Brief history about the Chakmas
Who are the Chakmas? There's a lot of debate amongst the scholars about the origin of this ethnic group. The cultural and linguistic affinity of the Chakmas are still debated and a conclusive decision hasn't been made as yet. Many theories with regard to their origin have been put forward. Many Chakma and non-Chakma writers like Biraj Mahon Dewan, Capt. T.H. Lewin, have written about the origin and lifestyle of this ethnic group. Capt. T.H. Lewin, the then Deputy Commissioner of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, also mentioned briefly about the origin of the Chakmas in his book, “The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the dwellers therein". He spelt the name as Chukma, Tsakma, or Tsak.
The majority of the Chakmas are followers of Buddhism mixed with Animism, and some of them have embraced Christianity as well as Hinduism. Majority of this ethnic community is present in the Indo-Bangla sub-continent residing mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of present day Eastern Bangladesh. Many of the Chakmas have even settled in parts of Tripura, Mizoram, Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh with some even residin g in Arakan in Myanmar. After the Karnafuli Hydro electric dam in the 1960's and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, a large number of Chakma population migrated to India, Burma, Australia, Europe and North America.
The origin of the Chakmas is obscure and is very difficult to locate their origin due to paucity of historical evidence. Animesh Ray opines that the Chakmas came from Champa in Cambodia. According to R.H.S.Hutchinson, the Chakmas are the offspring of the union between the Moghul soldiers and the Arakanese women. It is a deniable theory since the existence of the Chakmas can be traced back to the Arakan region before the establishment of the Mughal rule in India. He further states that the Chakmas are undoubtedly Arakanese origin. Besides, there is another theory that the Chakmas belong to the eastern group of Indo-Aryan family.
From the above discussion, we can derive four theories regarding the origin of the Chakmas:
Cambodian and Malay Origin theory,
Mixed origin theory,
Arakan origin theory and
Indian origin theory
Society: The family system of the Chakmas is patriarchal. But there are some families where the widow leads the family if the male members are still minor. The families of the Chakmas are mostly monogamous in nature. Widows are permitted to remarry in the society. The succession of head of the family is restricted mainly to male members. After the expiry of the head of the family, the eldest male kin of the deceased becomes the head.
The Chakmas do not believe in the caste system. They are divided into three major groups viz. Anokya Chakma, Tongchongya Chakma and the Doinakya Chakma. The Anokya Chakmas are the main group of the Chakmas living in Chittagong of Bangladesh, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Assam of India. The Arakanese called the Chittagong area of Bangladesh as Anok and the dwellers of Anok area known as Anokya. The Tongchongya Chakmas are the second group of the Chakmas living in Bangladesh, Arakan, Tripura and Mizoram. They first settled on the bank of the Toingang River to join with the mainstream Chakmas. The dwellers of Toingang are known as Toingangya and from Toingangya to Tonchongya or Tontongya. The Doinakya Chakmas are the third group of the Chakmas living in Arakan. They are descendents of those 10,000 soldiers who were made slaves by King Minthi and settled them at the Yangkong place. They were renamed as Doinnak and allowed to marry with the local girls. Here Doinnak means shield holder or warrior in Burmese language.
The Social Organization of the Chakmas
The social organization of the Chakmas is composed of numerous lineage (Guttee) and clans (Goja). Each lineage and clan has a hereditary chief, who are variously known as Dewan, Talukdar and Khisa. The Chakmas also have a hereditary King known as the "Chakma Raja". The present Chakma King is Raja Debashis Roy. According to Dr. Aditya Kumar Dewan, there are about one hundred and thirty three Guttees and thirty one Gozas now known to the Chakmas. Originally, the Chakmas had only four Guttees by the name of Dhujya, Kurjya, Dhabana and Pirabhanga.
The Chakmas were ardent followers of a creator-god called 'Gojen' Gojeno Lāmā. However, with the passage of time and the change of geographical locations of settlements; today, the percentage of Chakma Christians is about 6%, from the approximate Global Chakma population of around six hundred thousand wherein majority of the Chakmas are Buddhists by faith. The census figure do not indicate precisely the number of Chakma Buddhists in Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Not much is known about the number of Chakma Buddhists in Myanmar and Bangladesh either. According to the basis of information given by the Buddhist monks and based on field studies it may be estimated that 85% of Chakmas follow Buddhism today, with it being often practiced in a mixed form with the amalgamation of 'Animism'. Therefore, the sacrifice of animals to the demi-god's and godesses are being practiced by the majority Chakmas who follow Buddhism.
Food and diet
The staple food of the Chakmas is rice. In addition to rice, the other foods include Moikya (maize), Haun (millets), Hesh biji (grain), Jedena (barley), Bini chol (sticky rice). However, different food items are consumed between meals. One of the important traditional food items of the Chakmas is Pidhe (rice cakes). There are various types of Pidhe which are made with rice flour, sugar, coconut, banana etc. Also, the Chakmas consume different types of nuts, potatoes, yams and fruits in their diet; Pile-Gulo (a kind of oily fruit) groundnuts, Simēi ālu (Tapioca), juro ālu (a kind of potato that is eaten raw) etc. Apart from these, their diet consists of different kinds of meat and vegetables. Chakmas also brew their own beverages called mad (pronounced as mod) as well as different types of beers (called Hānji and Jagarā) produced from different types of rice, fruits etc.
Dress and Ornaments
The Chakma womenfolk are skilled weavers. They are known for weaving their traditional dresses in their traditional handloom called Bein. S.P.Talukdar, a retired Assam Civil Service officer who was also an engineer in the Indian Merchant Navy writes, ‘The Chakma women folk are the real custodian of maintaining the customary and traditional dresses of the Chakmas’. Though the modern fancy dresses influenced the Chakmas, yet the woman folk make their own traditional dresses called Pinon and Khadi and use them extensively in their daily life. They artistically design their dresses from their traditional flower pattern called Aalam. They use a variety of ornaments, usually made of ivory, bronze, silver and gold. Some of the ornaments are quite distinct from other ethnic groups and this is well attested that they have their traditional ornaments.
Rites and Festivals
There are many rites and festivals performed by the Chakmas throughout the year. Further, they perform rites and festivals starting from birth to death. The rites and festivals can broadly be divided into two groups- 1) social and customary and 2) religious. Some of the social and customary rites and festivals involves animal scarifies which indicates animism. Amongst the social and customary rites and festivals, the Bizu festival is the most important festival of the Chakmas. It is celebrated for three days starting from 12th April to 14th April every year. The other rites are related to birth, death, marriage, agriculture, etc. The religious rites and festivals related to Buddhism. It includes observation of full moon days called Purnima, Ashta Porikkar Dan, Katin Chibor Dan, Bhaba or Byuha Chakra, Mangal Suttra or Parek, etc.
Christianity among the Chakmas
When, how and why the Chakmas embraced Christianity?
We do not know the first Christian Missionary who brought Christianity among the Chakmas. So far as our investigation is concerned, the Baptist Missionary Society of Great Britain claims pioneership to the Chakmas. Rev. George Hughes, an in-charge of Chittagong Hill Tracts and Arakan Hill Tracts, stationed at Rangamati, the capital of Chakma king, mentioned that the first Chakma converts from Buddhism to Christianity were Sonaram Chakma and Chondrojoy Chakma. The Annual report of Rev. George Hughes stated that he visited Lunglei in the year 1901 with Sonaram Chakma and Kalaphru Magh. He further recorded that 19 Chakmas were baptized around Rangamati. We have collected the detail position of Chakma Baptist Christians in Mizoram. Due to the time limit, up to date detail information cannot be had from Bangladesh and Tripura.
It would be very interesting to investigate why, how and when the Chakmas embrace Christianity. Infact, majority of the Chakmas claim to accept Buddhism as their main religion. Buddhism is, of course a great religion having excellent moral, ethical and spiritual teachings.
Why The Chakmas Were Converted to Christianity
Many educated Chakmas studied the faith and religious practices of Buddhism and Christianity as exhaustively as they could. The concept of salvation(Nirvana) in Buddhism is action oriented hard to achieve in one’s life time. In Buddhism there is no forgiveness of salvation, where in Christianity forgiveness of sin has been provided by faith and by grace through Jesus Christ. Buddhism is failed to answer some philosophical and theological question about the origin of humanity. Even Gautama Buddha denied the existence of God. But in Christianity the creation story clearly provides the answer of all the philosophical question concerning the origin of everything. Moreover the concept of God is found in many chakma written literature and in oral tradition. They called God as Gojen, not only that many Chakmas worship and give reverence to many Hindu god and goddess and fearfully surrender themselves unknowingly and naturally under some supernatural power, which led them to convert into Christianity.
1. Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ:
Gautama (566 – 486 BC) was not satisfied with the idea of his contemporary thinkers. He taught that the two extremes of life – pleasant and sufferings – are to be avoided and that the middle course should be followed as the ideal. His teachings are good and acceptable to some extent. He focused on the idea of knowing and regarding reality as they are. Hardships and pleasures are the nature of the world. That is one of the significant points of Buddhism.
The reasons which make the world of misery are:
All things are selfless and egoless.
All things are impermanent.
Therefore, the teachings of Buddha brought forward his ideal Nirvana which means extinction of space and time conditions. Analytically his teachings are ‘a world of perfect freedom, selflessness and impermanence. It rejects racism and caste system but encourages Arya (sole life).
Goutama Buddha never claim to be God or as a savior of the humanity. Rather he introduced himself as guru or teacher. On the other hand Jesus Christ he himself claimed his deity and only way to heaven(John.14:6). Jesus Christ is the visible form of the invisible God(Jn.1:14).
The Present Crisis of the Chakmas
The spirit of liberation is very much prevalent in every Chakmas mind. To know the reason we need to trace back the historical event that took place with the chakmas of Chittagong Hill Tract. As we know from various historical record that the original home land of the chakmas is Chittagong Hill Tracts, in present Bangladesh. And the kingdom of the chakmas has been flourishing and exercising it’s own self administrative power since the pre-British period. All the historical event that happened there, provides sufficient evidence that the independence of India cause it to sink the political fate of the chakmas due to the inclusion of Chittagong Hill Tracts with Pakistan and construction of Kaptai Hydro Electric Project on Karnaphuli river, which flooded 1036 kilometers of Chakmas ancestral land. And due to this reason more than one lakh chakma became homeless and landless and thousands of people fled to India and Myanmar, which took place around 1962-64 A.D, and our old people named it 'Bar Parang', the great Exodus. And the majority of those who migrated to India were settled in Arunachal Pradesh by the Indian Government. However, because of the political discrimination and some existing communal tension among the local tribe, till today the large number of chakmas are living as refugees. During all these year, the Chakmas are facing hostility from the natives of Arunachal Pradesh. While the central government has expressed its firm determination to grant citizenship to the chakmas, the state government does not view citizenship to be an issue at all.
The Present Crisis of CHT Chakmas
On the other side, the Chakmas who are remained in their home land, almost every day they are facing various discrimination and political pressure by the dominating majority Muslim community. They feel very much unsecure and hopelessness in their birth place. Human right violation, land grabbing by the Muslim Bengali, military infiltration in the name of security and communal tension between the Tribal and Muslim Bengali community has becomes a common phenomena in CHT.
After two decade of guerilla war, finally a peace Accord was sign between Bangladesh Govt. and PJSS, on 2nd December, 1997, which provided some kind of limited self rule. But, the Jumma political leadership failed to achieve the desired political goals. The lake of diplomatic skills, lack of comprehensive and diversified knowledge to understand the dynamic nature of international politics, international humanitarian laws, and lack of political dynamism in the Jumma political leadership were the principal factor for the failure of the CHT political movement to attain their desired political goals.
At present the Rohingga refugee crisis in CHT and the foreigner issues in Mizoram as well as in Arunachal Pradesh has snatched away the peaceful sleeping of the Chakma community. The Chakma community as a whole is in the stage of decaying, social, political and moral decadence are vividly seen at present, their survival issu has become a common phenomena globaly. The spirit of political, social and spiritual liberation is crying almost in every heart of this ethnic community.
In relation to their present crisis that they are facing everywhere right now, has been identified and assumed by some research scholar and thinker that, the present crisis of the chakma community is not only a political, but also a theological phenomena. The Chakma community has forsaken their ancestral God, they called "Gojen", and turned to idol worship. The oral history says taht the Chakma queen Kalindi Rani has rejected the good news about that creator God, and encouraged and commanded her subjects to embrace idol worship. According to many theologian by doing so she has committed a great sin, which is consider as a national sin, against Gojen. And she has broken the first and second commandment of God which is found in the book of Exodus 20:3-4 "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." This could be the main reason that God has taken away His support from this ethnic community, and became so upset with this community. But God has also given some condition to restore His broken relatioship with this ethnic community, to whom He has created to love them and to be their God of liberation. He said in the book of 2 Chronicles 7:14- "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."(NIV).