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Diving for a Living

Aug 7 2017 - Would you believe that some people still make a living out of diving in ponds and water bodies to recover jewellery or precious possessions lost by bathers?

You don’t even have to go far to find such people. In fact, the bede community in Narayanganj have a few people who make a living doing exactly that. Diving into ponds to recover precious ornaments in exchange for a small amount of money, the Duburi (Diver) or PukurJharani, as they are known, have been doing so for years.

“The bede people were never used to usual jobs, so we would do works such as hunting birds and catching snakes,” said Sohel Sardar Duburi while talking to The Daily Star at his home in Narayanganj’s Rupganj. “But the forests have long disappeared and we no longer earn our bread and butter from such works. Then our forefathers taught us the art of finding precious jewellery by diving.”

Divers like him can currently be seen in two bede communities at Signboard and Rupganj areas of Narayanganj.

Once, when most people used ponds to take baths, the divers were in high demand. Today, most ponds have disappeared and thus the number of divers has also dropped drastically.

But that is not the only problem for the divers.

“People do not wear as much gold as they used to do,” noted Sohel Sardar, explaining why they are not in high demand like yesteryears.

There was a time, when most of the bedes would visit Dhaka and its surrounding areas for work but now those days are long gone and they have to travel to distant areas in search of work.

While sharing his experience, Molla Nasir Uddin Duburi said “We stay out of home around a month when we visit far-off places in search of work. Generally, we travel to districts like Barisal, Khulna and Satkhira where there are still a good number of jobs.”

He also informed that they get one to two thousand takas for finding gold objects such as necklaces. If it is a diamond necklace, they demand six to seven times more as their service charge. He further added that they still get around eight to nine jobs every month.

Another duburi, Mehedi Hasan, said that they go from home to home in villages to look for work. “We get response from those who have lost their ornaments. In distant villages, we spend our nights at mosques or the balconies of schools. We don’t have any problems with that,” he added.

Photo: Khalid Hussain Ayon

The duburis use a scoop shaped like a partially enclosed triangular shovel and a garden rack to find lost ornaments. They dive around 10 to 15 feet deep into the water, fill up the basket with the sediment by means of the rack, bring the sediment to the surface and look for the ornament in it.

Interestingly, they sometimes find something else while looking for the lost ornaments and generally share the object with the owner.

The duburis observe a number of myth-based rituals before they get into the pond. Before diving in, they offer sweets and bananas to the monsters likely to be living deep in the pond. The duburis still believe that such offerings are necessary for the job to be done safely.

“Offerings must be given otherwise a mishap might occur at any moment. Once, we dived into a pond in Sonargaon and a water monster snatched away our scoop, which we never found. We will die if we don’t provide offerings to the monsters,” Molla Nasir Uddin said.

The number of professional duburis is declining; there were 30 duburis in the Signboard area even 10 years ago but now the number stands at only 5.

Even the duburis themselves do not want to continue with the profession and they want their next generation to be educated and established members of society.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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