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The origins of the Baluch

07 Apr

Balochistan Through The age

By: Brian Spooner

The earliest extant source (Šahristānīhā ī Ērān-šahr, a Pahlavi text written in the 2nd/8th century, though probably representing a pre-Islamic compilation; see Markwart, Provincial Capitals, pp. 5, 15, 74-76) lists the Balōč as one of seven autonomous mountain communities (kōfyār). Arabic writers in the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries (especially Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, Masʿūdī, Eṣṭaḵrī, Moqaddasī) mention them, usually as Balūṣ, in association with other tribal populations in the area between Kermān, Khorasan, Sīstān, and Makrān. All these tribes (of which only the Balōč survive in name) were feared by the settled population. The sources also add some detail, but the implications are unclear. The Balōč appear to have had a separate district of Kermān, but they also lived in two districts of Sīstān (Eṣṭaḵrī) and appeared in a tract some distance to the east of Fahraj (the eastern border of Kermān), probably modern Kharan (Ḵārān) or Chagai (Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh). Eṣṭaḵrī also records them as peaceful, though Moqaddasī claims they were more troublesome than the Kūč, with whom they are often paired (for references see Dames, 1904b, pp. 26-33, who also provides a more detailed discussion).
The Balōč are generally considered to have arrived in Kermān from the north (e.g., Dames, 1904b, pp. 29-30). The evidence for this assumption depends on two arguments: the classification of Baluchi as a “Northwest Iranian” language and the fact that in Ferdowsī’s Šāh-nāma (composed at the beginning of the 4th/10th century on the basis of earlier works now lost) they are mentioned in conjunction with Gīlān. According to Ferdowsī (see, e.g., Dehḵodā, s.v. Balōč) the Sasanian kings Ardašīr and Ḵosrow I Anōšīravān fought the Balōč and the Balōč fought for several other Sasanian kings. It has also been argued that the Balōč left traces of their language in the oases of the central deserts of the Iranian plateau as they migrated south (Minorsky, 1957; Frye, 1961). Some of this evidence (e.g., place names), if pertinent, could be the result of later raiding activities on the part of small numbers of Baluchi-speakers. (Such activities have been recorded as late as the 13th/19th and early 14th/20th centuries.) There is no other evidence that could be used either to date or to corroborate the theory of a southward migration by the Balōč.
It is clear that the desert areas east and southeast of Kermān have been generally insecure throughout much of the historical period. The early Muslim writers were preoccupied with the unpredictability of populations not controlled by the government, and by the danger to travelers. Their descriptions tell us little more about the populations of these areas than we might expect. They kept flocks and lived in goat-hair tents. Their native language was not Persian. They seem to have been concentrated in the more fertile mountains southeast of Kermān and to have plundered intermittently on the desert routes to the north and northeast.
The situation with regard to the security of travel apparently deteriorated, because in 361/971-72 the Buyid ʿAżod-al-Dawla (q.v.) considered it worthwhile to conduct a campaign against them. The Balōč were defeated, but they continued to be troublesome under the Ghaznavids and the Saljuqs. When they robbed Maḥmūd’s ambassador in the desert north of Kermān between Ṭabas and Ḵabīṣ, Maḥmūd sent his son, Masʿūd, against them (Dames, 1904b, pp. 32-33). Although the eastward migration of the Balōč appears to have intensified soon after this, there are still Balōč in eastern Kermān province.
It is important to note that the sources do not mention any leaders. It is likely that the Balōč at this period were a series of tribal communities not sharing any feelings of common ethnicity. In fact, the name Balōč (Balūč) appears to have been a name used by the settled (and especially the urban) population for a number of outlaw tribal groups over a very large area. The etymology is unclear, as is that of Kūč (also written as Kūfeč, Kōfč or—arabized—Qofṣ), a name generally taken to refer to a comparable neighboring tribal community in the early Islamic period. The common pairing of Kūč with Balūč in Ferdowsī (see, e.g., Dehḵodā, s.vv.) suggests a kind of rhyming combination or even duplication, such as is common in Persian and historically related languages (cf. tār o mār). The Balōč may have entered the historical record as the settled writers’ generic nomads. Because of the significance of their activities at this period they would gradually have become recognized as the nomads par excellence in this particular part of the Islamic world. It is possible, for example, that Balūč, along with Kūč, were terms applied to particular populations which were beyond the control of settled governments; that these populations came to accept the appellation and to see themselves in the cultural terms of the larger, more organized society that was established in the major agricultural territories; but they remained, then as now, a congeries of tribal communities of various origins. There is also ethnographic evidence to suggest that Balūč, irrespective of its etymology, may be applied to nomadic groups by the settled population as a generic appellation in other parts of eastern and southern Iran. The other tribal populations recorded in southeastern Kermān in the early Islamic period, which did not survive in name, may have assimilated to the Baluch identity. An important feature of the history of the Baluch up to the 14th/20th century has been their ability to assimilate numerous and diverse elements. Their history may have begun in the area east and southeast of Kermān around the time of the Arab conquest and their ethnogenesis may have been a product of the insecurity of a vast desert area which the governments of the period did not care to control despite their need for secure communications across it. It must be remembered, however, that such a theory of the origin of the Baluch leaves open the question of how and when the language spread to become the lingua franca (though not the mother tongue) of all assimilated Baluch.

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