Every Khyang society has a leader who is called ‘Karbari’ or ‘Headman.’ Khyang society has a patriarchal structure. The father of a family is the master of the house. If a village lacks a headman, the villagers unitedly appoint a leader. The leader solves all the disputes that may develop among the villagers and, thus, helps them live in peace. If a person is accused of any criminal wrongdoing, the headmantakes steps in line with customary social laws.
The accused is generally punished or forgiven, and the judgement is passed in front of all after measuring the enormity of the misdeed. Both the male and female of the Khyang community are very industrious. Men dominate and especially follow the laws of society. Men’s role in arbitration is stronger than women’s. Both the elder and the younger son get share of paternal land. But the daughters do not have any share in inheritance, on the ground that they move to some other placesafter their marriage. However, if the parents want they can give the daughters a share in inheritance. The headman plays an arbitrator’s role if a person unleashes violence in society.
A man and a woman are ostracised if an illicit relation develops between them. Sexual relationship with someone with whom marriage is not allowed under law is regarded as illicit. Such relation, if develops in or exists between a brother and a sister, a boy and his aunt, a man and a woman who have blood connection, is considered unethical and unlawful.
The Khyengs are fond of vegetables. They take adequate vegetables while eating puffed rice. The foods they take include pork, chicken, venison, crab and vegetables like young shoots of bamboo and mushrooms, etc. They boil most of the vegetables before they eat them. A paste-like meal is prepared from the dried fish. They call it ‘nappi.’ They use nappi to cook some curries. They sow seeds of different crops and vegetables while sowing paddy and collect kitchen vegetables from jhum land for a few months.
Besides they catchfish from canals round the year. They also catch crabs, long and round-shaped snails from the canals and the mountain streams. They have a great liking for these foodstuffs. When they hunt wild animals, they hang the meat of these animals over a furnace and preserve after drying them up. Later, the dried meat is reduced to powdered substance with the help of a husking pedal.
After cooking, the Khyengs eat the powdered meat. They use less spices while cooking. The cone of a banana tree is their favourite dish alongside vegetables collected from the jungles. They maintain no restrictions on alcoholic drinks. They make it by applying the fermentation process at their own residences. They also entertain guests with wine.
The Khyengs make beautiful baskets (thurung in their language), flutes and necessary furniture with bamboos and canes. Besides, they weave cloth in their own handlooms to make brassieres and headgear for the girls and male’s wears. The Khyang males manufacture different types of traps to catch wild animals.
The Khyengs in Rangamati and Bandarban hilly districts, who depend on jhum crops for their survival, are now on the verge of extinction. They lag behind other communities due to inadequate health awareness and lack of proper education. High illiteracy among the community also deprives them of many opportunities. Besides, land acquisition and deforestation at their localities have rendered them landless.
The forest department acquired 3,889 acres of land out of 3,959 acres at Dhanuchhari mouja under the plantation programme of the Kaptai Pulpwood Garden Project in 1976. The remaining 70 acres of land was left for the 200 Khyang families. This plantation programme hindered the jhum cultivation and livestock farming, rendering them landless day by day. They have gradually become entangled in criminal cases too as they have tried to collect firewood from the jungles. As a result, many of them had to migrate to other places to evade police harassment. They neither have their land documented nor feel necessity for such documentation because of their ignorance regarding modern laws till today.
Taking it as an opportunity, many dishonest persons have grabbed their land and ancestral homestead, and had necessary documents prepared to legalise their occupation. The Khyengs, who are threatened with extinction, expect the government would take stepsto recover the lan from the land-grabbers to redistribute those among the landless. Back in 1989, the Bangladesh government formed three separate councils of local governments for Rangamati (as per the Rangamati Hilly District Local Government Council Act, 1989, no: 19), Khagrachhari (as per the Khagrachhari Hilly Districts Local Government Council Act, 1989, no: 20) and Bandarban (as per the Bandarban Hilly District Local Government Council Act, 1989, no: 21) hilly regions. The council, which runs the administration, consists of a tribal-born chairman and 30 other members from the region. The electorates choose their chairman and members by taking part in a direct voting system.
At that time, one member from each tribe was elected, and, thus, the Khyengs had the opportunities to represent them in the council. Chaihlapru Khyang from Rangamati hilly district and Bacha Khyang from Bandarban hilly district became themembers of the respective councils. As a minority ethnic group, the Khyengs are still subjected to negligence. In addition to this plight, their miseries increase due to lack of quality leadership too. All these setbacks risk the danger of their extinction. The government signed a treaty dubbed ‘the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord’ with the groups seeking an independent jhumland on 2 December 1997.
The ministry for Chittagong hilly tracts affairs formed a 22-member interim regional council in line with a Pachbim (SM) Regional Council circular no: 1/98/2, issued on 6 September 1998. As per the declaration, two-thirds of 22-member body (including the chairman) will have to be incorporated from Indigenous groups. It is to be mentioned here too that one member from each ethnic group including Lusai, Bom, Pangkhoa, Khumi, Chak and Khyang gets opportunity to represent in the council.
According to a survey conducted in the region, it is found that many Khyang families deserted their century-old abodes in some villages. Even nobody knows where they have gone. They are even deprived of getting jobs in public offices as they have no one who will extend support to them. Lack of higher education makes opportunities very slim for them in the private sector too. They face negligence and deprivation in all development work because they have no powerful persons to advocate for them.
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