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Feb 07th
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Indigenous Communities and their Colourful Culture

Different ethnic groups of Bangladesh and their colourful lifestyles have significantly enriched the entire culture of Bangladesh. For centuries, Bangladesh has been the dwelling place of different ethnic groups. In fact, 35 smaller groups of indigenous people covering about two percent of the total population have been living in different pockets of the hilly zones and some areas of the plain lands of the country. Their historical background, economic activities, social structure, religious beliefs and festivals make them distinctive.

The beauty of the hilly zones as well as the plain areas has been enhanced by the colourful culture and traditional practices of different ethnic groups, like the Mandi and Hajong in the northern part, the Manipuri and Khasia in the northeast, the Chakma, Tripura, Marma, Rakhain, Mru, Tanchyanga, Murong in the eastern and southeastern parts and the Santal and Rajbangshi in the western part of the country.

Almost all tribal languages have rich folk literatures, consisting of poems, songs, fairy tales and legends relating to their past nomadic life. There are plenty of narratives, similar to the Maimensingha Gitika, in the Mogh, Chakma, Khasia and Garo languages.The folk tales of the tribal languages have similarities with those in Bangla.The ballads in some of the languages of the Himalayan foothills are similar to those in Bangla folk literature. Their linguistic aspects are similar to those of early Bangla. The rhymes in Bangla and the tribal languages are similar in subject, rhythm and vocabulary.

The people of different tribes have been using musical instruments fromtime immemorial. These instruments are all closely linked with their feelings and emotions, lifestyle, economy and, above all, their philosophy and earthly and spiritual aspirations. Tribal dances are based on the customs and beliefs of the tribal people. Tribal dance evolved through the experience of the aborigines.

They had to fight ferocious, beasts of the jungle and hunt animals and birds for food. Before going out for a hunt, hunters would draw pictures of their prey and dance in a body, imitating a hunt. People danced to placate or defeat evil spirits, to prevent decay and disease, to cause rainfall to help the production of crops, or to prevent drought or famine.

With the evolution of society, human activities have undergone many changes resulting in differences in dance styles. Most tribes perform dances, songs and music on religious festivals, births, deaths, marriage ceremonies and other occasions. They perform dances individually or collectively, in traditional dress accompanied by their own songs. They make their own musical instruments. Their dances are named after their tribes, e. g. Santhal dance, Garo dance, Manipuri dance, etc. They perform dances not only on such occasions as the construction of houses, cultivation and fishing, but also to celebrate the creation of man. They also perform dances to pray for rainfall in time of drought. Most tribal dances are traditionally performed without any stage, make-up room, lighting, etc. There are no elaborate arrangements for music or singing.

The dancers themselves sing. As in the bamboo dance, the musical instruments can simply be a pair of bamboos. Television and tourism have had an impact on tribal dancing, and stage, musical instruments, lighting, make-up, and decoration have all become more elaborate.

The Manipuri Print E-mail

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. 

The Rajbangshi Print E-mail

The Rajbangshi is another small ethnic group of Bangladesh. They entered this country from the Himalayan region and the Brahmaputra valley. They live mostly in Rangpur, Dinajpur and Rajshahi districts and a small number of them in Bogra and Mymensingh. 

The Khasia Print E-mail

'Better the dance, better the crop...' a saying of the Khasias, one of the ethnic groups of Bangladesh. Earlier, Khasia people used to live along the northeast border of Sunamganj district. At present they are spread over Bishwamvarpur, Tahirpur and Chhatak in Sunamganj. Most Khasias live in the border region. Many Khasia children are found working in the tea gardens in Kulaura. 

The Tripura Print E-mail

The Tripuras are another large ethnic group in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region. At present they live in CHT, especially in Ramgarh and Khagrachhari. It is also believed that Tripuras currently living in Bangladesh originally came from the Indian state of Tripura. The number of Tripuras in CHT areas was close to 80,000 in 1991, and it has no doubt increased considerably by this time.

The Marma Print E-mail

The Marmas are the second largest ethnic minority in Bangladesh. Most Marmas live in the three hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari. Some Marmas, however, live in the coastal districts of Cox's Bazar and Patuakhali. 

The Mandi Print E-mail

Mandis are short but usually have stout bodies with wide chest and thick arms and legs. They live in different areas of Bangladesh and in the adjacent parts of India. Their faces are round, black hair and eyes , deep eyebrows, small eyes, flat noses and high jaws. Beards rarely grow on their cheeks and they have almost no hair on their body. Their skin is yellow and smooth.

The Hajong Print E-mail

This ethnic group has been living for many generations in the hilly parts of Mymehsingh district. Some of them also live in the Sherpur, Sylhet and Netrokona regions. 

The Chakma Print E-mail

The Chakmas are the largest ethnic tribal minority in Bangladesh. They are concentrated in the central and northern parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts where they live amidst several other ethnic groups. According to the 1991 population census, there were about 2,53,000 Chakmas. More than 90 percent of them are concentrated in Rangamati and Khagrachhari districts. 

The Rakhain Print E-mail

The Rakhain, belonging to the Bhotbarmi community of the Mongoloids, came from the land Rakhain Pre, which is now known as Arakan in Myanmar. The word Rakhain originates from the word Rakshan, which means the people who preserve and safeguard their heritage and culture. 

The Santal Print E-mail

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, Panchagar, etc. 

The Tanchyanga Print E-mail

The Tanchyanga are a small ethnic community living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In terms of population they rank 5th among the ethnic communities of Bangladesh. According to the 1991 census, their number was 21,057 and the number of Tanchyanga households was 4,043.

The Murong Print E-mail

Murongs are one of the famous tribes of aborigines of Arakan and two Murong Kings ruled Arakan in the tenth century AD. Murongs live in Lama, Ruma, Alikadam and Thanchi upazilas near Chimbuk Mountain of Bandarban district.