Brahui people

The Brahui (Brahui: براہوئی‎), Brahvi or Brohi, are a Dravidian-speaking ethnic group principally found in Balochistan, Pakistan.[1][2]

Brahui people
Brahui people of Quetta.jpg
A photograph from 1910 with the caption reading "Brahui of Quetta"
Regions with significant populations
Pakistan, Afghanistan
Brahui, Balochi
Star and Crescent.svg Sunni Islam (Hanafi)

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.[3] The term "Brahui" designates both the ethnic group as well as the language.[3] Kalat separates the area into a northern part, known as Sarawan, and a southern part, known as Jahlawan.[4] This division is also reflected in the main tribal Brahui divisions, namely the Sarawani and Jahlawani tribes.[4]

Large numbers of nomadic and semi-nomadic Brahui speakers are found in Afghanistan, from the Shorawak desert to the northwest of Nushki (Pakistan) in an area extending west along the Helmand river into Iranian Sistan.[3] In Afghanistan and Iran, the Brahui are considered to be ethnically the same as the Baloch people.[3] In Iran, no Brahui speakers are found to the south of Sistan, even though G. P. Tate mentioned Brahui's in 1909 as far south as Khash.[3] Tate added in 1909 that the Brahui in Khash had already been diminished in number mainly through assimilation into the neighboring Baloch.[4] Some Brahui are also found in Turkmenistan, mainly in the Merv oasis.[4][3] Most of these Turkmenistani Brahuis are descendants of the Brahui who migrated together with the Baloch from British India and Afghanistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[4][3]

The Brahuis are almost entirely Sunni Muslims.[5] There is a varied pattern of language use among the Brahui: some of the constituent groups predominantly speak the Brahui language, a Dravidian language contrasting with the Indo-Iranian languages spoken throughout most of the region, some Brahuis are bilingual in Balochi (an Iranian language) and Brahui, while others are speakers only of Balochi. Many Brahui tribesmen do not speak Brahui even as a second language, whereas some Baloch people use Brahui as a second language.[3]


The origin of the word "Brahui" is not certain. According to Elfenbein, it is most likely of non-Brahui origin[6] and probably derives from Saraiki brāhō, itself a borrowing into Saraiki of the name of the prophet Ibrāhīm.[6] Another hypothesis links it to barohi 'mountain dweller, highlander'.[7] It most likely only became the native endonym of the Brahui after they migrated into Sindh and became Muslims, c. 1,000 years ago.[6]


The only census that ever recorded the Brahui was conducted in British India.[3] Even then, as Elfenbein adds, the numbers are marred by confusion between "Brahui tribesmen" and "Brahui speaker".[3] As most Brahui have described themselves as Baloch for centuries to outsiders, this has led to consistent overestimation of the number of Brahui-speakers and an underestimation of the number of Brahui tribesmen.[3] Elfenbein, referencing estimations from 1996, notes that there are c. 700,000 Brahui tribesmen, who are mainly found in Pakistani Balochistan and in Afghanistan.[3] 100,000 of this 700,000, thus 1 in 7, are estimated to be primary speakers of Brahui, mainly found in Pakistan.[3] 300,000 may be secondary speakers of Brahui in Pakistan and Afghanistan.[3] The primary language of this 300,000 strong group is Balochi, an Iranian language.[3] Another 300,000 Brahui are estimated to speak no Brahui "at all".[3] Elfenbein notes that the recent estimate provided by Ethnologue of 2.4 million Brahui speakers "may be exaggerated" due to the "confusion between Brahui and Balochi".[3]


The fact that other Dravidian languages only exist further south in India has led to several speculations about the origins of the Brahui. There are three hypotheses regarding the Brahui that have been proposed by academics. One theory is that the Brahui are a relict population of Dravidians, surrounded by speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, remaining from a time when Dravidian was more widespread. A second theory is that they migrated to Baluchistan from inner India during the early Muslim period of the 13th or 14th centuries.[8] The third theory says the Brahui migrated to Balochistan from Central India after 1000 AD. However, the Brahui do not have higher genetic affinity with Dravidian populations in India than other neighboring Indo-Iranian Pakistanis. Pagani, et al., conclude that this shows that the Brahui, although speaking a Dravidian language, had their Dravidian genetic component completely replaced by Indo-Iranian speakers, suggesting that the Brahui are descendants of a previous relict population whose genomes were replaced when more recent Indo-Iranian speakers arrived in South Asia.[9] However, linguistic findings and oral histories of the Brahui say otherwise.[10][11][12][13][14]

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. There is a Mughal interlude and then Brahui ascendancy again.[15]

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

It is said that a Hindu dynasty, the Sewa by name, ruled over this part of the country prior to the seventh century, Kalat is still known as Kalat-i-Sewa.[16]


There are three groups of Brahui tribes. The "nucleus" consists of the Achmadzai, Gurguari, Iltazai, Kalandari, Kambrani, Mirwari, Rodeni and the Sumalari, which altogether account for only a small proportion of the total number of Brahuis. The majority of the population 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, Sarpora, Satakzai, Shahwani and Zagar-Mengal).[17]


The Brahui language is a Dravidian language, even though it is very far from South India. It is mainly spoken in the Kalat areas of Balochistan, Pakistan, and in Southern Afghanistan, as well as by an unknown very small number of expatriates in the Persian Gulf states, Turkmenistan, as well as Iranian Balochistan.[18] It has three dialects: Sarawani (spoken in the north), Jhalawani (spoken in the southeast), and Chaghi (spoken in the northwest and west) The 2013 edition of Ethnologue reports that there are some 4.2 million speakers; 4 million live in Pakistan, mainly in the province of Balochistan. Due to its isolation, Brahui's vocabulary is only 15% Dravidian, while the remainder is dominated by Balochi, and Indo-Aryan languages (for example, of the number names from "one" to "ten," "four" through "ten" are borrowed from Persian). Brahui is generally written in the Perso-Arabic script and there is even a Latin alphabet that has been developed for use with Brahui.


Dialects of Brahui include Kalat, Jhalawan, and Sarawan, with Kalat as the standard dialect.

At present Brahui is spoken in Pakistani Balochistan, Afghanistan, Sindh and the Persian Gulf Arab states.


Brahuis display a variety of Y-DNA haplogroups, the most important being haplogroup R1a1a-M17(35% to 39.09%) - with its mass diffusion among populations of Central/South Asia and associated with the early eastern migrations of Indo-Iranian nomads.[19][20] Haplogroup J, which is found among other South Asian peoples and more typical of Near-Eastern populations occurs at 28%.[20][21] Other, relatively minor, low-frequency haplogroups among the Brahui are those of G, L, E1b1a, and N.[20][21] These haplogroups show that the Brahui population genetics are largely indistinguishable from those of Indo-Iranian speakers which are adjacent to them, like the Balochi and Makrani, but different from those further away, such as Sindhi.[9]

According to Quintana-Murci et al. (2004), the Brahui population has a high prevalence (55%) of western Eurasian mtDNAs and the lowest frequency in the region (21%) of haplogroup M*, which is common (∼60%) among the Dravidian-speaking Indians. So the possibility of the Dravidian presence in Baluchistan originating from recent entry of Dravidians of India should be excluded. It also shows their maternal gene pool is similar to Indo-Iranian speakers. The present Brahui population may have originated from ancient Indian Dravidian-speakers who may have relocated to Baluchistan and admixed with locals; however, no historical record supports this. So it is suggested that they are the last northern survivors of a larger Dravidian-speaking region before Indo-Iranian arrival. This would, if true, reinforce the proto-Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis.[22]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 495. ISBN 978-1138853768.
  4. ^ a b c d e Elfenbein, Josef (1989). "BRAHUI". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 4. pp. 433–443.
  5. ^ Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More Than 400 Languages. Columbia University Press. 2004-03-01. ISBN 9780231115698. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  6. ^ a b c Elfenbein, Josef (2019). Seever, Sanford B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 496. ISBN 978-1138853768.
  7. ^ "Brahui |". Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  8. ^ [Sergent, Genèse de l'Inde]
  9. ^ a b 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.
  10. ^ Pagani (2017) states in its "Conclusion" that there is "No historical or linguistic data support" the possibility that "the Brahui ancestors were Indo-European speakers, who later adopted a Dravidian language."
  11. ^ Elfenbein, Josef (1987). "A periplus of the 'Brahui problem'". Studia Iranica. 16 (2): 215–233. doi:10.2143/SI.16.2.2014604.
  12. ^ PP. 27, 142, Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2003), The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-77111-0.
  13. ^ P. 12 Origin and Spread of the Tamils By V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar
  14. ^ P. 32 Ideology and status of Sanskrit : contributions to the history of the Sanskrit language by Jan E M Houben
  15. ^ Language and linguistic area: essays By Murray Barnson Emeneau, Selected and introduced by Anwar S. Dil, Stanford University Press. Page 334
  16. ^ Population Census Organisation, Statistics Division, Govt. of Pakistan, 1999, 1998 district census report of Kalat Page 7.
  17. ^ Scholz 2002, p. 28.
  18. ^ "International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics". 2007.
  19. ^ Underhill, PA; Myres, NM; Rootsi, S; Metspalu, M; Zhivotovsky, LA; King, RJ; Lin, AA; Chow, CE; Semino, O; Battaglia, V; Kutuev, I; Järve, M; Chaubey, G; Ayub, Q; Mohyuddin, A; Mehdi, SQ; Sengupta, S; Rogaev, EI; Khusnutdinova, EK; Pshenichnov, A; Balanovsky, O; Balanovska, E; Jeran, N; Augustin, DH; Baldovic, M; Herrera, RJ; Thangaraj, K; Singh, V; Singh, L; Majumder, P; Rudan, P; Primorac, D; Villems, R; Kivisild, T (2010). "Separating the post-Glacial coancestry of European and Asian Y chromosomes within haplogroup R1a". Eur. J. Hum. Genet. 18 (4): 479–84. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2009.194. PMC 2987245. PMID 19888303.
  20. ^ a b c Qamar, R; Ayub, Q; Mohyuddin, A; et al. (May 2002). "Y-Chromosomal DNA Variation in Pakistan". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 70 (5): 1107–24. doi:10.1086/339929. PMC 447589. PMID 11898125.
  21. ^ a b Sengupta, S; Zhivotovsky, LA; King, R; et al. (February 2006). "Polarity and Temporality of High-Resolution Y-Chromosome Distributions in India Identify Both Indigenous and Exogenous Expansions and Reveal Minor Genetic Influence of Central Asian Pastoralists". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 78 (2): 202–21. doi:10.1086/499411. PMC 1380230. PMID 16400607.
  22. ^ Quintana-Murci, Lluís; Chaix, Raphaëlle; Wells, R. Spencer; Behar, Doron M.; Sayar, Hamid; Scozzari, Rosaria; Rengo, Chiara; Al-Zahery, Nadia; Semino, Ornella (May 2004). "Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 74 (5): 827–845. doi:10.1086/383236. ISSN 0002-9297. PMC 1181978. PMID 15077202.


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