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  • Writer's pictureAhtaram Shin

Savouring tradition: Rohingya fight to sustain mud stove heritage in modern times

2024 © Saiful Hoque

In Myanmar, the Rohingya used to cook with wood in traditional métta sulá (mud stoves), creating an extraordinary flavour despite the difficulty of cooking with this method. After fleeing to Bangladesh, they had to adapt to a new cooking culture using gas stoves, which they struggled to embrace. There were many fire incidents that occurred due to the unfamiliarity with gas stoves. However, when their monthly gas cylinder allowance runs out, many Rohingya revert to cooking on the mud stove using firewood, preserving their traditional cooking methods.

Over the last few decades, the Rohingya have suffered a culturicide inflicted by the many restrictions imposed by the Myanmar army in Arakan. Most recently, since their arrival in Bangladesh and the lack of access to their cultural assets in their natural habitat, life in the refugee camps has presented many limitations for them to resource and practice their cultural habits. In the camps, the Rohingya have swapped the use of kerosene lamps for electric solar lights and woodfire mud stoves for gas stoves. Although these equipment are provided to make refugee life easier, the Rohingya worry about losing their cultural practices for future generations.

'I believe the photo of this mud stove is a document for the visual preservation of our culture for future generations,' — said Saiful.

About the Photographer: Saiful Hoque's family fled to Bangladesh in 1992, seeking refuge from the persecution and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Saiful was born in the refugee camp in 2000 and, over the years, grew and persevered in his education, successfully completing his higher secondary school certificate under the Bangladesh education board.

Saiful's journey into photography began with a simple camera, a gift that would reshape his life's trajectory. He completed a photography course with the 10 Minute School and continued his photography training program with Scope of Life. His talent and dedication were soon recognised when he was honoured as the 2023 best photographer by Scope for Life.

Through his lens, Saiful captures the day-to-day resilience, strength, and hope of the Rohingya community in the refugee camp. His photographs, more than mere images, are powerful narratives that have captivated audiences in exhibitions and publications worldwide. They bridge the gap between the Rohingya community and the wider world, giving a voice and face to a people often overlooked.

Beyond his artistic contributions, Saiful has emerged as a vocal advocate for refugee rights. His platform serves not only as a showcase for his photography but also as a medium for speaking out against the injustice the Rohingya community has faced and advocating for their dignity and rights. His voice and art have become a beacon of inspiration and a call to action for the Rohingya people.

"Photography is not just a form of art but a powerful tool for storytelling and advocacy." —he says.


This feature is part of The Rohingya Experience, an exhibition in St Helier, Island of Jersey during July 2024, developed by Rohingyatographer, a collective of Rohingya refugee photographers in partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid.



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