Baluchistan means “land of the Baluch.” It is found where Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan meet, spreading over southeastern Iran, southwestern Afghanistan, and western Pakistan. This is a harsh and broken land of sand and pebble deserts punctuated by jagged volcanic mountains and deeply gouged runoff wadis. The climate is dry or dryer, and the little rain that falls does so in the winter.
Baluchistan’s hypothetical boundaries are defined by its dominant language, Baluchi, a Western Iranian language most closely related to Kurdish. Baluchi varies in dialect, influenced more by Persian in the west and Urdu in the east. Commonalities of Baluchi culture seen across the region would include mixed subsistence production, pastoralism, nomadism, oasis occupation, tribal organization, dress and coiffure, and Sunni Islam.
Aside from small regional capitals and smaller administrative towns, most of post-World War II origin, there are two main kinds of settlement pattern: small nomadic herding camps that occasionally or seasonally make use of mud brick huts and permanent oases with huts of mud brick and palm frond construction. In some groups, nomadic trajectories occasionally or seasonally meet oasis settlements. Nomadic migration patterns are irregular in timing, direction, and distance, a result of the unreliability and irregularity of precipitation and vegetation growth.
Until recently, production has overwhelmingly been oriented toward subsistence consumption. Goats, sheep, and camels are raised on natural pasture; winter wheat and barley are grown opportunistically in rain runoff gullies or on patches irrigated by kanat or karez, underground tunnels tapping higher-altitude water tables. Date palms are cultivated in part-time and permanent oases, as are vegetables and some grain. This mixed or multiresource production is adaptive, in that a failure in one sector leaves other resources available for consumption. But in such a severe environment, shortfalls are inevitable and were made up by imports: in the past by predatory raiding of villages and caravans for livestock, grain, or other valuables, including captives destined either to be sold as slaves, used as agricultural workers, or to be adopted or married, and in recent times by migrant labor locally, regionally, or in the Persian Gulf, or by entrepreneurship in trading, transportation, and similar services.
Two main forms of organization are typical: One is the tribe defined by patrilineal descent from common male ancestors, in which larger and smaller groups are formed based on more distant or closer common ancestors. Lineage groups at every level are vested with collective responsibility for defense and vengeance and for welfare and fellowship. At every level, lineage groups are balanced by others descended from collateral kin of their antecedents. For the most part, tribes are egalitarian and decentralized. Small tribes are led by weak chiefs, larger tribes by more powerful chiefs. Generally, tribes consist of pastoral nomads. The other form of organization is the hakomate, a hierarchical, triangulate form consisting of a small elite ruling over oasis peasantry, with the collusion of pastoral nomads from the countryside who act as the elite’s military force.
Sunni Islam, while shared and important, remained in the background until recent decades, during which a religious renaissance and intensification of ritual observance, religious education, and religiously inspired political activism has taken place.
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- Titus, P. (1997). Marginality and modernity: Ethnicity and change in post-colonial Balochistan. Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press.