The Bawms are a tiny ethnic community living in the CHT. They are called in different name by different authors like Boun-jus and Bounjwes (Phayre 1845); Banjugee (Macrea 1801); Banjogis or Banjugie (Barbe); Banjoos (Barbe 1845); Banzu (Buchanan 1798); Bawm, Bawm-Zo (Lorrain 1940); Bom-zou (Loffler 1949); Bonzogi and Bom (Sopher 1964); Bom-Laejo and Bom (Bernots); Bawm (Wolfgang Mey 1960) etc. (Bawm Literature Forum2004).
The word 'Bawm' means bondage or tie. The name of Bawm has two historical meanings, of which the first one is union/united/join together/sharing/combined while the second one is basket, pocket, bag etc. However, the name of tribe or human race could not seem to bear a material name. In the past, people of tiny communities whose living standard, customs and culture, rites and rituals, dancing and singing, etc, were the same, identified them as Bawm. In these way these collective communities came to be known as Bawm (Bawm 2007). The Marmas and Arakanese of the Bandarban district call the Bawms Langi or Langay (Banglapedia 2008).
Ethnically, they belong to the Mongolian stock. They look like the Chakmas and the Marmas. The physical shape of the Bawm is similar to that of the longer ethnic Mongoloid community. Their nose is snub, and they have few beards and moustaches, their eye is black and hardworking in nature. This community is divided into two groups (Clan) such as: Suntala and Punghoi and these two are subdivided in to many subclans. The chakmas and Tanchanya describe the Bawm 'Kooki' till today.
Originally the Bawm community has their own language originally. Every Bawm can speak their own mother tongue. They have a primary book since 1952 founded by Mr. L. Dolian. Nowadays, it has developed and published by Tribal Cultural Institute with Bangla translation. About 99% of the Bawm people can read and write in their own script (Bawm Literature Forum 2004).
Recently they have started using Roman alphabet. They communicate with and write to the people of same language community in their own words. The use of the Bawm language is not only limited to the community. It is also used by people of various areas of mijoram states in India, and also people from the clun Hill of Myanmar (Bawm 2007).
Christian missionaries have been propagating Christianity among the Bawms since the middle of the 19th century (Khan 2008; Banglapedia). The Bawms have accepted Christianity in 1918 and all of them are Christians now. They are very strong in their beliefs. But they had been animists before. They used to believe in supernatural and worship trees, rivers, caves, steams etc. By sacrificing animals they would seek wealth and prosperity, blessing and sound health, speedy recovery of illness from evil spirits. However, with the coming of Christianity, they have abandoned all sorts of those religious practices (Bawm Literature Forum2004).
Usually they wears clothes weaved by their waist loom. Girls wear Karchai (a dress like shirt ) and tie a piece of cloth on the chest. The women wear nufen a decorated dress made of thick cloth and worn from waist to knee. Bawm men wear laikor and rentak, both made by waist loom.
At present the Bawms live in 70 villages in Ruma, Thanchi, Roangchari, and Sadar upazillas of Bandarban, and in Bilaichari of Rangamati. According to the census of 1991 the figure of Bawm population in Bangladesh is 6978 and the family size is 1349 (Bawm 2007; Banglapedia 2008). The actual number of Bawm is over 20,000 (twenty thousand) at present, according to census taken by the Bawm Social Council in 1998 (Bawm Literature Forum2004).
Bawm society is patriarchal. Father is the head of the family and the children carry down the father's family lineage. They have a social infrastructure that regulates their code of conduct and dictates the mode of arbitration when settling up social problems.
They are very rich in culture. This society does gala ceremony in their marriage. When a man reaches marriageable age, he can let his parents know about his intention of getting married by some one else even if he feels shy to approach his parents directly. The parents then visit the residence of chosen bride with a marriage proposal. Wine is common in all the ceremony of marriage. Since the ancient time Bawms have celebrated the New Yeasi Eve, New Year and Nobanya, Now they celebrate all the religious festive followed by the Christian and Christmas is their main festival. They had been using their traditional culture before accepting Christianity.
Nowadays, the young generation has renewed their traditional culture trying to preserve it as it is the most relevant identity of the nation as well as the community. Nowadays, the Bawm people are aware of their traditional culture and modifying it. They have different kind of traditional songs and dances which had been using occasionally since the time immemorial. A significant element in Bawm culture is the bamboo dance. It is performed only when there is a tragedy in the family, especially in the case of an unnatural death. Through this dance Bawms console their families.
Bawms like to have fish and meat with rice. They cook various types of curry. There are many types of fruits that they have, Pineapple, mango, banana, papaya, apricot etc. are the most common. The most delectable food item in the hilly area is the young shoot of bamboo plants which they usually eat as an alternative of rice during the time of food scarcity. Young pulp of wild palm tree, young pulp of cane, the spathe of a banana tree before shooting from the stem and the care of the banana are some of their dishes.
Jhum cultivation is the main way of their living. They have particular method of practicing Jhum on the slope of hills. They produce rice, maize, pepper, beans, kakrol, turmeric, ginger, marfa, cucumber and similar other vegetables. They also produce pineapple, banana, papaya, almond, esculent root, arum, orange etc. Their conversion to the Christianity also brought a big change in their life style, which has a bearing upon their profession as they have taken to other economic careers.
Return from the Bawms to Ethnobotany Database Homepage