Makrani Baloch had been the backbone of the marine front for the last 400 years from the Sultanate of Oman to the Chabahar Port in Iran to Zanzibar in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya
By: Shazia Hasan
KARACHI: The audio recordings from the Berlin Lautarchiv of Indian World War I prisoners of war that are a part of the ‘Digging deep crossing far’ exhibition under way at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, include Balochi recordings. A talk on Monday by Dr Hafeez Jamali, assistant professor, Habib University, looked at Baloch entanglement with colonial military circuits in light of this evidence from German archives.
“Every research question begins with some story. I was not looking for these recordings, they found me, actually, in the summer of 2012 when I was visiting Germany and someone there asked if I’d like to take a look at these archives,” said Dr Jamali.
“I jumped from my seat when I first heard the recordings. I hail from Balochistan and listening to them was like listening to the people in my village. They had the same dialects though they didn’t sound happy,” he added.
“Since then I have been revisiting the recordings and taking them to my native village in central Balochistan to the Kachhi Plains where people have helped me trace the sepoys the voices belong to. These archives have, in fact, opened for us a window to Pakistan history and Baloch history,” Dr Jamali said.
The Baloch are seen a very proud race who stand alone. The current insurgency in Balochistan points to their uncompromising nature. But the researcher pointed out that the Makrani Baloch had been the backbone of the marine front for the last 400 years from the Sultanate of Oman to the Chabahar Port in Iran to Zanzibar in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya.
“Baloch labourers followed colonial circuits and their footprints can be traced in Assam to the Australian outback. Camels in these places were originally shipped from Balochistan by the Makrani Baloch,” he said, adding that Western anthropologists had been promoting a very deceptive image of the Baloch as being an inflexible race unwilling to move. “Baloch people, too, should realise that they have several dimensions to them and that they are not single-track people. They are not stereotypes as thought and as created by colonial mindsets and these snippets from history are more than proof of that.”
According to the research shared by Dr Jamali, British efforts to recruit Baloch in the military were not very successful at first but help from John Jacob of Jacobabad and Sir Charles Napier got them several recruitments in Sindh as well as Balochistan and the 1890s saw recruitments from Kallat, Makran and eastern Balochistan.
“At first the British recruited the Rinds from Balochistan and hoped that it would encourage the others to follow suit. Among the first recruited were Subedar-Major Mir Kambir Khan and Mir Shahdad Khan Rind. Kambir found in Africa, too, and upon his retirement was even conferred the honorary rank of lieutenant, which was a big thing as natives were not given officer ranks,” Dr Jamali said, adding that Kambir was lucky enough to return safely without being captured. But Shahdad Khan was captured before ending up in the Halfmoon camp in Wunsdorf, Germany.
The audience was treated to a couple of poems and epic songs in Brahvi and Balochi by Shahdad Khan, which were quite similar to those sung to this day by Baloch tribes in the Kachhi Plains. There was a tribute in the Brahvi language to a Sufi saint and another in Balochi about missing one’s beloved. For some reason there was also a mention of ‘Lahore’ in the Balochi song. “I suppose he was the first to join his regiment from Lahore,” Dr Jamali offered an explanation to that.
German curator Julia Tieke shared that the first song was recorded in 1916 and the second in 1917 when Shahdad Khan was around 37 years of age. “He was recruited at 21, he spent eight years in Karachi and three in Hong Kong after which he was captured during WWI,” she said.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2016