The Mru: A hidden Tribe of Bangladesh.
I have spent weeks in the Bandarban district, one of the three tribal populated Chittagong Hill Tract districts, in southeastern Bangladesh. I went to meet the largest hidden Mru tribe and to also visit the most remote indigenous group of Murongs, the fourth largest hidden tribe in the area.
Their smiling and welcoming faces as well as the extraordinary hospitality of my friend’s family with whom I was living, made an ever-lasting impression upon me about this hidden tribe.
I learned from the tribe, how someone could live life and still enjoy every second of it despite the seemingly unsurmountable limitations. Without a doubt, the Mru are a very distinctive and unique people and when I took the time to get to know them and to document them, I found an exceptionally rewarding experience for myself.
I have always found that it is the people who make a place come alive and provide new completely different and unimaginable experiences for the visitor who is fortunate enough to meet them. I felt like an honored guest of these exceptional people and I would like to pay a tribute here of some of the people I encountered by sharing their unconventional lives and photographs with you.
The solitary, independent and peace-loving Mru people have lived in the Hill Tract of southeastern Bangladesh and western Burma for centuries – their small population being split almost in half by the border. Many scholars believe them to be the original inhabitants of the region. Mru prefer to live on the remote hilltops; even away from other hill tribes. Their villages are easily distinguished by sacred bamboo totems, presided over by guardian spirits.
The Mru people are also known as the as Mro or Murong. The Mru people introduce themselves as Mro-cha. The word ‘Mro’ means ‘man’ and ‘cha’ stands for ‘being’.
They have Mongoloid features but are tall and strong with dark complexions. They are peaceful and timid. Physically, they closely resemble the Semang of Malaysia.
Mru are very egalitarian and have no castes and few hereditary positions. They are extremely non-confrontational and take pride in being patient and peaceful. Each household has an equal voice in all village affairs. They are one of the few indigenous peoples who have staunchly retained their own unique culture, rituals and beliefs. With no functional leadership or hierarchies, this lack of higher-level social organization makes it difficult from them to avail of, or cooperate in joint efforts for ‘development’ or cultural preservation. Thus, they are one of the least ‘modern’ of all the hill tribes, consciously preserving their distinct lifestyle. Mru are especially known for their mystical music, ascetic dress, exotic appearance and long, flower-adorned hair kept in topknots. Curiously, mru have no sense of being ‘tribal’ as do other indigenous peoples. They consider themselves just ordinary floks. Mru value their independence above all else, just desiring to pursue a traditional lifestyle free from domination or exploitation.
The Mru are a very poor people. Although they inhabit a region that is rich in lumber and hydroelectric potential, the villagers lack the technology and knowledge to improve their economic conditions.
But the Mru excuse their poverty because they believe that Torai (the god) intended them to live this way. At the same time, they pride themselves in their self-sufficiency.
The Mro society is patriarchal. Although the father is the head of the family, women play a dominant role in social life. They depend mainly on hunting but many of them are engaged in Jhum cultivation.
In addition to farming, many of the Mru men are skilled in producing bamboo items. Mru women are especially fond of wearing jewelry and other ornaments made by local craftsmen. Most Murongs are Buddhists although some are Christian converts.