Hajong and Chakma Communities in Bangladesh : Ethnobiological practices help sustainable development

By Bibhuti Bhushan Mitra

According to United Nations World Commission of Environment and Development, sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Hajong community lives in Mymensingh, Sherpur districts and Chakma in Chittagong district. One in plain land and another in hill area. The article presents here ethnobiological practices of two communities which are sustainably used.
Bangladesh covers an area of 1, 47,570 sq km with a population of 150 million. The total population of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh is approximately 3 million, out of which, 0.85 million live in Chittagong which covers an area of 13,295 sq km and others in greater Mymensingh and Sylhet region.
The ethnobiological practices in these communities are common in Bangladesh. Involving practices are toems and taboos, sacred groves, traditional medicinal uses and traditional farming, social ethics and beliefs etc. These are also termed as traditional ecological knowledge. According to IUCN-
* Traditional ecological knowledge or TEK offers new biological knowledge and ecological insights;
* Some TEK system provides models of sustainable natural resource management;
* TEK is relevant for protected areas and conservation education;
* The use of TEK is often crucial for development planning; and
* TEK may be used in environmental assessment.
Clark shows that the concept of sustainable use of species posits that humanity can benefit from the exploitation of surpluses that are naturally produced by wild animals. The concept holds, for example, that it is appropriate to exploit elephants when their numbers exceed the carrying capacity of any particular habitat.
Sacred groves are the ancient natural sanctuaries where all forms of living creatures are afforded protection through the grace of some deity.
Totems and taboos are unwritten social rules that regulate human behaviour. Such constraints not only may govern human social life, but also may affect and sometimes even directly manage, many constituents of the natural environment.
Traditional agroecosystem supports the plant and animal, tree diversity in farms, and agroecosystem is often the product of interaction of local and formal knowledge.
In spite of modernisation, traditional ecological ethos continue to survive in many other local societies, although often in reduced forms. A large number of elements of local biodiversity, regardless of their use value, are protected by the local cultural practices.
Traditional knowledge such as totems and taboos, ethos, farming, myth, folklores is vital for sustainable use of natural resources including forest, water, agroecosystems etc.
Biodiversity conservation in the context of specific local knowledge and skills and strategies; concern for well-being of future generations; reliance on local resources; restraint in resource exploitation; an attitude of gratitude and respect for nature; management, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity outside formal protected areas; and, transfer of useful species among the households, villages and larger landscape may be helpful for sustainable life.
Madhav Gadgil says that ecosystem people have been in the business of extracting services from nature without large inputs for a very long time. Their practices have therefore moulded to working closely to nature. This repertoire includes a great variety of land races of cultivated plants and domesticated animals adapted to particular environments which often are reservoirs of valuable genes conferring resistance to disease, permitting salt or drought tolerance and so on.
Anwarul Islam comments in his paper that despite the overwhelming Muslim majority, Bangladesh is not an Islamic state yet. A democratically elected government governs it, with equal opportunities for every group to choose its own representatives. Since Bangladesh is an overpopulated country, there is little inhibition in exploiting the available natural resources. Some of the traditional beliefs and practices of the people have helped in the protection of a few plants like peepul, mehndi, tamal, and birds and animals like the spider, crab, turtle, king cobra, marsh crocodile, swift and Hunuman langur.
Most ecosystem people live in the forest area. According to Anwarul Islam’s study, traditional beliefs such as worship ingredients (sanctified) protect the recorded species. Some species are protected by social farming or medicinal use, because of the traditional consumer’s needs. Two types of traditional ethos have been recorded in both Hajong and Chakma communities, which help to protect the species. These traditional practices are sustainable for development. Because it not only fills up the present community needs, but also save the resource for long term future.
(1st published in the daily star)


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