A Northern Bangladesh Santal Wedding

Santals are, along with the Garo and Chakma, one of the biggest of the thirty or so tribes living in Bangladesh. In India and surrounding countries they add up to around six million. In Bangladesh they number around two hundred thousand.

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Many follow tribal, animistic or Hindu-based religions but a good number are Christian. It was the Christian (mostly Catholic) missionaries during the Colonial period who actually gave the Santals an alphabet to write with. Before that, Santali was entirely an orally transmitted language. Bizarrely, this means I can read this difficult language more easily than I can Bangla as the alphabet used is Roman rather than Sanskrit-influenced. Conversely, Santals pick up English pretty well.

In the Dinajpur area where we live, close to the border of the West Bengal part of India, there are many Santals. It’s no surprise then that most of my close friends are Santals and we’ve been to many Santal weddings over the last five years. My own adopted daughter is Santali and it still breaks my heart that she lives far away now, two years after her wedding. I miss her.

“…all the guests…chase each other with the yellow stuff…”

Recently, we went to another Santal wedding and, after the cross-cultural one I shared with you recently, I thought I would write it up as a post here to serve as a contrast.

The day started with the wedding in the Church building in the LAMB compound – an hour later than it was supposed to start! This is typically Bengladeshi and I didn’t even get changed into nicer clothes until over half an hour later when Thing II popped out and told me “people were beginning to turn up”!

After the service many went on to the bhoj, the feast, but we were invited to the bou bhat, the feast that happens the next day. With the infamous gaye holud (literally yellow body)- where the bride is smeared in turmeric paste by all the guests who then go on to chase each other with the yellow stuff – the night before, weddings are never a one-day affair here!

The next day, we went to the bou bhat and paid respects to the newly married couple before being led to a tent to eat our meal. In the main area the couple sat, while musicians play all day long – and all night! These events are wonderful to attend. Everyone dances, everyone has fun. If you’ve only ever been to a Western-style wedding you just can’t imagine how it is and if you ever get the chance to visit Bangladesh try to get yourself invited to a wedding. You have to experience it.

Father and daughter eagerly awaiting our curry!

Father and daughter eagerly awaiting our curry!

“it is good to be able to take a moment to rejoice with others over a new life”

We finished our meal and, eventually, headed home to get out of the heat and out of nice – but hot – clothes. Before we managed though, a good Santal friend came round wanting to photo with her and Thing I. I’ve included it here because it happened on the same day. Another thing you get used to with Bangladeshis is that your door is always open, at any time, to guests. You never know when someone will just pop round to visit. Likewise, you can pop round to them any time you like and usually expect to be well treated and even better fed.

Well away from the horrors of Savar and the troubles of Shahbhag (but, in this poor and under-developed area, never far from misery and pain of other sorts) it is good to be able to take a moment to rejoice with others over a new life for two young people and the hope that every wedding should bring.

Thing I and a very good friend of mine

Thing I and a very good Santal friend of mine

 

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About D K Powell

British freelance writer, editor, musician, educational consultant and all round good egg I hope! I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for five years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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5 Responses to A Northern Bangladesh Santal Wedding

  1. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 20 – Farewell to School and Goat giving | kenthinksaloud

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the Hardest Things about Moving Home from Bangladesh | kenthinksaloud

  3. Rinth says:

    We don’t know any Santali or Chakma or other people from similar origin in Bangladesh. The closest is a relative who is originally from Teknaf.

    I’d love to see their culture and hear their language. You know, I didn’t even know what Santal was before I read your blog. And that they use the Latin alphabet is very interesting. I hope I get the chance to visit those parts of Bangladesh someday!

    Like

    • If you go on to Youtube and look for Kenthinksaloud there you should find some examples of Santali songs at a birthday party. I can’t go on because it is still banned here.

      I’m eager to see more of Chakma culture (down in chittagong division) and Garo up in Mymensingh. Time is getting short though…

      Like

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