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ROHINGYA AND BENGALI

CHAPTER XVII

ROHINGYA AND BENGALI

Since early settlers of Arakan were Indo-Aryan or a people similar to that of Bengal, Rohingya cannot disclaim their genealogical link with Bengali. As time passed, sociopolitical situations have also changed during last centuries. In this context, Rohingya too evolved as an ethnic entity with its own characteristics. In a broader perspective, all are Myanmar, but there still are some separate branches of Myanmar. So we can say Rohingya can be defined as a branch of Bengali but their existence is in Arakan alone; Arakanese alone are, in another word, called Rohingya.

A Senior British military officer remarks: the Arakan Muslims are generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly. [……….] They resemble the Arabs in names, in dress and in habit. [………..] As a race they have been here for over two hundred years and yet survive. They are perhaps to be compared with the Jews, a nation within a nation.321

Foreign observers remarks: In official rhetoric and publications, Rakhine Muslims (Rohingyas) are said to speak Bengali. This however reveals inaccurate, as the Bengali language spoken in Decca does not belong to the same stock of language and has very few in common with the language spoken in Northern Rakhine State. More correctly the local language spoken by Rakhine Muslim is a Chittagonian dialect, an idiom spoken in the Bangladesh region bordering Rakhine State. Whilst being very close to the Chittagonian dialect, it is by no means identical. For example; the Rakhine Muslim dialect is indicative of historical residency in Myanmar, as it approximately includes as much as 10-15 percent Rakhine words and expression.322 Even Chittagonian could not understand the dialect of Rohingyas who resides in inner Arakan Rohingya and Chittagonian can communicate with some adjustment of words, phrases and style of expression. Rohingya dialect is influenced by Arabic, Persian and Rakhine words where as Chittagonian dialect is influenced by Sanskrit and Bengali.

Bengali wears long sleeved loose shirts, keeping it out of their Longyi or Pant where as most Rohingya wear shirts, with collar, keeping the lower part under their Longyi Rohingyas have a traditional shirt caller “Entheri” more similar to today’s Malaysian shirt.Female dress differed much Rohingya women do not wear Sari, as the Bengalis, but a Burmese women’s shirt-like Bazu or Blouse, with a shawl on their heads. Young girls wear woolen belts, where elderly women wear Zali (Khah-Gyo), a flat locally woven cotton sheet. Most elderly Rakhine women, too wear this Khah-Gyo, especially in the rural areas.

Further there is a slight difference in physical features. In Bangladesh itself, the people of Chittagong have fairer skin than the people of other districts. Here these fair skinned Chittagonians compared with Rohinnya, appeared in average darker. Most Rohingya have Tibeto-Burman features too. It is perhaps due to some (though rare) mix-marriages, adoption of Rakhine children and some conversions in the early period.

Concerning the dresses of Rohinyya a prominent Burmese writer and politician, U Thein Pe Myint says: I put up at Ko Tun Win’s house at Kyauktaw. At that time there Muslirn-Rakhine communal riot was going on. So we had to take care not to fall in between and I bought a Pathi cap (Muslim cap) and kept my beard unshaved. Next morning when we were sitting in the parlor of Ko Tun Win’s house, a man appealed in strange dress; now a day no one wears this sort of dress. The man was about 25 years old. He wore a dark-gray Dhoti (Tongshay Petso) a Taing-mathein like shirt (a shirt with long sleeves but without color). He had Gaungbaung-like headdress of thin cotton cloth. He did wear moustache and a beard I did not understand the subject they discussed as they talked in Arakanese. When I inquired about him: Ko Tun Win answered he was our Arakanese Muslim. It is learned that in villages of Arakan many more people still did not discard early Myanmar-like dresses. When I saw this Muslim with headdress of thin cotton sheet, I thought of whether it was better (for me) to imitate like Burmese Muslim with my Pathi cap (in this period of riot). Here I realized that Arakanese hold tight and preserved old Burmese culture and tradition.323

Rohingya foods have much influence of Rakhine cooking style, where some Rakhine too have adopted the Rohingya cooking styles in some cases. The procedure of marriage, engagement and feeding feast diffet, a lot. There is no infant marriage amongst Rohingyas.

The sports of “Hlay” (Row Boat) racing, wrestliny, and the race of Buffalo have special Rohingya characteristics. Voluntary roofing of houses, transplanting of paddy turn by turn, in villages were a traditional custom in Rohingya Group hunting and fishing, but distributions to all in the villages-were also a tradition until recently Rohingyas have their own musical instruments. They have “Baittali” (song of wisdom) and “Khabita” (Rhetoric) competitions and many outdoor sports and games for children’s enjoyment. Many decades ago there were Persian song competitions.

In fact Rohingya have some selection and rejection of professions. Few Rohingya do sanitary works and hair cutting: cloth washing and shoe repairing professions are also disliked.

In personal behaviors Rohingyas are a bit rough and easily get tempered. Most Rohingyas are pious but not fanatics. Reciting “Puthi”, “some love and war stories” in the early night of their leisure time, too is a hobby of Rohingya.

CHAPTER XVIII

THE CULTURE OF ROHINGYA

The Arakanese Muslims (Rohingyas) are Sunnite despite some preponderance of some Shiite traditions among them. Under their influences many Muslim customs spread to the Buddhist, such as for example, segregation of their womenfolk. Writers and Poets appeared among the Arakanese Muslims, who called themselves Rohingya, especially during the fifteen to eighteen centuries, and even there were some court poets at the court of Arakanese kings.324

The poets and writers wrote in Persian and Arabic or in a mixed Rohingya language, which they developed among themselves and which was a mixture of Bengali, Urdu, and Arakanese (Rakhine). The language is not as widely spread today as it was in the past and it has been largely replaced by Burmese. Their Artists also developed the art of Calligraphy. Some manuscripts has been preserved but have not yet been scientifically examined. Miniature pointing in the Mogul style also flourished in Arakan during this period. The Muslims who came to Arakan (There were native Muslims too) brought with them Arab, Indian and especially Bengali music and musical instruments Persian songs are sung amongst Rohingya by this day.325

This is how the Rohingya preserved their own heritage from the impact of the Buddhist environment not only as far as their religion but also in some aspects of their culture.326

Again, an eminent history researcher, Dr. Than Tun says, because of North Arakan’s close overland ties with Bengal, it is found that after Bengal became Muslim in 1203, the resulting cultural and political influence of the Muslims was of great significance in the history of Arakan.327

Of interest, none-the-less is an ancient stone carved with Arabic letters, which can still be seen at Mrauk-U National Museum. While some remnants of this ancient culture can still be detected in today’s life of Rakhine Muslims, it is decidedly striking to realize that most of this culture was lost due to massive displacements of population (Four times in 20th century) which contributed to fade out; if not annihilate, the cultural fabrics. Yet there are many who acculturated to Rakhine society.328

Historic edifices and monuments are found through out Arakan. I would like to describe only their political aspects, as their archeological aspect is not within the scope of this treatise.

Badar Mokam: The exact date of the abode is uncertain. British records say it was founded in A.D. 1756. (I think it is the date of the construction of the Mosque adjacent to the abode], by the Muslims of Akyab in memory of one Bader Aulia, whom they regard as an eminent Saint (It proves the presence of Muslims in Akyab in 18th century]. Colonel Nelson Davis in 1876. Deputy Commissioner of Akyab said, some 140 years ago, two traders from Chittagong on their way back from Negaris, constructed the Cave and also dug a well there. It was because one of the traders was instructed in his dream to do so. There were orders in Persian in the Deputy Commissioner’s Court at Akyab, to the effect that one Hussein Ali, then (Thugyi) headman of Buddamaw Circle was to have charge of the Badar Mokam in token of his good services rendered to the British force in 1825. 329 [This signifies two things: One, Persian was until then official language of Arakan and the other that there were Muslim settlements in Akyab before British occupation, a fact which some circles try to deny.] This Badar Mokam comprised two Caves and a Mosque. Archeological descriptions of these are not detailed here.

The Sandhi Khan Mosque: R. B. Smart says, two and a half mile southeast of the palace (Mrohong) is another non-Buddhist temple. It is a Mohammedan Mosque, called Sandhi Khan, built by the followers of Min Zaw Mun (First Mrauk-U King) after he had returned from 24 years of exile in the Suratan (Sultan) country form A.D. 1406 to 1430. South of the road, which leads to the Alezay Ywa, there are two large tanks with stone embankments; between them is the Mosque, surrounding by a low stonewall. The temple court measures 65 feet from north to south and 82 feet from east to west, the shrine is a rectangular structure 33 feet by 47 feet: it consist-of an ante-room, an inner chamber, which is 19 feet square. Passages lead into the ante-room from the temple court from the north, south and east, while from the west side of the ante-room a passage leads into the inner and principle chamber; the passages arch vaulted the arch consisting of a series of wedge-shaped stones. The inner chamber is lighted by narrow openings in the north and south walls, the ante-room is vaulted, but outside the roof over it, is a slanting plane from the copula of the central chamber to the eastern front wall of the building which is only 9 feet high: the ceiling of the chamber is a hemispherical low copula constructed on the same principle as the domes in the Shitthaung and Dukhanthein Pagodas. The whole shrine is built of well cut stone blocks, but it is absolutely bare of all decorated designs.330. This Mosque is one of the invaluable heritages of Rohingya.But recently it was demolished and used for a military camp. This act is in violation of 1982 UNESCO convention of which Burma is a party too.

Maijjah Mosque: It is situated about three miles east of Mrohong. It was built with well-cut stones. Perhaps it was built by U Musa; a missionary came from Delhi, in the time of 9th King of Mrauk-U, Zaleta Saw Mun.Alam Lashkar Mosque: It is at the Pann Mraung village of Minbya The term “Lashker” indicates army and perhaps it was built by one of the army officers of Mrauk-U Kings.

Shwe Dah Qazi Mosque: It is at the Kyit Taung Village of Minbya. It is obvious from the name that it was built by Qazi Abdul Karim, who was awarded Shwe Dah(Gold Sword) by Bodaw Pya, and was known by the name Shwe Dah Qazi.Adjacent to the palace: there too was a Mosque and a tank with stone embankment.It was known as Nan Oo Mosque and Nantha Kan respectively. The tank still exists where as the Mosque was abolished some years ago.Babagyi Mosque and Temple: on the bank of Kandawgyi (Lake), Akyab, Musa Dewan Mosque of Nazir Village cemetery. Akyab; Qazi Mosque of Kyauktaw Town are other historic buildings and hentages of Muslims.

According to the record of Encyclopedia Britannica 1994 – 98 the Rakhine Pali (Mosque) in Yangon is the oldest Mosque in Myanmar. Tachan Pel Mosque, near Aung San Sport Stadium was also built by Rakhine Muslims during the time of Myanmar Kings.

Shrines or Temple of Saints of early periods are found in Buthidaung too; Peer Khalasi Meah’s Temple in Baguna Village, Akram All Shah Dargah at Mrongna Village, Sikander Shah Dargah at Buthidaung Town are still preserved by local Muslims.

There is another Mosque at Khyaik Talan Road, Shwedaung Quarter, Moulmein. It is known as Rakhine Mosque nowadays. There are different versions of its history.Some say it was built by some Arakanese Muslims from Rangoon in 18th century. The real fact is in the invasion of Rakhine King Min Razagyi (1595 -1612) to Pegu and Muttama; there consisted about fifty thousand Muslims forces (According to Dannya Waddy Aredopon and other Rakhine chronicles). The Muslim force built that Mosque in Moulmein.

Coins: Coins in early Arakan were in Indian script and with sign of Civism and Hinduism. Coins of Mrauk-U period are of Muslim designs, some bearing the confession of Muslim faith and in Persian scripts.331

Literature: Literature in Arakan changed along wilh its political evolution. During Dannya Waddy and Wethali periods, the language of the people was Indian. They wrote in Nagari script as in East Bengal.Almost all inscriptions stone, copper or votive, were either in Pali, Sanskrit or in a language used in Bengal. Burmese inscriptions are found after 10th century A.D.332 In this late period, especially in Mrauk-U period, Persian was also used widely. Most of King’s courtiers were Muslims who preferred to keep record or write in Peisian. Many books are found in Rohingya language but in Persian scripts. Many copies of these manuscripts are still preserved in the hand of Rohingyas. Some are found in Calligraphic form. During 17th and 18th centuries courtiers and senior officials were mostly of Bengali literacy merit. They wrote Bengali books, and Rohingya language in Bengali script. The development of Bengali literature was encouraged by Rakhine Kings.333

During British period Urdu was introduced and Urdu schools all over Arakan were established. But this Urdu language preferred by Indian Muslims in Burma proper, too was a foreign language for Rohingya. Thus Urdu made them much backward. It was of no use in post-independence Burma. Many Urdu educated persons had to quit their Government services. New job opportunities for Urdu learners were nil. Now-a-days Rohingyas learn and write Burmese.

Stone and Copper Plate Inscriptions: According to Dr. Kanungo, a copper plate was found in Chittagong in 1857 indicating the names of some Muslim ministers of Arakan and its high-ranking Muslim officials. Another stone inscription with Arabic letters is said still to be preserved in Mrauk-U Museum.334 Again there is another stone plate of 3 ½’ x 2′ was discovered Thara Ouk Village, Mrohong. It consist,eight lines of Persian script which indicate that Arakanese Kings engraved 23 tons of gold some where prescribed in the stone plate.335

Still more interesting is the discovery of stone inscriptions, by G. H. Luce, formerly History Professor of Rangoon University.Dr.Than Tun, an eminent historian of Myanmar in his article, Northern Rakhine, in Kaliya Magazine, August 1994, said the Chindwin Stone inscription of 14th century, preserved in Tuparun Temple, Sagaing, testify that there were Muslim Kings, with Indian names in Arakan.These kings, he said, had a very good relation with Ava Kings.

So all these inscriptions show the antiquity of Rohingya people and these are regarded to be their cultural heritages.Ananda Sandra Stone Monument or Shitthaung Temple Pillar of Arakan: This Pillar was erected by King Ananda Sandra in 8th century. It has an extensive record of life, culture and successive kings of ancient Arakan. It is an invaluable heritage of Arakan, which Arakanese people regard to be very authentic and they are proud of it. So mentioning it here under the headline of culture of Rohingya may draw some indignant and criticism from some circle. Though Rakhine people say this monument is their historical heritage, my reason to mention it here is the language thereon, is different from Rakhine people but similar to Rohingya language.

This Pillar contains records from ancient to 10th century A.D. This and many other inscriptions found in Arakan are in Nagari alphabets, and the language thereon is very much nearer to Rohingya language. So Rohingyas say that they have had historic connection with these ancient inscriptions.

This inscription was first read by Dr. John Ston of Oxford University in 1935-1942. Later it was studied by Dr. D. C Sircir. Dr. Ston’s transliteration was later copied by U San Tha Aung and Dr. Pamela Gutman. Though, I cannot directly take the meaning of the sentences on the pillars. I found almost all vocabularies there are pronounced as if what we find in Rohingya language today. The script on the east face of the pillar closely resembles what of 6th century Gupta copper plate of Bengal.336

Correct and actual reading is not possible, because some writings were defaced. Pamela Gutman says, the Paleography of the inscriptions suggests that most forms derive from the Gaudia or Proto Bengali style prevalent in Bengal, retaining some old forms side by side with later developments and also introducing a few forms in contemporary West Indian scripts. An almost complete alphabet can be reconstructed by comparison of the inscriptions with the inscriptions of the Candra dynasty of Bengal.337

Let us make a comparative study of these inscriptions on the north face of Shitthaung Pillar from Pamela Gutman’s writings:

The first inscription occupies seven lines. Only the last letters can be read, which are Cakarari, Caturddasame, Raksoka and Krtarajyah.

Eighth line begins with Svasti Sri? Meaning, Village Sri?

Certain sections of next inscription have three columns, i.e. left side column,middlecolumnandrightsidecolumn.

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