Arakan: The Mrohaung Era Skip to main content

Arakan: The Mrohaung Era

Arakan: The Mrohaung Era

history of thailand, history of southeast asia    by Charles Kimball

In the 14th century Arakan was a pawn that frequently changed hands in the struggles between Ava and Pegu. Things began to look up, however, when King Narameikhla (1404-34), aided by the sultan of Bengal, recovered his throne from a pro-Burmese usurper. At the end of his reign he built a splendid new capital, Mrohaung, and Arakan's golden age began.

The next important king was Minbin (1531-53), who fortified Mrohaung with massive earthworks and a deep moat, just in time to ward off an attack by the Burmese king Tabinshweti. During his reign a number of Portuguese sailors, called Feringhi by the Arakanese, became pirates and started terrorizing the Bay of Bengal. Minbin persuaded them to join his navy as mercenaries, and together they became an important regional power. The Feringhi raiders plundered far and wide, especially in the Ganges delta, and brought back thousands of slaves to their market in the port of Dianga every year. In 1625 they even captured Dacca, the Bengali capital; by this time the raids of the Feringhi armada had been so thorough that there was not a house left inhabited between Dacca and Chittagong.

Under Min Razagri (1593-1612) there was a temporary falling out between the Feringhi and their employers. Both had taken part in the burning of Pegu in 1599, and the Feringhi captured the port of Syriam, in the Irrawaddy delta. Min Razagri apparently expected the Portuguese to hand over Syriam to him, but instead they kept it for themselves, defeating the Arakanese flotilla sent to dislodge them. Min Razagri now decided that his mercenaries had grown too powerful; in 1607 he made an all-out attack on Dianga, killing six hundred of its inhabitants without mercy. Those who escaped declared war on Arakan, making raids up to the very walls of Mrohaung, but the capital's defenses saved it again; even a Portuguese fleet of 14 ships, sent by the Viceroy of Goa, could not prevail. After 1620 Arakan and Portugal renewed their previous alliance, when India's Mogul Empire became a threat to both.

During this time Dutch merchants started visiting Arakan, buying up all the slaves and rice the Arakanese were willing to sell. On several occasions a V.O.C. warehouse was set up in Mrohaung, but politics kept it from running smoothly. The king of Arakan wanted a military alliance with the Dutch, to keep his enemies away and to provide an alternative to the unpredictable Feringhi. The Dutch refused, since warfare would be bad for business, and often they would close shop when the king became too overbearing. They never gave up on Arakan, though, and always reopened the warehouse a few years later.

Relations with the Mogul Empire went from bad to worse as the 17th century progressed. The first Mogul attack retook Dacca, but the invading fleet was smashed before it could get out of the Ganges delta (1629). In 1660 a Mogul prince, Shah Shuja, fled to Mrohaung when he failed to keep his brother, Aurangzeb, from usurping the Mogul throne. Shah Shuja asked for ships to convey his family and retinue to Mecca, but none were supplied. Then the Arakanese king, Sandathudamma, asked for one of Shah Shuja's daughters in marriage and was indignantly refused. Fearing he would be handed over to the Moguls, Shah Shuja tried to escape; on the second attempt he was killed in a riot and his treasures were confiscated.

When Aurangzeb heard the news, he demanded the surrender of Shah Shuja's children; Sandathudamma refused and war broke out. At first the war went well for Arakan, with the Feringhi making two devastating raids on the Bengal coast. But at a crucial moment they quarreled with the Arakanese, and when the Moguls offered employment most of the Feringhi switched sides. The result was an overwhelming Mogul victory at the battle of Dianga (1666), where the Arakanese fleet was destroyed and Chittagong (held by Arakan since 1459) was taken back.

The piratical habits of the Arakanese survived long after their fleet and Portuguese teachers were gone. Between 1682 and 1785, 25 kings rose and fell in Mrohaung. Political chaos now became the national hobby, and Arakan was no longer a threat to anybody.

  ©Copyright 2000 - 2003 Charles Kimball


Popular posts from this blog

Prosecution goes ahead with ‘Official Secrets’ charges against journalists

Having been remanded for a second 14-day period at a hearing last month, the case of two  Reuters journalists began in earnest on Wednesday at Yangon’s Northern District Court, with the prosecution confirming that charges under Burma’s Official Secrets Act would be brought against them. The two reporters, Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27,  were detained in Yangon  by Burmese authorities on 12 December, allegedly in possession of sensitive government documents. The pair face up to 14 years’ imprisonment under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Ahead of the hearing Wednesday, Burmese journalists gathered outside the courthouse — several wearing black T-shirts that read “Journalism is not a crime” — in protest of the two men’s detention. Others held banners calling for their immediate release. Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer for the two arrested journalists, said a bail petition had been submitted and that the defence would be given an opportunity to argue the case for bail at their

Radiation levels in seawater off Japan plant spike to all-time highs

Tokyo (CNN) -- The levels of radiation in ocean waters off Japan's embattled Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to skyrocket, the nation's nuclear safety agency said Thursday, with no clear sense of what's causing the spike or how to stop it. The amount of radioactive iodine-131 isotope in the samples, taken Wednesday some 330 meters (361 yards) into the Pacific Ocean, has surged to 4,385 times above the regulatory limit. This tops the previous day's reading of 3,355 times above the standard -- and an exponential spike over the 104-times increase measured just last Friday. Officials have downplayed the potential perils posed by this isotope, since it loses half of its radiation every eight days. Yet amounts of the cesium-137 isotope -- which, by comparison, has a 30-year "half life" -- have also soared, with a Wednesday afternoon sample showing levels 527 times the standard. "That's the one I am worried about," said Michael Friedlander, a U

Aid efforts fail to meet need

Parts of a damaged railway in Pwintbyu Township on August 5 (Photo – Kyi Naing/EMG) Flood-affected areas are now facing the aftermath of floods, including food and water shortages and rising commodity prices. Water is selling for tens of thousands of kyats in Rakhine State’s Mrauk U. The pipelines that distributed water from Lehse Lake to most Mrauk U homes have been damaged and distribution has been halted. “We haven’t received any clean water since the day the flooding started. We had to pay about Ks15,000 to fill our [four by six feet] tank,” said Aye Cho from the south ward. Power has been cut since the town flooded. The price of a bag of rice has risen from Ks20,000 to around Ks55,000. Petrol more than doubled from Ks1,000 per litre, eggs cost up to Ks250 and instant noodles are priced up to Ks500. Ten men and six women had died in the township by Tuesday, according to the Free Funeral Service Society. Outlying villages are in urgent need of food, dri