Page 71

Global issue 20

have just as long a history in Bangladesh as the peoples of the CHT.” In fact, suggests Taylor, it is probably the case that some of the tribal people of Bangladesh moved to where they are living now after the Bengalis arrived in the lowlands. “In my mind the actual term is a little bit problematic,” he says, “although it is certainly the case that, in meaningful historical terms, the particular area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh has been exclusively inhabited by these people.” Of the 11 tribes that inhabit the CHT, the largest are the Chakma. The Chakma themselves claim to have originated from the ancient kingdom of Champaknagar in India. However, the exact history of the tribe is shrouded in mystery and scholars disagree as to where the tribe first originated. One theory is that Chakmas moved to the CHT from the Arakan area of Burma around the 15th century. Local folklore claims that the Chakma are descended from one of the sons of the king of the Champaknagar kingdom, who travelled east with an army in the hope of conquering new lands. The Kingdom of Arakan in Burma was captured, and the king’s people integrated with the Burmese and adopted Buddhism. The last king of this great dynasty, Sher Daulat, was believed to have the capability of purifying his soul of sin by washing his intestines in the river. One day, his wife, curious as to his frequent trips to the river, hid herself and spied on him. She was caught and the king flew into a great rage, killing her and all of his family. It is said that after this event the king’s tyranny became so intolerable that his people rebelled and killed him, before fleeing the kingdom and taking up refuge in the Chittagong Hill Tracts where they remain to this day. In a traditional Chakma household, the women will carry out many of the same tasks as in Bengali families, including cooking, tending to babies, cleaning the house, fetching water and washing clothes. However, the women in Chakma society also have a strong presence out in the fields, unlike in mainstream Bangladesh, carrying out agricultural work alongside men. Chakma women may also be involved in selling goods in the marketplace – in particular handwoven items. “The Chakma have a beautiful tradition of backstrap weaving,” says Taylor. “It is truly stunning and helps them to bring in a little extra money.” The art of weaving on loin looms is an established female tradition; a woman is not seen to be suitable for marriage until she is able to weave. Many items are woven, including the traditional female dress, which is known as khadi and penon. The dresses are woven using any combination of six main colours: black, white, red, yellow, blue and green. The religion of the Chakma reflects the diversity found in the CHT. The Chakma themselves practice Buddhism combined with their own very unique customs and traditions. The other inhabitants of the CHT come from a variety of different ethnicities. Tribes often have their own languages The king’s tyranny became so intolerable that his people rebelled and killed him, before fleeing the kingdom and taking up refuge in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and practice different religions. Scattered throughout the whole area you will likely find people who practise Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. The only religion not prevalent among any of the tribal peoples of the CHT is Islam, which is significant because the majority of Bengalis in Bangladesh are of Islamic faith. Given the differences between the indigenous inhabitants of the CHT and the Bengalis of the lowlands, it is hardly surprising that the historical relationship between the two groups has been less than friendly. The recent history of the CHT has been steeped in political upheaval and violence, stretching back to a time when Bangladesh was part of East Pakistan. Problems initially arose following the construction of the Kaptai Dam, as part of a huge hydroelectric power project, in 1962. In Focus Bangladesh Key data n Capital: Dhaka n Land area: 143,998 sq km n Population: 154,695,000 (2012) n Ethnicity: More than 98 per cent of the people are Bengali. Most of the remaining population are indigenous tribal groups and Biharis, originally from Bihar in India n Life expectancy: 70 years n Adult literacy: 57.7% (2011) n GNI: US$129.3 billion (2012) n Official languages: Bangla, although English is widely spoken, especially in government and commerce Indigenous people in the area suffered greatly during the construction process, which displaced thousands of people and led to the flooding of huge areas of fertile land in the main town of Rangamati. The indigenous population was never compensated for its losses by the government. When an independent Bangladesh emerged from behind the curtain of East Pakistan in 1971, many representatives of those residing in the CHT began to fight for the autonomy and recognition of the rights of people of the region. As such, the constitution of Bangladesh, which did not recognise non-Bengali inhabitants, was heavily protested. In 1977 things took a turn for the worse when a civil war erupted between the government of Bangladesh and the United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (PCJSS). A huge Bangladeshi army presence was stationed in the area. The conflict continued for two decades and was finally concluded in 1997 with the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. The CHT Peace Accord theoretically recognised the CHT as a ‘tribal inhabited’ area with traditional governance systems. The signing of this agreement was intended to pave the way towards the complete political, cultural and religious autonomy of the CHT www.global global f i rst quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 69


Global issue 20
To see the actual publication please follow the link above