Ormuri: The silent victim of militancy

Published: December 6, 2011
The migration of the Burki tribe from 
S Waziristan to Karachi and other cities has put Ormuri on the brink of extinction 

The migration of the Burki tribe from S Waziristan to Karachi and other cities has put Ormuri on the brink of extinction . DESIGN: SHEHREZAD MAHER


The term ‘collateral damage’ is normally applied to the loss of human life during war; it may now have to expand to include language.

When a military operation was launched in South Waziristan, Ormuri – the native language of the Burki people – also came under assault. Ormuri speakers are now scattered around the country and the language is on the brink of extinction.

The language flourished in Kaniguram, a mountainous valley in South Waziristan – its only habitat on earth. An estimated population of about 10,000 Ormuri speakers lived in Kaniguram before they migrated to different parts of the country.  Today, Burki tribesmen are spread in insignificant numbers in Lahore, Peshawar, Bannu and Kaniguram, and in Logar and Paktia in Afghanistan. However, most have adopted the dominant languages of their new ports, such as Pashto, Urdu and Punjabi.

Munawwar Burki, a criminology student at the University of Karachi who hails from the valley, describes the language as the east Iranian sister dialect of Pashto and Balochi, and says that it was spoken by the Burki people living alongside the Pushto-speaking Mehsuds. It is this proximity with the Pashtuns that has had a deep impact on Ormuri culture, which borrows from the Pakhtunwali code of conduct and had adopted many cultural rituals.

Rozi Khan Burki is one of the few people who have carried out detailed research on the language. In his book written purely in Ormuri, he claims that the similarities between Pashtun and Ormuri people persist because Ormur was the grandson of Qasi Abdur Rasheed – the forefather of all Pashtun tribes. “They are originally Pashtuns who migrated in 1025 to Kaniguram from Logar, Afghanistan. Their language was initially known as ‘Burgista’ but now it has become Ormuri,” he said.

His account of the language’s history links it to Mehmood Ghaznavi. When Mehmood Ghaznavi was launching his last assault on India, he took a group of 3,000 Burkis from Afghanistan. Those Burkis extinguished the fire-circle for protection, set up by Hindus around the Somnath Temple that consequently helped Ghaznavi conquer the temple and India. It is this story that lends the Burki people their name Ormuri – the fire extinguishers.

Rozi Khan says that although the loss of the language will not affect the people economically, it will kill oral history as well as Ormuri customs and traditions. “Different plants will lose their names and local herbal medicines will be lost. Some birds and animals will become nameless and some proverbs, old sayings and myths will die out,” he explains.

After writing an Ormuri book, Rozi Khan Burki also started a campaign to bring together people who can write poetry in Ormuri – about 15 people. But the efforts were marred by unrest in the valley. “It is now impossible for me to gather all internally displaced poets and people who were working on the language”, said Khan.

Munawwar Burki stresses that efforts must be stepped up to save the language before it completely vanishes. As the speakers move out, they adopt dominant languages of their new ports. He said that constant war forced almost everyone to move out of Kaniguram: “I think right now there is not a soul left in Kaniguram; not even a single dog.”

Thus his efforts are focussed on uniting the community in Karachi, where most of the displaced from Kaniguram came to settle. But due to the fact that all Ormuri people settled independently, they are scattered and difficult to trace. Families live largely in Sohrab Goth, Landhi, Sultanabad, Lyari Bypass, Kwari Colony, Banaras and Baldia Town. “Since the speakers have no official community or society where they can live together and get a chance to speak in their mother tongue, they are losing the language in bits and pieces on a daily basis,” he says with much regret.

The local community in the city has risen to the threat facing their heritage. Munawwar Burki started running an organization for the welfare of Burki tribesmen in Karachi and has already gathered figures of the remnants in the city – around 1,000 families out of which roughly 500 can speak Ormuri. Also Shah Mehmood Burki adds that the female members of Burki families continue speaking in Ormuri which gives hope that the language will be passed on to the next generation.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Tauseef
    Dec 6, 2011 - 11:04AM

    This is an amazing article. The writer has brought out the drama of the tragedy in a captivating way. A superb article that sheds light on an important human and cultural facet of our times.Recommend

  • Dec 6, 2011 - 3:28PM

    The writer has Highlighted a VERY IMPORTANT aspect of this “War of Terror”
    This Alien War has cost us Tribesmen our Customs, Language and above all Self-Confidence and Self-Respect
    Drawing Room LIBERALS sitting in Islamabad, Lahore & Karachi and discussing the “MONSTERS bred in FATA” can’t realize what it is like to be declared “Enemy of the State”…. US Drones, PAF Jets, Army Gunship Choopers and Artillery have REDEFINED Life for the Tribesmen…
    PEACE, for us, means the LULL between two Explosions or Shellings or Drone Attacks… Alas!!!!


  • Dec 6, 2011 - 3:54PM

    Beautiful but sad. This land of pure has annihilated god know’s how many beautiful cultures, people and languages. and it will continue to do so un till people stand up ‘rulers’. yeah, the uniformed ones.


  • bangash
    Dec 6, 2011 - 11:10PM

    More victims of Taliban beasts.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 7, 2011 - 12:22AM

    I wish we all speak just Urdu and nothing else like in america every body speaks english.


  • Dec 7, 2011 - 2:41AM

    Thank you for this excellent article. It is a credit to your paper/site and your journalists that both are prepared to turn the spotlight (so to speak) on less sensationalist though important topics.

    It is a sad story though I suspect inevitable, regardless of the Taliban/Al-Qaeda problem highlighted. There are economic and social trends too that exercise a powerful influence and can so easily engulf and overwhelm small, indigenous cultures. It has happened and is still happening in many parts of the world so that even larger communities struggle to preserve their unique culture. With increasing globalisation and satellite communication etc this can only become ever more difficult.


  • MK
    Dec 7, 2011 - 3:37AM


    They are Victims of a foreign war. This would not have happened if we have not jumped into someone else’s battlefield, provided other circumstance stayed the same. There were and still are other ways to deal with extremism. Taliban were created by US and Pak together and end of the day blame falls on them.
    However it is incompetence of all governments since independence that lead us to this. It is easy way out to put blame on Taliban and propagate a solution of bombings tribal areas. Extremism is not only a problem in Waziristan it is all over the country and main reason is lack of funding for education anywhere in the country and treatment of FATA in particular since independence. Why do I have to go to a privately run madrassa to get religious education, gov of ISLAMIC republic of Pakistan should provide both secular and religious education (minus the hate related curriculum). This is a result of OUTSOURCING essential services that a government should provide such as Education (there should be no business for Madrassa and private schools) and private security firms, private body guards and tribal LASHKARS. Who is going to manage those Lashkars when they go rogue down the road, just as the Taliban did now?
    We need to address both Motives (Gov support for a foreign war) and methods (Taliban retaliation to it). Iran is neither with Taliban nor with US, and US has not dared to bomb them. How come our general gave in so easily saying there was no other option and US would have bombed us to dark ages if we didn’t support them? Iran’s military strength is about a third of what Pakistan has.
    There is a reason USA finds convenient to bomb a nuclear power than its much smaller neighbor. We must accept that there is something wrong with us, only then we can try to find a cure for it. There is nothing to fix if we insist there is nothing wrong with us.


  • MK
    Dec 7, 2011 - 5:17AM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    Not a great wish. Why everyone in Pakistan should not speak Ormuri instead. We have so much culture and history associated with all the languages spoken in Pakistan.

    ” A different language is a different vision of life” Federico Fellini .

    All major cities in US are a mixture of hundreds of cultures, one can find food, dress, music of various cultures there, how about China, India, Japan and most of European countries, where there are numerous languages and dialects same as we have here in Pakistan. Culture and its diversity is a beautiful thing. I was at a coffee shop in Belgium when I noticed the owner spoke to 6 people in front of me in 6 different languages. Kids in Morocco learn English, French, Arabic and Spanish all at the same time. It is great to accept and value diversity.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 7, 2011 - 7:10PM

    Thank u sir.


  • waseem
    Dec 7, 2011 - 10:01PM

    Very good report bro..well written and well researched..this is called journalism..


  • Outerspace
    Dec 8, 2011 - 2:56AM

    Well,fire extinguishers. U guys allowed gaznavi to pillage,murder innocent ppl of somnath,thats the best thing u connect ur community with,pay for ur karma now :).


  • khalid ormur
    Dec 8, 2011 - 8:45AM

    This is very important to establish an Ormuri community in any city to enable the tribe to speak their own language. The article was entirely a story of sorrow and grief, but its last part gave us hope that some people have felt the danger and began efforts to collect scattered personalities to preserver the language. In fact this is the only option for us now, as we see no end soon to the ongoing war in the motherland Kaniguram.


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