Skip to content
The Glory days of Arakan/Rakhine State
The Glory days of Arakan/Rakhine State – image housed in Sittwe Museum

Rakhine State Arakans Past and Present

About Rakhine State Arakans Past and Present – In 1989 the Burmese Government changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar and in 1990 the ‘State Peace and Development Council’ changed the name of Arakan to Rakhine State, after the Rakhine ethnic group who are mainly Buddhists.

Dr Mohammed Yunus, President of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) wrote a publication on the History of Arakan (Past & Present), in his publication he gives an account of his research on Arakan and the Rohingya and Rakhine ethnic peoples from various sources.

Although Dr Mohammed Yunus’s study is mainly focused on the history of the Rohingya in Arakan which shows that they have had a long and successful relationship in Arakan where both the Rohingya and the Rakhine lived in peace and harmony for hundreds of years and that indeed during Arakan’s most prosperous years the two communities, Buddhists and Muslims respected each other’s religious practices.

For those of us who have visited Rakhine State in more recent times, one can witness the result of the hardships the state has endured since WWII, it is a place where time has stood still with an echo of its glorious past seen in the ruins of ancient temples and pagodas dotted around the landscape. One can easily fall in love with Arakan, a beautiful part of Myanmar which for me emitted a feeling of sadness for its lost heritage which has been so badly neglected in so many ways.

Dr Yunus sums it up in the following paragraphs:

“Whatever so far has been written about the events that took place in Arakan by modern historians are found either as a separate chapter in the books of history or as titbits here and there in other subjects written with relevance to the history of Arakan. The old Arakanese chronicles and books and articles written in the Burmese language on Arakan by different authors are controversial and sometimes derailed far away from the truth.

There is concrete evidence of distortion of the history and heritage of the Arakanese people by the vested interest of prejudiced and powerful groups. The world is still, more or less, in the dark as to the realities that govern the lives of the people of Arakan. One cannot draw the right conclusion in the matter of socio-culture, the political and religious life of the people of Arakan without in-depth studies of the contemporary histories of India, Bengal, Tripura, Burma, and Southeast Asia in particular, and the Islamic world in general which had, in the course of a long period, close interrelation and interaction with Arakan.

To fathom the truth, it is important also to study various chronicles written about the region, coins and other archaeological findings, monuments and shrines, language and scripts, and names of places, rivers, mountains, etc that bear considerable reflections on the history of Arakan”.

The full paper written by Dr, Mohommed Yunus can be viewed here.

British East India Company and the Treaty of Yandabo

Referenced:  Arakan Past – Present – future “A Resume of Two Campaigns for its development” By John Ogilvy Hay J. P., formerly the Honorary Magistrate of the Town of Akyab now referred to as Sittwe (1892).

There is not the slightest doubt that those who occupied Arakan and wished to colonize it forever are deliberately distorting the historical facts to fulfil their sinister design. They use all weapons —racial, religious, political, economic, and propaganda — to mislead and divide the two sister communities of Arakan. Today they shamelessly claim that ” there is no such thing as Rohang and Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma); it is the invention of certain insurgent groups.

What follows is chiefly summarised from official documents – say from Annual Administration Reports of Burmah ‘Report on the Progress of Arakan from 1826 to 1875, Adamson’s Settlement Reports on Arakan,’ Fytche’s Burmah – Past and Present,’ and from personal local knowledge.

The object of the present publication is, once again, to bring to notice the state of the province of Arakan, and the capabilities of the port of Akyab, as a great outlet for the trade of Eastern Bengal and Burmah. To those acquainted with the position of matters, it seems not only unaccountable, but lamentable, to think that the state of the country has not long ere this been realised, and the advantages of the port appreciated, by the Government and the public; and hence my desire, ONCE AGAIN, to bring these more prominently to notice, by a reprint of the most salient points of the subject as stated in correspondence and journals during the last thirty years.

Arakan, a division of our present province of Burmah, came into our possession after the first Burmese war, having, along with Assam and Tenasserim, been ceded to us under the Treaty of Yandaboo, dated 24th February 1826; so that it has been in our possession sixty-six years. Assam is now about to get it’s due by the construction of the Assam-Bengal Railway just launched, and the ice now being broken, it is to be hoped Arakan’s better days will soon follow.

Arakan is a narrow strip of land on the east side of the Bay of Bengal, extending on the sea coast from the river Naaf, the southern frontier of Chittagong, a division of the Presidency of Bengal, in about lat. 21deg., North, and in the hill tracts from about lat. 22.30deg North, southwards towards Pagoda Point, to about lat. 17deg., or 16deg., North. It is separated from Burmah on the east by the watershed of the Yoma-toung range of mountains, in breadth varying from fifty to a hundred miles, but the exact boundary is yet undefined! It embraces an area of about 18,529 square miles.” That Arakan was once a great kingdom is abundantly testified by history; of the conquest by the Arakanese of part of Bengal (the present division of Chittagong, Dacca, and Moorshedabad being also ancient dependencies of Arakan) we have creditable historical evidence.

At Dacca (dhaka) are still to be found the remains of a Buddhist Zedi or Pagoda, which can only be attributed to this fact. The name ‘ Tsit-ta goung,’ of which Chittagong is corruption, is Burmese, and descendants of people of Tipperah (a state in India during the period of the British Raj), brought hence from that country, still survive.” In their turn the Arakanese were conquered by the Burmese in 1783-86, during the reign of Bhodau Phra, who took the river Naaf as the boundary between Bengal and Burmah; but the ” haughty and overbearing ” conduct of his grandson and successor, Phagyi-dau, laying claim to a small island, named Shah-puri, on the British side of the Naaf, and subsequently threatening to invade British territory, and take possession of the districts, already named ” as ancient dependencies of Arakan,” led to the war of 1824, resulting in the country being ceded to us as aforesaid, by the Treaty of Yandaboo.

It is well known that when Arakan and Tenasserim came into our possession they were so depopulated and so unproductive, that it was seriously deliberated whether they should not be restored to Burmah. In Arakan, the population was estimated at about 100,000 souls. These were indigenous inhabitants; Tenasserim was estimated to have about 70,000.

In 1855 the population of Arakan had increased to about 66,310, and Tenasserim to about 213,692. This vast increase was chiefly due to immigration from provinces under the Burmese Government notably from Pegu to their old provinces now under British rule giving unequivocal testimony in favour of the British Government and institutions’ (This was further shown in the case of Pegu, taken from the Burmese in 1853, he population, estimated in 1855 at 700,000, having risen in 1875 to 1,750,000! principally from immigration from native Burmese territory.)

On our occupation of Pegu in 1853 the exodus to Arakan was arrested, and the increase, which, in the first twenty years under our government, was from 100 000 to 366,310, in the next twenty years only advanced to 492,073—that is, an increase of 266,310 in the first period, and only 125,763 in the second.

Clock Tower in Sittwe Built by the Dutch
Clock Tower in Sittwe was Built by the Dutch

The progress of the country, as well as regarding population as cultivation and revenue, while it must be noted that this progress in all departments has entirely proceeded from the rice trade which received a great impetus at the time of the Irish famine, and, by natural development, without any special or fostering care on the part of Government such as might have been induced by roads or irrigation works—progressed and extended to our new possession of Pegu, till it has now become the backbone of the revenue of Burmah.

It may be said this rice -trade was entirely due to the personal and ” indefatigable zeal of the late Sir Archibald Bogle.”

The beginning of the end of prosperity for Arakan

It was stated in a letter addressed to the Most Honourable the Marquis of Salisbury, Secretary of State for India, in 1874: Arakan has long been a very paying dependency of the empire, but little or nothing has been spent beyond the cost of its administration. It has been under our Government for about fifty years, has an area of 18,529 square miles, over which it has not twenty miles of common road; its boundaries, not a hundred miles from the headquarters of the Commissioner, unknown, and altogether one of the most neglected, though promising, districts under the Crown.” That was eighteen years ago, and the remarks are as applicable now as they were then, as the preceding pages amply set forth, and the information given in them is brought down to the latest administration report of the province, dated Rangoon, 21st December 1891.

Though Arakan cannot rise to be the kingdom it once was, it can, and I hope will, rise, phoenix-like, to a prominent position, and become one of the largest shipping ports in India, and also great naval stations, for which its capacity and situation are eminently adapted.

Other references:

Historical reality of the Rohingya

The sign below is/was the Sittwe Museum

Rakhine State Arakans Past and Present
Back To Top