Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1856 Baluchi askar
Subjectaskar mercenary soldier
Culture: Baluchi, mixed Baluchi
Setting: al Bu Saidi sultanate, Omani empire 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Nicolini 2012 p40
"During the 19th century, the growth in the volume of trade managed by the Indian mercantile communities, with the consent of the Arabs and the military protection of the Baluch mercenaries, inevitably led to a gradual but progressive influence on the African populations.  Among these the magical element, animistic rites and witchcraft, blatant symbols of the traditional system of wielding power were, at varying times, deprived of their forcefulness in the political and social fields.  Entire squadrons of Baluch soldiers settled in the interior of the African continent at Tabora and at Kigoma, in the Great Lakes region.  In this same century the Baluch together with the mercenaries called shihiri, from Hadhramawt, fought also against the Nyamwezi in the region of the Unyanyembe.  Other Baluch joined the trade caravans which traded with the interior, travelling as far as the Congo."

* Nicolini 2012 p150-151
"The growing wealth of an Indian mercantile elite in Zanzibar, closely related to Sa'īd bin Sulṭān Āl Bū Sa'īdī and, at the same time, in touch with the populations of the African interior, as well as with the most important trading centres of western India and Arabia, reveals an interesting aspect of the structural typology of the Indian Ocean.  The military class of Baluch warriors represented another fundamental element in the composition of this elite.  Famed for the[ir] martial skills and courage, the Baluch, called bulushi in East Africa, performed the role of personal bodyguard to the Omani Arab dynasties, who thus reinforced their traditional links with these tribes of central-southern Asia long considered to be more reliable than Arab mercenaries.  Links between Oman and the Asian region of Baluchistan, as well as between western Indian merchant communities, were both close and numerous.  It was there that the Arab princes recruited their soldiery, as well as conducting intensive trade in goods and also slaves destined for the Ottoman and Central Asian markets."

* Nicolini 2012 p25
"In 1825 the permanent bodyguard of the Omani sovereign, Sa'īd bin Sulṭān Āl Bū Sa'īdī, whose income amounted to 522,000 Maria Theresa thalers, of which 120,000 came from Zanzibar, consisted of 300 Baluch.  At the time approximately 2,000 Baluch lived in Muscat, in the mud barasti outside the walls of the town.  Their number was, however, forever growing.  This was due both to the essentially uncertain nature of Omani power, as well as the intrinsic peculiarities of the Ibadi belief, factors which enabled the Baluch easily to insert themselves as a military force, and to the political and environmental persecution and threats under which they had always suffered in their homeland.  As far as their behavior was concerned, from a western point of view, their cynicism was such that the Baluch mercenaries often deliberately ignored local disputes, preferring to steer clear of the different political factions which contended for power in Oman and, instead, simply obey the orders of whichever Arab prince offered the highest pay."

* Newman 2012 p72-73
"Originally immigrants to Muscat from Baluchistan, the Baluchi [askari (soldiers)] ... dabbled in a number of activities, thievery being a prominent one.  They then became soldiers of a sort in the service of the sultan and added Arabs, Afghans, and other renegades to their ranks, which brought their numbers under Zanzibar authority to upward of a thousand.  Placed at strategic locations here and there, they mostly lived off what they could extort.  The Arabs along the coast held them in contempt.  Burton concurred, calling them a 'rabble rout,' no more than a 'tame copy of the Turkish Bashi Buzuk,' who 'live the life of the Anglo-Indian soldier of the past generation, drinking beer when they can "come by it," smoking, chatting, and arguing; the young wrestle, shoot, and exchange kit'.... "


* Peers/Ruggeri 2005 p42 (quoting Richard F. Burton, 1850s)
"He adheres to his primitive matchlock, a barrel lengthened out to suit the weak powder in use, damascened with gold and silver, and fastened to the frail stock by more metal rings than the old French 'Brown Bess' ever had."


* Peers/Ruggeri 2005 p42-43
"The 'Baluchis' were mercenaries who fought for the Sultans of Zanzibar.  They came mostly from western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, but also included individuals from various parts of Africa.  Burton describes the typical mercenary of the 1850s, 'distinguished from the Arab by the silkiness and the superior length of his flowing beard ... made glossy with henna and indigo.' ... According to Burton, 'the wildest and most picturesque' of the Baluchis, whose 'unkempt elf-locks fall in might masses', were Arabs from the western shores of the Persian Gulf. ...  They favoured a long saffron-coloured gown, which was often the only garment they wore.  This implies that they might have gone bareheaded, as some Arabian tribes still did, though no illustration from Africa appears to confirm this.  Big Indian-style turbans, robes in red, blue or white, and baggy trousers were popular with men from other areas.  Burton says the officers or 'Jemadars' were much better dressed than their men, and often appeared in scarlet coats and silk turbans."

* Bird 2010 p108
"Inside the fort lived about a hundred of Seyyid Said's soldiers and their families, their huts jammed closely together into tiny courtyards separated by mud walls.  Some of the soldiers were African slaves, but most were Baluchi mercenaries -- handsome men with silky henna- or indigo-dyed beards, originally from what is now western Pakistan and eastern Iran.  The soldiers -- free or slave -- dressed in a motley array of uniforms, including cast-offs from corps in Bombay, and carried a motely variety of weapons, including muskets, two-edged swords, heavy sticks, and shields made of rhino hide."

* Nicolini 2012 p25
"From the accounts of certain European travelers in Arabia, the most imposing were the Baluch warriors, naked to the waist and armed with a knife and a double-handed sword, with fierce glares and of threatening presence."


* Peers/Ruggeri 2005 p43
"Apart from their matchlocks the Omanis were armed with long, straight swords worn on a strap over the left shoulder, and daggers on their right hips."


* Peers/Ruggeri 2005 p43
"Their small round shields were made from the hide of the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, elephant or addax antelope -- the latter being popular because of its natural whiteness."

* Benitez/Barbier 2000 p100
"There is disagreement about the origins of this type of shield.  Dieter Plaschke and Manfred Zirngibl identify shields like this one as Oromo, while Robert Elgood identifies them as coming from Oman.  Nineteenth-century writers, such as Wellstead and William Gifford Palgrave, likewise record seeing them used by the Omani and Bedouin in Saudi Arabia.  Sir James George Frazer recounts coming across them in Muscat, but writes that they were probably imported from Zanzibar.  Because of sustained contacts with the Arabs, it is quite possible that the Oromo made these shields from readily available rhinoceros or hippopotamus hides, applied metal emblems of either Arab manufacture or design, and exported them to the southern regions facing the eastern Horn of Africa, where, according to Plaschke and Zirngibl, they were also used in ritual knife fights."