Tanchangya women




Tanchangya Chagma” is one of the major sub-tribe of Chakmas and an indigenous hill tribe living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of South-eastern part of Bangladesh. The other major tribe of Chagmas is called “Anokya Chagma”. The Tanchangya Chagmas is one of the thirteen tribal communities of the CHT. The members of all these thirteen indigenous communities are also collectively known as “Jumma”, a national ideology that gave birth after the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971.

The word “Tanchangya” derive from “Tan or Tong” which means “peak or mountain or hill” and “Changya” which means “People”. Because, majority of the people like to live on the top of the mountains or peaks or hills. But the Anokya Chagmas are mostly living in the bank of the rivers or low land areas.

The Tanchangya Chagmas share a common religion, a slightly-differed language, many similarities are found in social and traditional customs and norms with the Anokya Chagmas, and the fact that their history is no different in between them.


In 9th century, they settle down in seven allocated villages nearby a famous river called “Reng-Khyong” in the Rangamati district partially bordering of Myanmar along with other Anokya Chagmas. As time passed by, they spread in Rangamati and Bandarban, Cox's Bazaar district and also found other parts of the CHT region.

Anthropologically, they belong to the Mongoloid group as like as other Chagmas, but more popularly categorized as Sino-Tibetans by some.

In recent, the Tanchangya Chagmas has been officially recognized as a separate and distinct tribe by the Government of Bangladesh and many Institutions.

Traditionally, Tanchangya Chagmas have an extensive lineage system as like as Anokya Chagmas. They entirely consists of seven “Gocha” which can be well translated as “clan”, of which the “Karwa-Gocha”, the “Mua-Gocha” and the “Dunya-Gocha” are the main and leading clans. These three clans dominated in their society. The majority members and the most educated, with some exception of course, belong to either of these three clans.

Moreover, each of the seven clans also has its own “sub-clans” locally known as “Guit-Ti”, Chagmas called “Gutti”. The extensive Tanchangya Chagmas lineage system becomes important when it comes to the linguistic and some behavioural points and matters. The dialects, dressing, behaving and some social norms differ from clan to clan and even to a lesser extent from sub-clan to sub-clan. Therefore, it can be concluded that their language, as a whole, is a combination or encompasses the slightly-different dialects of all these seven clans and thus the larger Tanchangya tribe is a combination of slightly-different cultures, dressing, social norms and customs of all the seven clans. However, they do not introduce themselves by name of clans or sub-clans but by the common designated title “Tanchangya”.


Tanchangyas live in the Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari district of CHT and also found in Boisyabeli areas in Chittagong district, and in Ukhia and Teknaf areas of Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh. Tanchangyas also live in the North-eastern regions of Mizoram States of India, as well as in the Arakan region of Myanmar. In Myanmar, they are known as “Dainak”.


In terms of population, the Tanchangya tribe ranks in fifth among indigenous thirteen indigenous communities of Bangladesh, but in general reference they are mentioned as the fourth. In 1990, 1995, 2000, 2004 and 2006, the total population figures roughly shown as 19,522, 25,500, 30,000, 35,000 and 36,200 respectively.

According to the 1991 population census enumerated them at 21,057 and the number of households was 4,043 families and according to the latest Bangladesh national census of 2004, their population is 35,000. But they claim that their number is much higher than the official estimated.


Their laws of inheritance are similar to those of Anokya Chagmas. The male children of a deceased Tanchangya father divide the property equally among themselves, including furniture and cattle. The daughters cannot claim any share of the property except when they have no brothers. The children of a father who is mad or who becomes an ascetic get equal share of his property. If the deceased father has no children, an adopted son inherits all the property. If a wife is separated when she is pregnant and if she gives birth to a male child, he will inherit her ex-husband's property. If someone dies as a bachelor or without any children, his property will go to his brothers.


Like other indigenous people, Tanchangyas build their habitation in forested slopes of hills and hill valleys, often in remote part of dense jungles. . But most of them like to build their homes and huts on the top of the hills, mountains and peaks. Their homes are built on wooden or bamboo poles that reach about six feet above the ground. Bamboo is used to make the walls and is also used in the construction of the roofs. Only a few homes have tin roofs.

The male work in the fields while the women cook, care for children, clean house, draw water, weave, and wash clothes. The women also help the men in the fields and the men assist in caring for children.

Socio-Cultural System:

Like many of the tribal communities, Tanchangyas also have a very organized social and family structure. A Tanchangya family usually consists of 5-10 members but generally the sons who get married choose to live separately in a separate house. When the parents are old, usually the youngest or the eldest son is supposed to look after them. However, any son has the right to look after the parents if he so desires, so do the daughters. The Tanchangyas have a rich cultural heritage.

A Tanchangya village generally consists of not more than 60-70 households, the largest of which may consist of may be 100 and the smallest of which may consist only of 5-10 households.


The Tangchangya are primarily farmers. Agriculture is their main occupation. They cultivate crops and carry out horticulture on hill slopes. Even today they practise Jhum system of cultivation. Traditionally, they practised the “slash and burn” method, which was generally used in the highest parts of the hills. A small tract of forest would be cut down, the debris burned, and a variety of crops planted. The Bangladeshi government has long discouraged slash and burn agriculture; therefore, many of them now use irrigation and plain cultivation in the low hills and lowland areas.

Rice is the primary crop, although cotton, cucumbers, pumpkins, yams, maize, and a wide variety of tropical fruits are also grown. The main agricultural tool is the “Dao”, which is a long knife similar to a machete. The Dao is used in nearly every aspect of life, from building houses to harvesting crops. Common livestock includes cattle, water buffalo, pigs, goats, and sheep. Like the westerner, Tangchangya love dogs and cats. Most of them keep dogs and cats.


Bangladesh is an impoverished nation. Like most Bangladeshi, the Tangchangya are mostly illiterate and suffer from poor health care. The average income is less than $200 per year. In addition, the Tangchangya are being forced from their land by an influx of Bengali settlers. Literacy among Tanchangyas is low. However, in spite of having some unique traditional and cultural values and a rich literature, the Tanchangyas still behind some of the larger contemporary indigenous communities in the region of the CHT in respect of modern education, regional politics and cultural awareness. The 1991 national statistics showed that not even one third of the Tanchangya population is educated in its modern sense. Nevertheless very lately, quite a large number of Tanchangyas have been holding some government, non-government and civil service in the fields of education, health and to a lesser extent regional politics. During the past two decades or so, a considerable number of Tanchangyas also have undergone and have been undergoing higher educational training locally and in abroad. But still the majority of the Tanchangya population is yet to get the smell of modernity.


They have their own form of language is almost similar to Chagmas, which in an actual sense, is more of a dialect belong to an Indo-Aryan language family. They don't have their own written scripts. However, recently, some Tanchangya writers and intellectuals and a handful of non-natives have been trying to put into script the grammar structure of the Tanchangya language using the Bengali script in an organized and easy-to-reference format. It has been a tough job though due to its complex spoken structure. Tanchangya are modest in nature.


Tanchangyas are Buddhists. They follow the Theravada branch of Buddhism, but elements of Hinduism and Animism can be found in their religious practices. The Tangchangya believe that there are many spirit beings, which are either helpful or harmful to human beings. It is very much mixed with some animistic and tribal cults, some of which even include animal sacrifices to gods of various kinds and purposes, which are not Buddhist in nature. Broadly speaking, these practices can be said of the influences from early Brahmanism civilization. Exorcists and priests are called “Baidyo”, it is believed that to mediate between people and the spirit world through incantations, charms, and spirit possession. Probably because of Chagmas Buddhist influences, Tanchangyas also have been Buddhists from the inception. Nowhere in their history were they recorded as followers of some other organized form of religions other than Buddhism and of course a little bit of animistic influence were inevitable. Nevertheless, the Tanchangya people do not consider these practices as Buddhist but more of social and traditional and this makes the argument fair. Generally, there is a Buddhist temple in every Tanchangya village known in their language as “Kang or Jadi”.

They observe religious rites such as worshipping Lord Buddha and

listening sermons from their religious teachers called “Bhante” on auspicious occasions, celebrating the Three Sacred Festival of Lord Buddha known as “Buddha Purnima”. The Buddha Purnima is remarkable for them as Birth, Enlightenment and Mahapari-Nibbana of Lord Buddha. They also observed Kathin Cibar Dhan, Maghi Purnima, Prabarana Purnima, New Year Eva, and so on. It is also very significant of all Full Moon Days and half moon days to them as related festivals and celebrations.

Tanchangyas have not been converted into Christianity as in the case of Lushai and Pankho indigenous community. But at least a half or more of the Tanchangya population, given their practices and influence of animistic rituals, can not be considered Buddhists in the strict sense of the term either. Some of these animistic rituals contain elaborate rites in which pigs, goats and a huge number of hens and cocks are sacrificed in the name of gods and spirits of various purposes. Tanchangyas also have some bloodless animistic rituals like candle and flower offering to the spirit of the village river and offering of cooked-rice mixed with red chilli to the spirit of sunshine, to name but a few.

Hunting with spears, bows and arrows along with hand-made nets in the deep and dense jungles up the green hills is also a part of Tanchangyas’ daily activity which, in a way, is also a means of their survival especially in the remote jungle areas where modernity has not yet found a footing. Nevertheless, the aforementioned animistic ritualistic elaborate sacrifices and hunting for wild animals have almost come to a stop due to the relentless efforts of some socially engaged Buddhist monks who have been trying hard to bring a stop to all these non-Buddhist ritualistic practices.


The Anokya Chagmas have written history as well as oral history. But the Tanchangya Chagmas have only oral history in which many interesting and elaborate traditional or even historical incidents and stories are recorded. The oral history is one with the Anokya Chagmas. In their recorded in the oral history that still being preserved without being committed to writing in any form. There are some special groups of people known locally as “Ging-Guli”, Chagmas known as “Geng Huli” who are preserving the history orally. These people are invited in traditional festivals and weddings to relate the history of the Tanchangya people and even love stories. They only use a violin and relate in poetic form which may continue the whole night non-stop. But sadly due to modernization, the young generation, nowadays, hardly pay attention to this invaluable traditional form of entertainment. As a result, only a handful of Ging-Gulis can be found nowadays, the story of Radhamon, the commander-in-Chief of Chagma Raja Bijoy Giri and his lover Dhanpudi is worth mentioning. Radhamon and Dhanpudi were lovers. And this traditional love story is one of the most well-known told stories among the Tanchangya and Chagma people but most popular among the older generation. This love story is pretty much like the Roman love story of Romeo and Juliet.

Besides these, there are also many traditional songs known as “Uba-git”, and folk-tales known as “Kit-Ta” and moral-related stories known as “Poshon” preserved in the Tanchangya oral history. No doubt, if the entire Tanchangya oral history is put into writing, it will form yet another large volume of fine world literature.


As to the marital relationship, traditionally three kinds of marriages can be found within the Tanchangya society as: the groom is taken to the bride's house, the lovers elope and marry, and widows remarry.

1) A pre-arranged marriage in which the groom brings the bride in his parents’ home. This is the most accepted, approved and prevalent marital system in the Tanchangya society. This kind of marriage is arranged by the help of a third party between the parents of both parties with the prior approval of the would-be bridegroom and the bride. In this kind of marriage, the parents are the decision-makers.

2) A pre-arranged marriage in which the bridegroom goes to live with the bride in her parents’ house. This is the rarest practice among the three.

3) A marriage in which the would-be husband and wife elope as lovers and decide to live as legal couple. This can be called from modern context as ‘love marriage’. Traditionally this kind of marriage is also accepted but not approved specially by the conservatives. The decisions of the couple play the most vital role in this kind of marriage. Nowadays, this third kind of marriage i.e. choosing one’s own life partner is the most chosen criteria for marriage, the influence of which can be partially due to the Western influence of so-called modernization.

Tanchangyas are also quite famous for the husband being younger in age than his wife, a practice which can not be found in other communities. And this practice and colourful is quite commonly seen in the Mua-Gocha of the larger Tanchangya tribe.

A Tanchangya marriage does not in any way come under the influence of Buddhism. However, it is also customary for the new couple to go to the village temple for blessings of monks and listening to the chanting of the “Mangalasutta”. The entire marriage ceremony is generally conducted by village elders who are expert in traditional values. In Tanchangya marriages, pigs, hens and fishes are killed in order to entertain the guests and well-wishers with delicious dishes. More interestingly, there is a special sacrificial offering called “Shumulang” without which a couple is not considered as legally married. In this special sacrificial offering which must be conducted by a village physician which is known as “Boiddo” in the Tanchangya language acts as a doctor in Tanchangya villages. In most cases, these particular Boiddos also have black magical powers to drive away evil spirits and they even have powers to kill people or bring immense disasters by means of their black magical charms, two hens or cocks are killed in the name of the protecting house guardian for happiness and prosperity for the new couple.

The basic family unit among the Tangchangya is the nuclear family. Although polygamy is accepted, it seldom occurs. Marriages are usually arranged by the parents, but the opinions of the young man and woman are taken into consideration. Most of the tribes living in the hills forbid endogamy, which is marrying within one's own family or clan.

Traditional Dress:

Tanchangya men usually wear only two sets of clothing as Sarong or Lung-gi or Dhoti which is loincloth and long-sleeve shirts which simple dresses without designs. Usually they buy these from markets. However, there have been changes in their dresses and ornaments in recent years to adjust with modern civilization. They now use the dresses like shirt, trouser and Lungi. The women look very attractive in their own costumes. They excel all other hilly women in wearing colourful dresses and ornaments. The woman-attire basically consists of five main sets of dresses as:

a) Pinoin or Skirt: The Pinons have no borders, which has 7 colours and a variety of stripes. Its have broad black boarders but with a short width. They wear for the lower part of their body. This is the main set which is weaved with mere threads of different colours, arranged and decorated with colourful lines on red ground designs.

b) Khadi or Scarf: The Khadi worn to cover their chest is similar to the Chagmas. It has two types as Phool and Ranga. This is also similar to the “Fa- Dhari” but it is a bit bigger and weaved with elaborate designs of different shining silk threads and worn over the body hanging from the shoulders up down below the waist. Sometimes it is also worn around the chest. This Khadi is a vital clothing set of decoration especially for young girls.

c) Junnasilum or Blouse: Junnasilum has delicate work at the neck and shoulders.This is a piece of cloth also weaved and then later on sewn with hands with traditional designs in the form of a blouse.

d) Fa-Dhari or Waist Belt: Fa-Dhari is like a broad belt with delicate works in light-coloured thread. This is a piece of long cloth weaved with traditional designs and worn over the waist to support the tightness of the Pinoin or the skirt.

e) Mada-Khobong or Head Scarf: Women also wear Mada-Khobong as a turban which is white colour and has delicate work at both ends. It usually measures 3 cubits x cubit. This is quite similar to the Fa-Dhari, but it is different in designs worn over the head to protect the head from sunshine and to escape from dust and it also helps to carry heavy stuff on the head.

To adjust in the modern society, some of the Trenchancy women wear Sari, Blouse, Salwar and Kameez. and their men wear shirt, trouser and lungi. The traditional clothing attire of the women in particular is yet another spectacular outlook to be observed. It is said that the women excel all other hilly women in wearing colourful dresses and ornaments. Like some of their counterparts of other tribes, the Tanchangya women weave, sew and make their own clothing by means of traditional handicrafts.

However, due to the rapid globalization and continuous evolution of so-called modernization, nowadays the Tanchangya women of the younger generation are neglecting their traditional dress of which their mothers and grandmothers were once proud of. These days, the modern girls hardly even know how to weave her set of traditional clothing. Traditionally it is very hard for a Tanchancy girl to get a husband if she didn’t know how to weave her own set of clothing.


The women wear variety lavish Jewellery over their clothing. The ornaments wear by them are Rajjur and Jhanga for ears; Baghors and Kuchikhadu for wrists; Tajjur for arms, Chandrahar, Hachuli and Sikichada for neck. Usually these ornaments are made of silver. This lavish jewellery are ear-rings, hand-rings and foot-rings, necklace, bracelets and many different varieties of neck-garlands made of ancient coins and beads. It is wearing and come down from many generations from mother to daughter. These jewellery are the only wealth daughters get from their mothers mostly at the time of their marriage and these jewellery become precious treasures for the daughters.

National Festival:

They celebrate the New Year Eva as “Bisu”, similar to the Chagmas. Chagmas called “Biju”. Bisu is their major festival to welcome the new year. It is related to the Bengali New Year in the month of April. The Bisu festival is celebrated for a period of six to seven days, during which this days people visit to the temples to pray for a better and prosperous beginning of the New Year and say good bye to the old year and also pray for a better agricultural harvest. They decorate their houses and temples with wild flowers and creepers. This days, they also shun all form of daily activities but enjoy it with their heart-fill followed by elaborate traditional entertaining concerts. This is the day of family union. This is the day of exchanging visits among friends and relatives. This is the day of enjoyment and merry-making. This is the days of happiness for all members of the society.

They also celebrate the “Chumulang”, which is welfare for their family. They celebrates Buddha Purnima, Maghi Purnima, Prabarana Purnima, Kathin Cobor Dhan, etc. as their religious festivals.

Song and Dance:

Jadi Dance: The Tanchangyas perform this dance in their religious festival. They assemble to pray in the “Kang or Jadi”, which means Buddhist temples or Pagodas or Stupas, the young people perform this dance around the temple for the well-being of all creatures. This dance is not just for amusement, but also an offering to God.

Ging-Guli: It is Tanchangya folk song. The folk singers sing Ging-Guli with “Bela” throughout the night. Bela means a musical instrument that which is a kind of violin used by the singers. The singers compose this song extempore. All section of people from all stages as children, adults and old come to participate and sit in circles around to Ging-Guli and listen the song interestingly and attentively. Even female from all stages are also allowed to participate. They may pass the whole night, spell-bounded by the melodious Ging-Guli. This is a story of those days when there was no TV or radio for recreation. Although the glory of Ging-Guli has faded out, it is still occasionally performed in Tanchangya and Chagma inhabited areas.

Kadi Massya Jum Parat: This song describes the natural beauty and the love affair of men and women. Generally, jhum harvest starts in the September-October. During this season, the lovers are engaged in romantic dialogues in a moonlight night in silence. This song depicts the desire of the two hearts who wish that this heavenly night never comes to an end.

Jume Jume Berai Chalung: This song describes the beauty of jhum field with luxuriant crops. Jhum is the principal livelihood means of the hill people. Sometimes the Jummas becomes an artist in scenic jhum field. In the middle of his field the cheerful Jumma man feels like singing.

O Sunder Punang Chan: In the moonlight night, the beauty of the green hills is startling. Silvery beauty melts down from the sky. This beauty moves human hearts that desire a friendship with the moon. This song reflects that desire.

Death Ritual:

Tanchangya burn the body after the dead as like as most indigenous people in the CHT. The system of funeral ceremony all similar to the Chagmas. But very few people invite Buddhist monk for chanting during the funeral ceremony, the rest are performing by their own Boiddos, who role in the society.