Sep 21, 2012
Mind on Missions | Baloch of Afghanistan
Introduction / History
The Baloch (Baluch) are a most ancient semi-nomadic tribal group who eventually occupied an area of land stretching through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, first settling there between the 5th and 7th centuries. Considered to be an Iranian people based on language, their racial origin is murky. Some historians believe they are Semites while others track their racial origin through Indo-Europeans. Long-standing relation to the Kurds is evident, but it is also agreed that Baloch became an admixture of many peoples through the centuries.
Today Afghan Baloch (designated the Western Baloch) live primarily in four southern provinces - Helmand, Nimruz, Farah and Kandahar, where daily life is routinely disrupted by Taliban presence. They comprise a small portion of the worldwide Baloch population. Their national language is Balochi - a language that remained unwritten until about 150 years ago. A Kurdish-related dialect is spoken in Afghanistan as is Bruhui, Dari and Pashto.
An honor code (Baluchmayar), passed down in songs and poetry and observed by all the tribes, defines principles of living regarding integrity, hospitality, mercy and honor. Although a majority of Baloch are now Sunni Muslim (a faith adopted slowly to replace their old Zoroastrian religion), Sharia Law is not used to deal with social infractions. Instead the tribal chief encourages a blood feud between the families involved to settle violations. Theft or adultery demands death as punishment.
Largely overlooked today by government services, educational opportunities are limited; a small percentage of Baloch children (mostly boys) attend school but advancement beyond high school is rare. Since few can read or write, they are more likely to hold low-status jobs.
Even so, an oral tradition of storytelling and poetry provides a rich thread in Baloch culture. Music provided by drums, lutes and shepherd's flutes is integral to celebrations. A child's birth or a wedding ceremony includes joyous music and singing. Men's dances reflect warrior traditions and male "rites of passage" are occasions to celebrate. Circumcision is performed when a boy begins to walk and "the first wearing of the trousers" occurs at age 15. The latter event signifies entrance into adulthood and warrior status. Festivals are of less significance to Baloch than to other Muslims although they do observe Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) to close the Islamic year.
Given infighting, tribal partitioning and exposure to foreign influences it is remarkable the Baloch have retained a distinctive cultural identity. Common folklore, language and moral code have served to conserve Baloch nationalism. Fearless warriors of the past, the Baloch will need to call on the vitality of their heritage to overcome limited opportunities for betterment and the regional upheavals presently challenging their culture.