The Baluch Role in the Persian Gulf during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

16 Dec

By Prof Dr Beatrice Nicolini
Faculty of Political Sciences,
Catholic University of the Sacred Heart,

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, evidence of the Baluch popula-tion could be found in the service of the Al Ya’rubi of Oman, mainly as mercenarytroops.’ Officers were called jam’darand soldiers sowar.2 To the Arabs of Oman, these Baluch corps constituted their military power (alshawkah) and their strength and were an indispensable tool in the conquest and maintaining of Omani tribal power. It was, however, with the Omani dynasty of the Al Bu Sa’id of Oman—starting around the first half of the nineteenth century—that the Baluch, and the coastal strip of Makran, the main region in south Central Asia of their origin, became an institutional part of the Omani governmental forces and major political leaders. Baluch tribes also settled in other Gulf areas beside Oman, and in separate villages, practicing their tribal customs and speaking their language.


Persian Gulf

Being Baluch is a question of geographical and cultural identity; therefore their integra­tion in the Arab regions of the Gulf has been always assured and stable when closely related to their original corporate role of defense force. Consequently, the role of Baluch—espe­daily Makrani—in the Arab Gulf countries has been growing and modifying itself since the nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, Baluch cultural identity, and most of all the Baluch presence in numerical terms with respect to Arab Gulf nationals, did become a significant reality, and also a cultural reality. Today there are many integration problems between nationals and nonnationals in most of the Arab Gulf countries, and the Baluch con­tribution to the richness of Gulf culture and society could represent a significant step toward future cooperation and integration through reform governmental projects. Consequently, when talking about globalization, one should keep in mind that this concept is not new for this particular region. The society of the Gulf has in fact been a “globalized” community from time immemorial; nevertheless, each ethnic group composing this cosmopolitan world suc­ceeded in preserving its own cultural identity.
In the United Arab Emirates, for example, there are today 135,700 southern Baluch (7 percent of the population) as a part of a larger community of about S million.3 Starting in the late 195os, sudden wealth made this region one of the richest of the world. Here the Baluch found work as unskilled laborers, policemen, or fishermen. Other Baluch joined the military. Still others labored in the oil fields and on the farms of the wealthy Gulf states. Although the Baluch work extremely hard, they are much better off than they were in Baluchistan, one of the poorest areas of the world. One of the main causes of the Baluch “diaspora” to the other shores of the Arabian Sea largely results from their lands of origin, which I describe together with their society’s conditions and customs.
The Baluch reside mainly in Baluchistan, a dry, desolate region in the southeastern part of the Iranian plateau. It extends from the Ker­man desert to the east of Bam and the Besha­gard mountains and to the western borders of the Sind and Punjab provinces of today’s Paki­stan. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Baluchistan was divided by the British between Iran and Pakistan.’ These two states had a dispute concerning the border dividing the two parts of Baluchistan; it was resolved by an agreement signed in 1959.5
Iranian Baluchistan is a part of the Sistan and Baluchistan provinces.’ The barren land of Iranian Baluchistan, situated on the southeast­ern side of the country, is part of “Great Baluch­istan,” with the other half located in Pakistan.? The province is divided into four regions—Sar­hadi, Sarawan, Bampur, and Makran—based on their environmental differences.
One of the main characteristics of Balu­chistan is the variation in flora and fauna that exists because of the climatic differences. This multifeatured, inhospitable land has given rise to people of different ethnos. The ethnic diver­sity is such that one can find Baluch and Brohi Arabs, Jats and Kurds, and also blacks, whose ancestors had once been brought to this land as slaves from East Africa by the Omani Arabs.’

Historically it is believed that the Baluch moved to Makran from Kerman province to flee an expedition of the Seijuks during the eleventh century. At that time, the Baluch were nomads.’ They have never had a centralized govern­ment and live under a tribal system. Baluch is the name of several tribes, a small number of which live in Turkmenistan. They speak Balu­chi, believed to be a west Iranian language of the Indo-European family of languages and influenced by eastern Iranian dialects. There are two branches of northern (Sarhadi) and southern (Makrani) Baluch. The Iranian Ba­luch tribes are divided into a number of clans.'” The Iranian Baluch belong mostly to the Hanafi school of the Sunni faith of Islam. A few tribes in the Sistan area are also regarded as Baluch, but they speak a Sistani dialect, an abandoned Persian language.”
The Baluch are a people of about 6 mil­lion, scattered mainly across Pakistan (of which they occupy nearly a half), southeastern Iran, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates, where they form a large immigrant community. They appear to have first occupied the center of Iran (Kerman), or perhaps even the north, before migrating toward the southeast.
Although the presence of Baluch nomadic tribes is documented before Muslim times, their current territory was populated in the past by a number of ethnic groups speaking various idioms, among which were the Dravidian lan­guages. Some would more or less consider the Baluch to be any nomadic tribe, and the latter would accept this identification, but this iden­tity was not enough for the Baluch to be able to identify themselves as an ethnically homoge­neous community.
From the end of the eighteenth century, and for all of the nineteenth century, it was these tribes of pillaging warriors who protected, hid, supported, and faithfully defended the Al Bu Sa’id of Oman. The tribal structure and clan-family relationships of their society, which was traditionally nomadic, could count on Makran, peninsular, and continental solidarity.
It was only in the eighteenth century that a Baluch national identity arose.12 It won over and brought together various tribes, essentially on the condition that they would speak the same language and share their culture. Proba­bly around that time, epic poetry was developed among the tribes, thus unifying all the groups and subgroups, whatever nuances there might have been, into an entity that today is called the Baluch people. Language is the essential factor in cultural cohesion, which is remarkable given the heterogeneous character of their society; music, too, by highlighting poetry, has been an important element in establishing cultural unity.
Baluchistan is the largest province of Paki­stan. It covers 44 percent of the land surface, an area of 347,190 square kilometers, but has a population of only 4.5 million (around 4 per­cent), making it the least populated province of the country. About half of this population lives around Quetta, the provincial capital of Paki­stani Baluchistan, located in the north, close to the border with Afghanistan. To its north and west, thousands of kilometers of barren desert and stark mountains form the borders with Iran and southern Afghanistan, while due east it is divided from the rest of Pakistan by the Kirthar and Sulaiman mountain ranges. Toward the south, along the Arabian Sea, stretch the sandy desert beaches of the Makran coast.
Most of Baluchistan lies outside the mon­soon system of weather; therefore the climate is extremely dry. The annual rainfall is about fifteen centimeters and is even less along the Makran coast. In terms of physical geography, Baluchistan has more in common with western Asia than with the Indian subcontinent. Its vis­tas of arid wastelands, great deserts, and formi­dable mountain ranges (dramatically contoured and twisted by the earth’s violent geological movements) make it a dramatic area. The dry climate combined with the natural geographi­cal features make it one of the most daunting environments for successful human habitation; thus it is sparsely populated. Many observers think that the region resembles the surface of the moon.
The most important tribes of Pakistani Baluchistan are the Brohi, Baluch, and Pathan, who speak Brohi, Baluchi, and Pushto, respec­tively. The northeast of this province receives rain and snowfall, a measurable precipitation that supports juniper forests, cultivated land, and orchards that produce apples, almonds, apricots, peaches, and grapes. Most of the peo­ple in central Baluchistan lead serninomadic lives herding sheep, goats, and camels, while others are subsistence farmers and laborers working in Punjab and Sind during the win­ter months. Some areas of the south, near the Makran coast, are famous for growing three hundred different varieties of dates!’
Covering an area of sixty-two thousand square kilometers, Makran forms the southern­most strip of Baluchistan province, with a coast­line of over six hundred kilometers. It is hard to envision the vast wilderness of this remote area, where miles of virgin beaches stretch along the sea in bright sunshine and blue skies during the winter months. Because there is hardly any rain, the few villages and settlements depend on spring water and wells. The coast has several tiny fishing villages, while main towns like Gwadar, Ormara, jiwani, and Pasni have small fishing harbors, where the fishermen can be seen com­ing in with their catch every morning and eve­ning.’ Makrani Baluch in the past traded with other maritime communities along the west­ern Indian Ocean; in fact, since ancient times Makran has held a historically strategic position as the most direct route between the Middle East and the riches of the Indian subcontinent.
Known to the ancients as Gedrosia, the Greeks were among the first recorded visitors to Makran. At the end of his conquest in 325 BC, Alexander the Great marched with his army through its harsh deserts, suffering heav­ily because of shortages of both food and water. Earlier, only Semiramis and Cyrus are known to have tried to traverse Makran’s wastelands with an army, but with devastating results.
According to the Greek historian Near­chos, Alexander did not take that route in ig­norance of its difficulties, but he chose it on learning that no one had yet traversed it with an army except Semiramis, who escaped with only twenty men of all his army, and even Cyrus, the son of Kambyses, escaped with only seven soldiers. When Alexander heard these accounts, he was seized with an ambition to outrival both Cyrus and Semiramis.15
The Greeks exerted more of a nominal influence over this region. In 305 BC Chandra Gupta defeated Alexander’s successor, Selecus Nicator, and the region fell under the control of the Mauryan empire. Later the area came under the Sassanian dynasty and remained under its control until the end of the sixth century. Raj Shah of Sind controlled the area for some time. The Arabs of Oman exercised their power over Makran from the seventh to the tenth century.
For the next seven centuries the region was under the loose control of many foreign dynas­ties, which followed one another in quick suc­cession, but their power was short lived.
Toward the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese found their way to India and captured several places along the Makran coast. They never penetrated inland and were unable to establish anything more than heav­ily defended military bases at various ports. In 1581 they destroyed Gwadar and Pasni by burn­ing the two trading and fishing villages to the ground. In the eighteenth century, Makran came under the nominal control of the khanate of Kalat, which was ruled by Nasir Khan I (the Great, 1749-95). The khanate of Kalat, which developed around the seventeenth century, was a refuge for waves of invaders coming from southwest Asia, directed to India; from the tenth to the fifteenth century Kalat and the border­ing provinces were subdued by foreign powers imposing tributes, often with the use of force; but it was not before the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century that the khanate succeeded in affirming its power in Baluchistan. Once it subdued the sedentary ag­ricultural tribes and enforced tribal authority on the pastoral nomadic groups, the khanate began developing a centralized bureaucratic apparatus through territorial expansion, which included Makran.i6
It was not until the nineteenth century that the British became interested in this area, first during Napoleon’s menacing presence in Egypt and later during the time of the first Anglo­Afghan War in 1838. A British expedition was sent into the area to pave the way for the build­ing of the Indo-European telegraph line, which passed through Makran. On the line’s comple­tion in 1863, Major F. Goldsmid was posted to Gwadar as a British assistant political agent. In 1872 a firm boundary between Persia and Brit­ish Baluchistan was established.° During the twentieth century, after the creation of West Pakistan in 1947, it became a part of Pakistan itself. In 1953, Pakistan Petroleum Limited dis­covered natural gas in Sui, a town in eastern Baluchistan. For most of Pakistan, the discov­ery was a big boon: within ten years, residents in major cities were enjoying gas stoves and fur­naces. In Islamabad today, gas is cheaper than electricity. Only thirty years after discovery the gas was piped to Quetta; yet, to this day, resi­dents in Sui have no access to piped gas.

The Wastes of Creation:
Traveling to Baluchistan, one covers hundreds of kilometers of endless desert road through dust and sandstorms, where an eternal cloud of dust stands over the mountains and valleys overlooked by a sun covered in haze, an agitated atmosphere heavy with the presence of ever-existing dreadful, unexpected events. Were it not for the windswept tamarisk bushes by the road and the occasional tents set up here and there in the dust, or the bell sound­ing on a goat, the presence of humans would not be evident. It feels as if one is walking on an empty, forgotten planet in the burning heat of its blazing sand deserts and the illusive waves of the ever-existing mirages, haunted by all the devils and wicked ghosts of all time, the famous jinn.1B
“When the Lord created the universe, Ba­luchistan was formed out of its wastes.” Whether or not God created this land out of the wastes of the universe, as this Baluch proverb describes, Baluch people had been residing in some other land in the past and migrating to this land in search of shelter. Baluch people then living in the eastern region of the Caspian Sea were driven to the southern part of the country (Ker­man), from whence they were once more moved to the eastern parts and the dry deserts of Balu­chistan. Those who invaded this land forced the Baluch people to leave their green pastures and watersheds and move in tribes riding on the backs of camels and mules and carrying their hard, yet lightweight, accommodations on their saddles, leading their cattle toward this remote corner of the world in search of a refuge. The Baluch name in history is accompanied by de­scriptions of massacres and invasions. It was first mentioned in inscriptions and petroglyphs at­tributed to Darius the Great in Persepolis and Bistoun as the fourteenth province of the Achae­menian empire. It is the place Alexander turned to after his Indian conquest, in the sandy des­erts where half his weary army died. During the golden days of Islam, Arabs invaded and looted this land many times. The caliph’s commander, expressing his concern over being sent to Ba­luchistan, was quoted as saying, “You sent me to a land where her water is hidden under the ground, her dates are eaten up, and her warriors are brave. If the soldiers are few, they will be de­feated, otherwise, they shall starve to death.”19
After the Arabs came the Turkmens, Ghuzz, Mongols, and Timurids, who in turn in­vaded this land right up until the Qajar dynasty came into power in Persia in the nineteenth cen­tury, a period in which violation and oppression reached such a climax that the word Qajaris still synonymous with “stranger” and “invader.” Late in the nineteenth century, the British govern­ment of India penetrated the Persian territory, following its domination over the Sind region, under the pretext of extending telegraph lines from India to the “Oman Sea” and guarding the area. They finally succeeded in separating from Persia a part of Baluchistan, later known as Pakistan’s Baluchistan, in 1871.
In Persian Baluchistan, local khans and commanders rebelling against the central gov­ernment were thoroughly suppressed during the Pahlavi reign in the twentieth century, put­ting an end to tribal autonomy and local rulers. Since the second half of the twentieth century, the primitive lifestyle in which nature plays a decisive role, together with the background of historical invasion and confrontation with other tribes and the tax-gathering, forceful cen­tral government, has led to a call for a militant-tribal structure to defend against invaders and bring the tribes into harmony with one another and their superiority and thus win the challenge of power.2° Common people take refuge in the closed, internally consistent communities where their predetermined, ascribed socioeconomic status is guarded.

Ways of Subsistence:
Adaptation has become a necessity through generations because the Baluch live in a land of scarce water, unfavorable winds, untimely rains ending in floods, and a dry, barren soil. The sit­uation makes cattle raising more profitable than farming and migrating more suitable than set­tling. However, variations allow for oscillations between farming and cattle raising, the major economic activities in the area. Nevertheless, because of the unfavorable climate, contempo­rary migrations to other provinces and the Gulf sheikhdoms account for a supplementary source of income, together with drug smuggling and illegal imports.
Agricultural products in most regions suit­able for the purpose are as follows: date palms are planted in areas that have minimal access to water; paddy fields and nonirrigated wheat fields with a small yield can be seen near rivers; tobacco, corn, and broad bean are cultivated in the plains; and very small quantities of citrus products and tropical fruit are planted in areas with abundant water. Although farming in Balu­chistan is an ancient practice, it has never been greatly developed because of the water short­age, poor soil, lack of investment in the area to improve soil conditions (e.g., leveling steep hills located by rivers, where the soil is more suitable for agriculture), and the primitive tools and absence of advanced technology to counteract the floods and droughts. The problem of water shortage is replaced by the lack of agricultural land along the rivers. Where good soil is found, there is no water, and vice versa. Water scarcity, however, poses the main problem.21
In general, in droughts and years of fam­ine agriculture is a more reliable source of income compared with cattle raising, despite problems such as tribal rivalries and the very high taxes levied by local governments until the beginning of the twentieth century. Several fac­tors, namely, soil, water, labor, and tools, influ­ence agricultural production. In most areas the land is shared, and its potential value cannot be estimated. Landownership is accompanied by water rights, and one’s right to land where cultivation is possible is determined by one’s share in providing the water pumps or digging the qanat/kariz, a widespread system of com­plex underground networks for channeling the water present in the impervious strata at the foot of the mountains. These traditional and highly sophisticated systems are long channels dug out of the subsoil, which, by using the slight inclination of the mountain slopes, make it pos­sible to direct the water along the underground strata, channeling it toward potentially fertile terrain to make possible agricultural activity and the establishment of permanent human settlements. Obviously, the significance of these elaborate irrigation systems extends beyond the economic sphere into the social and political: ownership is linked not so much to space as to the water hours, provided according to the lunar cycle, that may be destined for irrigation of the fields.”
In an inherited water-well realm, land is not divided, nor does it have a particular value in and of itself. It is only during harvest time that one’s share of water is observed. The Per­sian Baluchistan land reform of 1961 absorbed the heads of many tribes into the central gov­ernment and thus contributed to strengthening their power. So the farmers working on their land who had a right to that land were deprived of their ownership in favor of these tribal heads who supported the government. After the Is­lamic revolution of 1979, the removal of local tribal chiefs (sardars) introduced some minor changes in landownership. Some of the people who migrated to the Arab Gulf states because of the droughts came back home and, with the money they had earned, bought the lands that had belonged to the distinguished men of the tribe. Purchase of these properties changed the face of ownership in the region to some extent. In the rural society of Baluchistan, as in other parts of Iran and Pakistan, different methods of production exist alongside one another, char­acterized mainly by historical variations of life reflecting a transitional period.

Animal Husbandry:
According to tribal beliefs and traditions, pas­tures belong to the whole tribe, but animals, such as goats, cows, and camels as well as poul­try and bees, belong to their immediate owners. There are two modes, of cattle raising in the re­gion. The first is the rural mode, in which each family keeps a limited herd in a corner of their living area, apart from their farming activities. The beasts roam in a restricted area during the day and are taken back home at night. The sec­ond is the tribal mode, in which the tribe moves with the herd to warmer areas during the cold months and returns to the cooler mountainous regions during the summer months. The tribe depends on grasslands for grazing the herd, but during the hard drought periods, after the in­fliction of sometimes heavy losses, the animals are fed with barley.
Another prevalent migration style is one in which families that own one hundred to two hundred heads of cattle move together in groups, holding three hundred to five hundred heads among them, toward pastures where they spend a few days to allow the beasts to graze on the few existing bushes and plants. Afterward, the families set off toward new grasslands. In the past, dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, dried whey, sour milk, and yogurt, as well as wool and animal hair, were used mainly within the tribes. After a transition from a natu­ral, self-sufficient economy to a producing one, however, these products were also exchanged in the marketplace. The tribes would gain access to land, water, and pastures in the past by giv­ing a share of their crop to the khan. This pay­ment also usually included the government tax. Since the Qajar rule in the nineteenth century, the heads of the Persian Baluchistan tribes and clans have allocated one-tenth of the tribal in­come earned through cattle products to them­selves and have supplied a military force to aid the central government. The labor force among the tribes is based on the family unit and the wage-earning shepherd and is manipulated and maintained in a primitive order. Labor division among the tribes depends on age, gender (nat­urally divided tasks), and class. Women in the richest tribes have a slight role in production and daily tasks. Poorer women, by contrast, play a vital role in their families’ economy and are less restricted in their social lives.

A natural economy based on handmade articles ruled in Iranian Baluchistan before the land reform of 1961. Most products were consumed within the tribe, and raw materials and primitive tools were produced in the area. Animal skins, wool hair, hides, horns, and tree leaves mainly provided the raw materials needed for the tools used in farming, cattle raising, and maintain­ing the living requirements of the settled tribes, who formerly lived a migratory lifestyle. Tools needed to produce handicrafts either were im­proved by family members and relatives or were made to order by skilled craftsmen. In the latter case, an exchange of agricultural or dairy prod­ucts would pay for the tools.
Primitive tools were not exchanged, nor were they rented among the producing fami­lies; production organization was limited to one family or related families within a village. Labor division was natural and accompanied by a social division based on the individual’s status both in an assumed kinship system and in a real one. Products and the producing tools were for inside use and would not find their way into the market. After the land reform, some changes were introduced regarding the rules governing production, distribution, and exchange, result­ing in a greater production level for sales in the market. Consequently, handicrafts have been divided into two groups, the first related to in-ternal consumption goods, the second to prod­ucts for the market:2s
To decorate their houses, women sew coins and buttons on a piece of cloth and adorn the sleeves and the front parts of women’s cloth­ing with a kind of well-known needlework. This type of embroidery work has been common among Baluch tribes since old times and is used in the family and sent to the market for sale. Handicrafts sent to the market as well as those used within the tribe include the tegard (a type of mat used as a carpet); coins sewn on a piece of cloth for use as decoration; needle­work made to order, which is more or less ex­changed as in the past but can also be found occasionally in the market; rugs and carpets; and, to a limited extent, kilims, for which the government has provided some workshops. Pot­tery making has been done in Baluchistan since ancient times. Pottery discovered in the village of Damen in Iranshahr is now on display in the museum of anthropology in the city of Zahe­dan. Nowadays, pottery is made only in a small region, to a limited extent. Kalpuregan, a vil­lage about thirty-five kilometers to the south of Sarawan, is now famous as a pottery center in Iranian Baluchistan. Men provide the clay from the nearby hills and prepare it for production, and women make and paint the pots. The pots are made in a primitive style, without the aid of a potter’s wheel. They are dried in the sun and then painted with colorful, dotted patterns. These products are both for personal consump­tion and for sale in the market.

Living in the inhospitable natural conditions of Baluchistan and lacking the know-how to coun­teract the deficiencies of their surroundings, the Baluch take pleasure in the minor phenomena they find in nature. They founded a life that dates back to the dawn of civilization, when they subsisted on food provided by the fruit and plants they gathered from their parsimo­nious environment. Their diet has consisted of dates (either wild or cultivated), raw mountain grasses, onion juice, pepper juice, and bread.
Baluch make use of all that is found in na­ture. During the springtime famine, men even compete with beasts over grass. In the past few decades, keeping pace with the developing in­dustries in Iran and Pakistan, all kinds of con­sumer goods produced inside the country or abroad could be found in the remotest parts of Baluchistan. The exports consist chiefly of salted fish, fish maws, shark fins, raw wool, goat hair, hides, cotton, dates, and dwarf palm, while the imports include cotton piece goods, silk, sugar, wheat, rice, iron, and oiI.24 The rush of goods from the Gulf states, India, and Pakistan as well as those produced inside the country has had a great impact on families’ consumption, diet, clothing, and even taste and cultural val­ues. Through these various goods, such as man­made fabrics from China and great quantities of illegal alcohol from the Gulf, numerous Baluch families have become acquainted with different cultures and lifestyles and other world markets.

Plunder and Smuggling
As stated above, the land is so infertile and cul­tivation so close to impossible that despite palm plantations, cattle raising, and the recent devel­opment of irrigated farming, extra sources of income seem almost necessary. During the time when the Baluch were relatively independent and autonomous, they used to gain this income by raiding farms in nearby villages or robbing caravans traveling to or from India. Extra in­come was also supplied through smuggling and illegal imports and by selling their labor force in or out of the country, since the tribal military organization was abolished and they no longer disobeyed the law of the land. The vivid testi­monies of the Baluch plundering nature given by the nineteenth-century British explorers con­firmed the Baluch as great warriors and power­ful adversaries. They were described as capital marksmen and were notorious for their lawless habits such as the chupao (raid). Among the Nar-rhoi and the Yaramadzai, the looting was con­ducted on camels. They reached the villages at night and at dawn started the raids, using the fundamental element of surprise; captives were taken as slaves, and the route back was never the same. These raids were a permanent factor of blood revenge among Baluch tribes.25 Loot­ing brings honor to the tribal society, showing manliness, bravery, and merit and thus uniting the tribe. Smuggling plays the same role and is organized, as in the past, by warlike, militant, self-sacrificing men. It brings honor as well as solidarity to the tribe because it requires de­tailed planning and cooperation among the tribe members involved.

Let’s travel to Dubai together, as it’s senseless without you.

—From a Baluch song
Migration is very common among the Baluch, for numerous reasons. Some migrate to the re­gion’s ports and cities or go abroad in search of food and shelter, and others to escape from the law, at the risk of losing everything. Sometimes it is simply a test of manhood, of going out into the world, or an attempt to escape the prevailing restrictive tribal system or to save some money for marriage or a new, better life. Youth tend to migrate in order to enter the labor force and fill the income gap; older people, by contrast, rarely migrate unless they no longer possess anything to guard. Pakistan, where the other half of the homeland that was divided by political games but never recognized by the Baluch is located, promises a refuge. Historical connections, to­gether with the racial, lingual, religious, and cul­tural unities as well as the similar lifestyle, family ties (most Baluch have relatives in Pakistan), and economic relations, give most Pakistani Baluch the right to ancestral land and water in Iran, and vice versa, and are considered to be the main reasons for this migration pattern.
Other factors include geographic vicin­ity, the easy crossing to Pakistan, and the lower cost of living in that country. Most migrations to Pakistan involve the whole family, whereas the Gulf states draw only the youth and the poor, often single men by themselves because of the dangers involved. In the latter cases, most mi­grants are deprived of a legal passport and cross the border through organized illegal bands that demand much money for the task.

In this rough land only the Baluch, the goat, the palm, and the camel can survive. The common poverty motivated by the lack of production and the consequent malnutrition, accompanied by the consumption of nonessential products such as tea, tobacco, and drugs, accelerate the suscep­tibility to all kinds of diseases among children and adults alike. Bread is the main food people subsist on. Contaminated drinking water plays a great role in inducing diseases. Other sources of water such as rain, rivers, springs, and Banat/ kariz are used both for drinking and for wash­ing. Rainwater in some places is collected in pools and ponds and is contaminated with par­asites and microbes. A polluted environment, together with lack of bathing and changing of clothes (especially among the cattle raisers, and not the farmers), an absence of toilets, and so on, add to this dramatic problem.

Education: A Case Study:
The individual is first educated within the fam­ily and then inside the tribe. The education re­ceived is mainly automatic and behavioral and results in socialized stereotypes. In the past, only the male offspring of the upper class would receive a formal education that would enable them to write and to read the Koran and other religious books. The modern education system that was started under the Pahlavi regime with the establishment of schools in Persian towns and cities and aimed at training children only to read and write did not succeed, because of the lack of possibilities for advanced education in small centers and the absence of educational structures. Despite the great incentives for edu-cation and the wish to save the children from poverty and tribal restrictions, and also the oc­casional governmental aid (there is even a uni­versity established in Zahedan, the center of the province), the highest percentage of literate people are among city dwellers and males. Sta­tistics related to literacy in cities show that the majority of literate people are the children of governmental officials and clerks. In Pakistani Baluchistan, the education of young females de­veloped thanks to an important element of the Rind tribe: Zobaida Jalal. Following the military coup d’etat in Pakistan on 12 October 1999 that installed the new government of General Pervez Musharraf, she was appointed general federal minister of education, women, development, social welfare, and special education. Zobaida started the first school for girls, gradually intro­ducing new cultural ideas, such as male teach­ers, and new social and political balances in the tribal local society. Zobaida fights for the eman­cipation of Islamic women through their edu­cation. She bears the typical features—round eyes, long nose, and fair complexion—of the Rind tribe, to which she belongs, and is the most famous and admired woman throughout Balu­chistan. Thanks to Zobaida’s generosity, it has been possible for me to study the Mand area, where she lives with her family, and to have the opportunity to enrich the dialogue among peo­ple, cultures, and religions.
Mand is situated in the northwestern part of Makran, close to the border with Iran. Significantly, it was in this area, where tribal traditions are deeper and more widespread, that Zobaida decided to found and direct the Zobaida Jalal Khan Primary Girls School. In the early 198os, only a few pupils attended the school, but thanks to Zobaida’s firmness and to the creation of special facilities, such as a trans­portation service and a boarding program for those girls whose families live far from Mand, she succeeded in her design. In addition to the main subjects, lessons in languages, including Baluchi, Urdu, English, Arab, and Persian, are taught; all of them are important in Pakistan, a state characterized by a multiethnic presence and a plurality of languages. The school was built and sponsored by Zobaida’s father, Jalal Khan, and today is financed by the government of Baluchistan, together with the association of many prestigious personalities throughout Paki­stan, including Bishop A. Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. The teachers are both Pakistani and European. In 1993 Zobaida’s care and de­termination overcame all obstacles to the intro­duction of a male teacher, the first in Pakistan’s women’s educational system. Zobaida’s commit­ment in the diffusion of cultural values among females of Islamic tribal societies represents a long and difficult task. This route will hopefully lead not only to better conditions for women but also to the acceptance of equal human rights for all. Zobaida represents a bright examplefor many women of this area: a Baluch woman who, having started from one of the most impover­ished and forgotten places in Pakistan, devoted her life to the people, but never forgot her own identity as an Islamic woman. Her commitment in spreading culture among women in Islamic tribal societies not only works toward female emancipation but also aims to acknowledge the values of human dignity. Hers is undoubtedly a strong testimony of the Baluch contribution to the Gulf’s development.

Owing to geographic variations and differ­ent lifestyles, accommodations in Baluchistan are varied, as are other aspects of Baluch life. Houses in towns and cities have arched roofs and earthen walls. Those made of cement are either governmental offices or accommodations for government officials. Traditional houses made of palm and wild palm leaves can be observed along the desert border. Apart from the old castles, whose remnants are still visible in some regions, and the two-story buildings belonging to local tribal chiefs (sardar), accommodations in Baluchistan consist mainly of semicircular or elliptical structures made of palm leaves. They have dome-shaped roofs, which when seen from the inside are rectangular. Another type of ac­commodation has large earthen rooms with high ceilings and a fireplace, showing perfect settlement and the good status of the owner. There are no other facilities such as toilets, bath­rooms, storerooms, and so on. Still another type of accommodation belongs to the cattle-raising tribes in Baluchistan. It is woven of goat’s hair and is easy to set up and to move; twelve people can do it. A number of sticks are used to form a frame, which is then covered with a goat’s hair mat woven by the women of the tribe.

As the smallest social units, families in Baluch­istan are often extended. In cattle-raising cul­tures, women’s labor plays a greater role in the economy than it does in towns and villages. In such systems, women’s role in the division of work is quite remarkable; they are considered to be men’s equal in production. This role does not exist in towns and villages because of the differences between the cattle-raising lifestyle and the sedentary one and also because of the existence of new jobs that symbolize men as the only effective labor force in economic produc­tion. Women automatically enjoy the rights and respect due to their class, which is not an indi­cator of their role in production. In fact, they take no part in production and have darzada, or servants (in the past they had slaves), at their service. The number of women who belong to the richest tribes in towns and villages is very small. Some of these women never leave their houses. A man in Chahbahar was proud that one of the women in his family had not left her house in the past eighty years, even though so many historical events had taken place in this country. These rich women are normally seen only by their husbands and close relatives.
Despite the fact that the tribal system in migratory and sedentary groups prevents women from marrying outside their class, the development of villages and towns, new jobs, formal education, and moving out in search of money, as well as the reduced power of local tribal chiefs, has introduced some changes in local society. This has also caused changes in wealth allocation among families, leading to new cultural and economic possibilities in Ba­luch life. These changes have influenced in­tertribal marriages to some extent. Although most marriages are still arranged within tribes, polygamy is common among the rich tribes. In the majority of cases, monogamy persists as a result of the prevailing poverty. Marriages are arranged in the poor tribes for socioeconomic reasons, whereas in the rich groups the incen­tive is to strengthen political and kinship ties.

Wives are selected from among the young girls belonging to the same tribe as the mother of the boy to be married, and it is the boy’s mother who makes the selection. The fathers are then informed of the decision. In the past, girls and boys of the same tribe would be engaged to each other at birth. The endogamous practice, how­ever, was the most widespread. The father would inform the family and the old respected men of the decision, and on approval, they would go to visit the girl’s family. After a few visits, the girl’s father would declare his consent to the boy’s fam­ily or to the elder man who acted as mediator.
The girl and the boy who are to be mar­ried have no right to express their personal views, and at times they are not even told about the matter until before the wedding ceremony; it is their parents who declare their own wish. The marriage age for boys is between fifteen and eighteen, and for girls between twelve and fifteen. In a ceremony arranged prior to the wedding, an elder man acting as a mediator in­forms the boy’s father of the conditions set out by the father of the girl.
After mutual agreement, the bride’s fa­ther receives cash from the boy’s father in ex­change for the dowry of furniture and house­hold items such as bedding and utensils. If the bride is from a rich tribe, servants (and in the past slaves) and a few palm trees are also added to these articles. The engagement ceremony is festive, with singing and dancing. A woman from the groom’s side, perhaps his sister or his elder sister-in-law, carries a suitcase containing the groom’s gifts on her head and sings aloud some songs accompanied by the other women. The wedding may follow immediately after the engagement, or it may take place a few years later, after the groom’s return from a journey during which he has saved enough money to pay for the wedding ceremony. The ceremony can last as long as fifteen days for the rich tribe, but only a day or two for the poor people.
The relatives take part in the ceremony by presenting what they can afford in cash or as gifts. In the past, a few days and nights were spent dancing, singing, and reciting Baluch epic poems and listening to the poet and the music player until daybreak. When the wedding is over, the groom is taken to the bride’s house in a brand new Toyota, which has replaced the adorned camel of the past. A woman carrying a Koran and perfumed oil welcomes the groom at his arrival. He is a stranger in a familiar land.

Baluch Cultural Identity:
Among the many migrating groups, it is inter­esting to note the numerous African elements, mostly of slave origin, that contributed to the Baluch cultural identity. Within comparative slave history, the “Oriental” slave route was not a mild or peaceful process; the slave trade from the main ports of Sub-Saharan East Africa to the markets of Central Asia was not characterized by either small quantities or lack of violence. The historiographical debate about these issues is very intense. While much attention and research have been devoted to the history of the Atlan­tic slave trade, studies of the Asian slave trade routes have been at the center of numerous in­ternational conferences and workshops. Many publications have debated the issues concerning migration patterns of Africans in Asia and the role of the African elements in the numerous Arabian and Asian cultures and societies.”
“Negroes of Pakistan are called Makrani.”‘ Makrani is a term often used to identify black people of south Central Asia. The slave trade routes spread Africans through the Muscat port by sea and through Persia by land to Las Bela, Kharan, Kalat, and Karachi. Abyssinian origins were assumed because of the occasional traces of woolly hair and inverted lips. The African pres­ence in Baluchistan was due both to absorption and the substratum of black people: settlements of healers and sorcerers of East African origins, traced since the eighth and ninth centuries from Gujarat, possibly moved west, and succeed­ing waves of migration patterns developed from • the monsoon routes of the South Seas. Con­sequently, identity absorption has been a long and often painful process within the Baluch concept of cultural identity, potentially through African migrations to the coast of Makran and subjugation by stronger Baluch tribes by direct slave importation. Other Africans were brought to Makrani Baluchistan as captives after fights with Persia and Afghanistan. During the eight­eenth century, there were many recorded slaves in the Kharan district. Slaves were exchanged for indigo madder (a plant whose root is used as a source of dye), hides, and cotton by the tribes of Makran and Las Bela. They were also captured by the rulers of Kharan in battles with Persia and Afghanistan, especially during the eighteenth century, and others were brought to Karachi from pilgrimages to Mecca. As is well known, despite abolition in 1843, slavery flour­ished throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the western Indian Ocean. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Africans have found their freedom and become part of a new society: a multicultural and a multireligious society composed of Sunni Muslims, Shia, and Zikris. At the beginning of the twentieth cen­tury, most of the Makranis were skilled or un­skilled laborers, craftsmen, fishermen, owners of small restaurants, schoolteachers, or drivers. After the partition, and in recent times as well, the diffusion of crime, drug and illicit alcohol smuggling, and illiteracy resulted from new il­legal routes, including human trafficking.
Most of the Baluch are very fond of music and dance, and here the African element be­comes a distinctive feature of the Baluch cul­tural identity. The drum beater, with his drums, sits in the center, and other participants dance around him. This dance—lewa—is claimed to be of African origin, and during the singing that accompanies the performance, Baluch use a combination of Arabic, African, and Asian languages. The still-complex situation of Baluchistan and its historical, institutional, and po­litical marginal position represents a challenge that appeals to ethnic and cultural identities, with the aim of shaping a better future both for this region and for the Baluch presence in the Gulf region.28
According to F. Barth’s observations, the Baluch even once settled on Arabian shores of the Gulf, attired in their dress, the females with wide and flowing sleeves and a loose bodice, in contrast to the Arabs’ more close-fitting and swung-waisted dress.29 The pantaloons are wide at the top and very narrow at the calf, whereas those of the Arabs are more straight. The em­broideries of both dress and trousers are beauti­fully colored, full of sexual and cultural symbols and significances. Baluch marry in the summer season, and Arabs avoid the summer. The Ba­luch groom buys gold for his bride, while the Arab groom gives a bride-price to his father-in-law; virginity for Baluch remains a private mat­ter, while Arabs give public proofs. The Baluch nuptial but is constructed in the bride’s home, whereas Arabs place it in the groom’s home. Baluch homes in Arabia showed a cultural vital­ity in colors that Arabs houses did not.
Baluch cultural identity is preserved in many Gulf countries, especially in the Sultanate of Oman. Here Baluch people represent the sec­ond largest cultural group after the Omani from Zanzibar. There are approximately 405,400 people of Baluch origin living in Oman.” This amounts to i g percent of the country’s popu­lation. Despite the loose contacts with their homeland, the Baluch in Oman have main­tained their ethnic and linguistic distinctions. The various Baluch groups speak different lan­guages, each with distinctive traits. Like other ethnic groups, they have attained the ranks of management. Although further research is needed on this issue, Al Ismaily and McKiernan provide information about the role of Baluch in this country and their cultural influences on managerial styles. Baluch culture in Oman suggests a more autocratic management style. Moreover, the majority of managers exposed  to the Baluch culture recognize that their management is influenced by their military service. These observations confirm the strong military tradition among the Baluch people.

The Gulf’s history and its pivotal role in world politics have attracted the interest of many scholars since ancient times. The strategic role of the Gulf region has always represented a cross-cultural articulation of broad diversities, where culture and society play today a significant mean also of conflict resolution. The role of the Baluch in the Gulf was well defined during the nineteenth century as mainly a human source for the recruitment of mercenary troops especially for the sultans of Oman, and still today the sultan of Oman’s bodyguards and the Bahrain police are composed of Baluch.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the well-characterized identity of Baluch culture was widespread in the Gulf, with its strong Asian and African elements. The gradual process throughout two centuries of the intermingling of two main elements—military strength and cultural and political identity—contributed to an unquestionable presence and deep influ­ence of the Baluch in the Gulf’s society.
As most agree, terrorism today represents one of the major plagues to be defeated through­out the world. Within this broad and complex subject, when trying to analyze social, economic, and cultural differences like those of the Bal­uch in the Gulf region, one should tend toward a more analytical and empathic approach, in order to use it as a methodological key for re­reading and understanding what could be de­fined as one of the contemporary world’s major crises. Only by also understanding the Baluch’s main motivations for their presence in the Gulf today (my starting hypothesis) could one try to identify that kaleidoscopic character of the so-called globalized Gulf region, which as I have said is a fascinating and unique example of all the different cultures in the whole world.

1. S. B. Miles, The Countries and Tribes of the Persian Gulf, 2 vols. (Glasgow: Garnet, 1994), 201-63; W. Floor, The Persian Gulf: A Political and Economic History of Five Port Cities, 1500-7730 (Washington, DC: Mage, 2000,347-51.

2.  Much of the content of my essay is the result of several sea­sons of fieldwork in Pakistani Baluchistan. The term jam’clor seems to correspond to “master of the gate” or “head consta­ble”; it has been transliterated in various ways by British sources mainly on a phonetic basis as farnadari orjemadari.

3. Joshua Project: Pakistan, PK (accessed 18 April 2007).

4.  On this subject, see, e.g., V. F. Piacentini,”Notes on the Definition of the Western Borders of British India in Sistan and Baluchistan in the Nineteenth Century,” in Yad-Nama: In memoria di Alessandro Bausani (Yad­Nama: In Memory of Alessandro Bausani), 2 vols., ed. Scarcia Amoretti and B. Rostagno (Rome: Bardi, 1991), 189-203; F. Goldsmid, “Exploration from Kurrachi to Gwadur, along the Mekran Coast,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 7, no. 3 0874: 91-95; and P.J. Brobst, “Sir Frederick Goldsmid and the Containment of Persia, 1863-73,” Middle Eastern Studies 33, no. 2 (1997): 197-215.

5. T. M. Breseeg, Baloch Nationalism: Its Origin and Development (Karachi: Royal Book, 2004).

6. Its main towns are Zahedan, Zabol, Iranshahr, Sar­swan, and Chahbahar.

7. Its area equals 273,661 square kilometers and sus­tains a population of about 2,388,000. It is bounded on the north to Sistan and Kerman provinces, on the south to the Gulf of Oman, on the east to Kalat, and on the west to Roudbar-e-Bashagard.

8. B.Nicolini, Makran, Oman, and Zanzibar: Three-Terminal Cultural Corridor in the Western Indian Ocean (7799-7856) (Leiden: Brill Academic, 2004).

9. See the extensive collection by J. G. Lorimer, Gaz­etteer of the Persian Gulf Oman, and Central Arabia, 8 (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Print­ing, 1908-15).

10. The most important tribes, variously transliter­ated by British explorers during the nineteenth cen­tury, were the Baveri, Balideh, Bozorgzadeh, Riggi, Sardaar, Zaie, Shahbakhsh, Lashari, Mobaraki, Mir Morad Zaie, Narroi, Nousherwani, Brohi, Baram-Zehi, and Shir-Khanzal.

11. The notable Persian dialects were Sarbandi, Shah­raki, Sargazi, Zamlr-Farsyoon, Mir-Arab, and Sanja­rani.

12. R. Redaelli, The Father’s Bow: The Khanate of Kalat and British India (Nineteenth—Twentieth Century) (Fi­renze: Manent,1997).

13. A British explorer of the nineteenth century de­scribed the date palms and their abundance in Balu­chistan. See R. Leech, “Notes Taken on a Tour through Part of Baloochistan in 1838 and 1839 by Haji Abdun Nubee of Kabul, Arranged and Translated by Major Robert Leech,”Journal of the Asiatic Society 69 (1844): 667-706.

14. Gwadar was an enclave of the Sultanate of Oman from the second half of the nineteenth century up to 8 September 1958, when West Pakistan bought it back from Oman for f3 million. Gwadar is today a town of 80,000 people. The building of the first five-star hotel, the Pearl Continental, is almost complete, but just 20 percent of people in Baluchistan have ac­cess to safe drinking water. Pakistan and China had signed a comprehensive agreement on 16 March 2002 in Beijing undertaking the task of construct­ing Gwadar’s deep sea port according to universal standards. Islamabad expects that a fully function­ing port at Gwadar will create thousands of jobs and improve peoples’ livelihoods and thus erode tribal bonds and make the sardars (local chiefs) obsolete. Of the $250 million needed for the first phase of con-struction, Beijing provided $200 million. Six hundred engineers moved to Gwadar. The construction labor force is totally Chinese, and the exclusion of Baluchis led to a massive car-bombing in Gwadar in May 2.004 that killed three Chinese engineers. The Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean and the access to the Middle East markets are obviously only a part of the geostrategic relations between China and the United States in the Gulf. B. Nicolini, “Historical and Political Links between Gwadar and Muscat from Nineteenth-Century Testimonies,” in Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, vol. 32 (London: Brepols, 2002), 281-86; Nicolini, “Gwadar: A Place to Live or a Place to Hunt?” Quaderni Asiatic’ 50 (1999): 5-13:See also Gwardar News, www.gwadarnews .com/gwadar.asp.

15. Bivar, “Gil Achemenidi e i Macedon’: Stability e turbolenza” (“The Achaemenids and the Macedo­nians: Stability and Turbulence in Central Asia”), in Asia Centrale, ed. G. Hambly (Milan: Storia Universale Feltrinelli, 1970), 30 (originally published in Zentral­asien, no.16 [Frankfurt: Fisher,1966]); M. Sordi, Ales­sandro Magno try Storia e Mito (Alexander the Great between History and Myth) (Milan: Jaca Book, 1984); J. A. Saldanha, Precis of Makran Affairs (Calcutta: Su­perintendent of Government Printing,1905).

16. Nicolini and R. Readelli, “Quetta: History and Archives; Notes of a Survey of the Archives of Quetta,” Nuova Rivista Storica 78, no. 2 (1994): 401-14.

17. See the report of the British commissioner for the joint Anglo-Persian Boundary Commission: F. Gold­smid, Eastern Persia: An Account of the Journey of the Persian Boundary Commission, 1870-1890 (London: Royal Geographical Society,1876).

18. During, ‘African Winds and Muslim Djinns: Trance, Healing, and Devotion in Baluchistan,” Year­book for Traditional Music 29 (1997): 39-56.

19. F. Piacentin i, “Traces of Early Muslim Presence in Makran,” Islamic Studies 35 (1996): 122-34.

2o. See P. Titus and C. Jahani, “Knights, Not Pawns: Ethno-Nationalism and Regional Dynamics in Post-colonial Balochistan,” international Journal of Middle East Studies 32 (2000): 47-69.

21. F. Van Steenbergen, “Water Rights as Social Con-tracts,” In Baluchistan: Terra incognita; A New Meth­odological Approach Combining Archaeological, His­torical, Anthropological, and Architectural Studies, ed. V_ Piacentini and R. Redaelli (London: British Archaeo­logical Reports, 2003).4959.

22. R. Redaelli, The Father’s Bow, 30-32.

23. S. M. al Ameeri, “The Baloch in the Arabian Gulf States,” in The Baloch and Their Neighbours: Ethnic and Linguistic Contact in Balochistan in Historical and Modern Times, ed. Carina Jahani and Agnes Korn (Wi­esbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2003), 23745.

24. R. Hughes-Buller, Imperial Gazetteer of India: Provincial Series, Baluchistan (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 1984), 51-53.

25. H. Potti nger, Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde (London: Langman, Reese, Orte, and Brown, 7816); C. Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab, and Kalat, 4 vols. (1844; Ka­rachi: Oxford University Press0977),4:349.

26. Within the so-called diaspora studies, see, for example, W. G. Clarence-Smith, The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge,1989); Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery (London: C. Hurst, 2006); G. Campbell, Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia (London: Routledge, 2003); E. Alpers, Ivory and Slaves in East Central Africa: Changing Patterns of international Trade to the Late Nineteenth Century (London: Heinemann, 1975); R. L. Powells, Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800-1900 (Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press,1987); J. Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856-1888 (London: James Currey, 1995); Glassman, “The Bondsman’s New Clothes: The Contradictory Consciousness of Slave Resistance on the Swahili Coast,”Journal of African History 32 (1991): 277-312; J. Middleton, The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); M. Horton and J. Middleton, The Swahili: The Social Landscape of a Mercantile So­ciety  (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000); and P. Caplan and F. Topa n, eds., Swahili Modernities: Culture, Politics and Identity on the East Coast of Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2004). See also the collection of essays dedicated to these complex issues in “The African Di­aspora in Asia—Historical Gleanings,” special issue, African and Asian Studies 5, nos. 3-4 (2006).

27. J. B. Edlefsen, K. Shah, and M. Farooq, “Makranis, the Negroes of West Pakistan,” Phylon 21 (1960): u-3

28. Titus and Jahani, “Knights, Not Pawns,” 47-69.

29. F. Barth, Sohar: Culture and Society in Omani Town (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983),107; A. Melamid, “Batinah Coast of Oman,” Ge­ographical Review 80 0990); 431-33•

3o. S. B. Nasser Al Ismaily and P. McKiernan, inside the Omani Corporate Culture: ,4 Research in Manage-ment Styles (Muscat: Oman Economic Review, 2007),
Comparative Studies of  South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Vol 27, No 2, 2007
DOI 10. 1215/108920X-2007-012 @ 2007 by Duck University Press

















Comments Off on The Baluch Role in the Persian Gulf during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Balochistan


Comments are closed.