The Brahui are a Dravidian language group of tribes that live mostly in Balochistan and the Sindh, There are between 1 million and 2 million of them in Pakistan and around 300,000 in Afghanistan and 15,000 in Iran. Sometimes the Brahui are considered a Baloch tribe but mostly they are considered a separate ethnic group. They have traditionally been nomads who lived in goat hair tents. In the last 100 year or so many have many have become settled farmers.
Brahui, also known as the Brahvi or Brohi, speak a non-Indo-European language that belongs to the Dravidian family of languages which are spoken mostly in southern India and is different from the other languages spoken in Pakistan by the Pashtuns, Punjabis, Baloch and Sindhis. Many Brahui speak Baloch; their language contains many Baloch and Sindhi loan words.
The traditional homeland of the Brahui (pronunced: brah-HOO-ee) is the district of Kalat in Balochistan. From around 1700 to Pakistani independence in 1947 the Brahui were a loose confederation of tribes ruled under the Ahmadzai dynasty. Tribal membership is based on patrilineal descent and political affiliation but these relationship are subject to change. Brahui tribes have traditionally been led by “sadar,” hereditary chiefs who today act as intermediaries between the local population of Brahui and the national government.
The Kalat Plateau, the Brahui homeland, lies on elevations between 2,135–2,4400 meters (7,000–8,000 feet). The Central Brahui Range runs roughly north–south through the region. West of these mountains are uplands called Jhalawan and Sarawan. To the east, the terrain descends to the alluvial lowlands of Kacchi. This is an extension of the Indus plain that runs northward towards Sibi and the Bolan Pass. The region is extremely dry, with rainfall averaging less than eight 20 centimeters (eight inches) a year. Strong northwesterly winds blow through the area, bringing dust from the Iranian deserts. The temperatures open top 40 degrees C in summer and drop below freezing in the winter. The plateau consists of extensive areas of barren rock, or hills with a thin cover of drought-resistant vegetation. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
History of the Brahui
Brahui tribes have traditionally lived in the rugged hills of Pakistan's south western border area. Various explanations for the name Brahui have been suggested. Most likely it is derived from Barohi, meaning "mountain dweller" or "highlander." [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
The origins of the Brahui is unclear. Because their language belongs to the Dravidian linguistic family, it has been surmised that they are survivors of the peoples who developed the Indus Valley civilization around 3000 B.C.. Others have argued that they are a branch of the Baloch ethnic group and the term Brahui designates their status as highlanders. The Balochs originated in the Caspian Sea area and may have resided near Aleppo in Syria before arriving in Balochistan between the A.D. 5th and 7th centuries. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
The Brahui rose to prominence in Kalat, in Balochistan, the 17th century when Mir Ahmed Khan I acceded to the leadership of a confederacy of Brahui tribes in 1666.. For the 300 years they were guided by was an unbroken line of Brahui rulers. British expansion westward from Sindh, and their interest in the Afghan border regions, brought them into conflict with the Khans of Kalat in the middle of the 19th century. The British eventually acquired control over the strategically located Kalat, though the state remained independent until it was incorporated into Pakistan in 1948. /=\ *\
The Raisani are traditional rivals of the Bugtis, a Baloch tribe. There are about 20,000 of them and they speak a Dravidian language. The Raisani tribal chief is called the Chief of Sarawan. Sarawan is a princely state of Balochistan. The homeland of the Raisani tribe is Mastung.
Dravidian is the name given to a linguistically related group of people in India. They are said to be the first original settlers of ancient India. Dravidian culture is very diverse, with some groups maintaining more traditional customs such as totemism and matralinealism, while others have developed the lifestyles of a modern technological society. Dravidians are thought of as the descendants of the earliest known inhabitants on India. They include the primitives Bhil and Gond tribes of the central and western hill forests and the Tamils of the south. The earliest Dravidians were hunters and cattle herders. It is not known what language they spoke.
Some scholars believe the Indus people of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, an ancient civilization that lasted from 3300 B.C. to 1500 B.C., spoke a language that belongs the Dravidian family. This language is believed to have diffused through Maraashtra to the south, especially after 1000 B.C. along with the horse, and iron. Dravidian language has remained relatively intact despite a considerable amount of contact and intermarriage with other people in the Indian subcontinent. Today with more than one hundred seventy million speakers, the Dravidians make up the fourth largest linguistic group in the world.
It is often presumed that Dravidians were the creators of the Indus River Valley Civilization and that they were occupying all of the Indian subcontinent when the Indo-Aryans invaded from Afghanistan (ca2000 B.C.). The Dravidians were probably subjected by the Indo-Aryans and are the dasus of Vedic scriptures. Other Dravidians remained in a tribal state in central and southern India. Dravidians in general were gradually Hinduized, but retained their languages. The Tamil language is the first of the Dravidian languages to reflect the influence of Hinduism.
Dravidians have traditionally been regarded as dark-skinned while the Aryans of the north were light-skinned. Around 1500 B.C., according to some historians, the Aryans conquered the Indus River civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and the Dravidian people in South Asia. The caste system is believed to have been introduced as a way for light-skinned Aryan invaders to keep the indigenous Dravidian people in their place. Higher castes are usually associated with whiter skin and purer Aryan descent. Aryan conquerors gave the conquered dark-skin Dravidians dirtier, lower status tasks. Varna, the Hindu word for caste means "color." Perhaps it evolved from something other than color of skin but many think it is reference to skin color. The Vedas refer to conquered “Dasas” or “Dasyi” (names meaning “slaves” and probably referring to the early Dravidian-speaking Indus people),
Brahui, also known as the Brahvi or Brohi, speak a non-Indo-European language that belongs to the Dravidian family of languages which are spoken mostly in southern India and is different from the other languages spoken in Pakistan by the Pashtuns, Punjabis, Baloch and Sindhis. Many Brahui speak Baloch; their language contains many Baloch and Sindhi loan words. There has traditionally been no Brahui script. Many Brahui-speakers are bilingual, speaking Baloch or other local languages.
The Dravidian language group includes at least 21 other languages spoken mostly in south and central India. They are quite different from the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in northern India. The four largest Dravidian languages are spoken in the four linguistic states in southern India. Some Dravidian language speakers live in Pakistan and Sri Lanka but most are found in southern India. Tamils consider their language to be the “most pure” of the major Dravidian languages. Modern written and spoken Tamil is very similar to Tamil used 2,000 years ago. This is attributed to the high value put on the purity of language and an adversity to incorporating Sanskrit and Hindi words into the language. Regional dialects of Tamil, including the one spoken in Sri Lanka, do not differ all that much from one another.
The fact that the Brahui language is related to the languages spoken by people living almost 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away has long puzzled South Asian linguists. There are three hypotheses regarding the roots of the Brahui: 1) the Brahui are a relict population of Dravidians that perhaps dates the Indus Valley civilization or a time when Dravidian was more widespread; 2) the Brahui migrated to Baluchistan from inner India during the early Muslim period of the 13th or 14th centuries; 3) the Brahui migrated to Balochistan from Central India after A.D. The Brahui do not have much of genetic connection with Dravidian populations in India — about the same as other Pakistanis. Pagani, et al. argues that this means the Dravidian’s genetic component has been replaced by Indo-Iranian speakers, suggesting that the Brahui are descendants of a previous relict population. [Source: Wikipedia]
Linguistic findings and oral histories of the Brahui however suggest otherwise. Murray Barnson Emeneau wrote in “Language and Linguistic Area”: “The history of the Brahui emerges from total darkness with the displacement of a shadowy Hindu dynasty in Kalat called Sewa by the Mirwani Brahuis. There is a Mughal interlude and then Brahui ascendancy again.” The Sewa are said to have been Hindu dynasty that ruled over part of what is now Balochistan before the 7th century, Kalat is still known as Kalat-i-Sewa.
Brahui Religion, Funerals and Festivals
Nearly all Brahui are Sunni Muslims According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: Reverence for saints (pirs) is also deeply entrenched in Brahui culture. Every family has its particular saint, and women often keep in their houses some earth (khwarda) from the saint's shrine to be used in time of need. The Brahui believe in sorcery and possession by jinn or evil spirits. A mullah or sayyed (holy man) is often called in to read from the Qu'ran or provide charms and amulets to exorcise these spirits. Should this fail, a sheikh, who is known for his power over jinn may cast them out by dancing. [Source:“Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “A little earth [khwarda] may be fed to a sick person along with prayers to the saint for a cure. Sacrifices of sheep or goats are performed at the shrines as an offering to the pir or in fulfillment of a vow. Many take their children to a shrine for the first shaving of the head or, failing that, place a little bag of the hair in the shrine, where it is hung from a pole. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“The Brahui observe the usual holy days of the Muslim calendar. On the eve of most high festivals, respect is paid to the souls of the dead. The holiest of all is the eve of the tenth day of Muharram, which is known as Imamak. Women prepare special dishes of meat and rice during the day. The family gathers near sunset in the presence of a mullah (Muslim priest), who reads from the Quran and recites prayers for the dead over the food. Dishes of food are then sent to relatives and neighbors, who reciprocate with their own offerings. The following morning is an occasion for the head of the house to visit the graveyard to pray at the graves of his dead relatives. *\
Before a Bruhui funeral a shroud is sent for from outside the house. When the mullah arrives, the body is carried to a place of washing. It is washed by the mullah and relatives of the deceased and wrapped in a shroud. If the deceased is a woman he body is washed by the mullah's wife and female relatives. The shroud-wrapped body is taken in procession to the burial place. Mourners recite the kalima, the profession of faith. At the graveside, the mullah says the prayer for the dead, and the body is buried, given its burial. The uneral often features the singing of dirges (moda), and a death feast (varagh). The traditional period of mourning was 11 days for a man and 9 for a woman, but this has been reduced in modern times. Another feast is held on the first anniversary of the death. /=\
Brahui Customs and Society
Brahui greet each other by shaking hands and embracing. They exchange pleasantries about after each other's health and convey news (hal) about family, friends, cattle, and other matters of importance to them. Brahui are known for their hospitality to their guests. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
The Brahui are grouped into tribes, each of which is lead by a hereditary chief (sadar). The tribes are loosely structured units based on patrilineal descent and political allegiance, and further divided into descending kin-groups down to the level of the immediate lineage. Baloch and Pashtun clan groups have been incorporated into the Brahui tribal units. Among the largest Brahui tribes are the Mengals, Zahris, and Muhammad Hosanis. The Khans of Kalat originally belonged to the Ahmedzai tribe.
According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Brahui tribes inhabit some of the harshest, most-isolated, and least-productive environments in Pakistan. This is reflected in the relative inefficiency of traditional economic systems and the generally low standards of living of the community. Belated government efforts to bring development to the region have done little for the welfare of the Brahui, who are essentially nomadic and rural in character. The Brahui are one of the many tribal minorities in a country dominated by ethnic elites such as the Punjabis and Sindhis. The lack of a written literature (what there is dates only from the 1960s) has hindered the development of a tribal consciousness, and matters are made worse by the declining numbers of people speaking Brahui. /=\
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “ The Brahui appear to be rapidly assimilating with the surrounding Baloch populations. Apart from their language, which gives them a sense of cultural identity, the Brahui lack a sense of identification with their country and have very little representation in the political arena. They still tend to function on a tribal basis, dealing with the government through their sardars and other tribal leaders. The Brahui remain one of the many tribal peoples of Pakistan who remain "outsiders" in a country dominated by ethnic elites such as the Punjabis and Sindhis. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 ]
Brahui Marriage, Children and Family
Brahui men prefer to marry their brother’s daughter and polygamy is common but monogamy is the norm. Divorce is uncommon. A bride price (lab) is paid by the groom's family. Women are not necessarily veiled. Men are often armed with rifles, swords and shields.
Marriages have traditionally been arranged, with the couple’s wishes taken into consideration. In the past, child marriages were common. The practice is now banned under Pakistani law but still occurs. The various wedding and marriage ceremonies are important events for bonding families, clans and tribes. Disputes within tribes have traditionally been settled with marriages.
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Family structure tends to reflect economic systems. The nuclear family predominates among nomadic Brahui, while extended families are common among village inhabitants.... In the past, adultery was punishable by death, although such practices are forbidden by Pakistani law. Widow remarriage is accepted. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“The birth of a son is of utmost importance for a Brahui. A daughter is seen as little more than a gift to one's neighbor. Barrenness in a wife is a cause for reproach, and in the past female circumcision is reported to have been secretly practiced to try to remedy this situation. A craving for earth, and earth-eating, among pregnant women is also reported. When a son is born, the father announces it to the community by firing shots in the air. Various rituals are followed to protect the mother and child from the attention of witches and jinn (evil spirits). For the mother, the period of postnatal impurity lasts 40 days. Sheep are killed (two for a son and one for a daughter) and a feast held for relatives, friends, and neighbors. The child is then named, sometimes after a worthy ancestor. The head-shaving ritual (sar-kuti) is performed by the time the child is 2 years old, often at the shrine of a favored saint. A male child may undergo circumcision (sunnat) within 6 months, though the cost associated with the celebrations cause many to postpone it until as late as the age of 10 or 12. *\
“No particular ceremonies accompany the male reaching puberty. An unusual rite is reported to be followed when a girl begins to menstruate for the first time. At sunset, the mother arranges three stones in a triangular pattern on the ground and has her daughter leap over them three times. It is thought that this will ensure that the girl's periods during the rest of her life will last no more than three days. Childhood did not last long in traditional Brahui society. If a girl were not married as a child, she would be soon after puberty. *\
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: ““Brahui women face the same gender discrimination that women do in all Muslim societies. Brahui women, for instance observe purdah, i.e. the segregation of women to ensure that family honor is maintained. This means that women live in compounds behind mud walls where they are virtually hidden from view. Women must avoid being seen by strangers, especially strange men. Access to compounds is restricted and a woman's mobility outside the compound is controlled by her husband and male relatives. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Most Brahui women are engaged in agricultural labor. During the productive season from March through mid-November, a woman may spend as much as 60 percent of her time in her agricultural role. A typical day for a Brahui farmer's wife is seventeen hours long, but her work is sheer drudgery because the labor she performs is merely repetitive and requires no decision-making as to how land and other resources are to be utilized — this is the prerogative of the males in the family. Women are responsible for transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and collecting fuel and water. Official statistics grossly under estimate the contribution of women to the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) in rural areas of Pakistan. Very few government departments or even projects collect gender disaggregated data, and most development projects are geared towards men. *\
“In addition to the payment of bride-price and the custom of purdah, Brahui women are subject to all the ills of women in Pakistan — domestic violence, rape, "honor killings," acid attacks, and trafficking. Proof of rape generally requires the confession of the accused or the testimony of four adult Muslim men who witnessed the assault. If a woman cannot prove her rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence and public whipping, or, occasionally, death by stoning. *\
Brahui Homes, Food and Clothing
According to the Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Brahui settlements essentially reflect the economic activities of their inhabitants. Pastoral nomadism was the traditional occupation of many Brahui: nomadic herders lived in tents and temporary camps, migrating with their herds in search of pasture. Pastoralism has declined in importance in recent years. Many Brahui have adopted a way of life based on a seasonal migration to differing elevations. Villages in the highlands suitable for cultivation are occupied for nine-month growing season. During the winter months, these Brahui drive their herds to the lowlands where they live in tent camps. The Kacchi plains Brahui live in permanent villages that differ little in form and function from their Baloch neighbors' settlements. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999; D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 ]
“The settled Brahui cultivate wheat and millet, which are ground into flour and baked into unleavened breads. Rice is also eaten, but usually only on special occasions. Mutton and goat are important in the diet of the Brahui, with the flesh of animals that are sacrificed at various rituals and festivals distributed to the community at large. The more-affluent farmers in lowland areas may raise cattle. As is common throughout South Asia, food is eaten with one's hands, and often from a communal platter. Milk is drunk and also made into curds, ghi (clarified butter), buttermilk, and butter. Dates, wild fruits, and vegetables are also part of the Brahui diet. Tea is drunk at meals and is also taken as part of various social ceremonies. Opium is also used. /=\
“A young boy is given his first trousers at about three years of age, and thereafter wears clothes similar to those of adult males — the kurti (long shirt), worn over the salwar, the loose, baggy trousers found throughout the area. For men, a turban (pag) completes the outfit. Women wear a long shift over trousers, although among Brahui nomads women wear skirts rather than trousers. Among the Brahui of the Jhalawan region, women's shifts are typically black in color. Women's clothes are embroidered with various patterns and designs in colored thread. Women's ornaments include finger rings (challav), nose rings (vat), and earrings (panara). Brahui settled in the Sindh region tend to dress like the Sindhi population. /=\
Brahui, Culture, Arts and Sports
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Dancing is an important feature at events such as weddings and funerals. The local country dance known as chap has largely been abandoned, however. “Like other women of the region, Brahui women embroider their garments with colorful designs. Tents and rugs are made from sheep's wool or goats' hair. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“The Brahuis have an oral tradition of folk songs and heroic poems. These are sung by a class of professional minstrels and musicians called Dombs, who are attached to every Brahui community. Musical instruments include the rabab (an Afghan stringed instrument plucked with a piece of wood), the siroz (a stringed instrument played with a bow), and the punzik (a reed instrument). These have replaced the dambura (a three-stringed instrument played with the fingers) that is found in the more isolated areas. *\
“Horse-racing and target-shooting were traditional sports popular among the more affluent sections of the Brahui community. In the past, the Brahui had to depend on their own resources for entertainment and recreation. They found this in their family celebrations, their traditions of folk song and dance, and in the festivities accompanying religious observances. This is still true for nomadic Brahui today.Epic poems are performed by specialist poets known as Lorî, who are considered as belonging to the lower-status groups in Brahui society. Their traditional occupation was to serve the Brahui at marriage ceremonies, playing the dhol (drum) at festivities and at funeral ceremonies. Folk songs are most often sung by the Brahui without musical accompaniment, although both men and women play musical instruments such as the sironz (a fiddle) and the dambura (a plucked string instrument). Women play the daira (tambourine). The Brahui settled in Karachi or villages on the plains have access to more modern forms of recreation. *\
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The Brahui language is rich in oral literature, the various genres including stories and tales, proverbs and riddles and songs. Brahui folk stories are mostly created by nomads, shepherds and farmers for the entertainment of their children and immediate family members. Mothers, for instance, tell their children legends about the mamma, a large apelike creature known for its physical strength and resemblance to humans, and once thought to be quite numerous. Other stories criticize the sardars (hereditary tribal chiefs) and landowners from the point of view of the oppressed classes. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“In Brahui, as in Baloch, proverbs tend to have background stories. There is, for instance, the saying Balwan na baram ("This is like the marriage of Balwan"), which is often used when plans are too complicated or never come to fruition. The story goes that a simple, but foolish, man Balwan (or Balo Khan) was engaged to be married. His greedy father-in-law-to-be asked Balwan to bring him the required bride-price to marry his daughter. So, Balwan went to his relatives and collected the required amount of money. But when he went back to his father–in-law, the latter asked for more money. Balwan returned to his family to obtain the extra funds, and this situation continued for many rounds, so that Balwan never succeeded in marrying and died single. Hence the proverb. *\
“Another Brahui story tells of Mulla Mansur, an orphan who got a job in the house of a qadi (a Muslim religious leader). The qadi was an insensitive man. Even though Mansur had served him loyally for seven long years, he beat him over a trifling mistake. Mansur left the qadi and took to traveling the world. He met an old shepherd, fell in love with his daughter, and married her. When Mansur and his wife returned to his home, the beauty of his wife caused such a stir that everyone from the qadi to the king desired to possess her. However, Mansur's wife was steadfast in her fidelity to her husband. When the qadi continued to make advances and tried to seduce her, she exposed him publicly. All the people joined in condemning the qadi, and the king banished him from the Brahui lands. This tale presents the Brahui view of the qualities and strength of character desirable in a wife, as well an element of skepticism toward religious leaders who preach purity to the world but practice otherwise. *\
Brahui Economics and Education
Some Brahui live on irrigated land in the Sindh. Those that continue to live as nomads live off the products of their herds. Many of those that live a semi-nomadic existence grow grains, fruits and vegetables from March to October and move southwards in November and sell cattle and handcrafts and work as seasonal laborers.
According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Historically, the Brahui were pastoral nomads, migrating with their herds of sheep, goats, and cattle from the upland plateaus to the low-lying plains. Today, however, many Brahui have abandoned their pastoral activities in favor of transhumant (seasonal migration between lower and higher elevations) or settled agriculture. In the Kacchi lowlands, river and canal irrigation support cultivation, but settlements in other areas of the Brahui region depend on qanat irrigation, a system of tunnels dug between shafts to carry water. [Source:“Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, 1999 /=]
“Levels of literacy (the ability to read and write) among the Brahui are extremely low. The 1972 census for the Kalat Division of Balochistan Province recorded an overall literacy rate of only 6 percent in the population over ten years of age. The Brahui live in areas of Pakistan where there is no access to formal schooling, and even where schools do exist, attendance is low. In settled areas such as the Sindh region where Brahui children are more likely to attend school, they are taught in the local language rather than in Brahui.
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