Family Life

More than 80% of Bangladeshis live in rural villages. These small settlements are often found along waterways and on river deltas on land that has been built up to protect against floods. Village houses are made of mud or bamboo with thatch or corrugated iron roofing, up to two or three stories high. Animal shelters, small gardens, mango trees and date palms are nearby. When villagers build the earthen platforms that raise their homes above flood levels, they scoop out hollows that become ponds when the floods come.

Rural people live in compounds with their extended families. The head of the household provides for parents, unmarried children and other dependent relatives. When a son marries he brings his wife to live in the family home, and the bride's new mother-in-law assigns her duties.

Marriage is often arranged by a couple's parents, who look for a complementary partner for their grown son or daughter. The marriage is not valid, however, unless both the man and woman agree to it. The couple themselves may make the match, then ask for their parents' approval. The groom's family carries the proposal to the bride's family, and the two groups celebrate once the details are arranged. In separate wedding showers, friends touch a paste of fragrant turmeric spice to the engaged couple's faces as a symbol of cleansing. The wedding ceremony takes place on a flower-decked platform, led by a cleric called a kazi.

Some conservative Muslim women observe the Quran's instructions to guard their modesty and avoid mixing with men outside their families. Even among less traditional people, men are more likely to go out to the marketplace to socialize or sell goods while women remain at home. Economics, however, can overrule tradition and in poor rural areas where every hand is needed in the fields, women work beside men.

In rapidly growing cities such as Dhaka, the capital, families tend to live differently. In a typical urban middle-class family, both parents could be well-educated professionals working outside the home. Rather than living in an extended family group, they would live with their children in a busy city district or quiet suburb. Urban people often feel strong ties to their family's home village, however, and return there for holidays.

Did you know?

Most Bangladeshi women wear a sari, a colourful five-metre length of fabric they drape into a flowing robe. The sari goes over a petticoat and short blouse. Some choose the salwar kameez, a long tunic worn over loose trousers.