Modern-day collector Farhana Hoque reports on her research progress for the RAI Horniman Collecting Initiative.
Location: Bandarban, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh
Project: Anthropological Research on the Marma people
Langajulako: lan (husband), ga (protection), ju (spikes), lako (bracelet)
My first month in the field and I have been busy trying to piece together the epic history of the Marma people. The Marma population is approx. 15,000 and they are one of 11 ethnic groups in the town called Bandarban which is part of Bangladesh with its total population of 155 million people.
I’ve met with local historians and various experts within the Bohmong (Royal) families. The Marma people have a unique and complex history. They came to be here through a series of migrations from neighbouring Myanmar that began in 1614 when Maung Saw Pyne, son of the King of Pegu (now Bago) became Governor of Chittagong. The Marma people are thought to be a fusion of Mon, Burman and Arakan.
The word ‘Marma’ is thought to come from ‘myrma’ which carries the concept of Myanmar nationalism. I am here to see how culture is maintained, remembered and affirmed through cultural objects.
In my first days in Bandarban, I visited the Tribal Cultural Institute and visited the Marma cabinet in this museum. To my absolute delight, Prokash Marma, the in-the-field collector and curator of the cabinet allowed me to select objects for handling. The collection consisted of women’s clothing and ornaments. There were blouses (Bedai ungi), wrap-around skirts (thami), ornamental belts, hairpins and both wrist and ankle bracelets.
Prokash had collected these objects himself from Marma groups living in rural settings. He could remember the owners of these objects and their stories. He was the connection between the field, the people’s narratives and a museum cabinet. It felt wonderful to be able to quiz this man who opened up the museum especially for me (the only visitor in weeks).
One set of objects particularly drew my attention. They were a pair of bracelets that were spiky/jagged all round. They looked heavy but were in fact quite light due to the type of material used – thought to be alloys.
This set was rare and possibly dates back to the early 1900s. They were made for a young bride and they served the function of protecting her from beatings from her husband.
The Marma consult the Laws of Menoo (Manu), Volume IV, 14th Law – The Law when a man and woman fight.
“If a man shall beat an unresisting woman, let him pay in compensation double the twenty-five tickals laid down in the Damathat as the price of her body, or fifty tickals.” (page 123)