မရမာ or The Marma People

Introduction

Marma (Arakan descendents) is the second largest ethnic community in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). They moved Bangladesh from Arakan State in AD 17 century. They living in the three hill districts of Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati. Some are living in the coastal districts of Cox's Bazar and Patuakhali. They are sometimes referred as Mogh/Magh and were known by that term for centuries until the late 1940s. Marma Peoples are over 210,000 Population just within Bangladesh. In the 16th century the Kingdom of Bohmong and Mong was established by themselves in the Bengal. Since then, Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is their home.

Ethnically, Marmas are Mongoloid race and culturally, they are very close to the Rakhines in the state Arakan of Myanmar. Many consider that Marmas and their neighbours, Rakhines are in fact, the same tribe. The skull of Rakhines is round, their nose is flat, they have black hair, they are usually short in height, and their complexion is light brown. But the Marmas are relatively short and have prominent cheekbones. They have yellow complexion, black hairs, small eyes, and snub noses. Their community is headed by two Chief or King (Raja) called the “Bohmong Chief” and the “Mong Chief”. The Bohmong Chief is reside at Bandarban and the Mong Chief is reside at Ramgarh and in Khagrachari district. The Marma society is divided into several classes, each classes is named after the place from where it migrated, such as Maratha, Ragratha, Ramratha and so on. Chiefs or Raja, Buddhist monks or Phongyee, Headmen and Matbars occupy prestigious positions in the Marma social life. The material culture of the Marma society includes many basic tools and weapons of primitive societies.

In 16th century the Kingdom of Bohmong and Mong was established by themselves in the Bengal. So, from the first Bohmong Chief named Raja Mongchapai to 14th Bohomong Chief, Raja Maung Shwe Prue Chowdhury, they 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.

 edited by Richie Aung

Early Settlement

The exact history of the migration into the Bandarban area varies according to the different sources. Not much appears to be certain before the 1600s. At that time the area was disputed between the Arakanese (from Burma) and the Tripura from the North. The Tripura had a kingdom to the north of the CHT in the current Indian state of Tripura. They are still the largest group in Khagrachuri, the most northern of the 3 hill districts. When and why the Usoi clan of the Tripura moved to the Bandarban area is not known.

The Marma are the largest group in the Bandarban area. They come from Burma. The name Marma has the same derivation as “Myanmar”. The Marma must not be called Mogh (or Mugh), which is the term for the pirates who plundered the Bengali coast all the way to Calcutta with the help of the Portuguese.

Accounts of the history of the Marma people are usually dominated by the history of its royal family. The Marma royal family descend from the Mon people of central and Eastern Burma, who are called Toloing by the Burmese. In 1599 the Arakanese King defeated the Mon king of Pegu, but subsequently appointed his son Prince Mong-Cha-Paying Governor of Chittagong. The reason for the son of a prisoner of war being given such an important role is unclear. He was given the title ‘Bohmong’ for his success at keeping the Portuguese out of Chittagong. Mong-Cha-Paying’s descendent Harri-Pru first defeated the Moghul invaders, but they were subsequently defeated by the Moghul and subjected to atrocities. Consequently they moved out of Chittagong town and gradually up into the hills.  The British arrived in the late 18th century and from 1804 they gave the Bohmong the authority to collect taxes for the area now known as the Bandarban Hill District. In 1822 Bohmong Sathangpro established the ‘capital’ in Bandarban.

However the history of the royal family does not explain the history of the Marma people. Their language mainly derives from Arakanese, a Tibeto-Burmese language, which is very similar to Rakhain and Burmese. Their customary law derive from the book of Manu an Indian text. It is difficult to say when they first migrated into the Chittagong area, however as that area was part of Arakan, it can be assumed that is was several centuries ago. Chittagong is an Arakanese name, which implies that people from the south established it. There were certainly Marma people in the Bandarban area prior to 1600 and well before the Bohmong’s family arrived.

The biggest migration of Marma and other indigenous groups people into Bandarban occurred during the last half of the 18th century, as a result of the Burmese invasion of Arakan. This mass migration is known to have caused a big problem to the British. At that time the Marma people and Rakhain people dominated the planes south of Chittagong as well as the hills.

This presents the Marma as peace loving people who escaped from war, rather than the descendants of Toloing warriors and it matches my impression of these gentle people.

The British method of colonial rule in South Asia was to delegate security and tax collecting responsibility. In order to achieve this ‘rajas’ were promoted, flattered and given military support. In return the rajas were responsible for collecting taxes and keeping the peace. The rajas were allowed to keep a proportion of the taxes and their power grew. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts the British chose the groups who were at the gateways (i.e. along the main rivers) to the 3 hill areas. Thus the Marma were chosen in the south (Bandarban) and in the north (Ramgor), instead of the more dominant Tripura.

The Kuki-Chin peoples include the Bawm-Zo, Lushai, Pangkhua, Khumi, Mro and Khyang. Kuki is the Bengali term for this group and Chin is the Burmese term.

The Chin people seem to have originated in northern China, the exact area cannot be confirmed. They probably migrated from China into to Tibet and into Burma in successive waves. The largest wave was at the fall of the Chin Dynasty in about 200BC. They had settled in the Chin Hills of Burma by the 16th century.

It is also easy to understand why the indigenous people of Bandarban realise the true value of land and of nature. This approach to land and nature is demonstrated in the customary law and is far more suited to the problems of the modern world than the exploitative approach taken by governments and business.

 edited by Richie Aung

Origin & History

Reloungbwei or water-festival

The word “Marma” originates from the Burmese word “Myanma”, which means “Burmese Nationals”and is pronounced as “Marma”by the people of the CHT. In other explanation 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”.

The Marmas of CHT were migrated from ancient Burma (Myanmar). The original and ancestral land of the Marma tribe was in the ancient Pegu city of Myanmar. The people of Pegu were known as “Talaing or Tai Luang” meaning “Greater Tai”, a branch of the Great Tai race, which, according to some historians, lived in southern and central China as early as 2200 BC. Some researchers opine that the Buddhists of Arakan now known as Marmas and Maghs are the same group of people. The Marma people of CHT, however, do not like to identify themselves with Maghs. They consider that Maghs were originally pirates and that Marmas, far from being pirates, hated this occupation.

In 1599, the city of Pegu was invaded by Mahappinnagi, the brave Army Commander of the King of Arakan. They captured whole region and became under the control of Arakan Kingdom. During the Arakanese rule (1459-1666), there might have developed some settlements in south and south-eastern parts of Bengal (present Bangladesh), but these are not historically traceable. In 1614, the most population including other ethnic tribe from Pegu city came and had settled in the Arakan State of Myanmar as well as in the Chittagong district and CHT, which was then almost unpopulated. There is a history of the Marma King's rule in Chittagong district and CHT. In the 16th century they came in CHT during the reign of Bohmong King name Raja Hari Prue. At that time the Arakan King attacked Chittagong, and established it as his capital. The Arakan King sent two troops to Chittagong bestowing the title of Bohmong and Mong to the troop leaders to fight against the Mughals. These troops did not go back and eventually settled in the Chittagong and hill tract areas. The Bohmong leader came settled at Bandarban and the Mong leader entered Khagrachari and Ramgarh with his groups respectively. Since than the two leaders recognised themselves as Raja or Chief or King in their own troop or group. In the eighteenth century, many Marma people also migrated from Arakan because of political turmoil and they gradually settled in different areas of CHT, Chittagon and Patuakhai.

From other historical fact that the main Marma settlements in Bangladesh grew up with the fall of the independent Kingdom of Arakan to Burma in 1784. After the annexation, King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) of Burma let loose a reign of terror. This resulted in the migration of two-thirds of its population to south-eastern part of Bengal. The British government took measures for their rehabilitation. Captain H. Cox, a former British navy officer in Burma, was appointed as the superintendent of the Marma settlements. Cox's Bazar, now a sea resort of Bangladesh, was named after him. The grant of asylum and the depredations of Mama resulted in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-25, in which Burma was defeated and Arakan and Tenassarim were annexed to the British dominion by the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. As a result, the refugees from Arakan got a permanent foothold in the southern areas of Chittagong district. The second wave of Marma migration started from Arakan through the Matamuhuri Valley and in course of time, they spread over Bandarban. Marma call this area Bohmong Thoung ie, the residence of the Bohmong Chief. The third group entered Khagrachari from Sitakunda region and built up their permanent abode at Ramgarh. They claim to be known as “Plaung Tha” and their residence as “Plaung Thoung” meaning the abode of the “Plaung Thoung clan”. The fourth group crossing the bay of Bengal reached southern part of Greater Patuakhali (now divided into two districts, Patuakhali and Barguna) and settled down there as Rangabali, Bara Baizdiya and Aila were the principal Marma settlements.

edited by Richie Aung

Language

Shwe-Jadie(golden-pagoda)

Marmas have their own dialect, which has close resemblance with Burmese and Arakanese. Their written characters is Burmese. Marma language belongs to the Burma-Arakan group within the broad classifications of Tibet-Burma languages. In recent times, Marmas in urban areas and nearby settlements speak the corrupt local language of Chittagonian language. Counting numerals, name of the days, months and years of Marmas are similar to those of the Burmese and Arakanese. They do not have in general any rich literature of their own. Riddles, proverbs and folk tales are familiar in their society.

 

The Arakanese language (also known as Rakhine ; Burmese:  , MLCTS: rakhuin bhasa) is often considered a dialect of Burmese. "Arakan" is the former name for the Rakhine region. Arakanese can be divided into three dialects: Sittwe–Marma (about two thirds of speakers), Ramree, and Thandwe.

 

Vocabulary
There are also significant vocabulary differences from Standard Burmese. Some are native words with no cognates in Standard Burmese, like "sarong" (in Standard Burmese,  in Arakanese). Others are loan words from Bengali, English, and Hindi, not found in Standard Burmese. An example is "hospital," which is called  Standard Burmese, but is called (pronounced ) in Arakanese, from English "sick lines." Other words simply have different meanings (e.g., "afternoon",  in Arakanese and  in Standard Burmese). Moreover, some archaic words in Standard Burmese are preferred in Arakanese. An example is the first person pronoun, which is in Arakanese (not as in Standard Burmese).

 

Phonology
Arakanese prominently uses the sound, which has merged to the sound in standard Burmese.According to speakers of standard Burmese, Arakanese only has an intelligibility of seventy-five percent with Burmese. Moreover, there is less voicing in Arakanese than in Standard Burmese, occurring only when the consonant is unaspirated. Unlike in Burmese, voicing never shifts from to.

 

Because Arakanese has preserved the sound, the medial (preserved only in writing in Standard Burmese with the diacritic) is still distinguished in the following consonant clusters.

 

The Arakanese dialect has a higher frequency of open vowels weakening to . An example is the word for "salary," which is in standard Burmese, but in Arakanese the following are consonantal, vowel and rhyme changes found in the Arakanese dialect.

 

                                       edited by Richie Aung

Religion

Like the Buddhists of South and South-east Asia, Marmas are Theravada Buddhists. Written in Pali, the Tripitaka is the sacred book of Marmas. In religious matters they have been divided in two groups: the Monastic Community and the Laity. The Buddhist monks maintain celibacy, wear yellow robes called “Civara” and live in the temple, while the Laity leads a family life with wife, children and relatives.
Marmas believe that their birth, death, reincarnation and all activities in life take place under the influence of a supernatural power, which they try to satisfy through their rites and rituals. Animism is also in practice among them, like other tribes and sub-tribes, believe in superstitions, magic and supernatural powers.
They perform with great devotion, all the important Buddhist religious festivals and also various rituals and worships to satisfy different gods. Dreams have a very strong influence in decision making in their everyday life. Marmas are the second major Buddhist groups after Chagmas stock in the CHT. The Buddhist monks play an important role in the society such as, education, marriage, 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 lay disciples who stand there waiting for the monks to pass by. But in the Buddhist majority places in the CHT, such as Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachari only on big religious festivals one can see such a scene. For example, on the occasions of Buddha Purnima, Kathin Chibar Dan, Maghi Purnima, Ashari Purinima and Marma New Year Eva, one sees the monks come out in a queue to receive alms from their disciples. The New Year Eva is called “Sundrey” is their greatest community festival and is observed for three days on the occasion of Chaitra Sankranti. Everybody takes part in this festival. Young boys and girls sing songs and perform dances in groups.

The Marma Buddhist monks with their alms-bowls go by the houses of their lay disciples on the occasion of the Kathin Chibar Dan and other religious festivals. On that situation the young children lying down their face on the ground. 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. In Myanmar also practice as same.

Education:
The Buddhist monk is called “Phongyee”, Temple is “Kyong” and the village is called “Roa” in Marma language. The Phongyee play an important role for the maintenance of traditional education system in the Marma society. The Phongyee give them both spiritual and formal education in the temple. From the child-hood Marma childred receive both religious and linguistic education from their religious teacher in the temple. As a result, compared to other religious groups, the literacy rate among Marmas is very high due to the existence of Phongyee and Buddhist temple in every villages and localities. Every member of the Marma society can read and speak the Burmese fluently. Yet the system is inadequate, for which many boys and girls are found studying in normal schools and colleges in and outside their locality.

edited by Richie Aung

Festivals

Most festivals of Marmas are connected with the full moon of each month, which they call “Labray”, a Burmese word for full moon. To them the full moon is sacred and they believe that most religious events take place on the day following the night of the full moon. On this occasion, icons of Lord Buddha are worshipped with food, fruits and flowers and by lighting candles and incense sticks. The important full moons are “Kason” (in April), “Waso” (in June), “Thadingyut” (in September) and “Tabodwe”(in January). Marmas give alms to the poor, observe “Sila” (code of conduct or precept or morality) and “Samadhi or Bhavana” (meditation). Side by side with all these Buddhist practices, they worship trees and rivers. Water festival constitutes one of their popular enjoyment. Drama and dance called “Zatpwe” and “Yeinpwe” are popular entertainment. The former deals with the Buddhists lore and the life stories of ancient Buddhists kings, while the latter is equivalent to western ball dance. Due to decline in population, all these performances are rarely found in practice now. Among the Marmas musical instruments are “Saing-Waing” (circular big wooden drum), “Kye-Waing” (small wooden drum), “Pilliyee” (flute) and “Zhne” are important and all these have similarities with the musical instruments found in Burmese.

edited by Richie Aung

Traditional Dress:

Marma men usually wear “Lungi” or “Sarong” which is long skirts and shirts. Lungis made of coarse cloth and a shirt without collar but having several pockets. At the time of festivals, senior member of the society use close fitting coat called “Prakha Angyi” over the shirt buttoned at the throat; on the head they use a white kerchief known as “Goung Poung”. Some Marmas prefer “Matoray” (tattooing) for the beauty of the body. Educated sections use trousers, shirts and shoes. The common traditional dress constitute for the Marma women as “Thami” for the lower part of the body till bottom of the ankle and the “Ngyi” (blouse) wear for upper parts. To make them attractive and charming, the female keep tuft called “Chaung Tung” on the head. Sometimes, they decorate their heads with flowers and jewels. “Saloar and Kamiz” are also popular dress of young Marma girls.

Marma men also typically wear “Thami or Sarong” and a full-sleeve or half-sleeve called “Angi”. The Thami is full of colourful traditional designs. However, the Angi used by the men is more a waistcoat than a blouse. The older also love to wear a white turban called “Khobong”. Marmas make their own dresses using traditional weaving technology, although many now purchase common Bengali dresses from the market. They usually do not wear shoes, but by modern civilization the Marmas mostly using shoes and slippers.

edited by Richie Aung