The Garo Tribe

In the year 2001 it was estimated that the Garo population had risen to approximately two million, residing in parts of Bangladesh as well as India. The highest numbers of Garo in Bangladesh are located in Sylhet, Rangpur, Moulovibazar and Gazipur. Almost all the traditions, cultural customs and language are passed down from generation to generation, leaving nearly no trace of the Garo Tribe on paper. Their history can, however, be traced through the documents of others.

It is believed that the Garo Tribe originated from Tibet and were looked upon as savage headhunters, with one inscription from the 1800s stating that the Garo “…were looked upon as bloodthirsty savages, who inhabited a tract of hills covered with almost impenetrable jungle, the climate of which was considered so deadly as to make it impossible for a white man to live there.”

However, today it is their traditions that make them unique and many of their customs are still practiced. Christian influences are visible amongst the Garo, but they have managed to remain a martilineal tribe, meaning that the land they live on belongs to the women, while the men govern the society, giving the woman more rights than in most tribes. It is suggested that eighty percent of the Garo in Bangladesh have converted to Christianity. They are known for their ornaments, which are worn by both men and women, and include elbow rings, conch shells, earrings, beads, ivory and bangles. Generally the Garo are farmers, raising livestock such as ducks, deer, pigs and goats, but rice is the main ingredient in their diet. Bamboo shoots are considered a delicacy by the Garo and they also enjoy crab, fish and prawn.

The Garo’s traditional beliefs center around animal life, sacrificing either animals or people (not still practiced) when someone passes away, and believing that those killed by animals or who commit suicide are reincarnated as an animal. Over and above their cultural beliefs, traditional nutrition and agricultural customs, the Garo have games and sporting events that are unique to their tribe, as well as festivals and celebrations to pay tribute to their gods.