One of these languages, Rengmitca, is now on the verge of extinction.
Currently only six people in Bangladesh can speak the language and most of them are over 60 years old.
At the beginning of this century, the American linguist David Peterson came to Bangladesh to study the Kuki-chin languages. After arriving in Bandarban in 2009, he learned that in some remote areas of Alikadam Upazila there are Mro tribes whose languages ââare completely different.
He later discovered speakers of the Rengmitca language. He was accompanied by the writer and language researcher Mro Yangan Mro.
Yangan, who studied Pali and Sanskrit at Chattogram University, lives in the town of Bandarban. It works with the Mro language and culture.
âIn 2013, 22 Rengmitca speakers were found scattered in several neighborhoods. The number fell to six in 2021. The rest of the speakers are dead, âhe told bdnews24.com.
The six still alive do not all live in the same neighborhood. They live dispersed in four separate quarters of two Upazilas.
âWe had no idea that the Rengmitca language was still alive. After the Rengmitca speakers merged with the traditional Mro population, all now speak the Mro language. No one knows the Rengmitca language anymore, except for six people. Some of their children can understand the language but they cannot answer in that language, âYangan said.
A Tinwai Mro spoke of a neighborhood in Rengmitca in Alikadam Upazila.
Krangsi Para is around 300 years old, according to Tinwai. At one time, everyone in the neighborhood belonged to the Rengmitca tribe. Later, many moved to Myanmar and India and others to another location in Alikadam. Many have died. For all these reasons, it goes without saying that there are not many people left who can speak the Rengmitca language.
âNow there are 22 families in this neighborhood, seven of which are from the Rengmitca tribe. But no one knows the language except three people.
Singra Mro, a local resident, said he couldn’t speak the language even though he was a member of the Rengmitca tribe. He is only able to understand a few simple words. However, Mampung Mro Rengmitca, his 67-year-old father, still speaks the language very well.
The other five who can converse in Rengmitca are Konrao Mro, 70, from Krangsi Para, another Konrao Mro, 60, from the same neighborhood, Thoai Lock Mro 55, from Mensing Para to Noapara Union, Rengpung Mro, 65, from Waibot Para in Naikhyangchhari Upazila and Mangwai Mro, 63, from Sangplo Para. Among them, the two people who bear Konrao’s name are women and the rest are men.
Mampung said that by the age of 10 or 12 there were five quarters in Rengmitca. There were 50 to 60 families in each neighborhood. Foreigners had to speak the Rengmitca language when visiting the neighborhoods.
âA lot of Mros made fun of us when we talked to Rengmitca. Our children also felt shy and no longer wanted to speak the language. Everyone started to forget their own language for lack of practice.
When asked if there is a song or music in the language, Mampung said he has not heard any songs in the language yet. However, he has heard of a few rhyming games.
Konrao Mro said neither of his two daughters and his son could speak the language.
âNow there is no one home to talk to Rengmitca. The habit of speaking in Rengmitca is gone now. Even though I want to say something in my native language, there is no one around who can answer. This is why I sometimes feel sad.
But we want to continue speaking our own language, Konrao said.
âNewcomers can no longer speak this language; they don’t even know it. We don’t know how this language will survive. “
Rengmitca speakers may have been a distinct population, according to writer Singyong Mro, a member of the Bandarban District Council.
âThey are culturally similar to the Mros, except for their language. That’s why they got married to Mros. In fact, they have become one. They can no longer speak Rengmitca. Most of the time, they don’t want to talk about the little Rengmitca they know because of the hesitation.
Singyong said several meetings were held to find a way to preserve the language. They also appealed to those who speak the Rengmitca language.
âThe problem is, they themselves are not interested in preserving the language. Encouraging them to speak in their own language and arranging their marriages with other tribesmen might be a way to maintain the tongue.”