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Traditional Homeland of Rohingya and Rohingya Cultural Anthropology
By Nurul Islam – Chairman of ARNO, UK. And Dr. Shwe Lu Maung — The Author of The Rakhine State Violence. Vol. 2 : The Rohingya, Published in 2014, USA.
The area between west bank of Kaladan River and east bank of Naf River, which demarcates Myanmar-Bangladesh border, in North Arakan is known as “Traditional Homeland of Rohingya”. It has been deeply implanted the minds of the Rohingya people despite changes in demography, due to pogrom in 1942 and continued systematic persecution against them particularly from 1962 military rule in Burma. Renowned historians such as, Burma Historical Commission’s compiler Prof. Dr. G.H. Luce and History Prof. Dr. Than Tun have affirmed this traditional homeland of Rohingya stating that in North Arakan there was “possibility of Rohingya and their kings in the Mayu valley since 800 years back”.
Moghul fugitive prince Shah Shuja, then Viceroy of Bengal, was killed by Arakanese King Sanda Thudama in 1661 in violation of diplomatic norms while he was taking refuge in Arakan. Emperor Aurangazab was aggrieved over the cold-blooded murder of his brother. In 1666, under the order of Emperor Aurangazab, Moghul commander Nawab Shaista Khan conquered Chittagong (then under Arakanese rule) and the area up to the Kaladan River in Arakan.
In some of his write ups, including the article “Muslim of Burma” published in “The Nation Daily”, Rangoon, dated 12th April 1959, Ex-Health Minister Sultan Mahmud writes “Saista Khan had conquered up to the Kaladan River.” He also mentioned it in his several parliamentary debates and press conferences.
Sufi A.M Waheed writes “Under the order of Emperor Aurangazab, the Subedor of Bengal, Nawab Shaista Khan deputed his son Buzurg Umad Khan, and in 1666 he conquered Chittagong and annexed the area from Dhoom (the area with Feni River) in Chittagong to Bay of Bengal.The Buddhist (Maghs) population of Chittagong then migrated to Mrohaung and started whispering campaign against the Muslims (Rohingyas).
M.A. Tahir Ba Tha writes, “There is historical observation that Buzurg Umed Khan had conquered whole Arakan but retreated soon” as Bengal had no territorial ambition on Arakan. However, in the absence of clear information, who ruled over the region between the east bank of Naf River and west bank of Kaladan River, it may be inferred that it was under the firm control of the Rohingya people.”
The conquest of Chittagong (by Moghul) had changed in the political landscape between Arakan and Chittagong or Bengal. The Buddhist Rakhines had fled beyond Kaladan River while the Bengal southern border was fixed at the west bank of Naf River or Kaladan River. “With the loss of Chittagong and Ramu the Arakanese Maghs were very terrified and fled from north to south Arakan. At that time, a large number of Muslims from Bengal entered into North Arakan.”
On 7 March 1947, Jamiatul Ulama of North Arakan under the leadership of Barrister Dr. Maulana Sana Ullah met British parliament member Ross William, head of the Rose Willam Commission, in Maymyo resort city in Shan State, Burma, and submitted a memorandum wherein they demanded that the area between Kaladan and Naf river should be declared as a state pertaining to Rohingya Muslims.
In 1949, the Arakan Communist Party leader Tun Aung Pru, a Rakhine, met Mujahid Party leader Jafar Kawal and they had agreed to fight together until the fall of Anti-Fascist People’s Federation League (AFPFL) government with the understanding that Mujahid would take the western side of Kaladan River, whereas the rest of the Arakan would be under the control of Rakhine communists. It was a clear understanding between the two powerful rebel groups representing their respective peoples – Rakhine Arakanese and Rohingya Arakanese.
One of the seven demands of the Mujahid party was “to form an Autonomous Muslim state named North Arakan with Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Maungdaw taking the region from the West of Kaladan River up to the eastern part of Naf River. This region will remain under the Union of Burma”.
Dr. Shwe Lu Maung wrote that with hate ideology and violent persecution of the Rohingya people Myanmar has now entered into the darkest era of human civilization in the post WWII. Based on the 1990 Myanmar election data, I calculated in my book The Price of Silence (2005), p 252, that there were 1.87 million Rohingya in a total population of around 4 millions in the Rakhine State, in 1990. Today, based on the latest United Nations and media reports as of September 29, 2017, Rohingya exodus passed half a million mark at 501,000, in addition to earlier mass exoduses since 1978. As such, there is left less than 500,000 Rohingya inside Myanmar. That means more than 73% of Rohingya population has been forced out of Myanmar.
In the statues of International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the ‘ethnic cleansing’ is defined as a ‘crime against humanity’ and depending upon the severity it may amount to genocide. In spite of the obvious brutal scorched-earth criminal activities of the Myanmar authorities it is saddening to see that certain powers are putting blame on ‘Rohingya,’ as the central cause of the crisis, asserting that ‘Rohingya’ is a political construct of the Bengali illegal immigrants to gain a hold in Myanmar.At the same time, undue supports to the Myanmar authorities are being showered by certain powers with the hope of getting a mega slice of Myanmar natural resources and economic benefit. Rohingya Mayu region is rich in gas, oil, and coal.
Under such global attitude of greed for power and money, how shall a common man like me go against the world powers, against the socio-economic currents, and fight for justice in this case of Myanmar’s crimes against humanity? At least, with the hope that, one day, there will be an international tribunal for Myanmar crimes against humanity, I can try to tell the factual story with a presentation of the Rohingya cultural anthropology, which constitutes a strong antithesis of the Myanmar hate ideology.
Let us see. Myanmar accuses that Rohingya is a political construct of the Mujahideens in 1958 in light of the absence of the word “Rohingya” in the existing Myanmar historical records. However, upon a careful examination, I find that the existence of Rohingya is manifested in the Rakhine chronicles by the Rakhine historians themselves, such as Rakhine Maha Razawin by Saya Me, written in 1840. The first book on Myanmar (Burma) history by a non-Burman is History of Burma by Sir Arthur Phayre, published by Trübner & Co., London, in 1833. This is the earliest and most reliable recorded history of Burma written by a person who had long experience in Arakan and Myanmar from 1824 to 1867 as a soldier, diplomat and governor. The following is his description of Arakan.
“The country known in Europe as Arakan extends for 350 miles along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is called by the natives Rakhaingpyi, or land of the Rakhaing. The same word in the Pali form, Yakkho, and also Raksha, is applied to beings, some good and some bad, who have their abode on Mount Meru, and are guards round the mansion of Sekra or Indra.” (Sir Arthur Phayre, History of Burma, 1883, p 41). In Arakan, it is a fact bigger than reality to find Mt. Meru, or Mt. Mayu in Burmese, is guarded by the Rohingya of Raksha descent. Raksha or ogre is the identity given to the native dark skin people by the invaders of light skin color. A similar scenario can be found in Sri Lanka history of the invader Prince Vijaya and the native ogre woman called Kuveni. Therefore, it is sound to conclude that the term “Rohingya” is not a myth of 1958 political construct by the then Mujahideens, but a legend embedded with facts and recorded in the Rakhine chronicles written by the Rakhine themselves.
The legendary aboriginality of the Rohingya is supported by the Rakhine’s claim that they are the descendants of the conquerors and the indigenous people. Most distinctly, the most famous and prominent Rakhine intellectual, aristocratic politician and Barister-at-law, U Kyaw Min (ICS, MP), who was one of the elite eight Indian Civil Service (ICS) of all British Burma, and a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1950 to 1962 in the independent Burma, representing the Rakhine political party known as Ratanya (Arakan National United Organization), asserted that “the Arakanese people are of Aryan stock mixed with the indigenous people who have inhabited Arakan from time immemorial,” in his extremely popular pamphlet The Arakan State, the Pye Daw Tha Press, 1958, see page 1, Mistaken Belief. He wrote it in a serious rebuttal to the Burmese assertion that the Rakhine are also the Burmese who have acquired some distinct characteristics due to localization for a long time. The Rakhine being the descendents of the Indo-Aryan stock is the well accepted Rakhine legend. Every Rakhine will proudly say as such, regardless of his or her biometric phenotype.