Skip to main content
Select Source:





Identification. The Chakma speak a dialect of Bengali or Bangla, live in southeastern Bangladesh, and are predominantly of the Buddhist faith. Although they are generally known in the anthropological literature as Chakmaand are officially so termed in Bangladeshthey usually call themselves Changma.

Location. Bangladesh is located between 20° 34 and 26° 38 N and 88° 01 and 92° 41 E. Chakma (and another eleven ethnic minority peoples) occupy three hilly districts of BangladeshRangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachhari. This hill region is cut by a number of streams, canals, ponds, lakes, and eastern rivers; it covers a total area of about 13,000 square kilometers. Some Chakma also live in India.

Demography. According to the 1981 census the total Chakma population in Bangladesh was 212,577, making them the largest tribal group in Bangladesh. In 1971 a further 54,378 Chakma were enumerated in neighboring Indian territory. They constitute 50 percent of the total tribal population of the southeastern hill region, although there are also many Bengali-speaking (nontribal or originally plains) people in the region who migrated there at various times in the past. As a result, Chakma now constitute less than 30 percent of the total population of that region. In 1964, this region lost its officially designated tribal status, and as a result many People from the plains migrated there.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Chakma speak a dialect of Bangla (Bengali), which they write in the standard Bangla script. (This is the mother tongue of almost 99 percent of the total population in Bangladeshi.e., of some 110 million people.) However, it seems likely that the Chakma once spoke an Arakanese (Tibeto-Burman) language, which they later abandoned in favor of the Indo-European tongue of their Bengali neighbors. The Chakma writer Biraj Mohan Dewan gives a figure of 80 percent for the Bangla-derived Chakma vocabulary.

History and Cultural Relations

Scholars differ on the origin and history of Chakma. One popular view among the Chakma is that their ancestors once lived in Champoknagar, although opinions differ as to its location. It is also guessed that the Chakma derived their name from Champoknagar. According to oral history the Chakma left Champoknagar for Arakan in Burma where they lived for about 100 years. They had to leave Arakan for Bangladesh in or around sixteenth century, when Bangladesh was governed by Muslim rulers, before the arrival of the British. Even if we do not believe the story of their origin in Champoknagar, we have reason to believe the Chakma lived in Arakan before they migrated to Bangladesh. They were then nomadic shifting cultivators. On their arrival in Bangladesh the Chakma chiefs made a business contract with the Muslim rulers, promising to pay revenue or tax in cotton. In return they were allowed to live in the hill region and engage in trade with the larger society. By the late eighteenth century, British authorities had established themselves in the southeastern districts of Bangladesh. The British formally recognized a definite territory of the Chakma raja (the paramount chief). In 1776, Sherdoulat Khan became the Chakma raja. He fought unsuccessfully against the British. Further fighting between the Chakma and the British took place between 1783 and 1785. In 1787, Raja Janbux Khan, son of Sherdoulat Khan, made a peace treaty with the British government, promising to pay the latter 500 maunds of cotton. The British recognized the office of Chakma raja throughout the rest of their rule. Different Chakma rajas maintained good relations with the authorities of central administration and the Chakma increasingly came in contact with the Bengali people and culture.


Traditionally the Chakma build their houses about 1.8 meters above the ground on wooden and bamboo piles. With the increasing scarcity of bamboo and wood, they have started to build houses directly on the ground in the Bengali style. The Chakma have a settled village life. A family may build a house on a separate plot of land. A few families also build houses on the same plot of land. These units (clusters of houses) are known as bari (homestead). A number of bari constitute a hamlet (para or adam ). A number of hamlets make up a gram or village. This is also known as a mouza, a "revenue village." Most houses are built on the slopes of the hills, usually near streams or canals.

Bamboo is widely used in making houses. The pillars are made of bamboo (or wood); the platform (above the ground) and walls are also of bamboo. The roof is made with bamboo and hemp. A very few Chakma have started using tin for making roofs.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The economy is based on agriculture. Chakma farmers utilize three different microenvironments: flat lands, which can be irrigated, slightly higher lands, which are not usually irrigated; and relatively steep highlands. Each microenvironment is utilized for the cultivation of specific crops. In the irrigated lowlands, the Chakma grow wet rice. Here plowing is done with a single metal-blade wooden plow drawn by bullocks or water buffalo. The Chakma who learned plow agriculture from Bengalis in the mid-nineteenth century grow wet rice twice a year on the same land. The crop is harvested by hand with the help of sickles. On slightly higher lands the Chakma cultivate a riety of crops. These include root crops such as taro, ginger, and turmeric, some vegetable crops, and pulses, chilies, garlic, and onions. In the hills, they cultivate mainly dry paddy, sesame, and cotton. These crops are grown by the traditional method of shifting cultivation. Men select land for swiddens in December-January; clear off the trees and bush in February-March; burn this debris by April when dry; and start sowing after a heavy rainfall, usually in April-May. They fence their swidden fields to protect crops from pigs, cattle, goats, and buffalo and begin to harvest crops in October, continuing into November.

Because of increasing population pressure, shifting cultivation is gradually being limited. The government also discourages swidden agriculture. Instead it has been trying to motivate the Chakma and other hill peoples to grow fruits such as pineapples, bananas, and jackfruit on the hills. Many Chakma have started doing so. Silviculture (i.e., planting of timber and rubber trees) is also becoming popular.

Hunting, fishing, and collecting of different edible leaves and roots are also part of their economy. Around their houses, the villagers grow vegetables. Domestic animals include pigs, fowl, ducks, cattle, goats and water buffalo.

Industrial Arts. The Chakma weave their own cloths and make bamboo baskets of various types.

Trade. Surplus products are brought to the markets. Some Chakma supply products to the nontribal businessmen who buy cheap, store, and then sell dear; or they supply the cities for a higher price.

Division of Labor. Traditionally the Chakma women cook, tend babies, clean house, fetch water, weave, and wash cloths. The men assist them in tending babies and fetching water from the canals or from waterfalls. The women also do all agricultural work side by side with the men, except for plowing and cutting big trees for shifting cultivation. They also buy and sell in the marketplace.

Land Tenure. There was no private ownership in land even in the early twentieth century. The Chakma were at liberty to choose any hill land for swiddens or flat land (between the hills) for wet rice cultivation. The Chakma and other hill peoples are now required to take grants of land from the Government and to pay a land tax to the government. The Chakma raja traditionally received a small portion of tax on swidden land.


Kin Groups and Descent. The paribar (family) is the basic kinship unit in Chakma society. Beyond the paribar and bari (homestead), multihousehold compounds are the next widest unit, the members of which may form work groups and help each other in other activities. Next are the hamlets, comprised of a number of bari. They form work groups for Economic activities requiring travel, such as swidden cultivation, fishing, collecting, etc. Hamlet people are organized and led by a leader called the karbari. The village is the next larger group who arrange a few rituals together. Descent among the Chakma is patrilineal. When a woman marries, she leaves her own family and is incorporated into that of her husband. Property is inherited in the male line. Despite the patrilineality, some recognition is given to maternal kin. For example, an individual's mother's family will participate in his or her cremation ceremony.

Kinship Terminology. The patrilineal nature of the Chakma kinship system is partially reflected in the kinship terminology. Thus, different terms are used to address a Father's brother and a mother's brother and to address a Father's sister and a mother's sister. On the other hand, in the grandparental generation the distinction between paternal and maternal kin disappears, with all grandfathers being called aju and all grandmothers nanu. In the first descending generation, there is again no distinction between patrilineal and other types of kin. Thus father's brother's children, Father's sister's children, mother's brother's children, and mother's sister's children are all termed da (male) and di (female).

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygynous marriages are permissible among the Chakma, although they are less common today than in the past. Marriages are usually arranged by the parents, but opinions of potential spouses are considered. If a boy and girl love each other and want to marry, the parents usually give their consent provided the rules of marriage allow them to do so. Chakma rules of exogamy forbid marriage between people belonging to the same gutti (or gusthi ). This gutti may be defined as a patrilineage whose members traditionally traced descent from a common ancestor within seven generations. However, early in the present century a Chakma prince, Ramony Mohon Roy, took for his wife a woman related to him within five generations, both being descendants of the same great-grandfather. Following this example, it has now become common for marriages to be allowed with anyone not patrilineally related within four generations. The gutti seems to have been redefined accordingly. In more recent times, Chakma still say that marriage should not take place within the gutti, and yet it sometimes happens that second cousins (the descendants of the same great-grandfather) are permitted to marry. Virilocal residence after marriage is the norm and people do not look favorably upon uxorilocal residence; however, rare instances of uxorilocal residence have been reported.

Domestic Unit. The family (paribar) usually comprises a husband and wife, together with their unmarried children. However, there are instances of married sons with their wives and children living together with their parents in one paribar. Usually all members of the paribar occupy a single ghar or house. However, if a paribar expands to the point where it is impossible or uncomfortable for all members to live under the same roof, one or two annexes may be added at the side of the main building. But even when the paribar members live under separate roofs, they continue to cook and eat together.

Inheritance. Property is divided equally among the sons. The daughters usually do not inherit. Usually a younger son who cares for his parents in their old age receives the Homestead in addition to his share.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by both Parents and siblings. In a three-generation family, grandparents also take active roles in socializing and enculturating the children. They are taught Buddhist ideology at an early age. Respect for elders is stressed.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Chakma society is hierarchically organized on the basis of age, sex, occupation, power, religion, wealth, and education. An older person is invariably Respected by a younger person. The husband is more powerful than the wife in the family; and a man is afforded more status outside the family. Power is unequally distributed in Chakma society (see below). The society is also hierarchically organized on the basis of religious knowledge and practice as follows: monks, novices, religiously devoted laymen, and commoners. Educated persons who are engaged in nonagricultural work are especially respected. Wealth also influences behavior in different aspects of social life.

Political Organization. The entire hill region of Southeastern Bangladesh (which is divided into the three political and administrative districts of Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban) is also divided into three circles, each having its own indigenous name: Mong Circle, Chakma Circle, and Bohmang Circle. Each circle, with a multiethnic population, is headed by a raja or indigenous chief, who is responsible for the collection of revenue and for regulating the internal affairs of villages within his circle. The Chakma Circle is headed by a Chakma raja (the Mong and Bohmong circles by Marma rajas). Unlike the situation in the other two circles, Chakma Circle's chieftaincy is strictly hereditary.

Each circle is subdivided into numerous mouza or "revenue villages" (also known as gram, or "villages"), each under a headman. He is appointed by the district commissioner on the basis of the recommendation of the local circle chief. The post of headman is not in theory hereditary, but in practice usually it is. The headman has, among other things, to collect revenue and maintain peace and discipline within his mouza. Finally, each mouza comprises about five to ten para (also called adam ). These are hamlets, each with its own karbari or hamlet chief. He is appointed by the circle chief, in consultation with the concerned headman. The post of karbari also is usually hereditary, but not necessarily so. Each hamlet comprises a number of clusters of households. The head of a household or family is usually a senior male member, the husband or father.

In addition to these traditional political arrangements (circle, village, and hamlet, each having a chief or head), the local government system (imposed by the central government) has been in operation since 1960. For the convenience of administration, Bangladesh is split into four divisions, each under a divisional commissioner. Each one is further subdivided into zila, or districts. The administrative head of a zila is called a deputy commissioner. Each zila consists of Several upazila or subdistricts, headed by an elected upazila chairman (elected by the people). He is assisted by a government officer known as upazila nirbahi, the officer who is the chief executive there. Each upazila consists of several union parishad or councils. An elected Chairman heads a union parishad. Several gram make up a union parishad. This administrative setup is also found in the districts of the hill Region. The Chakma and other ethnic minority hill people are increasingly accepting this local governmental system Because the government undertakes development projects through this structure.

Social Control. Traditionally the village headman would settle disputes. If contending parties were not satisfied with the arbitration, they might make an appeal to the Chakma raja, the circle chief. Traditionally he was the highest authority to settle all disputes. Today they can move to the government courts if they are not satisfied with the raja's judgments. Although Chakma were usually expected to get their disputes settled either by the headman or raja, they are now at liberty to go to these courts. In recent times, depending on the nature and seriousness of disputes, the Chakma are increasingly doing this rather than settling disputes locally.

Conflict. In the past, the Chakma fought against the British imperial government several times but failed. In recent times (since 1975), they have become aware of their rights. They do not like the influx of the nontribal population in the hill region, and they consider it an important cause of their growing economic hardships. Therefore, since 1975, some Chakma (and a few from other tribes) have fought to banish nontribal people from the hill region. The government is trying to negotiate with the Chakma and other tribal elites to settle this matter. It has already given some political, Economic, and administrative powers to elected representatives of the Chakma and other hill people. These representatives (who are mostly hill men) are trying to negotiate with the Chakma (and other) agitators on behalf of the government. Many development projects have also been undertaken by the government in the hill region, so that the economic condition of the Chakma and other ethnic peoples might improve gradually.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Chakma are Buddhists. There is a Buddhist temple (kaang ) in almost every Chakma village. They give gifts to the temple and attend the different Buddhist festivals. The Chakma follow Theravada Buddhism, their official and formai religion. Buddhism dominates their life. Indeed, it is now a unifying force in the southeastern hill region of Bangladesh, as Buddhism is the common religion of Chakma, Marma, Chak, and Tanchangya. These ethnic groups celebrate together at one annual Buddhist festival called Kathin Chibar Dan, in which they make yarn (from cotton), give it color, dry the yarn, weave cloth (for monks), and formally present this cloth (after sewing) to the monks in a function. The Chakma also believe in many spirit beings, including a few Hindu goddesses. Some of these are malevolent while others are benevolent. They try to propitiate malevolent spirits through the exorcists and spirit doctors (baidyo ). They also believe in guardian spirits that protect them. The malevolent spirits are believed to cause diseases and destroy crops.

Religious Practitioners. Many Chakma go to the temples to listen to the sermons of the monks and novices. They also give food to the monks, novices, and the Buddha's altar. The monks read sermons and participate in life-cycle rituals, but they do not take part in village government affairs. In addition to the monks, exorcists and baidyo are believed to mediate between humans and the world of spirits through incantations, charms, possession, and sympathetic actions.

Arts. The Chakma are noted for two arts, music and weaving. The bamboo flute is popular among young men, and girls play on another kind of flute. Songs and epic poems are sung. Weaving is an essential accomplishment of women. They make complex tapestries on a back-strap loom called a ben. They do their own spinning and dyeing.

Ceremonies. Chakma observe both Buddhist and non-Buddhist ceremonies. They observe the days of birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha; they observe Kathin Chibar Dan and other Buddhist occasions. Villagers also unite to propitiate the malevolent spirits. Individual Chakma households may also arrange rituals to counteract illness and crop damage.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to fright, spirit possession, or an imbalance of elements in the body. Most Chakma will still call in a village baidyo.

Death and Afterlife. The dead body is burnt; kin and affines mourn for a week, and then they arrange satdinna to pray for peace for the departed soul. The Buddhist monk leads the cremation and satdinna.

See also Bangali


Bangladesh, Government of (1983). Chittagong Hill Tracts: District Statistics. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Bangladesh, Government of (1989). Statistical Year Book of Bangladesh. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Bernot, Lucien (1964). "Ethnic Groups of Chittagong Hill Tracts." In Social Research in East Pakistan, edited by Pierre Bessaignet, 137-171. Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Pakistan.

Bessaignet, Pierre (1958). Tribesmen of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Pakistan.

Dewan, Biraj Mohan (1969). Chakma Jatir ltibritta (The History of the Chakma). Rangamati: Kali Shankar.

Ishaq, Muhammad, ed. (1972). Bangladesh District Gazetteers: Chittagong Hill Tracts. Dhaka: Government of Bangladesh.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chakma." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Chakma." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Chakma." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.




ALTERNATE NAMES: Changma; Sawngma

LOCATION: Bangladesh; India; Myanmar (Burma)


LANGUAGE: Bengali dialect (Bangla)

RELIGION: Theravada (Southern) Buddhism


Chakma is the name of the largest tribe found in the hilly area of eastern Bangladesh known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their name was first used by British census-takers to describe certain hill people.

When the British were driven from India in 1947, the land was divided into two countries, Pakistan and India. The people who lived in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region expected to become part of India. Instead, the region was given to Pakistan. This caused resentment because the people, mostly Chakma, are primarily Buddhist. They saw themselves more culturally similar to the Hindu peoples of India than the Muslims of Pakistan.

Pakistan's two regions were known as East Pakistan (where the Chakma lived) and West Pakistan. In 1971, East Pakistan fought successfully to win independence from West Pakistan. East Pakistan then became the nation of Bangladesh. The Chakma felt just as alienated from the Bangladesh government as they had from Pakistan. In 1973, the Shanti Bahini (Peace Force) began to stage violent attacks against the government to try to win independence for the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Guerrillas attacked government forces and the Bangladeshi Army responded with attacks on civilian tribal peoples. As of the late 1990s, this conflict continued.


The Chakma population is estimated to be around 550,000. It is spread over three different countries. The majority (approximately 300,000 people) are located in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. There are also about 80,000 Chakmas in Mizoram State in India, and 20,000 in Burma (Myanmar).

The Chakmas are a Mongoloid people related to people of southwestern Burma. The Chittagong Hills form part of the western fringe of the mountain regions of Burma and eastern India. The region has warm temperatures, monsoon rains, and high humidity.


The Chakmas speak a dialect of Bengali (Bangla) and use the standard Bengali alphabet. See the article on Bangladeshis in this chapter.


The myth that describes the origin of the Chakma traces the tribe to the ancient kingdom of Champaknagar. One of the king's sons marched east with a large army in the hope of conquering new lands. He crossed the "sea" of the Meghna River and captured the kingdom of Arakan in Burma, where he settled. His people intermarried with the Burmese and gradually adopted the Buddhist religion.

The last king of this dynasty was a ruler named Sher Daulat. He was credited with supernatural powers and was supposed to purify himself from sin by bringing out his intestines to wash in the river. His wife, out of curiosity, hid herself and watched him do this one day. Sher Daulat found her spying on him and, in a fit of rage, killed her and all his family. His eccentricities and tyranny grew so great that finally his people killed him. Fearing the consequences of this, the people left the Arakan kingdom, moving north into the area of the Chittagong Hills they occupy today.


The Chakmas are Buddhists. Chakmas officially follow the Southern, or Theravada, form of the Buddhism. But, their form of Buddhism has aspects of Hinduism and traditional religions as well.

Almost every Chakma village has a Buddhist temple (kaang). Buddhist priests or monks are called Bhikhus. They preside at religious festivals and ceremonies. The villagers support their monks with food, gifts, and offerings to Buddha.

The Chakmas also worship Hindu deities. Lakshmi, 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.


Chakmas celebrate various Buddhist festivals. The most important is Buddha Purnima. This is the anniversary of three important events in Buddha's lifehis birth, his attainment of enlightenment, and his death. It is observed on the full moon day of the month of Vaisakh (usually in May).

On this and other festival days, Chakmas put on their best clothes and visit the temple. There, they offer flowers to the image of Buddha, light candles, and listen to sermons from the priests. Alms (offerings) are given to the poor, and feasts are held for the priests.

The three-day festival known as Bishu, which coincides with the Bengali New Year's Day, is celebrated with much enthusiasm. Houses are decorated with flowers, young children pay special attention to the elderly to win their blessings, and festive dishes are prepared for guests.


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. 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.

Buddists believe in reincarnation. This means that they believe that the dead person's spirit will return to earth in another living form. The morning after the cremation, relatives visit the cremation ground to search for footprints. They believe that the departed will have left some mark of his or her new incarnation (living form). Some remains of bones are collected, put in an earthen pot, and placed in a nearby river.

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 (Satdinya) 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.


Chakma hospitality is overflowing. Guests are given home-brewed liquor and the hukka (hooka) pipe. The hukka is a pipe used for smoking tobacco. It has a long flexible tube attached to a water bottle. The smoke is cooled by passing over the water before being inhaled by the smoker.

Chakmas greet each other with the traditional cry, Hoya! This exuberant shout is also used to express pleasure at victory in sports such as tug-of-war that accompany the numerous hill festivals held throughout the year. After living for so many years near Muslims, some Chakmas use the Muslim greeting, Salaam.


Chakmas build their houses on slopes near the banks of a river or a stream. A few related families may build on the same plot of land, creating a homestead (bari). Baris cluster together to form hamlets (para) and a number of hamlets make up a village (gram).

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.


Chakmas are divided into clans (gojas), which are further subdivided into subclans (guttis). Members of the same subclan are forbidden to marry each other. Parents arrange marriages, although the wishes of sons and daughters are taken into account. A bride price (goods given by groom's family to bride's family) is fixed when the two families negotiate the marriage.

The marriage ceremony is known as Chumulong and is performed by Buddhist priests. If young people elope, the marriage can be formalized on payment of fines. Polygyny (marriage to more than one wife) is acceptable but rare. Divorce is allowed, as is remarriage after the death of a spouse.


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 second piece of cloth is a breast-band, woven with colored designs, that is tightly wrapped around the upper body. This is worn with a variety of necklaces, bracelets, anklets, rings, and other ornaments. Chakma women are skilled weavers and make their own cloth.


The staple food of the Chakmas is rice, supplemented by millet, corn (maize), vegetables, and mustard. Vegetables include yams, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers. Vegetables and fruit gathered from the forest may be added to the diet. Fish, poultry, and meat (even pork) are eaten, despite the Buddhist taboo on consuming animal flesh.

Traditional diets have slowly been abandoned, as the Chakmas have been forced to flee their homeland. Some typical Chakma dishes include fish, vegetables, and spices stuffed into a length of bamboo and cooked in a low fire; foods wrapped in banana leaves and placed beside a fire; and eggs that are aged until they are rotten.

Chakmas do not like milk. They drink alcoholic beverages freely, and every household makes its own rice liquor. Alcohol is consumed at all festivals and social occasions.


Chakmas live in isolated areas of Bangladesh. They are not part of the majority population and are quite poor by Western standards. They do not have access to Western-style education. Literacy (ability to read and write) among men of the hill tribes is about 15 percent. This figure drops to 7 percent for women.


Buddhists books, translated into Chakma and written on palm leaves, are known as Aghartara. The Tallik is a detailed account of medicinal plants, methods of their preparation, and their use in the treatment of disease.

Folk music is a major aspect of Chakma tribal culture. It includes romantic love songs known as Ubageet. The Genkhuli ballads relate incidents from the past. There are also epic poems like Radhamon and Dhanapati.

Traditional musical instruments include a bugle made from buffalo horn, a circular piece of iron with a string stretched across it that vibrates to produce sound, and a drum. The bamboo flute is played by almost all Chakma youth. Unlike other tribal groups of the eastern hills, dancing is not an important part of Chakma life.


The Chakmas are farmers. There is no ownership of land, but Chakma custom holds that no one should interfere with fields that look like someone else is farming there. Land is cleared of trees and bushes, and any remaining vegetation is burned during the dry season in April. Crops are planted after the first heavy rains. Harvesting usually takes place in October and November.

Some Chakmas have given up their farming lifestyle and have entered the labor market. Those fortunate enough to have the necessary education have gone on to clerical and other white collar jobs. Many, however, work as laborers in the factories and industrial projects that have grown up along the valley of the Karnafuli River.


Ha-do-do is a game played throughout the region. Two teams stand on either side of a central line. They take turns sending a player into opposing territory to touch as many people as he or she can during the space of one breath, while at the same time saying "Ha-do-do." If the player runs out of breath or is caught by his or her opponents, he or she is out.

On the other hand, if the player successfully returns to his or her own territory, the players he or she has tagged must leave the game. Other pastimes include Gila Khela, a game similar to marbles except that small wooden disks are used instead of marbles; Nadeng Khela, played with a spinning top; and various wrestling games. Girls do not have dolls or play at being "mother" as they do in Western cultures.


Traditional forms of recreation include popular folk songs and music, and jatra, the village opera. Wrestling and other sports held at fairs are popular. In the past, hunting and fishing were favorite pastimes.


The Chakma are skilled at making a variety of household goods from bamboo, often using nothing more than a simple knife. Women are expert weavers and dyers and make their own cloth called Alam. They are skilled in the art of making baskets from bamboo.


The Chakma people face difficult situations today. Their population is larger than that of over sixty independent nations. Yet the tribe is fragmented and scattered over three countries. In each country, Chakmas form a minority and many are refugees from their homeland, living in conditions of squalor.

The most serious problem faced by the Chakmas is in Bangladesh, where they are fighting for an independent homeland. Some Chakmas and other tribal peoples have resorted to armed warfare against the government. This, in turn, has led to reprisals by the police and Bangladeshi Army. Both Amnesty International (the human rights organization) and the United States have reported human rights violations against Chakma civilians.


Brace, Steve. Bangladesh. New York: Thomson Learning, 1995.

Brown, Susan. Pakistan and Bangladesh. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press, 1989.

Chakma, Sugata. "Chakma Culture." Folklore (The Journal of the Folklore Research Institute, Bangladesh) 7 (January): 5875, 1982.

McClure, Vimala Schneider. Bangladesh: Rivers in a Crowded Land. Minneapolis, Minn.: Dillon Press, 1989.

Talukdar, S. P. Chakmas: An Embattled Tribe. New Delhi: Uppal Publishing House, 1994.


Bangladesh Web Ring. [Online] Available, 1997.

Virtual Bangladesh. [Online] Available, 1998.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chakmas." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Chakmas." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Chakmas." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.