Koch one of the oldest ethnic communities living in Bangladesh. The Kochs left their motherland Kuch Bihar and settled down in the district of Mymensingh. They are now living in Jhinaigati, Nalitabari and Shribordi upazilas in Sherpur district. At present, their number is nearly five thousand.
The Koch community is divided into eight groups, such as Wanang, Horigaiya, Satpari, Dashgaiya, Chapra, Tinthekiya, Shankar and Margan. They identify these groups as bhag (division). Each bhag has a number of clans which they call nikini. The Koch society is patriarchal and the sons inherit the entire family property, while the children are identified by their mothers' clan title. Inter-nikini marriage is prohibited. Although both the joint family and single-family systems are in vogue, the single-family system is now predominant among them. The Koch people generally resolve their disputes through social arbitration. Koch girls move to their respective husbands'; houses after marriage. Women apply vermilion in the parting of their hair and wear conch-bracelets along with bangles on their wrists. Although monogamy is the norm among them, taking of more than one wife by a man is quite often.
Rice is their staple food, and most of them are non-vegetarian. They eat vegetables, lentils, fish, eggs and meat. They do not eat beef but are very fond of pork. They like the meat of rabbits and porcupines. They also like tortoises and turtles. They use oil, alkali, soda and dried fish in cooking. They are very fond of pork cooked with rice powder and alkali or soda. They make rice cakes on different festivals. The Kochs drink alcohol. But people receiving initiation from a guru voluntarily avoid wine and meat. They have the usual liking for milk and milk-products. On festive occasions and marriage ceremonies, they entertain people with condensed milk, sweetened porridge (payesh), curd, sweetmeat etc along with rice and fish. Men in Koch society wear dhoti, lungi, shirt and singlet. Women have traditional dress called lefen which they wear in domestic environment along with other types of dress or undergarment.
The Koch believes in Hindu religion. While they observe different Hindu religious festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja and Laxmi Puja, they also worship their pristine gods and goddesses. The main deities are Hrishi and his wife Jogamaya whom they regard as the creator and sustainer of the world. Goddess Kamaksha is one of the principal deities of the Koch people. They worship their pristine gods and goddesses under the guidance of their priests whom they call Deusi and Ajeng. The Ajeng acts as priest during their collective tribal worship. He also initiates people into priesthood so that they can act as guru in their own tribe.
Literacy rate among the Koch community is nearly 25%. Bangla is the medium of instruction of the Koch children. The Koch has their own language which does not have any alphabets. Agriculture is their main means of living. Since they do not have landed property, most of them have now turned into marginal farmers. As they depend mainly on agricultural work for their livelihood the Koch people are really hard up. [Subhash Jengcham]