12:00 AM, November 10, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 10, 2007

The story of a distressed people

Junaidul Haque encounters silent suffering in a gripping book

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The Rakhaines
Mustafa Majid
Mowla Brothers

The Rakhaines is a properly illustrated, lovely book on the Rakhaines of Bangladesh. It is dedicated to Prof. Serajul Islam Choudhury and late Dr. Najma Jesmin Choudhury, a couple who considered Mustafa Majid a member of their own family and helped him become what he is today, a poet and an essayist of repute and a tireless and successful researcher. The book has a number of coloured photographs on Rakhaine life at the end. Qayyum Chowdhury has designed its appealing cover. Published recently, the book throws light on the life of the neglected Rakhaines from a socio-economic and administrative point of view. It has been Mustafa Majid's Ph D thesis.
Mustafa Majid has been working on the Rakhaines for more than twenty years. The completion of his research took a lot of time due to various difficulties. He had to struggle to survive and the Rakhaines also had to be convinced to let him know about them. Hard work, guidance from teachers and generous help from his wife made him successful. He could finally write a book on the Rakhaines, his favourite tribe whom he affectionately and sadly calls exiles in their own land.
Mustafa Majid loves the Rakhaines because they belong to his disttrict Patuakhali. Frankly speaking, I first heard about the Rakhaines from him a couple of decades back when he had begun his research and used to passionately talk about them whenever he got a listener. His devoted research bore fruit and we now have a highly readable book. We do not know much about our tribal people. More such books are certainly welcome.
The Rakhaines of the coastal areas of Patuakhali, Borguna and Cox's Bazar are not very ancient inhabitants of this land. They migrated from Myanmar a couple of hundred years back. Perhaps no other tribe lived in our coastal areas before them. There was no detailed research on them until Mustafa Majid came along. He blazed the trail and people will, one is quite convinced, definitely follow him. The Rakhaines, according to him, are a great subject for anthropological research. His work is just a beginning, he feels.
Among the world's 6000 million people, nearly 400 million are aborigines or tribal people. Their identities differ. Living within the same geographical boundaries, they differ in belief and culture from the main population. In our country the tribes are different from the main population --- the Bengali Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists. The Rakhaines are a small tribe with many problems. They have problems of culture, forced land occupation by neighbouring non-tribals, lack of security and, most important of all, forced political separation. Thus they are exiles in their own land. Out of a lack of security they are forced to leave Bangladesh. 'Internal colonialism' has forced them to a point of no return. But despite their poor socio-economic conditions, the Rakhaines never went for an armed struggle like their Chittagong Hill Tracts brothers of the 1980s. But they are silently very unhappy and Mustafa Majid feels we must address their problems. The aim of his research was to find the roots of the problems of the Rakhaines. Although we live in the same country, the Rakhaines flow like a separate current and do not belong to the mainstream.
The Rakhaines came to our land nearly two hundred years ago and turned the uncultivable deep forests of the coastal belt into a habitable area by dint of inhuman toil and, while doing so, fought against many odds. They should not be treated as strangers. We simply have forgotten history and have neglected them.
In the seven chapters of the book, Mustafa Majid deals with theories of administration, identities of the Rakhaines and a chronicle of Patuakhali, the anthropological identity of the Rakhaines, their land problems and the unkind role of the administration and other problems. He concludes by calling for the inclusion of the tribes in the mainstream.
Mustafa Majid is a freedom fighter. He is a poet, storyteller and essayist. Being an experienced writer, he employs good prose in this work. He has worked hard to provide us with a faithful account of the origin, the life and the problems of the Rakhaines. His book is a very important addition to anthropological research in Bangladesh. We appreciate his dedication and his diligence.
Junaidul Haque writes fiction. He is in the travel trade.

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