Arakan

The land that is known as Arakan by the foreigners is called Rakhaing-pray by its own people, Rakhaing-thar (Arakanese) who were titled this name in honour of preservation on their national heritage and ethics or morality.

The Rakhaing-3

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Friday, November 4, 2011

The Rakhaing-3
                      by Dr. Tha Hla


The last chapter of the time-honoured Rakhaing realm had come to a close and there lay ahead the valley of ill fortune to pass through. Gone was the sovereignty and so was the dignity. The kingdom was demeaned to a provincial state and a Burmese viceroy was installed to administer it . Years before the calamity struck the Rakhaings who were torn asunder by internal strifes had resigned to accept the inevitability of the Burmese conquest but they did not contemplate the contumely they had to endure under the domineering Burmese. If the vicissitudes of life symbolized bitterness none was more acrid than loss of freedom. Equally distressing was the lose of national treasure, the Maha Muni Image. The Burmese were grossly misguided by arrogance. Once in control they hardly concealed their aversion. They regarded themselves superior in fiber to the Rakhaings who were thus treated with contempt and insolence. This social fabric strained the relation between the ruler and the ruled. The antagonistic polarization widened rapidly with the increase of rapacity on the part of the Burmese officials. The ill feeling built up to tension which in turned led to repression and ultimately to resistance. No sooner was the country conquered than revolt after revolt flared up through out the country. The resentment against the imposing attitude was aggravated by the odious measures of depopulation. Instead of ameliorating the disorders the Burmese resorted to the ruthless strategy of deportation. The situation in the country was appalling. Driven by oppression and weary of conscription streams of Rakhaings fled over the border into the hilly regions of Chittagong which promised a new life. The forested tracts which were still to be effectively controlled became havens for the displaced Rakhaing refugees.

The consequences of occupation were far more deadly and far-reaching than trumpery victors might have reckoned. Their trouble was just the tip of iceberg. By the time the Burmese embarked on the euphoria of triumph the European intervention in the India subcontinent was in the full swing. The Anglo-French rivalry had spread across India from Europeand North America. The British had established themselves the supreme power on the ruins of the Mogul Empire whose territory extended right to the doorstep of the Rakhaing land. The ecstasy soon turned to the agony of victory as the rump of the country unfolded its drama. Skirmishes erupted between the local residents and the over bearing Burmese. The life of the population was worse than it had been in the preconquest time and they grew more and more resolved to challenge the Burmese authority. The more suppressive the Burmese became the harder the will grew. The Burmese had misread the Rakhaings. They were totally of their own. In the time of foreign invasion they repressed their differences: the cleavage among the various regions was redressed and rose to their defence. In their life long combat with the stranger Burmese they were defiant to the end. The Burmese might have conquered the land but they did not win over the people. The defeat might have temporarily robbed the Rakhaings morale but their spirit had never been dimmed. They were devoted to liberate the nation and regain independence. No amount of cruelty could induce them to part with the cherished goal of liberation. To the Rakhaings resistance was vindication of their freedom. And their attempts to reconquer the country from bases behind the British line provoked the Burmese who in their pursuit of the fleeing inside British territory entangled in disputes with the British. These border incidents formed the main cause of the first Anglo-Burmese war. The acquisition of Rakhaing by the Burmese was as a matter of fact the beginning of the end of the Burmese era. They had stepped upon a perilous road which led them their defeat to the British. The conqueror had become the conquered, so to speak.

The Burmese conquest resulted in a complete destruction of the country and suffering of its people. High handedness of the Burmese became so unbearable that a large-scale rebellion broke out in 1794 with the backing of the Rakhaings settled across the border. It was a trial of determination rather than a physical contest. The Burmese mounted their troops in greater numbers. Unequalled in strength the uprising collapsed. In fear of their lives waves of Rakhaings poured into the British territory. The Burmese forces chased the Rakhaings into the British side of the border and remained there encamped until three Rakhaing resistance leaders were handed over to them by the British authorities who were misled by the Burmese contrivance; and no responsible British officials would have dwelt without a sense of guilt upon their cooperation with the Burmese. Four years later another sizable revolt sparked up and once again by the absolute majority of man power the upheaval was quelled and exodus of refugees ensued. The condition of the refugees was extremely serious. Dire need of food and shelter was compounded with the outbreak of disease in epidemic proportion. The magnitude of the problem was such that the British authorities organized relief measures in 1799. Consequently a dispute boiled up over the escaping Rakhaings. The Burmese who did not take kindly the desperate plight of the refugees demanded expulsion of the all Rakhaings from the British territory, now estimated fifty thousands. In the subsequent discussion of the issue, notwithstanding the threat of war by the Burmese viceroy, the British refused to cape in to the Burmese proposition and pressed on the point that the frontier was being well guarded that it had been before and the Rakhaings were not allowed to cross the border one direction or the other. The Burmese finally dropped their demand. The British stood firm by their position because partly they were sympathetic to the Rakhaings, and in part they anticipated that the Rakhaings might conspire to discomfit and help defeat the Burmese, yet their decision to uphold the British prestige should not be ruled out. Upon each collapse followed by extortion of exorbitant taxes. The drastic action which was meant to stamp out rebellion adversely strengthened the will of the surviving Rakhaings to execute the very thing the Burmese intended to prevent it from happening.

A seemingly impossible event, serious in nature, took place in 1911. An ingenious leader, known as Chun Byan, nom de guerre, diligently assembled thousands of men to his banner in the British territory. The phalanx of improvised militia sustained by the spirit of motherland and armed with whatever weapons they could lay hands on crossed the border unimpaired. They boldly marched to Mrohaung and captured it in brief and brilliant campaign. With the prestige of commendable victory behind Chun Byan wasted no time to communicate with the British authorities in Bengal in an effort to seek recognition and help, and offered to become a British protectorate. The British did not accede to the request. Apparently the government of Chun Byan was a government within a government, which though a formidable force was no match for the Burmese who were bound to prevail. Compliance with the request would entail a military confrontation with the Burmese which the British were not prepared to commit at the moment when the east India Compamy was engaged in a with the Marathas in India, and England with the French under Napoleon. The British decided that their interest would be better served by not rushing to the aid of the Rakhaings. They would prefer to dissipate the strength of the Burmese through a third party, the Rakhaings who were accordingly wooed by deals and favours. In exchange for their allegiance the expatriate Rakhaing nobility and gentry were dispensed with fiefdoms of land which stretched from Ramu to the Naaf River.

In order to improve the sluggish relations the British who were suspected of being in connivance with the Rakahaings took pains to explain to the Burmese government at Ava that they did not bear a hand with the Rakhaing expedition and assured them Chun Byan would be prevent from taking refuge in the British side of the border if he were defeated. As skeptical as they had been the Burmese were hardly convinced much less to place faith in the British undertaking. Meanwhile the Burmese swarmed in with predicable vengeance. Unable to waistband the military might deployed by the enemy Chun Byan retreated into the Chittagong hill tracts as unhampered and swiftly as he had appeared at Mrohaung. This development left the Burmese with more questions than answers about the British innocence in the affairs. Under the circumstances British had no option but allowed the Burmese cross the frontier and search for Chun Byan but of no avail. In the following years after he had been driven off Chun Byan mobilized his men into guerrilla warfare and made frequent raids into Rakhaing from the hideouts in the Chittagong jungles. Regardless of the repeated efforts neither the Burmese nor the British who lent a helping hand to the Burmese could trace the elusive freedom fighters let alone to apprehend them. The implacable guerillas continued to intrude upon Rakhaing for several years only to be called off by the sudden death of the leader of an illness in 1815.

With the death of Chun Byan Rakhaing frontier crisis moved from the center stage, yet the Anglo-Burmese relations remained stagnant. The British while making time to free their hands in India made an attempt at negotiating a treaty for diplomatic representative at Ava and Calcutta, the seat of governor-general; Bodawpaya on the other hand was increasingly anxious to annex Eastern Bengal which bordered also on Assam and Manipur other than Rakhaing. The already damaged relations further eroded when Bodawpaya occupied Assam and his successor Bagidaw invaded Manipur which brought about border incidents as the refugees entered the British territory and the Burmese crossed the borders. The turning point came when a clash erupted in 1823 on the Rakhaing frontier over the question of boundary demarcation along the Naaf River between Rakhaing and Eastern Bengal. The discord intensified; the conflict escalated. The Burmese forces seized the island of Shapuri on the British side of the estuary which in turn was reclaimed by the British. To make the matters worse Bandola, the ambitious and heavy handed general who was made governor of Assam earlier was appointed as the commander-in- chief in Rakhaing. In preparation for war across the Naaf River he hastily built up troops at Maungdaw, a military hamlet strategically located on the Rakhaing bank of the Naaf River, and began operations in Eastern Bengal.

Hoping to wriggle free of the Burmese rule the dauntless partisans cooperated with the British and rose against the Burmese garrisons. Ruthless as he was brutal Bandola unleashed his army on the Rakhaings. Thousands were put to the sword, both combatants and noncombatants whoever they came upon or stumbled them in the hiding places the old, the young, the women down to the offsprings of the offsprings. Civilian carnage was enormous. Plunder was wholesale. The rampaging intruders torched the houses after having them stripped off possessions. Smoke plumes rose from towns and villages in the distance. The waves of destruction swept across the country. They took pleasure in killing in order to instill terror in the populace. Fear was palpable everywhere. Mere warnings Bandola's approach sent the frightened Rakhaings running for shelter in the thickest possible thorny undergrowth, the unlikely spots for hiding, regardless of the bodily torment. Some dashed into the neck-deep water in the insect infected mangrove forests. Some were forced to choose between their own life and that of the sobbing or the wandering child so as to save the rest community from being heard or located. The unfortunate youngsters ended up being thrown alive into the burning house or tossed into the air only to become easy target for the awaiting sword much to delight of the dreaded invaders. The name Bandola had become the obnoxious abracadabra to restrain the crying children who could not be pacified. Not single day passed without the fateful events in one part of the country or another in those turbulent years.

As the tumult went on the parents would feed the children prior to adults being served so that they would not go hungry in case of emergency. The leftover rice was laid in the sun and saved it in the earthen jars along with the drinking water as ration on location since the marauds often lasted for several days. The fire would be put out in no time after the cooking had been done not just that it would be left unattended during their absence hiding away from the home but also to mislead the Burmese that the occupants of the house had not been around lately. Night time went by without the luxury of burning oil and people kept vigilant guard through the night until the wee hours when the sky lighted up on the horizon. Because wives, daughters and sisters were ravished for pleasure by the sword-wielding Burmese soldiers that young women were discouraged from being seen in public. Over the years the rituals which had overwhelmed the daily living were amalgamated as integrated parts in the mainstream culture. The Burmese savagery had bitten deep into the hearts of the Rakhaings so much so that the accounts of butchery were narrated from one generation to another in voices tinted with apoplectic anger as if it had happened the previous day. The Burmese annihilation strangled the population growth for centuries. The Rakhaings were nearly wiped out from the land of their ancestors.

While Bandola was engaged in Bengal the British made their advance by way of sea and invaded lower Burma and captured Rangoon. The tide of war now turned in favour of the British. The Burmese suffered a stinging defeat. In 1825 the British occupied Rakhaing. At the end of the first Anglo-Burmese war Rakhaing along with Tenasserim, another maritime state was ceded to British East India Company under the provisions of the Treaty of Yandabo ratified in February 1826. In the aftermath of the war the British gained the power, the Burmese crumpled in indelible shame and the Rakhaings embraced the scourge. The Burmese sowed the seed of their own decline. They were too conceited to come to terms with the grim reality. Ignorant of the potentiality the Burmese underestimated the strength of the British. Their judgement and conducts ought to be held accountable for their downfall. As it is often the case the Burmese made the Rakhaings the scapegoat. Inspite of expiation for intentional piracy and shocking atrocities they had perpetrated the Burmese nursed grievances against the Rakhaings. Their anger was channeled into the Rakhaing-hating sentiment which was manifest in the obloquy "Death unto the Rakhaing over the lethal viper". Another Rakhaing bashing was illuminated in the lampoon "The Kala (the British) being undefeated, so beat the Rakhaing instead". Such racial motivated characterization, which still vigorous today, outrageously convulsed the survivors of the Burmese wrath and continued to agitate repercussions among the younger generations.

It is the general notion that an invitation is an act of aggression, and that intervention and occupation of a country by another is strictly contrary to international law. Nevertheless the Burmese historians who are mainly concerned with eminence of the Burmese kings have made a vain endeavor to extenuate Bodawpaya's action that it was not aggressive policy but the deteriorate condition in Rakhaing which necessitated his intervention less the country should be taken over by either the British or the French. Surprisingly enough it was the same line of the contention proffered by the British scholars that in order to prevent Burma from being dominated by the French that it had to be incorporated into the British East India Company. What the learned Burmese historians blinded themselves from the fact is that the Burmese rulers were infatuated by the spell of hegemony which any of them scarcely attained. Bodawpaya was ardently consumed with fanaticism which prompted him to be believe that he was destined to rule the world. Soon after Rakhaing was vanquished the launched a disastrous campaign against Siam wherein he narrowly escape capture. The prolonged tussles from which he finally retracted in great remorse wreaked immense devastation on the Mons and Shans living along the border between Burma and Siam. He did not even enjoy the fealty of his heavily taxed Burmese subjects not to mention about the Rakhaings who bore the brunt of the war expenditures and were constantly requisitioned for his unsuccessful expeditions. Besides he also proclaimed himself the coming Buddha with the resulting obsession that hordes of Rakhaings by the thousands were herded out of their homeland and put them through the construction of the Mingun pagoda and it bell; the pagoda never finished and the bell barely tolled.

It might seem fair to the judgement Burmese historians to extol the Burmese aggressors no matter how extensive they had run amok, and to glorify their acts of aggression in expatiated panegyrics whereas to denigrate those who defended their own country as fugitives and label them rebels and renegades, and to deprecate the heroic deeds ventured forth by the victims of aggression whose life had been ripped apart and never recovered from the wounds of dissolution. The manner in which the Burmese historians depict the Rakhaings to prejudice the opinions of the general public raised serious questions as to the conscience and morality. Perhaps, it could be the forthright consequence of their upbringing. There exists a vast collection of lesser known Rakhaing chronicles which sheds a different light on the Rakhaings and their protracted struggle to ward off the torrent of Burmese intrusion. Being opposed to the oppressors is neither an offence nor an act of treason to be scorned; by all definitions it is patriotism, and by far patriotism is not the monopoly of a race or nationalism belongs to one nation alone. The Rakhaings had the inalienable rights and were entitled to every viable means to repel the invaders who occupied their ancestral land either on their own, in alliance with or by the support of any enemy of their enemy. What the Rakhaings did was the legitimate task they were obliged to undertake in quest of national independence. It was in conformity with international norms and for which noble act of nationalism the Rakhaings stood tall and will do so in pride, dignity and honour.
...........
Sources: Rakhapura

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