Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Maior W. GAVYNNE HUGHES, F.R.n.s.,
Deputy Comin'se.on. r, British. Burma, and late
Superintenden, Hill Tracts, Arakan.



The first part of the journey from Akyab, up the Kooladan
river to the northern parts of Arakan, hes through a flat and
uninteresting country, of which depressingly level plains and fields
of rice form the principal features. Higher up the river, however,
this monotony is relieved by a complete change ; a fine wooded
country opens out, with ranges of hills rising from the banks, while
the stream itself, now pursuing its winding course over pebbly
banks and through hiUs, becomes more and more rapid, and
reminds one in places of a fine Scotch or Welsh salmon river. Here
and there are to be seen small villages, guarded against the attacks
of raiders by clievaux-de-frise set in the fords, or, as on the Mee river,
which is a tributary of the Kooladan, trusting for protection to a
musket-proof planked hut built in the fork of an ancient tree. The
hut is connected with the village by a bamboo ladder, and on the
approach, or rumour of the approach, of a raiding party, men,
women, and children take refuge in it. Against the coarsely-manufactured
powder of the Looshai and Shandoo raider such planked
towers of refuge offer a fair resistance. Amidst such scenery,
one is introduced to the Hill tracts of Arakan ; they may be said
to commence about 100 miles from Akyab, and terminate on the
northern confines of our Indian Empire in a country inhabited by
independent wild tribes and described in maps as " undefined" and
" unsurveyed."

The Hill tracts of Arakan are separated from Cachar on the
north by the territories of independent tribes, chiefly Looshais and
Shaudoos ,• on the east, between Arakan and Upper Burma, lies
the country of the Shandoos and Chins ; on the south the Akyab
district; and on the west Chittagong and Hill tracts. But
although these are the geographical boundaries, the power of the
British Government beyond certain points has always been little
more than nominal, the wild tribes paying tribute either to Upper
Burma or to the more powerful neighbouring chiefs, much in the
same manner as, not so many centuries ago, blackmail was paid
among the Higliland clans. The Government of India accordingly
determined to lay down an inner or administrative boundary, within
which internal crime could be effectively repressed, and protection
afforded against external violence in the shape of raids and
depredations on British territory by trans-frontier tribes. Within
these limits, control, order, and administrative measures were to
be introduced, and at the same time friendly relations with the
independent 'bordfti' races were to be gradually established.
After long .and cy.reful consideration by the supreme and local
Gover,nrjients,.ibW'ai^ decided in 1866 that the Chief Commissioner
of British Burma should assume the direct administration of the
hill country. Colonel Phayre,* whose long experience of the hill
tribes of Arakan specially enabled him to deal with the question,
was at the time Chief Commissioner. He saw that in permanent
European supervision over the wild tribes lay the best chance of
success. A special officer, with the designation of " Superintendent
of Hill tribes," was therefore appointed to the exclusive charge of
the Hill tracts. The appointment was not made before it was
wanted, for at that time, to use the words of Colonel Phayre,
"the country was as little known to the British Government as
the tribes of Central Africa before the days of Burton, Speke, and
Grant." Notwithstanding these measures, however, raids on our
territory were of frequent occurrence from 1868 to 1870, and the
lives and liberty of British subjects were from time to time sacrificed
to the marauding proclivities of trans-frontier tribes : these raids
culminated in two on such a sanguinary and large scale as had for
years been unknown. In one, which was committed by some
remote Looshai tribes, the village of one of our most loyal and
influential tributary chiefs, named " Lahawk," was attacked, and
nine people were killed and forty made captives, f The other was
committed also on a tributary chief residing within the heart of the
hills named " Poonwet." The raiders, who were of the transfrontier
tribes of Koon and Boukyay Shandoos, captured thirty of
our subjects and killed four.
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