ABOUT THE SUNDARBANS
The name Sundarbans is derived from the Sundari tree (Heritiera fomes), which has a dominant presence in the forest. It is covered almost entirely by a dense network of river channels and creeks, making the whole region accessible by boat. The largest single block of tidal halophytic forest, the forest has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and a Ramsar Wetland on 21 May 1992. Its rich biodiversity, lush foliage and exuberant flora, fauna and avifauna, combined with its unique culture and ecological significance, makes it a prized natural and cultural resource for not just Bangladesh but the whole of South Asia.
Sundarbans is home to 334 species of plants, 49 species of mammals, 320 species of birds, 53 species reptiles and 400 species of fish while the elusive key stone species of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, the Bengal Tiger ranges in 440 tigers only, according to the Forest Department census.
Geographical Features of the Sundarbans
The Sundarbans covers approximately 10,000 square kilometers, out of which 60 percent lies in Bangladesh and the rest lies in India. A network of estuaries, tidal rivers, and creeks intersected by numerous channels crisscrosses through the flat, densely forested and marshy lands of the forest. The forestland transitions into a low-lying mangrove swamp approaching the coast, which itself consists of sand dunes and mud flats. Mangrove forests constitute about two-fifths of the Sundarbans region’s overall surface area, with water covering roughly half of that area. The landscape is constantly being transformed by the erosional forces of the sea and wind along the coast and by the enormous loads of silt and other sediments that are deposited along the myriad estuaries.
Sundari (Heritiera fomes), Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha), nipa palms (Nypa fruticans), and other halophytic species can be found in the forest. It is also home to a variety of rare and exotic animal species, many of which have been declared endangered. It is one of the last preserves of Royal Bengal Tigers. Other mammals include spotted deer, wild boars, otters, wildcats, and Gangetic River Dolphins (Platanista gangetica). Various reptile and amphibian species are found in the Sundarbans, notably salt-water crocodiles, Indian pythons, cobras, and marine turtles. The region is home to more than 320 bird species—both seasonal migrants and permanent residents—including hornbills, storks and other waders, kingfishers, white ibis, and raptors such as sea eagles.
Unique Culture of the Sundarbans
People have been dwelling in the villages neighboring the Sundarban Mangroves for generations, and are mostly Traditional Resource Users of the forest. They mostly rely on woodcutting, honey collection, snail and oyster collection, fishing, and other such agricultural activities for survival. Although most people speak a unique dialect of Bangla, the presence of the Munda Indigenous community is significant here. They identify themselves as migratory people, from Rachi of India some 150 years ago, claiming that more than two centuries ago, Zamindars had invited them to the land to clear the forest in order to make the areas cultivable. They claim to be the first settlers of the region.
Mundas follow their own norms, values, customs, activities and rituals. They have functional knowledge of the Bangla language, since they have been inhabiting the region for generations, but Mundas speak in their own language Nagri, and also teach it to their children. The Nagri language has similarities with the Hindi language, though Bangla and Parshian words are part of variety of Nagri spoken by Mundas of the Sundarabns region. Mundas are mostly involved in fishing, farming, clearing the forest and collecting wood from the forest as means of securing incomes. They also have their own unique way of constructing houses. They use resources available through the forest, such as wood derived from the trees of the forests, and thatching derived from the leaves of particular trees of the forests, to form their humble yet beautiful abodes.