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British census vs Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1799) evidence on Rohingya

 

Attached is Derek Tonkin’s discussion about Francis Buchanan-Hamilton’s work in 1799, which many pro-Rohingya activists citing as an evidence for the existence of historic-Rohingya ( i.e. Rohingya ethnic or tribal group ). He makes important point of interpreting F B-H document carefully against existing British census records in later years, up until 1942, which never once making reference to a specific ethnic group ‘Rohingya’.

Another important point he made is the disappearance of indigenous Arakanese-Muslims: where are they? Hopefully, they (the indigenous Arakanese-Muslims ) would not be falling under the oppression of 1982 Citizenship Laws. Certainly, they will not be among the “Stateless Rohingyas ( Temporary Registration Card holders)” which we are having in Rakhine State nowadays.

Those who still do not know Mr. Tonkin, he is a retired British diplomat who is interested in Burma for a long time and, in these morden days, he seems to become a successful blogger of www.networkmyanmar.com.

I sincerely appreciate the time he has spend and the inputs he has been making towards this discussion — things like analysing older census records of British-Burma.

In Solidarity,
U Ne Oo.


From: Derek Tonkin

Dear U Ne Oo,

Recently I reviewed a number of documents, some in Francis Buchanan-Hamilton’s own handwriting, in the British Library in London.

FB-H was a prolific writer, a polymath on so many subjects, but his principal interests were in the medical sciences, botany and Eastern cultures. He was very much an amateur philologist and was helped in his writings on languages by several colleagues.

We can only guess at whom he met at Amarapura, what language they conversed in and what conclusions we should draw.

He graduated in medical sciences at Edinburgh and was for several years a ship’s doctor on sailing ships to Asian ports. It was only in 1784 that he came onshore and joined the Bengali Medical Service at the age of 33. A year later he accompanied Major Symes on a diplomatic mission to the Kingdom of Ava, though the capital itself had moved to Amarapura. I would suppose that by then he had some colloquial Bengali, but he accompanied the mission primarily as doctor and also for his many other talents.

The first thing I would note is that F B-H only made reference once in his entire lifetime to ‘Rooinga’. It does not appear in any of his other writings about Bengal and Arakan, which continued until his death in 1829. This single reference accordingly needs to be interpreted with particular care. It clearly did not ‘catch on’ with any of his colleagues and so was unknown to the British during their rule of Burma from 1826 – 1848.

Indeed, does it really mean anything more than that he met a group of both Muslims and Hindus at Amarapura; that the Muslims told him that they came from Arakan (Rohang in Bengali, alongside many variations), while the Hindus told him the same story, using their word for Arakan which was Rossawn? He leant from both Muslims and Hindus that in Arakan they were called Kulaw Yakain or stranger Arakan. This was indeed the description by which they were known during the period of British rule – Yakhaing-kala – recognised by the British as an indigenous community, some still speaking among themselves their old dialect (a mixture of Bengali, Rakhine, Urdu and Arabic), but all conversant in Rakhine Burmese which they used in writing and for business. Enumerators at both the 1921 and 1931 census were instructed to record as Yakaing-kala (or Arakan Muslims) only “those Mohamedans who were domiciled in Burma and had adopted a certain mode of dress which is neither Arakanese nor Indian and who call themselves and are generally called by others Yakaing-kala”. This instruction was despite representations that: “The Arakanese Buddhists in Aykab asked the Deputy Commissioner there not to let the Arakanese-Mohamedans be included under ‘Arakanese’ in the census.” This was 1921, remember. It might have been 2014.

Arakan was subsequently seen as a golden land for many Bengalis, mainly Chittagonians. They came first as seasonal labourers, but from 1915 onwards many put down permanent roots. The 1931 census has recorded their numbers under the heading Indian Muslim. Indian Hindu are listed in a separate column. The Yakhaing-kala, Myedus, Zerbaidis and other indigenous Muslims like the Kaman are included under “Others”. Their numbers are given in other Tables (attached) under “Indo-Burmans” – you might call them the original Muslim settlers.

By 1942 the ‘new’ settlers in the north of Arakan outnumbered the ‘old’ settlers by about 8 to 1. Then came the terrible slaughter of 1942, the insurrection 1948-1961 and massive displacement of Muslims around 1978 and 1991. In the end, it would seem that the Yakaing-kala have been absorbed by the Chittagonians, because they do not appear in the 1973 or the 1983 censuses. You could say that the Chittagonians became Yakhaing-kala. Thus was born the Rohingya story, put together by learned Muslims scholars, even possibly disputing among themselves whether it should be ‘Rohingya’ or ‘Roewengya’ –

http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/5159044/roewengyas-in-arakan-pdf-65k?da=y

As by 1942 most Chittagonians now permanently resident in Arakan had been there already for a number of years, with some 82% recording that they had been born in Burma at a time when it did not matter a hoot to the British whether they were Indian or Burma born, they would have started to develop their own customs and culture, and even their own dialect, especially as they were, as I assume, now living together with Yakhaing-kala. So if by 1950 they started to call themselves ‘Rohingya’, that seems to me to be perfectly reasonable. They needed an identity, they merited an identity, they deserved an identity.

Where they went wrong was to maintain to this day the pretence that they were always called ‘Rohingya’ and that none of them ever emigrated from Chittagong. This defies all logic and historical record. The British would have been only too delighted if only once between 1826 and 1948 someone had come to them and said, whether at census time or on any other occasion: “Sir, you might like to know, I am a Rohingya”. But it didn’t happen. Not once.

Derek


This is an excellent rebuttal compiled by Abid Bahar, mimicking the conversation between a Rakhine and Rohingya. This rebuttal has bring up centrally important issues arising from history/origins of Rohingya. I am also getting some contributed writings to this discussion from other leading thinkers & activists who are interested on this issue.

By the way, I am not a Rakhine. I am a Burman who born in Irrawaddy delta in 1960s. Any other Rakhines, including famous (or infamous, rather, 🙂 Dr. Aye Chan, were not on this list.

My experience with exchange of views on Internet — for example Rakhine vs Rohingya — is that since both sides are too passionate about their own people, such discussion soon become degraded into mud-slinging show. Certainly, this won’t happen with me here.

I shall later set-up a web page featuring all our conversations. All our friends are invited to send me relevent discussions/rebuttals etc.

Once again, thanks Abid Bahar for his contribution to this discussion.

In Solidarity,
U Ne Oo.


From: Dr Abid Bahar

(new version updated with the consent of the author: 18/6/14 )


A DIALOGUE WITH THE DEAF: UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE HEART OF THE HEARTLESS IN BURMA!

Abid Bahar

(Arakan is a province of Burma located in the north west bordering Banglades, historically has been lived by two major groups: the Rakhine and the Rohingya. Due to Arakan’s location in the racial fault line, this region has been the epicenter of refugee production. In the decades long military ruled Burma with its “divide and rule policy,” government propaganda found it convient to label the Rohingya people as “foreigners” in Burma reached to such a dangerous level that in 1982 the military government even constitutionally declared the Rohingya people as the non citizens of Burma. The oppression led to several grand scale refugee exodus to Bangladesh. This poisonous environment between the Rakhine and the Rohingya in 2012 even reached to the level of neighbors hating neighbors, even killing them. The net result of the government sponsored propaganda, created a poisonous environment between the two communities as much that there is no existence of true dialogue. If there is any occasional encounters, they are as if like dialogue with the deaf). In the following there is a typical example of a dialogue:

ROHINGYA: Our forefathers lived in Arakan for generation, we have been your neighbors lived here peacefully for ever. But Rakhine leaders and the government tell us we are not Rohingya, we are Bengali people from Bangladesh.

RAKHINE: I must say, this is because history tells us that there was no Rohingya before 1823 yet there is a group of activists insisting on the existence of “Rohingya” before 1823. Obviously, I haven’t seen any strong and consistent evidence of its existence so far. Even if one can find existence of that per-historic “Rohingya”, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how are we going to make connections with this group of Bengali/Chittagonian migrants of 1823-1962 which the International Press & most activists currently referring to as “Rohingya”.

ROHINGYA: Are you listening to me? “We know the usage of the term “Rohingya” which can be found in a research “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in Burma Empire” carried out by British medical doctor, researcher and traveler, Dr. Francis Buchanan in 1799 C.E. Its copy can be received here:http://www.soas.ac.uk/sbbr/editions/file64276.pdf. This was done immediately after Burma occupied Arakan.

RAKHINE: This document by Dr. Francis Buchanan is not a primary evidence.
ROHINGYA: What do you mean by primary evidence? Dr. Francis Buchanan met Rohingya people face to face and recorded their existence in Burma. This is definitely a primary evidence.
RAKHINE: Aye Chan says this is not a primary evidence. He says, this evidence doesn’t qualify to be a primary evidence. He is a professor.
ROHINGYA: Despite his position, he couldn’t be trusted. Also Aye Chan has problem to understand the difference between primary and secondary evidence. Aye Chan is a biased man, he calls the Rohingya as “Influx virus.” Dr. Francis Buchanan’s record was done in 1799 C.E.is based on primary evidence. That is why Western scholars now have no problems to believe that Rohingya people lived in Arakan before Burma occupied Arakan. That is why they find the Muslim Rohingya being unfairly treated for their racial and religious differences with the Buddhist- Mongoloid Burman- Rakhine variety. This is clearly racism.

RAKHINE: I am still not satisfied with your argument. What is your argument?
ROHINGYA: Please check for more evidence to understand the point.”Muslims arrived and settled in Burma since last 1000 years.”Muslim presence in the south was there even before King Anuradha’s reign, the king who made Theravada Buddhism as the official religion of Burma. In Arakan, also Muslim presence was found in the ancient period. History records, “Many Arab ships were wrecked near Rambree Island when Arakan was ruled by the King Mahataing Sanda (788 – 810) and crews and traders were Muslims and were sent to Arakan proper and settled there. “

//
Like the other ethnic groups of Burma, Rohingya also rebelled against the military government.’s oppression.However, in a memorandum to the government of Burma the Rohingya rebel official when surrendering wrote that we merge ourselves with Burma in good faith that it will treat us on the same lines as Burman and we will be given equal rights.” Now instead of giving us equal rights, the government took away our citizenship rights and carried out genocide against the Rohingyas and other Muslims.

RAKHINE: What are you talking about? You are a liar! This issue we are discussing is about giving the Rohingya people the Burmese citizenship. This is a serious matter. We know the Rohingya arrived in Arakan after 1823.

ROHINGYA: Do you have any authentic record that shows my forefathers arrived in Arakan after 1823?
RAKHINE: Don’t tell me, you Bengali Rohingya are liars.

A DIALOGUE WITH THE DEAF: UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE HEART OF THE HEARTLESS IN BURMA!

Abid Bahar

(Arakan is a province of Burma located in the north west bordering Banglades, historically has been lived by two major groups: the Rakhine and the Rohingya. Due to Arakan’s location in the racial fault line, this region has been the epicenter of refugee production. In the decades long military ruled Burma with its “divide and rule policy,” government propaganda found it convient to label the Rohingya people as “foreigners” in Burma reached to such a dangerous level that in 1982 the military government even constitutionally declared the Rohingya people as the non citizens of Burma. The oppression led to several grand scale refugee exodus to Bangladesh. This poisonous environment between the Rakhine and the Rohingya in 2012 even reached to the level of neighbors hating neighbors, even killing them. The net result of the government sponsored propaganda, created a poisonous environment between the two communities as much that there is no existence of true dialogue. If there is any occasional encounters, they are as if like dialogue with the deaf). In the following there is a typical example of a dialogue:

ROHINGYA: Our forefathers lived in Arakan for generation, we have been your neighbors lived here peacefully for ever. But Rakhine leaders and the government tell us we are not Rohingya, we are Bengali people from Bangladesh.

RAKHINE: I must say, this is because history tells us that there was no Rohingya before 1823 yet there is a group of activists insisting on the existence of “Rohingya” before 1823. Obviously, I haven’t seen any strong and consistent evidence of its existence so far. Even if one can find existence of that per-historic “Rohingya”, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how are we going to make connections with this group of Bengali/Chittagonian migrants of 1823-1962 which the International Press & most activists currently referring to as “Rohingya”.

ROHINGYA: Are you listening to me? “We know the usage of the term “Rohingya” which can be found in a research “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in Burma Empire” carried out by British medical doctor, researcher and traveler, Dr. Francis Buchanan in 1799 C.E. Its copy can be received here:http://www.soas.ac.uk/sbbr/editions/file64276.pdf. This was done immediately after Burma occupied Arakan.

RAKHINE: This document by Dr. Francis Buchanan is not a primary evidence.
ROHINGYA: What do you mean by primary evidence? Dr. Francis Buchanan met Rohingya people face to face and recorded their existence in Burma. This is definitely a primary evidence.
RAKHINE: Aye Chan says this is not a primary evidence. He says, this evidence doesn’t qualify to be a primary evidence. He is a professor.
ROHINGYA: Despite his position, he couldn’t be trusted. Also Aye Chan has problem to understand the difference between primary and secondary evidence. Aye Chan is a biased man, he calls the Rohingya as “Influx virus.” Dr. Francis Buchanan’s record was done in 1799 C.E.is based on primary evidence. That is why Western scholars now have no problems to believe that Rohingya people lived in Arakan before Burma occupied Arakan. That is why they find the Muslim Rohingya being unfairly treated for their racial and religious differences with the Buddhist- Mongoloid Burman- Rakhine variety. This is clearly racism.

RAKHINE: I am still not satisfied with your argument. What is your argument?
ROHINGYA: Please check for more evidence to understand the point.”Muslims arrived and settled in Burma since last 1000 years.”Muslim presence in the south was there even before King Anuradha’s reign, the king who made Theravada Buddhism as the official religion of Burma. In Arakan, also Muslim presence was found in the ancient period. History records, “Many Arab ships were wrecked near Rambree Island when Arakan was ruled by the King Mahataing Sanda (788 – 810) and crews and traders were Muslims and were sent to Arakan proper and settled there. “

You will also find, “Two maps in the ” Time Atlas of the World History” edited by Geoffrey Burraclough clearly indicated that Arakan was a Muslim country in 14th century. In the 17th century the Portuguese with the cooperation of Magh ( Rakhine) raiders committed in-human atrocities in lower Bengal. They seized from the river bank goods and persons. Large number of the captives were sold as slaves in Arakan where the rice crop was sown and reaped by them. In addition, coins and state emblems were inscribed with ‘Kalima’, and ‘Aqimuddin’ (establishment of God’s rule over the earth) in Arabic script. Persian was adopted as a state language, which continued up to 1845. Also many important posts like Chief Minister, Senior Minister, Governors, Quazis (judges),court poets, doctors and army higher officials were also Muslims. (Dr. S.B. Qanungo – A History of Chittagong p. 291). Those high ranking Muslims used to converse with the kings on equal and friendly terms. The king (Salim Shah 11) Thiri Thudama made Ashraf Khan his Chief Minister and the commander of his army. Ashraf Khan was virtually in Charge of conducting all state affairs. (Missing links in Arakan History by S. N. Goshal p – 258)

Like the other ethnic groups of Burma, Rohingya also rebelled against the military government.’s oppression.However, in a memorandum to the government of Burma the Rohingya rebel official when surrendering wrote that we merge ourselves with Burma in good faith that it will treat us on the same lines as Burman and we will be given equal rights.” Now instead of giving us equal rights, the government took away our citizenship rights and carried out genocide against the Rohingyas and other Muslims.

RAKHINE: What are you talking about? You are a liar! This issue we are discussing is about giving the Rohingya people the Burmese citizenship. This is a serious matter. We know the Rohingya arrived in Arakan after 1823.

ROHINGYA: Do you have any authentic record that shows my forefathers arrived in Arakan after 1823?
RAKHINE: Don’t tell me, you Bengali Rohingya are liars.


A DIALOGUE WITH THE DEAF: UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE HEART OF THE HEARTLESS IN BURMA!

RAKHINE: History tells us that there was no Rohingya before 1823. But there is a group of activists insisting on the existence of “Rohingya” before 1823. Obviously, I haven’t seen any strong and consistent evidence of its existence so far. Even if one can find existence of that per-historic “Rohingya”, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how are we going to make connections with this group of Bengali/Chittagonian migrants of 1823-1962 which the International Press & most activists currently referring to as “Rohingya”.

ROHINGYA: “We know the usage of the term “Rohingya” which can be found in a research “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in Burma Empire” carried out by French medical doctor, researcher and traveler, Dr. Francis Buchanan in 1799 C.E. Its copy can be received here:http://www.soas.ac.uk/sbbr/editions/file64276.pdf. This was immediately after Burma occupied Arakan.

RAKHINE: This is not a primary evidence.
ROHINGYA: What do you mean by primary evidence?
RAKHINE: That is a term Aye Chan uses. He says, this evidence which doesn’t qualify to be a primary evidence.
ROHINGYA: Aye Chan has problem to understand the difference between primary and secondary evidence. Dr. Francis Buchanan in 1799 C.E.is based on primary evidence. That is why Western scholars now have no problems to believe that the Rohingya are Burmese people. They were being unfairly treated for Rohingya people’s racial and religious differences with the Buddhist- Mongoloid variety. This is racism.

RAKHINE: I am still not satisfied with your argument. What is your argument?
ROHINGYA: Please check for more evidence to understand the point..”Muslims arrived and settled in Burma since last 1000 years.”Muslim presence in Burma was before King Anuradha who made Theraveda Buddhism as the official religion of Burma. In Arakan, also Muslim presence was seen in ancient period. History records, “many Arab ships were wrecked near Rambree Island while Arakan was ruled by the King Mahataing Sanda (788 – 810) and crews and traders were being MUslims and they were sent to Arakan proper and settled there. “

“Two maps in the ” Time Atlas of the World History” edited by Geoffrey Burraclough clearly in dicated that Arakan was a Muslim country in 14th century. In the 17th century the Portuguese with the cooperation of Magh raiders committed in-human atrocities in lower Bengal. They seized from the river bank goods and persons. Large number of the captives were sold as slaves in Arakan, where the rice crop was sown and reaped by them. Coins and State emblems were inscribed with ‘Kalima’, and ‘Aqimuddin’ (establishment of God’s rule over the earth) in Arabic script. Persian was adopted as a state language, which continued up to 1845. Many important posts like Chief Minister, Senior Minister, Governors, Quazis (judges),court poets, doctors and army higher officials were also Muslims. (Dr. S.B. Qanungo – A History of Chittagong p. 291). Those high ranking Muslims used to converse with the kings on equal and friendly terms. The king (Salim Shah 11) Thiri Thudama made Ashraf Khan his Chief Minister and the commander of his army. Ashraf Khan was virtually in Charge of conducting all state affairs. (Missing links in Arakan History by S. N. Goshal p – 258)

” In a memorandum to the government of Burma wrote that we merged themselves with Burma in
good faith that they will be treated on the same lines as Burman and will be given equal rights. Now instead of giving equal rights the government carried out genocide against the Rohingyas and other Muslims.

RAKHINE: This is about giving the Rohingya Burmese citizenship. This is a serious matter. The Rohingya arrived in Arakan after 1823.

ROHINGYA: Rohingya arrived in Arakan before Burma occupied Arakan in 1784. Yes, I know, I know! Nothing satisfies the heart of the heartless including the heart of the Rakhine xenophobes. Because, the underlying logic is simple, “I am a more powerful than you are.” Rakhines are powerful than the Rohingya. So, let me put it this way: “Your parents gave you a name called “Ne.” And I am forcibly tagging you another name called “Myauk (Monkey),” a name which can give you a bad image in society. Excuse me! You won’t like it, will you? Therefore, just because “Burmans or Rakhines” are more powerful than Rohingyas are you are trying to tag a name on Rohingyas as “Bengali” which is politically wrong projection of the people. It’s not fair, is it? Whether their name is historical or not, it is their right to self-identify their ethnicity.” Even if it is not a historical name, you can’t erase a name that was once recognized by the legitimate governments earlier. If you do, it is nothing but arbitrarily done. Yet, there are abundance of evidences to prove that the term “Rohingya” is historical. You will see them only when you take a non-partisan approach.”

RAKHINE: I am a human rights activist!

ROHINGYA: Remember! Rakhine ultra nationalists continue to defy history. In doing that they are committing crimes. Destroying innocent lives in the name of the purity of race is nothing but committing unforgivable crimes, the spirit of which comes from the heart of the heartless! In doing this you can cover your head in the sand but you can’t hide your motivations! Trust me, the world is watching you!

(The above was adapted from some original dialogue between Rakhine and Rohingya people on the origins of the Rohingya people)

Credit: http://netipr.org/policy/node/34

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