Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Majhee/Boatman

Majhee (boatman) a traditional occupational group earning livelyhood from plying boat in RIVERs, rivulets, and other water reservoirs such as BEELs, jheels, HAORs, and BAORs. Socially Majhees constitute a special caste in the Hindu society and a distinct social category in the Muslim.
Since it is a country abounding in rivers and rivulets, Bangladesh has a huge boat traffic. People who run boats are given different popular names in different parts of the country and it is difficult to distinguish between them in terms of their activities, lifestyle and culture. Popular synonyms for the word majhee in Bengali include mallah, nawa, nowkajibi, nowkachalak, kandari, patni, karnadhar etc.
There are various kinds of boats for transportation of passengers and freight. Passenger boats might be tiny or large and contain one or two majhees. On the other hand, freight boats are relatively large and essentially require more than two majhees. In the past, a majhee was a permanent post in rich families whose members used to travel in kosh or luxury boats.
Although principally employed in boat steering, many majhees adopt fishing as their secondary source of livelihood. Boats used by fishing sailors are of different names such as jeledingi. dingi, panshi, gayna, and ghashi and these are different from the boats navigated by majhees. Generally, boats are furnished with danrs (oars) and the majhees guide the danris (oarsmen) to steer them. In such case, the majhee (also call the helmsman) holds the hal or baitha (helm) at the stern of the boat. Often sails are used to ply the boat with the help of favourable winds. Sometimes boats are towed by gun or towing cables. Big boats have a mastul (mast) and possess a nongar (anchor). For small boats khuntas (pegs) serve this purpose.
At present, steamers and steam launches have largely replaced passenger boats, especially for distant travel. A recent phenomenon is the fixing of motor engines to boats enabling them to be made larger to accommodate more people and also to gain in speed. Traditional majhees are thus turning into drivers of engine boats. But in general, the squeeze in waterways throughout the country forces most majhees to leave the profession and accept other occupations including agriculture, fishing, and diving.
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