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     Volume 1 Issue 10 | November 11, 2006 |


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Journy through Bangldesh

From Chittagong
The Marma People

M.A. Taher

The 'Marma' is the second larg tribe of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The original land of the Marma tribe was in Pegu of Burma. In 1614 they had settled in the Arakan of the Chittagong area, which was then almost unpopulated. There is a history of the marma King's rule in Khagrachari and Bandarban. In the 16th century they came here during the reign of Bohomong king Hari Prue. At that time the Arakan King attacked Chittagong, and established it as his capital. The King sent troops to Chittagong bestowing the title of Bohomong to the troop leader to fight the Mughals. These troops did not go back and eventually settled in the hill tract area. One group came to Bandarban and the other entered Khagrachari and Ramgarh.

Most probably the word 'Marma' is derived from the Burmese word 'Mraima' which means 'Being born'. Hence, the predecessors of the Marma tribes were from Burma and as such, they came to be known as Marma or Mraima.

From the first Bohomong King Mongchapai to the 14th Bohomong King Maung Shwe Prue Chowdhury, the kings have always been performing the social, administrative and judicial functions in the traditional manner. However, due to political changes in the sub-continent they have gradually adopted changed methods in their administrative systems.

In the early days the livelihood of the Marmas depended on 'Jhum' cultivation. In this mode of cultivation the Marmas first clear the forests along the hill slopes and then dry and burn them before cultivating the land. This has been the main source of their food and earning their livelihood. As the production from Jhum cultivation is declining they are now growing fruits and vegetables, and are doing poultry farming and cottage industries.

In the 'Marma' society both males and females have equal rights on their parental properties. Women have a prestigious position in society and take equal part in all activities like agriculture, business and cottage industry. The Marma women like to wear traditional ornaments made of earlier silver coins of British and Persian origin in a chain with local beads and stones, brass or bronze ear rings, silver braclets and anklets. The females, specially the younger generation, love to adorn their hair with flowers, which is tied into a knot or tuft.

There are some special characteristics in the custom of naming the Marma children. The name of the first-born child either male or female beigins with U or Oo, such as U Shwe Proue, U Mong Prue, U, MRA PRUE, UNU PRUE etc. If the child is the last one of the couple then sometime they use "Thui" at the end of the name, viz., Mong-Sa-Thui etc. They collect these names from Buddhist monks.

The Marmas are Buddhists by religion. They observe various Buddhist festivals with great devotion, but they also worship some traditional gods and goddesses. The Buddhist monks play an important role on many occasions such as, birth and death.

In Thailand as in many other Buddhist countries it is quite common to see Buddhist monks with alms-pots in their hands coming out of the temples in a line early in the morning. They pass through the roads or the houses around the temples receiving food and other day-to-day essential things from the disciples who stand there waiting for the monks to pass by.

But in the Buddhist majority places in the CHT such as Bandarban, only on big religious festivals one can see such a scene. For example, on the occasions of 'Buddha Purnima' or 'Kathin Chibar Dan' one sees the monks come out in a queue to receive alms from their disciples.

In the above picture we see the Marma Buddhist monks in Bandarban carrying their alms-pots go by the houses of their disciples on the occasion of the Kathin Chibar Dan. On the ground are lying face down some young children. The monks in this ritualistic practice move forward crossing over the children one by one. It is believed that the children are blessed this way when the monks go past them over their bodies.


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