The Mru are primarily located in the region where the borders of India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar intersect. Some live in one of the nearly two hundred villages located in the tropical forests of the Chittagong Hills in southeast Bangladesh. Most however, are concentrated in the plains and hills of western Myanmar's Arakan Yoma district, or in the Jalpaiguri district of northeastern India.
The native language of the Mru is also called Mru. The Mru of Bangladesh believe that Torai ("the great spirit") gave all peoples-except the Mru-a written language and rules to guide their social lives. They believe that by some accident, they themselves were excluded.
The tribal Mru are a very isolated people, mainly because of a national policy restricting visitors in the strategic border areas and prohibiting outsiders from obtaining land there. However, since last year, there have been reports in Bangladesh of armed Bengali farmers backed by a large army, who have moved into the surrounding hills. The Mru have taken up arms to fight against them.
What Are Their Lives Like?
A majority of the Mru are farmers. Although they have been introduced to the irrigation methods of wet-rice farming, most of them continue to practice "slash and burn" agriculture on the hill sides. This makes them a semi-nomadic tribe since they must go to new fields every two years. Both the men and women share in the fieldwork. Rice is the dominant crop for the Mru who live in Myanmar.
The Mru are a very poor people. Although they inhabit a region that is rich in lumber and hydroelectric potential, the villagers lack the technology and knowledge to improve their economic conditions. For this reason, they continue to live as poor farmers.
The Mru excuse their poverty because they believe that Torai intended them to live this way. At the same time, they pride themselves in their self-sufficiency. Each household produces its own goods. They also travel to the lowlands to visit the weekly markets where they exchange cotton for items such as cloth, salt, knives, and pottery.
The Mru typically live in houses made of timber or bamboo. The roofs are either made of thatch or tiles. Some of the homes are built on stilts to give protection from wild animals or floods. The farm animals live under the houses at night. In some small towns in Myanmar, a few Mru live in brick homes with concrete floors.
The Mru society is divided into clans, phratries (related clans), and kinship groups. They may marry outside their clans, and maybe even outside the phratries. Politically, the village community is democratic. Though there is a village headman, he has only nominal authority. There are no educational facilities among the Mru.
When a young Mru man reaches the age of 16, he begins seeking attention by arranging his hair in braids on the top of his head. He also puts floral headpieces as adornments on his turban. The young people are generally free to choose their own marriage partners. They need only parental permission. Promiscuity before marriage is freely tolerated, although accidental pregnancy leads to immediate marriage. Young married couples usually live with the bride or groom's family after marriage. Once the couple has several children of their own, they build a separate home.
In addition to farming, many of the Mru men are skilled in producing bamboo items. Mru women are especially fond of wearing jewelry and other ornaments made by local craftsmen.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Virtually all of the Mru of India and Bangladesh practice ethnic religions that have some elements of Buddhism. They worship the gods of fire, water, and the forest. Their belief in the legend of Torai rules their lives. This legend says that the Mru's ancestors sent a cow to Torai, the great spirit, to seek help when they realized other tribes had a written language and rules for living. Torai wrote the rules on banana leaves, but an evil animal ate them, leaving the Mru destitute. The highlight of their year is a two-day festival in which a cow is sacrificed in memory of this occasion.
The Mru of Myanmar have been heavily influenced by Buddhism. Although they are almost completely Buddhist, animism (belief that non-living objects have spirits) is still practiced to some degree.
What Are Their Needs?
The Mru are a very needy people, both physically and spiritually. They struggle with poverty and illiteracy, as well as the ideology that their god, Torai, desires them to remain that way. Additional laborers, Christian broadcasts, and evangelistic materials in the Mru language are desperately needed.
Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar to share the Light of Christ with the Mru, and bring His riches to their souls.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Mru Christians, and use them to spread the Gospel to their people.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Mru towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Pray that God will open the hearts of the governmental leaders of India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar to the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Mru.
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