Introduction / History
Most of the Bengali groups are easily defined by their common language, Bengali. However, there are several smaller tribes who are also referred to as Bengali, but speak languages other than Bengali. Their languages belong to the Assamese-Bengali sub-group of the Indo-Aryan language family and include these groups: the Hajong and Kishanganjia of India, the Hajong and Tajpuri of Bangladesh, and the Rajbansi and Kayort of Nepal.
The Hajong originated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, and then migrated north. Today, most of them live in east central Bangladesh, primarily in the northern part of the Mymensingh district, which lies on the southern slopes of the Garo Hills. From there, some immigrated into India and now live in the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Arunachal Pradesh. Unfortunately, many of those who now live in Arunachal Pradesh are in danger of being evicted, even though they have been settled there for 30 years. The Tajpuri live in the plains of Rangpur, which is located in northern Bangladesh near the border of India.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Bengali who live in India and Bangladesh are involved in some type of farming. Wet rice is their primary crop, and wheat and potatoes have also recently been added. Some have remarkable skills in weaving and embroidery. They make items that are traded in the weekly markets.
Muslim invaders began conquering the Hindu regions of Bangladesh in the twelfth century. When many of the Bengali tribes were overrun in 1600-1700 A.D. by Muslims, they took refuge in the hills. They later returned and settled in the adjoining plains where most have continued to live.
The "clan system" was formerly unknown to the tribal Bengali communities. However, when these tribes embraced Hinduism, they accepted the twelve clans associated with the Hindu castes.
The various Bengali tribes, like most other people groups of South Asia, have a clear division of labor. Regardless of a family's occupational specialty, the men perform various work that take place outside of the home, while the women are responsible for the tasks that can be performed inside the home. Among these tribes, land has always been individually owned. Small family farms, usually about one hectare in size (about 2.5 acres), are often sub-divided.
Most marriages in Bengali society are arranged. However, there are marked differences between the Hindu and Muslim wedding ceremonies. When mates are being chosen, caste and social rank are very important considerations. In rural areas, married couples almost always live with or near the groom's parents. The only exception to this practice is among the Tajpuri and even they are gradually conforming. Most of the tribal Bengali communities have special dormitories where single young men live. This "house" is also used as a meeting place for the village elders.
The racial origin of the Tajpuri is surrounded by much controversy. Although they claim to be the descendants of great kings, they belong to a matriarchal (female-dominated) society.
What are their beliefs?
In general, the various Bengali tribes are "Hinduized" religionists. Although they have adopted the Hindu caste system and the worship of millions of Hindu gods, they also continue to practice their ethnic religions. Only one Bengali tribe, the Tajpuri of Bangladesh, has a considerable number of Muslims. Nevertheless, they too, practice some of their ethnic beliefs alongside Islam.
The Bengali's tribal religions are based on the belief in a variety of village and household gods. The people also believe in life after death. Village elders are responsible for conducting the religious ceremonies.
Like other tribal groups, the Bengali are animists, believing that the spirits of the gods live inside the mountains, the rivers, and the forests. Therefore, many objects in nature are worshipped. However, as they are becoming more and more educated, many are coming out of their world of folk beliefs, animism and magic.
What are their needs?
At the present time, their greatest need is to have the Gospel in their own language. Perhaps the second greatest need is for better education.
Because most of the tribal Bengali are Hindu, they have been subject to much persecution and religious conflict. The groups living in Bangladesh comprise only a minority of the population, and have also experienced great rejection and religious persecution. Those in India are viewed as refugees and are therefore treated as outcasts. These groups need to know the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ.
Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send forth missionaries to live among the Bengali tribes.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
Pray that the small number of Bengali Christians will be a light for the Gospel.
Ask God to raise up Christian school teachers to take the Gospel to these tribes.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong fellowships of believers among the tribal Bengalis.