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Chapter 37

The evolution of Nushki--The Zagar Mengal tribe--Tribal
feuds--Competition in trade--Venturesome caravans--Pasand
Khan--Dalbandin and its geographical situation--Game big and
small--Dates--A famous Ziarat--A Beluch burial ground--Preparing
corpses for interment--How graves are cut into the ground--Beluch
marriages--Beluch thoughtfulness towards newly married couples--A
mark of respect.

Having given a general sketch of the agreements with the principal chiefs we will now return to matters relating to the most important point, the pivot, as it were, of our route--Nushki.

When Nushki was taken over by the British Government, the leading tribe in the district was the Zagar Mengal, a Brahui tribe. They had settled in Nushki approximately a century or 150 years ago, and were a most powerful tribe, supposed to number about 9,000, a large proportion of whom lived in Registan (country of sand), to the north and mostly north-east of Nushki across the Afghan frontier. The Zagar Mengal Sardar was in Nushki itself, and he had a right of levying what is termed in Beluch, Sunge (a transit due) on all merchandise passing through Nushki. Foreseeing how such a right would interfere with trade, the British Government came to terms with the Sardar, by which, instead of his transit dues, he undertook what is called in Beluchistan a noukri or service (old custom by which a man supplies a number of sawars and is responsible for them).

The next thing was to settle all the tribal feuds. Three or four tribes were at war. Cases were carefully inquired into and settled according to Beluch law, through the medium of a tribal jirga, a council of elders. One case led to another and eventually all were settled up to everybody's satisfaction.

In the meantime traders from Shikarpur, from Quetta, and Kelat, began to be attracted to Nushki; a bazaar was started and is fast growing from year to year. One hundred thousand rupees have already been spent on it, with the result that a number of competing traders came in. Competition resulted in good prices, which further attracted trade, first from the districts to the north in the immediate vicinity of Nushki, and later from further and further afield.

The name of Nushki--practically unknown a few years ago--is at present well known everywhere, and the place has, indeed, become quite an important trade centre. From Nushki, as we have seen, a chain of posts, manned by local Beluch levies, was pushed west as far as Robat on the Persian frontier. Even as late as 1897 trade in these parts was limited to a few articles of local consumption, and Persian trade was represented by a stray caravan from Sistan that had forced its way to Nushki and frequently lost men, camels and goods on the way. The venturesome caravans seldom numbered more than one or two a year, and were at the mercy of a Mamasani Beluch called Pasand Khan, who lived in Sistan and levied blackmail on such caravans as came through. This man was well acquainted with all the marauders who haunted the stretch of country south of the Halmund between Sistan and Chagai. Pasand Khan levied at the rate of twenty krans (about 8s. 4d.) per camel, and saw the caravans in comparative safety as far as Chagai, from which point they were left to their own devices and had to force their way through to Quetta as best they could.

Next to Nushki along the route, Dalbandin--owing to its geographical situation, its ample supply of good water and good grazing--is probably the most important spot, and may one day become quite a big place. There is direct communication from this spot to Chagai (and Afghanistan), Robat, Ladis, Bampur, Kharan, the Arabian Sea, Charbar, Gwadur, Ormarah, Soumiani and Quetta. Even as things are now, Dalbandin is a somewhat more important place than any we had met on coming from Robat, with a very large thana and a couple of well-provided shops. Captain Webb-Ware's large camp made it appear to us men of the desert quite a populous district. There was excellent water here and good grazing for camels, while on the hills close by ibex shooting was said to be good. Gazelles (Chinkara and Persian gazelle), both called ask in Beluch, are to be found in the neighbourhood of this place, and wild asses (ghorkhar) nearer Sahib Chah. Katunga (sand grouse), sisi, chickor, a few small bustards (habara), and occasionally ducks are to be seen near the water, but taking things all round there is little on the road to repay the sportsman who is merely in search of game.

The spacious rest-house at Dalbandin was quite palatial, with actual panes of glass in all the windows, mats on the floor, folding chairs to sit upon, tables and Indian bedsteads. Thanks to the kind hospitality of Captain Webb-Ware, I had a most pleasant and instructive day's rest here, and nearly made myself sick by greedily eating irresistible Beluch dates, the most delicious it has ever been my luck to taste. These dates are very carefully prepared in earthen jars with honey, and they say that only one date--the best--is picked from each tree. No description could ever come up to their delicate flavour.

There is a famous Ziarat a couple of miles from Dalbandin which well repays a visit. The larger Ziarat itself is circular, 25 feet in diameter, with a mud and stone wall 4 feet high round it. It has a door to the east and a tomb to the west. A bundle of sticks is laid outside the wall, and another much larger, with red and white rags upon it, at the head of the tomb, the latter being covered as usual with pieces of white marble and round stones. At the head of the grave near the upright sticks was a large stone with holes in the centre, and also a number of wooden drinking cups, masses of horns, sticks, whips, ends of broken bottles, bits of rope, etc. These fragments of civilization hardly added to its picturesqueness. The tomb lay from north to south--a very curious fact, for, as a rule, the head of the tomb in other Ziarats was to the west. The tomb, however, lay in the western portion of the Ziarat circle. The enclosing wall was adorned with horns of sacrificed goats, and, in fact, outside to the south was the sacrificial spot with some large slabs of stone smeared with blood, and the usual upright sticks, but no rags appended to them. It had, nevertheless, some decoration of horns.

A second Ziarat was to be found on the top of the hill--generally these Ziarats go in couples, the principal one on the summit of a hill, the other at the foot, the latter for the convenience of travellers who have not the time or the energy to climb to the higher sacred spot,--and this Ziarat was 45 feet long also with a tomb--this time of black rounded stones--with an upright white slab of marble. The wall of black stones was 1½ feet high. Below this, to the south, was a third smaller oval Ziarat, 20 feet long, 12 feet wide, with many offerings of horns perched on poles to the west, and a heap of fancy stones, together with some implements such as a mortar, pestle, and cups. A fourth Ziarat, very small, with a mud tomb on which two mill stones had been deposited, was a little further on and had a solitary rag flying.

Near these Ziarats was an extensive Beluch burial-ground, to which bodies were brought from very great distances for interment. There was a large rectangular Mesjid, the first I had seen of that shape, at the western point of the graveyard, and three smaller ones at the other corners, and the graves were very nice and tidy, formed generally of fragments of yellow marble, a high stone pillar at the head and one at the foot, and little chips of marble along the upper centre of the grave. Others more elaborate had a neat edge and centre line of black stones and coloured end pillars, while some consisted of a pile of horizontal sticks with an upright one at each end.

The bodies of more important people, such as chiefs, were given larger tombs, often very gaudy and of a prismatic shape, made of myriads of bits of crystal within a black border of stones. Occasionally a trench was dug round the graves.

It was interesting to note that here, too, as on the Kuh-i-Kwajah, one saw "family graves" which, although not in actual compartments like those on the Sistan mountain, were, nevertheless, secluded from the others within a low boundary stone wall. The prismatic graves seldom rose more than 1½ feet above ground, but the semi-spherical tumuli which marked some of the more important burial places were from 3½ to 4 feet high. These tumuli were either of mud or of large smooth pebbles, and generally had no pillars. One or two, however, had a pillar to the west.

To the east of the graveyard the graves which seemed of a more recent date had sticks at each end instead of stone pillars, and these were connected by a string to which, halfway between the sticks, hung a piece of wood, a ribbon, or a rag. The meaning of this I could not well ascertain, and the versions I heard were many and conflicting. Some said these were graves of people who had been recently buried, it being customary to erect the stone pillars some months after burial, and that the string with dangling rag or piece of wood was merely to keep wolves from digging up dead bodies. Others said it was to keep evil spirits away, but each man gave a different explanation, and I really could not say which was the true origin of the custom. The pillars over a man's grave, some say, signify that the man died without leaving issue, but I think this is incorrect, for it would then appear by most graves that the Beluch are the most unprolific people on earth, which I believe is not the case.

Children's graves were usually covered with pieces of white marble or light coloured stone, and those of women were generally smaller and less elaborate and with lower pillars than men's graves.

The preparing of corpses for interment is rather interesting. With men, the lower jaw is set so that the mouth is closed tight, and is kept in this position by the man's own turban which is wound round the chin and over the head. The eyes are also gently closed by some relative, and the hands placed straight by the sides. As soon as life is pronounced extinct the body is covered over with a sheet and the dead man's relations go and procure new clothes, after which the body is removed from the tent or house and is taken towards a well or a stream, according to circumstances. Here the body is laid down and carefully washed, after which it is wrapped up quite tight in sheets--so tight that the outline can plainly be distinguished. In most cases, a pillar is put up, a few stones laid round, or the outline of a grave drawn on the spot where the body has lain to undergo this operation. The body is then removed to the burial ground and laid most reverently in the grave.

Beluch graves are most peculiarly cut into the ground. Instead of being vertical, like ours, they are in three sections. The higher is vertical, and leads to an inclined side channel giving access to a lower last chamber, in which the body is actually deposited. The origin of this, I was told, is to prevent hyenas and wolves digging up the bodies.

When once the body is laid in its place of rest, dried sweet-scented rose leaves are spread over it in profusion, and then the grave is filled up with stones and plastered with mud. The channel between the two chambers is filled entirely with stones, and the upper chamber entirely with earth.

Some few of the graves I saw had fallen through, but most were in excellent preservation and appeared to be well looked after by the people. That the Beluch are provident people we had palpable proof in this cemetery, where one saw several graves ready for likely future occupants.

Another Mesjid, a circular one seven feet in diameter, was further to be noticed to the north-east of the graveyard. It had yellow marble pillars of sugar-loaf and cylindrical shapes and was enclosed by a neat stone wall.

A Beluch marriage is a practical business transaction by which a girl fetches more or less money, camels or horses, according to her personal charms, beauty, and social position. Beluch women, when young, are not at all bad-looking with well-cut features and languid eyes full of animal magnetism like the Persian, and they seem shy and modest enough. The Beluch men have great respect for them, and treat them with consideration, although--like all Orientals--they let women do all the hard work, which keeps the women happy.

A marriage ceremony in Beluchistan bears, of course, much resemblance to the usual Mussulman form, such as we have seen in Persia, with variations and adaptations to suit the customs and circumstances of the people.

A good wife costs a lot of money in Beluchistan, although occasionally, in such cases as when a man has been murdered, a wife can be obtained on the cheap. The murderer, instead of paying a lump sum in cash, settles his account by handing over his daughter as a wife to the murdered man's son. Bad debts and no assets can also be settled in a similar manner if the debtor has sufficient daughters to make the balance right.

Under normal circumstances, however, the girl is actually bought up, the sum becoming her property in case of divorce. When the marriage ceremony takes place and the relations and friends have collected, the first step is for the bridegroom to hand over the purchase sum, either in cash, camels, or sheep. A great meal is then prepared, when the men sit in a semicircle with the bridegroom in the centre. Enormous quantities of food are consumed, such as rice saturated with ghi (butter), piles of chapatis (bread) and sheep meat. A man who pays four or five hundred rupees for a wife is expected to kill at least twenty or thirty sheep for his guests at this entertainment, and there is a prevailing custom that the bridegroom on this occasion makes a gift to the lori or blacksmith of the clothes he has been wearing since his betrothal to the girl.

The women on their side have a similar sort of entertainment by themselves, stuff themselves with food to their hearts' content, and wash it down with water or tea. At the end of the meal a bowl is passed round and each man and woman rinses mouth and hands.

The Sung, or betrothal, is regarded as most sacred, and much rejoicing is gone through for several days with music and dancing and firing of guns, and this is called the nikkar, just preceding the urus, or actual marriage ceremony, which is performed by a Mullah. The bridegroom, having ridden with his friends to a neighbouring Ziarat to implore Allah's protection, returns and sits down in the centre of the circle formed by the men. Two of his friends are sent to fetch the girl's father, who is led down to the assembly.

The bridegroom again assures him in front of all these witnesses that should he from any fault of his own divorce his wife he will forfeit the premium paid for her, whereupon the father replies that he will settle a sum on the girl as a "mehr" or dowry. The father then departs, and returns, bringing the bride wrapped up in her best clothing and chudder.

A slightly modified Mussulman form of marriage is then gone through, and the Mullah asks the woman three times if she agrees to marry the man. Everything having passed off satisfactorily, the happy couple depart to a hut or tent placed at their disposal, and very discreetly, nobody goes near them for some considerable length of time.

It is said that the thoughtfulness of the Beluch towards a newly-married couple will go so far that, even if the tribe were stalked by the enemy, no one would go and warn the happy couple for fear of disturbing them!

The bridegroom stays with his bride for several days, and if he belongs to some other village or encampment, will then return to his home, and leave his wife behind for months at a time.

Beluch wives are said to be quite faithful, and at the death of the husband go for a considerable time without washing. This mark of respect for the husband is, however, extensively indulged in even before the wife becomes a widow--at least, judging by appearances.