Brahui people

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Brahui people
Portrait of three unknown men of Brahui descent with weapons Brahooees. Inhabitants of Khelat state. Soonnee Mahome Dance. Sind.jpg
A group of Brahui tribesmen
Regions with significant populations
 Pakistan2,640,000 (2017 census)[1]
 Afghanistan200,000 (1980)[2]
 Iran23,200 (2019)[3]
 Turkmenistan1,200 (2019)[4]
Brahui, Balochi
Star and Crescent.svg Sunni Islam (Hanafi)
Related ethnic groups

The Brahui (Brahui: براہوئی), Brahvi or Brohi, are an ethnic group of pastoralists principally found in Balochistan, Pakistan.[5] A minority speaks the Brahui language, which belongs to the Dravidian language family, while the rest speaks Balochi and tend to identify as Baloch.[6][7] The Brahuis are almost entirely Sunni Muslims.[8]


The origin of the word "Brahui" is not certain. According to Elfenbein, it is most likely of non-Brahui origin and probably derives from Saraiki brāhō, itself a borrowing into Saraiki of the name of the prophet Ibrāhīm.[9] It most likely only became the native endonym of the Brahui after they migrated into Sindh and became Muslims, c. 1,000 years ago.[9]


Their main area of habitation, including the main area where Brahui is spoken, is situated in a continuous area over a narrow north-south belt in Pakistan from the northern fringes of Quetta southwards through Mastung and Kalat, including Nushki to the west, all the way to Las Bela in the south, near the Arabian sea coastline.[10] Kalat separates the area into a northern part, known as Sarawan, and a southern part, known as Jahlawan.[11]

Large numbers of nomadic and semi-nomadic Brahui speakers are also found in Afghanistan, from the Shorawak desert to the northwest of Nushki in Pakistan in an area extending west along the Helmand river into Iranian Sistan.[10] In Iran, no Brahui speakers are found to the south of Sistan, even though G. P. Tate mentioned a few Brahui's in 1909 as far south as Khash who were already assimilating into the neighboring Baloch.[10][11] Some Brahui are also found in Turkmenistan, mainly in the Merv oasis.[11][10] Most of these Turkmenistani Brahuis are descendants of the Brahui who migrated together with the Baloch from British administered Balochistan and Afghanistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[11][10]


The only census that ever recorded the Brahui was conducted in British India.[10] Even then the numbers are marred by confusion between "Brahui tribesmen" and "Brahui speaker".[10][5] As most Brahui have described themselves as Baloch for centuries to outsiders, this has led to confusion.[10] In Afghanistan and Iran, the Brahui are considered to be ethnically the same as the Baloch people.[10] Ethnologue's latest estimate of 2.4 million Brahui speakers is likely an exaggerated count suffering from such issues.[10] Elfenbein, referencing estimations from 1996, notes that there are c. 700,000 Brahui tribesmen, scattered across Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan.[10]


The origins of Brahuis remain unclear and their presence in the area cannot be traced to before the sixteenth century.[12] Emeneau (2007) writes:

The history of the Brahui emerges from total darkness with the displacement of a shadowy Hindu dynasty in Kalat called Sewa by the Mirwani Brahuis.[13]

— Murray Barnson Emeneau, Language and Linguistic Area: page 334

The fact that other Dravidian languages only exist further south in India leads to the hypothesis that the Brahuis are either a relict population of Dravidians remaining from a time when Dravidians were more widespread or that they migrated to Baluchistan from South India at sometime in the last two milenia.[12] Noting extensive phonological similarities with Malto and Kurukh, spoken in Eastern India, Bhadriraju Krishnamurti speculates that the three groups might have had a common stage before migrating to different directions.[14] In their oral traditions, both Kurukhs and Maltos speak of an eastward migration from Karnataka; Brahuis do as well but from Syria, which can be interpreted to be the Islamization of a migratory origin.[12] However, the Brahuis do not have any significant Dravidian genetic component and are largely indistinguishable from surrounding Indo-European speakers (Balochi, Makrani, and Pathan) — this suggests passage of sufficient time since the admixture event thereby supporting the relic hypothesis.[15]


A Brahui Sardar (chieftain) among his men, in the valley of Kalat.

There are three groups of Brahui tribes, aligned with geographic location.[11]

Currently, the so-called Brahui nation comprises 27 tribes, of which 8 are referred to as nuclear tribes, and 19 are peripheral. Significant majority of Brahuis is related to peripheral tribes. Representatives of only two nuclear tribes speak Brahui as a primary language.[16] The "nucleus" consists of the Achmadzai, Gurguari, Iltazai, Kalandari, Kambrani, Mirwari, Rodeni and the Sumalari, but they account for only a small proportion of the total number of Brahuis.[17] The majority is divided up between the Jhalawan Brahuis (which include the tribes of the Bizanjars, Harunis, Muhammad Hasnis, Mengals, Nicharis, Pandranis, Sajdis and the Zahris), and the Sarawan Brahuis (comprising the tribes of the Bangulzai, Kūrd, Lahri, Langav, Muhammad-Shahi, Raisani, Rustamzai, Sarparah, Satakzai, Shahwani and Zagar-Mengal).[17]

Language and literacy[edit]

According to Elfenbein, about 15% of the Brahui tribesmen are estimated to be primary speakers of the Brahui language. Half of the rest may be secondary speakers of Brahui with Balochi as the primary language, while the other half are estimated to speak no Brahui "at all".[10]

The Brahui language belongs to the Dravidian language family, while Balochi is an Iranian language. Brahui has extensively borrowed from Balochi and other languages of the area (Indo-Aryan as well as Iranian); McAlpin (2015) found the language to be an "etymological nightmare".[5] Brahui has three dialects with no significant variation among them: Sarawani (spoken in the north), Jhalawani (spoken in the southeast), and Chaghi (spoken in the northwest and west).[5] It does not have any standard script and there does not appear to exist any significant corpus of literature either; literacy rates among Brahuis remained very low as late as 1990s.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Brahuis". Ethnologue. Retrieved 26 June 2022.
  2. ^ "Brahuis". Ethnologue. Retrieved 26 June 2022.
  3. ^ "Brahuis". Ethnologue. Retrieved 26 June 2022.
  4. ^ "Brahuis". Ethnologue. Retrieved 26 June 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e McAlpin, David W. (2015). "Brahui and the Zagrosian Hypothesis". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 135 (3): 551–586. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.135.3.551. ISSN 0003-0279.
  6. ^ Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 495. ISBN 978-1138853768. The main habitat of Brahui tribesmen, as well as the main area where the Brahui language is spoken, extends continuously over a narrow north-south belt in Pakistan from north of Quetta southwards through Mastung and Kalat (including Nushki to the west) as far south as Las Bela, just inland from the Arabian sea coast.
  7. ^ Elfenbein, Josef (1989). "BRAHUI". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 4. pp. 433–443. BRAHUI (Brāhūī, Brāhōī), the name of a tribal group living principally in Pakistani Baluchistan and of a Dravidian language spoken mainly by Brahui tribesmen.
  8. ^ Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More Than 400 Languages. Columbia University Press. 2004-03-01. ISBN 9780231115698. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  9. ^ a b Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 496. ISBN 978-1138853768.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 495. ISBN 978-1138853768.
  11. ^ a b c d e Elfenbein, Josef (1989). "BRAHUI". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 4. pp. 433–443.
  12. ^ a b c P. 32-34 Ideology and status of Sanskrit : contributions to the history of the Sanskrit language by Jan E M Houben
  13. ^ Language and linguistic area: essays By Murray Barnson Emeneau, Selected and introduced by Anwar S. Dil, Stanford University Press. Page 334
  14. ^ PP. 27, 142, Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2003), The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-77111-0.
  15. ^ Pagani, Luca; Colonna, Vincenza; Tyler-Smith, Chris; Ayub, Qasim (2017). "An Ethnolinguistic and Genetic Perspective on the Origins of the Dravidian-Speaking Brahui in Pakistan". Man in India. 97 (1): 267–278. ISSN 0025-1569. PMC 5378296. PMID 28381901.
  16. ^ Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. pp. 495–496. ISBN 978-1138853768.
  17. ^ a b Scholz 2002, p. 28.


  • Scholz, Fred (2002) [1974]. Nomadism & colonialism : a hundred years of Baluchistan, 1872-1972. Karachi; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-579638-4.