The Colonisation of Arakan

For decades Arakan had been a buffer zone between Burma and the great expanse of territory occupied by the East India Trading Company. However, during the 1820’s tensions grew amid border disputes between the two empires. The Burman Kunbaung Dynasty had enjoyed great military success fighting inferior armies (mainly to the east) and somewhat naively believed it had one of the most powerful military forces on Earth. When the British requested permission to start trading in Burma, the latter’s leaders scoffed at the proposal.

The Arakanese in exile, however, were fully aware of the might of the modern British Empire and aided its occupation of Arakan in 1824. Hoping to restore the sovereignty of their once prosperous kingdom, Arakanese elders signed an agreement with the British Governor of Chittagong, outlining the terms of their joint operation to drive the Burmese forces out of Arakan. Under the treaty, Arakanese commanders would lead an invasion funded by the British. Upon successful completion of the invasion, the British were to be reimbursed double the cost of the operations, and sovereignty was to be handed back to the Arakanese.


The British declared war in 1824, attacking with an invasion force of just 600 Indians and 1600 Arakanese. Within three months they had occupied all of Arakan, and Mrauk- U came under the administration of the East India Trading Company. The British never fulfilled their promise to restore the sovereignty of Arakan, despite the fact that they were adequately reimbursed by the Arakanese for their war expenses. For a long period, they faced little resistance; even those who resented the occupation knew all too well that, without British protection, Arakan would again become an oppressed feudal state under Burman rule.

Arakan was under British rule for over 100 years; compared with other colonial territories, however, few records are available that would yield information about Arakan’s politics or socioeconomics at the time. It is believed that archives were lost due to tropical storms and general neglect. There are accordingly various gaps in the information available for study.

The Influx of Bengali Muslims into Arakan

After the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1825, the British East-India Company brought a lot of Bengalis into Arakan and let them accommodate in villages along the Naff River. Then the Bengalis gradually increased in Arakan particularly in Mayu District that includes Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Rathaydaung areas.

In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened and rice became a great demand to be exported abroad. Arakan is a fertile land where paddy grows in abundance. The East India Company was, then a trading company and the British government encouraged Rakhine to grow more paddy. The government exempted tax for 3 years and there was quantum leap in rice productions. Production increased from 1000 tons to 3000 tons.

As the rapid rise of rice cultivation, the East India Company needed a huge number of labourers and to meet the demand the company brought Muslims labourers from east Bengal as seasonal workers. They were to harvest paddy in Rakhine and return home after harvest works were over somewhat like indentured labourers from India to Africa during the rule of British in India but had no proper records.

And, in 1850 Muslims from Chittagong areas infiltrated into Buthedaung en messe. In 1916 The East India Company constructed a Rail-road between Kann Nyin Chaung and Buthedaung via Maung Daw. The railroad was built through the Mayu mountain range. The company brought thousands of Muslim workers from Chittagong areas and made them work in the construction. Paddy cultivation and railroad construction became a magnet for the Chittagonian Muslims to infiltrate into Rakhine. In 1930-31 Directorate of Health issued a report and it records that 40000 Muslims came to Maungdaw.

At present there are incredible numbers of illegal Muslims in Rakhine state, especially in Maungdaw- Buthidaung -Rathedaung areas. They infiltrate illegally sneaking through porous border since many ago, because Chittagong area, now Bangladesh was and is very poor with an exploding population.

There are many records concerning Muslim influx into Rakhine, known to the west as Arakan. Of many authentic records, C.E. Lucas Phillips, a Brigadier General in the British 14th Army who fought during the Second World War, writes:

The Muslims had their origin in the District of Chiiagong, In the Bengal province of British India, and all Muslims Whether native of Arakan for generations or recent immigrants were known as Chittagonians or in the British Forces, as CFs' a bewildering babel of languages was spoken by these people. The Arakanese spoke of Burmese, but the Chittagonians tuck to Bengali of their homeland, but, if educated spoke Urdu, as well.

Burma Gazetteer by R.B. Smart records: The labourers came from Chittagong partly by district Steamer of the British Indian steam of the Navigation Company to Akyab, by Messers Turner, Morrion And Company’s steamers to Maung Daw, by the Arakan Flotilla Steamers down the Naff to Maung Daw or just across the Naff into the Maung Daw Township. Large numbers also come by boat from Chittagong ports to engage in the carrying trade.

Friend of India and Statesman states: About the tenth of the populations of Chittagong migrate annually to Arakan, where the demand for labour is much greater than at Chittagong R.B. Smart writes: Chittagonians have made certain villages on the banks of the Kaladan their homes for generations and their numbers are constantly increased by fresh immigrants.

The Largest Slaughter In Contemporary Arakan History

In early 1942, as the Japanese were advancing towards Arakan, the British formed a battalion of Muslims - called the Bengali V Force - and gave them weapons. The British knew them as more willing to fight, and better fighters then the Arakanese. As the British suddenly retreated - the Bengali Muslims quickly used the weapons - not against the Japanese - but they used them to slaughter thousands and thousands of Buddhist and burned down all of the Buddhist villages, pagodas, temples and monasteries in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung areas.

About 30,000 Rakhine Buddhist were killed in this absolute genocide, hundreds of villages were burned down, and around 100,000 Rakhine Buddhists were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral lands. By late 1942 the whole Maungdaw-Buthidaung region was firmly in the hands of Bengali Muslims - who were now well armed with abandoned Japanese and British weapons. Since they now controlled the border, the movement of Muslims immigrants greatly increased - and this area, which had a strong Buddhist identity for centuries (evidenced by numerous Buddhist rock carved cave temples in the mountains) was violently emptied of Buddhist in a very short time, and became nearly entirely Muslim - and with plans to take more land, and to make it entirely Muslim.

This is quoted from a British officer, at that time in 1942, who wrote a report:

"I have been told the harrowing tales of cruelty and suffering inflicted on the Arakanese (Buddhist) villages in the Rathaydaung area. Most of the villages on the west bank of the Mayu river have been burnt and destroyed by the (Bengali-Muslim) V Force. The enemy (Japanese) never came near to these villages. Hundreds of villagers are said to be hiding in the hills. It will be the Arakanese who will be ousted from their ancestral land and if they cannot win over (the Muslims) in time, then there can be no hope of their salvation.”