The Chakma are a Buddhist people that lives in southeastern Bangladesh. Related to the Arakanese in Myanmar, they number about 750,000, with around 500,000 of them in Bangladesh, which makes them the largest tribal group in Bangladesh. The Chakma call themselves the Changma or Sawngma. . [Source: Mohammed Habibur Rahman “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

The Chakma (chahk-MAH) speak a dialect of Bengali. It is believed that they once spoke Arakanese (a Tibeto-Burman language). According to their oral history the Chakam originated and were named after a place called Champoknagar. It is not clear where Champoknagar was. They migrated to Arakan in Burma and lived there together for about 100 years before moving on present-day Bangladesh around the 16th century. They made deal with the Muslim rulers of Bengal to raise cotton for the sultan in return the right to live in the hill tracts. Under the British, one Chakma headman became the Chakma raja. In the late 18th century the Chakma fought three times with the British and finally made a peace agreement in which they promised to produce cotton for the British in return in return for recognizing Chakma rule in southeastern Bengal. |~|

Chakma (and another eleven ethnic minority peoples) occupy three hilly districts of Bangladesh — Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachhari. This hill region covers an area of about 13,000 square kilometers is divided by a number of streams, canals and rivers and has many ponds and lakes. The name Chakma was first used by British census-takers in Burma to describe the hill peoples of the Arakan. The derivation of the name Changma is uncertain. One author has suggested it means "people of the Thek clan," Thek being a Burmese name for the Chakmas.

Chakma Population and Location

The Chakma population is spread over three different countries. The majority of them — about 450,000 people — reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. This population spills over into neighboring areas of southwest Mizoram State in India, where another 100,000 Chakmas live, and Myanmar, which is home to around 30,000 Chakmas. The Chakma account for about half of Chittagong Hill Tracts’s indigenous Jumma population and 30 percent of the total population of the area (many non-tribal settlers have moved in). CHT is a forested hill region in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Another group of Chakmas, numbering around 100,000 people, lives in the foothills of the Himalayas in northeastern India. They were refugees who fled from Bangladesh to India in the 1960s and were later relocated to Arunachal Pradesh state by the Indian government. Many Chakma refugees are stateless, despite petitioning the Indian government for citizenship. Some have recently been granted voting rights in India over the protests of local populations. In addition, Tripura State in India was the home of about 50,000 Chakma refugees who fled Bangladeshi Army operations against their villages in the Chittagong Hills in 1988 but had been largely repatriated to their homeland by 2000.

Chittagong Hill Tracts are near the Burmese border. The highest region of Bangladesh, they have an average evaluation here is around 610 meters (2,000 feet). the highest peak, Keokradang, is 1,230 meters (4034 feet) high. The Hill Tract Districts, , the homeland of the Chakma and other Jumma tribal groups, is famous for its lovely green hills, lush forests, lakes and colorful tribal life and culture. The Greater Hill Tracts is divided into three districts — Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban—each with its own unique attractions. Foreign visitors need special permission to visit these areas. Arrangements can be made with the Bangladesh Parjatan Organization.

The Chittagong Hills are a northerly extension of the Arakan Hills and form part of the mountain systems of western Burma and eastern India. They are comprised of narrow, steep-sided ridges running north and south at elevations between 600 and 900 meters (1,970 to 2,950 feet) with their highest sections in the southeast. The ridges are separated by lush valleys water by numerous streams and 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. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

When Pakistan and India were divided in 1947, the people who lived in CHT expected to become part of India. Instead, the region was given to Pakistan. People in the CHT — mostly Buddhist Chakmas — were unhappy about this as they viewed themselves as more culturally akin to the Hindu peoples of India than the Muslims of Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Chakma were displaced by the Kaptai Dam reservoir in 1959. In 1971, Bangladesh won independence and freed itself from East Pakistan. The Chakma felt just as alienated from the Bangladesh government as they had from Pakistan.

History of the Chakma

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Little is known about the origins and early history of the Chakmas. According to Chakma 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 Chakmas is unclear. Similarly, the Chakmas believe their ancestral homeland to be Champaknagar. The location of this is uncertain, though many place it in the modern Bihar. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“More recent events are easier to outline. Chakma 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 Chakma territory and recognized the powers of the Chakma 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 Chakma 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 Chakma rajas and the British colonial administration remained on good terms. At first, the British followed a policy of noninterference with the Chakma hill tribes. But unrest in the hill areas ultimately led to Chakma 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 Chakma 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. *\


Language and Custom of the Chakma

The Chakma (chahk-MAH) speak a dialect of Bangla (Bengali). It is believed that they once spoke Arakanese (a Tibeto-Burman language). The Chakma write using standard Bangla script. The Chakma writer Biraj Mohan Dewan has estimated that 80 percent of Chakma vocabulary is derived from Bangla. [Source: Mohammed Habibur Rahman “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

Bangla is an Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European family. The original Tibeto-Burman tongue spoken by the Chakma today is called Changma Vaj or Changma Kodha. It was 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 [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Chakma are regarded as very hospitable people. Guests are welcomed with home-brewed liquor and a smoke from a hukka water pipe. Chakmas greet each other with the hearty cry of “Hoya!” The same word is express exuberance over a sports victory such as after tug-of-war, a fixture of their numerous hill festivals. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999]

Religion of the Chakma

The Chakma practice Theravada Buddhism and believe in a number of spirits, including several Hindu gods. They celebrate a number of Buddhist festivals. Including Kathon Chibar Dam, a festival celebrated by other groups such as the Marma, Chak and Tanchangya which involves making and dying cloth and presenting it to monks. Religious practitioners include monks, exorcists and spirit doctors known as “baidyo”.

Chakma observe both Buddhist and non-Buddhist ceremonies. They observe the days of birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha and unite to propitiate malevolent spirits. Individual Chakma households may also arrange rituals to counteract illness and crop damage. Illness is attributed to fright, spirit possession, or an imbalance of elements in the body. Most Chakma will still call in a village baidyo. The dead are cremated. Family and relatives mourn for a week, and then they arrange a satdinna to pray for peace for the departed soul. A Buddhist monk presides over the cremation and satdinna. |~|

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Almost every Chakma 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. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“The Chakmas 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, pūjas (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 (ōjhas) and spirit doctors (baidyo) are called in to deal with harmful spirits. The Chakmas 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 Chakma houses, and pūjas are immediately performed to counter this misfortune. *\

“Chakmas 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 (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. *\

Chakmas celebrate various Buddhist festivals. The most important is Buddha Purnima. This is the anniversary of Buddha's birth, attainment of enlightenment, and his death. It is observed on the full moon day of the month of Vaisakh (usually in May). As is true with other festivals, Chakmas don their best clothes and visit temples to make offering of 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. Houses are decorated with flowers, young children pay respect to the elderly to win their blessings. Traditional dishes are prepared for guests. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999]

Chakma Marriage and Family

Chakmas are divided into clans (gojas), which are further subdivided into subclans (guttis). Members of the same subclan are forbidden from marrying each other. Marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents although love marriage are possible if parental consent is given. . 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. The married couple usually lives with the husband’s parents. Divorce is allowed, as is remarriage after the death of a spouse. Males and females play their own kind of bamboo flute. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999]

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “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. [Source: Mohammed Habibur Rahman “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“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. |~|

“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. 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. |~|

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. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999]

Polygynous marriages are permissible among the Chakma, although they are less common today than in the past. 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. 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.

Chakma Society

Society is hierarchically arranged on the basis of sex (with men at the top), age, occupation, power, wealth, education and religious knowledge. Important social groups include the family, the bari and the work groups. Decent is patrilineal. Mohammed Habibur Rahman wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ 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. [Source: Mohammed Habibur Rahman “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“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. |~|

“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. |~|

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.|~|

Chakma Villages and Houses

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).
In the old days the Chakma lived mostly in houses built 1.8 meters above the ground on wood or bamboo piles. Now they live mostly in Bengali style homes built in bari clusters. Most homes are built on slopes of hills with a stream nearby. Every village has a Buddhist temple called a “kaang”. [Source: Mohammed Habibur Rahman “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Mohammed Habibur Rahman wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “. 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.

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Access to a traditional Chakma house is “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. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Chakma Food and Clothing

According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “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. 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. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999 /=]

“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. 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./=\

“Chakma men have given up their traditional clothes — of dhotī, kurta, and white turban — 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.” /=\

Chakma Culture, Music, Sports and Art

Songs and epic poems are sung. Chakma folk music includes romantic love songs known as Ubageet. The Genkhuli ballads describe events from the past. There are also epic poems like Radhamon and Dhanapati, the latter of which recalls the period when the Nawab of Bengal first gave shelter to the Chakma Raja when the tribe entered southern Chittagong during the 15th century. Jatra is a form of village opera. 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. There are male and female flutes. Unlike other tribal groups in the Chittagong tracts, dancing is not a big part of their festive life.. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999 /=]

Highly accomplished weaving is achieved y women. They make complex tapestries on a back-strap loom called a ben and do their own spinning and dyeing and and make their own cloth called "Alam." They The Chakma are skilled at making a variety of household goods from bamboo, often with nothing more than a hill-knife (dao). Women are adept at complex making baskets from bamboo. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Ha-do-do is a kabaddi-like sport played throughout the Chittagong region. According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: 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. Wrestling and other sports held at fairs are popular. In the past, hunting and fishing were favorite pastimes.

Chakma Literature and Folklore

D. O. Lodrick wrote in “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The Chakmas possess a literary tradition of sorts, with a variety of works written in the Chakma language. Buddhists texts, 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. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“The Chakma 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 Chakma 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. *\

Chakma Agriculture and Economic Activity

The Chakma have traditionally been subsistence farmers. In irrigated lowlands they raise wet rice. in the highlands they raised dry rice, cotton and sesame. Vegetables and fruits are raised in village gardens. They keep chickens, ducks goats, cattle, pigs and water buffalo. The Chakma traditionally didn’t own any land. Farmers who wanted new lands could simply cultivate new land that wasn’t cultivated by anybody else. Land is cleared of 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. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999 /=]

Mohammed Habibur Rahman wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “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. [Source: Mohammed Habibur Rahman “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“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. 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. |~|

“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.”

“Some Chakmas 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. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage

Education, Gender Issues and Social Problems of the Chakma

The majority of the Chakma tribes can now read and write. Some have even earned post-graduate university degrees. D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”:As might be expected in a non-Muslim minority population in one of the more isolated parts of Bangladesh, Chakmas do not score highly in terms of educational achievements. Individual figures for Chakmas are not available, but overall literacy among the hill tribes stands at 14.8 percent. This figure drops to 7.2 percent 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 Chakma are only 45.3 percent for men and 36.6 percent for women. In Bangladesh, however, literacy in a second language (usually Bengali) stands at over 70 percent, which provides some indication of the extent to which the Bengali language is replacing Chakma. [Source:D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Many Bengali settlers have moved into Chakma territory. They were given land and financial assistance from the government and now make up about half the population in the area. In some cases the settlers occupied land formally lived on by Chakma who fled to India to escaped from violence. “The Chakma 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, Chakmas form a minority and many are refugees from their homeland, living in conditions of squalor. One group of Chakma has been transplanted over 500 kilometers (approximately 300 miles) from their traditional home to Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India. Chakma refugees face resentment from local populations. A recent Indian Supreme Court ruling that Chakmas 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 Chakmas 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 Chakmas 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. *\

“Chakma 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 Chakma insurgency. In 2002, for example, after the death of a local Muslim, which was blamed on local Chakma, 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 Chakma 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 Chakmas had and prevented any women from getting out of the village. Occasional attacks on Chakma 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 Chakma was abducted by the Bangladeshi military, but, so far, the government has failed to bring the culprits responsible for her abduction to justice. *\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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