As the days of Rohingya living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps pass, with no sign of repatriation in sight, a traditional folk genre that eased repressed emotions is becoming a tool of protest.
The Rohingya have long sung “Tarana Geet,” a type of lyric poem that serves as a musical lament expressing themes of personal and religious tragedy. But in recent years, the ballads have become a staple of Rohingya protest rallies in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp. Songs often make people cry.
“Tarana reminds the Rohingya that they, too, have a country in exile,” said Mohammad Alam, a Rohingya leader and chairman of the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp committee. “Tarana’s song tells the story of our ongoing torture.”
Refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of southeastern Bangladesh, near the border with Myanmar, host about one million refugees. They include 740,000 Rohingya who fled across the border in their native Rakhine state after a brutal military crackdown in 2017.
The most recent Taranas, usually sung by a singer one or two simple Instruments such as the mandolin or the organ capture the longing for the loss of home and the stress of camp life. reciting popular songs such as “Let’s All Go Back to Rakhine State,” referring to the historical name of Rakhine State, painting Emotions were strong at the protest rally.
“The Rohingya have a long-standing fondness for tarana songs written with simple lyrics to traditional tunes. We can easily grasp the emotions they convey,” said Noor Aye, an activist with the Rakhine Rohingya Association for Peace and Human Rights. Ahmed said. “That’s why it’s now our language of protest.”
On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military launched an offensive in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on border police posts, as Rohingya began fleeing ethnic cleansing and widespread violence in Rakhine State. In March 2022, the United States declared the incident a genocide.
In the six years since, attempts to repatriate refugees from Bangladesh have failed amid persistent international concerns about the protection and rights of refugees from Myanmar. Myanmar is now ruled by a military junta that seized power in a February 2021 coup.
Sirajul Islam is a 24-year Rohingya musician who earns his living by singing Taranas. He recently improvised a new Tarana lyric titled “Rohingya Tragedy” based on a widely circulated tune.” based on established tunes.
Last year, he agreed to sing the song for Bernal journalists at a party in the Leda refugee camp: “Oh brother, oh brother, listen carefully. Listen to Rakhine’s story, brother.”
“Some lost their husbands. Some lost their offspring. Oppressed by Mohs Burmese, our Rohingya mothers and sisters. How poor they make us. “
He went on to describe the misery of life in the refugee camp: “Come to the camp. Brother see how it is. We live together, oh bro. “
One of his songs titled “No Peace for the Rohingya” is one of the most popular Taranas in the refugee community: “We’re stuck overseas now, oh bro. No country has Rakhine Peace like Bang. My eyes fill with tears when I think of Rakhine.”
“We long for Rakhine, but we have no way to go back.”
The recent unrest in Rohingya refugee camps has inspired Islam and others to create Taranas with more political themes.Many works are dedicated to the tribute muhibulawas a prominent Rohingya leader who was shot dead two years ago.
Ahmed Hossain, a 42-year-old refugee musician, sings in one of his songs: “Everyone is here. Only Master muhibula no.why my heart is burning for master muhibula Baiy. “
Tarana’s popularity sparked a race to preserve the ballads.
In the refugee camps, the Rohingya Cultural Memory Center (RCMC), run by the International Organization for Migration, preserves art, artifacts, cultural treasures and heritage, including around 100 Rohingya songs of different genres.
RCMC also hosts performances by Rohingya artists including Ahmed Hossain and displays traditional Rohingya musical instruments at an exhibition center in the Ukhia camp in Cox’s Bazar subdivision .
RCMC did not respond to a request for comment, but Asif Munier, a Bangladeshi cultural activist formerly employed by the International Organization for Migration, told BenarNews, “Earlier, the Rohingya tried to display slogan in English to appeal to the international community”. camp area.
“It’s interesting that their protests are now taking a different approach. The Rohingya protests are now developing their own identity,” he said.
Mayyu Khan, a young Rohingya artist and researcher, said he admired the RCMC’s work but felt more needed to be done.
His solo album has collected more than 100 songs since 2017. But he doesn’t know the creators of most of the lyrics and songs. “I only recorded most of the soundtrack on my phone, and I also collected rare songs from other people’s devices.”
He uploads the songs to his social media pages, but aspires to build a stronger profile of musical treasures.
Meanwhile, an Australian label dedicated to capturing life in exile has recorded some tarana music, taking songs and lyrics from traditional folklore and refugee artists.
Music in Exile says on its website that there are few high-quality recordings of traditional Rohingya music, noting that there are few English-language reports of the music.
“Very few music recordings have been made in Rohingya villages or refugee camps,” the NGO wrote after visiting the region. “Despite increased media attention to the crisis, most reports focus only on refugees. The atrocities faced, rather than their culture and memory – an important part of their story was left behind.”
BenarNews is an online news organization affiliated with RFA.