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Talking 'Baluch' with Jerry Anderson: part 1

The study of so-called 'Baluch' tribal weaving has reached a watershed

While on the one hand Baluch rugs have cast aside their misleading stereotyped image as derivative Turkoman bastard cousins, on the other we still find in the marketplace the promiscuous use of little understood attributions and terminology founded upon 'scholarship' that too often fails to rise above the level of dogma. Loosely based on the sometimes unreliable accounts written by European travellers in the region during previous centuries, or drawing on subjective interpretations of Asian myth and ethnohistory, such popular ascriptions are seldom grounded in properly conducted research or first-hand experience of eastern Iran and Afghanistan. During the past two decades a number of well-known tribal rug writers, dealers and collectors, both American and European, have sought, if not always heeded, the views of a man who has become something of a legend in his own lifetime. Now 62 and living in Karachi, Pakistan, Jeremy (Jerry) Wood-Anderson is, in his own words, "second generation old India born and bred", the grandson of a Scottish officer who served in the last Afghan campaign. Fluent in several local languages, since the 1950s Anderson has travelled widely throughout the region, on occasion as a zoological surveyor and collector for Western museums, and has lived among the tribes in fixed settlements and nomadic camps in Baluchistan, Sistan, Khorasan and Afghanistan

Jerry Anderson

Anderson's avowed passionate interest lies in "the ethnography behind tribal rugs, the ancient ethnogenesis of those great Steppeland nomads who gave rise to the piled rug concept, and particularly the cosmic symbology of motifs and designs". His views of the Baluch pile-weaving tradition, as yet unpublished, include some ideas which are simple, others extremely complex, with far-reaching implications. His exposure to the conventional wisdom of rug scholarship has been limited, but together with his field experience, this very isolation has afforded him a fresh and, at times, thought-provoking perspective.
Ultimately it is on this extensive field experience that his knowledge of Baluch rugs is based. He has had the opportunity to see certain specific design types associated with specific tribes, and of purchasing rugs from the families whose women had woven them. During his travels Anderson observed 'old' rugs being used (or, in the case of treasured heirloom pieces,stored in wooden chests) by the tribal people who offered him hospitality in their tents and houses as a 'maiman' or honoured guest. While such observations in the second half of the 20th century do not necessarily reveal what was being woven in a particular place at an earlier time, or by whom, they should not be discounted. We therefore commissioned contributing editor Tom Cole to interview Jerry Anderson during a recent trip to Pakistan.

What follows is an abridgement of a wide ranging two-day discussion that took place in April 1994 at Anderson's house on the shore of the Arabian Sea, during the course of which he offered his attributions, based mainly on aspects of design, for a number of 'Baluch' rugs published in HALI, as well as in familiar sources such as David Black and Clive Loveless's Rugs of the Wandering Baluchi (1976), Michael Craycraft's Belouch Prayer Rugs (1982), and Murray L. Eiland's Oriental Rugs from Pacific Collections (1990

HALI: What are the origins of the Baluch people of Baluchistan?
JERRY ANDERSON: They are Assyrian, of Assyro-Arabic ethnic origin. Their own legends and ballads claim Aleppo in present day Syria as their original home. There were two waves of migration, one with the Arab invasion a millennium ago and another about five to six hundred years ago. Those who came in the second wave settled near Zahedan in Persian Baluchistan, and their tribal names are derived from the names of the mountains nearby. Some of them came through into Sind Province of what is now Pakistan. Most of this second wave speak Rakshani Baluch, totally different to Makrani Baluch, the original 'pure' Baluch language. But these people have nothing to do with weaving rugs.

HALI: Who then are the carpet weavers of Khorasan and Sistan?
JA: They are of Indo-European origin, all of them. Most of the indigenous peoples of this area do not weave pile rugs, as the Baluchis of Baluchistan do not. There was a Baluch confederation based upon language, which stretched across Khorasan, through Sistan and into trans-Indus Baluchistan. So in a sense the name 'Baluch' is not a generic misnomer. The political and cultural centre of this confederacy is located in Sistan, originally referred to as Sakastan, the land of the Sakas or Scythians. It was these people, the descendants of the weavers of the Pazyryk, who populated the area of Sistan. At the time of the Arab invasions, the name was changed to Sijistan ('sand country'), and from that it eventually evolved, over about a thousand years, into the name we know today. The weavers of these pile rugs are ethnically a Scythian people. They are not the Baluch. The word 'Baluch' is only about 300 years old and refers only to a linguistic confederation. The Sistan empire, stretching from Kerman to Karachi, from Sabzevar to the Makran Plateau, was a political federation, under the rule of a long line of kings

1. Taimuri prayer rug, Ghurian area, west Afghanistan, early 20th century. 1.18 x 1.37m (3'10" x 4'6"). Warp: Z2S, ivory or mixed ivory and brown wool, on one level; weft: 2Z, brown wool, 2 shoots; knot: 2Z, wool, with small amounts of silk and mercerised cotton, AS open right; sides: goat hair selvedge wrapped around paired 4ZS cables; ends: missing; colours: 7. Rugs of the Wandering Baluchi, pl.10. Courtesy David Black & Clive Loveless, London.

HALI: Did your father collect rugs?
JA: Not purposely, they were just used in the house. My father was born in Quetta, his father served in the British Army in the last Afghan campaign. My grandfather settled in Quetta when he left the army. So I am very familiar with the territory. I am literally blood brother with the brother of the Brahui chieftain Zaggar Mengal. Mengal is the original name of the Brahui Sistanis.

HALI: Doesn't Konieczny mention the Mengal in his Textiles of Baluchistan?
JA: Mustapha Konieczny was a colleague of mine, a very nice fellow, a doctor of literature whose brother was a rug dealer in Berlin. Like me he was a herpetologist, and we were in constant competition. He used to travel through the desert on camel and by bus, and I used to pass him in my Land Rover. A lovely man.

HALI: But you called his book useless.
JA: It is full of nonsensical things, giving functions for some weavings like nose cover and Qur'an bag! No self respecting Brahui would put his Qur'an in such a bag. He would use a nice silk bag with embroidery. Not something like this shepherd's bag. He would put his rations in this and go into the hills while his goats and sheep grazed. These people are loath to tell the truth to outsiders. They are masters of disinformation! Poor Konieczny only spoke Farsi, but the people he was studying spoke Brahui, Baluch and some Urdu. He believed them! I tried to tell him. He was so often wrong, but he only repeated what he was told. And they lied to him. Constantly!

From the Horses Mouth

Original text & photos appeared in HALI 76, © 1994-.


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