ALTERNATE NAMES: Changma; Sawngma
LOCATION: Bangladesh; India; Myanmar (Burma)
POPULATION: around 700,000 (est.)
LANGUAGE: Dialect of Bengali (Bangla)
RELIGION: Theravada (Southern) Buddhism
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Buddhists
Chākmā is the name given to the most numerous tribe found in the hilly area of eastern Bangladesh known as the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT). The name Chākmā was first used by British census-takers in Burma to describe the hill peoples of the Arakan. The tribe call themselves Changma or Sawngma.The derivation of this is unclear, though one author suggests it means "people of the Thek clan," Thek being a Burmese name for the Chākmās.
Little is known about the origins and early history of the Chākmās. According to Chākmā tradition, the tribe is linked in some way to a mountain kingdom in the Himalayas and the Sakya clan (the clan to which Buddha belonged). Sakyas entered Burma and established kingdoms in northern Arakan and upper Burma at an early date, but the exact link with the Chākmās is unclear. Similarly, the Chākmās believe their ancestral homeland to be Champaknagar. The location of this is uncertain, though many place it in the modern Bihar.
More recent events are easier to outline. Chākmā oral history holds that the tribe migrated from Champaknagar to Arakan, the western hill region of Burma, where they lived for about 100 years. Around the 16th century, they moved northwards into Bangladesh and were granted permission by the ruling Nawab of Bengal to settle in the hill region of Chittagong.When political power in Bengal passed to the East India Company in AD 1760, the British formally defined Chākmā territory and recognized the powers of the Chākmā Raja—subject to payment of tribute. The exact amount of this tribute was a matter for dispute and resulted in a long drawn out war fought by the Chākmā Rajas against the British. The issue was settled by the peace treaty signed in 1787 between Raja Janbux Khan and the British government.
By and large, the Chākmā rajas and the British colonial administration remained on good terms. At first, the British followed a policy of noninterference with the Chākmā hill tribes. But unrest in the hill areas ultimately led to Chākmā territory being brought under direct British control. In 1860 and 1900, various rules and regulations were set in place for the administration of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
At the partition of India in 1947, the Chittagong Hill Tracts were awarded to Pakistan rather than to India. This caused considerable resentment among the predominantly Buddhist Chākmā population, who saw their cultural affinities to be with the Hindu peoples of India rather than with the Muslims of East Pakistan. This resentment increased with the removal of the old British "Excluded Area" status that provided some protection for tribal areas. One result of this was an influx of Muslim settlers into the region. The seeds were thus sown for a tribal movement that came into focus in the early 1970s, when it became clear that the policies of the new Bangladeshi government would differ little from those of the Pakistanis. The year 1973 saw the beginnings of an armed insurgency by the Shanti Bahini ("Peace Force"), aimed at gaining autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The problems in the Chittagong Hill tracts can be traced back to the completion of a dam at Kaptai near Rangamati between 1957 and 1963 when the area was a part of East Pakistan. At least 54,000 acres of settled cultivable land, mostly farmed by the Chākmā tribe, were lost in 1957 when the government began the construction of the Karnaphuli hydroelectric project. Over 400 square miles of land were submerged with far-reaching effects on the economy and life-style of the tribal people there. Some 100,000 people lost their homes and prime agricultural lands. Compensation for lost land was inadequate and over 40,000 Chākmā tribals crossed the border into India where the majority have sought Indian citizenship. At the same time, the Pakistan Government announced its intention to open up the area for economic development and encouraged poor Bengali families to settle there. This policy was even more vigorously pursued by the Bangladeshi government. Conflict over land together with the threat of assimilation into the majority culture of Bangladesh, provide the background to the armed conflict between Chākmās and Bangladeshis.
The Shanti Bahini was the name of the military wing of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS)—the United People's Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It was formed in 1972, shortly after the creation of Bangladesh following the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, to preserve the rights of the tribal people in south-eastern Bangladesh, and fought for many years against the central government. In February 1972, a tribal delegation called on Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to put forward four basic demands: autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts, together with provisions for a separate legislative body; retention of the provision of the 1900 Regulation that allowed a form of self government; the continuation of the offices of the traditional tribal chiefs; a constitutional provision restricting amendment of the 1900 Regulation; and the imposition of a ban on the influx of non-tribals into the area. All the demands were rejected and the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh made no provision for any special status for the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The Shanti Bahini did not become militarily active until the mid-1970s when it began to attack military and paramilitary personnel and their bases in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as well as non-tribal settlers, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the abduction of foreign nationals for ransom money. Violent army operations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts began in March 1980 when it was reported that 22 soldiers were ambushed by the Shanti Bahini in the village of Kaukhali west of Rangamati where Bengali families were being resettled. The army retaliated by deliberately firing on two groups of unarmed tribal people killing a number of villagers after they were ordered to line up. From then on, Bengali settlers began to attack the tribal people apparently at the instigation of the army or in conjunction with the operations of army personnel. The army reportedly recruited armed groups known as Village Defense Parties (VDP—also called village defense police) from the new settlers and provided them with firearms to resist the Shanti Bahini. Official figures indicate that more than 8,500 rebels, soldiers and civilians were killed during two decades of insurgency. The number of civilians killed is estimated at 2,500, with Amnesty International, the human rights organization, reporting serious violations of human rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts by Bangladeshi military personnel, including rape, torture, indiscriminate shooting, assaults on women, capture of farmland by Muslim settlers, and the killing of Chākmā.
Rebels and Bangladeshi security officials say that, after the assassination in 1976 of Sheikh Mujabir Rahman, India secretly provided arms and money to the tribal insurgents fighting in the area. The rebels, who were mostly Buddhists, say they were being persecuted and pushed off their fertile lands by an influx of ethnic Bengali Bangladeshis, who are overwhelmingly Muslim. "We are not separatists and we do not want armed intervention by India," said Mr. Chākmā, a rebel spokesman. He said they wanted a stop to Muslim settlers, protection of the region's (Chittagong Hill Tract's) demographic character, free elections, and extensive economic and political powers.
In August 1992, the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti declared a unilateral cease-fire for three months, which remained in force indefinitely until the signing of the peace accord with the Bangladeshi government on 2 December 1997, although some organizations such as the Hill Students Council, Hill Peoples Council, and Hill Women's Federation opposed the peace deal and formed the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), a dissident political party. The main provisions of the Peace Accord included the establishment of a Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council with its Chairman, who would be a tribal, having the status of a state minister. Any new laws in connection with the Chittagong Hill Tracts were to be enacted in consultation with and on the advice of the Regional Council. No amnesty was to be provided to the army and police personnel for past human rights violations, but there was no commitment in the Accord that past human rights violations by the law enforcement personnel or the Bengali settler groups close to the army would be addressed. However, a general amnesty was to be extended in the accord to the former members of the Shanti Bahini who surrendered their weapons. The Accord committed both sides to "uphold the characteristics of tribal creed and culture."
Although the government has amended some existing laws to provide for the implementation of the Peace Accord, the Accord is currently in tatters. It was opposed by opposition groups at the time of signing and the current unstable political situation in Bangladesh has not helped matters (a caretaker government is in power to oversee general elections scheduled for the end of 2008). In August 2007 the High Court directed the government of Bangladesh to explain why the Accord should not be declared "illegal," and it has already set aside certain provisions of the Accord by directing the authorities to allow the illegal plains settlers who were implanted into the Chittagong Hill Tracts to register themselves in the voters' list. Few instances of past human rights violations have been investigated, and the main provisions of the Peace Accord have yet to be implemented.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Chākmā population today is estimated to be around 700,000 people, but it is spread over three different countries. The majority (approximately 450,000 people) are located in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. This population spills over into neighboring areas of southwest Mizoram State in India, where another 100,000 Chākmās live, and Burma (Myanmar), which has around 30,000 Chākmās. In addition, Tripura State in India had some 50,000 Chākmā refugees who fled Bangladeshi Army operations against their villages in the Chittagong Hills in 1988. By 2000, most of these refugees had been repatriated to their homeland. Another group of Chākmās, numbering around 100,000 people, is found in the foothills of the Himalayas in northeastern India. These refugees fled from Bangladesh to adjacent areas of India in the 1960s and were later relocated to Arunachal Pradesh state by the Indian government. The Chākmā refugees are often stateless, despite petitioning the Indian government for citizenship, although some have recently been granted voting rights in India over the protests of local populations.
Ethnically, the Chākmās are a Mongoloid people related to the Arakanese of southwestern Burma. The Chittagong Hills, the homeland of the Chākmās, are a northerly extension of the Arakan Hills and form part of the western fringe of the mountain systems of Burma and eastern India. They are formed by narrow, steep-sided ridges running north–south at elevations between 600 and 900 m (approximately 1,970 to 2,950 ft) and rising to the highest point in Bangladesh (1,046 m or 3,432 ft) in the southeast. The ridges are separated by lush valleys drained by numerous small rivers. On the west, the hills are bordered by a broad, fertile plain that extends to the Bay of Bengal. The climate of the region is subtropical monsoon, with warm temperatures, monsoonal rainfall patterns, and high humidity.
The Chākmās speak a dialect of Bengali (Bangla) and nowadays write in the standard Bengali script. This language of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European family of languages has clearly been adopted by the Chākmās through contact with their Bengali neighbors. At one time, however, it seems that the Chākmās spoke a Tibeto-Burman tongue, which today is called Changma Vaj or Changma Kodha. Changma Vaj is written in its own script, known as Ojhapatt, which uses a cursive script similar to those found in Burma and Cambodia, which in turn are derived from the scripts of southern India. Some authors suggest that the Chākmās common language is so distant from Bengali that its classification as a Bengali dialect is questionable.
The Chākmā myth of origin traces the tribe to the ancient kingdom of Champaknagar. One of the king's sons, so the story goes, 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 of the Champaknagar dynasty was a ruler named Sher Daulat (contact with the Muslims led to the Chākmā rulers adopting Muslim names). He was credited with supernatural powers and was supposed to purify himself from sin by bringing out his intestines to wash them 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 tired of them and killed him. Fearing the consequences of this, the people left the Arakan, moving north into the area of the Chittagong Hills they occupy today.
The Chākmās are Buddhists and officially follow the Southern, or Theravada, form of the religion. Theravada Buddhism was introduced into Southeast Asia from Sri Lanka, but in Burma there appears to have been a mixing with elements of northern Tantric Buddhism. Exposure to Hinduism in the 19th century brought Hindu influences to Chākmā society. Likewise, Buddhism in the region has absorbed rather than displaced existing pre-Buddhist beliefs. Buddhism, as practiced by the Chākmās, is thus a mixture of the southern and northern forms, with a touch of Hinduism and aspects of shamanism and animism thrown into the mix.
Almost every Chākmā village has its Buddhist temple (kaang). Buddhist priests or monks are called Bhikhus and preside at religious festivals and ceremonies. The villagers support the monks with food, gifts, and offerings to Buddha. In the past it was customary for boys, usually around the age of puberty, to take Buddhist vows, even if only for a few days. The novice would shave his head, don the saffron robe, and live the life of a monk until his return to lay society.
The Chākmās also worship Hindu deities. Lakshmi, for example, is revered as the Goddess of the Harvest, and offerings of pigs and chickens are made to her. Similarly, pūjās (worship ceremonies) are performed for spirits of the hill, the wood, and the stream, with offerings of rice, fruit, and flowers. Spirits that bring fevers and disease are propitiated by the sacrifice of goats, chickens, or ducks. Animal sacrifice is, of course, totally against Buddhist beliefs, but the Buddhist priests turn a blind eye to the practice. Exorcists (ōjhās) and spirit doctors (baidyo) are called in to deal with harmful spirits. The Chākmās believe in witchcraft and the casting of spells for both good and evil purposes. It is considered a very bad omen if vultures, kites, or owls settle on the roofs of Chākmā houses, and pūjās are immediately performed to counter this misfortune.
Chākmās celebrate various Buddhist festivals, the most important being Buddha Purnima. This is the anniversary of three important events in Buddha's life—his 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, the Chākmā 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 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 attain their blessings, and festive dishes are prepared for guests. The Mahamuni fair, held at Rangunia at the time of Bishu, is a favorite with all the hill tribes, who attend in great numbers.
RITES OF PASSAGE
A Chākmā woman is subject to no particular restrictions during pregnancy. After the birth of a child, the father of the child places some earth near the bed and lights a fire on it. This is kept alight for five days, after which the earth is thrown away, and the mother and child are bathed. A woman is considered polluted for a month after childbirth and is not allowed to cook food during this period. Children are suckled to a considerable age by their mothers.
Chākmās cremate their dead. Sometimes, if death occurs during times of hardship when the proper funeral rites cannot be performed, the corpse may be buried and disinterred after the harvest for cremation. The body is bathed, dressed, and laid out on a bamboo bier. Relatives and villagers visit the body, and a drum used only at this time is beaten at intervals. Cremation usually occurs in the afternoon, and the ritual is presided over by a priest. The rich are carried ceremoniously to the cremation ground in a decorated chariot. The morning after the cremation, relatives of the deceased will visit the cremation ground to search for footprints, believing the departed will have left some mark of his or her new incarnation. Some remains of bones are collected, placed in an earthen pot, and placed in a nearby river. The mourning period for the family lasts for seven days, during which no fish or animal flesh is eaten. On the seventh day, the final ritual (Sātdinya) 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.
Chākmā hospitality is a byword in the region, with guests plied with home-brewed liquor and the hukkā pipe. In the hills, Chākmās hail each other with the traditional hill-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. The influence of Muslim contacts is seen in the use of the "Salaam" greeting by some Chākmās.
Chākmās 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 (bārī). Baris cluster together to form hamlets (parā), and a number of hamlets make up a village (grām).
The traditional Chākmā house is made of bamboo. It is constructed on a bamboo or wooden platform roughly 2 m (6 ft) above the ground, with access by means of a crude wooden ladder. The front area of the platform is bare, providing space for household activities. It is usually enclosed by a low fence for the safety of young children. The house is built on the rear of the platform. Mat walls divide the house into separate compartments, the exact number depending on the needs of the household. A veranda in the front of the house is divided in two by a mat partition, one area being used by males and the other by females. 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.
Chākmās are divided into about 150 clans (gojas), which are further subdivided into subclans (guttīs). Chākmā rules of exogamy forbid marriage between members of the same subclan, although this practice is not always strictly observed. Adult marriage is the norm in Chākmā society. Parents arrange marriages, although the wishes of sons and daughters are taken into account. A bride-price is fixed during the course of negotiations. 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 the appropriate fines. Chākmā society is patrilineal and patrilocal. Polygamy, i.e., marriage to more than one wife, is acceptable but rare. Divorce is allowed, as is widow remarriage.
Chākmā men have given up their dress of dhotī, kurtā, and white turban in favor of Western-style shirts and trousers. It is the women who maintain the traditional Chākmā style of clothing. This 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 breastband, 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. Chākmā women are skilled weavers and make their own cloth. The sārī is becoming increasingly common.
The staple food of the Chākmās is rice, supplemented by millet, corn (maize), vegetables, and mustard. Vegetables include yams, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers and are supplemented by produce gathered from the forest. Fish, poultry, and meat, even pork, is eaten, despite the Buddhist taboo on consuming animal flesh. Traditional diets have slowly been abandoned, as the Chākmās have been forced to flee their homeland and/or come into contact with nontribal populations. Some typical Chākmā 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. Like most hill tribes, Chākmās view milk with distaste. Chākmās are hard drinkers, and every household distills its own rice-liquor. Alcohol is consumed freely at all festivals and social occasions.
Food is customarily served on a low table, roughly 15 cm (6 in) high. This is made of bamboo or, among the higher classes, copper. Diners sit cross-legged on a mat on the floor.
As might be expected in a non-Muslim minority population in one of the more isolated parts of Bangladesh, Chākmās do not score highly in terms of educational achievements. Individual figures for Chākmās are not available, but overall literacy among the hill tribes stands at 14.8%. This figure drops to 7.2% for women. Literacy rates are much higher in the states of India. Mizoram, for instance, ranks second behind Kerala among the states of India for literacy, but even here the figures for Chākmā are only 45.3% for men and 36.6% for women. In Bangladesh, however, literacy in a second language (usually Bengali) stands at over 70%, which provides some indication of the extent to which the Bengali language is replacing Chākmā.
The Chākmās possess a literary tradition of sorts, with a variety of works written in the Chākmā language. Buddhists texts, translated into Chākmā 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 Chākmā tribal culture. It includes romantic love songs known as Ubageet, the Genkhuli ballads relating some incident from the past, and epic poems like Radhamon and Dhanapati. This last work recalls the period when the Nawab of Bengal first gave shelter to the Chākmā Raja when the tribe entered southern Chittagong during the 15th century. 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 the drum. The bamboo flute is played by almost all Chākmā youth. Unlike other tribal groups of the eastern hills, dancing is not an important part of Chākmā life.
The Chākmās are agriculturalists, traditionally practicing shifting cultivation known by the local term jhum. This is common in the hill areas, where the slope of the land may be quite steep. Each year, land is selected for cultivation. There is no ownership of land, but Chākmā custom holds that no one should encroach or interfere with jhum fields that bear the mark of another person. 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, and harvesting usually takes place in October and November. All
agricultural work on the fields is done by hand, or with a hoe. The fields are fenced to protect the crops from animals. Crops raised include dry paddy rice, root crops such as taro and ginger, vegetables, pulses, chilies, and garlic. Cotton is also grown, with Chākmā women using this for spinning and weaving cloth. Many of the tribes have now adopted permanent cultivation and use ploughs and cattle to till fields in the flatlands along the valley floors. Irrigated rice cultivation dominates in these lowland areas, with conditions favoring two harvests a year.
Some Chākmās have given up their farming lifestyle and entered the local 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 Bengal. Two teams of equal numbers stand on either side of a central line within a defined playing area. 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 goes 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 type of marbles game in which small wooden disks are used in place of marbles; Nadeng Khela, played with a spinning top; and various wrestling games. Girls do not have dolls or play at being "mother."
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Because Chākmās live in the more remote, hilly areas of Bangladesh and neighboring countries, their access to modern forms of entertainment is limited. Traditional forms of recreation include popular folk songs and music, and jātrā, the village opera. Wrestling and other sports held at fairs are popular. In the past, hunting and fishing were favorite pastimes, although they are less so today.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Chākmā are adept at making a variety of household goods from bamboo, often with nothing more than a hill-knife (dao) at their disposal. 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 Chākmā people face an unenviable situation today. Numerically, their population is larger than that of over 60 independent nations in the world, yet the tribe is fragmented and scattered over three countries. In each country, Chākmās form a minority and many are refugees from their homeland, living in conditions of squalor. One group of Chākmā has been transplanted over 500 km (approximately 300 mi) from their traditional home to Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India. Chākmā refugees face resentment from local populations. A recent Indian Supreme Court ruling that Chākmās in Arunachal Pradesh be granted Indian citizenship is being strongly opposed by local politicians and other peoples of the area.
The most serious problem faced by the Chākmās is in Bangladesh, where charges of genocide have been leveled against the Bangladeshi government. Facing increasing numbers of Muslim migrants in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and erosion of tribal identity as the area was opened to economic development, tribal groups formed a political party (PSJSS or Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti) to fight for their rights. (The tribal peoples of the area now refer to themselves collectively as the Jumma people or the Jumma nation.) Some Chākmās and other tribal peoples have resorted to armed resistance, and since 1973 they have been involved in guerrilla warfare against the government. This, in turn, has led to reprisals by the police and Bangladeshi Army. Both Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department have reported human rights violations against civilians in the tribal area. The 1997 Peace Accord, signed with the Bangladeshi government, has yet to be fully implemented, and, given the general political situation in Bangladesh, may never be so.
Chākmā women, despite being Buddhist and therefore viewed as theoretically equal to men in their own society and facing none of the discrimination that characterizes their Hindu and Muslim neighbors, have fared badly in the conflict with Bangladeshi Muslims. Women have been subject to rape, violence, and other sexual abuses during the Chākmā insurgency. In 2002, for example, after the death of a local Muslim, which was blamed on local Chākmā, all the menfolk of the community of Madarbania, a remote village in the hill-tract Ukhia subdistrict of Cox's Bazaar, fled the village. With the menfolk gone, brutalities were heaped on the remaining Chākmā women. Many of them were raped or molested and several badly beaten up by the local attackers, who subsequently carried away all the livestock that the Chākmās had and prevented any women from getting out of the village. Occasional attacks on Chākmā women by the illegal plains settlers and security forces are still reported in the press.
Some women have banded together to form the Hill Women's Federation (HWF) to raise consciousness among the tribal women about their rights and duties as the most repressed section of Bangladeshi society in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. HWF is highly vocal against military repression on women and organizes protest demonstrations against every incident of human rights violations against tribal women. In 1996, HWF came into the national and international limelight when its organizing secretary Kalpana Chākmā was abducted by the Bangladeshi military, but, so far, the government has failed to bring the culprits responsible for her abduction to justice.
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Chakma, Sugata. "Chakma Culture." Folklore (The Journal of the Folklore Research Institute, Bangladesh) 7 (January): 58–75, 1982.
Hutchinson, R. H. S. An Account of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Calcutta: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1906.
Maitra, S. R. Ethnographic study of the Chakma of Tripura. Kolkata: Anthropological Survey of India, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Dept. of Culture, 2002.
Majumdar, Chandrika Basu. Genesis of Chakma Movement in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Kolkata: Progressive Publishers, 2003.
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—by D. O. Lodrick.
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 Chakma—and are officially so termed in Bangladesh—they 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 Bangladesh—Rangamati, 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 Bangladesh—i.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. 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.
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.
MOHAMMED HABIBUR RAHMAN
ALTERNATE NAMES: Changma; Sawngma
LANGUAGE: Bengali dialect (Bangla)
RELIGION: Theravada (Southern) Buddhism
1 • INTRODUCTION
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.
2 • LOCATION
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.
3 • LANGUAGE
The Chakmas speak a dialect of Bengali (Bangla) and use the standard Bengali alphabet. See the article on Bangladeshis in this chapter.
4 • FOLKLORE
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.
5 • RELIGION
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.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Chakmas celebrate various Buddhist festivals. The most important is Buddha Purnima. This is the anniversary of three important events in Buddha's life—his 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.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
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.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
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.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
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.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
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.
11 • CLOTHING
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.
12 • FOOD
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.
13 • EDUCATION
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.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
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.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
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.
16 • SPORTS
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.
17 • RECREATION
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.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
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.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
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.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
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): 58–75, 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 http://www.bangla.org, 1997.
Virtual Bangladesh. [Online] Available http://www.virtualbangladesh.com, 1998.