Brief History of Arakan

Mrauk-U Palace, Arakan Palace

Arakan State has been a sovereign state for more than thousand years with four dynastic eras: Dhanyawaddy (CE 370/425 – 6th century, and the original home of the Mahamuni shrine), Vesali (CE 6th – 10th century), Laymro (11th – 15th century) and Mrauk-U (CE 1430 – 1784). It lost its sovereignty with the 1784 Burman invasion. Since then, Arakan has been a part of Burma (Myanmar). Separated from Burma’s other ethnic nationalities by the Arakan Roma mountain ranges, the Arakanese people have customs and a language of their own.

At its peak the Arakan kingdom took tributes from as far away as Murshidabad, India, in the west, and the Mon capital of Pegu, in the east as well as much of southern Burma. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was also among the first kingdoms in the region to use currency and that it boasted a flourishing trade relationship with Portuguese, Dutch, Persian and other trading nations.



The Modern Day Arakan

The modern day Arakan (Rakhine State) is a crescent-like coastal region of the Western Burma with a total land area of about 20,000 Square Miles (52,000 Square Kilometers), stretching from the Naff River in the North bordering with Bangladesh and India with approximately 193 Km and 30 Km respectively and to the Cape Nagris in the South touching the Andaman Sea.

Arakan Map(1603-1701)The north-south extension (latitudinal spread) of the present day Arakan is 360 miles as the crow flies, but in the Sitetway district, the cradle, so to speak, of Arakanese civilization, the extent is only about 160 miles or so. The east-west extension is even less. At the broadest part, that is the northern end, the extent from the Bay of Bengal to the Crestline of the Arakan Roma is about 100 miles. Further south, about the latitude of Sandway, the breadth is only about 25 miles. The coastal strip continues narrowing down still further to the south until it ends at a point, known as three Pagodas- Point.

Notable Burman-occupied Arakan land demarcation, we keep in mind, is mentioned in Randaboo Treaty, signed by the two aliens, the British and the Burman expansionists, on February 24, 1826. It was included the present-day Arakan territory plus the southernmost part from Kyauk-chwan river to Haigree island, Pagoda Point and Cape Nagris, and the Northern Arakan Hills known as Paletwa district today. The entire region area was 21,694 Square Miles.

After partition of the southernmost portion of the Bessein administration by the British in 1853, the area reduced to 18,945 (Estimate). And again after 1952, the Northern Arakan Hills of Paletwa district was pacified to Chin Hills by the Burman. The present area of Arakan, bordering Chin State and Bangladesh in the north and Magwe Division in the east and facing Bay of Bengal in the west is 14,200 Sq. ml.

Arakan State along the Bay of Bengal is located on Burma’s western coast and has borders with Chin State in the north, Magway Region, Bago Region and Irrawaddy Region in the east, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest. The Arakan Roma Mountains (10,049 ft/3,063 m) form the border between Rakhine State and central Burma.

The state has more than 3 million inhabitants, primarily of Rakhaing ethnic origin. The region benefits from a wealth of natural resources from its ancient forests, bountiful ocean, coal, oil and gas, and fertile plains. The state is divided into five districts, Sitetway, Mrauk-U, Maungdaw, Kyaukphru and Thandway, which are then divided into 17 townships. Within these townships there are a total of 1,164 village tracts.

The state capital is Sitetway - “Akyab” in Rakhaing (Arakanese) - with an estimated population of 153,341. It is situated in the Bay of Bengal on an estuarial island at the confluence of the Kaladan, Laymro and Mayu rivers, surrounded by fertile land. The city grew significantly during the British colonial era when it was a very important commercial town, a centre for imports and exports, especially rice.

Arakan Current MapThe large majority of Arakan State’s inhabitants live in rural areas. They make a living from fishing and farming and rely heavily on the use of rivers for both. In addition to important fish stocks in the ocean, local populations get much of their food from these rivers and their tributaries. Furthermore, 85% of Arakan State’s cultivated farmland is occupied by rice paddy fields, the major part of which are located along the Kaladan and Laymro River valleys - two of the few large flat areas in the region. Due to a lack of good roads, the trade of both fish and agricultural produce in the region is dependent on the use of waterways.

Throughout its history, Arakan has been largely reliant on agriculture, predominantly the production of rice. Since Burma’s first coup d’état in 1962 rice production has been ruthlessly exploited by the military authorities. The majority of profits made from farming and fishing go straight into the pockets of the government, funding further military expansion and fuelling more human rights abuses, and leading to the extreme impoverishment of millions of workers and people.

An illustration of the sad state of affairs in modern day Arakan are the causes of displacement mentioned in a 2007 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre survey: food insecurity (87.20%), economic motive (78.20%), other Human Rights violations (69.20%), louq a pay (66.70%), extortion/heavy taxation (66.70%), land confiscation (53.80%), and restriction of movement (34.60%).