The Tribes of Bangladesh: An Overview


Introduction and Background:
Bango/Bang : Bangladesh
The ancient Bengal was originally a delta. The Ganges was the principal river. The Bay of Bengal was on the southern side of the country. The country had several islands initially and later all these conglomerated into one single land—known as Bango/ Bang and was inhabited by several tribes came from neighboring areas. Gradually, this land grew into a strong civilized country contemporaneous with Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. In ancient days, the county faced high flood and tide along with tremor. As a result the cities were buried either into the Bay of Bengal or into the Ganges.
Mahasthan or Mahasthangarh represents the earliest and the largest archaeological site in Bangladesh. It consists of the ruins of the ancient city of Pundranagara.The site is 13 km north of Bogura town on the Dhaka-Dinajpur highway Remnants of the earliest cities at Mahasthan Garrah date back to the pre-Aryan period. The oldest archaeological site in Bangladesh is Mahasthan Garrh which dates back to 700 B.C. It was the capital of the Pundrabardhana.
Mahasthan Garrh (Collected) (Broken Glazed Pottery,)

The name Bangladesh (Bangla) has its origin in Bango/Bang and these names were first mentioned in the Vedic literature. Rig-Veda used the name Bango on several occasions. Aiterya Aranyaka, a Hindu scripture, also mentioned Bango as a non-Aryan nation. The ancient texts, Ramayana and Mahabharata also have mentioned ‘Bango.’
The Early Settlers
 In fact, the early settlers of Bangladesh as recorded primarily in the history were: 1.) The Austro-Asian. 2.) The Dravidians. 3.) The Tibeto-Burman and 4) the Indo- Aryans. They were linguistic groups.
The Austro-Asiatic who included the Nishada or the jungle tribes, were known as Sabara, Pulinda, Hadi, Dome, Bindi, Buna-Bagdi, and Banshphor. They are believed to have migrated from their original homeland of the South-eastern part of Asia. They are still available in Bangladesh. Sabara and Pulinda have changed names and might have been absorbed as scheduled castes. But hadi (harri), dome, bindi, buna-baghdi are available in different parts of southern Bengal. They are also taken as the Harijon or dalit community.
Next to them, came the Dravidians and the Kolarians. The Kol or the Kolarians included the Santals, and the Oraons. The Dravidians followed the Austro-Asiatic group. It is they who once dominated the ancient Bangladesh and also built civilizations with the help of other existing tribes. But the Dravidians, however, lost their power to a few other existing non-Aryan linguistic groups such as the Pundra, the Banga, the Rarrh and the Suhma. These groups figured prominently at the time of the advancement of the Aryans. All the pre-Aryan tribes were mostly settlers along the Ganges and the Brahmaputra basin. They were part of a coastal belt. The Bay of Bengal was adjacent to it. Each tribe had its own language and culture.
Next came the Mongolians and Chinese tribes who crossed over into Assam and Trippera and settled in hilly tracts in the eastern part of India. They used to speak Chinese and Mongolian along with the hilly languages of Assam, Sylhet; afterwards the Chittagong Chattogram Hill Tracts. They probably drove out the Kolarians who moved to the plain lands of the Deccan. J. F. Hewett writes, “That they (the Kolarian tribes) came from the east is shown by the following facts: firstly, they themselves always say that they did so; secondly, the most powerful Kolarian tribes are found in the east; thirdly, their languages are allied to those used on the Brahmaputra….” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1888 and 1889). These tribes could not advance directly westward, as their progress was barred by the existence of sea over the Ganges trough, Hewett concludes. History speaks that the Dravidians occupied the western and the southern borders of the peninsula where their descendants are still found in very large numbers. The whole Gangetic plains were then quite flourishing and made rapid progress towards building Ganges basin civilization.
Ghulam Husain Salem mentioned clearly in his Riyadh-as-Salatin that nearly seven thousand and five hundred years ago bang’ tribe set up their residence in Bengal. He further mentioned that they made their inhabited land extremely habitable and beautiful. They also ruled over their land. But how long they ruled over their land is not known. According to him, in the ancient period several other races came to Bengal and of them Negrota tribe came first. Next to Negrota, came the Austroloid or the Austro-Asiatic or Austric. They were also known as Nishada.
As stated earlier, during the non-Aryan period, Bengal was a civilized nation.The most recent discoveries at Farakka over the Ganges, near Maldah, West Bengal, India, where artifacts similar to Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were found while an excavation was made under the excavation of Farakka Barrage Excavation Project. In fact, the Archaeologists during intermittent explorations in 1975 noticed a succession of occupation intervened by breaks of unconformity within an average depth of about ten meters it has found relics of habitation about 8 meters below surface and above the natural level representing the present water level.
In another excavation Pandu Rajar Dhibi, the first Chalcolithic or Copper Age site was discovered in areas beside the districts of Birbhum, Bardhaman, Bankura and Midnapore, in 1962 and 1963. The areas were interspersed by several rivers namely Brahmani, Mayurakshi, Kopai, Ajay, Damodar and many others in 1962 and 63. The discovery made by the Archaeology Department of West Bengal, India, suggests that there had been a definite linkage of Bengal with the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.
Mahasthan Garrah (7000 B.C.) Glazed Pottery, Mahasthan The Archaeologists of India after a yearlong analysis of the antiquities ranging between ochre-us pottery and fascinating terracotta ascribed the entire occupational strata to several periods beginning from earliest phase of habitation to the Mughal period. The further classified the antiquities into four periods. They ascribe some potteries including globular vase with reed impression and a number of jars having convex lower part with or without carination and a step shoulder to the ochre colored ware (ocw) civilization. A vase appears to be embellished with ‘groves and a notched pattern below a flaring mouth, a bended jug of red slipped ware with a cylindrical stem slightly flaring at the mouth with dentils’ is described as unique in the archaeology of Eastern India. Archaeologists feel that ochre-colored jars and vases will recall the well-known ocre-coloured ware (ocw) of the upper regions of the Ganges valley and the Ganga- Yamuna Doab which is in all probability associated with the copper hoard culture of the Indus valley. Along with the OCW the Archaeologists have discovered circular brick wells containing wedge-shaped forms from a great cutting. The wells which are built of kiln-burnt bricks bear a close resemblance to the brick wells at other proto-historic sites of the century.
Fragments of boat have also been discovered from a ‘swampy matrix’ in the northern sector of the cutting. The explorers have unearthed another set of antiquities from a depth of about six meter sand compound the site with other chalcolithic sites. Some bows, recovered from the cuttings appeared to have predilection for the earlier red-ware tradition of the Ganges valley at Farakka.
Archaeologists have stumbled upon traces of an ancient civilization in Bengal dating back to nearly 20,000 years. About 200 small stone tools, knives and needle-like ‘microliths’ among others were excavated at a small village in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district at Haatpara mouza in Sagardighi block. According to the State Archaeology Department’s Superintendent Amal Roy….”The discovery indicates that an ancient civilization existed in this part of Bengal and the stone tools, besides agate, quartz, chart and chalcedony were found to be used by a hunting tool-producing community in the pre-historic period “. (Cultural History” edited by KM Mohsin and Sharifuddin Ahmed and published by Asiatic Society of Bangladesh in December 2007).
Thanks to the geologists and the archaeologists of the country and also those of Jahangirnagar and Kolkata universities for their painstaking effort for discovering of several lost cities of the ancient Bengal. Bengal was formed 1 to 6.5 million years ago and the first known human habitation goes back to 100,000 years in the past. Paleolithic tools and implements from a hundred thousand years ago have been found in Deolpota in West Bengal and 15,000 year old implements have been found in Southeast Bangladesh.
Gangaridae: An ancient Southern State of Bengal and Kotalipara (Gopalganj) as its capital
 There had been tribes in Bengal who became powerful during the periods the Aryans ruled in the Indus valley of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. These tribes also founded kingdoms. One such tribe was known as the Gangaridae. The name of ‘Gangaridae (Gangaridai)’ came to the notice of Greek, Roman and Egyptian historians also. Gangaridae was an ancient state of Bengal or Bango and it was located by the side of the Ganges. Gangaridae existed become 300 BC in the Bengal region. The Greek historian and traveler Megasthenes (4th century BC) recorded of the existence Gangaridae in his work ‘Indica’. Gangaridae was, in fact, a big state and it covered the whole of Southeast regions of Bengal. The capital of Gangaridae was believed to have been situated at Kotalipara under the present Gopalganj district of Bangladesh. Recent excavations made by the archaeologists of Jahangirnagar University and Calcutta University discovered ruins of cities and ahuge mud-forts along the Ganges basin. One such was Kotalipara under present Gopalganj district. Archaeologists found the names of the three kings, namely, 1) Gopa Chandra 2) Samachar Dev and 3) Dharmaditya. According to information available from Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’, it was found that the Gangaridai was extended to the Southwest and Southeast region of Bengal overviewing the Bay of Bengal. Pliny, Arrian etal compiled a map of India as known to the early Greeks. It was based on Indica of Megasthenes (4th century BC), where the Gangaridae state has been shown in the lower Ganges and its tributaries. However it is held in all the Greek, Latin and Egyptian accounts that the Gangaridae was located in the deltaic region of southern Bengal. This information clearly speaks of Bengal as one of the most ancient civilizations and the country had several river ports along the Ganges. Taking records of Megasthenes from his work, Indica. Diodorus Siculus observes of Alexander’s battle in India in the following terms:
“When he (Alexander) moved forward with his forces certain men came to inform him that Porus, the king of the country, who was the nephew of that Porus whom he had defeated, had left his kingdom and fled to the nation of Gangaridae… He had obtained from Phegeus description of the country beyond the Indus: First came a desert which it would take twelve days to traverse; beyond this was the river called the Ganges which had a width of thirty two stadia, and a greater depth than any other Indian river; beyond this again were situated the dominions of the nation of the Prasioi and the Gangaridae, whose king, Xandrammes, had an army of 20,000 horse 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 4,000 elephants trained and equipped for war”…. “Now this (Ganges) river, which is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its water into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of the Gandaridae, a nation which possesses the greatest number of elephants and the largest in size.” –Diodorus Siculus (c.90 BC – c.30 BC). (Quoted from The Classical Accounts of India, Dr. R.C. Majumder, and p. 170-72/234).
The Aryans always faced challenges from the Dravidians and other non-Aryans before their final victory and they termed these black-skinned people as Demons and Dasyus (robbers) (Das Abinash 1921.1130). These people were also called Asuras and Rakkhasyas or demons because they always tormented the Aryans. The word, Asura literally means ‘powerful’. (Das Abinash 1921, Ch.VII, pp.128-129). The Dravidians were famous in ancient time for their astronomical knowledge and the Aryans learnt this from them (Rig-Vedic India, Ch.XII).
Aryanization which began with Ashok were parts of the Mauryan Empire. As Aryanization penetrated, Manu classified Bangla (Pundra), Shaka and Drabira as fallen Kshatryias (Kshatriyas were the warrior or ruling caste). They were gradually incorporated into the Aryan caste system.
These were the coastal tribes of Bengal who were called Mlechchha/ Yabana. All the tribes in Ango, Bango, Kalinga, and Magadh belong to the southeast Indian empire and these were considered as non-Aryan. Ango, Banga and Kalinga were Dravidians and existed during Mahabir’s time. The average Indian and Bengali profile are more close to the Dravidian and Kolarians than those of the Aryans so far as one’s skin and body structure are concerned. There is thus no doubt that India must have been one of the earliest centers of civilization. Hall concludes, ‘It seems natural to suppose that the strange UnSemitic, UnAryan people who came from the East to civilize the West were of Indian origin, especially when we see with our own eyes how every Indian the Sumerian were in type’ (Ch.V).
It was only during the Gupta rule around the 4th century period that Aryanization fully penetrated Bangla. The caste structure was introduced and the Brahmans stood as the highest caste in the society. Kshatriya came next to the Brahmana. Vaishaya was the third Batsyan in his Kamsutra (the bible of sex) mentions Brahmans in Bengal. Vatsayana talks about handsome Bangalees who painted their nails to attract girls. Ancient Bangalee men painted their nails to attract girls. This is the earliest mention of coloring nails. In the ancient Indus, girls used lipstick which is also another first use. The Mauryan, the Gupta, the Pala and finally the Sena dynasties confirmed Aryanization of the country until the advent of the Muslims.
It is difficult to say when Aryanization began in Bengal. It is, however, held that from 800 BC or a little later, the Aryans started to come to Bengal. This was the first migration of outsiders into Bengal. During the Gupta period, Hinduism flourished in India.
The Hindu dynasty preached Sanskrit as the official language and none was allowed to speak in prakrita Bangla as they considered it to be heathen. The Sena kings openly declared that anybody found speaking in Bangla would face condemnation and be thrown into the hell named rauraba.
Possibly they also developed a common language by which they would communicate with each other. The scholars (Mohshin, KM and Ahmed, Sharifuddin; 2007) held that it was Prakrita, the meaning of which is, the voice of the common people, developed naturally. The Aryansbrought with them the Sanskrit almost similar to Avesta. ( Karim, Anwarul – Water and Culture in Bangladesh, Past and Present, pp. 99-100). Gautama Buddha, however, rearranged the Sanskrit with the locals and developed another common language known as Palifor preaching his religion (Chattreji, SK., 1960).
Language of the non-Aryans
The original settlers used to speak non-Aryan languages— they might have spoken Austric or Austro-Asiatic languages like the languages of the present-day Kola, Bhil, Santal, Shabara, and Pulinda peoples. All the pre-Aryan tribes were mostly settlers along the Ganges and the Brahmaputra basin. They were part of a coastal belt. The Bay of Bengal was adjacent to it. Possibly they also developed a common language by which they would communicate with each other. The scholars (Mohshin, KM and Ahmed, Sharifuddin; 2007) held that it was Prakrita, the meaning of which is, the voice of the common people, developed naturally. The Aryans brought with them the Sanskrit. Gautama Buddha, however, rearranged the Sanskrit with the locals and developed another common language known as Pali for preaching his religion (Chatterjee, SK., 1960).
Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyaya has argued in favor of distinct Austric and Dravidian influence in the anthropo-cultural assimilation in Bengal. The words Dravida and Austric are being found in the geographical nomenclature of Bangladesh. The Austrics and the Dravidians named the rivers, mountains, hills, and villages of the region according to their own. As for instance from Distang to Tista in the non-Aryan vot-Brahma language, from Kabadak to Kapotaksha, from Damudak to Damodar in Kola language etc. The language of the Non-Aryans was Prakrita with Apabhrangsha Bangla
Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterjee writes; ‘Is there any evidence about the class of speech that prevailed in Bengal before the coming of the Aryan tongue? There is, of course, the presence of Kol and Dravidians (the Santals, the Malers, and the Oraons) in the western fringes of the Bengali area and of the Boda and Mon- Khmer speakers in the northern and eastern fringes. There are, again, some unmistakably Dravidian affinities in Bengali phonetics, morphology, syntax and vocabulary ‘. . (Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyaya, ‘Bangla Jati, Bangla Sanskrit o Bangla Sahitya’ Bangasree 3rd year, Vol.1, No., 1314 BS,7). This suggests that the language of the people was Bangla. In fact, it was called Prakrita mixed with Apobhrangsha Bangla.
The earliest example of Bengali language and literature, the Charya songs or the Caryapadas ( 10th century) speak of Bengali language and the social and religious life of the Bengali people The Charya songs have many references to pre-Aryan people such as doma, domni, candela, sabara, Pulinda and Kapalika. The Brahmans regarded them as untouchables. The Sabaras lived in the hills, Domnis lived in the outskirts of the cities and also outside human habitation. The Kapalikas moved or roamed about as nomads wearing garlands of human bones and many were half naked.
‘Ganga Yamuna madhey re bohey nauka
Ta hatey Cara chandali dobalo kekey abolila cromey paar koori
Bah Tui Domni! Bah Tui lo Domni! Patheyhailo Baikal.
Sad-guru paadproshadeyjaibopunojinpur
Paachdaarporiteynaukargaluye, pittheykanchibandhiya
Gagon –seuntidaaraseccopaani, (jeno) naapoccesandhiya
Chand-Surjo dui ccaka, srishtisangharmaasul.
Baam-Daahiney dui maargonaabodh hoi, baa tuisaccendey.
Kori naaloi, buri (paisa– coins) naaloi, amnipaarkorey
Jeyraatheyccarilo (path baa nauka) jawanaajaniaakuleykuleyberai.

Translation –
Oh! The boat ferries between the Ganges and the Yamuna. Ascending on its board, the Chandala woman takes the drowned easily to the opposite shore.
O dom woman, steer thou, O dom woman steer thou. It became afternoon on the way. By the grace of the feet of the good guru I shall again go to the city of the Buddha. While five oars at the bow of the boat strike, and the towing rope is bound on the back, bail out water with the pall of the sky. It will not enter into the holes.
The moon and the sun are the two wheels. Creation and destruction are masts. The two ways, right and left, are not perceived. Steer thou freely.
She does not accept budi (small coins worth 20 cowries). She ferries men across gratis. He who mounts the chariot wanders along the shore, not known how to steer (boat). The Charya songs were written in proto-Bangla or apabhrangsha Bangla. A group of Buddhist Mystics, who were non-Aryan, accepted Buddhism and composed songs in Apabhrangsha Bangla. ( d. Muhammad Shahidulla ; Buddhist Mystic Songs)
These songs have criticism of the Aryan caste system and contained matters relating to phallic worship, deha-vada, a common worship of the pre-Aryans who belonged to a fertility cult. It had references to the Ganges and the Padma khal.
Sanskrit as the Aryan Language
During the Sena dynasty Sanskrit was the state language. And no other languages, except Pali, were allowed to practice other than the Sanskrit. Bengali language was strictly prohibited.
The common people, more particularly, the low castes who were treated as untouchables or Sudra were not allowed to use their mother tongue which the scholars identified as Prakrita or Maghadhi Prakrita. It was also known as Gaurya Apabhrangsha, (Chatterji and Suniti Kumar, 1314BS and Sen, Sukumar, 1948).
Agriculture as the main occupation of the Dravidians
It is believed that these non-Aryans had an agricultural bias and by and large were agriculturists. In those days, the country had innumerable rivers. Rainfall was also sufficient. The country was called ‘The Golden Bengal’ because of the fact that Bangladesh was known for surplus production in the field of agriculture. Jute was regarded as the golden fiber. It earned money for the country.
But things gradually changed with the passage of time. Water is a pre-requisite of life and there is no substitute for water. The early settlers realized the value of water when they faced prolonged drought and heavy flood causing colossal crop failure. In order to protect themselves from flood and tidal bore they used to set up embankments. These embankments were also used as reservoir of water for irrigation. These people, over the centuries, also evolved a number of techniques to conserve every possible form of water from rain to ground water, from perennial source to shallow streams and canals. . It had references to the Ganges and the Padma khal.
These people had almost the same sort of religion as the others, was understood in the Indus valley civilization. The non-Aryans who settled in Bangladesh and West Bengal had possibly no major points of difference so fat their religion is concerned. They believed in the ghosts of their forefathers, river-spirits, animal and forest-spirit. They had tremendous faith in the mountain gods and a mighty host of unseen spirits dominated their life and living condition. This belief of the Non-Aryans in the nature spirit leads us to think that they might have also believed in magic. The same is discernible among the tribal people even now. This magic was possibly exploited by them for their own protection from the evil effect of nature gods. And it is also not very improbable that they have also employed magical power for gaining superiority over others. This tendency is still prevalent among the tribal people as well as the folk people of Bangladesh. It was a part of their religion since they invoked power from their respective house hold gods to exert influence on others. And that the non-Aryans believed in magic is clearly understood by the material documents available in the Indus valley civilization. The presence of Mother goddess in the Indus valley civilization suggests that the non-Aryans believed in the fertility rituals and it sounds quite effective since agriculture played the most decisive part in the origin of civilization.
Many think that the concepts of karma and transmigration of the soul, the practice of yoga, the worship of Shib, Debi and Vishnu, and other rituals are not originally Vedic, these came from the pre-Aryan culture. These existed in Bangala before the Aryanization. This is also supported by the fact that today at least Yoga and Shiva are associated with the Indus civilization before the coming of the Aryans. The cultivation of rice and other crops such as the betel leaf, coconut, tamarind and nut; the Hindu dress of dhoti, marriage rituals with vermilion and turmeric, and many other customs came from pre-Aryan ancestors.
Aryans in Bengal
It is believed that the Aryans came to Bengal quite late from the northern India which they conquered from the Dravidians and the Kolarians. It is said that from about 5th century B.C. the Aryans pushed themselves into Bengal from the West and it took at least 1000 years to bring Bengal under control. They subdued the non-Aryans through fights for years. They introduced Sanskrit as their language, religion and other elements of culture. But the non-Aryans who lived as slaves in the country retained their culture somehow. Caste system was introduced. Initially it worked liberally. The non- Aryans were made slaves and were named as Sudra. During these periods, a group of Sudras became kayastha . Gradually during the Sena, the caste system was very rigid. The Sudras were then considered untouchables. The earliest Bengali literature, Charya songs or Charyapadavali discovered in 1907 speak of the prevalent socio- economic, religious and cultural life of the people.
Bangladesh: The present scenario
Bangladesh presents a complex culture. Muslims and Hindus form the two major groups. Next to them are Buddhists and Bengali Christians. There are again various kinds of tribes who are not the original settlers of the country, but they migrated to Bangladesh from the different neighboring countries like Burma and Arakan or from different parts of India, like Chhotonagpur, Santal Pargana and Tripura during the Mughals and the British. These people have all the traits of their ancestors.
The total population of indigenous ethnic minorities in Bangladesh was estimated to be over 2 million in 2010. But these have more than 3 million now (2020).They are diverse ethnic communities including Tibeto-Burman,[2]Austric and Dravidian people. Quite a few of these groups, such as the Chakras and Mamas (the largest and second largest), migrated to Bangladesh before the British period from modern Burma. Others migrated from Central India, where they are referred to as Adivasi (Indigenous). Most of these groups are often disadvantaged compared to ethnic Bengalis since Bangladesh was created as a Bengali nation-state. Ethnic minorities of Bangladesh have their own cultural traditions and, frequently, languages.[3] Vast number of indigenous tribes of Bangladesh are traditionally Buddhists and Hindus by faith while others are Christians and animists.
There are major tribes and minor tribes. The major tribes include about 18 tribes in Bangladesh. They are mostly spread over the whole country. These include Chattogram and Chattogram Hill tracts, Rangamati, Cox’s Bazar, Sylhet, Cumilla, Mymensingh, Tangail, Netrokona, Jamalpur, Sherpur, Rajshahi, Bogura, Rangpur, Dinajpur, and Patuakhali. The Major Tribes live in CHT. It is the home of eleven tribes. Here, eleven ethnic groups such as Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Lushai, Pankho, Bawm, Mro, Khyang, Khumi and Chak. Among these, the Chakma are the largest ethnic group in Bangladesh. The majority of them are Buddhists and the rest of them are Hindus, Christians. The Chakma (Changma) is the largest tribal community in Bangladesh. They are approximately living 444,748 people in this country. The Chakmas also live in the Tripura, Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Burma (Myanmar). In Bangladesh, they are living mostly in the Chattogram Hilly Areas (Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachhari) including Cox’s Bazar. The origin of Chakma is from the Mongoloid people who are the people of Southwestern Burma. They talk in their dialect (Arakanese – Indo-European tongue) as well as Bengali. The tribal people of CHT lead an extremely interesting and attractive but simple life.[1] The tribal families are matriarchal and female is the head of a family. In their community the women are more hard-working than the male and basically they are the main productive force. The tribal people are extremely independent and self-confident. They grow their own food by Zum cultivation. Their girls weave their own cloths and they are very skillful in making beautiful handicrafts also. By selling the cloths and the handicrafts they earn some money and helps their family. The common feature is their way of life, which still speaks of their main occupation. Some of them still take pride in hunting with bows and arrows. Beside the aforesaid tribes who live in CHT and Rangamati, there are also various other tribes who live outside CHT and Rangamati. They are spread over throughout the country. Cox’s Bazar, Sylhet, Comilla, Mymensingh, Tangail, Netrokona, Jamalpur, Sherpur, Rajshahi, Bogra,Rangpur, Dinajpur, Patuakhali.
The Chakma
Of the tribes of Bangladesh, the Chakma are the largest ethnic group in Bangladesh. According to the Population Census of 1991 Chakmas have a population numbering 239,417.
A Chakma weaver Biju festival

The majority of them are Buddhists and the rest of them are Hindus, Christians .They migrated from Burma to Arakan and from there to Bengal during the Mughals in the 18th century and had a treaty with the Mughals. They enjoyed the Mughal title also. The British provided them with tribal autonomy and it continued even after partition. They are approximately living 444,748 people in this country. The Chakmas also live in the Tripura, Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Burma (Myanmar). In Bangladesh, they are living mostly in the Chattogram Hilly Areas (Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachhari) including Cox’s Bazar. The origin of Chakma is from the Mongoloid people who are the people of Southwestern Burma. They talk in their dialect (Arakanese – Indo-European tongue) as well as Bengali.
Chakmapeople trace the origin of the tribe to the ancient kingdom of Champaknagar. One of the king’s sons is believed to have marched to the east with a large army and conquered the kingdom of Arakan in Burma, and here he finally settled. His people intermarried with the Burmese and gradually adopted the Buddhist religion.
The Chakmas are Buddhists. But, their form of Buddhism has a number of things common with Hinduism and traditional religions as well. The Chakmas also worship Hindu deities. Lakhshi common with Hindu, for example, is worshipped as the Goddess of the Harvest. Chakmas offer the sacrifice of goats, chickens, or ducks to calm the spirits that are believed to bring fevers and disease. Even though animal sacrifice is totally against Buddhist beliefs, the Chakma Buddhist priests ignore the practice. Buddha Purnima is the most important festival of the Chakma. It is observed on the full moon day of the month of Baisakh (usually in May). They are idolaters and worship the image of Buddha offer flowers and light candles and also listen to the sermons of the priests. They also arrange a three-day festival known as Bishuon the Bengali New Year’s Day. After the birth of a child, the father places some earth near the birth bed and lights a fire on it. This is kept burning for five days. Afterward, the earth is thrown away and the mother and child are bathed. A woman is considered unclean for a month after childbirth and is not allowed to cook food during this period. Children are breastfed for several years by their mothers. Chakmas cremate their dead body. The body is bathed, dressed, and laid out on a bamboo platform. Relatives and villagers visit the body. A drum used only at this time is beaten at intervals. Cremation usually occurs in the afternoon. The ritual is presided over by a priest. Buddhists believe in reincarnation. This means that they believe that the dead person’s spirit will return to earth in another living form. The mourning period for the family lasts for seven days. No fish or animal flesh is eaten during this time. On the seventh day, the final ritual (Sardinya) is held. At this time the family offers food to their ancestors, Buddhist monks deliver religious discourses, offerings are made to the monks, and the entire village participates in a communal feast. The traditional Chakma house is made of bamboo. It is constructed on a bamboo or wooden platform about two meters (six feet) above the ground. The house is built on the rear of the platform. Mat walls divide the house into separate compartments. A porch in the front of the house is divided in two by a mat partition. One area is used by men and boys and the other by women and girls. Small compartments may be built for storage of grain and other possessions. Household objects ranging from baskets to pipes for smoking tobacco are made out of bamboo.
Chakma men have given up their traditional clothes for Western-style shirts and trousers. It is the women who maintain the traditional Chakma style of dress, which consists of two pieces of cloth. One is worn as a skirt, wrapped around the lower part of the body and extending from waist to ankle. Its traditional color is black or blue, with a red border at top and bottom. The tribal families who live in the Chattogram Hill tract (CHT) are matriarchal and the female is the head of a family. In their community the women are more hard-working than the male and basically they are the main productive force. The tribal people are extremely independent and self-confident. They grow their own food by Zum cultivation. Their girls weave their own cloths and they are very skillful in making beautiful handicrafts also. By selling the cloths and the handicrafts they earn some money and helps their family. The common feature is their way of life, which still speaks of their main occupation. Some of them still take pride in hunting with bows and arrows.
The Marmas
The Mamas are the second largest ethnic group in Bangladesh and they are of Burmese or Arakanese (Myanmar) ancestry. Their cultural traits are connected to their ancestral heritage, including dress and food. They have Burmese script and speak Marma language. The majority are Buddhists. They have almost common festivals with the other tribes
The Khasia or Khasi
The Khasia, (or Khasi) a Mongolite ethnic group is one of the major matriarchal tribes in Bangladesh. The Khasia’s descended to the Khasia hills and Jaintia hills from Cherapunji and Shilong regions. They migrated to Bangladesh from Assam where they came about five hundred years ago, presumably from Tibet. Khasias are short people with flat noses and mouths, high jaws, and small and straightened black eyes. Khasias call their villages punjis, which are clusters of houses within the cultural boundary of their own community.
The Tribes of Bangladesh have unity in diversity in their way of life.
There is one thing very important and significant that all the tribes in the CHT have unity in diversity in their way of life. The majority of the tribes are Buddhists but they follow Hinduism and its practices also. There are again some tribes who believe in animism also. A good number of people belonging to different tribes are Christians.
The culture of this tribal people is also very colorful. All the tribes in the CHT have common festival centering round the “Baisabiutsab” and Buddha Purnima. Both the festivals are held in the month of April and May.
A Vesak festival / Baishavi or Bijufestival at CHT
In Chattogram Hill Tracts all the tribal communities celebrate the festival in the same way. The only difference is the name. The Chakma and Tanchangyas calls it ‘Biju’, the Tripura calls it ‘Baisu’ and the Marma ‘Sangrai’ and the first 2-3 words of all the three names form the word ‘Baisabi’. They celebrate the day from April 12 to 14 to say goodbye to the outgoing Bangla year and to welcome the New Year. This suggests a strange coincidence between Bengali people and the tribal people. The New Year celebration in the country is strangely one between the Bengali people and the tribes of the CHT. In Chattogram Hill Tracts each tribe has its own dialect, distinctive dress, rites and rituals. But despite of these distinctive features there are strong bonds between them. They are generally peace-loving, honest, and hospitable. There are many other tribes in the CHT and also elsewhere in Bangladesh. In this article it would not be possible to talk about all of them
The Government Patronization: A Separate Ministry for CHT
The Government of Bangladesh setup a Ministry of Chattogram Hill Tracts Affairs. It has been created in accordance with the provisions of the Peace Accord signed on 2ndDecember, 1997 to ensure overall development of Hill Tracts region. This Ministry is committed to establishing equal rights and opportunities and equitable distribution of resources among the citizens of this region as guaranteed in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Tribes who live outside the Chattogram Hill Tracts.
Beside the tribes already stated above, there remains several thousand other tribes who live outside the CHT and are spread over in different districts of Bangladesh. These minor tribes are being treated as indigenous or scheduled castes in Bangladesh. The minor tribes include those who are taken as scheduled castes or indigenous group of people such as Santals, Garos, Oraons and Rakha ins along with Bind is or Bins, Banshfore, Buna, Bagdi, Namasudra, Chandals and Chamars. Of these the Santals are known as one of the oldest and largest indigenous communities in the Bangladesh and in India. They have been living in India and Bangladesh for thousands of years
The Manipuri’s
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.
The Santals
The Santals are one of the oldest tribal populations in Bangladesh. They are largely concentrated in the districts of Rajshahi, Dinajpur and Rangpur. The Santals were originally inhabitants of the Santal Pargana, Jharkhand in India. During the British period, they migrated to different areas including Bangladesh in search of employment, such as agricultural laborers, laborers for installing railway tracks, laborers for clearing forest and reclamation of agricultural land. Santals are black in color. They have broad nose with thick lips and t are of medium height
Santals were originally hunters and gatherers and used to live in hill forests of middle-eastern India. But over time due to increase of population, deforestation and scarcity of wild animals and birds, they had to move out to different areas, mainly plain land areas, for their livelihood. Santals are known as one of the oldest ethnic groups of South Asia. Anthropologists tend to identify the Santals in the racial category of Proto-Australoid (Siddiquee 1984, Ali 1998). It is assumed that the ancestors of this stock of people migrated from the mainland of Australia to India some ten thousand years ago (Maloney 1974). Santals skin colors is dark, hair is black and smooth to wavy, they have broad nose with thick lips and they are of medium height (Samad 1984, Hossain and Sadeque 1984). It may be mentioned that studies on Santals of Bangladesh are very few in number. Present study cannot be claimed to be an in-depth and comprehensive one, however this exploratory research may pave the way for the enthusiastic researchers and scholars to come forward for further studies on the Santals.
They are largely seen in the northern districts of Dinajpur, Naogaon, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, etc. These people once participated actively in the Tebhaga Movement led by Ila Mitra in 1950 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 folk wear coarse homespun cotton sarees of various colors but these barely reach their knees. The upper end is flung over the shoulders. Santal men and women use tattoos on their bodies. The houses of Santals are made of mud but they are neat and clean. Their homestead often includes a garden. These houses have small and low doors and the peculiarity is, there is almost no window. They use wooden bedstead and bamboo machang. 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 favorite 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 favorite drink. Santali 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 colors. 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 characterized 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.
These tribes are considered as the lowest or degraded castes in the caste hierarchy of the Hindu social structure. These minor tribes are generally taken as the scheduled casts or indigenous ethnic group of people. These minor tribes as we take them are spread over throughout Bangladesh sharing lives with the downtrodden or the least developed people in the nook and corner of the country. They profess that they are Hindus but they are denied rights to participate equally with the upper –castes. They are still taken as outcastes and untouchables. These people never had any Brahmanical assistance in their social and religious ceremonies.
 The Garo
Garo is an ethnic group in Bangladesh, belonging to Bodo sub-sect of the Tibeto-Burman sect of Mongoloid race. They also live in Indian state of Meghalaya. The present population size of Garo in Bangladesh is 150,000. They live in the districts of Tangail, Jamalpur, Sherpur, Mymensingh, Netrakona, Sunamganj, Sylhet and Gazipur with a highest concentration in Haluaghat and Dhobaura upazilas of Mymensingh, Durgapur and Kalmakanda upazilas of Netrokona, Nalitabari and Jhenaigati upazilas of Sherpur and Madhupur upazila of Tangail district. The Garo society is matrilineal and mothers inherit property and they are the head of their respective families.
Most Garos are now Christians in faith. They started to embrace Christianity by the end of the 19th century when the Christian missionaries came to their settlements. The members of Garo community had achieved a remarkable success in attaining higher literacy rate with the support of those missionaries. At present every Garo village has a primary school and the literacy rate is as high as 80%. Earlier the Garos believed in animism. In the Garo’s old-religion society only khamal or priests had knowledge about the existence of gods-goddesses and their role. The khamals play an important role in the society as they administer all sorts of social functions, find out the causes behind anybody’s illness and through meditation he detects the god or the goddess who is not pleased to the patient. Then he gives remedy for relief. It was assumed that khamals get mantra, sacred hymns from gods and goddesses through meditation. Each and every specific hymn is recited in prayer to specific deity. Khamals are not appointed hereditarily. Anybody having knowledge and quality can be appointed as khamal. Generally an adult male having all the requisite quality, knowledge and god-gifted power is given that position.
The Oraon
Oraon are an ethnic group inhabiting in Indian states of Jharkhand, West, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. They predominantly speak Kurukh as their native language, which belongs to the Dravidian language family. They migrated to Bangladesh. They now live mostly in the Varindra regions including districts of RajshahiNaogaon, Natore, ChapaiNawabganj, They are also found in Dinajpur, Joypurhat, Bogura. Taditionally, Oraons depended on the forest and farms for their ritual and economic livelihood, but in recent times, a few of them have become mainly settled agriculturalists. Many Oraon migrated to tea gardens of Assam, West Bengal and Bangladesh during British rule. They are listed as a scheduled caste for the purpose of India’s Reservation system. Oraon are Dravidian and speak Kurukha of Dravidian language.
The Census Report of 1991 recorded the number of Oraons in Bangladesh as 11,296. But presently the number has rose to 102,000.Oraons believe in the cult of, Dharmesh, deities and spirits. Hinduism has influenced the ritual and certain beliefs. Many Oraons, have become educated and accepted Christianity.
The Rakhine
Rakhine the ethnic community from Arakan migrated to Bangladesh in late 18th century and settled in the coastal districts of Cox’s Bazar and Patuakhali. Rakhine have a long history and culture of several thousand years old. The world ‘Rakhain’ is derived from a Pali word arakhah which means Raksho or Rakshok or (protector). It is believed that they were the inhabitants of ancient kingdom of Magadha and later migrated to Arakan. These immigrants were known to the local people as Magadhi or Magh. The Rakhains came to Bengal during the British East India Trading Company .Rakhine people also live in the southeastern parts of Bangladesh, especially in Chattogram Division and Barisal Division. A group of Rakhine descendants, living in the Chattogram Hill Tracts of Bangladesh at least since the 16th century. They are known as the Marma or Mog people
The Rakhine language is closely related to Burmese. The modern Rakhine script utilizes the Burmese alphabet. The Rakhine are predominantly Theravada Buddhists and are one of the four main Buddhist ethnic groups of Burma. They claim to be one of the first groups to become followers of Gautama Buddha in Southeast Asia. The Rakhine culture is similar to the dominant Burmese culture but it has influence of Indian and Arakanese culture. Rakhine are engaged in various professions. Beside the main occupation of farming and fishing, they are also engaged in trading, shop-keeping, boat and ship building, weaving .They also work as artisans.

Conclusion: Tribes of Bangladesh have a long history. The present tribes who live in Bangladesh both at the CHT and outside, they are all tribes. Their forefathers helped Bangladesh grow. Bangabandhu, the Father of Bangladesh did not ignore them. The Government set up a Ministry for tribal affairs of the Chattogram Hill Tracts only. This should be for all tribes of Bangladesh, major and minor. On the other hand, the Tribes of Bangladesh may have their separate identity and culture, but they are all Bangladeshi by birth. They share the pleasure and pain of Bangladesh with all living as proud citizen of the country. This year is the golden hundred-year birth anniversary of the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We are looking ahead to complete the 50thyear of our freedom and independence. The unity, fraternity, equality and non-communalism will help create a better and brave Bangladesh

Professor Dr. Anwarul Karim is presently working as the Professor of English and Executive Director, Bangabandhu Research Center, Northern University Bangladesh, Dhaka. . He is an internationally reputed scholar on Sufism, Bauls of Bangladesh,Llano, Tagore and Nazrul with specialization on folklore and cultural anthropology. He is the founder of Lalon Academy (1963), Folklore Research Institute,,Kushtia(1970). He was a Visiting Scholar, Divinity School and Center forthe Study of World Religion (CSWR), Harvard University, USA.(1885), Visiting Professor, Ten reputed Indian Universities(1983).He was Vice Chancellor (Assigned), Treasurer and Supernumerary Professor of English, Islamic University, Kushtia. He worked as a Journalist for Daily Sangbad (1959-60)The Pakistan Observer( 1961 -1971) and The Bangladesh Observer from 1971 December to 1987). He was Editor, Folklore and Loke-Oitijya (Bangla) of the Folklore Research Institute, Kushtia, Bangladesh.