It gives me distinct pleasure to post an article of Dr. Shwe Lu Maung on a subject on which he is perhaps the foremost authority. He agreed to my suggestion on writing about the Rohingya Crisis which has morphed into another genocidal campaign of which he has been warning us since the publication of his book - Muslim-Buddhist War of Bangladesh and Myanmar - The Price of Silence, in 2005, nearly 12 years ago. I am truly indebted to him. Here below I post his entire article.
===========================Rohingya Cultural Anthropology by Dr. Shwe Lu Maung
(The author's note: The account given here is a very short summary of the facts drawn from my published books. Deeper and broader presentations and discussions can be found in my books).
Myanmar, with her rich cultural and natural resources, has every potential to be a world leader that everybody will love. However, to my anguish:-
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
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 Myanmar , 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 Rakhine
State . That means more than 73%
of Rohingya population has been forced out of Myanmar . Myanmar
Beyond doubt, this is 'ethnic cleansing'.
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
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. Myanmar
Part 1: The Rohingya - a legend, not a myth
A legend is a tradition or history based on the actual event, extraordinary in nature, in a distant past, whereas a myth is purely a make-to-believe imaginary fictional story.
Let us see.
“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 ,
and are guards round the Mount Meru or Indra." (Sir
Arthur Phayre, History of Burma, 1883, p 41). mansion
In Arakan, it is a fact bigger than reality to
Then, the question arises: who are the Rakhine?
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
How come? A satisfactory answer came from another famous Rakhine intellectual U San Tha Aung, who was a professor of physics, and became the Vice Chancellor of Rangoon University and then the Director General of Higher Education in the days of Ne Win's regime. In his famous book The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan, Chapter 1: Geographical Description, Subheading: The Peoples of Arakan, he wrote, "The earliest people who lived in Arakan were Negritos who are mentioned in the chronicles as "Bilus" (cannibals). They appear to have been the direct neolithic descendents of the Arakanese soil. Later, waves of peoples of different races came into this land from the north." Based on the legends of
“To the east of the river Karnafuli there is a palace, Roshang
City by name – like the Heaven.
There rules the glorious king of
a follower Magadha
of the Buddha,
Name being Sri Sudhamma Raja, renown for his justice.
His power is like the morning sun, famous in the world,
Grooms the subjects like his own children.
Reveres the Lord [Buddha] and purely religious,
One’s sins are forgiven when one sees his feet…”
It is important note that the 17th century poet of the
, Daulat Qazi, used
the word 'Roshang' but not 'Rakhine'. Arakan
Now, the Rakhine also claim that they are also the descendants of Rakha (Rakkha) or Bilu. Rakkha is the Pali version of the Sanskrit word "Raksha." Sanskrit is an earlier language than Pali. Therefore, it is reasonable to accept that the Pali version Rakkha became prominent when the ancient
Then, the question arises: why the Rakhine speaks a Burmese dialect today? The answer came from the internationally accepted history. It is a common knowledge that the Mauryan Empire fell and the
Maurice Collis was a British Commissioner of Arakan and his knowledge of Arakan is formidable. He is in agreement with Professor Daniel George Edward Hall, who was the founding father of the Department of History at
Part 3: The Rohingya of
It will be naive to say that there is no Bengali in Arakan. Based on the commonness of mtDNA macrohaplogroup M in both
The Burmese hatred towards the Bengali probably began here. The number of soldiers described by the scholars varies from 30,000 to 50,000 but we do not know how many stayed on. We do know that a good number of the Bengali soldiers served the Rakhine kings of Arakan from 1430 to 1784. The Rakhine kings ruled the twelve cities of
In the course of time, they all became Arakanized and mostly settled in the central Arakan, not in the northern Arakan. Their descendents prefer to be known as the Rakhine Muslims. Again, R.B. Smart on the page 90 of his report wrote, "They (Mussalmen) differ but little from the Arakanese except in their religion and in the social customs which their religion directs; in writing they use Burmese, but amongst themselves employ colloquially the language of their ancestors. Long residence in this enervating climate and the example set by them, the people among whom they have resided for generations, have had the effect of rendering these people almost as indolent and extravagant as the Arakanese themselves." This I know because I had Muslim friends in my school and university days and about 10% of them, with trust, confided me that they were the descendents of these Arakanized Bengali and that they had Rakhine father or mother in their family tree, and therefore they are also the 'Rakhaingthar' or 'Roshangya'. This is the reality of cultural anthropology brought about by the Arakan Empire and, naturally, we must accept its manifestations in every aspect.
Most of the Arakanese Muslim soldiers were killed, along with their Arakanese Buddhist comrades in defense of Arakan against the Burmese occupational war in 1784. During the Burmese genocidal occupation of Arakan from 1784 to 1824, some 250,000 Arakanese people (The Price of Silence (2005), p 244), both Buddhists and Muslims, were killed and more than 100,000 were enslaved by the Burmese kings either as the forced labor to build the pagodas (e.g. Mingun), and water reservoirs (e.g.
At the event of the 1784 Burmese genocidal occupation of Arakan, the people of Arakan (Arakanese), including Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and animists, fled. Later, many more fled from the brutality of the Burmese occupational forces. Again, more people fled from the First Anglo-Burma War (1824-1826). Most of them returned to Arakan when the British occupied it in 1826. The return of the Arakanese Buddhists, Hindus, and animists are viewed as the return of the natives by the today Burmese authorities, but the return of the Arakanese Muslims is considered as the Bengali infiltration and they now face the ethnic cleansing. Therefore, we must carefully review the historical records. Two very important reports are discussed here. The emphases in italics are mine.
1. As per British record (B.R. Pearn, King-Bering, Jour. Burma Research Soc., Vol. XXXIII (II), 1933, p445), is that "by the year 1789, two-thirds of the inhabitants of Arakan were said to have deserted their land." Please note the term 'the inhabitants of Arakan,' which carries the meaning that all communities of Arakan, fled into the British territory in
2. The British Deputy Commissioner, R.B. Smart in his report (Burma Gazetteer Akyab District Volume A, Rangoon, Superintendent, Government Printing, Burma, 1917, p 84) wrote, "When Arakan was first ceded it was found to be depopulated but immigrants soon flocked in, composed mainly of persons who had been driven out by the Burmese or who escaped during the war and who came back to their homes from Chittagong and other neighboring districts, and as the country became more settled the immigration increased." Arakan was ceded by the Burmese to the British in 1826 when the Burmese was defeated in the First Anglo-Burma War, 1824-1826. The Deputy Commissioner Smart's elaboration that "the immigrants" are "composed mainly of persons who had been driven out by the Burmese or who escaped during the war" is the critical information we must bear in our minds in every page when we read his report. It is imperative to do so. Deputy Commissioner Smart used the word 'immigrants' for all returnees. In the later sections of his report, his use of the word 'Arakanese' only for the 'Rakaing' (i.e. Rakhine) is arbitrary since the word 'Arakanese' is a derivative of the name of the country 'Arakan' and as such it covers all inhabitants of Arakan. He also generalized in the use of the word 'Chittagonian' for the 'Arakanese Muslims', and 'Chittagonian Hindu' for the 'Arakanese Hindu' for the simple reason that they all came from "Chittagong and neighboring districts" where they had been exiled during the Burmese occupation (1784-1824) and the First Anglo-Burma War (1824-1826), for more than 40 years. Many of them must have been born there. Therefore, in the eyes of the British who effectively ruled
Futhermore, R.B. Smart on the page 89 of his report, clearly mentioned that the Mahomedans "were, for the most part, descendants of slaves captured by the Arakanese and Burmese in their wars with their neighbours." As such, the word 'Chittagonian' in his report is a much generalized term for the convenience of reporting.
At the same time,
“People from every country, hearing the magnificence of Roshang, Took shelter under the King. Arabian, Michiri [Egyptian], Shami [Syrian], Turkish, Habsi [African], Rumi Khprachani and Uzbek. Lahuri, Multani, Sindi, Kashmiri, Dakkhini (Deccanese), Hindi, Kamrupi [Assamese] and Bangadeshi [Bengali], Ahopai Khotanchari, Karnali, Malayabari, From Achi, Kuchi [Cochi] and Karnataka. Countless Sheik, Soiyadjada, Moghul, Pathan warriors, Rajput, Hindu of various nationals. Avai [Inwa], Burmese,
[Thai], Tripura, Kuki to name.
How many more should I elaborate. Armenian, Olandaz [Dutch], Dinemar, Engraj
[English], Castiman and Franças [French]. Hipani
[Spanish], Almani [German], Chholdar, Nachhrani [Nestorian], Many races
including Portuguese." Siam
Let us not forget that, in the 17th century, Poet Alaol, like Daulat Qazi, also referred Arakan as Roshang, which is the direct derivative the Sanskrit word 'Raksha'. Therefore, it is obvious that Arakan was also known as Roshang and as such, the 'Roshangya' or later 'Rohingya' are also Arakanese. In the later days, due to the racial and cultural divergence the Arakanese Buddhists prominently became 'Rakhine' with Pali inclination and the Arakanese Muslims remain as 'Rohingya' having Sanskrit lineage. With the event of the Buddhist dominance, in particular after the Burmese genocidal occupation of Arakan in 1784, the 'Rohingya' faded into the unknown place of history. The Buddhist dominance gradually advanced to Buddhist ultra-nationalism or Myanmarism, which is a hate ideology, (see The Price of Silence. ISBN-13: 978-1928840039, 2005), resulting in ethnic cleansing, with the event of General Ne Win's fascist militarism in 1962 and his racist Citizenship Act of Burma, 1982. Why
A study of the linguistic scenario also renders strong support to the abovementioned legends and history of Rohingya aboriginality, elucidating that they are neither Bengali nor Burmese.
It has been established that the Rohingya is a dialect within the Indic (Indo-Aryan) languages of Indo-European language phylum. Therefore, it is native to
Furthermore, a Sino-Burmese scholar named Chen Yi-Sein who taught at Rangoon University and was a member of the Burma Historical Commission from 1956 to 1987, identified the Pyu of Taungdwingyi, central Burma, being the Dravidian speakers, contradicting the popular version that the Pyu were the Tibeto-Burman speakers. Current scholars like Michael Aung-Thwin,
There was no mentioning of Rakhine in Vesālī Ānandachandra Sanskrit stone inscription. The word Rakhine (Rakkhaing) first appeared only in the 14th century literature known as Shin Nagainda Mawgwun, an epic poem. It says they are known as the Rakhine (the guardians) because they safeguard two faculties such as Amyo (kindred) and Sila (religion). The Burmese script first appeared along with Pali, Pyu and Mon scripts in the Myazedi Stone Inscription made by Prince Raza Kumar of Pagan (Bagan) in 1113 CE. And it is believed that the
Today, the Rohingya language is unique with its own features within the Indo-European language family. It is also important to know that the Rohingya language is not legible to the Bengali and vice versa; however, a Rohingya can understand the Chakma language and vice versa, as pointed out by Dr. Muhammad Firdaus, M.D., FACP, an American physician of Rohingya ancestry, in USA. As such there is some affinity to each other between the Chakma and Rohingya languages. This intrigues me because Marayu, the founding king of Dhannyawadi is recorded to be the son of a Chakma woman and a Mauryan prince (The Rakhine State Violence Vol. 2: The Rohingya, pp 89-90). For sure, the Rohingya is not a Bengali dialect as concocted by the
Part 5: Rohingya - the aborigines and siblings
Today, no evidence is complete in the absence of genetics and DNA technology. There are two distinct lines of genetics inheritance, one from the mother and the other from the father. We can follow the genetic trail by tracing the genetic markers known as the haplotypes and those having the same haplotypes are grouped into the haplogroups. The genetic materials known as the mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA is uniquely inherited from the mother only. Therefore, from the studies of the mtDNA, we can trace the origin of our maternal ancestry way back to the remote time of human evolution. In light of present knowledge, it is established that our Mitochrondrial Eve lived some 194,000 years ago, possibly somewhere in
In a study of 44 complete mtDNA sequences of
As such, the entire population of South, East, and
Beyond doubt, with the science of modern genetics, it confirms that the Rohingya, who appears to be a modern image of our ancestral Negritos, are the aborigines of Arakan. Now, the Burmese still call the Chinese 'paukphaw', meaning 'sibling', reflecting their historical cultural lineage. I would like to suggest that the Burmese may also call a Rohingya 'paukphaw' because he is also a sibling in light of the anthropological genetics. Again, based on the population genetics, we also know with certainty that of the total three billion DNA nucleotides in our human genome 99.99% is the same in the entire human population. As such, we all are siblings.
Part 6: Rohingya - the victims of civilization
In the days of Arakan Kingdoms, there were slavery and discrimination, but there was no recorded communal violence or ethnic cleansing. The same is true during the days of British rule. The Rohingya problem emerged only when the British withdrew in 1947-48, and the three nation states known as
The Rohingya dilemma began when their ancestral region was divided into
(now Pakistan ) and
along the midstream of Burma . They are
agriculturists and fishermen, and still are nomadic to some extent. Their
ancestral land runs along the east and west Banks of Naaf River. They were
caught in the brand new nationalism and citizenship acts of Naaf
River and Pakistan . They had
no understanding of what the heck a nation state or citizenship is in the
modern civilized world. All they knew was that their freedom had been severely
restricted and their villages were divided by the demarcation of a border line running
in the middle of their ancestral land. In
confusion, chaos and rebellion broke out. U Nu Government of Burma settled the
situation in a peaceful manner, which is well reflected in the speech of
Brigadier General Aung Gyi on Burma the
4th of July 1961 when he welcomed the end of armed insurrection of
some 200 Rohingya. Aung Gyi's speech reads as follow in my English translation
from the original Burmese that appeared in the Khit-ye Sa-saung (p 31, The
Rakhine State Violence, Vol. 2: The Rohingya).
"First, I would like to talk about the matter that is concerned for all people of Mayu District. Our Mayu District is bordered in the West with
. Due to
the border connection there are people of Muslim religion both at the East and
West sides of the border. The people at the West [of the border] are called
Pakistani and those at the East [of the border] inside Pakistan are
known as the Rohingya. I would like to say this: This place [Mayu District],
which is connected with Myanmar ,
is not the only place where the same “kind of people” (Lumyo) lives at both
sides of the border." Pakistan
Then, he gave the examples of Lisu, E-kaw, La-Wa, Shan living inside
and Myanmar ,
and Tai, Mon, Karen inside China
and Myanmar .
After that he said the following. Thailand
"At this moment, before the audience, I would like to say openly and precisely. People in the bordering regions have relatives on either side. Despite having the relatives, those who live over there must be Pakistani and those who live here must be citizens of the Myanmar Union."
Thus, U Nu Government implemented peace and citizenship to the Rohingya. The problem was solved and ended there, in 1961. However, in 1962, most unfortunately, General Ne Win and his army seized power, abolished all democratic institutions, and introduced militarized ultra-nationalism and racial hierarchy. With hate ideology, Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya has reached to a point of genocide and crimes against humanity. For long 55 years from 1962 to 2017, the civilized world did nothing. U Nu had said, "It is a sin to kill, but it is a greater sin to watch the killing with folded arms." As long as the world remains silent with folded arms the Rohingya and their alike will be suffering in the hell of civilization.
About the author: Dr. Shwe Lu Maung is an author of several books on Burma (Myanmar), and is a living authority on his native Rakhine (Arakan) state. He is a scientist by training and profession and claims to be a social Darwinist. Before settling in the USA, he spent decades living both in Burma and Bangladesh.