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Crisis and Reformation in a Maritime Kingdom of Southeast Asia
By Dr. Michael W. Charney -University of Michigan, USA.
This study of the initial collapse, revival, and finally a resumption of decline in the seventeenth century of the maritime kingdom of Arakan ( in the western Burma ) attempts to establish a special place in Arakan in the general historiography of the seventeenth-century was in large in part due to both the blockades by autonomous Portuguese freebooters in the first two decades of the seventeenth century and the peculiar nature of a new trading relationship from the 1630s until the 1660s between the Arakanese and the Dutch, based on the Arakanese supply of slaves and rice to Dutch port-cities and plantations.
The ebb and flow of Arakanese fortunes throughout the century were thus tied to the fortunes of the Dutch. Expanding Asian empires in Bengal and Burma also influenced the decline of the Arakanese maritime policy after the Dutch withdraw from Arakan in the 1660s. Afterwards, as the material resources of the Arakanese central court declined, the Arakanese littoral became politically fragmented, characterzed and sustained by the rise of rival political centers and rebellions of non-Arakanese ethnic groups who had been captured abroad and resettled in the Arakanese littoral. Arakan thus experienced its “own” crisis in the seventeenth-century, a watershed that gives it a peculiar niche in the seventeenth-century, history not only of Southeast Asia as a whole, but the mainland in particular.
In 1430, the Arakanese king Narameikhla (r.1404-1434), who had taken refuge in Gaur since 1404 due to Mon and Burman invasions, returned to central Arakan with the aid of the Sultan Bengal and built the town of the Mrauk-U as the royal city for his new dynasty.) Utilizing revenues from Muslim trade connections and the agricultural and human resources of the Danya-waddy delta, Narameikhla’s successors in the space of a century and half constructed a maritime trading state which, by the beginning of the seventeenth century, encompassed not only the entire eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal up to Tippera, but also the Lower Burmese coast from Cape Negrais to what is now Moulmein.) The dramatic rise of the tiny maritime state of Arakan in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries can only be paralleled in the magnitude and speed by its collapse in the second half of the seventeenth century, which left the Arakanse kingdom destitute of maritime trade, politically fragmented, and geographically reduced to a portion of the Arakanese coast.