Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Lawachara National Park & Tribal Village

We hitched a lift in an auto rickshaw with some locals and made our way to Lawachara National Park, some 8km east of Srimongol. Lawachara is one of five initial pilot sites across Bangladesh to begin adapting a 'Protected area co-management' approach, under the guidance and direction of Nishorgo.
A beautiful tropical forest, the area (1531ha) is home to hundreds of wildlife, including some 246 species of birds as well as reptiles, amphibians, insects and primates including the endangered Hoolock Gibbon and the Slow Loris. The Park forms part of the larger West Bhanugach Reserve and was once a managed timber plantation. It has only been established as a national park and protected since 1996.
Excessive fuel wood collection, Illicit timber extraction, tourism, land encrouchment, gas pipelines all continue to threaten this habitat.
There are set pathways and walks around the reserve and eco guides are available to hire to take you around the park. Many of the guides are local people, trained as part of the Nishorgo project, with some knowledge of the park and the wildlife.
Within the park (and around the tea plantations) are several ' tribal villages'.
Some are Khasia villages called 'Punji' others are Monipuri villages called 'Para'.
The settlements date back to the early 1940's when people were settled in the area to carry out logging and plantation work in the forest.
We visited a Khasai Punji.
The Khasai communities are forest dependent and use the forest as a source of firewood (to cook and to sell), bamboo, cane (for weaving baskets and mats), wild vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants. They also hunt wild animals, fish and birds. Some of the Khasai are engaged in daily manual labour.
The majority of Khasai are Christian or Hindu. This was the village church.
The villagers were each given 1.2ha of land, they use the land to cultivate lemons and pineapple and are allowed to cultivate betel leaves, their only cash crop, in the forest. The betel plant is an evergreen climber and requires trees to grow up.
The leaf is used for 'pan', a mild stimulant. Leaves are pasted with lime, shavings of areca nut and cinnamon then wrapped into a parcel and chewed. One of the identifying features resulting from a person chewing pan is the red saliva.
A Khasai woman sorting betel leaves.
A Khasai family sitting on a cane mat.
Preparing pan.
Tools for preparing pan.A special knife designed for collecting betel leaves, the collector sometimes has to climb high into the tree canopy to collect the leaves.Different shaped baskets are used to collect the leaves. They are positioned on the back between the shoulder blades, sometimes supported by a band across the forehead or worn like a rucksack.
They baskets have beautiful forms, made with different weaves.
A simple but beautifully made brush.
Use of bamboo poles for drying the clothes.
The houses were awash with colour. Some looked like specially arranged compositions and reminded me of Bruce Chatwin photography.
Some were very bright others had a no-less beautiful, more muted, palette.
Some houses were brightly painted and included the owners names and the dates they were built.
A wonderful line of dots had been created in the earth around one house, formed by the rain running off the corrugated tin roof.
A dot to dot line drawn in the earth, leading around the house.Charcoal marks.
Many buildings were cut into the hillsides of the rolling landscape.The houses were made of different materials depending upon the wealth of the owners, some were brick and cement others concrete, some were wood or mud, others bamboo.
The whole village was a visual feast of colours, compositions, textures, surfaces and constructions.Mud rendered over a bamboo lattice.
A red mark of pan coloured spit below the window.
Blocks of mud rendered with clay.
A more modern bamboo and zinc building built on stilts on the brink of a very steep hill.
A more traditional clay and bamboo (or bark) wall.
The scale of the bamboo made for different qualities in walls.
Most properties had a veranda space, outside to protect from the sun or the rain, used by the occupants to cook, sit or work.
The wide roof allowed for the rain to run off away from the building.
The village had its own school at the top of a hill, with six pupils.
Outside they had built their own Shaheed Minar, which had been used to celebrate Ekushey.