Sunday, May 8, 2011
LIFE AND DEATH IN THE SUNDARBANS
Rahul Morol, 14, is photographed outside his home one year after being attacked by a tiger with his cousin while fishing. “After the attack it took 1 ½ month to fully recover. Before the attack I was not afraid of the tiger. Now I feel afraid. I don’t work now. I just play. I will never go to the jungle again. My father still goes and I feel afraid for him because I remember what happened to me. After the attack my cousin because much more scared than me. He was so fearful that he left the Bangladesh for India and he works as a painter. In the future I plan to be a shrimp farmer. I have no other plan. No other option”
In May 2010 Ruhel and his cousin Rubel went to fish for crabs in a narrow canal called Tuskhali in the forest. Sailing into these canals is extremely dangerous because the boat is surrounded by dense forest on either side, making it impossible to spot a tiger until it is too late. Ruhel and Rubel were sailing through the middle of the canal when the tiger leaped into Ruhel, clawing his head, back and chest. Rubel grabbed the tiger by it's paw and tried to push it off his cousin, injuring his arms but scaring away the tiger.
Khalil Gazi (left) and his relatives collect crabs in the jungle just 10 months after his wife Nasima was killed by a tiger. “After Nasima's death I went to Bandarban but I found no job. Then I went to Jessore. I worked as a laborer in Jessore. I earned 500 taka (around 5 usd) a week. I got sick and had to move back here and spend 35,000 taka (324usd) for treatment. My parents paid for treatment. I stayed here after that because I earn much more money here. I collect crabs from the canals and enter the jungle for honey hunting. Sometimes I sell shrimp. I am worried about tigers but I have no other option. I need money for my children, to feed and educate them. Three of my children go to school. I left for Bandarban two months after Nasimas death with my son. The first time I entered the jungle after her death I was afraid. I was terrified. It took 4 to 5 months for me to feel normal in the jungle again. I remarried to Rena Begum 5 months ago. Since being back home in the Sundarbans I am happier than I was before. I am earning enough money from the jungle. Sometime I remember Nasima when I am in the jungle. I remember how I had to carry her dead body out of the jungle and I feel sad when I remember. I have to live long for my children. I have to educate them and try my best for them.”
May 16, 2010, in the morning, after finishing their household work, Nasima and Khalil went crab fishing in the forest. While they were fishing on the banks of the forest a tiger snuck up from behind and pounced on Nasima. Khalil drove the tiger away with a tree branch, but could not save his wife. As she lay dying on the river shore she hugged Khalil and made him promise never to come to the forest again. She whispered to him, "What will happen to our children if a tiger attacks you?"
Ali Moti is photographed in her home in Moturapur. She doesn't know how old she is, but guesses she is 25. Her husband Nabo Kumar Mandol was killed by a tiger last year. “My husband was fishing in the Purakalla canal. Around 9am I was cooking in my neighbors house when I got the news that he had been attacked. When I heard this I was senseless, crying. I had to be carried home. I fainted for about 30 minutes. The forest response team took his body back to this town. I fainted when I saw the body. I was 15 when my mother and father told me I was going to be married. I felt shame and ran away. I didn't want to leave my parents and live with a man I didn’t know. My marriage was nice. My sister in law and I became very good friends. My husband loved me very much. Now I work to repair the roads in town. I have two children to support and I also have to support one brother in law and one sister in law. She will be married soon. I make 1,500 taka a month (around 14 usd). My brother in law is too afraid to work in the jungle. He works on the mainland and work is scarce. He looks for work every day but can only find work around 2 days a week. My son catches crabs, but away from the forest close to the mainland. He only makes 20-50 taka (18 cents and 46 cents) a day. I don’t miss my husband. I can survive by myself and take care of my son and daughter. Things are okay but sometimes I have to borrow money. Things are not good, but okay.”
Halima, 49, lives in Kodomtola. “My husband and son were killed by the tiger 9 months ago. They entered the jungle to collect wood. My husband climbed the tree while my son stayed on the ground. That’s when the tiger attacked my son. My husband saw what was happening and climbed back down to try to save him. They were alone together so no one knows exactly what happened. Fishermen downstream heard what was happening. They found my sons body and then the tiger response team and villagers went in the next morning and found my husbands body. Almost his entire body was eaten. Only his face was untouched. When I heard the news I went mad. No one would let me hear my husbands mangled body. Only after they prepared and cleaned his body for burial would they let me see his face. When I saw him I went senseless. I fainted. Before this incident I was much healthier. Now I just don't feel right. I have to work and I am physically not right to work. I make some money but once and a while I must ask neighbors for food. Sometimes I go a day without eating. When my husband was alive I didn't work. We always had enough and didn't want for anything. I regret that I wasn't able to help my son more. I wish I could have arranged for work in town for him, or sent him to school. This wouldn't have happened. I was 12 years old when I got married. I wasn’t informed of the marriage until the day of the wedding. That’s just how it was. I was his second wife. He had three children from his previous marriage. They called me “mom” which was so shocking. I was only 12 and the son was almost 10. The loved me very much, like I was their real mom. My married life was very night. He was very caring and loved me very much. I loved him a lot. I miss his so much. I still cry for him.”
The body of Muhammad Alum is laid out before burial in Gabura.
The burial of Muhammad Alum takes place at Gabura. Muhammad was brutally killed by a tiger in the jungle where he was hunting for honey. After countless hours of tracking honey bees through the dense Mangrove forest, Muhammad and five friends lost their trail and decided to head back to their boat. As the men approached their boat on the Talputi Canal, Muhammad suddenly shouted as a tiger mauled him from behind. Immediately his friends began shouting and running toward him, scaring the tiger away. While the attack only lasted for 5 seconds, the 250 pound animal was able to engulf the innocent man's head and inflict fatal damage. He left behind four sons and his wife, Rashida Begum.
The Sundarbans forest in Southern Bangladesh is the largest mangrove forest in the world. There are an estimated five hundred Royal Bengal tigers in the Sunderbans, and about fifty to sixty thousand people depend on the land, rivers and forest for their living. As climate change, hurricanes and cyclones continue to affect the area, the fresh water that once irrigated farmers fields has turned salty, rendering the fields useless. Many people live barely one meter above sea level. Because of rising sea levels and shrinking forest, humans and tigers are fighting for space. The farmers are forced into the forest to hunt for honey, fish, or collect crabs, putting them at risk for a tiger attack.
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