By: Abdul kadir Noor Mohamed,
Kenya, East Africa
The culture of East African Baluchis has undergone quite a metamorphosis from the 1700s to the present day. With time traditional Baluchi lifestyle gradually eroded and a more Swahili one took its place. Our ancestors interacted with the local people and assimilated to become part and parcel of the social life of the region. As the Baluchi language gave way to Kiswahili, the lingua franca of East Africa, so too did a lot of our traditional cultural norms. It must be noted however, that at no time did we ever lose our identity.
Language apart, the Baluchis here have always maintained a separate identity from the rest of the people. The use of Baluchi names and the continuous narration of our culture and Iranian history has kept the awareness of our roots still fresh in our minds, and our yearning for self- preservation still very much alive. Some families have successfully resisted the change of language and still proudly speak good Baluchi, albeit diluted in grammar and vocabulary, but fluent. We have also managed to maintain strong social cohesion amongst ourselves. For a very long time, families strictly married only from each other, perhaps in an effort to preserve the tribe. Although this provision is no longer strictly followed, it is still highly preferred.
Today the Baluchis of East Africa can be said to have inter-married with almost every other local community. Despite the observable diversity, we have remained essentially close knit. Perhaps what has remained more or less unchanged culture-wise is the way we celebrate our weddings. The ceremonies have remained the same, made even more pronounced by the bride, who can still be seen on her wedding day in full Baluchi regalia. The younger Baluchi population of Mombasa can be said to be developing an impressive impetus on self-awareness.
The Baluchi language, which was slowly fading away from the society, is gradually finding its way back with new awakened interest. The recent contacts with the Baluchis of Iran, Muscat and Quetta will perhaps help build an exchange of information, which should help us revive our culture.
Education Most of East African Baluchis are literate. Education in schools is secular with English as the medium of instruction. Mombasa Baluchi youth have attained High School education and almost all of the younger generation are advancing towards universities and colleges. One of Kenya’s top surgeons is Baluchi. The Mombasa and Nairobi communities have produced several young doctors, architects, aviation engineers, bankers, pilots, accountants and lawyers. Baluchis can also be found in respectable positions within Kenya’s tourism industry, Tanzania’s politics, the banking sector, and of course the various businesses Baluchis have done remarkably well in.
Religious education, however, is not so well developed, and in most cases it has taken a backhand to the secular one. Apart from one Quran school in Makadara run by a Baluchi mullah, there are literally no Baluchi institutions for Quranic instruction. However since the East African coast is predominantly Muslim, parents send their children to the various madrassas for Islamic lessons. There is the Baluchi Mosque that stands at the junction of Baluchi Street and Makadara Road in Mombasa, that was first built in 1865, and has since undergone two renovations, one in 1964 and another one recently in 2005.
Present day In Mombasa, Baluchis have successfully launched a community committee whose main aim is to promote social welfare, self-awareness and the propagation of culture. Mombasa now has a Baluchi Centre on Makadara Road. The Baluchi Centre’s most prominent function is the getting together of the Baluchis on various occasions and the running of the Baluchi mosque and the Mbaruk mosque, a local sunni mosque whose maintenance and welfare has been adopted by the Baluchi Community.
Presently, Mombasa Baluchis portray more as part of the modern Kenyan social life with hints of western urbanism. However the families in Mbeya and Rujewa are still admirably traditional. Despite rare inter-mingling, East African Baluchis are well aware of each other’s existence and all Baluchis, even of mixed race, hold a tremendous pride in being Baluchi. Mombasa’s Baluchi youth have moved on to establish communities as far off as in London in the UK, and Toronto in Canada.
Our hope now is to be able to establish a productive relationship with the Baluchis in Iranian Baluchistan, and help create, through medium like the internet, a cultural forum in which all Baluchis, those “back home”, and those of us in the diaspora, can engage in, to enable the Baluchi Nation of the world keep links with each other. As I said, we sailed here in armoured dhows three centuries ago to settle in this part of the world where in time we absorbed part of its culture into ourselves, and given a part of ours to the land. But despite the influence of the years and the erosion of time, we still hold dear in our hearts the richness of our heritage and the memory of our distant home in the vast mountains of Baluchistan.
Sources upon which I derived information for the article:
1. Searchlight on Baloches and Balochistan by Mir Khudda Baksh Bijrani
2. Khuda Baksh Bijrani’s book, History Versus Legend, which was translated by M. L. Dames, who is a major proponent of the theory of our origins being in thev Elborz Mountains around the Caspian Sea. This theory is supported by the Soviet anthropologist L.W Oshananen. The Caspian Sea origins was also recently propounded by Russian Orientalist Professor Yu Gankovsky.
3. Tarikh al Rasool wa al-Malook, Abu Jaffar Al Tabari, This historical chronicle is renowned for its historical detail and accuracy concerning Muslim and Middle Eastern accuracy. One version published under the editorship of M.J de Goeje in three series,comprising thirteen volumes, with two extra volumes containing indices, introduction and glossary.
4. The writings of E.Herzefield who is a major proponent of the Allepo Origins theory. He states that we inhabited Halab, northern Syria and later the Iranian Medes and that the name ‘Baluch’ comes from the Median word ‘brza-vak’ which is a Median war cry.
5. Baluch elders in Makadara.