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The Chakma PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 March 2008

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. 

In 1906, a hydroelectric project was proposed to be built, using the flow of the water in the Karnafuli river. But it was not until the 1950s that the plan took concrete shape and a large hydroelectric project was commissioned at Kaptai, a riverside village close to Rangamati. When the Kaptai Dam was built in the Karnafuli Valley, many villages were permanently inundated, leading to the great exodus (or Bara Parang, as the Chakmas call it). About 100,000 people are thought to have fled the waters, most of them Chakmas. Many settled elsewhere in the district, including reserved forest areas.

The Chakmas are divided into different clans (Ghosti) that maintain cordial relations among themselves. A sheaf (Gosa) is made up of a number of clans. The people of a clan or a sheaf are considered hear relatives of each other. This social lifestyle is called relation-based. A name is given to each clan from the names of trees, animals, fruits and shelters. The head person of the Chakma tribe is called the Chakma Raja (King). He is the only judge presiding over all sorts of activities of the Chakma.

Chakmas can get married within or outside their clan/sheaf. Traditionally they sing and dance before the day of marriage and arrange 'Chungulong' worship (puja) on the day of marriage. The Chakmas call their village the 'Adam'. The Chief of an adam is called 'Karbari'.

Most of the Chakmas of rural areas live on bamboo-made platforms with huts on them also made of bamboos. They use ladders for climbing up and down. The Chakma language has its own alphabet. They have their own dance, songs and literature. They use their own system of numbers for counting. A good number of Chakmas are engaged in weaving cotton fabrics and producing bamboo-made baskets.

The vast majority of Chakmas are Buddhists, and they form the largest Buddhist population in Bangladesh. Integrated in their Buddhist practice are older religious elements, such as worship of the power of nature. One of their annual highlights is the Bizu festival held in Chaitra, the last month of the Bengal year.

The male Chakmas wear dhuti or lungi, panjabi and shirt while the women wear short saree and blouse. The women wear the saree almost like a lungi. The Chakmas wear very colourful clothes during their festivals.

The Chakmas possess good health and are physically fit as a result of climbing hills. They are very hardworking. Nowadays more and more of them are becoming literate and many are studying in schools, colleges and universities.

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