Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Response to the Press Release of the ‘Rohingyas’ (Part-1)

By Khin Maung Saw, Berlin, Germany

I. Introduction:

After reading the press release of the ‘Rohingyas’ (see the other attachment), as a Rakhaing I am obliged to write the real Arakanese History during the Mrauk U Dynasty. Apart from that, I like to give some responses to that press release:

First of all, in any case, the racial remarks of the Burmese Consul General in Hong Kong
must be condemned, whoever these 'Rohingyas' are.

In the mean time a new article appeared in Irrawaddy on 16th Feb. 09, mentioning that those ‘Boat People’ sailed from Bangladesh and not from Arakan as the media informed. They were caned by the sailors who took them to Thailand (See the attachment, migrants ---). Now it appears that these ‘Boat People’ have something to do with human trafficking. They are rather illegal immigrants seeking better fortune in more prosperous countries, the so-called “economic refugees” and NOT the political refugees of an ethnic minority group who were tortured and discriminated in their ‘Mother Land’.

Here I would like to suggest all media, Burmese Oppositions, including Irrawaddy, Burma Digest and other newspapers or journals should study the Arakanese History as well as the reports of the British Colonial Officers of the then British India (i.e. including Burma as a part of British Indian Empire) because they were neither Burmese, Arakanese nor the people of the Subcontinent but British, that means they were neutral persons and most of their contributions were for administrative purposes and/or for scholarly researches, needless to say they were objective. In this paper, the present author will scrutinize all available authentic historical and etymological facts and answer the statements in their press release scholarly without any prejudice by using compare and contrast method.

II. Responses to the press release:

In their Press release, the 'Rohingyas' claimed that Muslims were in Arakan since the10th Century:

1. Maurice Collis, however, wrote in his paper Arakan's Place in the Civilization of the Bay: "Bengal was absorbed into this polity [that is, Islam] in 1203 A.D. But it was its extreme eastern limit. It never passed into Indo-China; and its influence from its arrival in 1203 till1430 was negligible upon Arakan".

2. In the 10th century A.D., even the biggest country in Southeast Asia with the world's largest
Muslim population, Indonesia, was under the Sri Vijaya Empire, which was a Hindu-Buddhist

3. In the tenth century A.D. Arakan was ruled by the Buddhist kings of the Dhanyawaddy Dynasty and that old city site can still be seen near the small town Kyauk Taw. There is not a single evidence of Arabic culture or Islam faith there. The only non-Buddhist evidence found there are the Hindu deities.

4. If their claims that their forefathers lived in Arakan since the10th Century AD are true, there is no doubt that their descendants who stayed in Arakan at least ten centuries might have spoken Burmese/Arakanese fluently and known native traditions and cultures like the "Burmese Muslims" in Shwebo District, "Myay Du Muslims" in Thandwe District and "Kaman Muslims" in Arakan. Even the Arakanese (Rakhaings) living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts nowadays, where Bengali plays the role of the official language, can still speak, read and write Burmese. Unfortunately, however, the people who are now calling themselves "Rohingyas" do not know any Arakanese/Burmese language and culture. The only language they speak is Bengali Chittagong dialect and the only culture they know is Bengali Culture of Chittagong Area.

III. Was Arakan A Muslim State?

Arakan was and is not a Muslim state. All Arakanese (Rakhaings) were and are devout Buddhists. The history of the Holy Maha Muni Image was and is a proof. Maha Muni Image, a colossal image cast in bronze and inlaid with gold, became the envy of almost all Burmese kings. Whenever they expanded their empire, they tried to rob this holy image. Starting from Anawratha (11th Century AD) to Bodaw U Waing (18th Century AD), most Burmese kings tried to snatch this statue. The Burmese Royal Armies looted this colossal image from the Arakan City or Mrauk U after the Burmese conquest of the Rakhaing Kingdom in the late 18th Century. They used the Arakanese prisoners of war, about thirty thousand including the last King of Arakan, Maha Thamada, as slave labour to carry that colossal image across the mountain range and for other slavery works like the reconstruction of Meikhila Lake, the aborted war against Siam etc. etc. Till now some Arakanese, especially from Sittwe and Mro Haung call the Burmese as "Robbers and Thugs of the Holy Image, Maha Muni", 'Phaya Thukho, Phaya Damya'.

Arakan was well known to be "the Land of Pagodas and Temples". There is a famous Arakanese
verse: Thazun pan Khaing ta mraing mraing Rakhaing Phara paung", which was nicely translated into English verse by Maung Tha Hla as: "The Thazun (a type of orchid) sprigs in sheer clusters, Sum the total of the pharas grandeur". According to this verse, there were 6352755 Pharas (Buddha Statues) in Arakan.

Maurice Collis described the situation of Buddhism in the year 1630 during the reign of Min Hayi (Man Hari) alias Thiri Thudhamma (Sri Suddhamma) who bore the Muslim Title Salem Shah the Second. In his book The Land of the Great Image in page 168 where it was written: "The Buddha had died in 543 B.C. Altogether 2173 years had elapsed since then, and for that immense period the image of the Founder of the Religion had remained on Sirigutta, the oldest, most mysterious, the most holy object in the world. The relics detailed to the disciples on Selagiri had all been found and enshrined. Arakan was a sacred country; it was the heart of Buddhism; and he (King Thiri Thudhamma) as its king, was the most notable Buddhist ruler in existence. Grave indeed was his responsibility. He had not only to maintain the state as the homeland of the Arakanese race, but as the one place on earth where an authentic shape of the Tathagata was preserved, a possession of greater potency then the most precious relics".

A. The Mrauk-U Dynasty

In the year A.D 1404 the king of Arakan was Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan) and the capital city was Longkyet (Longkrat). He liked the very beautiful wife of a minister and requested that minister, his wife to be presented to the king and in exchange the minister would receive two pretty maids of honour. When the minister refused, the king offered to give four maids of honour as an exchange, but all in vain. Hence, the king took the minister’s wife by force. Committing adultery with a married lady is always a big scandal for a Buddhist, especially for a king. The husband of that lady and her brother went to Ava, the Burmese capital, and requested Min Gaung (Man Gaung), the Burmese king, that hevshould overthrow the disgraced Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan) of Arakan. The Burmese kings of the Ava Empire, especially for King Min Gaung (Man Gaung), automatically considered Arakan as their vassal state because Arakan was feudatory to the Pagan Empire of the Burmese, and apart from that Min Gaung was a war-like king. During the reign of his father King Swa Saw Ke, the young prince Min Gaung personally did lead the Burmese invasion armies to Pegu, the Mon kingdom ruled by King Razadiriz.

So, in the year 1406, Min Gaung (Man Gaung), the king of the Burmese, sent his warrior son Min Ye Kyaw Zwa (Man Ree Kyaw Zwa) with a big army. Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan), the king of Arakan fled the kingdom and took refuge in Gaur, the capital of the Sultanate of Bengal. In this way Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan) became the last king of the Longkyet (Longkrat) Dynasty and was given a nick name by later historians as "the King who took refuge in the Land of Kalas (Indians)".

The Burmese let their viceroy, a son in law of the Burmese king Min Gaung, rule Arakan. The
Arakanese king's younger brother Min Kayi (Man Kari), "Duke of Thandwe", the crown prince then, went to Pegu, the Mon capital, and requested the Mons, archrival of the Burmese, for help. With the help of Razadiriz (Raja di Raja), king of the Mons, he liberated Longkrat, killed the Burmese viceroy. He also sent Min Gaung’s daughter to Pegu as a gift to the Mon king. He could rule Arakan on behalf of his brother, but only for a short period. The second Burmese invasion in A.D 1408 headed by Min Ye Kyaw Zwa (Man Ree Kyaw Zwa) followed. This time the Burmese armies invaded Longkrat, Thandwe and the Kingdom of the Mons simultaneously. The Mon armies in Arakan had to go back to defend their own kingdom. The Arakanese king’s younger brother Min Khayi (Man Khari), the prince regent then, had to take refuge by the Mons while his elder brother took refuge by the Sultan of Gaur.

Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan) stayed in Gaur for more than 22 years. With the help of the Sultan of Bengal he regained his throne in A.D 1430, and built the new capital of Mrauk U, while the Burmese were very busy having wars against the Mons.

To show his gratitude to the Sultan he asked what he could do. The Sultan persuaded him to be
converted into Islam but he refused; however, he promised the Sultan that the Arakanese kings would bear Pseudonym Muslim Titles. The warrior Burmese prince Min Ye Kyaw Zwa (Man Ree Kyaw Zwa) was seriously wounded in a battle against the Mons and died later. Min Saw Mun’s (Min Saw Muan) younger brother and throne successor Min Kayi (Man Kari) met his Burmese counterpart then, Narapati Gyi (Narapati Gri) of Ava at the border between two kingdoms and signed a friendship treaty with the Burmese.


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