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The Baluch have their home in Pakistan's westernmost Province of Baluchistan, the Iranian Province of Baluchestan wa Sistan, the southern part of Afghanistan and in the south of the Turkmen SSR of the USSR. This enormous area is, due to low rainfall, mostly barren, and as a result a great number of Baluch have long emigrated and sought employment abroad, particularly in the Persian Gulf littoral. A considerable number have lived for generations in Oman. The size of the Baluch population is estimated at about four million, and, though it is the subject of much controversy, has never been determined due to the lack of an accurate census and the difficulty of distinguishing between different ethnic and linguistic groups. In 1981 it was estimated that the Baluch population of Pakistan was 2,500,000, of whom 700,000 lived in Karachi. About a further 1,000,000 Baluch live in Iran.
The country inhabited by the Baluch varies considerably in character, including the cultivated plains of the Punjab border and the Quetta area, the mountains of the Kalat highlands and Afghanistan, the rugged hill country of Makran and eastern Iran, and the level desert of the north west tip of Pakistan. It is one of the poorest and least developed regions of the world. Cultivation is confined to the plains, a few spots on the coastal strip and in the mountains, and to oases like Panjgur. Everywhere it is limited severely by the scarcity of water. Mineral and other resources remain undeveloped except for the natural gas field at Sui in the far north east of the country. Economic under-development is matched by political and social backward- ness.
The Baluch have lived in their present homes probably for over a thousand years, having migrated from the west, probably from the southern Caspian region, commencing the movement in about 600 AD. Evidence exists of their settlement in what is now Pakistan by about 800 AD, but it is likely that the tribes moved only gradually, by many stages, and independently of each other. There is evidence of both advances and retreats along the way. Some tribes seem to have crossed the Indus at some stage, then returned to Baluchistan at a later date. The areas at present occupied were settled by the 14th century. Stable government first appeared in 1660 AD when the sardar Mir Ahmed Khan I, founder of the confederacy of Brahui tribes and nominally a vassal of the rulers of Afghanistan, established his authority around Kalat. His successors gradually asserted control over a wider area, and the most important of them, Mir Nasir Khan I (reigned 1749-1795 AD), shook off the last vestiges of Afghan authority and established the independence of the Kalat Khanate. However, even in Nasir Khan's day central control of the peripheral Baluch areas was nominal and subject to frequent dispute, and later the relations between the central government and the dependent rulers and tribal chiefs degenerated into open warfare. The 19th century saw a gradual growth of British influence, and although Kalat was never incorporated into the British Indian Empire, it enjoyed only a nominal independence by the last quarter of the century. A British Agent was resident at the Khan's court, and the Khanate gave up some rights and lands around Quetta to the Empire. The Khans continued to rule the areas of Sarawan, Jahlawan, Las Bela, Kharan and Makran, with varying degrees of direct British interference, until British withdrawal in 1947. At its formation the Khan acceded to the state of Pakistan following a good deal of pressure from the new Pakistan government, and the Khanate ceased to exist as an independent entity in 1948.
Baluch society remains conservative and tribal, though in Makran a stratified system based upon social class exists. In Pakistan, outside the government-controlled towns (Quetta, Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur and a few others) Pakistani law is weakly applied, and local jurisdiction, regularised in British days, remains paramount. At the lower levels of society there exists a fairly large group of non-Baluch artisans and families whose ancestors were slaves, including a good many of African stock.
All Baluch are Muslims of the Sunni sect, though in some places, particularly in Makran, adherents exist of the Zigri sect, which is held to be heretical by other Muslims. Violent persecution of Zigris has occurred even in the last twenty years. Some remnants of older beliefs remain. Men and women held to have magical or prophetic skills exist alongside Islamic mullahs, and the belief in jins (spirits) and the practice of magic are widespread.
The majority of the Baluch serving in the Oman come from the Baluchi-speaking tribes of Makran, many from the central Kech valley, some from the Panjgur area and others from the coast, where the Sultan of Oman possessed the port of Gwadar until 1958. Also found are a few soldiers from Brahui tribes, mostly Brahui speakers from the large Brahui area stretching south from Kalat to Khuzdar and Bela. The Brahui language is genetically unrelated to Baluchi, though it contains a large number of Baluchi loan words due to the mixing of the peoples over the last millenium. Despite their large common vocabulary, both languages are not mutually intelligible. Several dialects of Baluchi (which is an Indo-European language related to Persian) are to be heard in the Oman, but the major dialect is that of the Kech area, which includes Turbat.