Indigenous hill tribes are one of the primary reasons for visiting Bangladesh. The tribal population consisted of 897,828 persons – just over 1 percent of the total population, at the time of the 1981 census. They lived primarily in the Chittagong Hills and in the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. The majority of the tribal population (778,425) lived in rural settings, where many practiced shifting cultivation.
Most tribal people are of SinoTibetan descent and have distinctive Mongoloid features. They differ in their social organization, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs from the rest of the country’s population. They speak Tibeto-Burman languages. In the mid-1980s, the percentage distribution of tribal population by religion was the following: Hindu 24, Buddhist 44, Christian 13, and others 19.
The four largest tribes are the Chakmas, Marmas (or Maghs), Tipperas (or Tipras), and Mrus (or Moorangs). These tribes tended to intermingle and can be distinguished from one another by differences in their dialect, dress, and customs. Only the Chakmas and Marmas display formal tribal organization, although all groups contain distinct clans. By far the largest tribe, the Chakmas are of mixed origin but reflect more Bengali influence than any other tribe. Unlike the other tribes, the Chakmas and Marmas generally live in the highland valleys. Most Chakmas are Buddhists, but some practice Hinduism or animism.
Of Burmese ancestry, the Marmas regarded Burma as the center of their cultural life. Members of the Marma tribe dislike the more widely used term Maghs, which has come to mean pirates. Although several religions, including Islam, are represented among the Marmas, nearly all of the Marmas are Buddhists.
The Tipperas are nearly all Hindus and account for virtually the entire Hindu population of the Chittagong Hills. They migrated gradually from the northern Chittagong Hills. The northern Tipperas are influenced by Bengali culture. A small southern section known as the Mrungs show considerably less Bengali influence.
The Mros, considered the original inhabitants of the Chittagong Hills, live on hilltops and often fortify their villages. They have no written language of their own, but some can read Burmese and Bangla scripts. Most of them claim to be Buddhists, but their religious practices are largely animistic.
So you see, Bangladesh is not a mono culture – but rather a web of cultures strung together each with their own customs, dialects and traditions. The next time you are in southern Asia, please consider a visit to Bangladesh. We will welcome you!