The Marma Tribe of Bangladesh

Members of the Marma tribe of Bangladesh are located mainly in the rural villages of the hill districts of Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati in the Chittagong Division. They are the second largest ethnic group in Bangladesh, and as descendants of the Arakanese people of Myanmar (Burma), they are primarily followers of Theravada Buddhism – an ancient form of Buddhist teachings dating back to around 250 BCE that has been experiencing a revival in a number of Asian countries and in the Western world.

The name ‘Marma’ is derived from the word Myanmar and refers to the nationality of the tribe’s ancestors who originated in Pegu of Burma before it came under the rule of Arakanese King Mong Raja Gree in the 16th century. The Marmas speak an Arakanese dialect, with their written language making use of intricate Burmese script.

Although the Marma tribe of Bangladesh has been somewhat influenced by modern living in that they use make use of aluminum cookware and glass or china crockery in place of their traditional pottery, bamboo and wood utensils, they still follow many of the traditional ways of life. Their bamboo, straw and wild grass houses are built on wooden or bamboo platforms raised above the ground. The space below the floor is used for storage, or as shelter for livestock. Their clothing typically consists of a sarong for both men and women, with women wearing a blouse and men wearing a type of waistcoat. Traditionally, fabric is woven on handlooms and clothing is generally handmade. However, it is reportedly becoming more common to see Marmas wearing ready-made clothing bought from the local market.

Marma communities consist of nuclear families, with the husband as head of the household. Family and community ties going back through generations are respected, and both sons and daughters can inherit their parent’s property, although not necessarily equally. With rice and vegetables as their staple food, Marmas are subsistence farmers, and are skilled at basketry and weaving.

The traditional three-tier system of political administration continues among the Marmas, with a Raja as the chief, a headman below the Raja and village level authority resting with a karbari. These authoritative figures are entrusted with resolving disputes and maintaining law and order among those under their jurisdiction, continuing a long-held tradition of the Marma Tribe of Bangladesh.