Kapali one of smallest ethnic groups live in Bangladesh. They were migrated to the tea garden areas of Sylhet during the British rule. At present, there are about 3000 Kapalis mainly concentrated in different tea gardens of Srimongal upazila of Moulavibazar district. It is believed by themselves that they were originated from the forehead (Kapal) of Lord Shiva. So, they are known as Kapali.
Kapalis are divided into three clans like Kashyap, Horihor and Alimmon. These clans are sub-divided into several lines. These lines or sub-clans determine and control each of their social customs specially those related to the marriage. Among all sub-clans, intra-line marriage is prohibited. Kapali society is basically patriarchal. So the male children inherit the property and the daughters are deprived of their family property as usual. In the past, when any family or social crisis cropped up in the Kapali society, Matabbar, an elderly chief of native village, used to dispose off the matter. The custom does not exist at present. Now, the village Panchayet System has been introduced, which plays the role of Matabbars through social arbitration. The literacy rate among Kapalis is very low, only 10% of them have so far been attained literacy.
The mother tongue of Kapalis is Bangla. They also use this language as a medium of education as well as for conversation with other ethnic groups. However, they speak Kokbork during the conversation among themselves.
Kapalis are non-vegetarians. Rice is their staple food and they take it with cooked fish, meat, egg, pulse and various types of vegetables. They are very fond of wild potatoes, milk and milk products. Drinking of tea and wine is quite frequent in Kapali society. In the festive occasion, they organise feast of pork. They observe the festival of mainstream Bengali culture Poush-sangkrunti at the same time. They term it as Alonti and during the festival, they enjoy homemade cakes along with their kinship and neighbors.
The rituals of Kapali marriage have many dimensions. Kapali males and females are considered eligible for marriage when they are 20-25 years and 16-20 years of age respectively. The guardian takes all necessary steps for the marriage of their matured wards accordingly. After getting consent of the bride and the groom, guardians of both sides finalise the social contact and the news of finalisation is announced through a concerted sound created by married women using their tongue. Intra-clam and intra-line marriages are prohibited in the Kapali society. However, there are provisions of the remarriage of widow and the divorce. Husband or wife, anyone can express his or her opinion to get divorce. But if a husband likes to divorce his wife, he has to pay handsome compensation package to her. Dowry system is still exists in their society.
Majority of Kapali belong to the Shaiba school of Hindu faith. The leading gods and goddesses, whom they worship, are Shiva, Shyama, Laxmi. Lord Shiva and the gods of wealth Laxmi are worshipped at family level. They consider goddess Kali as the protector of their own village. So each Kapali village has a temple of Kali. Kapalis celebrate various religious festivals including Gazon, Kalipuja, Durgapuja, Rathajatra, Kharchipuja etc. They believe in the re-birth and the consequences of act performed in the previous life.
Kapalis have many traditional folk tales being preserved orally through generations and these are presented during festivals. There is a class of performers in their society who read out these tales and ballads so efficiently that the listeners become spellbound. [Subhash Jengcham]