Shabar a minor ethnic community of North Indian origin migrated to Bangladesh region during the nineteenth century. Shabars were mainly normads and hunters. But later they settled in Harincharra, Rajghat and Nandarani areas of Maulavibazar district as tea garden labourers. At present, there are only two thousand Shabars in Bangladesh. The Shabar community believes in Hinduism, is divided into several clans namely Barobhukto, Chottobhukto, Nayek, Kotal and Akhari. Intra-clan marriage is not allowed in the Shabar community. High caste Hindus treat them as inferior as untouchables. Shabars conventionally follow the divorce system and do not allow polygamy. The father takes the responsibility of the children after divorce. Divorcees can re-marry in Shabar community. Even widows are allowed to marry. Married women whose husbands are alive colour the part of their hair over the forehead by vermilion and wear conch shell bangles in hands. Shabar boys and girls are considered to be eligible for marriage at the age of 18 and 15 years respectively. Joint families still exist in Shabar community. Eldest male member of a family is considered as the guardian and everybody obeys his order. Wives usually avoid their father in laws and elder brothers of husband as a mark of respect. Similarly, the son-in-laws also cautiously avoid their respective mother in-laws and elder sisters of wife. In Shabar community, clan chiefs are responsible for maintaining internal law and order and they conduct trail of all misdeeds including thefts, rape and adultery occurred in his respective clan. He awards punishment like imposition of fine and cast out of the society to the offender. If the offence involves people of other clan the arbitration is done by the village panchayet.
Shabar women are very hardworking. They manage their respective household functions even after daylong work in the tea gardens. They earn money but they do not have any authority in their respective families. Mostly, the male members take decision on any family issue and their opinion is always ignored. Since the Shabar society is partrichial in nature, male children inherit family property and the girls are deprived. The newly married couples live in the groom's paternal house.
Shabars use Bangla as the medium of instruction and communication. However, they speak Hindi within themselves. The literacy rate in Shabar community is only 10%. Most of the parents do not send their wards to schools due to economic hardship.
Although Shabars belong to Hindu faith, they also observe rituals of their ancestors' religion. Laxmi and Mongalchandi, both the goddesses are regarded as their family deities and each household has separate altars for both the goddesses. They also worship goddesses Durga and Kali with the priesthood of a Barhmin. They do have a clear conception about sin and virtue, heaven and hell. Shabars believe in re-birth and give priority on the consequence of this worldly activities. Durga worship and Fagua are their leading religious festivals. They respect Brahmin, kayastha and vaishya caste of Hindu religion as superior people and they accept food and drink from their hands. On the other hand, Shabars treat some similar tribes as lower caste and they do not take any food or drinks from their hands. Even they refrain from inter-caste and inter-community marriage. These conventions and customs helped them a lot to maintain harmony with other ethnic groups.
After the finalisation of a marriage, the news of marriage is announced in a traditional way in Shabar community by a concerted sound made by women by moving their tongues within their mouth. The parents or guardians of the groom visit the bride and bless her. The groom's father hosts a feast for the neighbours and relations in a function called Mongolacharan. In the early morning of the wedding day, both the bride and the groom are brought together to perform the rituals administer by a Brahmin. With the recitation of verses from the vedas, the ceremony of committing the bride into the hands of the bridegroom is held. Dowry system still exists in this community. After four days of marriage, the couple wash a cloth, coloured by turmeric, jointly in the bride groom's father's house. On the occasion of this ritual, the groom's father organises another feast for the guests.
Shabars cremate the corpse and the close relations of the deceased observe an impurity period of ten days. During the period each of them wears a single piece of cloth, sleeps on land and takes light food and drink. After the termination of the period, males shave their heads and a ritual named Sraddha is observed on the eleventh day. High caste Brahmins are offered improved dishes and the mourners take normal food on that day. Shabars immerse the ashes of funeral piles in the worth of Ganges. They also offer food for the salvation of their ancestors'souls. Generally they observe this ritual with the priesthood of Hindu Brahmins at langalband in narayanganj or Chandranath Temple in Sitakunda in the country. In festivals and social gatherings Shabars are used to perform and enjoy folk tales and ballads . Highly skilled story-tellers present the shows in a very attractive way. Performance of songs and dances is an integral part of those festivals. Shabar women decorate and design their houses and courtyards colorfully on these occasions. Shabar men and women enjoy Holi festivals together through concerted dance and sings. [Subhash Jengcham]