Marma Tribe & Community

Oct. 19, 2016

An ancient boat, believed to belong to the first Arakanese settlers from Arakan State in Burma over 200 years ago, was found in Bangladesh on 29 June during low tide, according to a report of the Daily Star published on 11 July.

The ancient wooden boat recently surfaced from a sandy beach in Kuakata in Khulna Division in Bangladesh.

The precious brass sheets from the boat were looted by a group of local people as soon as the boat was seen on the beach.

A three-member team from the Department of Archaeology of Khulna Division  have excavated the boat and found that only two feet of it’s upper portion had emerged from the beach. The boat measures 72 feet long and 22.5 feet wide, the report said.

According to Arakanese history, thousands of Arakanese families from Arakan fled to Bangla Awa Kyunyt area, known to locals as Kuakata and Balguna, in Bangladesh, in many wooden boats to settle there after Burma’s King Bodopaya invaded Arakan in 1784.

The Arakanese kingdom fell on 31 December, 1784, after the Burmese king invaded and conquered Arakan. Arakanese king Maha Thamada Raza and his royal families, along with many precious royal treasures, were brought by the Burmese royal army to the Burmese king in his capital Amra Pura near Mandalay as captives.

After that, many Arakanese families, including nobility, deserted Arakan to seek shelter in the areas of Kuakata and Barguna in the nearby West Bengal area of India using wooden boats across the Bay of Bengal.

People gather in Kuakata to see the ancient boat that surfaced from beneath the sandy beach. 

A three-member team from the Department of Archaeology of Khulna Division yesterday set off for Kuakata where an ancient wooden boat recently surfaced from beneath the sandy beach.
The ancient boat, believed to be belonging to the first Rakhine settlers from the Arakan province in Myanmar over 200 years ago, was found on June 29 during low tide.
As soon as the boat surfaced, a group of local people started looting precious brass sheets from its joints, said a Daily Star report on July 4.
Contacted, Abdul Baten, regional director (acting) of Department of Archaeology, Khulna Division, said on seeing the report and being informed by locals from Kuakata, the Khulna division office sent three experts to assess the importance of the wooden boat.
Research Assistant Md Golam Ferdous is leading the team, which consists of draughtsman Md Jahandar Ali and photographer Md Abdus Sama.
The team was assigned to send a thorough report detailing their findings to the Khulna division office, Baten said.
“We will forward the report to our headquarters in Dhaka for further direction,” he said. The director, however, did not comment on the antiquity of the boat saying, “We are yet to see the report from our team.”
“Quite large and partially buried beneath the sandy beach, the boat will be difficult to heave up. We may have to wait till winter for the water to recede,” Baten said.
“Then there is budget to consider. A venture like this needs a budget and planning,” the director said adding that all these await the report and direction from the head office in Dhaka.
Yves Marre, who initiated a traditional boat museum under the banner “Protection and Preservation of National Naval Heritage of Bangladesh”, told The Daily Star that if the boat is indeed 200 years old, it is a national treasure.
French born Bangladeshi, Marre has so far replicated 65 types of traditional wooden boats of Bangladesh and exhibited those in France and other European countries.
Talks are underway to soon open an exhibition of those boats in the naval museum of Greenwich in London, he said.
Consisting of timber made of Gorjon tree, the boat is 72 feet long and 22.5 feet wide and only two feet of its upper portion has emerged from the sandy beach near the tamarisk garden in Kuakata.

The 200-year-old wooden sail ship, salvaged from under the beach in Kuakata at a cost of over one crore taka now lies in tatters due to a lack of conservation efforts.
In 2013, engineers of the Bangladesh Army salvaged the ancient ship, believed to be a schooner. They painstakingly laid railway tracks over a distance of about three kilometers, in order to move the 72 feet long and 22.5 feet wide ship, weighing about 70 metric tons, eventually placing it near the main Buddhist temple at Kuakata Zero Point. From the same spot on the beach from where the ship was salvaged, the engineers had also dug out a 5o-foot long chain, now on display, weighing over four to five tons. Ever since it was placed there, the sail ship, popularly known as Shonar Nouka (the ship of gold; called as such for its hull’s coating of a golden copper sheet), has been a must visit destination for thousands of tourists.
During a recent visit, the wooden artifact was found open to everyone without any guards or caretaker. Interestingly, the Department of Archaeology, on paper, has employed three local people each with a daily allowance of Tk. 280 to maintain an eight hourly shift each, thus ensuring a round-the-clock vigil. However during the three-day visit by this correspondent, no one was sighted at the site.  Instead, vandals were carving names and writing love messages on the panels of the artifact. There was no protection whatsoever.  A scribbled warning sign was nailed to the boat urging people not to damage the national heritage.

The scribbled warning sign haphazardly nailed to the side of the boat.
A group of tourists from Khulna wondered about the probable history of the ship and looked around eagerly to find a signboard. There was none to be seen.
“They (the archeologists) should have put a board explaining its significance and its most probable history to help people like us to learn more about our history,” said Ananta Kumar Dey, a student of Khulna University of Engineering and Technology.
Afroza Khan Mita is the assistant director of the Department of Archeology, who from its Dhaka office worked on the salvage operation of the ancient ship. She told reportsbd.com that the department does not have funds to do what is necessary for conservation of the historic sail ship.

The 50-foot chain displayed next to the ship near Kuakata Zero point.
“We have appealed to everyone to come forward and fund its restoration and conservation program,” Mita said. “We have three men working for us to safeguard the artifact but as per reports they are absent most of the time.”
“We had written to the national museum more than two months ago for help to restore this unique piece of artifact, but they seem to have ignored our appeal,” she added.
Mita also added that the Rakhaine community is objecting to setting up a structure on the land claiming land ownership. “They are even obstructing us from building a wall around the precious ancient sail ship,” she added.
The origin of the schooner
There are two theories about the origin of the sail ship that partially surfaced on the beach on July 2, 2012 with the receding tidal water of the Bay of Bengal.
One theory suggests that many Rakhines came here from Myanmar in 1784 with around 50 boats, in order to escape from persecution and torture of Bodpaya, who captured the power after defeating Thamada, the then king of the Arakan province. The sail ship now on display in Kuakata might be one of such vessels.
The second theory links the sail ship to the Portuguese pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries, who used schooners for its speed to travel to this part of the hemisphere and disappear fast after looting villages along the coastal areas.

The outer hull of the ship on display after salvation.
Whatever the present situation, we need scientific analysis such as carbon dating and further research to reveal the mysterious past of this beautiful gift of time bestowed on the people of Bangladesh.

Jul. 24, 2016
Bangladesh freedom fighter Bir Bikram UK Ching Marma

Wikipedia link of Bir Bikram UK Ching Marma

Jul. 24, 2016

Bangladesh freedom fighter Bir Bikram UK Ching Marma

UK Ching Marma (1937 - 25 July 2014) was a Bangladeshi freedom fighter, whom was awarded the Bir Bikram in 1971 for his military services in the Bangladesh Liberation War.Uk Ching Marma was born in 1937 into poverty in a Marma family of Chittagong Hill Tracts (now in Bangladesh) of British India. At the age of 15, Ching joined the East Pakistan Rifles, better known as the Bangladesh Rifles during the modern age. He served Mukti Bahini in the Bangladesh liberation war and remained an active member of the Bangladesh Rifles until 1982

Personal life
Ching is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. He died on 25 July 2014, of a stroke

Once we were heroes

(an article from Daily Star Newspaper)

U.K. Ching's journey from near obscurity to recognition is one that should give the nation pause. There is little information about his contributions in the war and hardly any documentation about this gallant hero in official records.

In the March 11, 2004, National Gazette, which claims to be the final list of all freedom fighters, Nayek Subedar Bir Bikram U.K. Ching, serial number 175 under the gallantry award section, is listed as deceased. It was through the efforts of Sajjad Ali Zahir and the support of the BDR that Mr. Ching was found to be alive, and willing to come to the city to attend an event in his honour thirty-seven years after receiving the medal for valour.

The discussants were Major General C.R. Dutta (Bir Uttam), Major General K.M. Safiullah (Bir Uttam), Lt. Col. Abu Osman Chowdhury, writer Selina Akhter, Professor Mesbah Kamal. The event was attended by people from all walks of life and members of the different adivasi communities.

The most striking and powerful moment of the event was the recognition of eleven other adivasi muktijoddhas from Shakhipur and Gazipur, men who till today have not found their places in the history books of our liberation --Lakkhan Chandra Barman, Parimal Chandra Kotch, Chandra Mohon Barman, Sona Toch Burman, Nipen Barman, Lakhyi Kanto Kotch, Ajit Chandra Barman, Jotin Chandra Kotch, Suresh Chandra Barman, Rabindra Chandra Barman and Jotindro Chandro Barman.

U.K. Ching's experience in the frontlines is a testament to his valour and his indomitable spirit in the quest for freedom. Now around seventy-five years old, he is still a feisty man with a sparkling sense of humour, which was manifest in the war stories he related. As a member of the EPR, he fought in many districts as a platoon commander.

He was noted for his courage, and the initiative he took for saving the lives of his Bengali comrades (he lost only three of his men in the nine months of war) and for rescuing many Bengali women from the hands of the Pakistani army.

For his courage, he was awarded one of the highest gallantry awards Bangladesh had to offer; for his ethnic identity, he is still waiting for recognition in the Constitution that became possible only through the sacrifices he and countless others made to create a new nation.

The event was organised to not only thank U.K. Ching for his contributions in the independence of the country, but also to serve as a reminder to its people that the freedom we enjoy is one that was brought about by not only Bengalis, but also non-Bengalis who did not hesitate to give up their homes, families, livelihoods, and in some cases their lives.

Muktijoddhas have asked for very little; their demand has always been that the country be built on the values of freedom, dignity and equality, which they fought for. Yet thirty-seven years into independence, the nation has failed its children and the very ideals it was created for.

Successive governments have yet to recognise the role of non-Bengalis in the liberation struggle and have failed to protect, preserve and respect the rights of adivasi communities who are part and package of the diversity of this nation. They are still denied their right to land, language, and culture. They are denied their space in the Bangladeshi constitution, thereby being dismissed as people of no-consequence.

It is a shame for Bengalis who fought so hard for their language, their right to autonomy, their culture and their freedom with the assistance of the adivasi communities, that they have failed the very people with whom they continue to share the water, air and land of this country. Till our adivasi brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends get their rightful position in this country, the struggle for liberation is not over.

A medal means very little if there is little understanding of its true value. Recognition is tainted if it is limited to honouring the contributions of only those of a particular ethnic group, however it is defined -- by the colour of one's skin, one's language, one's culture. Freedom loses its meaning if one enjoys it at the expense of another.

U.K. Ching, and men and women like him who gave it their all for independence, did not ask for a medal nor for recognition. They fought along with their Bengali brothers and sisters because it was what they believed they should do during a time of severe crisis. In return, they did not expect the country they fought for to fail them again and again, such that today even their grandchildren continue to be forgotten, their land is grabbed through illegal settlements, and their resistance is silenced by violence and intimidation.

Recognising the dire circumstances in which U.K. Ching and his family now live in, Dr. Zafarullah of Gonoshastho Hospital and Dr. Hasan of Al Biruni Hospital have come forward offering free medical treatment; others have pledged to assist them in any way possible. Yet, such private initiatives cannot replace the role and responsibility of a national government that, in sheer callousness, listed a living hero as being dead.

The heroes of '71 expected more from the country they helped create; at the least, they did not expect to be forgotten. In the case of the adivasis, their contribution in the independence of this country has yet to be recognised, as is their right as equal citizens of this land. They are still waiting for the country to embrace them as its own. They should not have to wait anymore.

Jul. 15, 2016
Published by: Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council

A CHTRC Publication Published on the Occasion of marking the Celebration of One Decade of CHTRC

Jul. 15, 2016

The word “Marma” originates from the Burmese word “Myanma”, which means “Burmese Nationals”and is pronounced as “Marma”by the people of the CHT. In other explanation the word “Marma” is derived from the Burmese word “Mraima” which means “Being Born”. Hence, the predecessors of the Marma tribes were from Burma and as such, they came to be known as “Marma” or “Mraima”.

The Marmas of CHT were migrated from ancient Burma (Myanmar). The original and ancestral land of the Marma tribe was in the ancient Pegu city of Myanmar. The people of Pegu were known as “Talaing or Tai Luang” meaning “Greater Tai”, a branch of the Great Tai race, which, according to some historians, lived in southern and central China as early as 2200 BC. Some researchers opine that the Buddhists of Arakan now known as Marmas and Maghs are the same group of people. The Marma people of CHT, however, do not like to identify themselves with Maghs. They consider that Maghs were originally pirates and that Marmas, far from being pirates, hated this occupation.

In 1599, the city of Pegu was invaded by Mahappinnagi, the brave Army Commander of the King of Arakan. They captured whole region and became under the control of Arakan Kingdom. During the Arakanese rule (1459-1666), there might have developed some settlements in south and south-eastern parts of Bengal (present Bangladesh), but these are not historically traceable. In 1614, the most population including other ethnic tribe from Pegu city came and had settled in the Arakan State of Myanmar as well as in the Chittagong district and CHT, which was then almost unpopulated. There is a history of the Marma King's rule in Chittagong district and CHT. In the 16th century they came in CHT during the reign of Bohmong King name Raja Hari Prue. At that time the Arakan King attacked Chittagong, and established it as his capital. The Arakan King sent two troops to Chittagong bestowing the title of Bohmong and Mong to the troop leaders to fight against the Mughals. These troops did not go back and eventually settled in the Chittagong and hill tract areas. The Bohmong leader came settled at Bandarban and the Mong leader entered Khagrachari and Ramgarh with his groups respectively. Since than the two leaders recognised themselves as Raja or Chief or King in their own troop or group. In the eighteenth century, many Marma people also migrated from Arakan because of political turmoil and they gradually settled in different areas of CHT, Chittagon and Patuakhai.

From other historical fact that the main Marma settlements in Bangladesh grew up with the fall of the independent Kingdom of Arakan to Burma in 1784. After the annexation, King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) of Burma let loose a reign of terror. This resulted in the migration of two-thirds of its population to south-eastern part of Bengal. The British government took measures for their rehabilitation. Captain H. Cox, a former British navy officer in Burma, was appointed as the superintendent of the Marma settlements. Cox's Bazar, now a sea resort of Bangladesh, was named after him. The grant of asylum and the depredations of Mama resulted in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-25, in which Burma was defeated and Arakan and Tenassarim were annexed to the British dominion by the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. As a result, the refugees from Arakan got a permanent foothold in the southern areas of Chittagong district. The second wave of Marma migration started from Arakan through the Matamuhuri Valley and in course of time, they spread over Bandarban. Marma call this area Bohmong Thoung ie, the residence of the Bohmong Chief. The third group entered Khagrachari from Sitakunda region and built up their permanent abode at Ramgarh. They claim to be known as “Plaung Tha” and their residence as “Plaung Thoung” meaning the abode of the “Plaung Thoung clan”. The fourth group crossing the bay of Bengal reached southern part of Greater Patuakhali (now divided into two districts, Patuakhali and Barguna) and settled down there as Rangabali, Bara Baizdiya and Aila were the principal Marma settlements.