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The Emergence of Classical Baluchi Poetry

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

"A ride to India across Persia and Baluchistan (1891)"

"A ride to India across Persia and Baluchistan (1891)"

An Oral Tradition

It’s not easy to find good examples of Classic Baluchi poetry. Simply put, much of it wasn’t written down in its original form despite dating back to the 16th through the 18th century. The poems exist and come from semi-nomadic people that inhabited the regions of Iran, Pakistan, and portions of Afghanistan.

The region they occupy is traditionally known as Baluchistan. Officially, it is the name of two areas within two countries; however, the people and culture the area and literary form are named after stretch beyond these borders.

Eventually, poetry from these hardy people will be recorded; however, in the beginning, Baluchi poetry (also known as Balochi or Ancient Baluchi) was heard rather than read. Although the written forms will emerge, much of it is still told orally, making it one of the few oral traditions still around.

Additionally, these poems have lasted for generations, thanks to being passed down and recited throughout time. It is an enduring legacy in a region that has recently undergone the effects of modernism.

Who Are the Baluchi?

The Baluchi people were a semi-nomadic people who settled in the region known as Baluchistan, located on the border of present-day Iran and Pakistan. General consensus states that these people originated from Aleppo, Syria and moved east to Persia sometime after the Battle of Karbalāʾaround 680 CE.

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They maintained their nomadic lifestyle for thousands of years. Often, the confederation of tribes that made up these people annually met in Kech Valley within the Baluchistan region.

Today, Baluchistan is known as a region in modern-day Iran and as a separate region in Pakistan known as Buluchistan province. In addition, much of the nomadic tradition exists on a small scale as urbanization and agriculture have replaced their way of life.

Classical Baluchi

Baluchi literature, which was mostly in poetic form, can be divided into four historical periods. According to the site, Encyclopaedia Iranica, they are are:

  • Classical era (c.1500-1700);
  • Post-Classical (c.1700-1800);
  • 19th and Early 20th century era; and
  • Modern era (c. 1930 to present)

The classical era was the "spoken word" of its people. Often, the poems were “saved in the memories of professional reciters” known as ḍōmbs, lōṛīs, or lāngaws (Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2009).

The verses from the classical era and before it never graced the pages of a book or magazine until the late 19th and early 20th century.

Although Classical Baluchi is listed to have existed between the 16th and 18th century, it is most likely much older than that. Some speculations have it at over a thousand years, thus making it one of the longest lasting forms of literature told orally.

The verses from the classical era and before it never graced the pages of a book or magazine until the late 19th and early 20th century. It rarely had a poet's name associated with it until the late 1700s.

Possibly, the most important preservers of Baluchi poetry came from British-controlled India (which held the area that will become present-day Pakistan). Credit goes to an Indian civil servant named Mansel Longworth Dames. While one of many to record these poems, Dames’s contribution in the 1890s proved to be crucial in bringing this regional literary form to a larger audience abroad.

Linguistically Pristine

Part of Dames’s task was to preserve the Baluchi language. At the time, he was an expert on Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Not only did he take the time to write down the poems, he published books dealing with the grammar rules of the Baluchi language.

Due to his contribution, Classical and Post-Classical Baluchi poems were preserved in its linguistically pristine versions. The tribal dialects of the Baluchi language have changed little since these poems were first uttered more than a thousand years ago on the plains, steppes and deserts of central Asia.

Themes of War, Struggles and Gender Roles

The themes of these poems were usually the same. Most, if not all, were ballads about tribal conflicts and "honor and duty." The earliest forms were called daptar 'ir (register ballad). In addition, much of it, while poetical in nature, incorporated folklore and legends that most likely originated from their place of origin in Aleppo.

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These poems rarely had happy endings, especially if tribal law, or riwaj, had been violated by the principal characters. It rarely, if ever, concerned the individual. Also, it reflected the contentious feuds and wars that existed within Baluchi culture.

This was one of many historical ballads that were recited by the Baluchi reciters.

Baluchi poems of this era were often interrelated and reflected historical events within the culture. Most notably, these cycles - a collection of ballads - told of many battles among the tribes. One of the most popular ballad cycles, The Kur Cycle (named after the events near the Kur River in southwestern Iran), was about a thirty-year war between the Baluchi Rind and Lasari tribes which led to the extermination of the latter (Encyclopedia Iranica, 2009).

This particular war happened between the years of 1475 and 1525. It was considered the most important and most popular of the ancient Baluchi Poems.

Another notable one was the Hammal Jihand Cycle which described the struggle of the Baluch of the Makran coast with the Portuguese in the 16th century.

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Other themes and forms emerged. Some works tackled the role of women in their culture.

The ballads addressing women are striking in their themes. In many cases, women were shown to be equals with the men. Still, they were depicted as being homemakers, too. In addition it appears that they were often represented as doting wives waiting at home for their men to arrive with gifts from a hunt.

The article, “The Status of Baluch Women in Ancient Baluchi Poetry” includes a translated section of the poem of "Goharam’s Sarcasm." This poem depicts a (male) poet’s view of women and their role in their society. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Rinds came back from hunting

With the skin of wild sheep

As a precious offering to ladies

Their beautiful beloved waiting faithfully

In another verse the poet says on behalf of Mahnaz:

I came waiting on your way

You came back from your joyous hunting trip

You came back with a group of bravest men…”

It is unclear if women recited Classical Baluchi poems. What is certain is that they were central characters in several verses during this era.

A Name Emerges

Eventually, a poet would emerge. Jam Durruk, became an important court poet and possibly the first person to have his name attached to his work.

He is often considered a part of the Post Classical era (also referred to as Semi-Classical). Born in the 18th century, he would be one of the few Baluchi poets to be credited for producing original works.

Often, his poems were romantic and usually involved a significant other. However, he’d be an influence in the next period of Baluchi Poetry (more on that in later articles).

The Format

Since the classic form of the poems were done by oral tradition, it is difficult to actually know what the original poems format was. Often, when retold, the poems were altered to reflect the changes and commentaries of the reciter.

Still, the core or plots of the poem are intact from its original inception. Also, to add to the difficulty of deciphering the poem, most were told and retold in the various dialects of the different tribes.

The classical form of Baluchi balladry had meters and rhymes schemes that differed from Arabic and Persian poems. Also, the poems relied on syllable counts and stress such as:

  • long and short syllables formed its basis in various stress patterns;
  • the stress was given to long syllables;
  • rhymes, on the other hand, were used; and,
  • the rhymes served was as a punctuation device or for dramatic effect.

Still, the poem's form differed, to some respect, from tribe to tribe.

From Folklore to Literary Movement

Eventually, in the era known as Post-Classical, the poets started using their names rather than staying anonymous. Also, they came personal and original rather reciting the classical oral poems. In a sense, the artists, poets and storytellers began to take ownership of their work. This pushed Baluchi poetry in a new, written, period.

Also, in later years the format will be altered and become more refined by Baluchi poets using the traditions of the past and the influence of the world outside of their culture.

As it stands, Classical Baluchi poems would have the influence of oral tradition throughout the 18th and 19th century and beyond. Its next step came in the 18th century and continued on through to the 21st century.

A Baluchi Poem Presented in Oral Tradition

Work Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dean Traylor

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