Bonaz a small indigenous community. Their original home was in Orissa, India. They came to Sylhet and started working as tea garden labourers during the British period. Gradually they started settling down permanently in Bangladesh. There are about 4,000 Bonaz people in Bangladesh and most of them work as tea garden labourers in Srimangal in Moulvibazar.
The Bonazes are divided into a number of clans, such as: Nag, Khanda, Tonidiya, Dudhusha, Rokta Kushila, Surjabangsa, Baghabangsa and Mahanondia. Intra-clan marriage is prohibited and monogamy is the norm among the Bonaz community. At present, child marriage is not common in their society. Men and women are regarded as marriageable when they attain 20 and 16 respectively. Parents or other guardians initiate marriage negotiations and arrangements and take all preparations for the solemnisation of marriage. The main rites of their marriage ceremony are: Mangalacharan (a prayer to obtain divine benison on the eve of marriage ceremony), the actual solemnisation of marriage, and cloth washing. Married women, as a rule, apply fresh vermilion in the parting of their hair and wear conch-bangles on their wrists. Both the customs of marriage-money given to the bride and marriage-money given to the groom are common among them. They have the system of divorce for both men and women.
The Bonaz community is patriarchal and the sons inherit the entire property of parents. After marriage, the bride and groom start living in the latter's parental home. Social councils do any social or familial arbitration. The head of social council is called Behera. The most common punishment is excommunication or financial penalty. However, one can get exempted from punishment by offering a big feast for all in society.
Bangla is now the language of the Bonaz community. However, many old people among them try to preserve their tradition and speak Uria. Literacy rate among the Bonaz is very low. At present, only 10% people among them are literate.
Bonaz people are non-vegetarian and rice is their staple food. They eat it with different types of vegetable, meat and fish, eggs, lentils, etc. They do not eat pork or beef. They are very fond of tea, bidi, betel leaves and nuts, self-made alcohol, etc.
The Bonazes are Hindu in religious belief. They also follow their traditional religion along with Hinduism. They regard Laxmi (Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity) and Mangal Chandi (a manifestation of Goddess Durga) as their family deities and worship them. They also worship Durga, Kali and other gods and goddesses. They believe in piety and sin and in heaven and hell. They also believe in reincarnation. They consider pilgrimage an integral part of their religious practices. Among their religious festivals, Durga puja and Fagua (Holi festival at which red power is thrown at one another) are remarkable.
The Bonazes cremate their dead bodies. The oldest son (or another son in his absence) conducts the rite of mukhagni (setting fire in the mouth of the deceased). Kith and kin observe the rite of ashoucha (a state of uncleanliness to mourn the deceased) for ten days. On the eleventh day, they perform Sraddha (a ceremony in honour of the dead). In Bonaz society, pindodan (funeral offerings) is compulsory.
The Bonaz community is very rich in oral literature. They preserve their folk-tales and ballads from generation to generation and perform them at different festivals and enjoy it very much. They also perform songs and dance at different festivals. [Subhas Jengcham]