Balti [NEW]

The Balti people hail from Baltistan, now part of Pakistan.

Estelle Dryland and Jawad Syed write:

“Today, in the interests of its own religio-political expansion, Pakistan is in the process of “Urdu-izing” the Northern Areas, in the way that it attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to Urdu-ize East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) immediately post-partition (Syed, 2008a, b). In more recent times, educated Baltis are attempting a cultural renaissance, the reviving of their Balti language and Tibetan cultural heritage. But, Pakistan covertly discourages their attempt to develop the indigenous script Yigay, thus, there are concerns among some that the local language and culture will be suppressed, weakening the Baltis’ ties with their perceived “Buddhist” neighbour Ladakh and with their Buddhist linguistic and cultural heritage (MacDonald, 2006)[12].

“Consistent with the hybrid notion of postcolonial identity, Baltistan is witnessing the gradual disappearance of its traditional handloom specialists, traditional cap makers and shoemakers, who are abandoning their professions because the indigenous cottage industry fails to receive government patronage (Hasnain, 2006). However, a woodcarving school has been established near the Raja’s palace in Shigar valley, its aim being to re-establish the skill and to emulate the magnificent carvings that are a part of the charm of the Rajas’ palaces in every valley.

“Balti traditional sports, e.g. archery and polo, have lost patronage in many valleys (Hasnain, 2006). However, occasionally polo matches are still organised – particularly in the Skardu and Rondu valleys. The only time Balti music is heard nowadays is at polo matches, with instruments limited to the tabla (Dangman), the big drum (Dolki ) and the flute (Surna). Music frequently accompanies sword dancing, a cultural form which has also been retained.

“Another popular cultural activity is the Musha’ira (poetic symposium). Mature-aged and elderly male poets regularly recite their works at frequently convened symposia. When the FA attended a recital in 1999, most of the works were performed in the Urdu language; but, nowadays poets are writing and reciting in the Balti language. The Tibetan Kesar of Ling epic is another treasured cultural artefact. This lengthy story about warrior King Kesar – which is still performed by elderly Balti bards – is recited and sung in areas stretching from the upper reaches of the Volga to Mongolia, in all the valleys of Baltistan, in Hunza, India, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.”

According to Wikipedia: “Recently, a number of Balti scholars and social activists have attempted to promote the use of the Tibetan Balti or “Yige” alphabet with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi culture and ethnic identity.”

This entry is what Wikipedia calls a “stub”–that is, we know very little, we wish we knew more, and we’d love to hear from anyone who can add to our miserable little stub of knowledge.


35.8026° N, 74.9832° E