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Oral Tradition 19.2 (2004) 253-298

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"Lord of the Iron Bow":

The Return Pattern Motif in the Fifteenth-century Baloch Epic Hero Šey Murīd

Università di Napoli, l'Orientale


The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are considered to be the heroic age of Balochistan and the classical period of Balochi literature. It was in the fifteenth century that the powerful Rind and Lāšār tribes, alongside a large number of other Baloch tribes, migrated from western Makran (now in Iran), conquering other Baloch tribes on their way. Their realm stretched to Sībī and Dādar in the eastern fringes of the present-day Pakistani Balochistan and formed the first unified Baloch confederacy (Qizalbāš 1979:19). Mīr Čākar Khān Rind, who ruled from his capital at Sībī from 1487 to 1511 (Harrison 1981:12) was nominated as "the Great Chief" of the Baloch confederacy and the chief of all the Baloches (Baluch 1965:121; Hetu Ram 1898:105; cf. Rzehak 1998:164).1 Tradition holds that Mīr Bibagr Rind, Mīr Čākar's nephew, gave the name Balochistan (lit. "country of the Baloch") to the newly unified country (Badalkhan 1992:37, n. 23).2 Chakarian Balochistan was composed of the presently Iranian and Pakistani Balochistans as well as a great chunk of Afghani Balochistan.3 Legend has it that under Mīr Čākar Rind the city of Sībī, then the capital of Balochistan, [End Page 253] reached the height of its grandeur and attracted Baloch tribes from all corners of Balochistan. The population of Sībī, now a town of only several thousand souls, exceeded 100,000 (cf. Harrison 1980:13; Matheson 1967:9; Baluch 1958:171) and another 10,000 rāpčis—musicians, singers, storytellers, and cup-bearers—entertained the nobility and the masses (cf. Matheson 1967:9; Baluch 1958:170-171 and 1965:124).

Balochi oral tradition describes the Chakarian age as the age of heroism and gallantry when every Baloch young man of noble birth was expected to be an archer, a horse-rider, and a swordsman, as well as have at least one lover—generally these were women of low social class and usually of non-Baloch origin such as the Jatts and Dombs (Nasīr 1976:31; cf. Nasīr 1979a:228-29; M. K. Marī 1991:53, 80; Badalkhan 2002a:303). Noble sons were also believed to be well-versed in traditional Balochi poetry and were expected to compose their own poems, for the intelligence of a Baloch was also judged by his command of the art of poetry.4 They would play a musical instrument—preferably a reed-pipe (flute), since it is the instrument of an upper-class Baloch and all other musical instruments were played exclusively by musicians of a lower social class. This age produced some of the finest oral poems and epic cycles in Balochi oral poetry, poems that have been transmitted from generation to generation by a class of professional minstrels and common Baloches with no help of the written word.

The Legend of Šey Murīd

This age also produced the legend of Šey Murīd, the topic of the present discussion. The oral tradition recounts that Šey Murīd, son of Šey Mubārak, the chief of the Kahīrī tribe (Baluch 1977:244; cf. Qizalbāš 1979:19), was the chief companion of Mīr Čākar Khān Rind.5 Mīr Čākar [End Page 254] and Šey Murīd were inseparable companions, hunting by day and enjoying gatherings of music, singing, and drinking at Mīr Čākar's palace by night. Baluch writes that Murīd was famous as having "mastered the art of swordmanship, horsemanship, and arrow-shooting. His bow made of steel was so heavy that he was known as the owner of the "Iron bow," because none but he alone could...


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