Santal tribe The people of the Santal community have lived in the northwest region of Bangladesh for hundreds of years. They are one of the major tribes in Bangladesh.

The features of the Santal people are quite similar to those of the Bengali people, the original inhabitants of Bangladesh, but the Santal people are a bit darker in color and have curly hair.

The Santal people practice ethnic religions or idolism. They do not practice Hinduism, but they worship several Hindu gods along with nature. They have their own tribe language, called Santali. It is completely different from the Bengali mother tongue, Bangla.

About a century ago, the Santal tribe possessed vast land properties in the northern part of Bangladesh. But according to Santal history, some cunning people from other communities took advantage of their addiction to home-made alcohol called Chuani and grabbed their land, not only making the Santal tribe poor but also ruling them for decades.

Most of the Santal people do not own land to grow crops. They work in other people’s fields as day laborers. Both men and women work in the fields. They spread seeds, remove weeds and collect crops in the harvesting season. Some of the Santali people are involved in the occupation of pulling a cycle-van.

Most of the Santal people have a small amount of their own land to live on. Their houses are made of mud walls with a straw or tin roof. These houses are normally 10 feet long, 7 to 9 feet tall and 8 feet wide. They have cow sheds attached to houses and do not have sanitary latrine facilities.

The northern portion of Bangladesh is plains and is very dry. The elevation is about 60 feet above sea level, and the weather is hot during the summer. During the winter, this area becomes the coldest in Bangladesh. And from September to mid-December, the area becomes drier. No crops can be grown, which ultimately causes a job crisis for the people because they cannot get regular work to earn their keep.

A crisis of water is another problem they face. They have to carry water to their homes from a far distance; however, some of the Santal families do have their own tube-well (hand-pump water supply).

Santal families often have five to seven children. With parents, children and grandparents, there are eight to 10 people in every household. The women who are widowed or have been left by their husbands stay with their children. These families usually have four to six members.

To send their children to school is a luxury for the Santal community. They are not able to bear the school tuition fees. As a result, most of the children of this tribe pass their days playing in the fields.

If any child from the Santal community goes to school, he or she usually drops out before completing the primary education (5th grade). More than 80 percent of Santal adults cannot read or write their own names.

Most of the Santal villages are in remote places. Walking is the only way to move around. To go a long distance, they take a rickshaw, cycle van or local transportation like a bus or pick-up van that runs on the highway.

The Santal community observes the culture and tradition of their ancestors. The Santal women wear sarees and use various kinds of ornaments and flowers to decorate themselves. The male wear lungis (Bengali skirts for men) and shirts. During certain special occasions the men wrap their heads with long cloths called pagris.

The Santal celebrate these occasions and worship idols with the music of drums and other local instruments, and the men and women take part in their traditional dance.

The favorite dishes are godo (field rat) and pork. They prepare these dishes for the festivals. They are also fond of kuicha (a kind of eel) and vegetables. Home-made alcohol is one of the main parts of every celebration and festival.

Approximately 65 percent of the Santal people follow their ethnic religion, 24 percent practice Hinduism, and 10 percent practice Christianity. The rest are Buddhists.

The growth trend of Christians could be more pleasing if churches became more effective in nurturing new believers. It is a common in Bangladesh for people who convert to Christianity to be troubled by their previous community group.

Compassion-assisted child development centers serving the Santal tribe include: BD-201 – 219 and 221 – 234.

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  1. jennifer
    Mar 12, 2010
    at 1:32 pm

    Thank you for these blogs. I love learning about the countries that you have reported on. I love all of the detail. Instead of focusing just on one aspect, we really get a glimpse into these peoples’ lives. I just can’t wait until you do one on Colombia or Ecuador! :)

  2. Amy Wallace
    Mar 12, 2010
    at 3:52 pm

    I love these posts about the different areas Compassion works in. Keep them coming!

  3. Sara Benson
    Mar 12, 2010
    at 5:32 pm

    Thank you so much for reporting on the different countries, tribal groups and areas of the countries where Compassion works.
    I sponsor a little girl named Muni who goes to EI-209. I am happy to learn more about her culture and her experiences growing up. I will be praying for her even more now and thanking God that she has accepted Christ and has the chance to go to school.

  4. Caitlin
    Mar 13, 2010
    at 11:41 am

    Thank you., I sponsor a little boy in EI-218 who lives in the Plains of Santal. I will begin putting encouragements for him to finish school past 6th grade. He’s only 6 right now, but I don’t think it’s ever really too early to start.

  5. Sara Benson
    Mar 13, 2010
    at 8:53 pm

    Oppps… I just realized that the post is about the Santal tribe in Bangladesh. I had read that in the begining, but I guess I forgot. So while both Caitlin and my children are of the Santal tribe, they are actually in India. I wonder if it is the same type of environment……

  6. Sionel
    Apr 13, 2010
    at 7:16 am

    Thank you so much for this post! Two of my boys are at BD-209 and I’m so fascinated to hear more details about what their lives are like. Please, keep these coming :)

  7. Stephanie T. Green
    May 27, 2010
    at 9:15 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful blog about the Santal tribe. I read the blog post when it was first published. But I recently sponsored a child in Bangladesh and I just did a search for all blogs here that contain a Bangladesh tag and this was the only one that showed up in the results. Please encourage the bloggers to consider writing more articles about Bangladesh. They have some of the most beautiful children there who need sponsors but most people that I talk to don’t know very much about the country. Thank you!

  8. Stephanie T. Green
    May 27, 2010
    at 9:19 pm

    Oh wait…nevermind! I am finding more blog posts now. The search box only yields the Santal Tribe article. But at the end of the article where the tags are listed, I clicked on Bangladesh and was given a long list of blog posts. Sorry!

  9. Dr. Santosh K. Besra
    Sep 22, 2011
    at 12:19 am

    Nice to read about Santal community in Bnagladesh. I belong to that community.

    The Santals are originally from the of province of Jharkhand in India. Their migration to Bangladesh is said to have taken place from 1870 or so.

    These are very industrious community, well thriftlessness is there due to lack of modern education.

    Is there any other way for economic and educational development in Bangladesh other than through evangelisation ? ?

    • Rev. Albert H. Adhikari
      Jan 30, 2012
      at 11:11 pm

      We are doing work among Santal people in Northern part of Bangladesh through our church Evangelical Friends Church. I have a goal to raise this community in both spiritually and ecconomically. We are on the process of B4T (business for transformatio) training. We are going to start it as a pilot project. We are seeking sponson to help our task. I hope this will help this people to develoop spiritually as well as ecconomically. .

  10. Jan 25, 2012
    at 5:55 am

    Santal/Shaotals life style is really amazing. They are the mostly popular tribe of Bangladesh. Thanks for your nice post on them.

  11. Sabana
    Jan 4, 2013
    at 9:47 am

    I’m in Rangpur Division visiting a tribal family right now. I live in a mud house and most people here are Christians. Unfortunately the church doesn’t give any support as soon as foreign people headed back home. Every year the church organizes a simple Christmas and New Years meal for the whole village with money from the government. This year there was no NY’s meal and the church keeps the money “on their account”. We also had a cold wave over Christmas and most people here weren’t prepared. They wear saree and slippers, few have blankets at less than 10 degrees. Some still sleep outside their house as they have no more space for everyone. Unfortunately not many developement organisations put their foot here. Sometimes a church or school is built, some agricultural projects started but people leave quickly leaving projects behind and people alone. Life remains almost unchanged, forgotten and utterly hard. Despite that they are cheerful and immensely interesting people.

    • Susan Sayler
      Jan 4, 2013
      at 10:51 am

      Hello Sabana! Please email us at ciinfo@us.ci.org for more information about your community partnering with Compassion. -Susan

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