Introduction / History Although most Tipera live in Tripura, India, a large number also live in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Tipera are a tribal people living in the Chittagong Hills Tract district. The district is characterized by low mountains, hills, and valleys, all covered by dense tropical growth. The Tipera are also called the "Tipra" or the "Tripura." Most still speak their native language, Tiperah, but many are learning Bengali, the principal language in Bangladesh.
At one time, the Tipera lived independently in present-day India and Bangladesh, but since the eighteenth century, they have been dominated by foreign powers. They were first ruled by Muslims from India, then by Britain, then by Pakistan, and after 1971, by Bangladesh. Since the 1960's, Bengali settlers migrating from the overcrowded plains of Bangladesh have flooded the Tipera homeland. Therefore, the Tipera are steadily being reduced to a minority in their own territory.
What are their lives like? Most Tipera are engaged in various types of farming. In the past, they practiced "slash and burn" agriculture, in which they would cut down a section of forest, burn the debris, and plant a variety of crops on the site. This practice has been used for years in the highest parts of the hills, but today the Bangladesh government discourages the method and has encouraged the Tipera to practice plow cultivation in the lowland areas. The people grow crops such as cotton, yams, melons, pumpkins, maize, mangoes, oranges, pineapples, and their staple food, rice. They keep various domestic animals including cattle, water buffaloes, pigs, goats, and sheep.
The Tipera usually live in small villages situated near the rivers in the valleys. Their homes are generally constructed of mud or bamboo, although a few wealthier families may own wooden homes with tile roofs.
Traditionally, a Tipera man wore only a turban and a loincloth, while a married woman wore nothing but a skirt. Both men and women wear silver earrings, and the women adorn themselves with additional jewelry on their wrists, ankles, necks, noses, and hair.
The Tipera allow marriage either within or outside of the tribe. The parents usually arrange the marriage. The groom pays no "bride price," but he lives in the bride's home and works for her family for at least two years after marrying. He is allowed to sell some of the crops until he has earned enough money to build a house for his family.
Tipera families follow a unique inheritance pattern. The oldest son automatically has all rights to his father's property, but if he leaves the home to live on his own while the father is still living, he forfeits all rights to his inheritance. The inheritance eventually is given to the oldest son still living in the home. Daughters and other sons receive nothing.
What are their beliefs? The Tipera are nominally Hindu but are animists in practice, believing that non-human objects have spirits. They also have a number of shamanistic practices, which are based on the belief in a world of unseen gods and demons. They worship various gods of nature, such as those of fire, water, and the forest. They believe shamans (priests), called ojhas, have great influence with the spirits of nature. The Tipera are extremely superstitious, believing that it is bad luck for a kite to land on a roof, for a crow to caw on a roof, or to build a house where another has burned down.
What are their needs? The Tipera have staggering physical and spiritual needs. Their nation, Bangladesh, has one of the lowest standards of living in the world. Medical care is poor, income is low, and illiteracy is high. Periodic cyclones and floods ravage the country, causing widespread death and destruction.
Hinduism, animism, and shamanism are deeply entrenched in Tipera daily life. At present, four missions agencies are working among the people, but very few villagers are Christians. Only persistent intercession can break the strongholds over the lives of the Tipera.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to send forth laborers who understand the culture and needs of the Tipera.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to bless the efforts of the four missions agencies that are currently working among the Tipera.
* Pray that God will save key Tipera leaders who will have opportunities to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Tipera church for the glory of His name!