The Arts and Cultural Identity among the Chakma: Indigenous People in Bangladesh

By Arshi Dewan Roy and Aditya Kumar Dewan.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper examines the connection between the arts and the construction of cultural identity among the Chakma indigenous people who live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of the southeastern part of Bangladesh. The Chakma indigenous people, about 500,000, are distinct in respect to language, culture, religion and ethnicity from the majority Bengali population of Bangladesh. They follow Theravada Buddhism and traditionally practice slash and burn agriculture. Two types of artistic productions among the Chakma that have particular cultural and ethnic significance in their society are bain (hand-woven textiles) and bamboo handicrafts. Due to cultural, social and political changes in the region since the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, the arts and crafts of the Chakma people have lost much of their importance. The large-scale adoption of Bengali culture and modernization caused many to abandon traditional crafts in favour of ready-made mass produced products. This research examines the socio-cultural changes that led to the decline in traditional crafts as well as the current revival of crafts that promote and celebrate indigenous heritage like traditional woven textiles.

Keywords: Indigenous Arts, Cultural and Ethnic Identity, Chakma Indigenous Peoples, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.293-302. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 592.513KB).

Arshi Dewan Roy

Doctoral Candidate, Faculty of Education, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Arshi Dewan Roy is a doctoral candidate in the faculty of Education at York University. Her current research focuses on indigenous language maintenance among the Chakma people from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh. Her M.A. research at Concordia University was on the traditional woven textiles and their cultural significance for the women in the CHT. She is the contributor of the article, “Ethnic dress and jewelry of hill tribes of Chittagong” in the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. As a member of the Chakma community, she returned to Bangladesh many times in recent years to conduct research on language, culture and identity of the indigenous peoples living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Dr. Aditya Kumar Dewan

Faculty, Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dr. Aditya Kumar Dewan is an anthropololgist who grew up in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. His Ph.D. Thesis from McGill University deals with Class and Ethnicity in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. He is one of the co-author of the book, “The Chittagong Hill Tracts, Living in a Borderland”. This book is an introduction of the Chittagong Hill Tracts on the basis of photographs of what life there was like from the 1860’s to the 1970’s. Also, he has written on various issues of the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. At present he teaches at Concordia University and Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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