1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Backergunje

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BACKERGUNJE, or Bakarganj, a district of British India in the Dacca division of Eastern Bengal and Assam. It forms part of the joint delta of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, and its area is 4542 sq. m. The general aspect of the district is that of a flat even country, dotted with clusters of bamboos and betel-nut trees, and intersected by a perfect network of dark-coloured and sluggish streams. There is not a hill or hillock in the whole district, but it derives a certain picturesque beauty from its wide expanses of cultivation, and the greenness and freshness of the vegetation. This is especially conspicuous in the rains, but at no time of the year does the district present a dried or burnt-up appearance. The villages, which are always walled round by groves of bamboos and betel-nut palms, have often a very striking appearance; and Backergunje has many beauties of detail which strike a traveller in passing through the country. The level of the country is low, forming as it does a part of the great Gangetic delta; and the rivers, streams and water-courses are so numerous that it is very difficult to travel except by boat at any season of the year. Every natural hollow is full of water, around the margin of which long grasses, reeds and other aquatic plants grow in the greatest profusion, often making it difficult to say where the land ends and the water begins. Towards the north-west the country is very marshy and nothing is to be seen for miles but tracts of unreclaimed swamps and rice lands, with a few huts scattered here and there and raised on mounds of earth. In the south of the district, along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, lie the forest tracts of the Sundarbans, the habitation of tigers, leopards and other wild beasts.

The principal rivers of the district are the Meghna, the Arial Khan and the Haringhata or Baleswar, with their numerous offshoots. The Meghna represents the accumulated waters of the Brahmaputra and Ganges. It flows along the eastern boundary of the district in a southerly direction for about 100 m. till it debouches into the Bay of Bengal. During the latter part of its course this noble river expands into a large estuary containing many islands, the principal of which is that of Dakshin Shahbazpur. The islands on the sea-front are exposed to devastation by cyclonic storm-waves. The Arial Khan, a branch of the Ganges, enters the district from the north, and flows generally in a south-easterly direction till it falls into the estuary of the Meghna. The main channel of the Arial Khan is about 1700 yds. in width in the dry season, and from 2000 to 3000 yds. in the rains. It receives a number of tributaries, sends off several offshoots, and is navigable throughout the year by native cargo boats of the largest size. The Haringhata, Baleswar, Madhumati and Garai are various local names for the same river in different parts of its course and represent another great offshoot of the Ganges. It enters Backergunje near the north-west corner of the district, whence it forms its western boundary, and runs south, but with great windings in its upper reaches, till it crosses the Sundarbans, and finally falls into the Bay of Bengal by a large and deep estuary, capable of receiving ships of considerable burden. In the whole of its course through the district the river is navigable by native boats of large tonnage, and by large sea-going ships as high up as Morrellganj, in the neighbouring district of Jessore. Among its many tributaries in Backergunje the most important is the Kacha, itself a considerable stream and navigable by large boats all the year round, which flows in a southerly direction for 20 m., when it falls into the Baleswar. Other rivers of minor importance are the Barisal, Bishkhali, Nihalganj, Khairabad, Ghagar, Kumar, &c. All the rivers in the district are subject to tidal action from the Meghna on the north, and from the Bay of Bengal on the south, and nearly all of them are navigable at high tide by country boats of all sizes. The rise of the tide is very considerable in the estuary of the Meghna, and many of the creeks and water-courses in the island of Dakshin Shahbazpur, which are almost dry at ebb tide, contain 18 or 19 ft. of water at the flood. A very strong "bore" or tidal wave runs up the estuary of the Meghna at spring tides, and a singular sound like thunder, known as the "Barisal guns," is often heard far out at sea about the time it is coming in. There are numerous marshes in the district, of great size and depth, and abounding in fish.

The Mussulmans of Backergunje are among the worst of their creed, steeped in ignorance and prejudice, easily excited to violence and murder, very litigious and grossly immoral. On account of an epidemic of murders disarmament had to be enforced in the district. The Faraizis or Puritan sect of Mahommedans are exceedingly numerous in the district. The Buddhist population consists of Maghs or the people of Arakan, who first settled in Backergunje about 1800, and have made themselves very useful in the clearing of the Sundarbans. A gipsy-like tribe called the Bebajias are rather numerous in this district. They live principally in boats, travelling from place to place, profess Mahommedanism, and gain their subsistence by wood-cutting in the Sundarbans, fishing, fortune-telling and trading in trinkets. In 1901 the population was 2,291,752, showing an increase of 6% in the decade.

A number of small trading villages exist throughout the district, and each locality has its periodical fairs for purposes of traffic. The material condition of the people is good. Every inhabitant is a small landholder and cultivates sufficient rice and other necessaries for the support of his family. Owing to this reason, hired labour is very scarce. Rice is the great crop of the district, and three harvests are obtained annually—the aman, or winter rice; aus, or autumn crop; and boro, or spring rice. The climate of Backergunje is one of the healthiest in Eastern Bengal, owing to the strong south-west monsoon, which comes up directly from the Bay of Bengal, and keeps the atmosphere cool; but the heavy rainfall and consequent humidity of the atmosphere, combined with the use of bad water, are fruitful sources of disease. The average annual temperature varies from 78° to 85° F. The thermometer ranges from 62° to 98°.

Barisal, the headquarters station, situated on the west bank of the Barisal river, had a population in 1901 of 18,978. The next largest town is Pirojpur (14,119).