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Clan, Community, Nation: Belonging among Rohingya Living in Makeshift Camps

 Category: Culture  Publisher: IOM  Published: 1 January 2020  Tags: CultureRohingya |  Download


This consultation provides a very initial exploration into how Rohingya organize themselves within three important social systems, the values that underpin them, and some perspectives on how they have changed since displacement: gusshi (clan), shomaz (community) and koum (ethnic group or nation). Historical research suggests that the formation of tight-knit religious based communal units have a long history within the Arakan littoral2 and the Muslim communities that live there; with some research arguing that religious based communalism was a prominent way in which communities “survived” through difficult and turbulent periods that threatened the people living within Arakan littoral.3 British colonial rule heavily influenced historical migration patterns and the establishment of Muslim communities within Arakan. Out of these influences developed a system of tight-knit agrarian communities who organized themselves around gusshi (family-clans) of various izzot (social reputations). Gusshi collectively formed shomaz (“community” and “community representatives”) that were organized units that formed committees of male-representatives comprised of prominent family-clans within a particular local area. Shomaz oversaw a range of important social functions such as the maintenance of social infrastructures (mosques, water systems, schools); the redistribution of wealth to the poor (through religious practices associated with zakat and Qurbani Eid); and the mitigation of conflicts related to land, authorities and inter-clan family disputes. Across all of these social organizations, the displacement has caused significant disruption in their function and operation and significant effort has been dedicated within Rohingya communities to try and reformulate traditional practices with various and limited degrees of success. Predominantly, the inability to re-establish similar tight knit social organizations similar to what was experienced in Myanmar has largely been due to social fragmentation that occurred during the process of displacement, the inability to re-establish social and religious traditions, and the breakdown in systems of social reputation and control. Unsurprisingly, many Rohingya have attempted to recreate and reformulate social organizations and relationships to authorities along similar historical patterns to what was perceived, experienced, and developed in Rakhine. In particular, this includes various means of negotiating and influencing systems of power that were unrepresentative of the Rohingya population, especially in later periods when governance reforms were introduced within Myanmar and Rakhine. This consultation concludes with an initial exploration of people’s understanding of the term “Rohingya” as they apply it to themselves and each other. This study found that unsurprisingly, as like many broad identity terms, there are different definitions surrounding what Rohingya identity encompasses, who it includes, and on what basis. Some Rohingya framed their identities in various combinations of geographic boundaries (being from Rakhine), others in terms of religious affiliation (Muslim), and some in terms of shared common experiences (of displacement & discrimination). Discussions also included civil society groups formed within the camps and their engagement in spaces and narratives where they claimed or identified themselves as “leaders of the Rohingya. Largely, this consultation found many disconnects between different groups of Rohingya and their understanding of leaders and leadership. In these discussions, there revealed notable differences in articulations and experiences of shared histories and imaginations of what it meant to be Rohingya that were heavily influenced on the region, educational achievement, class, gender and religious piety of a person. Despite the fact that many participants struggled to clarify the boundaries and common nature of what it meant to be “Rohingya,” there was a strong sense of shared solidarity in its usage and its self-application.