Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh
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The indigenous peoples of Bangladesh refer to native ethnic minorities in southeastern, northwestern, north-central and northeastern regions of the country. These regions include the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Sylhet Division, Rajshahi Division and Mymensingh District. The total population of indigenous ethnic minorities in Bangladesh was estimated to be over 2 million in 2010. They are diverse ethnic communities including Tibeto-Burman, Austric, and Dravidian people. Vast number of indigenous tribes of Bangladesh are Buddhists and Hindus by faith while the remaining few are Christians and animists.
The primary census report of 2011 gives the number of ethnic population groups of Bangladesh as 27. The first is Chakma, consisting of 444,748 people while the Marma, the second largest ethnic group compares with 202,974 persons.
Indigenous Tribal Groups in Bangladesh
The Chakmas are the largest tribe of Bangladesh. Buddhism is the most common religion within the tribe. They refer to their tribal chief as Chakma Raja. Chakmas are more advanced than most other indigenous Bangladeshi tribes. They have their own language, culture, tradition, and history. Women wear pinon and khadi[Handmade] and men wear dhuti. They grow crops via a special eco-friendly method called "Jhum cultivation”. They migrated to Bangladesh in the 15th century.
Marmas are the second largest ethnic group in Bangladesh and they are of Burmese (Myanmar) ancestry. The Marmas regarded Burma (Myanmar) as the centre of their cultural life. Historically it is believed that the Arakanese emperor has invaded the south-eastern region of the current Bangladesh. Since then the region was ruled under the Burmese emperor and Marma ethnic groups were established from that period. Their cultural traits are connected to their ancestral heritage, including dress (which is called thumbui—the lower part, and angi—the upper part), food (mostly spicy, sour, and hot), writing (Burmese script), traditional songs and musical instruments (for example, kappya, jjea, and kharra). They speak Marma, and the majority are Theravada Buddhist. They have many festivals during the year, but Sangrai is regarded as the biggest celebration among them. It is a tradition to welcome the new year according to the Buddhist lunar calendar. This festival held for three days, and the popular ritual during the second and third day of the festival is to splash water on each other. They believe that the water takes away all the sorrow and pure up our soul and body, so one must to greet others (even strangers) by splashing water on them. But the culture of marma is unique. It has also their own language, tradition, culture etc.
The Tripuras are one of the indigenous peoples living both in the plains and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. During the partition of the Indian subcontinent, the princely state of Tripura were merged neither into India nor Pakistan. However, Tripura Kingdom was merged in 1949 with India through a merger agreement. The peoples of Tripura, both in Bangladesh and the Indian State of Tripura, shared common culture, history, tradition, and way of life. Their languages are called Kokborok, of which there are more than one million speakers. Tripura's main festival is boishu.
The Tanchangya (তঞ্চংগ্যা) people are one of 13 indigenous ethnic communities living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
Tanchangya peoples have been living in CHT since its prehistoric age. Nowadays Tanchangya peoples live in Rangamati, Bandarban, Roisyabili & Sadhikyabili (Chittagong district), Ukhia and Teknaf (Cox's Bazaar district) areas of Bangladesh. Tanchangyas also live in North-east Indian states (Assam, Tripura and Mizoram) and Rakhine State of the Myanmar. Most of Tanchangyas live in reserve forest of CHT but on 10 April 2000 the government declared a new law entitled "The Forest (Amendment) Act; 2000." According to this act, cultivation and preparation of cultivation on reserve forest land are illegal, and as a result the survival of these groups in the area becomes more difficult.
Due to lack of research, there is also confusion about the numbers of Tanchangyas. According to census of 2001 there are 31,164 Tanchangya in CHT (source: solidarity2002, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum).
The Mros (Mrus or Moorangs)
The Mro people are considered the original inhabitants of the Chittagong Hills where they migrated from Arakan of Burma from the 14th-15th century. They lived on valleys and often fortified their villages. They had no written language of their own, but some could read the Burmese and Bangla scripts. Most of them claimed to be Buddhists, but their religious practices were largely animistic.
The Santals are known as one of the oldest and largest indigenous communities in the northwestern belt of Bangladesh. They have been living in the pristine natural surroundings of the area for thousands of years. They might be described as children of nature who are nurtured and reared by its bounty. Santals are largely seen in the northern districts of Dinajpur, Naogaon, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, etc. They have actively participated in the Tebhaga movement led by Ila Mitra in 1950, the Santal revolt, Birsa Munda Uprising, Kol revolt, Jitu Samur Rebellion, Pandu Raja Insurgency, Swadeshi Movement and the War of Liberation in 1971. Santal women, especially young girls, are by nature very beauty-conscious. Santal women wear ornaments on their hands, feet, nose, ears and neck and also wear peculiarly shaped ornaments on their ankles. They fix flowers on their heads and hair-buns, and make themselves graceful with simple ornaments. Like their simple, plain and carefree way of life, their dress is also very simple. Santal dresses are called panchi, panchatat and matha. The Santal women wear coarse homespun cotton sarees of bright colours that barely reach their knees, while the upper end is flung over the shoulders. Santal men and women wear tattoos on their bodies. Most of their houses are usually neat and clean even though built of mud. Their homestead often includes a garden. The peculiarity of the houses is that they have small and low doors and almost no window. There is practically no furniture except a wooden bedstead and bamboo machang on which the people of the comparatively well-to-do class spread their beds. The Nabanna ceremony is undoubtedly of great importance to the rural people, and is observed during the harvest time when delicious preparations from newly harvested food grains are made and friends and relatives are entertained. Santals have their own language, culture and social patterns, which are clearly distinct from those of other tribes. They speak Bangla fluently and have adopted many Bangla words for their own language. Most Santals are Christians now but they still observe their old tribal rites. Although the Santals used to lead a prosperous and peaceful life in the past, their economic and social conditions are now very backward. Agriculture is their main source of livelihood. Principal food items of Santals are rice, fish and vegetables. They also eat crabs, pork, chicken, beef and the meat of squirrels. Jute spinach (nalita) is one of their favourite food items. Eggs of ducks, chickens, birds and turtles are delicacies in their menu. Liquor distilled from putrefied rice called hadia or (pachai) is their favourite drink. Santal women are skilled in making different kinds of cakes. Most of the Santals are animists. The main weapon used for hunting and self-protection is the bow and arrow made of locally available materials. They are fond of flowers and music. Hunting and collecting food from the forest were their primitive economic activity. Santals are divided into twelve clans and all these clans are fond of festivities. They are very proficient in music and dance. Like Bengalis, they also have 'thirteen festivals in twelve months' and many other festive occasions around the year. Their year starts with the month of Falgun (roughly, 15 February – 15 March). Almost each month or season has a festival celebrated with dances, songs and music. In the spring, Santals celebrate holi when they drench each other with colours. To express gratitude to the god of crops is also a part of this festival. It turns into a carnival with dances, songs, music and food and drinks. Probably its greatest attraction is the choral dance of Santal girls. Another important ceremony of Santals is called Baha or the festival of blossoms. The purpose of this festival at the beginning of spring is to welcome and offer greetings to the freshly blossoming flowers. It is also characterised by dancing, singing and music. The Santals cremate their dead bodies. But nowadays, many of them bury the dead. When an inhabitant of a village dies, the village headman's duty is to present himself at the place of the departed and arrange for the last rites with due respect.
The Khasi are an indigenous or tribal people, the majority of whom live in the State of Meghalaya in north east India, with small populations in neighbouring Assam, and in parts of Bangladesh. They call themselves Ki Hynñiew trep, which means "the seven huts" in the Khasi language. Their language Khasi is the northernmost Austroasiatic language. This language was essentially oral until the arrival of European missionaries. Particularly significant in this regard was a Welsh missionary, Thomas Jones, who transcribed the Khasi language into Roman Script. The Khasi people form the majority of the population of the eastern part of Meghalaya. A substantial minority of the Khasi people follow their tribal religion; called variously, Ka Niam Khasi and Ka Niam Tre in the Jaintia region and within that indigenous religious belief the rooster is sacrificed as a substitute for man, it being thought that the rooster "bears the sins of the man and by its sacrifice, man will obtain redemption"(compare Kapparot). Other religions practised include Presbyterian, Anglican, Unitarian, Roman Catholic and very few are Muslims. The Khasi people who reside in the hilly areas of Sylhet, Bangladesh are of the War sub-tribe. The main crops produced by the Khasi people living in the War areas, including Bangladesh, are betel leaf, areca nut and oranges. The War-Khasi people designed and built the living root bridges of the Cherrapunjee region. In several States of India, Khasis have been granted the status of Scheduled tribe. The Khasis are a matrilineal society.
Jaintia, an ethnic group living in Sylhet region and also known as Synteng, have a very rich tradition and political history. Once they lived in the northern area of Sylhet. But after the Partition of Bengal in 1947, majority of them migrated to the Jaintia Hills in Assam where most of them are now settled. A small section of them are now living in Jaintapur Upazila in Sylhet. The Jaintias in Bangladesh constitute an ethic group numbering about twenty thousand. According to the Anthropologists, Jaintia is one of the ancient original groups who migrated to the North Eastern region of the sub-continent and settled down there. There is a view holding that the Jaintia is a branch of the Khasi community. The Khasi is a branch of the Mon-khem race while Jaintia belongs to the Mongoloids. The similarity is consequent upon their co-existence for a long time and that similarity is confined in physical features only. No documentary evidences are available regarding the naming of the community. Some are of opinion that they are named after their principal goddess Joyanti. Devi Joyanti is an incarnation of Hindu goddess Durga. Jaintias also introduce themselves as Pnar. Jaintias have their own language, but no alphabets. The Jaintias in Bangladesh get education in the schools through the medium of Bangla. The literacy rate of the Jaintia is 80%, the highest among all tribes living in greater Sylhet region. At present many of them are serving in different government and private organisations. A number of children from Jaintia families are getting education at Shillong in Meghalaya. Though they use their mother tongue in conversation with their tribal people they speak in Bangla to communicate with others. The dress of the male members of both Jaintia and Khasi tribes is similar. However, the male members of Jaintia tribe living in Bangladesh wear same kind of dresses with the mainstream Bengali males. But the women wear the traditional Jaintia dresses. They cover the upper portion of the body with a piece of colourful decorated cloth. But the Jaintia ladies wear another piece of cloth as a modesty scarf knotted on the shoulder like Khasi women. Most of the Jaintia women are now accustomed to wear sari-blouses, although they prefer traditional attires at home. They are also fond of ornaments made of gold and silver. Agriculture is the main occupation of the Jaintias. They cultivate betel leaves and various nuts, which are used in local trading. The Jaintia society is matriarchal. Mothers dominate their respective families and children adopt the title of mother's clan. The women exclusively inherit the family property. The Jaintia society is divided into a number of tribes, such as Sarty, Nayang, Kayang, Lanong, yangyoung, rymbai, dkhar etc. In spite of the existence of tribal system in the Jaintia society, caste discrimination is totally absent there. Intra tribal marriage is prohibited in Jaintia society. A social panchayet system settles disputes through arbitration. The arbitration is conducted under the chief panchayet and supported by the elders in the society. The decision of the panchayet is final in respect of any social problems. The chief of the panchayet is elected by the community.
Rice is the staple food of the Jaintias and they take it with various vegetables, fish and meat. Pork is their favourite dish. They also like mutton, chicken, milk and milk products. They are also used to drink tea, and they entertain guests with betel leaf and nuts. Locally brewed wine, known as kiad is popular among them. They like all the seasonal vegetables, especially bulbous plants and esculent roots. They consider dried fish as a delicacy. They cook their food like the Bengalis.
Hoktoi is the religious festival of the Jaintia. They celebrate the festival for two days. The event is celebrated by the Jaintia to pray for the peace of the soul who died and for the welfare of the next generation. They cook different kinds of foods and serve fruits to the guest. It has been said that, 'better the dance, better the crop' by the Jaintia people which has made them skilled in their own dimension of dancing. Such festivals are really part our culture which has made it more diversified.
Though pantheist in belief the Janitias are much influenced by Hinduism. Their main deity is goddess Jayanti, an incarnation of Hindu goddess Durga. They worship their traditional gods and goddesses along with the Hindu gods and goddesses. But it is an exception that they don't have any specific temple or place of worship. They believe that their deities exist in nature and they offer their prayer in open air. They also believe in the eternal existence of a creator with whom the human being had a direct link at an initial stage. But when they started to be driven by selfish motives, they could not see God with their eyes as He disappeared. Thus the human beings became busy with their families and worldly affairs so much that they started forgetting God gradually as the relationship weakens. So God advised them to follow a few moral sayings to live in the world in a modest way. The directives of God were: (a) earn honestly (Kamai ya ka haq), (b) know the people, understand God (Thipbru Thipblai) and (c) know both the lineages of your parents (Thipkur-Thipkhar). Jaintias also believe that God had sent some gods and goddesses on earth to control the indisciplined human being. They keep them in their control by imposing illness and diseases. Jaintias also worship those gods and goddesses to mitigate their rage. They have their own conception of sins and piety, heaven and hell, crime and punishment. However, some of them have embraced Christianity.
The Garos are matrilineal ethnic community of Bangladesh, who inahbit Mymenshingh, Tangail, Jamalpur, Sherpur, Sylhet and Gazipur. Like other ethnic communities they used to worship super natural powers like sun, moon, storms, fire, mountains, water or rain etc. Joom cultivation, a way of agriculture, was a major activity for their living. However, in modern time their livelihoods no longer depended on traditional Joom cultivation; rather, they have adopted modern system of agricultural work. Their economy depends on agriculture and private sector employment, mostly NGOs.
The Manipuris are one of the major ethnic communities of Bangladesh. They migrated to Bangladesh during the reign of Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1764–1789) and the process was accelerated by the Manipuri-Burma war. After the war with Burma, Manipur was ruled by the Burmese invaders for about seven years. During that period, King Chourajit Singh accompanied by a large following of Manipuri subjects moved to areas – now in Bangladesh. At present they live in different places of Sylhet Division, like Kamalganj, Sreemongal, Kulaura and Baralekha thanas of Moulvi Bazar district; Chunarughat thana of Habiganj district and Chhatak thana of Sunamganj district. According to the 1991 population census, there were about 25,000 Manipuris in Bangladesh. As a result of their changing geographical locations and various kinds of religious and political interaction. The mother-tongue of the Manipuris belongs to the Kuki-chin group of the Tibeto-Burman sub-family of the Mongolian family of languages. Manipuri literature is very old. It has a rich and variegated history and traditions. A characteristic of the old Manipuri script is that each letter of the alphabet has been named after a part of the human body. The shape of a letter is also based on the body part it is named after. Some books on Manipuri subjects have been published in Bengali. Manipuri men and women work together in the field. Men clear the jungles and till the soil, while the women sow seeds and do the transplanting. They celebrate seed planting and crop harvesting in their own colourful way. Manipuri culture has a rich and colourful tradition where dance and music play a vital role. The most vibrant branch of Manipuri culture is dance. Rasa dance is the finest product of their culture. Manipuri dance is characterised by gentleness, tenderness and devotion. The dress they wear during a dance is really gorgeous and beautiful. A very popular festival of the Manipuris is a type of Gopi dance celebrating the romantic liaison of Radha and Krishna. In the spring, Manipuris celebrate Holi, when they drench each other with colour. Most religious rites and festivals of the Manipuris are based on the seasons of the year. They also celebrate the rice harvest through a singing contest. Manipuris put up colourful wedding pandals, and the bride and groom go round the pandal to be greeted with paddy and durva grass. Manipuris cannot marry within their own clans. A Manipuri bride comes to visit her parents for the first time on the fifth day after marriage, providing an occasion for a lavish feast. According to tribal custom, all members of the clan are invited to this ceremony and they come with presents of rice, meat, fowls, pigs, money and alcohol. Manipuris have their own rituals regarding disposal of the dead body. They keep the dying person outside the house on a banana leaf, while Kirtans are chanted. Dead bodies are washed with the head pointed northward. They bury bodies of adolescents and cremate bodies of older persons. After disposing of the body, the pallbearers take a bath and dry their hands by holding them above a fire before entering their house.
The Keot(Kaibarta) people of Bangladesh belong to the Austric stock and are an aboriginal tribe which has slowly been converted into a caste. They generally practice fishing and agriculture as their prime source of livelihood. This indigenous community is also present in Assam and North Bengal etc. They have lost their mother tongue and use the standard language of Bangladesh for communication but they have still preserved their cultural, racial and traditional identity alive.
The Muslim tribes "Pangal or Pangan"
The only Muslim indigenous community of Bangladesh is "Pangal", a subgroup of the Meitei (or Meetei) ethnicity. Hence they are also known as Meitei-Pangals. They live in Sylhet and Moulvibazar.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document "2006 edition".
- This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of State website http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/index.htm (U.S. Bilateral Relations Fact Sheets).
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- Professors publication's book name: Bangladesh Affairs