Marma people

Marma people
For other uses see Marma(disambiguation).
The Marmas
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Majority populations in Bangladesh and Burma. In Bangladesh the Marmas reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area.

Arakanese language


Theravada Buddhism

The Marma also known as Magh or Mog are Arakanese descendants inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh since the Arakan kingdom period in the 16th century AD. In the late 20th century, their population stood at over 210,000. Ethnically related to the Myanmar, they are largely followers of Theravada Buddhism. They are the second largest ethnic minority group in Bangladesh. Most Marmas live in the three hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari. The headquarter of the Raja or Chief of the Marma society is located at Bandarban, CHT. Marmas speak Arakanese dialect and their language is written in Burmese characters. Marma language belongs to the Burmano-Arakan group within the broad classifications of Tibeto-Burman languages. In recent times, Marmas in urban areas and nearby settlements speak the corrupt local language of Chittagongnian.

The word Marma, an archaic Arakanese pronunciation, originates from the Burmese word Myanmar, which means 'Burmese nationals'. The ancestors of the rulers Rajas (Chief or Boh Mong/ Bohmong) of the Marma population used to live in Pegu (modern Bago) city of Burma (Myanmar) long before it was invaded in 1599 by King Mong Raja Gree of Arakan kingdom, where Mrauk U was the capital city. After the victory, the Arakanese king appointed the nobles from Pegu to rule in newly established circle of Boh Mong Htaung in CHT, by giving the title of "Bohmong/ Boh Mong". The entire population of the circles were Arakanese; and the subordinate rulers to the Arakanese king, were Burmese descendants who called themselves "Marma" in the Arakanese language. There is one point to note that although the chiefs were the Burmese lineage, they did not call their population group of CHT in the Burmese language as "Myanmar", but they call it in Arakanese as "Marma".

The first ruler of Boh Mong circle was Mong Saw Pru who was the son of King Nanda Bayin of Pegu, Burma. The Boh Mong/ Bohmong Rajas, the sub-ordinate rulers to the Arakanese kings, who have been ruling the circle since the time of Arakanese kings are as follows. Although the Rajas are the descendants of the Burmese, they speak Arakanese dialect and they took the Arakanese names.

  1. Mong Saw Pru 1599-1631
  2. Son Men Rai Phroo
  3. Son Hari Phroo 1665-87
  4. Nephew Hari Gneo 1687-1727
  5. Grandson Koung Hla Phroo 1727-1811
  6. Son Sathun Pru 1811-40
  7. Nephew Kong Hla Gneo-1840-66
  8. Cousin in Mong Phroo 1866-75
  9. Sana yeo-1875-1901
  10. Nephew Chow Hla Pru – 1901-23
  11. Cousin Mong Chow Gneo- 1916-23
  12. Cousin Kyaw Zan Phroo – 1923-33
  13. Son Kyaw Zaw San 1933-53
  14. Brother Maung Shwe Pru- 1959-
  15. Aung Shwe Pru (currently ruling).

Under the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation of 1900, the British Government of India recognizes three hereditary traditional rulers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT): the Mong Raja in Khagrachari, the Chakma Raja in Rangamati and the Bohmong Raja in Bandarban who were the vessels to Arakan in the past. The Rajas, also known as circle chiefs, nowadays, exercise limited judicial authority, have responsibility for collection of land taxes in their respective territories and also exercise certain ceremonial roles. The Boh Mong/ Bohmong Raja is the ruler of the Marma society.


The houses of Marma people are made of bamboo, wild grass and straw. These are built on elevated bamboo or wooden platforms (machang). Every room of the house is a bed room-cum-store. The space underneath the machang is used for various purposes such as keeping livestock, storing fuel wood, or accommodating handlooms for weaving. Some houses, however, are made of mud and built without machangs. Rice and boiled vegetables are major food items of the Marma people. 'Ngappi' a paste of dried fish, is a favourite. They enjoy rice bear and smoke indigenous cigars.

Marma men and women typically wear 'thami' (sarong) and 'angi' (blouse). However, the angi used by the men is more a waistcoat than a blouse. Marmas make their own dresses using traditional weaving technology, although many now purchase common Bangali dresses from the market. They usually do not wear shoes, but this tradition, too is not in vogue now thanks to increased association with other peoples. Kitchen utensils in a Marma family are mostly earthen or made of bamboo and wood. Many families, however, use aluminum wares like pots, pans, plates and glasses.

The nuclear family is predominant in the Marma community. Although the husband is the head of the household, the wife also has a significant role in the family. KINSHIP ties are quite strong in the Marma society. Such ties are both affinal and consanguineous. The property inheritance, in general, follows the old Burmese line of inheritance called Thamohada. Both sons and daughters inherit parental properties. The 'auroth' (most favourite) child gets the ownership of the house and has to take care of the parents. In recent times, however, inheritance of landed property follows a rule according to which the property is distributed in the ratio of 2:1 between sons and daughters.

Agriculture is the main occupation of Marmas. Jhum cultivation is their primary agricultural pursuit. They also supplement their food requirement by gathering tree leaves, roots, and tubers from hill forests. Small-scale homestead gardening is also common among them. Other important economic activities of Marmas include basketry, brewing and wage labor. Weaving is a very common activity of Marma women. Marmas were not market oriented in the past. Their economic activities and production system were geared to their subsistence. Only recently have they become involved in trade and commerce. Products of the Marma people are sold mostly through middlemen. Some Marma families now operate small retail stores.

The traditional political administrative system in the Marma community is a three-tier one. Village level administration is headed by a karbari. The mouza level is headed by a headman and the circle level is headed by the circle chief Raja. The Rajas are the subordinates of the Arakanese king since 16th century. The main responsibilities of the village karbari, the mouza headman, and the circle chief are collection of jhum tax. In addition, each is entrusted with various socio-cultural responsibilities including mitigation of disputes, pronouncing judgements, and maintaining law and order at their respective levels of administration.


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