Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Rakhaing


The Rakhaing

By Tha Hla

The Rakhaing are indigenous to a country called Rakhaing Pray or Rakhaing land, which known as Rakhaing in the west is now part of the Union of Burma. Until towards the end of the eighteenth century it was a sovereign kingdom separated from the Burmese domain by a long range of mountains, the Rakhaing Roma on the east and bounded on the west by the Bay of Bengal and on the northwest by eastern Bengal, currently Bengladesh. Protected by natural defences, the country retained its independence; by the same token it became secluded and through the process it evolved a nation as clannish as the name designates.

The term Rakhaing is derived from a Pali phrase Rakkhetta which connotes being or tribe characterized by heredity of preserving homogeneity and safeguarding against exotism and exogamy. The intense nationalism and modern xenophobia complemented with the prevailing practice of endogamy lend support to the etymology of Rakhaing. Literally, embodiment of Rakhaing is an ethno religious affiliation. Ethnicity is Mongoloid and religion is Buddhism neither race nor faith alone constitutes the unique breed of Rakhaing. Of Mongoloid stock, the Rakhaings sprung from the Tibeto-Burman Group along with the Burmese and other proto-Burmese races who migrated from Central Asia.

It is troubling realist that not all the order generation of the Rakhaing are aware of who they are and where they came from, much less the younger generations and lesser still those outside the Rakhaing race are cognizant of what Rakhaing is all about? The reason being that history of Rakhaing in its entity has never been prescribed in the curriculum of the academic institutions in the post independent Burma, except in a few brief references in the context of the Burmese conquests. Despite the fact that the Union of Burma represents the Burmese as well as other contemporary races, the history of Burma is a jealously guarded monopoly of the predominant Burmese. The Rakhaings themselves are not exonerative either, not that they lax in flavour of being Rakhaing but that they have become more lethargic and less enthusiastic about their ancestry. To most Americans the name Rakhaing might sound like an alien nation from outer space because Burma, into which Rakhaing was coerced as a disparate partner, is rarely in the news.

Rakhaing or Rakhaing Pray is not a name innovated recently but it is as old as the kingdom itself. In the day of economic and military dominance of Bengal by the Europeans, their vital access to adjacent Rakhaing was by means of the people of Bengal. The Europeans adopted the vernacular name and called Rakhaing, Arakan which is the corruption of the Bengali version Ahrra Kan; Ahrra implies two and a half, and Kan is for province, meaning the land of two and a half provinces compared to relatively larger eastern Bengal, known as Charra Kan, the land of four provinces. When the British subjugated Rakhaing, Arakan became the official name; hence Arakan as well as Arkanese, the nationals has become the living legacy of the colonial era. Nevertheless the term Rakhaing or Rakhaing Pray has been maintained in the medium of the natives both in everyday language and official communications.

By ethnicity, culture and language the Rakhaings are closely akin to the Burmese but their distinctive physiognomy tends to attributes probability to the theory that the inhabitants of Rakhaing assimilated the immigrant Aryans such as Kan Razargree and his followers. The people of Bengal contemptuously referred the Rakhaing as Magh which suggests mixed race or unclean beings, a smearing racial slur. The early European historians confused the term and erroneously concluded that the Rakhaings were the products of interracial marriages before they finally discovered that it was an ethnological fallacy because the Rakhaings are Mongoloid and are cognate to the Burmese. In confuting the term the Rakhaing chroniclers pointed out that Magh applies to the descendents of the Rakhaing who married the Bengali wives during the time when parts of Bengal were under the wing of the Rakhaing monarchy. They are Buddhists and their dialect is the Chittagonian. A theory expounds to implicate Magh with Maga, the name of Aryan races who were speculated to have migrated into Rakhaing from Bihar, adjoining Bengal. The exposition was unsubstantiated in the light of Rakhaing annals. Yet there is the element of the Portuguese who served in the Royal Guard had native wives.

It is not uncommon that in many a Rakhaing family some of the progenies are olive skinned and some are of fair complexion. Absorbed or blended as their progenitors might have been, nonetheless the Rakhaings apparently have not inherited the hairy feature of the Indian races. The average Rakhaing is neither bearded nor hairy at all, besides being devoid of the exclusive traits of the people who are aptly know as Kala, locally corrupted version of a Pali term Kula which means alien race. Hypothetically, racial affinity aside would it not be expedient to take into account the environment factors which might have played a role in influencing on the evolvement of the physique resemblance of the seafaring peoples such as the Rakhaings, the Malays, the Dravidians and the like who make their home in the coastal fringes of the Bay of Bengal and on the archipelagos out in the sea?

The Rakhaings are Buddhists who have embraced Theravada discipline, the older and purer from which flourished early in the days of their establishment. The Buddhist culture forms the main fabric of the society and dominates the attitude of the people. No Rakhaing professes any other religion but Buddhism. Just as the geographical location enhanced Rakhaing maintain its sovereignty, it was the vehement inspiration of Buddhism, imbibed with patriotic compulsion that occluded Islamic thrust which had been relentlessly expanding its frontier from Arabia to the east over the past centuries like the wild fire sweeping across the prairies. Unable to grip a foothold in Rakhaing, Islam finally skipped mainland Southeast Asia late in the thirteenth century and landed on the island of Sumatra whence it spread to other parts of Indonesia where Hinduism and Buddhism had been dominant centuries before. For the Rakhaing it was a defining time of their very existence adherent to the Buddhist culture or succulent to Islamization which means entailment of forceful infliction of Islam upon them. Had it not for the impregnable damming put up by the zealous Rakhaings the history of Burma and for that matter the history of Thailand as well as that of Indochina would have the present. Repugnance of Islam does not mean that the Rakhaings are intolerant of others religions. The first Catholic Church was built early in the seventeenth century in the capital city of Mrohaung( Mrauk-U) which already had Sandihkan Mosque. What Islam failed in incursion in the past it was sence been successful in infiltration into Rakhaing land and well into the interior of Burma and far beyond.

The Rakhaings are individualists as are the Burmese. Each individual is named after the day on which he or she was born. There is no surname in the nomenclature of persons. A wife retains her maiden name. A typical Rakhaing name consists of three prefer one or two. No matter now many syllables a name may be composed of, it is addressed as a whole. Added to each name is a prefix, the customary gesture of politeness in addressing a person according to age, gender and also in extending courtesy for the status of the addressee irrespective of the age. A different form of prefix is assigned to each male and female corresponding to the respective age group.

U stands for uncle which is the equivalent of mister. Ko represents brother and also lad. Maung is for young boy and is also used for master. Daw implies aunt and madam as well. Mi and Ma are used for sister and for miss. Often than not a prefix is used as part of the name itself but not in terms of title. Oo, meaning primacy which having used as the first syllable in a masculine name and the last in a feminine name, signifies the person being the first born in the family. It is purely a Rakhaing formulation designed to reflect not only the day of birth but also to establish the hierarchy among the siblings. In some cases the placement of primacy prefix in male and female names could be reversed in order. The alliteration of any prefix indicates affection and close relationship. While complexity abounds in names synonymous to both masculinity and femininity, confusion compounds with common names which of course may be distinguishable with the help of an epithet.

Customarily, the Rakhaing marriage is arranged. However, in the modern time the love marriage is gaining popularity in the younger generations. The marriage ritual is simple; the main purpose is to make it public. No auspicious sacrament is performed, nor is legal certification warranted. Having joined in matrimony, no matter to what extent the bride and groom may be strangers to each other, the couple is obligated to live up to a life long bound. The nation of commitment, combined with pride of the family upbringing renders the marriage difficult to dissolve. As much as the marriage is simple, liberty of divorce is not limited. Yet divorces are too few to be noticed, fewer still are those who choose to remarry, especially in the case of women. Once misfortune befalls upon a woman usually by the death of her spouse or rarely through a failed marriage she prefers the single status, leading life of her own to the convenience of being remarried. It might be the reason ascribed to the characteristic that has been handed down from mother to daughter for generations that women are to excel in business dealing; they are no less prominent in professional fields either. A married woman like her Burmese counterpart is much more independent than her sisters in some parts of the world, who manages the family finances and enjoys the extraordinary legal rights and religious freedom.

In terms of social structure, the Rakhaings are essentially traditionalists. Apart from being devoted parents they are also dedicated custodians of their own parents and grandparents who live happily in a family so dearly they love and as extended as it is to accommodate four generations, if longevity permits, under a single roof. Generation gap does not ferment discord in the harmonious family. The social system is such that the older a person gets the more respect he or she earns the society, and that at the same time the younger a generation is the more they become focus of attention. Unlike some other cultures a daughter in the family is preferential to parents who are generally inclined to spend their golden days in her care. A Rakhaing family is molded on the housewife, yet she gracefully stoops to win the affection of the husband who is esteemed as head of the household.

The Rakhaings speak a tongue which was common to both the Rakhaings and the Burmese before they split into subgroups. In the course of the time the various dialects of Burma proper incorporated with speeches of other cultures developed into the current Burmese language whereas the Rakhaing dialect remained unchanged due to the geographical isolation. Through the lofty Rakhaing Roma there are only two practicable passes, the Ann and the Taunggoke which connect with the Burmese territory. The vernacular of the Rakhaings living in the vicinity of these gorges is a phonetically balanced language of Rakhaing and Burmese grown out of outside contacts. Dissected by deep rivers and impeded by high mountains, the rugged terrain of the land encumbered, if not hampered, the natives of different regions in intermingling among themselves; thus generating them into denizens and as a result there thrived a variety of localized diction, expletive and enclitic.

The Rakhaing traditionally speak in a forceful but courteous manner. The harsh topography might have contributed to the development of a strong voice, terminating words abruptly as verbal communication in the sparsely populated but densely wooded tropical rain forest area could not be transmitted as smoothly as it could be done in the plain of the Burmese settlers. As it now stands the Rakhaings and the Burmese articulate the same words, the former with the tip of the tongue. Thus both are marked with an accent if one chooses to speak the way the other does. One advantage to the Rakhaings is that they readily comprehend their congeners who in turn hardly do.

In speech as well as in writing there are applied usages of synonyms which are paired together. As divergent a practice as it has been, one variant form nestles in the Burmese camp and the other ends up with the Rakhaings, deluding the appearance of the two forms being different in meaning and origin only to be clarified by the literati or those who are well versed in the philology of language. The Rakhaings spell a word consistent to the spoken form, without scrupling over homonyms whereas the Burmese write differently from the spoken language.

The Rakhaings have enjoyed a respectable place in the field of literacy achievement among the nationalities of Burma since the British days and the more so after the Second World War when opportunities opened to rural populace for higher education. The have been proud to foster brilliant scholars, distinguished civil servants and above all renowned nationalists like in the person of venerable U Ottama who was the foremost pioneer of the freedom movement in colonial Burma. He travelled widely across the globe in pursuit of national independence. He was particularly noted for his staunch nationalism who for the first time publicly denounced the then almighty British governor general by name and demanded him to go back home in an age when the sun never sets in the British empire.

That the Rakhaings are arrogant is a fair statement. Taking pride in being Rakhging is not an attitude; it is plain devotion to one’s own folk who are intrigued with their cultural heritage. On the contrary, they are simple, sincere and affable. They are not pretentious. They are generous to the extent as possible as their resources permit. Straight forward and outspoken nature should not be characterized as asperity. They have not been born with artificial politeness.

The keen awareness of ethnical identity reflects as sense of pride. Foreign incursions and subsequent loss of sovereignty might have ignited a surge of nationalism which they have been prejudiced for. To the Rakhaings they have merely been distinguished themselves in survival core of the sub stained and resistant character which is destined to remain a way of life. This sensitive corn is often overlooked and even trodden, perhaps inadvertently in dealing with Rakhaings who have immortalized the memory of the arduous bur glorious past.

The term Rakhaing is derived from a Pali phrase Rakkhetta which connotes being or tribe characterized by heredity of preserving homogeneity and safeguarding against exotism and exogamy.

The Rakhaings are Buddhists who have embraced Theravada discipline, the older and purer from which flourished early in the days of their establishment.

copy write : New Historical Journal

1 comment:

aungzaw said...

ရခိုင္သျခင္းတိကို ၾကားရလို႔ စစ္တိပိုလို႔ လန္းဆန္းလားခပါေရ။ ေက်းဇူးတင္ပါေရ ေဒပိုင္နားေထာင္လို႔ ရေအာင္သျခင္းတိကို အလွပေခ်တင္ထားစြာအတြက္။

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