The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)

Type Journal Article - SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research
Title The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)
Volume 3
Issue 2
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2005
Page numbers 396-420
Who are the Rohingyas? Burma gained independence from Great
Britain in 1948 and this issue is a problem that Burma has had to
grapple with since that time. The people who call themselves
Rohingyas are the Muslims of Mayu Frontier area, present-day
Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships of Arakan (Rakhine) State,
an isolated province in the western part of the country across Naaf
River as boundary from Bangladesh. Arakan had been an
independent kingdom before it was conquered by the Burmese in
1784. Rohingya historians have written many treatises in which
they claim for themselves an indigenous status that is traceable
within Arakan State for more than a thousand years. Although it is
not accepted as a fact in academia, a few volumes purporting to be
history but mainly composed of fictitious stories, myths and
legends have been published formerly in Burma and later in the United States, Japan and Bangladesh. These, in turn, have filtered
into the international media through international organizations,
including reports to the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (Ba Tha 1960: 33-36; Razzaq and Haque 1995: 15).2
In light of this, it is important to reexamine the ethnicity of
the ‘Rohingyas’ and to trace their history back to the earliest
presence of their ancestors in Arakan. And history tells us that we
do not have to go back very far. In the early 1950s that a few
Bengali Muslim intellectuals of the northwestern part of Arakan
began to use the term “Rohingya” to call themselves. They were
indeed the direct descendants of immigrants from the Chittagong
District of East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh), who had
migrated into Arakan after the province was ceded to British India
under the terms of the Treaty of Yandabo, an event that concluded
the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826). Most of these migrants
settled down in the Mayu Frontier Area, near what is now Burma’s
border with modern Bangladesh. Actually, they were called
“Chittagonians” in the British colonial records.
The Muslims in the Arakan State can be divided into four
different groups, namely the Chittagonian Bengalis in the Mayu
Frontier; the descendents of the Muslim Community of Arakan in
the Mrauk-U period (1430-1784), presently living in the Mrauk-U
and Kyauktaw townships; the decendents of Muslim mercenaries
in Ramree Island known to the Arakanese as Kaman; and the
Muslims from the Myedu area of Central Burma, left behind by the
Burmese invaders in Sandoway District after the conquest of
Arakan in 1784.

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