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Cultural Traces Around the World

The Resilient Rohingya People

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Though the majority of the Myanmar population are Buddhists, the Rohingya community in Rakhine State predominately practices Islam. Records show that the Rohingya people are the indigenous people of the area, who have a distinct ethnic, cultural, and linguistic ancestry that dates as far back as the late 7th century. However, due to decades of discrimination and violence imposed upon them, especially since 2017, it’s estimated that only about 600,000 Rohingya people currently reside in Rakhine State. Over 1.3 million individuals have been displaced to Bangladesh and more than 1.5 million have moved to other countries.

Over two millennia ago, the Rakhine State was known as the land of Arakan, a coastal territory segregated from Myanmar by the Arakan Mountain Range. The Muslim Arakanese called themselves Rohingyas. The independent Arakan kingdom is said to have been established as early as the 4th century AD and that it became one of the earliest Indianized kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Rohingya culture is very similar to other ethnic groups across the region. Clay potteries are part and parcel of the Rohingya people’s lives. Rohingyas are also good at weaving and embroidery work.

Historically known as a marine nation, Arakan has a long heritage of shipping and boats play an important role in the life of the Rohingya people. Rohingya shipbuilding craftsmen are well sought after around the world for their superior skills and knowledge. The traditional Rohingya house is known as tottar ghor. It is built using timber, bamboo, and palm leaves from the Arakan forests and hills. The art of building houses is passed from generation to generation, making them artisans with an intricate skillset.

To prevent loss of their traditions, cultures, rituals, rites and arts, the Rohingya Cultural Memory Center (RCMC) is being established in Bangladesh Cox’s Bazar refugee camp by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a group of Rohingya. Collaborating with Books Unbound, RCMC produced the interesting educational animation series “Our Rohingya Adventures” in their native language.

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