Introduction / History
The Western Baluchs are part of a much larger population of Baluch numbering several million. Their homeland straddles the borders of Iran and Pakistan, with a majority living in Pakistan. About half of those in Iran live in cities, while the others are semi-nomadic shepherds.
The various Baluch groups speak different languages, each with distinguishing characteristics. These languages have been divided into three groups: Eastern, Western, and Southern Baluchi.
Their name, “Baluch,” is shrouded in controversy. Some say it means “nomad,” while others claim that it is an old Persian word meaning “the cock’s crest.” Their history is just as mysterious. Some have traced their origins to Nimrod, son of Cush (Noah’s grandson). But while some things are uncertain, we do know that they first moved to the region in the twelfth century. During the Moghul period, this territory became known as “Baluchistan.”
What are their lives like?
The Baluch have been isolated for many years due to Iran’s harsh climate, the difficulty of communicating, and their former reputation as bandits. Since the governments of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan all have a share in Baluchistan’s welfare, they have begun building roads and developing agriculture programs. However, the Baluch have remained largely unaffected by these developmental changes.
The Baluch are basically self sufficient, relying on their own skills to build homes and develop the tools necessary for daily life. Their economy is based on a combination of farming and semi-nomadic shepherding. They usually raise sheep, cattle, or goats. Agriculture is limited because of the harsh climate; nevertheless, it plays a large role in the economy. The chief crop is wheat. To aid in the household economy, some farmers raise chickens. They also depend on wild fruits and vegetables. One wild plant, called the dwarf palm, is used as a dietary supplement. The meat of the palm is eaten, and the leaves are used to make ropes, shoes, mats, and tents. Though their survival techniques may vary, each community tries to keep a wide variety of animals and grow many different crops. If the local economy does not provide adequate job opportunities, the young men often move to the cities in search of work.
Baluch societies are patriarchal, or male-dominated. They are organized into kin-based clans and territorially defined tribes. Male elders are the heads of these tribal units. Within the family, the entire household is responsible for tending the family’s herd. Women work in groups, threshing and separating the harvest; while plowing and planting are done by the men. Traditionally, land is not privately owned but belongs to the whole tribe.
Baluch marriages are arranged between the bride’s father and the prospective groom. A bride price of livestock and cash is paid. Once a woman is married, she passes from the authority of her father to that of her husband. Marriages are monogamous and lifelong, and marrying a non-Baluch is strictly forbidden.
Baluchmayar is the honor code by which the Baluchs live. These principles include extending hospitality and mercy, dealing with each other honestly, and offering refuge to strangers. They are preserved through both songs and poetry. Children learn proper behavior by watching their elders, and are taunted whenever they misbehave.
What are their beliefs?
Prior to the coming of Islam, the Baluch were probably followers of Zoroaster. Today, they are Sunni Muslims. Their religious practices remain private, and there is no concept of a “state religion.” All forms of secular authority are separated from the spiritual authority held by religious leaders.