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Arakan: - One Who Preserves and Takes Care of Their Own Nationality.

Publication by Arakan Action Association (AAA.)













With Map


William Blackwood And Sons Edinburgh and London



To the Under Secretary of State for India, India Office, Whitehall, S.W.

No. 20,                                                                                                 London, 9th March 1892

Sir, - I have the honors to acknowledge receipt of Mr. Secretary Walpole's letter, P.W. 218, of 23d February 1892, for which I am obliged. It informed me that my last letters informed me that my last letters had been transmitted to the Government of India.


There being a break in my correspondence with his lordship the Secretary of State for India on the subject of railway communications in Burmah, pending the consideration of the matter by the Government of India, to whom, as I am informed, his lordship has submitted it; and feeling my interest in the development of Burmah, and especially of the Arakan ask the permission and sanction of his lordship the Secretary of State for India to the publication of the correspondence I have had the honor to hold with his lordship during the last three years.


The capabilities of the port of Akyab in Arakan as a great shipping port for the trade of Eastern Bengal and Burmah do not seem yet to be appreciated either by the Government or the public; and it is my desire, before my work is over, to bring these again more prominently to notice by a reprint of the most salient points of the subject, stated in correspondence and journals, during the last thirty years in which I have advocated its claims to consideration, but hitherto the advantages of the port have not been availed of to the extent they undoubtedly deserve.


I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,

J. Ogilvy Hay.



P.W. 429                                                                               India Office, Whitehall., S.W.,

                                                                                                                23rd March 1892.

Sir,_ In reply to your letter, dated 9th March 1892, I am desired to say that the publication by you of the correspondence which has passed between yourself and this Office in respect to your suggestions for railway extension in Burmah is a matter for your own discretion, with which this Office has no desire to interfere. – I am, sir, & c.

George N. Curzon.

J. Ogilvy Hay, Esq.



From the preceding it will be seen the ONUS of the following publication has been thrown on me.


I ACCEPT, in the confident belief that it will ultimately be approved of, not only by the authorities at the India Office, but by the Government of India, as well as by the public interested in our great Eastern possession, and tend to the early development of an important part of that Empire.




What follows is chiefly summarized from official documents – say from 'Annual Administration Reports of Burmah', 'Report on the Progress of Arakan from 1826 to 1875', 'Adamson's Settlement Reports on Arakan', 'Fytche's Burmah, Past and Present', and from personal local knowledge.


The object of the present publication is, once again, to bring to notice the state of the province of Arakan, and the capabilities of the port of Akyab, as a great outlet for the trade of Eastern Bengal and Burmah. To those acquainted with the position of matters, it seems not only unaccountable, but lamentable, to think that the state of the country has not long are this been realized, and the advantages of the port appreciated, by the Government and the public; and hence my desire, ONCE AGAIN, most salient points of the subject as stated in correspondence and journals during the last thirty years.


Arakan, a division of our present province of Burmah, came into our possession after the first Burmese war, having, along with Assam and Tenasserim, been ceded to us under the Treaty of Yandaboo, dated 24th February 1826; so that it has been in our possession sixty-six years. Assam is now about to get its due by the construction of the "Assam-Bangal Railway" just launched, and the ice now being broken, it is to be hoped Arakan's better days will soon follow.

Arakan is a narrow strip of land on the east side of the Bay of Bengal, extending on  the sea-coast from the river Naaf, the southern frontier of Chittagong, adivision of the Presidency of Bengal, in about leat. 21˚ N., and in the hill tracts from about lat. 22.30˚ N., south wards towards Pagoda Point, to about lat. 17˚ or 16˚ N. It is separated from Budmah on the east by the watershed of the Yoma-toung range of mountains, in breadth varying from fifty to a hundred miles, but the exact boundary yet undefined! It embraces an area of about 18,529 square miles. "That Arakan was once a great kingdom is abundantly testified by history; of the conquest by the Arakanese of a part of Bengal (the present division of Chittagong, Dacca, and Moorshedabad being also ancient dependencies of Arakan) we have creditable historical evidence. At Dacca are still to be found the remains of a Buddhist Zedi or Pagoda, which Chittagong is a corruption, is Burmese, and descendants of people of Tipperah, brought hence from that country, still survive." In their turn the Arakanese were conquered by the Burmese in 1783-86, during the reign of Bhodau Phra, who took the river Naaf as the boundary between Bengal and Burmah; but the "haughty and overbearing " conduct of his grandson and successor, Phagyi-dau, laying claim to a small island, named Shahpuri, on the British side of the Naaf, and subsequently threatening to invade British territory, and take possession of the districts, already named "as ancient dependencies of Arakan," led to the war of 1824, resulting in the country being ceded to us as aforesaid, by the Treaty of Yandaboo.

It is well known that then Arakan and Tenasserim came into our possession they were so depopulated, and so unproductive, that it was seriously deliberated whether they should not be restored to Burmah. In Arakan the population was estimated at about 100,000 souls. These were indigenous inhabitants; Tenasserim was estimated to have about 70,000. In 1855 the population of Arakan had increased to about 366,310, and Tenasserim to about 213,692. This vast increase was chiefly due to immigration from provinces now under British rule, - giving unequivocal testimony in favour of British Government and institutions. (This was further shown in the case of Pegu, taken from the Burmese in 1853, the population, estimated in 1855 at 700,000, having risen in 1875 to 1,750,000! Principally from immigration from native Burmese territory.)

On our occupation of Pegu in 1853 the exodus to Arakan was arrested, and the increase, which, in the first twenty years under our Government, was from 100,000 to 366,310, in the next twenty years only advanced to 429,073 – that is, an increase of 266,310 in the first period, and only 125,783 in the second.

The following figures will show, in a concise form, the progress of the country, as well as regards population as cultivation and revenue; while it must be noted that this progress in all departments has entirely proceeded from the rice-trade, and, by natural development, without any special or fostering care on the part of Government- such as might have been induced by roads or irrigation –works-progressed and extended to our new possession of Pegu, till it has now become the backbone of the revenue of Burmah.

It may be said this rice-trade was entirely due to the personal and "indefatigable zeal of the late Sir Archibald Bogle."

Season                                                        Population            Acreage under            Gross                                                                                                       

                                                                                             cultivation                 revenue.

1829- 1830                                                121,288                      66,234                 Rs.377,949

1849- 1850                                                313,170                    235,959                      825,262

1855, after our occupation of Begu  366,310                    ----------                      ---------

1869-1870                                                 447,957                    369,299                   1,755,017

1889-1890                                                 587,518                    459,627                   1,809,997

The gross revenue of 1890-91 was Rs. 1,913,930, and the total cost of officials and police of all kinds, Rs. 696,254, leaving a net revenue of Rs. 1,217,676. The preceding year the cost of establishment was       Rs. 619,362, leaving a net revenue of Rs. 1,190,635, and for many previous years there had been a large surplus. What, it may be asked, has been expended on the country for its improvement or development in any way? True, the compiler of the letter part of "The Report on the Progress of Arakan under British Rule, from 1826 to 1875,"says: "There remains little more to be said regarding the progress of the Arakan division. It will be observed that the population , trade and cultivation to the land have considerably increased during the decennial period reviewed, and this division may be fairly considered to ave made considerable progress in all points affecting its welfare and its administration. The education of the people is being pushed forward, and law and justice are properly applied. As regards opening oat communications with other countries,- those adjacent being Chittagong, pied by savage tribes such as the Looshais and others,- much cannot be said to have been done in the way of roads must be a work of time, but the road from Chitagong into this division is well open, and numerous     cookies during the season come here for work. As regards the trade of this division, the staples of which is rice, much further extension cannot be expected, unless the prices ruling at home should rise higher than they have done for the last two years. It will be a serious thing for this division when there is less demand for rice, as the cultivation of paddy is the main cultivation of the country, and the principal source from which the land revenue is derived." In another part of the same report it is written: "Beyond the island of Akyab the tidal creeks are so numerous, and interlace one another such as an extent, that water forms at once the readiest and cheapest mode of transit. A fair-weather road has been complete, wit bridges between Mengbya and Myohoung, at a cost of Rs. 38,859. Another road from Chittagong to Akyab is in course of construction. Of the  distance between Moungdoo to the Myoo river (about fifty miles), six mile of the road have been finished, bridged, and metalled." This is the road which, in the preceding quotation, is said to be " well open," and this last part, which is said to yave been "finished," &c., is in length under five miles. This Chittagong road is the road which Lord Dalhousie ordered to be made after the Burmese war of 1852-53, but which, after land of rupees have been expended on it, was abandoned, and the tract has now returned to its pristine jungle state, the result of bygone financial economy!. It is surprising how an officer, reporting on his division, if he knew its real condition, could write as above, unless on the principle of making the

"Worse appear the better (reason) cause."1

Again, a successor in office, writing of Arakan, says: "You must not expect me to help in urging the construction of a railway from Akyab to Burmah. I do not consider Arakan requires a railway." It is hardly to be credited that an officer, in such a position, could in this enlightened nineteenth century have expressed such an opinion! It can only be attributed to his having suffered from the enervating effects of the climate and his surrounding, and so have become as benighted as the country in which he exercised authority, as otherwise it might have been expected his influence would have been used fro its advancement.

Now, how do these reports and opinions coincide with the following from officers of higher and equal position? And to begin with, let us quote from General Fytche, who in a review of his administration as Chief Commissioner from 1867 to 1871 when he retired, thus wrote: "The backward state of our lines of communication is a matter of great regret to me. Two of the divisions of the province (Arakan and Tenasserim) we have held for forty-five years, and the third (Pegu) for eighteen years. In Arakan there is not one road, with the exception of the in complete Dacca and Chittagong road." This is the road before alluded to, and which Deputy Commissioner subsequently reported had returned to its primeval state.

Next, let us take "Adamson's Settlement Report of the Akyab District for 1885-86," where we find the Commissioner of the division thus delivering himself: "The state of communication appears to be  very incomplete and unsatisfactory in the Akyab district. I can hardly understand, however, notwithstanding imperfect communication, that circles within a few mile of Akyab ave never been visited by district officers." This can easily be explained. The means of communication being confined to the "water-ways," with no cross or other roads in the country, the officers kept hear these, only travelled by them, and could not, except under trying and fatiguing circumstances, visit circles in the interior. This might have suggested to these officers the necessity of the construction of roads and railways to open up the country and encourage agriculture otherwise than the growing of rice; but such was not the opinion of the officer we have already quoted, saying "Arakan did not require railways"!

The settlement officer, writing himself, says: “We have held Akyab for sixty years, during which time we have taken from the land a comparatively much heavier revenue than from other parts of Burmah, and yet one can travel far and wide through the district without seeing indications of a single rupee ever having been spent for the improvement of the people.” And, lastly, let us take a telegram from the ‘Times’ correspondent, which appeared in that paper of 2d February 1891, to the effect that there was not forty miles of road in the district.

Once more, the deceased Commissioner who prepared the first part of “The Report, 1826 – 75,” wrote: “We should give a very incomplete view of the progress of Arakan during our forty three years’ rule if we did not show what English education, and, above all, what the civilization which the Anglo-Saxon is supposed to carry about with him, have done for the people and the country.” After a dissertation as “to the merits and benefits of English education,” he goes on to say, “Our arts and sciences do not seem to have made a great impression upon the people- that is, as arts and sciences worthy of adoption. True, we have had but indifferent exemplifications of them in Arakan. Government (with all due respect be it said) has done so very little for the improverment of Arakan, that the people have had but scant opportunity of seeing, for instance, what English engineering can do for a country; what the resources of science are for economizing labour and annihilating distances; what skilful devices we have of design and construction; how we can improve land; how we can reclaim swamps; how irrigate; in short, how we can build, drain, bridge, multiply the comforts of life, and develop and increase the sources of wealth. The people of Arakan have not seen progress in the improvement of their communications by roads, bridges, or canals; they see a weekly steamer at Akyab, and they are familiar with the wonders of the electric telegraph, but little else that is European in invention or great benefit to society. There is no marked tendency to adopt our habits of living, or our social usages, though ‘Young Arakan, as seen in Akyab, evinces a growing partiality for some English fabrics as articles of dress – English umbrellas and parasols, walking-sticks, and English (or Cossitollah) shoes.”

The same authority further says: “It may not be uninteresting to contrast the Arakan of forty years back with the Arakan of today in one important particular in its fleet!

“In May 1827 there were four gunboats (small of course), two row-boats, two accommodation-boats, a pinnace, and a cutter – ten boats, with 157 men.

“In May 1829, four gun and row boats, with a number of troop flats,

“The returns of 1854 show twelve boats; in 1856 – 66 the schooner Swift (the last boat) was sold out of the service.

“For some years subsequent to this a Government steamer was allowed to Arakan. Her station was Akyab; but she plied to the southern ports, and not only carried mails, Government passengers, stores, and treasure, but earned private freight, passage – money, and towage. She was taken away in 1867, and her place has never been supplied, not even by a boad; but this is hardly a fact fitting a report on the progress of Arakan! The inconvenience now felt from Arakan having nothing in place of all the boats of former days is very great. But the real amount and nature of the inconvenience experienced in all branches of the Government service, especially by the Commissioner, who has to visit coast stations nearly 200 miles distant, would of itself fill a long report. It need only be glanced at here, and this, we fear, hopelessly.”

“The lighthouse on the Savage Reef – not a very good one as regards light – was first lighted in 1844.”

This lighthouse was raised and surmounted by a dioptric light of the first order in 1891. After years of representation, as essential for the safety of the shipping frequenting Akyab, it is stated in the same report that in 1875 “ a lighthouse constructed on iron screw piles has been erected, and is now near completion, on a most dangerous shoal of rocks called the Oyster Reef, north – west of the port.” This light remained for a few years, but was swept away in a hurricane, with all its staff, in 1884. There has been a temporary light since, but the reerection of a permanent structure was not begun till season 1889 -90, and it is expected it “will be completed before the monsoon of 1892.”

It was stated in a letter addressed to the Most Honourable the Marquis of Salisbury, Secretary of State for India, in 1874. “Arakan has long been a very paying dependency of the empire, but on it little or nothing has been spent beyond the cost of its administration. It has been under our Government for about fifty years, has an area of 18,529 square miles, over which it has not twenty miles of common road; its boundaries, not a hundred miles from the headquarters of the Commissioner, unknown, and altogether one of the most neglected, though promising, districts under the Crown.” That was eighteen years ago, and the remarks are as applicable now as they were then, as the preceding pages amply set forth, and the information given in them is brought down to the latest administration given in them is brought down to the latest administration report of the province, dated Rangoon, 21st December 1891.

Though Arakan cannot rise to be the kingdom it once was, it can, and I hope will, rise, phoenix – like, to a prominent position, and become one of the largest shipping ports in India, and also a great naval station, for which its capacity and situation are eminently adapted.


Arakan  Past – present – future


Arakan Library was founded by a group of Arakan Action Association (AAA) in exile in Thailand from Burma in 2007 doing to voice for the knowledge, the people democratic and human rights.


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