech, lauch, shahem, sawas, tagerd, mosulla, and kuula. “Cheluk is a kind of rope which is prepared from fresh pesh. It is used in making beds, huts, kitchens and many other things. The traditional Balochi shoes (sawas), prayer mats and regular mats are also being made of it. Kuula are the hats which we wear in sunny days. Shaeem, which villagers use for weighing things are, also produced of the dwarf palm.
“Brooms made of pesh are are used for cleaning homes. Luuchs are use for bringing crops or other plants from gardens for goats, cows, camels and other animals.” These animals also feed the products of the dwarf palm. Many more things we Baloch make from this plant aid us in Hamen...the season of dates. We put the dates on a gorpat to make them dry. The sundh is used to cover a hosh of dates to prevent them from falling down. A toree is a kind of hard and thick rope which assist us to climb into big date-palms.
“Moreover, the hand pan is used fanning ourselves. The heshkerani and tagar are made to throw stones on the birds which eat the wheat and oats we grow. Girls and women put their clothes which they are sewing on a product of dwarf palm — the katore. What people don’t know is that a large number of people are able to eat everyday because of the dwarf palm. They go to mountains with camels, cut the dwarf palms and sell it to the people of villages. The money they earn they use to run their houses and even to educate their children.”
Baloch Clothes and Appearance
Baloch men have traditionally had long hair and long bears and have worn turbans. Having an egg-shaped head used to be regarded as ugly so in the old days after birth the heads of infants were sometimes bound and wrapped with cloth strips and ropes so the head had a rounder shape. The turbans worn by Balochs are large and white and often appears as if they will topple over. The cloth used to make their turban can be up to 20 meters long. By contrast, the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan wear small, dark turbans and those in northern Afghanistan wear flat woolen caps called “pakols”.
Baloch used to wear only white but that is not the case any more. The traditional white clothes of the Baloch suit their environment and help reflect heat. Their long robes can be made cloth up to 40 meters long. Constantly shifting and wrapping the cloth is a Baloch past time. Women in traditional clothes wear a lose tunic with colored braids hat extend from the high round neck to the hem and trousers. The wearing of trousers under the shift was restricted to high status women, whose clothes have traditionally been made from silk and were elaborately embroidered. Some Balochistan women wear really heavy necklaces and bracelets half the length of their forearms.. Baluchi men have traditionally worn rings in the ears and on their fingers, but avoided other kinds of jewelry.
According to the Government of Balochistan: The mode of dress among the Balochi, Pashtunn and Brahvi tribes is very similar having a few minor dissimilarities. Turban is the common headwear of the men. Wide loose shalwar (a bit similar to loose trouser) and knee-long shirts are worn by all. The dress of the woman consists of the typical shirt having a big pocket in front. The shirt normally has embroidery work with embedded small round mirror pieces. Big ‘Dopatta’ or ‘Chaddar’, a long rectangular piece of cloth cascading down the shoulders and used to cover head, are used by the women. [Source: Government Of Balochistan, balochistan.gov.pk]
According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Traditional clothing for the Baloch 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.” An embroidered waistcoat or vest is sometimes worn over the shirt [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
“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.
Baloch Culture, Music and Sports
The Baloch are not particularly known for their folk art or crafts. Examples of Baloch culture include leather crafts, embroidery, mirror-work, various things made of dwarf palm leaves, folk songs and the signature Baloch dish — sajji. Women are skilled at embroidery and decorate their clothes with elaborate geometric and abstract designs. They make felt from sheep's wool, and use it weave rugs for their own use and for sale. Baloch living in the big cities and towns enjoy the same sports and activites as other Pakistanis. Those that follow a traditional seminomadic way of life in the remote areas of Balochistan get enjoyment from traditional festivals, music, dancing and folk culture.
The Baloch make tribal carpets from camel hair and sheep wool. They are the most famous carpet makers in Pakistan. The best pieces they often keep for themselves and patch with leather to make them last. Women often keep their designs in their heads and in this way carefully guard their secrets but in some cases they have not passed their skills on to younger generation. Common motifs include squares, stars, dunes, cartouches, enclosed crosses and rows of stylized camels and more recently Kalshinikovs. .
Music and poetry has traditionally been provided by professional minstrels called “loris” that are a subordinate group that performs menial tasks and are descendants of slaves captured in battles. In the old days it was their responsibility to exchange and relay information between Baloch communities. In many ways it was their work that helped shape Baloch identity. Baloch culture has 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 old days, Balochi customarily performed specific rituals and sacrifice at the graves of heroes. Similar rituals are conducted today at the shrines of Muslim saints.
Music is an important fixture or events and ceremonies with the exception of death rituals. Dancing is featured at weddings and festivals. Men's dances reflect the warrior traditions of the Baloch. Drums, lutes, and the shepherd's flute are the most common instruments used to accompany the singing and dancing. Professional musicians traditionally came from the non-Baloch Lori and Domb castes. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999]
D. O. Lodrick wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Popular games include chauk, a type of checkers introduced from Sindh 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. *\
Baloch Literature and Folklore
Illiteracy rates have traditionally been very high among Baloch. Even so they have a rich literature, traditionally oral, and poets and minstrels have generally been held in high esteem. Baloch literature consists of epic poetry, ballads or war and romance, religious compositions, genealogical recitals and folk tales. The earliest dated poem dates to the 12th century. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
The Balochmayar Baloch Way code of honor has traditionally been conveyed in oral literature. A popular epic poem recount the legendary exploits of Mir Chakur, a Baloch warrior and chieftain of the Rind tribe. Nancy E. Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “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 Baloch settlements, and during the time of the Baloch 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.”
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”:“Bravery and courage are respected by the Baloch , and many tribal heroes who remained true to Baloch values are revered and honored in folk songs and ballads. Doda, for example, is remembered for defending the principle of bahot, 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 Baloch tradition, Doda's death was eventually avenged by his brother Balach. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022