The Baloch tribal system isn’t all that bad

Published: April 9, 2014
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There is no doubt that the tribal system is out-dated and it is impractical in today’s modern world, but there are still a few handy traits, like Bijjar, which should not be terminated completely. PHOTO: FILE

Bijjar is a Balochi word which means cooperation or help. We have all heard our esteemed intellectuals on national television talk about how the tribal system has multiple drawbacks. The primary reason these intellectuals like to rail against the tribal system is because they themselves have minimal knowledge about this structure.

Their knowledge about the tribal system is restricted merely to its problems, which encompass things like the Sardari system, a hierarchy where the head is a sardar (chief), the exploitation by feudal lords, the culture of ammunition and strict ideologies against women education. Unquestionably, some aspects of the tribal system do more harm than good to a society. Yet, there are many benefits of the tribal system that even urban centres could learn from, Bijjar is one of them.

Bijjar is an antique component of the Balochi culture. According to elders, it has been a part of their culture for almost 2,500 years and, amazingly, it is still prevalent in various parts of Balochistan, especially in the Jhalwan and Makran regions.

In a tribal set-up, just before a couple is about to get married, the kith and kin from the groom’s side asks for Bijjar from their tribe members, to conduct the marriage ceremony. The members provide this Bijjar in the form of crops, cash and animals such as goats, sheep and cows. This aid is reciprocal. The relatives of the groom, who receive this aid, need to return it to the tribe members when it is their turn to ask for Bijjar for their own event or ceremonies. This way, every family of the tribe helps in contributing and supporting the expenses of that particular household.

Bijjar is a great relief for the groom. Even if someone gets as many as 200 animals, with substantial amount of cash and crops, he can repay this Bijjar in the form of easy instalments. For instance, an individual has to give at least one and maximum two goats to a family who asks for Bijjar. This way, if someone has collected 200 goats, he can return it whenever those particular families need it for their event, which gives that person ample time to save and keep his contribution of the Bijjar ready.

With the assistance of his tribe, the groom will not feel overburdened by the expenses of the ceremony.  Moreover, it will help him in starting his new life. Reverting back to our earlier example, if a groom gets 200 animals as Bijjar, he might slaughter and use 25 animals for providing a feast for his guests and might keep the rest of the animals for his own use. The price of one animal may range from Rs10,000 to Rs100,000, depending upon the size and type of the animal. This would mean that the worth of 175 unused animals would amount up to Rs20lakhs, which is a very big amount to be covered by one individual.

Bijjar rescues the groom from any post-marriage financial issues and debts the couple might have. It also highlights unity and care among tribesmen.

Another useful aspect of Bijjar is that it is carried out voluntarily; one may decline if he or she doesn’t desire to give it. Furthermore, impoverished and people of the lower strata are exempted from giving it.

Bijjar is completely opposite to the dowry custom. The strain of dowry falls on one family, whereas Bijjar is a contribution of the entire tribe, which may consist of 20,000 to 30,000 people.

Ironically, in urban areas, the obligation of giving dowry is on the shoulder of the bride’s family.

The fact that dowry is being asked of the person giving away his child is something that is beyond justification in certain tribes. In a tribal setup, the bride’s parents are exempted from any such dowry custom.

In my opinion, dowry is a social evil and was never actually part of our culture; it originated from the Hindu culture. During the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, a multitude of evil social practices, like sati (when a recent widow immolates herself), ban on remarriage of widows and the likes, were abolished but this wicked custom of dowry was not obliterated. Today, it is the chief obstacle for many women with regards to their marriage.

In my opinion, people belonging to urban cities are very unlucky because they do not practice or benefit from useful traditions like Bijjar. In fact, many lose their lifelong savings just to have a respectable marriage ceremony. If we compare Bijjar with dowry, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the custom of Bijjar is far more logical, rational and honourable than dowry.

There is no doubt that the tribal system is out-dated and it is impractical in today’s modern world, but there are still a few handy traits, like Bijjar, which should not be terminated completely. Traditions like this are honourable, bring communities together and provide great relief to the families involved in the marriage ceremony along with the new couple.

Sometimes we just need to dig a little deeper to understand that not everything is black and white – the tribal system may be antiquated, but parts of it are still relevant today and honourable. More so than other rather useless traditions that have sprouted up.

Jeeyand Kashif Sajidi

Jeeyand Kashif Sajidi

A graduate from the University of Balochistan in media and journalism, he is currently working as an Assistant Editor in Daily Intekhab Quetta.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Naila

    Nicely written. The word “tribal” in Pakistan makes whatever you say next sound bad, thanks for refreshing my mind :) Haven’t met a lot of Balochis in my life, but reading about their traditions really makes you feel lucky to be a part of a country with such cultural diversity. <3 Sorry about the fact that we dont acknowledge it very often, rather ridicule it.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    Baloch people have a really rich culture, and there are many things that other Pakistani ethnic groups could learn from them and vice versa instead of looking for examples from across the border.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    It’s actually ‘Baloch’ not Balochi; Balochi is a language and Baloch is an ethnic group, my Baloch friends get really pissed if you call them ‘Balochi’, it’s like calling somebody ‘Pakistanese’.Recommend

  • Naila

    Thanks for pointing that out, clearly shows my knowledge of the Baloch people!Recommend

  • naeem khan

    another lame attempt to glorify medieval practices in the name of ethnicity and culture the fact its the groom who always gets the goodies says it all also honor killings depriving women of education and the barrel of gun to settle scores is as much part of baloch culture as it is the culture of other ethnicities the problem here is not that the culture of certain tribes is bad while of others is good the fact is tribal culture is cruel medieval and terribleRecommend

  • Wocka

    Indeed. I can’t believe how often I’ve hear leading politicians and academics refer to them as Balochis, which just shows the ignorance many have toward that region. Also, I hate it when Pashtuns are called Pathan. Pathan is an outdated Hindi word, which the British foolishly adopted in their scholarly writings during the last century. No Pashtun ever calls themselves a Pathan.Recommend

  • Sami

    Bijjar is the same as “Salaami” in villages of Punjab and Salami system is the contribution to the wedding in the form of cash and gifts. In traditional Punjabi Villages people have a Salami register that keeps track of the money and gifts to be returned. But Salami is not related to a certain tribe rather all friends and family members contribute into it. Along with Salami even during the death of someone all family members contribute financially to the burial ceremony and in North Punjab the contributions during death is known as “Phoori”.

    But Whatever the reason may be but one cannot defend the tribal system in this modern world. It should be replaced by the Word “Community” instead of Tribal.Recommend

  • Ali

    1)Sati, was practised because the widows used to be raped and kept as slaves by the conquerors, so the Rajput women practised Sati to prevent their dishonour.
    2) Akbar did not banish Sati. It was social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others who fought against it in the late 19th century.
    3) There were no Muslims in the area which is now Pakistan about 2500-3000 years ago. So Bijjar and other such ‘tribal’ things must have existed when the people were mainly Hindus or Buddhists. The Muslim conquerors simply destroyed everything in their way.
    4) on Dowry, do you have any proof that it was inherited from the Hindu’s. There are Yemeni, a few Arabic tribes that take Dowries.

    Note that, I am not speaking this as a Muslim, but more from my anthropological studies.Recommend

  • Haris Javed

    Kudos to you Mr. Jeeyand!

    Bijjar mechanism is fantastic, seems a viable solution of dowry dilemma.. .Recommend

  • gulsher

    And the word bajjar is incorrect in balochi language rather the term is bajjari before the marriage it starts and we are baloch not balochi.Recommend

  • Khushal wala

    Truly, they have a rich culture. Had no idea what Bijjar was.
    Great way to get two people started in life.Recommend

  • sakhi

    Try to understand or do research about a nation or tribe before you blame that….as the respective article no doubt clear many bad consequence about Baloch and their tribal system….Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    Girl A and boy B are getting married….why should the preparations be the entire community’s headache? A debt once entered into never lets u b in peace…..whether the debt is material ( cash or kind) or emotional. If u accept the clan’s largessse at ur wedding, u r bound to listen to their verdict on honour killing as well. The state shud have adequate infrastructure to make young men and women sufficiently independent, sadly lacking in this part of the world. Recommend

  • Mehrunnisa

    Thanks for informing us, appreciate it!Recommend

  • Quratulain fatima

    a unique perspective on mesmerizing baloch cultureRecommend

  • Motiwala

    You are right. You are not speaking as a Muslim.
    You are just using a Muslim name. ‘..destroyed ‘
    tells everything about you and your ” Anthropological ” studies.Recommend

  • famah

    hella blog (y)Recommend

  • Feroz Khan

    Moti: Pls. Counter “Ali” on his points. Seems he is a Hindu, taking a Muslim name.
    On his points, I hear the same from other sources too. Recommend

  • Farnaz Khan

    Although I agree that the tribal culture needs revitalizing, there are some communal elements which are disregarded in today’s society, which I believe the author was attempting to highlight. Many aspects of tribal culture are regressive and degenerating, but the article highlights the communal aspect, which is commonly disregarded in today’s financial societies.Recommend

  • Mirsub Ali

    “In my opinion, dowry is a social evil and was never actually part of our culture; it originated from the Hindu culture….”

    Ah, people never seem to amuse me. Always in denial of ourselves, thinking we’ve lived in the same subcontinent for the thousand years our ‘cultures’ would have mixed? Or is it that prepostorous. We share more in common with an Indian Hindu in-terms of culture than an Arab.Recommend