Volume 2 Issue 27 | February 16 , 2008 |


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From Bandarban

The Murong Life Through Images

Sumon Yusuf

On my first trip to this very memorable village in 2005, I got hooked on all the sights. I was amazed to see the Murong families for the first time. The first time I only spent one day there. When I went there I met Pashing, a man who fluently spoke Bengali unlike the others. I told him that maybe I wanted to live there in Langrui. So he made an arrangement for me to live in a big house on my next trip. I was there for five days trying to talk to the locals and understand their lifestyle. At first they were very shy to talk to me. But later on my next trip, they gradually started to become quite friendly with me. The homeowner's family warmed up to me and the children became very free with me. I became enamored with the place and took up my camera to capture the lifestyle of these Murongs.

This village has different names, like Kaiton para and Kungron para. I was informed that this village was called Langrui para which was by now inhabited by 52 families. These people had at one point crossed over the border from Myanmar. For a living they cultivate joom, other fruits like mountainous pumpkins and they raise wild animals. I was introduced to Rangshom Karbari who was sort of the 'morol' of that village. Later I found out that to fix the lack of electricity they had made arrangements for solar. So these days, electronic entertainment is there and the locals are able to watch movies. There is a very strong sense of unity and they all follow the orders of the morol.

My goal in taking all these pictures was to have a photography exhibition about all this which I am still working on. Taking pictures, I found that they live very much in the midst of nature. They have very few diseases. The infant mortality rate is high due to diarrhoea and malaria. They can't get proper treatment. Even in the midst of the lack of treatment, they seem to be happy. They like being where they are, and are not drawn towards Dhaka city. They have festivals, their own kind of music with their own kinds of instruments.

Once, a Murong told me that there would be a rainfall the next day, but I did not believe him. Later I saw that it really did rain. These people are more in touch with nature than city dwellers. Their social structure is different on a lot of things. For example, the society is matrilineal- usually married men go and live in the wives' households. Women are more in touch with business than men. I have seen instances where the woman goes out to fish and the husband is cooking the food inside the household. There is a great equality in terms of gender. They are very strongly peace loving. They do not so much as care for fights inside the household. The girls are fond of Bangalee boys very much. When I told a Murong girl that she'd have a chance to go and live in Dhaka, she said she didn't want to do such a thing. The boy she married would have to come and live in their village. The boys want to leave to the city more than the girls. I took a lot of pictures of these girls. Most of the pictures I took are centered around a few families- Kaishong, Proleng, Meinting.

An NGO here had established a school. I came across two teachers who were leaving the school due to the fact that they weren't getting paid very well. Now the school has had to shut down. That was the only school not only in that village but also the surrounding villages. This was a big loss to the area.

Murong women like to dress up a lot. They have a strong sense of style. They use aluminium to make bracelets. The men like to wear necklaces and pagris on top of their heads.

Weddings also have their own way. The women have to live with the men first. Sometimes the women spend some time with the man to decide whether or not he is marriage worthy. In fact, both sides have to agree about marriage based on compatibility.

Most Murongs have good health. They eat twice a day. Their habits and lifestyle make them look young. They love chatting. They love sitting down with their friends and family members to hear stories, even if the speaker is speaking in Bangla and they do not understand. However, they do not waste any time when they are working. They wake up and get to work bright and early until the rainy season arrives. They eat joom, insects and snakes. They caught a python on my first day there. They eat pumpkins. They have a pork-heavy diet. They also have beef. They drink mostly pig milk.

In many other respects they are very much like Bangalees. There are not too many other conspicuous differences.

I was once called into Proleng's house for food. I took some pictures of the pregnant lady who was quite willing to pose. I took many photos of all of them. They are extremely shy, helpful and trustworthy. I always felt very safe sleeping there with a lot of very expensive equipment.

Starting from 2006 I made a trip to that village every month for a year or so. There were plenty of half-joking offers about me staying behind. Some of the young people there speak a little Bengali. The older generation does not speak Bangla. Pashing speaks Bangla because he has traveled around more than the others. He has even traveled to France to spread Murong culture. He is affiliated with a lot of organizations and knows a lot of people. I took away a lot from this culture and some of it is captured in these images.

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