Baloch is the name of an ethnic group, most of whom inhabit the province of Balochistan in modern Pakistan. Other Baloch live in Afghanistan and Iran, and a small number are found in Turkmenistan, Oman, UAE, India, and the coast of East Africa. Their total population numbers around 7.5 to 11 million people.
The Baloch claim to be descendants of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, and as a result, most Baloch follow the Sunni sect of Islam. Some, however, are members of the Zikri sect, followers of a fifteenth-century mahdi (an Islamic messiah) called Nur Pak (“Pure Light”). Zikris are estimated to number more than 750,000; they live mostly in southern Pakistan.
The Balochi language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family and is thought to be derived from the ancient Median or Parthian language. The Baloch believe that they originated in the Aleppo region in Syria and then migrated east during the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries CE until they reached their present homeland, Balochistan, in the mountainous coastal regions of the Caspian Sea.
For several centuries thereafter, the Baloch governed themselves through their clan system, except for occasional attempts by Persians, Arabs, and Hindus to conquer them. Not until the twelfth century, under the leadership of Mir Jalal Khan, was there an attempt to unite several Baloch tribes into a political unit, called the First Baloch Confederacy. This confederacy did not last due to political rivalries, but it laid the ground for future attempts at political integration and cohesion among the Baloch. The sixteenth century witnessed the existence of three political Baloch groups in Balochistan: the Dodai Confederacy, the Kalat Confederacy, and the Makran State. In the eighteenth century, Mir Adbullah Khan of Kalat managed to unite almost all the Baloch into one confederacy.
In 1841, British expansion in the region interfered in Baloch affairs, and the British exerted control over Baloch territory in an effort to check Russian influence in the area. The British achieved complete administrative control in some areas in 1876 while holding others by military force.
When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, the Baloch reacted fiercely against being integrated into this new political entity, and violence between the Baloch and the Pakistani government erupted. Currently the Baloch view themselves as an overlooked minority in Pakistan.
The Baloch are organized into tribes led by a sardar (head chief). The tribes are structured through kinship in clans, clan sections, and subsections. Society is patriarchal; a boy’s birth is heralded with much fanfare, and ceremonies mark important rites of passage for male children. Seminomadic pastoralism and dry-crop cereal farming are the mainstays of the Baloch economy, although fishing plays a role in the coastal regions.
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