Bangladesh is well known for its diversity of cultures, races, ethnicity, languages, and rituals. Due to the socio-political clashes and disagreements between Bengalis and other ethnic communities, the history of our ethnic community is not very pleasant to tale, so the history of Santals-one of the oldest ethnic community of Bangladesh with a population of 300000 approximately. Their origin is not certain, some say that they are pre-Dravidian, some argue they are proto Australoid. The Santals belong to the Austro-Asiatic group and speak Mundari. Currently, they mostly speak Bangla to communicate with outsiders. Since they are one of the most ancient ethnic communities of this geographical area, it is not well known when they first landed in this territory but it’s precise that it was not after 1000 BC. The Santals came to Bangladesh and settled in Barind during the British colonial rule (1765-1947). They live mainly in the northwestern part of the Barind area of Bangladesh.  The Santals are divided into 11 clans with certain taboos for example the baske are forbidden to eat sun-dried rice, besra is forbidden to kill cows, hemborn are forbidden to eat sole fish, and so on. The Santal clans are exogamous but the community is endogamous. When it comes to their marriage pattern they follow certain rituals and they have different types of marriages like tunki dipil bapla-marriage of the poor man, radni bapla –the marriage of widow or widower, etc. The staple food of Santal is rice which they make from their own toasted paddy. Their unique drink is Haria (rice beer) which is popular in their community for its cultural and ritualistic demand. Their traditional dress is nengti (men) and kapas (women). They make small houses with mud, wood, bamboo, or iron sheet. The head of the village is called manji harem who runs the gram panchayat-their administrative or political organization which is made of 7 members with separate responsibilities. They are patriarchal in their social structure. By nature, Santals are simple and unsophisticated people. By religious belief the Santals are animist, they have their own mythology which says all the Santals are derived from pilcu haram and pilcu budhi. Some of them practice Hindu tradition but a huge number of Santals are now converting to Christianism under the rule of missionaries. The Santals were mainly agriculturists but in course of time, they lost their own land and became dependent on Bengali Muslim majorities for their livelihood. The per capita cultivable land of Santal is 11.88 decimals and the average earning of household head per day is 1.5 US dollars. This extreme poverty and state of landlessness made them even vulnerable and put their culture and language at stake. Culturally and linguistically the Santals are very rich. According to N. Prasad, “Santali is the richest dialect among all the tribal dialects of Bihar.” From the very beginning, there was barely any written document of rich Santal folklores and knowledge and nobody ever cared. The Santal children today can’t speak their own language rather they use Bengali and their language is almost at its extinction.  The Santals practice different festivals all across the year like sohrae porob which is a harvesting festival, mokorsim- a festival for hunting and ancestral worship, eroksim- the festival of sowing paddy, jomsim, pata pobrob, chata porob, and so on. Due to the changing socioeconomic condition, the festivals are disappearing from the community because most of the time they are running out of money and time to arrange such festivals. Instead, they follow the Christian and Hindu traditions of the local minorities and attend their festivals. There have been many reasons identified for such marginalization and vulnerability of Santals following the partition of Bengal in 1947, the abolition of the Zamindary act in 1950, the communal uprising in 1962, the subsequent factors after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, and most importantly the tricky deeds of Bengali Muslim majority who oppressed the Santals in every possible way like payment deprivation, occupying their lands, physical abuse, rape and isolation them from the society, etc. . ‘considering everything it can feel like their literature and culture is on the verge of extinction. Proper documentation of existing folklore, rituals, and language can be beneficial for both the state to have a record of its rich cultural diversity and the betterment of the community.

Recommended reading list

Islam, Md. Rafiul,2017, Santals and Oraons of Bangladesh: a study of changing economic life of ethnic communities in the Barind region: Hawladar Prakashoni, Banglabazar, Dhaka 1100