Wednesday, August 12

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Dancing Against Genocide

This weekend myself and some new French friends (to the left) went to a festival honoring the indigenous people of Bangladesh.  The French volunteered for a floating hospital on the city’s main river, Buriganga.  There they met a dentist from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.  Previous to this day, I only knew that foreigners needed permits to visit the country’s only non-plain geography due to human rights violations.  Talk about being selfish: once I discovered how difficult it was to visit, I didn’t learn much more.

However, there is little information available describing the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).  Gladly, this festival gave myself and my fellow travelers some insight.

Walking about with our new friend, we gazed over the beautifully patterned clothing.  Dhaka dress is much more flowery than the traditional clothing of the hills where the patterns were more geometrically shaped.  It was also interesting to see new faces at the festival.  Most of the tribes are Buddhist and look more Chinese and Burmese than Bengali.  Our friend said that many Bangladeshis think he is a Chinese businessman, and said he loves the look on their faces when he speaks to them in Bangla slang.  He also sympathizes with us foreigners who are always charged more for fruit and rickshaw rides!

He bought us small pamphlets describing the political and social history of CHT.  Briefly, because of the location, CHT is a very valuable natural resource.  And what happens when governments get a hold of valuable resources?  Tribes are evicted, violently, and the people have had little to no rights.  The past ten years have been under a Peace Treaty but an unrecognized genocide remains in the past and constant fear of aggression for their future.  Visit here for more information.

We toured around, sat under palm trees and chat.  The French girls are studying microloans – really interesting  things to say, a relevant topic to dive into, thinking about women after trafficking.  After a bit, we headed inside into the auditorium to watch indigenous dance performances.  (Visit again in a few days, a short video will appear.)  I think dancing is the most immediate of human connections, and my favourite way to learn about other cultures, and exchange with locals.  Dancing always breaks the embarrassment barrier in the presence of a new person.  Just showing off moves, and learning new ones creates this instant connection, where you laugh at each other’s mistakes and smile when you nail a move.  It was an incongruous feeling: to be at an event concerned with an unrecognized genocide, a complete dehumanizing and alienating experience -- but to be watching these magnificent dancers, feeling a deep, instinctive connection through the beats of their feet.  That's life I suppose: a conflicting ride of experiences and emotions that all, somehow, balance in the end -- if you look for it.

Even though there weren’t any more seats, and I was sitting on the suspension bar of a broken seat, I was beaming at the divine humanity of these light-footed women moving in their jubilant attire under lurid lights.

traditional dancing outside

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