Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Evolution of Rohingya Problems in Rakhine State of Burma1 (Part-1)

On the Evolution of Rohingya Problems in Rakhine State of Burma1 (Part-1)

By U Khin Maung Saw, Berlin

1. Introduction

The monsoon season in South and Southeast Asia brings catastrophes to these regions every year. Storms, cyclones and floods are yearly events which bring about loss of crops and lives and heavy human migrations, particularly in certain areas.

At such a time in the year 1991, news of Muslims fleeing from Arakan (Rakhine State of Burma) to Bangladesh broke out. The Burmese Army as well as the Bangladeshi Army posted along the Arakan-Bangladesh border was increased, and both sides accused each other of violating the peaceful co-existence of neighbours. Consequently, the issue of military abuses against the "Rohingyas" in Arakan was raised. This was vehemently denied by the military government in Rangoon (Yangon). They stated that Burmese immigration authorities were undertaking a routine check of illegal immigrants along the country's different borders and claimed that most of the "Rohingyas" were illegal immigrants or new settlers coming from overpopulated Bangladesh because of natural catastrophes, hunger and other reasons. This was also vehemently denied by the Bangladeshi authorities.

In the mean time, the number of people on the Bangladeshi side grew so that in December 1991 some newspapers reported that about 200,000 (two hundred thousand) were already concentrated there. However, the number of refugees according to Bertil Lintner was nearly 20,000 (twenty thousand)2. It can not be ruled out because of printing error one zero was not there (by Bertil Lintner) and therefore, it became twenty thousand instead of two hundred thousand.
1 In this paper I have taken the liberty of using the word "Burma" instead of "Myanmar" for the country, though the latter is the real and correct word in the Burmese language. I have also used the word Burmese for the language and not Myanmar. Also other "anglicized" terms like Rangoon instead of the correct name Yangon were chosen because these words were and are still known and established in the international media.
The word Burmese or Burman, applies only to the "Bamas", the biggest and most dominant ethnic group in Burma and not for the citizens of Burma, because if one asks a Karen or a Shan or even a Tavoyian who speaks a dialect of the Burmese Language: "Are you a Burmese or a Burman?" his answer will be, no doubt, " I am neither Burmese nor Burman. I am a Tavoyan, Chin, Shan, Karen and so forth.
The term Arakanese is also only for the "Rakhaing" people, the largest ethnic group living in Arakan (the Rakhine State of Burma) and not for the other ethnic groups. The Arakanese (Rakhaings) are devout Buddhists and are called "Yakhaings" (Yakhines) by the Burmese. There are two variations of the spelling, namely Rakhaing or Rakhine. The Arakanese favour the spelling Rakhaing, however, the official spelling use by the Burmese Government is Rakhine. Therefore I use both terms in this paper.
I have used the word Indian in this paper to represent not just the people of India, but rather the people from the Subcontinent that means Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis.

2 Bertil Lintner, "Chronology of the Events" in du, Sonderbeilage, Heft 11, 1993.

During this time, some Muslim Extremists Groups published journals such as the "Rohingya Journal", "Echo of Arakan Rohingya Independence Front (ARIF)", "Arakan" etc., and demanded "the claims of the Rohingyas"3. Although none of these journals were published by historical or etymological researchers; many well known journals, newspapers, articles etc., especially published in Bangladesh, supported "the claims of the Rohingyas". These statements were later copied by some international press.

The following are their claims:

1. They, the "Rohingyas", are the descendants of Arabic Seafarers and are the aboriginal Arakanese.
2. The word "Arakan" is therefore a derivation of "Rohan" - "Arohan" -
"Arokan" - "Arakan".
3. The majority of the population in the Rakhine State (Arakan) are Muslims.
4. The Mrauk U Dynasty in Arakan (A.D. 1430-1784) was established by the "Rohingyas", and all the kings were Muslims until the Burmese King Bodawphaya annexed Arakan in 1784.
5. The invading king expelled most of the “aboriginal Arakanese” (who were "Rohingyas", according to them) and eventually let his soldiers settle there.
6. The Buddhists Maghs4 (the Rakhaing/Rakhines) are the descendents of the hybrids of the invading soldiers from the Bodawphaya's Burmese armies and native women of Arakan (who were Muslims, according to them).
7. The "Rohingyas" are now expelled again because they are Muslims and their properties are given to the Buddhists Maghs (the Rakhines). The present military government is doing the same thing as what Bodawphaya did 200 years ago.

These claims affect not only the then military junta known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) but also the Democracy Movement born after the uprising and subsequent massacre of 1988 because many journals, newspapers, articles etc., especially published in Bangladesh, supported "the claims of the Rohingyas". These statements were later copied by some well known international press. Some stated that Arakan were the one and the only non-Buddhist majority state in Burma. According to them, Arakan is the Muslim majority state in the nation where at least 85% of the population are Buddhists.

Leaders and members of the different opposition groups and organizations could not clearly position themselves when this problem was discussed. The opposition groups have no doubt about the news of the brutalities of the Burmese military government because the SLORC
3 The problems of the Rohingya Muslims, Arakan, Vol. 4, issue 9, December 31, 1991.
4 Myo Min, Old Burma, Hanthawaddy Publications, 1946, p. 69 where it was written: "Mogen: The Maghs, which was a Bengali term for the Arakanese, never applied by the latter to themselves". See also in: P.R. Pearn, "King Bering" in Journal of Burma Research Society, Vol. XXIII, 11, 1933, p. 443.

came to power through a blood shed coup. There were news of the various military authorities in Burma used even tanks and machine guns to crush down brutally against any anti-government demonstrations of the majority population and students even those demonstrations were organized, led and participated in by Buddhists monks. All oppositions as well as the populace inside Burma agreed that human rights violations, military abuses and brutal crimes committed against the "Rohingyas" by the various Burmese Military Governments must be strongly condemned. The issue, however, is what should they do with the seven claims of the "Rohingyas" mentioned above because they have never heard of those kind of "history" before. If they don't support those claims of the "Rohingyas" they could be accused either racists or sympathizers of the SLORC. If they support the claims what kind of side effects can occur? Either way seems to be a trap into which they could fall.

In this paper, the present author, as a born Arakanese (Rakhaing/Rakhine) but now a naturalized citizen of Germany, will attempt to meet the claims raised by the "Rohingyas" looking into all available authentic historical facts of Arakan (Rakhaing/Rakhine) and its people, and carefully scrutinize the roots of the existing "Rohingya" Muslim problems.

In fact, this article is the revised and extended version with more details on the Arakanese History and the Analysis Part of the original paper read at the International Conference on “the Tradition and Modernity in Myanmar”, Berlin, Germany 1993. However, due to the length of this paper, in 1994 only one part of this paper could be published as “Who are the Rohingyas, the Origin of the name”. In the mean time, some Rakhaings either inside Burma or abroad as well as some Westerners like Jaques Leider of Luxembourg wrote some books and articles about Arakan and this problem in nut shell. Their articles encouraged me and provided me some more information to write this version and point out more details about the ‘Rohingya Problem’.

2. The names

2.1. Rakhaing/Rakhine (Arakan), country and race

The Arakanese (Rakhaing/Rakhine) believe that their ancestors had to chase out the demon-like beings (most probably Negrito tribes) before they established their first kingdom. After that the people had to be very united to repel the invasions of the tribes they chased out. That’s why they named themselves Rakkhita People. The Pali word Rakkhita means ‘the one who protects his own race’. And therefore their country was called ‘Rakkhita Mandala’ and later deviated to ‘Rakkhita Mandaing’ and then to ‘Rakkha Mandaing’. The word "Arakan" is therefore a derivation of "Rakkha Mandaing - Rakhaing" - "Arakhaing" - "Arakan".

There is another hypothesis: The Sanskrit word rakshasa, Pali rakkhaso can be translated as “the demon of water” or “an ogre-like being living in water”. That's why the etymology of Arakan can be traced as a Sanskrit or Pali words A-Rakkha Desa (The Land which is now free
from the Demons). The word "Arakan" is therefore a derivation of "A-Rakkha Desa - A-Rakkhan" - "Arakan". Sir Arthur Phayre supported this version too5.

Here, I would like to cite Col. Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell’s "Hobson-Jobson" A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive (First Published in 1886, Last Edition: Calcutta, 1990). At page 34, where it was written: "ARAKAN, ARRACAN, n.p. This is a European form, perhaps through Malay [which Mr. Skeat has failed to trace], of Rakhaing, the name which the natives give themselves. This is believed by Sir Arthur Phayre [see Journ As. Soc. Ben. xii 24 seqq.] to be a corruption of the Skt. rakshasa, Pali rakkhaso, that is "Ogre" or alike, a word applied by the early Buddhists to unconverted tribes with whom they came in contact. It is not impossible that the 'Apyupn' of Ptolomy, which unquestionably represents Arakan, may disguise the name by which the country is known to the foreigners; at least no trace of the name as 'Silverland' in Old Indian Geography has yet been found. We may notice, without laying any stress upon it, that in Mr. Beal's account of early Chinese pilgrims to India, there twice occurs mention of an Indo-Chinese kingdom called O-li-ki-lo, which transliterates fairly into some name like Argyre, and not into any other yet recognisable (see J.R.A.S.(N.S.) xiii. 560,562)."

Some Rakhaings/Rakhines (Arakanese) felt insulted because of the term "Ogre". Here I would like to cite Maung U Shang, who wrote: "There is another word for ogre in Pali Yakkha which is written with y "Ya" and not with r "Ra" in Burmese Scripts. The Burmese normally do not enunciate the sound "Ra" but only the sound "Ya" for both. The Burmese pronunciation for "Rakhaing /Rakhine" is "Yakhaing /Yakhine". Because of this Burmese pronunciation people were confused by the terms “ရကၡပူရ” "Rakkha Pura" and “ယကၡပူရ” "Yakkha Pura", and made the wrong translation to designate Rakhaing/Rakhine as "The Land of the Ogres" instead of "The land of the People who protect their own Race and Culture". The word "Arakan" is therefore a derivation of "Rakhaing" - "Arakhaing" - "Arakan" - "Araccan."6

Sir Arthur Phayre translated the Sanskrit word rakshasa, Pali rakkhaso as an ogre; however, some Pali dictionaries give the meaning as 'a type of demon living in water' or 'an ogre like nether deva living in water'. According to Buddhist Mythology, the Sanskrit word rakshasa, Pali rakkhaso is defined as “a being, protector of water, a half deva and a half gombanna, belongs to the lowest abode among six abodes of devas”.

Most probably because of the word ‘ogre’ Maung U Shang became confused with the other Pali word Yakkha meaning 'Human Flesh eating Ogres'. I can understand his feeling. Who wants to be named as the descendants of the human flesh eating ogres?

2.2. The Term Magh or Mogen:

5 Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, "Hobson-Jobson" A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive (First Published in 1886, Last Edition: Calcutta, 1990). P. 34
6 Maung U Shang, "The Arakanese (Rakhine) Community in Bangladesh" in The Voice of Rakhine, Rakhine Student Organisation of Bangladesh, March 7, 1987, p. 17.

The Bengali term for the Arakanese is "Magh" or "Mogen", however, it was and is never applied by the latter to themselves7.

Some Arakanese believe the term Magh to be a derogatory. Here I would like to cite Maung Tha Hla: “The people of Bengal contemptuously referred the Rakhaings as Magh, which suggests mixed race or unclean beings, a smearing racial slur. The early European historians confused the term and erroneously concluded that the Rakhaings were products of interracial marriages before they finally discovered that it was an ethnological fallacy because the Rakhaings are Mongoloid and are cognate to the Burmese. In confusing the term, the Rakhaing chronicles pointed out that Magh applies to the descendants of Rakhaings who married Bengali wives during the time when parts of Bengal were under the wing of the Rakhaing monarchy. They are Buddhists and their dialect Chittagonian. A theory expounds to implicate Magh with Maga, the name of an Aryan race people, who were speculated to have migrated into Rakhaing from Bihar, adjoining Bengal. The exposition was unsubstantiated in the light of the Rakhaing annals".8

Another hypothesis stated: In the early dynasties, the Arakanese (Rakhaings) as well as the Burmese from Pagan used the Pali language. The synonym of Pali is Magadha. That’s why the land Arakan was called Magadha Desa and the natives of Arakan were named Maghs by the people of the Indian Subcontinent. Then, the name ‘Magh’ could be positive and not a derogatory. However, almost all Arakanese (Rakhaings) consider this term to be an unsavoury meaning. The present author too, wants to point out bluntly the following to argue the above mentioned hypothesis: “If the Rakhaings were called Maghs because they used the Pali language before they switched to the Mramar Language, then, why the Burmese from Pagan were not also named the Maghs although they used the Pali language before they switched to the Mramar Language, as same as the Arakanese (Rakhaings) did?9

"Hobson-Jobson" A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo Indian Words and Phrases, at page 594 where it was written: "Mugg, n.p. Beng. Magh. It is impossible to deviate without deterioration from Wilson's definition of this obscure name; 'A name commonly applied to the natives of Arakan, particularly those bordering on Bengal, or residing near the sea; the people of Chittagong.' It is beside the question of its origin or proper application, to say, as Wilson goes on to say, on the authority of Lieut. (now Sir Arthur) Phayre, that the Arakanese disclaim the title, and restrict it to a class held in contempt, viz. the descendents of Arakanese settlers on the frontier of Bengal by Bengali mothers." ........ "There is a good reason to conclude that the name is derived from Maga, the name of the ruling race for many centuries in Magadha (modern Behar). The kings of ancient Arakan were no doubt originally of this race. For though this is not distinctly expressed in the histories of Arakan, there are several legends of kings from Benares reigning in that country." ......... "On the other hand the Mahommedan writers
7 Myo Min, Old Burma, Hanthawaddy Publications, 1946, p. 69
8 Maung Tha Hla, , P. 18, NY, U.S.A, 2004 The Rakhaing
9 See and compare: Maung Tha Hla, The Rakhaing, P. 18, NY, U.S.A, 2004.

sometimes confound Buddhists with fire-worshippers, and it seems possible that the word may have been Pers. magh = magus."

The Rakhaings/Rakhines (Arakanese) traditionally believe that they are the descendants of the "Sakya Sakis" the race from which Lord Gautama Buddha came10. Most historians and anthropologists, however, say that they belong to the Tibeto-Burmese groups. On the other hand, not only the Arakanese but almost all of the Southeast Asians in the mainland, including Burmese, Mons, Khmers and Thais believe that they came from India instead of Tibet or China. The main reason is that all of them are Buddhists and everybody, especially the kings, wanted to claim to be related to Lord Buddha. If Lord Buddha were a Chinese instead of an Indian, their traditional beliefs would have been changed the other way round. U San Shwe Bu and Maurice Collis11, on the other hand, stated that the Rakhaings/Rakhines (Arakanese) are of Indo-Mongoloid stock and the date of immigration of Mongolian races as A.D 957.

They present author does not mind to share their view that the Arakanese are the descendants of the hybrids of the Tibeto-Burmese and Indo-Aryan races after the immigration of Mongolian races because the Rakhaings/Rakhines (Arakanese) traditionally believe that they are the descendants of the "Sakya Sakis" the race from which Lord Gautama Buddha came and some Arakanese have Indo-Mongoloid features and appearances. Apart from that, Arakanese language is only a dialect of the Mramar language, hence, it belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Branch of the Sino Tibetan Language Family. However, I do not agree with their stated date of immigration of Mongolian races as A.D 957. I believe they came much earlier, most probably in the same period (at about 2nd century A.D., if not earlier) as immigration of the other Mongolian ethnic groups of Pyus, Kamyams and Saks (Thak) to the country which is now Burma.

The Burmese traditionally believe that the Pyus, the Kamyams and the Saks were the first Tibeto-Burmese ethnic groups immigrated to the country which is now Burma. Traditional historians like Thakin Kodaw Hmaing, U Pho Kya etc. etc., believed that the Pyus were the fore-fathers of the Burmese, the Kamyams were the ancestors of the Arakanese (Rakhine/Rakhaing) and the Chins are descendants of the Saks (Thak). However, some anthropologists and some historians believe that Kayins (Karens) and Karenni or Kayans are the descendants of the Kamyams.

The oral history or legend of the Arakanese kingdom stated that the Sakya Saki prince, Arjuna, left his country, settled in a Jungle in Northern Arakan and became a hermit. Later, he met a female Sak called Indra Mayu there and married her. She bore him a son who was named Marayu. He defeated the "ogres" or the cannibals and established the kingdom of Dhanyawaddy. The Burmese and Arakanese word “Sak” has a meaning of sambur (a kind of deer). Hence, some people misinterpreted that Prince Arjuna cohabited with a female sambur called Indra Mayu. Later, a human son called Marayu was born. This kind of statement is   
10 U Aung Tha Oo, A Short History of Arakan (in Burmese), Mya Yadana Press, Rangoon, ca. 1954, p. 8.
11 Maurice Collis in collaboration with San Shwe Bu, "Arakan's Place in the Civilization of the Bay "in Journal of Burma Research Society, Vol. XXIII, p. 488.



really not logical! Some interpreted that the term Sak is a short form of Sakya Saki. They said that Indra Mayu was a Sakya Saki princess who had many followers. Some historians like U Aung Tha Oo, on the other hand, interpreted the word “Sak” as the ethnic group Sak (Thak). He interpreted that Indra Mayu was a queen of the newly immigrated Mongolian tribe called Sak (Thak). That was the reason why their son Marayu could defeat the cannibals later and built the city of Dhanyawaddy.12

12 U Aung Tha Oo, A Short History of Arakan (in Burmese), Mya Yadana Press, Rangoon, ca. 1954, p. 8.

The present author shares U Aung Tha Oo’s view that the word Sak really means the ethnic group, the Saks (Thak). Most probably, Indra Mayu was a Sak princess with many followers. Since the Sakya Saki prince, Arjuna was an Indo-Aryan, and the Sak princess, Indra Mayu was of Tibeto-Burmese stock, one of the Mongolian tribes, their son Marayu, the founder of the Dhanyawaddy Kingdom was an Indo-Mongoloid. This hypothesis is very logical. Because of this reason Maurice Collis and U San Shwe might have generalized that the Arakanese are the descendants of the hybrids of the Tibeto-Burmese and Indo-Aryan races.

The famous professor of "The History of Burma", Prof. G. C. Luce and his disciples believed that the date of immigration of the "Mien" or Myanmar (the Burmese) at about 650 A.D. Those "Mien" or Myanmar (the Burmese) lived together with Pyus, mixed with Pyus and eventually the ethnic group called Pyus became extinct at about 12th century A.D because they were absorbed or engulfed by the "Mien" or Myanmar (the Burmese). Since the Pyus are the predecessors of the Burmese and the Arakanese used to call Burmese as Pru (Pyu), and also the Kayin (Karen) term for Burmese is "Piao" (i.e. Pyu), I believe, the date of immigration of Mongolian races into Arakan must be much earlier than that of the Burmese to what is now Burma.


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