The Heartbeats of Rohingya
About Us Illustration by Jawahir al-Naimi
Photograph: UNHCR

Historically, geographically and ancestrally, Rohingya belong to Myanmar. Our Rohingya ancestors made Arakan our permanent home since the 7th century A.D. We belong to a distinct culture, tradition, language, faith and have our own arts distinct from the arts of other races within the Union of Myanmar.

In 1824, the British colonized Arakan and Tanintharyi. Soon, people were introduced to mixed cultures and traditions. On 4th January, 1948, Myanmar got its independence. In 1960, the Junta Leader U Ne Win has seized power and his government targeted the Rohingya population in Arakan. To demolish the entire population, they first targeted our culture and arts. Soon, Rohingya gradually lost touch with our own culture, traditions and arts, despite our long existence and strong national identity.

The longer we suffer, the more we lose touch with our own culture and arts. In Arakan’s history, Rohingya who followed Islam, were one of the most civilized peoples. We were boastful of our own arts and culture. Even throughout displacement and statelessness, the light of arts and culture still shines in the Rohingya community.

In August, 2017, Myanmar security forces launched the area clearance operation against Rohingya population in Arakan. Over 700,000 Rohingya villagers fled to neighbouring Bangladesh haunted by stories of gang rape, mass killings and arson attacks that prompted the world’s fastest exodus since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Soon, Myanmar government bulldozed the landmarks such as Madrassahs, mosques and other religious building in Arakan. They erased our culture. They erased our birthmarks.

The fuller Rohingya story is about much more than our collective suffering at the hands of Myanmar’s military. We are a people with resilience, strength, resourcefulness, we seek dignity and meaning in our daily lives, just as others do.

The creation of arts is an important medium for this, through we also affirm our rights, heritage and identity.

Poetry is cherished form of expression that we, Rohingya keep close to our hearts. It has been a part of our culture for a long time (Shah Alaol and Dualat Kazi are considered two of the greatest 17th century Arakanese Muslim poets) and we still use it to this day.

On 21st March, 2019, we established The Art Garden Rohingya, the first Rohingya online art website and Facebook page in history. By the end of February, 2020, we have published more than 543 poems in English and Burmese. We have 148 emerging Rohingya poets, including 9 women, who have been writing for The Art Garden Rohingya every day. Many of their poems are paeans of Arakan, our motherland. Others depict the long suffering many of us have experienced inside Myanmar, while fleeing to Bangladesh and in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Modern Rohingya are eager to strive for the revival of our arts and culture, even if we are victims of genocide inside Myanmar, and the hundreds of thousands living in refugee camps in a neighbouring country Bangladesh are hardly surviving, depending on humanitarian aid. As we are forced to express ourselves in displacement and exile, the revival is bittersweet. Nonetheless, it is taking place.

Finding lost culture and arts is diving into the ocean. The deeper we dive, the more we can find. There might be some other knowledge of Rohingya arts and artists in ancient times in Arakan to be revived. Let’s find out together.

Our sincere thanks to all our audiences and artists for always supporting our work. The Art Garden Rohingya always welcomes any artist. We request your continuous support and contribution.