The Secret of the Hills
|Photo: Zahedul I Khan
“Many years ago, one of our kings had made a deal with the Rakkhosh (demon). The king told the Rakkhosh, that when the pig grows horns and the dead rooster crows in the morning, only then you can enter the realm of earth.” The old man was telling me.
“You don't really believe this do you?” I asked in astonishment.
Now it was his turn to be amazed. “ Does an educated man like you believe that the pig can grow horns, or a dead rooster can crow?” The indigenous people who had gathered around me laughed. “ That is the point of the story, the king prevented the Rakkhosh from entering this world. It is a myth, nothing more” he smiled at my reaction on hearing about the Rakkhosh.
Now had anybody told me this story in a more urban locality, I would have shrugged. But this place surrounded by hills and treacherous terrain motorists generally prefer to avoid carried an aura that made stories about demons and ghosts seem almost believable. It was miles away from the nearest town, roughly two kilometres away from the Myanmar border. The atmosphere was creepy to say the least. In the horizon, a faint light in the local Buddhist monastery, which I learnt was powered by solar energy, gave away the fact that we were in the 21st century. Locals call the place Chakma para (Chakma locality) situated in Reju, sub district of Naikhongchori, Bandarban.
My hosts were however, not creatures from a haunted world but ordinary friendly villagers not yet used to the treacherous patterns that are the byproducts of modern civilisation. But even in the darkness interrupted by the flicker of a dying candlelight, one could distinguish the Tibeto-mongloid features of the people that differentiate them from the mainstream Bengali population.
The different hill tribes of Bangladesh have a unique cultural identity, language, dressing pattern that distinguish the tribes from one another. Most of them are Chakma. The term Chakma is often used by Bengalis to refer to all indigenous hill tribes, although this is a gross mistake. As I found out in Bhaluka, another village bordering the Chakma para is known as Rakhaine para (Rakhaine locality). The Rakhaine are very similar to the Marma people who are the second largest hill community of Bangladesh. The Jhumia Marma, have settled in these parts of Bengal long ago. The other group, known as Rakhaine Marma are relatively recent migrants, who fled persecution in the late 18th century following annexation of Arakan into the Burmese or Bamar kingdom. More than two hundred thousand Rakhaine people were slaughtered following the Burmese invasion compelling many of them to flee the Arakan region.
Like Bengalis, Chakmas have the tendency to refer to the Marma and Rakhaine as “Maghs”, a derogatory term that translates into bandits. This is done out of ignorance, and not with the intention of insulting this particular race of people. The local Chakma also spoke about some of the other tribes who inhabit the hills. They spoke about the “ uncivilised” tribes who do not dress properly. One young Chakma man called U Mong spoke in horror of the people who ate their old folks, literally that is. Confused and bewildered, I turned to the old man for confirmation.
“It is like this, suppose you have come to my house as a guest. We have to entertain our guests. So they used to kill their old folks, cook them up and serve them as food. Old folks have lived their lives, so they believe there is nothing wrong in eating them; it serves their purpose to the full extent.” Have any of them encountered people like these? Apparently none of them had seen such practices but heard these stories from their old folks who are no more. The old man assured me such practices have been extinct for a long time but U Mong maintained that the cannibals still exist. He could not however, provide the name of any particular tribe that carry out such practices nor could he divulge any authentic information regarding cannibalism.
The community members, both Rakhaing and Chakma complained about rude behaviour from the Bengali population. They said that such problems were common in the neighbourhood and also in the nearest provincial town Ukhia. A few weeks earlier, some locals physically assaulted one of their monks. However, none of them had faced any problems in Dhaka, Chitagong or even in Cox's Bazaar. Racism might not be prevalent in our society but the tendency to oppress the weak is still rife and as long as this tendency is there, minorities will always be the targets.
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