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Aman Ullah
RB History
August 30, 2014

Following the 1935 Government of India Act’s reforms, the British granted Burma a larger autonomous status with the Government of Burma Act. However, with very few educated Burmese available to do the necessary tasks, most of the government affairs continued to be run by the Indian subjects. This attitude of the British government was resented by most Burmese who started the ‘Burma for Burmese only’ Campaign. The Burmese mob marched to the Muslim (Surti) Bazaar. While the Indian Police broke the violent demonstration, three monks were hurt. Burmese newspapers uses the pictures of Indian police attacking the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots. Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burned. They also assaulted and killed Muslims. It spread all over Burma and a recorded 113 mosques were damaged. The Burmese also resented the fact that all the anti-government and race riots were quelled by Indian troops and police forces. 

New waves of anti-Indian violence (more specifically anti-Muslim) were stirred up in July-August 1938 by the Burman in the country’s major cities while general strikes (workers, civil servants and students) paralyzed the economy of the province. Riots began in the capital of Rangoon and spread to almost all of southern and central Burma, including Mandalay. The rioting lasted for a month, officially causing the death of 204 people and leaving 1,000 injured. Buddhist monks took a leading role in organizing these riots. On September 2, 1938 another outbreak of anti-Indian rioting occurred in Rangoon. Although somewhat less severe and restricted to Rangoon only, the disturbance lasted for six days.

On September 22, 1938, the British Governor set up an inquiry committee to investigate the reasons behind the riots. The Riot Inquiry Committee found out that the real cause was the discontent in the Ba Maw government regarding the deterioration in socio-political and economic conditions of Burmans.

In March 1939 there were serious communal and agrarian troubles in Shwebo and Myaungmya. Later in the same month additional Military Police units had to be sent to Myaungmya because of Burmese attacks on Indians. Military Police units were also sent to patrol Shwebo and parts of Katha in the north because of attacks by Burmese on Muslim and Zerbadi (Indo-Burmese Muslim) villages. The troubles spread to Tharrawaddy district as well. By April, 1939, riots had spread to Bassein, Pyapon, Pegu, Lower Chindwin, Shwebo and Myaungmya. 

Then the Government of Burma issued a communiqué declaring its intention to examine the question of Indian immigration and announced the nature and scope of the agreed upon between the Government of India and Burma. As a result of correspondence with the Government of India has been reached on a Commission of Enquiry that was entrusted to a sole commission to whom one Burman and one Indian were attached as assessors. 

According the Government of Burma in a Resolution, dated the 15th July 1939, after consultation with the Government of India, appointed the Hon’ble Mr. J. Baxter to examine the question of Indian immigration into Burma, with the assistance of two assessors, U Tin Tut, I.C.S and Mr. Ratilal Desai, M.A,. Later Dr. H. Bernardelli, D. Phil., Head of Department of Economics, University College Rangoon was appointed Secretary to the Commission of Inquiry.

The Commission held eighteen meetings and interviewed over seventy-five witness. Memoranda on questions relating to the enquiry was received from representatives of the more important business firms, from employers of Labour, from a member of Government Departments, from Chambers of Commerce and others. A special enquiry on industrial labour was carried out in connexion with which information in the form of required was received from 1,392 industrial establishments.

The Report of the Commission, more commonly known as the Baxter Report, was completed in October 1940 and was published in Rangoon in 1941 by the Government Printing and Stationery Office. The Report made recommendations which were generally accepted by the Governments of Burma and India. The Agreement provided that the existing Immigration Order of 1937 would continue at least until 1 October 1945, while Indian immigration into Burma would be subject to the new rules contained in the Agreement with effect from 1 October 1941. 

The Government of Burma recognize that, “Indians who were born and bred in Burma, have made Burma their permanent home and regard their future and the future of their families as bound up with its interest are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim if they which to make it, to a Burma domicile and therefore on the benefit of section 144 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935.

About the Indian in Arakan, in chapter VII, paragraph 66 of the Baxter Report mentioned that, “Indian immigration into Arakan shows special characteristics, due to fundamentally to the existence of a Land frontier with India across which movement between Chittagong in the Province of Bengal and Akyab District of Arakan is, because of the natural configuration of this region, easy, quick and cheap. About 97 percent of Indian population in Arakan in 1931 was concentrated in Akyab District. In Arakan Division, total population was 1,008,538 and Indian population was 217, 801.

In Akyab District

Total population was 637, 580 
Indian population was 210, 990. 

The numbers of Indians in Akyab District born in and born outside Burma respectively as follows:

“Females constituted 48.5 per cent of the Indian born in 13.6 per cent of Indian born outside Burma. The great deficiency of females in “born out” population indicates the highly immigrant and unsettled nature of that part of the Indian population while on the other hand the approximation to sex equilibrium in the “born in” population is indicative of its settled character.” 

In paragraph 67, it shows the racial constitution of the Indian population in Akyab District as follows: -

“The Oriyas were practically born outside Burma and were practically all males. Only 677 of 3, 558 Hidustanis were born in Burma and 2, 955 of totals were males. 0f the Bengalis other than Chittagonians, 61 per cent were born in Burma. Of the “born in” the sex ratio was about four females to five males. Of the 5,990 Bengalis born outside Burma only 312 were females. Over 88 per cent of all Indians in Akyab District were of Chittagonians origin and 84 per cent of all Chittagonians were recorded as having been born in Burma. The sex distribution of Chittagonians born in Burma was in the proportion of 94 to 95 females to every 100 males while that Chittagonians born outside Burma was in the ratio of 22 to 23 females to every 100 males.” 

“Of the males earners engaged in agriculture, 9,442 were cultivating landowners, 12, 848 were cultivating tenants and 19, 436 were agricultural labours. It is of interest to note that only 5,570 of the agricultural labours were born outside Burma.” 

In the paragraph 11 of that report, commenting on the population in the Arakan Division, which showed an Indian population of 197,990 in 1911 against a total of 839,896, the report says, “For the reasons already given, the 1881 to 1911 Indian population figures are probably too high since they are believed to include a considerable number of Arakanese Muslims. In 1911, for example, the Hindu and Mohamedan populations in Arakan together amounted to 202,320 persons or only 4,330 more than the number who returned an Indian vernacular.” It is also important to note here that the percentage of Indian population in Arakan actually show a downward trend from 1911 to 1931 going down from 23.5% to 22.7% in 1921 to 21.6% in 1931.” 

In Chapter III, Paragraph 21, the report also provides some information about the Indians living – permanently or temporarily - inside Burma and Arakan when the censuses were taken.

There was a major influx of Indians moving into Burma after the entire country was colonized by the British government. As already noted, many of them came with the colonial administration. A comparison with the census data in 1891 also points to the fact that the 1881 census data for the Indian population born in Burma is unreliable. At the time of 1931 census nearly 77% of the Indians in Arakan were born in Burma. 

Indians born in India and born in Arakan was given as below: -

In the Paragraph 7 the Baxter report, it’s mentioned that, “There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mohamedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulemin which could not be regarded as Indian. There is no record of the numbers of any of these categories of Mohamedans in the 1872 census returns and consequently no allowance can be made for them by way of deduction from the Hindu and Mohamedan population figures.” 

In the table provided on Section 8, page 5 of the report it mentioned that, “for the censuses 1881 to 1911 inclusive are probably too high. There is reason to believe that some of the Arakanese Mohamedans returned an Indian vernacular as their mother tongue since although they used Burmese in writing, among themselves they commonly speak the language of their ancestors. The number of Arakanese Muslims who returned an Indian vernacular in 1021 was estimated in the 1931 census report at ten to fifteen thousand persons.” 

Thus, in sum according to the Baxter report, we can say that: - 
  • There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mohamedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulemin which could not be regarded as Indian. 
  • The 1881 to 1911 Indian population figures are probably too high since they are believed to include a considerable number of Arakanese Muslims and the figures are inaccurate. 
  • At the time of 1931 census nearly 77% of the Indians in Arakan were born in Burma. 
  • The Government of Burma recognize that Indians who were born and bred in Burma, have made Burma their permanent home and regard their future and the future of their families as bound up with its interest are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim if they which to make it, to a Burma domicile and therefore on the benefit of section 144 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935.

By Aman Ullah
RB History
August 27, 2014

A population Census is the process of collecting, compiling, analyzing and disseminating demographic, social, cultural and economic data relating to all persons in the country, at a particular time in ten years interval. 

The History of Census began with 1800 when England had begun its Census but the population of dependencies was not known at that time. 

The Census of 1972 was considered to be prominent one and it contained 17 questions, though it did not cover all territories possessed or controlled by the British.

The Census of 1881 was a great step towards a modern synchronous census. In this Census, emphasis was laid not only on complete coverage but also on classification of demographic, economic and social characteristics. It took in entire continent of British India. 

The Census of 1891 was on the basis of previous approach and efforts were made for hundred per cent coverage and Upper part of present Burma, Kashmir and Sikkim were also included. The departure from previous census was that in place of Mother Tongue, information on Parental Tongue was obtained.

Third continuous census was started on March, 1901. For certain remote areas, where detailed survey was not possible, population was estimated on the basis of houses. Major changes were: provision for house number, castes of only Hindu and Jains were recorded and in case of other religion name of tribe or race were recorded. A new question about the foreign language (English) was introduced.

The Census of 1911 commenced in all fourteen British provinces and Native states. Not only was the knowledge about English but literacy in English recorded. 

The Census of 1931 coincided with a civil disobedience movement. Additionally, it included two new questions – Earner/Dependent and Mother Tongue.

The last census before independence was held under adverse conditions of war in 1941. Major changes were adopted in this census. Random samples were used and every 50th slip was marked to list the validity of a sample in census. Formation of questions was modified to the great extent.

It was not until sixth census, that of 1921, that racial classification of the population was attempted. In previous censuses the population was classified by religious only.

In the Chapter XI, Paragarph 157 of that census mentioned that, “Numbers are tabulated in Imperial Table XIII for three Indo-Burma Races, the Zerbadis, the Arakan Mahomedans, and the Arakan Kaman, all these being associated as Race-group ‘S’ for convenience.

About ‘Arakan Mahomedans’, in the Paragraph 159 also mentioned that, “The Arakan Mahomedans are practically confined to the Akyab district and are properly the descendants of Arakanese woman who were married Chittagonian Mahomedans. It is said that the descendants of a Chittagonian who has permanently settled in Akyab district always refuse to be called Chittagonians and desire to be called Arakan Mahomedans; but as permanent settlement seems to imply marriage to an Arakanese woman it is quite in accordance with the description given. Although so closely connected with Chittagonian racially the Arakan Mahomedans do not associate at all: they consequently marry almost solely among themselves and have become recognized locally as a distinct race.

“The Arakanese Buddhist in Akyab asked the Deputy Commissioner there not to let the Arakan Mahomedans be included under Arakanese in the census. The instruction issued to enumerators with reference to Arkan Mahomedan was that this race should be recorded for those Mahomedans who were domiciled in Burma and had adopted certain mode of dress which is neither Arakanese nor Indian.”

“The number of Arakan- Mahomedans tabulated in 1921 was nearly 24,000. The number tabulated at previous census as Mahomaden Arakanes have been as in Marginal Table 8 such difference of numbers as are shown here indicate enumeration of the Arakan-Mahomedans at previous under other description in the census tables of 1901 it is impossible to identify them. Probably under other Mahomedans tribes in all three earlier censuses mentioned, in the table.”

8. Tabulated Arakan-Mahomedans

In the Report of 1931 Census, Volume XII, Burma, Part. I, Paragraph 140 mentioned that, "Figures of all population of different race-groups at the last four censuses are given in Imperial Table XVIII. The figures in that table for the years of 1901 and 1911 were obtained from Imperial Table XIII of those censuses and some difficulty was experienced in compliling tham. In the Imperial Table XIII for 1901 the races, tribes and castes are classified according to the predominant religion, but the figure given for any race, tribe or cast include the figures for all relgions with exception of 8,000 males and 7,000 females representing the Arkan- Mahomedans, which have been included in groups “S” (Indo-Burman Races). For the 1911 figures 10, 000 males and 9,000 females were taken to represent Arakan- Mahomedans and included in groups S (Indo- Burman Races)."

In Paragraph 141 mentioned that, “The number of Indians has increased from 881,357 in 1921 to 1,017,825 in 1931, i.e., by 136,468 or 15.5 per cent. In paragraph 16 of Chapter I, it is pointed out that many Arakan Mahomedans in Akyab district returned themselves as Indians at the 1921 census. The number may be roughly estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000, in which case the increase in the Indian population would be in the neighbourhood of 17 per cent.”

“In the Paragraph 143 also mentioned that, “The Arakan-Mahomedans are mostly found in Akyab district; the only other districts containing an appreciable number Kyauk Pyu (1,597) and Sandoway(1,658). They are properly the descendent of Arakanese women who had married Chittagonian Muslims. They are recognized locally as a distinct race and they dress different from the Arakanese and Chittagonians. The number recorded in 1931 was 51,615, which is more than double number of 1921, namely 23,775.”

“The Arakan Kamans have increased from 2,180 to 2,686 and are practically confined to Akyab and Kyauk Pyu districts.”

In the report of 1911 census, Volume IX, Burma Part I, Paragraph 264, it’s mentioned that, “the majority of the members of the Musalman tribes are to be found in the two districts of Akyab and Rangoon, which contain 56% of the Musalmans of Province (Burma). In Akyab they are indigenous and entered largely in the Agricultural occupation. The population of Musalman in Akyab district in 1901 is 154,887 and in 1911 it was 178,647.”

Thus, according to the series censuses we can tell that, ‘There was a Muslim community in Arakan, particularly in Akyab District, who prefers to call themselves Arakan-Mahomadens and were quite distinct from the Chittgonians and Bengali immigrants to Arakan.’ ‘According to Baxter report of 1940, paragraph 7, “This Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race.

In 1825 Arakan became a British territory with a population of only one lakh souls, (Maughs 60,000; Muslims 30,000, Burmese 10,000). That’s means:-

The total population of Arakan increased 10 fold in 106 years from 1825 to 1931 and the Rakhine’s population also increased nearly 10 fold during the same years. Why the Muslim’s Population increased only nearly 2 fold, while the Buddhist population traditionally had a smaller growth rate compared to both Hindus and Muslims. There is strong possibility that the census on Muslims was incorrect. The populations of Arakan Mahomedans should be not less than 300,000 in 1931 not merely 51,615.

U Kyaw Min
RB History
August 11, 2014

Today Arakanese Muslim calls themselves Rohingya or Roewengya. ---- writers and poets appeared among the Arakanese Muslims, especially during fifteenth to eighteenth centuries; and there were even some Muslim court poets at the courts of Arakan King’s. (see in chapter four). These poets and writers wrote in Persian and Arabic or in the mixed Language, Rohingya, which they developed among themselves and which was a mixture of Arabia, Bengali, Urdu, and Arakanese. This language is not as widespread today as it was in the past and it has been largely replaced by Burmese and Arakanese. The Muslim artists then also developed the art of calligraphy. Some manuscripts have been preserved but have not yet been scientifically examined. - - - The Muslims who came to Arakan brought with them Arab, Indian, and especially Bengali music and musical instruments. Persian song is sung by Arakanese Muslims to this day. That is how the Rohingyas preserved their own heritage from the impact of the Buddhist environment not only as far as their religion is concerned but also in some aspects of their culture.[1]

As human society developed, identity and ethnicity developed too. Identity is not static, but dynamic. In course of time many new identity of ethnicities grew up. Some even changed their ethnic names which we can observe in our country’s demography. Rohingya identity developed through the interaction of historical processes. It is the product of history, not novel identities forged by a group as being portrayed by some biased historians. No historian can say Rohingya speak Bengali, but just a type of Bengali just like Rakhine is a type of Burma language. Cultural affinity alone cannot tie together two geographically separate ethnic people. Political, geo graphical and economic life of people are main factures that lead to separate identity. Many Myanmar ethnic peoples changed their ethnic names in course of times.

In the last chapters we can see Muslims and their cultural influence in Arakan to a large extent. Mostly they are referred as Muslims. Muslim is not a race or an ethnic people. So to fill the need of time, this Muslims lately began to be called as Rohingya.

In his famous book “Burma in revolt: opium and insurgency since 1948”, Bertil litner described the Muslims of Rakhine as another hybrid race which much later was to become known as Rohingya”[2]

One well known historian is trying to identify Rohingya as Bengali by pointing out British time Bengali infiltration was not only in Rakhine but also in Myanmar side; and there are Bengali Mosques in Yangon. What we must realize is Rohingyas, despite their some affinity with some aspect of Bengali, they were in Arakan before British time. They are not British time immigrants. Their Mosques, one in Aung San Football stadium compound and another in Piniegong ward, Yangon were built before British time and are known as Rakhine Bali(Mosques) These mosques were rewarded by king Bagyi daw to his Arakan die-hard army unit, [See: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003]

Myanmar specialist Martin Smith in his “Insurgency: the politics of ethnicity, 1995, said; Rohingya had become increasingly popular in recent years.

To those writers who want to relate Rohingya’s root to Bengali and who want to say Rohingya is not an ethnic name but a geographic locator, I would like to ask where the ethnic root of all Myanmar people come. Almost all Myanmar people have their origin somewhere out of the country.

Professor David Stein Berg presents; the people that call themselves Rohingya, as an unrecognized cultural minority that has emerged in a space with “traditionally undefined frontiers” and heavily Muslims and culturally related population.[Stein Berg; Burma, what everyone need to know, Oxford, 2010, P.22]

Egretean and Jagan explained that the term Rohingya is the name under which the local population had been known since 1950. (Egretean and Jagan, soldiers and diplomacy in Burma; P.132)

Jaeques P. Leider, the renowned supporter of Rakhine version of Rakhine history writes:

“Francis Hamilton is one of the most qualified persons to have knowledge on Rakhine related issues in that time. What we learned from him on the one hand that there was a Muslim community in Rakhine at the other hand that both Hindus and Muslims were among those hundreds or thousands of Rakhines who had been deported and resettled in upper Myanmar. The Muslims spoke an Indian language of their own in which they call themselves Rohingya to state the place where they are from. - - - As many Muslims from Rakhine had also fled the kingdom around the time Hamilton visited the areas, there is at least a great likely hood that Hamilton could have heard the name “Rooinga” from them. [J. Leider; Rohingya the name , the movement 2014, P-10]

The most authentic evidence is the report of Advisory commission on the issue of promoting Arakan into a state. That commission was formed on 29, April 1960, by the office of prime minister. It composed of most senior veteran independence activists and the highest ranking official post holders. They are: 

1. Dr. Ba Oo, Ex-Union President — Chairman 
2. Dr. U Thein Maung,  Ex-Judicial Minister – Member
3. U Tin Ex-Chairman of Pyithu Luttaw, Speaker – Member
4. U Ohn Phe, Ex-Chief Justice – Member
5. U Chit Thaung, Ex-Minister – Member

In the commission report on 30th December 1960, It is said Rohingya from Mayu district also object to the notion of Rakhine state hood. Thus this commission recognized Rohingya (See 1958- 62 Myanmar politics vol. III by U Kyaw Win +3, who were appointed to write true history of Myanmar by SLORC 1991, P-230)

After the British occupation of Rakhine in 1825 and the Yandaps treaty of 1826, many, if not most people from Rakhine who had taken refuge in the district of Chittagong returned to Rakhine. [J. Leider 20-14] Rakhine were said to be returnees.

But Muslim returnees were said to be immigrants.

Abdul Mabood khan says that people from the district of Chittagong even today use that term Rohingya to mean the Arakanese Muslim. (The Maghs Buddhist community in Bengla Desh. P-44)

J. Leider further writes:

Islamic cultural influence on the Rakhine court came first from the sultanate of Bengal in the 15th century as shown by minting of coins during Mrauk-U’s golden age in the 17th century. Chittagong was an economic pillar of the kingdom and Muslims formed a large part of the king’s subjects and Muslim traders competed with Portuguese and Dutch traders. [Here in 17th century Chittagong fell into the hand of Mughal. The large Muslim subjects mentioned above, therefore, must be Muslim in Rakhine proper.] When Bengal fell into the hands of Mughal in 1567, soldiers who fought against the Mughal apparently took service at the court of Rakhine. (J. Leider 2014, P.10)

These soldiers were mostly Afghans. Their presence in Rakhine society had a deep impact to change the social structure of native Muslims: the Rohingyas.

Dr. J. Leider who again mentioned, “There is absolutely no doubt about the existence of urban and rural Muslim communities who were living inside the kingdom that become part of Myanmar in 1785. [J.leider the name, the movement 2014, P.10] The agony of false is, still Rakhine politicians blindly say “today’s Muslims in Rakhine are all illegal immigrants. They all should be subject to verification and naturalization”.

He further emphasized “a literate Muslim community also existed in Mrauk-U”.

Where this Muslims gone? They were there for many centuries. Many generations passed. Still can you say there is not social, cultural change among them? In fact they evolved into a distinct community. Their root is not from the captives deported by Arakan fleet in sixteen to eighteenth centuries as highlighted by Dr. J. P. Leider. There were large Muslim settlements before that.

We can say this distinctive community was there even before Mrauk-U period. Here Morice Collis in collaboration with San Shwe Bu wrote, “Arakan being adjacent to Bengal their might have been a considerable number of Muslim population in it before Mrauk-U age. [This Muslim’s ethnic name today is Rohingya.] (Journal of Burma research society Vol.15, 1925, P.33)

There was a big Muslim community part of which was deported by Bodow Phaya’s army to Amarapura. The king appointed Abhishah Husseine, the head of Arakan Muslims as the head of all the Muslim of Myanmar. (see ThanTun, the royal order of Burma, Kyoto centre for South East Asian study 1983-90, Vol 6, also J.leider, the Rohingya the name - - - 2014, P.12)

J. Leider writes: 

“Beyond the peculiar insight into cultural broker ship of both local Muslim teachers and Buddhist monks, who translated the manuscripts also, throw light on the intellectual network of Muslim that testify to a shared Muslim culture and identity that spanned the north east coast of the Bay of Bengal until the colonial period. - - - British interacted with the population through local Muslim interpreters in the early colonial time and obtained historical information in the country through local Muslims. (J. Leider, 2014, P.11)

University distance education first year current geography text book contains, “ In the northern Rakhine state close to the border with Bangla Desh at Buthidaung and Maung Daw townships are where the Rohingya and Shittogonians live; These minority ethnic groups had settled in the border regions Since early days”. Yangon University of Distance Education, first year, textbook of Geography of Myanmar, Module No. Geology, Code No.14.B.Pg.61.

In post-independence period – we have a lot of official record testifying Rohingya identity. First Myanmar newspaper, encyclopedia, journals, periodicals including the one issued by the defense ministry had wide publicity of Rohingya’s indigenous status.

Second there were registrations of university Rohingya student organization, Rohingya daily newspaper, Rohingya labor union.

Thirdly 1961 September 15 Myanmar cabinet had decided to relay four additional ethnic broadcasting program from Burma broadcasting service. Those are Rohingya, Pa-Oo, Lah-ho and Mon languages (see BBS 30th Anniversary Publication journal by U Kyaw Nyint P-71)

Fourthly Muslims in north Arakan, were issued family registrar cards with Rohingya as their race. Returnee from B.D Camps registration cards also bear the same identity. Most interesting is in the latest NaSaKa yearly verification endorsements on family registration card also ratify Rohingya’s identity. [see. Copies in the appendices]

Again our birth certificates, departmental service identity cards including defense ministry’s bear the name Rohingya. Some are attached here as documents. See at the end in the appendices.

Note: NaSaKa = Frontier Immigration Check Task Force.

[1] Moshe Yegar, 1972, P.25 
[2] Litner Bertil, Burma in revolt --- Chiang Mai: Silk worm Books 1994.

U Kyaw Min is Chairman of Democracy and Human Rights Party.

Aman Ullah
RB History
August 10, 2014

One of the prominent features of socio-cultural history of Arakan in the 17th century was the extensive Muslim influence on the Arakan society, which was not an outcome of some sudden occurrences. It was a result of an age-long intercourse between Arakan and Muslim countries that dated back to the period of Arab contacts with Arakan during the reign of Maha-Taing Tsandaya (788-810 AD).

Strong Muslim influence in the late 17th century Arakan has been remarked upon a host of writers: French physician François Bernier, who was in India during 1665-1667, mentions that ‘Although the king of Rakan be a Gentile, yet, there are many Mohamedan mixed with the people, who either chosen to retire among them or have been enslaved by the Portuguese in the expeditions to the neighboring coast.’ Another great European writer Nicolao Manucci, who was also in India during 1656-1712, in support him(Bernier) saying that Shuja found many dwellers in Arakan, Mughals and Phatans. Even San Shwe Bu, an Arakanese archaeologist and historian, agrees that ‘there were numerous Muhamadens settled in the country.’

Various historians and scholars have recorded that Islam began to spread from the eastern bank of Meghna to Arakan since eighth and ninth centuries, long before the establishment of a Muslim kingdom in the frontier region. Since then, the influence grew fast and was consolidated fully by the 17th century.

From the writings of Verthema, Caesar Frederick, Ralph Fitch and also Portuguese it appears that in the sea ports of Bengal coast there was important community of Muslim merchants and residents who were mostly Arabs. A fairly large numbers of Muslims had entered Chittagong and had gone to Arakan considerably before Chittagong came under the independent Sultanate of Bengal in 1338. The tempo of Muslims immigrations to Chittagong and Arakan increased after the Pathan occupations of Chittagong in the middle of 14th century.

The gradual Muslim infiltration into political and cultural life of Arakan became more forceful during the reign of King Min Saw Mwun (Sulaiman Shah) in 15th century. He was forced to take sanctuary with the king Ahmed Shah of Gaur and with the help of the Sultan of Gaur (Jalal-uddin Mohammed Shah) regained his throne. Once restored to his throne he and his successor also took Muslim names and issued coins and medallions bearing the Kaliima (the Islamic confession of Faith). According to MS Collis, ‘Arakan became a feudatory of Sultans of Bengal and oriented towards the Muslim State. Contact with a modern civilization resulted in a renaissance. Min Bin (Zabauk Shah) who ascended the throne in 1531 founded the Arakanese Empire. With him the graduated in their Muslim studies. Arakan had turned into a Sultanate, the court was shaped in Gaur and Delhi and its kings adopted the title of Padashaah. Let. Col. Ba Shin, the then Chairman of Historical Commission, stated that Arakan was virtually ruled by the Muslims from 1430 to 1531.

Besides Manucci and Bernier, Sebastian Manrique who was a Portuguese and a Roman Catholic priest of St. Augustine Order also referred to the great number of Muslim population in Arakan. Manrique visited Arakan twice, in 1629 and 1635. He attended the coronation ceremony of the Arakanese king. He spent six years in Chittagong and Arakan. In 1629, he says, he saw many Muslims on his way to and in the city Mrauk U. While discussing the coronation of the king, Manrique specially referred to the Muslim officers and soldiers in the service of the king. The king Thiri Thudamma postponed his coronation for twelve years because he was told by his wise men that he would die within a year of his coronation. When several year passed (Manrique says nine years), his nobles demand that the king should be coroneted. The king acceded to their demand, but before doing so, as Manrique says, the king consulted his preceptor who was a Muslim and who visited the holy cities of Makah and Medina twice. This preceptor of the king must have been Chief Minister and Manrique’s evidence shows that what a great influence was exercised by this Muslim officer over the Buddhist king of Arakan.

Manrique gives the description of the coronation ceremony of the Arakanese king held on 23 January 1635. He gives a description of the coronation procession and says that of the several contingent of army that took part in the coronation procession, one contingent wholly comprised of 600 Muslim soldiers was led by the Muslim officer called Lashker Wazir who rode on Iraqi horse. In the contingent, led by Arkanese commanders, also there were Muslim soldiers. The evidence of Manrique combined with the fact that there were several Muslim ministers in Arakan gives a good picture of the presence of the Muslim in Arakan in the 17th century. 

The contemporary Bengali, which blossomed at Mrauk-U in 17th century by the Muslim poets of Arakan, gives reference to a number of Muslim nobles who occupied high post of ministers, chief ministers and war ministers in the Arakan in the 17th century. Asrof Khan was a Lashker Wazir (Defence Minister) of King Thiri Thudamma (1612-22). There was Lashker Wazir in the time of Nara Patigyi (1638-45), but among the Muslim officers, Magan Thakur earned great name. He was the Chief Minister of Thado Mintra (1645-52), the nephew and son-in-law of Nara Patigyi. Sanda Thudamma also had Muslim ministers named Sayyid Muhammed and Nabaraj Majlis. Besides the minister there were other major or minor officers also.

The Muslim influence made a deep mark on the society and administration of Arakan. Poet Alwal, in his Sikandernama, refers to the participation of Muslim nobility in the coronation ritual of Arakanese monarch. Majlis Nabaraj, a Prime Minister, officially conducted the investiture ceremony of King Sanda Thudamma (1652-1684). 

Alwal first praises king and then says that Nabaraj Majlis was the Chief Minister among all the Muslims there living in the country of Roshang. When the king died and his prince (new King) came to occupy the throne, he was made to stand outside of the throne facing the east. Majlis then appeared before him wearing his official dress. Nabaraj Majlis then administered the oath as follows: ‘treat your subjects as your son; do not oppress the people; be just in religious and legal matters; do not allow the strong to oppress the weak; you should be kind, truthful and religious; behave well to the good people and destroy the wicked; always be generous and do not vacillate or restless; do not harm anybody for past fault;’ and he advised the king in many other matters. The king agreed to abide by his advice and follow his admonition. Then he saluted Nabaraj Majlis and then others of his family.

The king Sanda Thudamma ascended the throne in 1652, after the death of his father. As he was minor, his mother became regent and Magan Thakur held the reins of government on their behalf. Then Magan Thakur was not only the Prime Minister but also became the guardian of the dowager queen and the boy king. The king was coroneted at the age of 30 years about 18 years after his accession in1670. It means that Magan Thakur held the rein of government about 18 years.

Thus, in the later part of the 17th century the real administrates were these Muslim High officials. San Baw U, in his book ‘My Rambles: Among the ruins of the golden city of Mrauk u’, wrote that, ‘In those times not only the council of ministers in Arakan were so powerful and dominant but strong popular public opinion existed that guided the officers of the state and curbed the king’s power.’

The Indian historian Ramesh C. Majumdar speaks of a decisive role of the Muslims in the history of the kingdom of Arakan and Jamini M. Ghosh (writing in 1960) thinks that the use of Muslim names and the favours granted by the king to the Muslim poets testify to the ‘cultural affinity’ of the Arakanese and the Muslims. Suniti B. Qanungo, writes: ‘The Muslim subjugations of Arakan from time to time undoubtedly increased the Islamic influence in that country.

Throughout the history of Arakan, the Muslims remained predominant and played a distinctive role in all fields. But the general characteristics of civil society in Arakan today is of Buddhist being dominant, acquisitive and exploitative and the Muslims being deprived, exploited and devoid of any significant role in the power structure even in the local level. The Muslim continues to experience severe legal, economic and social discrimination. The historical right Muslim to live in Arakan is still put very much in question. The successive military regimes arbitrarily deny their citizenship status and right to self-identification on fictitious grounds that their ancestors allegedly did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule.

Aman Ullah
RB History
August 6, 2014

The building up of the Muslim society in Arakan is a long process of gradual growth. The composition of a society quite naturally changed also deferent from century to century. Two factors were mainly responsible for swelling the ranks of the Muslims in Arakan: (I) the immigration of the Muslims from various countries, and (II) merging of the local populace in the Muslim society after their conversion.

The people of many countries came into Arakan on several occasions. There came traders and businessmen in their commercial activities; there came Sayyids, Ulema, Sheiks and Saints in their religious and cultural pursuits; statesmen, administrators, and solders by invitation, and artisans and craftsmen in search of employment. There came Arabs, Persians and Truks; there came Afghans, Moors, central Asians and Northern Indians; there came Bengalis, Rajputees and other nationals.

They introduced new elements in the society. They came under banner of Islam, but they bought with them their particular ways of life, and as far as practicable, tried to keep homogeneity of their groups.

The first groups to leave its mark upon the culture of this area were the Arabs. R.B Smart stated that the Arabs traders were in close contact with the peoples of Arakan as early as 788 AD, and that; they introduced the religion of Islam there, in as early as that time. (1) After the advent of Islam in Arabia, the Muslim followed the foot prints of their fore-fathers in trade and commerce. The Muslim Arab merchants made contact with Arakan. In those days the Arabs were very much active in sea-trade, they even monopolized trade and commerce in the Eest. As Dr. Rahim rightly remarks, “the eastern trade of the Arab merchants flourished so much so that the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal turned into Arab lakes. (2) They extended their trade from the Red sea to China. Many of these Arabs settled in Arakan.

Not all the Arabs settled in Arakan did so by choice; because of shipwrecks some were forced to seek refuge on the shore and remained there to settle; because of political vicissitudes and rivalries within the Islamic land some had to take shelters in countries far beyond the reach of their government. (3) The Arabs presence in Arakan continued in seventeenth century. 

Usually the Arabs did not bring their women and probably took local females as wives. The decedents of the mixed marriages between the local wives and the Arabs no doubt formed the original nucleus of the Rohingyas in Arakan.

The second most important contribution to Rohingyas’ identity and extension in the Arakan region came as a consequence of the Burmese invasion of 1404. Narameikhla (Soliaman Shah), the king of Arakan (1404-1434), was expelled from his kingdom by the Burmese; he found shelter in the court of the Muslim ruler of Gaur, and was reinstated on his throne by the armies send from Bengal. The armies of the Gaur accompanying Narameikhla (Soliaman Shah) were mostly Turkish, Iranian and afghan origin. They settled in a village near Mrauk-U and, built the Sandi Khan Mosque in 1430. They introduced Persian Language in the court of Arakan.

In addition to those soldiers, there also came a large numbers of Muslims who held important posts in the court as well as in the field of trade and commerce, possessing a far superior culture and civilization. Two Persian inscriptions said to be engraved in 1494-95 A D refer to the names of a Muslim governor and his subordinate officials holding Persian tittles thus testifying to the fact of the penetration of the Muslims into Arakan. (4) For the next hundred years from 1430 to 1531, Arakan remained feudatory to Bengal, paid tribute, learned its history and politics. During this period Persian Language and Turko- Mughal court etiquette were dominant factors in the way of life of Arakan Society.

Muslims conquered Chittagong in 1338 and held under their sway till 1538, and Chittagong formed an integral part of Arakanese up to1666. During these period of more than three hundred years a large number of Muslims from Sonargaon, Gaur and other parts of Bengal spread themselves over the entire area from Chittagong to the Arakan court. Muslims gradually became predominant in the Arakan court and a cultural infinity was developed with the Muslims of Chittagong and Arakan ever since the Arabs had settled there. (5)

“The end of the sixteenth and the first half of seventeenth century was a period of political instability and transition caused by break-up of the Afghan State in Bengal and the gradual advance of the Mughals.

One of the social and demographic efforts of this political change was the flight of a large number of Afghan nobles and other Muslims of rank and position towards the easternmost district of Bengal. Quite a few of these people found shelter at the court of Arakan where they filled up important positions in the government. Under the patronage of these men a number of such invited Muslim intellectuals continued the cultivation of Bengali literature.” (6) 

“The Pathan (Afghan) adventurers, warriors, fortune hunters, who came to Chittagong after its conquest did not return to upcountry after the breakdown of Pathans Power. The Mughals, the successors of the Pathans in the subcontinent were their arch enemies. Therefore, they preferred to remain in Chittagong rather than the risk of being killed or enslaved by the Mughals. With the conquest of Gaur by the Mughals many more Pathans took refuge in Chittagong. They offered their services to whoever held the possession of Chittagong. The Arakanese required their services in fighting out the enemies, the Mughals and the Portuguese all of whom were the enemies of the Pathans. Due to their martial vigor, they were appointed to responsible posts. (7)

Another important factor which helped increase the Bengali contribution to Muslim culture in Arakan came as a result of the Portuguese presence in the eastern seas of the Bay of Bengal in the seventeenth century at a time when there existed a weak government in Bengal. It was early in that century that the Portuguese reached the shores of Bengal and Arakan. They came in contact with the Maghs to establish piracy in civil-war-torn Bengal.

The capture and enslavements of prisoners was one of the most lucrative types of plunder. Half of the prisoners taken by Portuguese and all the artisans were given to Arakanese king. The rest were sold on the market or forced to settle in Arakan. (8) Year after year they wadded and plundered the lowlands Bengal, carrying off the inhabitants as slaves. The fury of the raids continued almost unabated during the first half of the eighteenth century. Tallish described the widespread destruction caused by the Magh-Firingi plundering raids as an eye witness, ‘As they ( the pirates) for a long time continually practiced piracy, their country prospered, and their number increased, while Bengal daily became more and more desolate, less and less able to resist and fight them. Not a householder was left on the both sides of the rivers on their track from Dacca to Chittagong. The districts Bakla, a part of Bengal, lying in their usual part, was (formerly) full of cultivation and houses and yield every year a large amount to imperial government as a duty on its betel-nuts. They swept in with it broom of plunder and adduction, leaving none to inhabit a house or kindle a fire in all the tracts.’ (9) In the Rennell’s map of 1771 the whole area of Sunderbans is shown as a tract depopulated by the Maghs.

The large number of captive Muslims brought by the Magh-Firigi pirates gave rise to the Muslim population of Arakan. According to Sir A.P. Phayer, they (the captive Muslims) formed about 15% of whole population. (10) According to Tallish, "Many high born persons and Sayyids, many pure and Sayyid born women were compelled to undergo the disgrace of slavery." (11)

One of the many other factors that contributed to the preponderance of Muslim population in Arakan was a large scale conversion of non-Muslims. It brought the problem of composition and structure of the Muslim society. They hailed from different ranks in the society. The large majority came from the general mass, who, being attracted by the miracles and piety of the Muslim Saints. According to, U Kyi, a Burmese historian, that “The Arabs merchants and mystics carried on missionary activities among the locals. The superior moral character and high missionary zeal of those devote followers attracted large number of people towards the Islam who embraced it en masse.”(12) G.E. Harvey sated that, “doubtless it is Mohammedan influence which led to women being more secluded in Arakan than Burma.” (13) According to Dyniawadi Sayadaw U Nyanna, during the reign of Min Bin (Zabuk Shah 1531-1553) Muslims missionaries from Persia (Iran) and India came to Arakan to propagate Islam where considerable number of Buddhists confessed Islam. (14)

There were also the children of mixed mirages. According to D.G. Hall foreign residents and visitors to Burma and Arakan were encouraged to form temporary alliance with the women of the country. But in the case of Arakan, they were afraid of leaving behind their offspring through local wives for fear of the conversion to Islam. (15)

The next and perhaps last event which helped influence the Rohingya character and number in Arakan was in 1661 when Shah Shuja, the Maghul prince utterly defeated by Aurangzeb, was driven to seek refuge in Arakan. He and his family and followers were assured of welcome by the Arakanese king. But he and most of his followers were murdered on February 7, 1661. Descendants of Shah Shuja’s followers still survive among the Rohingyas as sub-group with their special name,”Kaman.”

Thus, the Muslim population of the kingdom of Arakan attained a sizeable quantity to form a society of their own. The immigrants and local converts together formed society distinct from that of the non-Muslims. There were diverse professions and groups. The existence of different categories of peoples in the society is also well attested by the contemporary Bengali literature. Poet Daulat Qazu while speaking his patron Ashrof Khan writes, “Asfrof Khan patronized many other Muslim immigrants, Sayyid, Sheiks, Maghuls and Pathans, besides others from among Brahmans, Kshartriyas and Sudras.” (16) Another poet also contemporary to Daulat Qazi named Mardan states his birth place to be Kanchipuri in Arakan where there lived a number of “Ulema” and “Sheiks’ together with Brahmans and Kyacthas who were engaged in literary activities. (17) Poet Abdul Karim Khandkar while speaking about a village named Bander in Roshang (Arakan) says, "there lived in that village Qazis, Muftis, Ulema religious Faqirs and darwishe. Those high-ranking Muslims living there, used to converse with the king on equal and friendly terms." (18)

Sayyids were the descendants of Prophet, Ulema or Alims were those who were well versed in the Islamic science or theology. The Ulema received training in Muslim law, logic, Arabic letters and the religious literature like Hadiths, Tasfir and Kalam. The Shieks were Sufi- Saints, some time non-worldly ascetics, who were known for their spiritual attainments. The Qazis were the Muslim judicial officers appointed to try the cases of the Muslim community of the kingdom.(19) Poet Alaol says that people from various countries and belonging to various groups came to Arakan to be under the Care of Arakanese king. He mentioned the people from Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, abbyssinia, Rumi(Turkish) Khurasan, Uzbekistan, Lahore, Multan, Sind, Kashmir, the Deccan, Hind (north Indian), Kamrup and Bengal, Karnal, Malayees, Achin, Cochin, and Kanartak country. The Poet also refers to the Sheiks, Sayyids, Mughals, Pathan, Rajputs, and people of Ava, Burma, Shyam(Indo-China), Tripura, Kukis; the Armenians, the Dutch, the Danish, the English, the French, the Spanish and the protuguese were also found in Roshang. (20) 

The Muslim society of Arakan was, thus, a melting pot for centuries in which various foreign traditions imported by the immigrants as well as local influence were fused. They are not an ethnic group, which developed from one tribal group affiliation or single racial stock. Tides of people like Arabs, Persians, Turks, Afghan, Moors, Mughals, Bengalis and people from central Asia, came mostly as traders, warriors and saints through overland and sea-routes. Many settled in Arakan and mixing with the local people developed the present stock of people known as “Rohingya”.

Thus, the history of Rohingyas reveals that they developed from different stocks of people who concentrated in a common geographical location. They have a more than 1300 years old tradition, culture, history and civilization of their own expressed in their shrines, cemeteries, sanctuaries, social and cultural institutions found scattered even today in every nook and corner of the land. By preserving their own heritages from the impact of the Buddhist environments, the Rohingyas formed their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Barman invasions of Arakan in 1784 AD.


1. R.B Smart, Burma Gazetteers (Akyab District) Vol. A Rangoon (1957) P.19

2. Mohammad Abdur Rahim, Social & Cultural History of Bengal, Vol. 1 Karachi (1963) P. 37.

3. Dr. Mohammed Mahar Ali, History of Muslims Bengal, Vol.1-A Riyad (1985) P.36.

4. Dr. S.B Qanungo, A History of Chittagong, Vol.1 Chittagong (1988) P.289, also JASP, XI (1966) P.123.

5. S.N.H Rizvi, Bangladesh District Gazetteers (Chittagong) Dacca (1975) P.122.

6. Supra (3) Vol.1B P.865.

7. Supra (4) P. 201.

8. Ibid P.326.

9. Ibid PP.328-329, also Fathyya Ibrariya in JASB Calcutta (1907) PP.722-25.

10. JASB, X (1841) P.681.

11. JASB, Calcutta (1907) PP.722-25.

12. U Kyi, History of Burma, P.160.

13. Harvey, G.E Outlines of Burmese History, Calcutta (1957) P.90.

14. Dyniawadi Sayadaw U Nyanna, Rakhine Razawin Thit, Vol. II PP.161-163.

15. JBRS, XXVI, I Rangoon (1960) P.72.

16. Supra (3) Vol. I B P.866.

17. Ibid P.868.

18. Ibid P.795.

19. Dr. Abdul Karim, Social History of the Muslim Bengal (Down to AD 1538) Chittagong (1985) P. 194.

20. Abdul Karim and Enmul Huq, Arakan Rajsabasha Bangla ahitya, Culcutta (1935) P.12.

Aman Ullah
RB History
July 21, 2014

Arakan, in fact, a continuation of the Chittagong plain was neither purely a Burmese nor an Indian Territory until 18th century. Chiefly for its location, it had not only remained independent for the most part of history but also endeavored to expand its territory in the surrounding tracts whenever opportunity came. It is a natural physiographic unit clearly separated from the rest of Burma by a long and high impassible hill range of Arakan Yoma and also located far away from Indian capitals. The relation Chittagong and Arakan is influenced by geographical, cultural and historical considerations.

Culturally, socially, economically and politically the peoples of Arakan were independent for centuries. Hinduism and Buddhism spread from India, whereas Islamic civilization began influencing Arakan from the 7th century. As such, her relation with western Muslims states is millennia-old.

Across the last two thousand years, there has been great deal of local vibrancy as well as movement of different ethnic peoples through the region. For the last millennium or so, Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) have historically lived on both side of Naaf River, which marks the modern border with Bangladesh and Burma. In addition to Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) majority groups, a number of other minority peoples also come to live in Arakan, including Chin, Kaman, Thet, Dinnet, Mramagri, Mro and Khami etc.

The Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) had been peacefully coexisting in Arakan over the centuries. Unfortunately, the relation between those two sister communities began to grow bitter at instigation of the third parties, during the long colonial rule of more than two centuries. The anti-Muslim pogrom of 1942—in which about 100,000 Rohingya were massacred, 50,000 of them were driven across the border to the east Bengal some parts of Muslim settlements were devastated—have caused rapid deterioration in their relation.

Today, the greater number of Rakhines, under the patronization of the successive regime, is hostile to Rohingyas. They are main instruments of Rohingya oppression over the decades. Even many Rakhines today claim Arakan to be the ‘historic land of Rakhine Buddhists’. Denying the existence of Rohingya, they state that Arakan belongs to them alone and the Rohingyas have nothing to do with it and have no right to use the word ‘Arakan” and even ‘Rohingya”. This chauvinistic claim of ‘exclusive ownership’ of Arakan by the Rakhine is the root cause of the problem in Arakan causing constant communal violence and tension between the two major communities.

It is not possible to scribe to Rakhines an “historic right”, the right of first occupier. The Arakanese chronicles recorded a line of kings reaching back to year 2666 BC. More certain is the Kingdom of Dannya Waddy (Dhannovati), which flourished at the beginning of Christian era. Many modern scholars including U Aung Tha Oo and U San Tha Aung believe that the Rakhines were Ayans who came from the west.

Brahmanical and Buddhist culture together an influx of Aryans speakers arrived in this area, in the early centuries Christian era, wrote E.H Johnston basing on Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan. So the people in the kingdom of Dannya Waddy were not Aryans stocks. They might have been Proto-Australoid people like that of Bengal or Negrito group of Neolitihic descendants. The pre-Aryan peoples are the real Adivasis (aboriginal) of this area. They were not only the first occupants of the land and had been there for thousand years until the Aryans and other peoples came.

Archaeological remains, many historical and numismatics evidence confirms that the earlier Arakanese dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over population similar to that of Bengal.

Arab traders were close contact with the people as early as 788AD and that they introduced the religious of Islam there in as early as that time. Many these Arabs settled in Arakan. In the 8th century some Buddhists from Magadha in north and northeastern India escaped persecution of Hindu revivalism and took shelter in Chittagong and Arakan region.

History does not help us in forming an idea of Burmese infiltration into Arakan before 11th century. Hall and others described the Araknese (Rakhines) of today as “basically Burmese with an unmistakable Indian admixture …It is only about the 11th century that we can speak of a people of Indo-Mongoloid stock, from an ethnic group in the intermixture of tribes of various ethnic origins, such as, Australoid, Mongoloid and other elements now known as Arakanese Buddhist. 

Wilhelm Klein, in his book ‘Burma the Golden’ wrote that, ‘all sudden, Arakan changed. The invading tribes made the country face east, away from India. As Burma began to flex its muscles, the profound changes born at Pagan started to transform Arakan... over the centuries the physiognomy of the Arakanese people changed. The racial admixture of Indo-European with only recently arrived Central Asians became predominantly Mongoloid, an ethnic mixture which still characterizes today’s Arakanese.’

Historically they called Magh. According to Phayer, the name Magh originated from the ruling race of Magadha.As to Prof. San Tha Aung, ‘the derivation would probably be Maghodhi- Magai- Mog or Magh’. However, they prefer to identify themselves as Rakhine. 

Rohingyas are descended from local indigenous tribes who lived in Arakan since the dawn of history. They are thus not descended from the Arabs, Moors, Persian, pathens, and Moguls alone. The Arabs arrived in Arakan in the late 7th century AD, settled there and intermingled, intermixed and intermarried with the local people and converted a number of local populations including local Buddhists. The appearance of the Arab in Arakan in the 7th century was for more of a cultural phenomenon than ethnic one. The Persians, Truks, Pathens and other Muslim migrant who came into Arakan in the course of time were also merged with the local populace. These various migrations and local converts led to form one common racial and linguistics classification as “Rohingya”; a term derived from Rohang, the ancient name of Arakan.

Dr. Michael W. Charney, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, writes, “The earliest recorded use of an ethnonym immediately recognizable as Rohingya is an observation by Francis Buchanan in 1799. As he explains, a dialect that was derived from Hindi …is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long been settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Roainga, or native of Arakan.”

With the passage of time, there come to exist two distinct and compact communities of Rohingya and Rakhine in Arakan out of those heterogeneous races and tribes and are thus equally entitled to similar historic rights. Both are indigenous people characterized by objective criteria, such as historical continuity, and subjective factors including self-identification which need to define an indigenous people and to have the right of self-determination. It means that, if Rakhines have historic rights in Arakan the Rohingyas have also the same right in Arakan. If the Rakhines freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, the Rohingyas have also the same rights to charter their destiny by their free will, by virtue of their rights to self-determination.

U Kyaw Min
RB History
June 21, 2014

The version of Rakhine on their ethnic root is paradoxical. Sometimes they say, they are Tibeto-Burman and akin to Burman proper. Sometime they say they are not from the Tibeto-Burman stock, but Indo-Aryan. Two opposite promises, perhaps for linkage of history, civilization, and grandeur of the past they styled as Indo-Aryans whose rule prevailed in Arakan for more than a millennium until the over run of Burmans. On the other hand not to alienate from their original stock they say they are Burman. Actually the second version seemed correct. In earlier Rakhine chronicles and literature we see Rakhine claimed them as Myanmar. (See: Dannya Waddy Areydaw Pon).

Rakhine in Bangladesh still take Myanmar as their official appellation. Thus the claim to be Indo-Aryan is a plot twist and turn of Rakhine chroniclers to grab away the past history from Rohingya. Rakhine called Indian ―Kalaah as the Burman do. If they themselves are Indian, is it logical to call others as ―Kalaah (see: also above P: 22).

The double paradox is they sometimes claim to be ―Maghadi people from central India where Lord Buddha was born. One of the reasons of calling the Rakhines as ―Magh is because they were from Maghada. But in Muslim sense ―Magh means pirate. Historians say Maghadi people migrated into Chittagong-Arakan region due to religious persecution and these migrants mixed up with natives. Thus Chittagong dialect was Maghadi influence. It has been so extensive that Chittagong dialect is divorced from Bengali proper. Chittagong dialect's being different from Bengali must naturally due to the influence of language of neighboring Burman. But there is no Burmese or Rakhine penetration because those people in early Arakan were Maghadi (north India). Only the influence of Maghadi parakrit is found in Rohingya. Maghadi influence in Rohingya is stronger because Rohang is further away from Bengal than Chittagong. So Bangali impact on Rohingya language is linear. In another way we can say Chittagong Language was highly influenced by the Language of early Arakan. That is it is not Rohingya who speak Chittagonian dialect but it is Chittagonian who speak Rohingya Language. Arakan's early inscriptions bear greater similarity with Rohingya Language despite some changes in Rohingya language in the course of centuries. Rakhine language has no trace of Maghadi or early inscriptions of Arakan. It is just an early form of Burmese. Thus there are adages in Burma.―Pein Reit mamaing Rakhine Mae and Rakhine Ohhara, Myanmar Pohhrana meaning ―ask Rakhine for correct spelling and Rakhine daily usages are Myanmar‘s glossaries. In ethnic aspect the feature, the complexion of Rakhine has no affinity with ethnic Maghadi or Indian. By all measure of ethnicity Rakhine is a Burman race. They are in all aspect; especially the southerners are entirely similar to Burman. No Burmese historian says that Myanmar (Burmans) is Maghadis. So there is no a single strand of reason to assume Rakhine to be Maghadi. If there were Maghadi migrants into Arakan they would be the Rohingya of today. Linguistic and ethnic affinities with those central Indian are only found in Rohingya.

By U Kyaw Min
RB History
April 30, 2014

At a time when I have been preparing to write a short but precise treatise on Rohingya’s identity coincidently I came across an article “The Rohingya’ identity - British experience in Arakan 1826-1948” dating 9 April 2014, written by Mr. Derek Tonkin, an ex-British diplomat. His article superficially seems very interesting and fantastic, mostly because it was written by a diplomat of former colonial power. It really will have some negative impact about Rohingya in the mind of the readers.

In essence there are a lot to censor or argue. I changed my mind not to write my original treatise and focus a commentary on the above article. Intended or not the article has obscured the legitimacy and historicity of Rohingya identity. In his articulation the writer tried to bring the implication that Rohingya’s ancestry goes to Bengali, the same attempt one Dr. J.P. Leider has been doing for years.

Indeed Arakan and Bengal are two contiguous regions, in most part of history both were under the same rule. It is a consensus of all historians a branch of Barman from Pagan overran Arakan in mid eleven century A D. Before then it was an Indian Land, ruled by Indians century after century. Yangon university former professor D.G.E. Hall narrated, “Before 10th century Arakan was ruled by Indian dynasties’ and its population was like that of Bengal (D.G.E. hall, Burma, 1944)

Research paper of Dr. Pamela Gutman from Australia says “almost all inscriptions of ancient Arakan was in Nagri script (the one then used in Bengal)”. In practice the Language on the inscriptions are akin to Rohingya language; different from Rakhine’s. She said the dialect of people in the north Arakan seems to have similarity with the inscriptions. Again Major R.E. Robert’s essay “An account of Arakan” written at Islamabad (Chittagong) in June 1777 said three fourth of the inhabitants of Rekkeng are said to be native of Bengal or descendants of such - - - (see: in Aseanie 3, 1999, P-142,150)

By observing this, we can assume that Rohingya’s progenitors might be Bengali of ancient Arakan: Danyawaddy, and vessali. But in mediaeval age there we found the settlements of Arabs, Persians, Pattan, Afghan and Many other Afro-Asians. When Mughal king Akbar occupied Bengal from Afghan-Pattan king in 1572, hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Pattan ran into Arakan where they were recruited in Arakan army and employed many others as high ranking officials.

Dr. Thant Myint U, a Burmese American writes: In 1430 after nearly decades in exile, he (Naramitla, the Arakan king) returned at the head of a formidable force, largely made up of Afghan adventurers, and swiftly overcame local opposition. This was a start of a new golden age for the country. - - - a period of power and prosperity and a creation of remarkably a hybrid Buddhist- Islamic court, fusing tradition from Persia and India as well as the Buddhist world in the east. The inhabitants were a mix of Arakan, Bengali, Afghans, Burmese, Dutch, Portuguese, Abyssinians, Persians and even Christian Japans. (Dr. Than Myint U, The River of lost Footsteps, 2006)

According to Rakhine writer Pandit U Tha Tun Aung and Dr. J.P. Leider, during the rule of 9th up to 12th Mrauk-U king, due to Indian missionaries a lot of people village wise converted to Isalam. So king Minbargyi 12th king of Maurk U had to prohibit the missionary works. (see U Tha Tun Aung, Rakhine Maha Razwin 1927).

What we can assess here is Arakan Muslim population is not from a single root. They were a mix up of Bengali, Arabs, Persians, Afghans, Pattans and other Afro-Asians and Lately of Rakhine too. Arab and Persian culture had a deep influence there. Persian became local people’s writing Language too. Dr. J. Leider said the retinue of Naramikla (above) comprised of ten thousand armed personnel. According prominent Rakhine politicians, writers and historians such as U Hla Tun Pru and Dr. Aye Chan (an arch opponent of Rohingya today), this retinue was resettled around Maruk-U, to defend it from the attack of adversaries then J. Leider in his “traders and poet in Mrauk U court in 17th century 2011” writes Persians was administrative as well as diplomatic language of Mrauk-U court”. Most official designations were in Persian.

The Muslim community in Mrauk-U Kingdom derived from this various ethnic roots, but in course of age evolved into a distinctive race that we call today Rohingya. (for etymology and historicity of Rohingya see “Why not Rohingya an antiquity [Part 1]”- on 22 April 2014 Rohingya Blogger webpage.)

About this distinctive community, war time British commander Anthony Irwin remarked!

“The Arakan Muslims are generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly. - - - They resemble the Arabs is names, in dress, and in habits. - - - As a race they have been here for over two hundred years (i.e. since Rakhine period) and yet survived. They are perhaps to be compared with the Jews, a nation within a nation. Ambassador Derek Tonkin writes the word Rohingya is not found in any British report, regional gazetteer, census, legislation, private correspondence or personal reminiscence”. True, quite correct! Then what about some of present day Rakhine state ethnic peoples: Mramagyi and Dai-net who are also not found in British censuses? In contrast, what we cannot deny is there was a large Muslim community of distinct characteristic in Maruk-U. James Baxter head of the inquiry commission on Indian immigrants reported in 1940 “that there was indeed” an Arakan Muslim community settled for long in Akyab (Sittwe) district that has for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race”.

In British censuses until 1921 Arakan Mulisms were categorized as shaikhs, Syyeds, Mughals, Pattans as like in the Indian censuses. If census is so important, then do we call this Muslim Sheikh or Syyeds?

In fact, British time censuses were bereft of reality and accuracy. In 1871 census Burmese Muslim figure was shown as 99846 where in 1891 it became 24647. Can we say it is reliable? Burma expert Martin Smith explained British censuses were so unreliable that ethnic peoples in Burma changed their ethnicity just like they changed their clothing. Ethnicity then was defined on the language they spoke at home. Thus many Mon, Shan, Karen became Burma. (Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the politics of ethnicity, second edition 1999)

In Arakan also only Rakhine speaking Muslims were classified as Arakan Mohammadans. Native Muslims who preserved their ancestral (Rohingya) language for many centuries happened to be in the category of Indians or native Indians. If these natives were enumerated as Arakan Mohammadans the figure would have been three or four times bigger.

Muslim was not aware of the importance of their ethnicity. They were just satisfied to be categorized as Muslims. Census taking was the job of British. People did not know what it was. Besides Arakan Mohammadans, there were Kaman and Myeidu. Their number then was very small.

Major races in Myanmar have region wise different sub racial names: different Shans, different Karens and different Bama even. Hence Rohingya may have some sort of cultural affinity with Bengali but due to geo-political difference and separation they have evolved into their own national identity. If Rohingya identity is undesired, they should not have been given indigenous recognition during parliamentary and early revolutionary council period. To reject their identity after sixty years is not fair. It is a foul play.

So called Bengali or Chittagonians in British census were mostly foreigners. Except business related persons and official staffs most of them were seasonal laborers, who did not bring their spouses. These foreigners were also included in British censuses. Professor Dr. Than Tun named them as floating population. Once the working season is over, they returned to their native land. Rohingya has nothing to do with them. (R.B. Smart: Akyab district gazetteer vol-I) Seasonal laborers were mostly male workers. So their males outnumbered the females as cited by Mr. Derek Tonkin. 

I think Mr. Derek Tonkin’s attempt is just to appease his Myanmar friends in his working environment. But a learned, experienced diplomat should not allow himself to be a tool to kill the identity and citizenship of about three million Rohingya.

The quest of identity is a worldwide phenomenon. It is peoples’ birth right to choose their own identity. Government, parliament or a section of public has no right to reject another people’s identity. Many peoples in the past in Burma had changed their ethnic identity: Talaing to Mon; Taungthu to Pa O; Karen Ni to Kayar; Burma itself is adopting as Myanmar. At present census many ethnic peoples are arguing that their present ethnic names designated by the government are not right. So ethnicity is not fixed or constant; it is a dynamic phenomenon in the world.

Many ethnic people in the border area have their clans across the border. Their names are different country wise. A community called Bruwa in Bangladesh is Myamar gyi in Burma. Another group, so called Chakma in Bangladesh is Dai-net in Burma. Why not this logic is used in case of Rohingya, who have more deeply rooted historicity in Burma? From our perspective claiming Rohingya means distancing from Bengali and adapting to Myanmar ethnic family.

In British deputy commissioner Charles Paton’s 1826 report Muslim population of Rakhine period was half of Rakhine’s. Today official Muslim population of Arakan is one third of the total. Muslim (officially Bengali) population has decreased. Yet there is accusation of illegal immigrants and highlighting of threat of Muslim over growth. These accusations are just pretext to persecute the Muslim or Rohingyas. The fact is that over 1.5 million Rohingya left to escape from the persecution in their birth place and now living in many countries as a Diaspora community. Myanmar Bangladesh border has been strictly controlled by a harsh, heavy handed and highly empowered border immigration check force with about 30 stations along the border for last 2 decades. How can illegal immigrants enter into Myanmar?

Here we can see Rohingya or Muslim or Bengali; what so ever, they were there in Rakhine kingdom before Burmese occupation in 1785 and British occupation in 1824. They are bona fide indigenous people. So one honorable Nobel Laureate, Harvard professor, Amartya Sen recently in a Harvard conference told, “It is not the Rohingya who went into Burma: it is Burma that came into Rohingya (land).”

Actually this community was never a minority in Arakan. In course of history, there were several occasions when Muslim from Arakan had to flee. As far as I can study the first exodus of Muslim was during the armed conflict between exiled prince Shah Shujah and Arakan king Canda Suddamma in 1662. The second exodus was during the Muslim insurrection in AD 1738 when Muslim king Sultan Katera in Maruk-U was deposed. (See; Nat Myit Sann Aung, Rakhine Tasaung vol-15 1977-78 P-142). The third exodus was when there broke out insurrection during Myanmar king’s occupation 1785 and on. The fourth exodus was when British withdrew from Arakan in early 1942, Rakhine organized militants attacked the Muslim, burned their villages, looted their properties and killed hundreds of thousands of armless people. Then after independence came series of forced expulsion of Muslims from north of Maungdaw, which was later followed by Daragon operation in 1978 and Pyithaya operation in 1991.Under all these episodes nearly half Rohingya were evicted from their hut and homes.

But to the irony of them in British records Rakhine were said to be returnees where Mulism are remarked as immigrants. Provided this Muslims were also regarded as returnees in British period census Arakan Mohammadans would have been three or four times bigger than the existing records. British always tried to appease the Rakhine.

If the word Rohingya has no credible historical evidence and no serious historical validity prior to independence in 1948, as pointed out by Mr. Derek Tonkin, why Rakhine intellectuals, despite their denial of the term in the past, today asserting the notion that Rohingya is a term, Bengali used for Rakhine. There may not be official records for Rohingya but there is mountain of historical evidence that forced Rakhine people to accept the historical term: Rohingya.

Mr. Tonkin referred Rohingya equivocally as aliens. Reality is that Rohingya have never been an alien community. They are the one who established Mrauk-U. They are the developers and vanguards of Maruk-U. According to Dr. J. Leider they were a well-respected and influential community in Maruk-U. They have no Zat or Caste as Mr.Tonkin cited in his article. Mr. Tonkin shows 1597 Arakan Muslim in Kyauk Phyu and 1658 in Sandoway in British census. These figures are not correct. Rakhine authentic chronicles such as Danyawaddy Areydawpon, Rakhine Mahazwin say king Min Ba 1532-1538 and king Razagyi 1592-1615 alone had donated thousands of war captive from Bengal to Candaw and Andaw zaties in Sandawway. What about other category of Muslim? Mr. Derek Tonkin further emphasized; “That the Arakanese are being pushed out of Arakan before the steady wave of Chittagonian immigration from the west is only too well known”. He cited deputy commission R.B smart’s Akyab gazetteer. It is not our Gospel. R.B. smart is not prophet of Arakan history. There in his works are a lot of inconsistencies and factual wrongs. He described Rakhine as Mug. Do Rakhine accept Mug because it was designated by Deputy Commissioner R.B Smart? No Arakanese was pushed out of Arakan .So called Chittagonian immigrants never took permanent settlement, only natives who formerly left Arakan came back and settled in their original places.

If Rohingya is a word of geographic locator rather than an ethnic designation as assumed by Mr. Tonkin, Rakhine should also be assessed in the same logical sense. Rakhine are part of Burma. Burman call to their own clan as Anyathaa, Einnthaa, Aukthaa, Rakhinethaa and so on. Rakhine according to British records, especially R.B Smart’s is Mug.

Let Mr. Derek Tonkin rest assured! There are hundreds and thousands of Rohingyas who can provide historical documentations and assert in the way of President Kennedy “lch bin ein Arakanar”? Rohingya are ready to face a litmus test and prove their genuineness. If Mr. Derek Tonkin arranges such a neutral and fair inquiry panel of experts and come into Arakan, Rohingya will welcome and heartily co-operate.

According to Mr. Derek, self-identification seems a principle under generally accepted international practice and it’s a right of people, then why is a section of people seriously rejecting it. He quotes 1982 citizenship law. What can we expect from it? I think he knows it. After repatriation of refugees in– 1978-79, that law was intentionally enacted to taken off Rohingya’s citizenship 

In Arakan Rohingya is Muslim; Muslim is Rohingya. This two are synonymous. It is westerners and the British who extravagantly use the term “Muslim” for Rohingya, To Rohingya the term Muslim is not derogatory.

His assessment that Rohingya is a post second world ware political label is a misjudgment. Despite Mr. Tonkin’s negative view, Rohingya hope their designation will be recognized as before once the government accepts the democratic norm and principle, discarding its racist mindset.

U Kyaw Min is chairman of Democracy and Human Rights Party based in Yangon, Myanmar. This is his own assessment and not of the party.  

Rohingya Exodus