On the margins of Bangladeshi society, the landless Manta community can be identified by their distinct customs and traditions as well as their lower incomes and social disadvantage.
Story by Divyan Ahimaz. Photos by JAGO NARI.
Manta families live practically their whole lives on the water, eking a living from fishing and moving from place to place.
The Manta in Bangladesh’s southwest share similarities with the Gypsies found across Europe. In fact, their name means ‘Water’ or ‘River Gypsies.’
They are one of the 5,000 cultural groups that make up the estimated population of 370 million indigenous people living in 90 countries worldwide.
Life for the Manta, also known as the Bede or Beday, revolves around the water surrounding their floating homes which is the source of their livelihood and transport routes.
Like Gypsies in other parts of the world, the Manta suffer the same discrimination and exclusion from the wider community.
Being totally dependent upon fishing also brings them into conflict with other fishermen who preciously guard access to locations where better catches can be made.
Hostility towards the group even extends to land ownership rights, to the extent that even their dead cannot be buried.
Having no toilet means that members of the community practice open defecation in the same river they use for bathing and cooking, which in turn fosters diseases associated with poor hygiene.
Unsurprisingly, education for Manta children is overwhelmingly focused on gaining skills related to fishing.
Learning this particular vocation becomes all-encompassing, at the expense of any other academic studies which might lead to alternative sources of income generation in the future.
Life for the Manta revolves around the water.
Manta parents see little value in sending their children to a state-run school where they will not be learning to fish and will likely face pronounced discrimination.
With this in mind, the Jago Nari team were therefore particularly focused on using this trip to assess the feasibility of implementing a ‘boat school’ in the vicinity.
Manta parents see little value in sending their children to schools where they will face pronounced discrimination.
‘We are really grateful to MAF for the flight support to assess the Manta community,’ begins Duke Ivn Amin, who is in charge of resource mobilisation and communication at Jago Nari.
‘Travelling from Dhaka to Char Montaz, we would need approximately 24 hours by road and boat. But MAF greatly reduces that time and we could reach there in 45 minutes at very limited cost. As a result, we had more time to interact with Manta community for an in-depth assessment.’
'Travelling to Char Montaz, we would need approximately 24 hours by road and boat. MAF greatly reduces that time and we could reach there in 45 minutes.' Duke Ivn Amin