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Salt water on the char / sandbar

Pathi Char

Pathi Char is a small island owned by only one family. The father of our PhD student at the Anthropology Department of the University of Dhaka uses the island with his two brothers for buffalo and cattle breeding. He owns around 300 cattle and buffaloes and runs a risky business with them.

Since the three brothers own this island alone, they also have to protect it alone. But this can hardly be done with daily and nightly patrols. So coast guard patrols from nearby islands have to patrol the island again and again to prevent pirates and thieves from raiding the island and stealing cattle and other things. But these patrols have to be ordered and paid for. If something does get away, police officers are sent to cattle markets so that they can identify stolen goods.
Whoever finds himself in the position of owning an entire island for himself alone, i.e. land that hundreds of people could easily divide among themselves in order to live off this land, has already built up an empire and secured power and influence for himself in many respects. Muhammad, Parvez’s father owns a lot of land on the surrounding islands of Bhola, Hatiya and Manpura, which he gives to tenants. These tenants also need to be reminded from time to time when payments are in default, etc.. However, security from pirates, defaulting tenants, and robbers is not only guaranteed by close cooperation with the state. It is also necessary to set up one’s own protection force with truncheons to enforce one’s own interests with tenants, to collect defaulting payments, etc..

In addition to security, there is also cooperation with surrounding neighbours and temporary and mobile residents of the islands. For example, mobile fishing families (boiral) are allowed to stay on the island. In return, they sell them fish at local prices.

Mobilel fishermen (boiral) live in their boats and seek temporary accommodation and fishing grounds, Photo: Claudius Günther, 2019

You can’t just keep people off the island, you have to retain them. You need guardians for the herds, people to make hay, people to milk, people to take care of herd health, people to get vaccines, and so on. This cannot be done with a small family. It can only be achieved through cooperation among brothers, a strong hand in the community in which one is anchored and in which one has to keep and multiply one’s property.

Boiral Fishermen in the Delta of the Ganges river, Picture: Claudius Günther 2019

Maintaining and accumulating
When we arrived at the family headquarters in the evening, we sat for hours with the cattle herders, who could tell stories of the cows, buffaloes, etc. The head of the family, father of the PhD student Parvez who accompanied us, could come up with many stories revolving around cows, their strength, their peculiarities, etc.. In these conversations, one noticed that this head of the family had not lost his relationship with cattle breeding and the herd. He gave instructions to the helpers and assistants and guided the destiny of the community.

Mother buffalo herd, Photo: Claudius Günther, 2019

The cow and buffalo herds on the island are kept in suckler herds. They always come to the cowherd’s headquarters to drink the fresh water offered. The grass they consume, however, is low quality grass. It has to withstand the salt water as well as the mud from the river water, which is always applied by high water levels. The quality of the grass and the influence of the salt make the treatment of animals unavoidable. Although they are vaccinated in advance against various occasional epidemics, precautionary measures cannot help against a lack of nutrition.

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