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Brahui people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A group of Brahui tribesmen
Regions with significant populations
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran
Brahui, Balochi
Related ethnic groups
Dravidian peoples

The Brahui (Brahui: براہوئی), Brahvi, or Brohi are an ethnic group of pastoralists principally found in Pakistan, and to a smaller extent in Afghanistan and Iran. They speak Brahui, which belongs to the Dravidian language family.


The origin of the word "Brahui" is uncertain.[1] Mikhail Andronov hypothesised a derivation from Dravidian (lit. Northern hillmen). However, Josef Elfenbein found it unconvincing and hypothesised a derivation from Saraiki (Jaṭki) brāhō, referring to the prophet Abraham; the term perhaps served to distinguish the neo-Muslim nomadic pastoralists — who had migrated into Sindh from the Western Deccan c. a millennium ago and adopted Islam.



The Brahuis predominantly inhabit a narrow belt in Pakistan, from Quetta in the north through Mastung, Kalat, and Nushki to Las Bela in the south.[2] Kalat separates the area into a northern part, known as Sarawan, and a southern part, known as Jhalawan.[1]

Other countries[edit]

Large numbers of nomadic and semi-nomadic Brahui speakers are found in Afghanistan, primarily in the Shorawak desert, in an area extending west of Nushki along the Helmand river into Iranian Sistan.[2] In Iran, Brahui are restricted to the north of Sistan; in 1909, G. P. Tate did come across a few Brahui as far south as Khash, but they appear to have assimilated into the neighbouring Baloch.[2][1] Some Brahui are also found in Turkmenistan, mainly in the Merv oasis, where their ancestors migrated from British-administered Balochistan and Afghanistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in search of employment.[2]

Tribes and population[edit]

The number of Brahui tribes have fluctuated across the centuries.[1] At the time of Nasir Khan I, when the Khanate of Kalat was at its zenith, the Brahuis had eight nuclear tribes and seven peripheral tribes; by the time of the last Khan, twelve peripheral tribes had been added.[1][a] The 1911 census was the only attempt to enumerate the Brahui as an ethnic group. However, since most Brahui describe themselves as Baloch to outsiders, the recorded count is an underestimate.[2] Elfenbein, referencing estimations from 1996, speculates that there are c. 700,000 Brahui tribesmen.[2]


The origins of the Brahuis remain unclear.[1] Brahui lore, which speaks of a migration from Syria to Kalat followed by the overthrow of one Sewa dynasty, is a piecemeal borrowing from Baloch traditions; historical ballads, etc., are nonexistent in the language.[1] Thus, says Elfenbein, reconstructions of Brahui pre-history can only depend on linguistics and genetics.[1]

The fact that other Dravidian languages only exist further south in India has led to two hypotheses — either the Brahuis are a relict population of Dravidians remaining from a time when Dravidians were more widespread or they migrated to Baluchistan from South India sometime in the last two millennia.[3] Noting extensive phonological similarities with Malto and Kurukh, Dravidian languages spoken as geographical isolates across Eastern India, most linguists speculate the three groups to have shared a common stage before migrating along different directions.[1] Additionally, both Kurukhs and Maltos speak of an eastward migration from Karnataka in their lore, and Brahuis' self-identification as migrants from Syria can be interpreted as an Islamized version of the same event.[3] However, the Brahuis do not have any significant Dravidian genetic component and are largely indistinguishable from surrounding Indo-European populaces; this suggests the passage of sufficient time since the admixture event, thereby supporting the relict hypothesis.[4]


The Brahuis have traditionally been nomads; the state-formation — in the form of a confederacy, the Khanate of Kalat — appears to have been a response to the increasing penetration of Mughal governance, especially under Shah Jahan, into their traditional grazing lands and migratory routes.[1] The Khanate was established by Ahmad Khan I, a Brahui chieftain, in the 1660s and derived its power from a complex system of inter-tribal alliances with the Balochs and Dehwaris; notwithstanding nominal suzerainties to Persia and Afghanistan at times, the kingdom gained in size and reached its zenith under Nasir Khan I in the late eighteenth century.[1] However, British incursion into the subcontinent coupled with territorial losses to Persia compelled Kalat to accept a protectorate status; in the aftermath of the Partition, the Khanate was absorbed into Pakistan notwithstanding popular protests.[1]

Language and literature[edit]

According to Elfenbein, only about 15% of the Brahui tribesmen are primary speakers of the Brahui language; only two nuclear tribes speak Brahui as a primary language.[2] 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".[2] The language belongs to the Dravidian language family and is, hence, a geographical isolate.[2] It has extensively borrowed from Balochi and other languages of the area; linguist David W. McAlpin characterised it as an "etymological nightmare".[5] There are three dialects with no significant variation: Sarawani (spoken in the north), Jhalawani (spoken in the southeast), and Chaghi (spoken in the northwest and west).[5]

No significant corpus of Brahui literature exists; the earliest extant work is Tuḥfat al-aja īb (lit. Gift of Wonders), a translation from Persian by Malikdad Gharsin Qalati, c. 1759-1760, a court poet of Nasir Khan I.[1][2] The Perso-Arabic script currently in use was developed c. 1900 out of the efforts of Mulla Nabo-Jan and Maulana Fazl Mohammed Khan Darkhani for spreading Islamic revivalist ideas.[1][2] Literacy rates among Brahuis remained very low as the late as 1990s.[5]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Elfenbein, Josef (1989). "BRAHUI". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 4. pp. 433–443.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 495. ISBN 978-1138853768.
  3. ^ a b P. 32–34 Ideology and status of Sanskrit : contributions to the history of the Sanskrit language by Jan E M Houben
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c 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.