National Geographic News
Native dugout canoe on river in East Pakistan.

Men pole a dugout canoe on the Shitalakshya River.

Photograph by Jean and Franc Shor, National Geographic

Johnna Rizzo

National Geographic

Published May 20, 2013

A week ago, the last body of 1,127 was recovered from a collapsed textile factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh—the largest garment-industry disaster in the country's history. Hundreds of other textile factories in Bangladesh reopened Friday after shuttering earlier in the week in response to worker protests over poor pay and unsafe conditions.

It's a complicated moment for an industry that today accounts for nearly 80 percent of Bangladesh's exports, marks it as the second largest textile producer in the world, and is the source of four million jobs—many of which pay less than $2 (U.S.) a day.

Bangladesh and textiles have a long relationship. Husband-and-wife photography team Jean and Franc Shor's notes on the back of this early 1950s photo locate this dugout canoe on the Shitalakshya River, just north of the city of Narayanganj—by then already a garment trade hub specializing in muslin and jute. Today Narayanganj continues to be an important river port and a center of jute trade for Bangladesh.

The notes also alternately label the country "East Pakistan" and "East Bengal." Bangladesh was still two decades from independence.

In 1947—just a few years before the Shors snapped this shot, and soon after British rule ended in South Asia—Pakistan became an independent country. But it was a country divided by the bulk of India. West Pakistan sidled up to Afghanistan.

East Pakistan—tucked under Nepal and beside Burma, heavily silted by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries—became Bangladesh in 1971.

mickey morgan
mickey morgan

Bangladeshi Vision

[c. 1984, Cincinnati]

The boy whimpers through tiny teeth,

mewing noises from a brown body, a child’s,

a bare head with a few nicks

and short scars in the scalp,

the land behind him featureless and wet.

His little sounds bubble and drift

into the camera’s eye.

Nothing changes. He moves away.

The camera follows hims.

Looking over his brown shoulder,

still whimpering, mewing,

dragging the memory of drowned parents

onto the featureless landscape

away from the camera’s eye

that swallows the specks

of light, packages of sound,

paddles them to ordered waves

to pierce through miles of air.

Split-second carriage transfigures

the specks, the packages, to pieces

of light that push onto her bed,

a king-sized bed, with a brown quilt.

She lies on her right side, knees slightly bent,

propped on an elbow, TV light scattering through the bedroom,

into green eyes, pieces of light pelting,

plunging down her discerning middle,

caving her in, bending her knees deeply,

moving them closer to her head, feet pointing

long and tense, arching.

She cries out, flings an ancient arrow.


Popular Stories

The Future of Food

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

See more food news, photos, and videos »