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Why not Rohingya an antiquity? [Part 1]

By U Kyaw Min
RB History
April 21, 2014

Classical geographers referred to South East Asia as the golden land, Chryse and the silver land, Argyre. Ptolemy in the second century A.D. referred Arakan as Argyre, his name for the country stretching from Naf River to Cape Negris[1].

Dr. Pamela Gutman writes the Fragmentary prasasti on the north face of Shitthaung Pillar written in the mid 11th century A.D. mentions Areka Desa. She further says in the inscriptions of Pagan and Ava from 12th to 15th centuries, the country is referred to as Rukuin or Rakhaing[2].She explains we find in Hobson-Jobson, Srilankan chronicles and Tharanat history; the names in various forms, such as Arakan, Arraccan, Rakhanga, Racchami, Rakhan and Recon. Nidcolo dei Conti in 1420 A.D. called it Raccani where as Babosa quoted in 1516 as Arraccan[3]. Srilankan chronicle says Rakhanga, which in Bengali became Rohang, because Bengali pronounces “kh” as “h”. Khan in Bengali is pronounced as Han.

According to Dr. S.B. Qanungo, in Persian source book the name Arakan is written as Arkhaunk and in its slight variation[4].

The name Rakhine, it seems of much antiquity. Sir H. Yule wants to identify the country named Argyre in Ptolemy with Arakan, the name being supposed to be derived from silver mines existing then[5].

Henry Yule’s assumption is supported by M.C. Crindle and D.G.E. Hall.

In Rashiddudin’s (14th century Indian historian’s) works the name appeared as Rohan. He said the country of Rohang was subjugated to Khan[6] (Mongul Khans). Sidi Ali a Turkish navigator belongs to the middle of 16th century wrote it Rakhang. The authors of AiNi-I-Akbri, Bahristan Gaibi, and Siarul Mutha kharin write Arkhaung, which appears also with a slight change in Alamgri Nama and Fathyai Baria[7]. In the medieval Bengali works and Rennell’s map the name is written Roshang[8] - - -. In colloquial Chittangonian dialect the country is called Rohang ; “SH” being replaced by “H” [Still today ,we found Hindu Bengalis say Roshang, where as Muslim Bengalis say Rohang.

Here as people of Chittagong are called Chatghannya, so do people of Rohang are called Rohangya. It is very comprehensive from linguistic point of view of Bengali language.

Medieval Portuguese and other European travelers mention it as Recon, Rakan, Rakhanj, Arracao, oracao, Aracan and Vanlin Schoter writes it Arakan, which is nearest to the present name[9].

Ralf Fytch, an English merchant toured India and Burma in the last decade of 16th century. He writes Arakan as Kingdom of Ruon[10]. So A.P. Phayre quoting Ralf Fytch, described Arakan as Ruon, which sounds like Rowang.

Rajamala chronicle (tripura chronicle) says their king Dania maneikha conquered Roshang in mid 16th century. His commander was named “Roshang Mardan” i.e. conqueror of Arakan.He returned after keeping Roshang Mardan as Governor of Chittagong[11]. In the records of ltalian traveler Manucci, it is said, shah Shijah (a Maghal exiled prince, Governor of Bengal) during his stay in Arakan found many dwellers, Mughals and pahtans. Muslims from lower Bengal contributed much to the ever increasing Bengali Muslims in the Arakanese kingdom. The Arakanese call Muslim Kalah. But Muslims introduce themselves as Rohingya to others[12].

There are name of places in Bangladesh indicating reference to Arakan. A section of people, east of shanka River in Bangladesh still today are called “Rowangi” meaning people of Rowang or Arakan. Due to racial suppression, many Muslims took refuge in Bengal in Rakhine period.

Rohingya classified the Rakhine as Rohingya Magh and Anaukiya Magh, which means Rakhine from Arakan and Rakhine from Anouk Pyi (Bengal). So here Rohingya means settlers of Rohang alias Arakan. Thus Rohingya is synonymous to Arkanese.

There were many many Bengali courtiers in the palace of Arakan Kings. They were encouraged by the Kings to flourish Bengali literature. Daulat Qazi and Shah Alaol were two ministers and writers in the time of both ThiriThudama and Sanda Thudama in mid 17th century. In their works, Arakan is Roshang or Rohang and its people are Rohingya. Even there was a narrative book in the name of Roshang Panchali[13] Written by Alaol.

Still today there are some people who say Rohingya is a creation. This term has no historical background. This is just an imaginary terminology, created by some political circle. Some say it was given by Pa-Ta-Sa Government. Yet some other say it was given by Thakin Soe, formerly Red Flag Communist Party boss.

What so ever we find researches of foreigners to authenticate the antiquity and historicity of Rohingyas. Gil Christ and F. Buchanan researched about this people and their language. Buchanan was an English diplomat in the Embassy of Michael Syme, in Ava. Francis Buchanan studied the languages of Burmese empire. He said Burmese language has four dialects, that of Burma proper; that of Arakan; that of Yo and that of Tanasserim. About the languages of Arakan, F. Buchanan writes: I shall now add three dialects spoken in Burma Empire But evidently derived from the language of Hindu nation. He details the first (language of Arakan) is that spoken by Mohammedans, Who have long settled in Arakan and who called themselves “Rooinga” or native of Arakan. The second dialect is that spoken by Hindus of Arakan. He said, I procured it from a Brahmin and his attendant, who had been brought to Amarapura by the king’s eldest son, on his return from the conquest of Arakan. They call themselves Rossawn, and for what reason I don’t know they wanted to persuade me that theirs was the common language of Arakan. He (Buchanan) further states the last dialect of Hindustani, which I shall mentions is that of a people called by the Burman Ayokobat, many of whom are slaves in Amarapura. By one of them I was informed that they call themselves Banga, that formerly they had kings of their own; but that in his father’s time, their kingdom had been overturned by the king of Manipura, who carried away a great part of the inhabitants to his residence, when that Manipur was taken last by Burman fifteen years ago; this man was one of the many captives who were brought to Ava from Manipur.

Buchanan said the native Mughs of Arakan call themselves Yakain, a name given by Burman. By the Bengal Hindus, at least by such of them as have been settled in Arakan, the country is called Rossawn - - - the Mohammedans settled in Arakan called the country Rovingaw, the Persian called Rekon.

Buchanan continued, Mr. Gil christ has been so good as to examine these dialects, which come nearest to the Hindustani sponken on the Ganges.

They have studied comparatively the three dialects, which appeared in the Asiatic researches Calcutta, Vol. 5, 1799. This study of Mr. Gil Christ and F. Buchanan proved the antiquity and historicity of Rohingyas.

A research paper says; Muslims influence on the Arakanese society was not an outcome of some sudden occurrences. It was the result of an age long intercourse between Arakan and Muslim countries that dated back to the period of Arab Contact with Arakan. Arakan came into contact with Muslims as early as the ninth century. Arakannese chronicles give refrences to the Muslim settlement in Arakan during the reign of Maha Taing Candra A.D. 788-810[14]. (at the time of Vessali period)

Father farnao Guerreiro, in the beginning of 17th century observed: The moors (Arab) ---- would always be graibous, that is very submissive with no other desire but to live under his (king of Arakan’s) protection[15].

Martin smith an especialist on Burmese history observed; Muslims (whose descendants, now prefer to be called as Rohingya) settled is Arakan since 9th century. Name of places, rivers and towns such as Ramree, Akyab, Kaladan, Naf, Kalapanzan were connected with Muslims[16].

Yet Dr. J. Leider, a history scholar who always tries to advocate the Rakhine version of Arakan history but obliterate the historicity of Rohingya could not obscure reality of history. He says persian and Bengali the writing languages of Muslim in Arakan in 17th century had a great influence in Arakan’s court milieu. A poet, Alaol, in praise of king Candacudamma wrote an eulogy where the first line is “the city called Rosanga (from where the term Rohingya derived) is a match less place on earth, constantly full of grains and fishes” - - - .J. leider explained Rosanga is the Bengali name of Maruk U and it is also used to designate the kingdom of Arakan[17].

So here we can confirm Arakan then in 17th century was called Rosanga and its peoples were Rosangya which presently is called Rohingya.Thus Rohingya is not a creation of new identity but it is an antiquity.

[1] Cf. Mc. Crindle’s Ancient India as described by Ptolemy 1885. Reprint in Calcutta in 1927. 
[2] 963a U. B. 194 Sagaing Htu Payon pagoda inscription obverse II 20-23, 804 S (1442 A.D.). 
[3] Pamela Gutman; Ancient Arakan P-23. 
[4] Dr. S. B. Qaunungo; History of Chittagong Vol. A 1979.. 
[5] Sir H. Yule, Proceeding of Royal Geographical Society Nov. 1882. 
[6] Elliot and Dowson; “History of India as told by its own Historians”. P-73. 
[7] Dr. Abu Fazl, Aini-i-Akbri(Trans: H. Blochman, Calcutta (1873 – 1877)). Mirza Nathan, Bahristan Ghaibi; (Trans: Borah, Gohati, (1936)). Shihabuddin ahmed, Fatiya-Barria (Trans: J.N. Sarkar, Bodlein Library, Oxford). 
[8] Dr. S. B. Qaunungo; History of Chittagong Vol. A 1979. P-132. 
[9] Ibid P-133. 
[10] A. P. Phayre; History of Burma P-172. 
[11] Dr. S. B. Qaunungo; History of Chittagong Vol. A 1979. P- 234*235 
[12] Stroia de Mogor(Mug aka Rakhine)Vol.I P-374 (Trans: Willim Irrive, London) 
[13] Ibid; chapter II Sect 3. 
[14] JASB XIII 1844 P-36 
[15] Cuerrerio, Farnao; The relations (Jahangirand Jesuits) P-196 
[16] Smith, Martin, Vurmas’ Muslim border land, sold down the riven, C. S. Quaterty 13 (4) P-68 
[17] J. P. Leidwe and thibaut d’ Hubert; Trans and poets in Maruk U, in 17th century, 2011

To be continued ....

U Kyaw Min is chairman of Democracy and Human Rights Party based in Yangon, Myanmar.

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