WHO ARE THE ROHINGYAS?
Dr. Aye Chan
A few weeks ago, it was announced on a broadcast of BBC Burmese program that a Burmese national of the Rohingya ethnic group had been granted political asylum in
The person who was granted asylum in
In this article, I want to discuss whether the Rohingyas are an indigenous ethnic group of
Probably Zaw Min Htut is an activist of younger generation. However, the movement of his precursors brought great bloodsheds to Arakan in the wartime and the opening decade of independent
The Arakanese folk in rural areas again became the victims of the rebellion which those intrusive settlers launched against the Union of Burma in the 1950s.These innocent Arakanese people faced killing, kidnapping, arson, plunder and rape for a decade after the independence. We should recall what the great archeologist Emile Forchhammer, seeing the persistent flights of the immigrants from the adjacent areas of the British India, predicted:” This land of strange prophesies, Arakan, the
If Zaw Min Htut calls his work a history, he seems to be a poorly trained historian. He not only lacks knowledge of research methodology but also knowledge of the background history of
in modern India, is a proof of the waves of ethnic migration from central Burma to the Arakan coast and then to the northeastern parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Furthermore Zaw Min Htut does not know how epigraphy and paleography affords conclusive evidence that northern Arakan owes its Buddhist and somewhat Hindu traditions to
Zaw Min Htut’s book attempts to prove that the so-called Rohingyas are the descendents of Arab castaways from shipwrecks on the Arakan coast in the ninth century and that they had been inhabitants in Arakan at least two centuries before the Arakanese people of Tibeto-Burman family reached Arakan. This illogical spectulation is based on an account of the Arakanese chronicle, written by Sara Nga Mei in 1826 [Nga Mei: 1826:so-ob 5-8; so-re 1-5]. Following the chronicle, R.B.Smart, the Deputy Commissioner of Akyab District, wrote that in the ninth century several ships were wrecked on Ramree Island and the Muslim crews placed in the villages in Arakan [R.B.Smart:1957:86]. Other chronicles also tell the story of some shipwrecks; however none of them say that the crews were Arabs or Muslim. The word for Arab and Persian in archaic Burmese and Arakanese is Pathi. The chroniclers do not say that there were any Pathis (Arabs or Persians) sent to Wethali, the capital city of
In the field of research methodology, he does not seem to grasp the importance of primary sources of information in historical research. Although he does give reference to some works of the authorities on Burmese history, his way of quoting from scholarly writings shows an explicit insincerity. In his bibliography, either the date of publication or the title of the article or the name of the publisher is not given for some works. Furthermore, his style of writing is logically weak, for while he confidently asserts that the language spoken by the Rohigya people is similar to the Bengali and Sanskrit, linguistically of the Indo-Aryan languages family, he cannot bring forward any linguistic affinities of their language with the Semitic languages that Arabic belongs to.
Altogether eight paragraphs from one of my articles were excerpted in his book with a forwarding statement that he was citing an original text of mine [Aye Chan: 1975:56-7]. However, when I carefully examined them, I found that he dropped some sentences of mine and substituted them with his own, using them to draw a conclusion that the people whom he called Rohingyas had been the earlier settlers of the Mayu Frontier area in the northwest Arakan, namely present day Buthidaung and Maungdaw Districts. My research presented in that article had nothing to do with the migration of the Bengali people from Chittagong District of modern
If Zaw Min Htut asks me about the people of Old Arakan in the Dynnyawaddy and Wethali Periods (c.A.D.400-1000), I will answer with certainty that they were of Mongoloid stock, not very distant cousins of the Pyus of Irrawaddy Valley. Every student of Burmese history knows that the Anandachandra Inscription in Sanskrit is the only source of Arakanese chronology before the Lemro period (AD1018-1406) and also that the information and list of the kings of the Dynnyawaddy and Wethali dynasties given by the chronicles contain much legend and are not reliable for historical research. This is because the tradition of writing chronicles began in the early eighteenth century, and most of the works of Arakanese chroniclers were brought to the Burmese capital, Amarapura after the Burmese conquest of the country in 1784. The numismatic evidences have proved the reigns of some kings of the Chandra dynasty as mentioned by the inscription in the later half of the AD first millennium. The sculptural scrutiny of leading archeologists and art historians has proved that the earliest inhabitants of Arakan were of Mogoloid stock [Pamela Gutman: 2001:5]. The other sources we can rely for the study of early Arakanese history are the Buddhist pagodas, the Buddha images, and the variety of artifacts thus far unearthed. Unfortunately no archaeological evidence to prove the presence of the Muslim community in Arakan prior to the beginning of the fifteenth century has been found yet.
However, I do not mean there was no Muslim community in Arakan before the state was absorbed into
It is obvious that the term “Rohingya” was created in 1950s by the educated Chittagonian descendants from Mayu Frontier area (present day Buthidaung and Maungdaw Districts) and that it cannot be found in any historical source materials in any language till then. The creators of that term might be of the second or third generations of the Bengali immigrants from the Chittagong District in modern
“Since 1879, immigration has taken place on a much larger scale and the descendants of the slaves are resident, for the most part in the Kyauktaw and Myohaung [Mrauk-U] townships. Maungdaw township has been overrun by Chittagonian immigrants. Buthidaung is not far behind and new arrivals will be found in almost every part of the district [R.B. Smart: 1957: 87].
It is not a painstaking work to write a well documented piece of research on the migration of those Chittagonians into