‘When we learn about our rivers, we learn about our country and in turn its people’
Bangladesh, situated on the world's largest delta, was once home to over a thousand rivers. But due to years of neglect, pollution and encroachment caused by various anthropogenic activities, the majority of these rivers have now vanished.
As a consequence, the riverine region's ecological equilibrium has shifted dramatically, as observed by the recurrence of natural disasters brought about by climate change.
It is now more important than ever to raise awareness about the importance of preserving rivers in Bangladesh in order to maintain a stable ecological equilibrium.
To this end, the Lokayan Life Diversity Museum in Thakurgaon Sadar upazila has been playing its part since the inauguration of its "Nadi Gallery" (river gallery) in 2016.
The museum, established in 2006 by the Eco-Social Development Organisation (Esdo), preserves water from most of the country's rivers at this gallery to educate its visitors.
In addition to displaying the water in bottles, the gallery also features photos, documentaries, poetry and literary works about rivers in order to raise public awareness about river conservation.
It has had a healthy response from people across the country. The museum hosts about 100-150 visitors every day, with the number increasing during holidays and vacations, according to museum officials.
On a visit to the gallery, a third-year student of Dhaka University’s music department said that Bengali culture, including its music, dance, literature and films, was deeply connected to its rivers
Shahina Sultana, from Panchagarh, said: “We grew up with free-flowing rivers and learned to swim in them. But, now that the rivers have dried up and ponds have been contaminated with chemicals for fish farming, I cannot teach my children to swim.”
Shahina expressed her frustration about how out of touch the new generation was with nature.
Meanwhile, overwhelmed to see waters from the Bangali River, Abdul Hannan, a government official from Nilphamari, said it was on the bank of this very river where he had spent most of his childhood growing up in Bogra’s Sariakandi.
Even though he now lived far away from his childhood home, his most cherished memories were still intertwined with this precious river, he added.
Speaking about the purpose of creating the river gallery, Esdo Founder and Executive Director Shahid Uz Zaman, said: “This gallery, containing the names and descriptions of 176 rivers, can educate the young on the importance of rivers in a country like Bangladesh.”
“Once believed to be home to around 1,300 rivers, the riverine state now only has 230 rivers, many of which are on the verge of disappearing due to climate change and geopolitical factors.”
“Our history, art, culture, lifestyle—everything is deeply connected with our rivers. When we learn about our rivers, we learn about our country and in turn its people. So the main purpose of creating the river gallery is to restore and preserve lost knowledge on river culture.”
Moreover, the museum informs visitors of stories about the lifestyles and livelihoods of people of all strata living for hundreds of years in the northern part of the country, which has a huge wealth of folk traditions.
It houses a variety of traditional tools and materials used by rural people, such as farmers’ hats, fishing and hunting equipment, ploughs, rural attire, palanquins and so on.
Besides, because ethnic minorities are losing their heritage as they come into contact with modern lifestyles, the authorities have created another gallery that focuses on the lives and cultures of ethnic communities.