Photos from Rakhine State, Burma (Myanmar), 2016 (Jacob Shell) – Rohingya village
In 2016 I traveled with a friend, NS, to Rakhine State in the western region of Burma (Myanmar). I was taking a break from my ethnographic research on working elephant cultures in central Burma and Kachin State. NS and I met up in Yangon in January and decided to go to Rakhine, partly to go see the ruins of Mrauk-U (the old capital of the historic Arakan kingdom), but also to learn what we could about the Rohingya human rights calamity unfolding in the region. The previous year, a large ethnic cleansing campaign, with varying degrees of support from the central government and local militias, had pushed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims out of Rakhine State and into Bangladesh.
This page is simply to showcase some photos I took while visiting one of the surviving Rohingya villages, about a 30 minute car ride outside the Rakhine capital city of Sittwe. NS and I originally had no idea such villages existed–we got to this one by waving down a motor-taxi on the outskirts of Sittwe and asking the driver if he knew of any nearby areas with Rohingya people left. He took us to this place. As far as I know, the village is still there.
People in the village spoke some Urdu, which NS knew a bit of, but communication there became much easier once the local school teacher, fluent in English, emerged from the main schoolhouse to say hello to us. We sat down and had tea and fried snacks. He explained that many of the villagers there were displaced from Sittwe, which up until the current crisis had a large Rohingya community. The last photo on the page shows one of several abandoned Rohingya mosques in Sittwe.
We only spent about an hour in the village, as the driver had a schedule he had to get back to. The driver, a Rakhine man, spent the hour chatting with some of the local men by his motortaxi, though I could not tell about what.
The experience raised many questions I never got answers to, and I’ve certainly never felt I was in a position of expertise to write something long-format about the Rohingya crisis. Nonetheless, I felt I should get these photographs onto this website rather than let them continue to languish on my hard drive.