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Arakan State of Burma

By Aung San Suu Kyi (1991 Noble Peace Laurate)

The Arakanese on the western coast of Burma have a long history which can compare with that of the Mons and the Burmese. However, because the area is
cut off from the rest of Burma by the Arakan Yoma, the Arakanese have not been so closely involved in the wars of the other two peoples. Powerful kings
from central Burma have made their authority felt in Arakan, invading it and demanding tribute. But it was only in the eighteenth century that it was annexed
to the Burmese kingdom by King Bodawpaya.

The early peoples of Arakan are something of a mystery. It is thought that they were a mixture of Mongolian and Aryan peoples who had come over from
India. Certainly the early kings of Arakan were of Indian stock. There are now several groups of peoples in the Arakan State: Arakanese, Thek, Dainet, Myo,
Mramagyi and Kaman. The Arakanese are Tibeto-Burmans and their language is very close to Burmese. In fact, some regard it as archaic Burmese. The
languages of some of the other groups show the influence of Bengali. Because of its geographical position, Bengal has played a major part in the history and
civilization of Arakan. In the fifteenth century, Bengal helped the Arakanese to resist the power of the kings of Ava. From then on, the kings of Arakan used
Islamic titles, although they and the majority of their subjects remained Buddhist. However, there are more people of the Islamic faith to be found in Arakan
than anywhere else in Burma.

Despite these Bengali and Islamic influences, however, Arakan has been a predominantly Buddhist region for centuries. According to tradition, Buddhism
came to the western coast of Burma during the lifetime of the Buddha. This cannot be verified, but the most famous image of the Buddha made by the
Arakanese is thought to date back to the second century A.D. This image, the Maha Myamuni, was taken away by King Bodawpaya''s son when he conquered
Arakan. It is considered one of the most sacred images in the country and is now enshrined in Mandalay. The loss of their great image was a deep sorrow to
the Arakanese. There are those who say that the real Maha Myamuni could never have been taken out of Arakan and that it lies hidden somewhere in its
jungles.

There are many pagodas and Buddhist temples in Arakan. Many of their religious festivals are Buddhist festivals, similar to the ones celebrated by the
Burmese, and there are many 57

similarities between the two peoples. There is, however, one Arakanese custom which is very alien to the Burmese. The Arakanese favour marriage between
cross cousins. (Children of one''s mother''s brothers or of one''s father''s sisters are known as cross cousins.) This is a reflection of Islamic influence.

There are many fine examples of Arakanese literature. A poem by an Arakanese courtier of the fifteenth century, known as the "Arakanese Princess E-gyin" is
one of the first examples of the e-gyin type of poetry. After Arakan came under British rule in 1826, English became the language of the educated and
Arakanese literature declined.

Today one of the greatest attractions of Arakan for people from all over Burma as well as for tourists is its beautiful beaches.

(An Abstract from Let’s visit Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi, 1985)