Akyab District (Sit-twe)

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Akyab District (Sit-twe)

Coast District in the Arakan Division of Lower Burma, lying between 19 degree 47' and 21 degree 27' N. and 92' degree 11 and 93 degree 58' E., with an area of 5,136 square miles. It is bounded on the north by Chittagong District and Northern Arakan; on the east by Northern Arakan and the Arakan Yoma; on the southeast by Kyaukpyu ; and on the south and west by the Bay ol Bengal and the Naaf estuary.

The District consists of the level tract lying between the sea and the

Arakan Yoma, and of the broken country formed by the western spurs of that range and the valleys which cover the portion east of the Lemro river. A pass leading across the range connects the District with Upper Burma, but it is difficult and is rarely used. The northern portion of the District is also covered with hills, from which three low ranges detach themselves and run southward. In the west, between the Naaf and the Mayu rivers and terminating near the mouth ol the latter, is the steep Mayu range, the southern part of which lies parallel with, and not far from, the coast. Between the Kaladan and Mayu rivers two similar ridges run parallel to each other to within about 30 miles of Akyab town on the coast. The rivers in general flow from north to south, being separated from each other by abrupt high watersheds. The three principal streams are the Mayu, Kaladan, and Lemro, which flow from the northern hills as mountain torrents, but spread out in the plains into a network of tidal channels. The Kaladan is the largest and most important river in Arakan. Rising in the Chin Hills it runs nearly due south through the Arakan Hill Tracts and Akyab District, receiving the waters of a large number of tributaries in its course, and enters the sea at Akyab, where its estuary is 6 miles in breadth, and forms the harbour of the town.

The Lemro river is the second in importance. It receives the whole drainage oi the western slope of the Arakan Yoma, passes along the eastern side of Northern Arakan and Akyab Districts, and flows into the Bayof Bengal south of Akyab town. The Mayu flows to the west of the Kaladan, and west of the Mayu again is the Naaf stream, which forms part of the boundary between Akyab and Chittagong. There are a few islands along the coast, of which the best known are the Boronga Islands at the mouth oF the Kaladan, whence petroleum is obtained.

Geologically the District, beyond the alluvium which skirts the .Coast, may be divided into three distinct belts: namely, the Cretaceous (Ma-i group), embracing the outer spurs of the Yoma ; the eocene of the Lower Tertiary (Negrais rocks) ; and the Triassic beds (axial group), forming the crest of the Yoma, with an outcrop on the western side of about 10 miles in breadth. These three classes of rocks are very closely allied. They are all composed of shales and sandstones intersected by bands of limestone, but the Cretaceous beds are less hardened and metamorphosed than the other two.

The coast and tidal creeks are bordered by stretches of mangrove and dani palm (Nipa fruticans). The constituent trees of the tidal forests are described in the botany paragraph of Hanthawaddy Dis- trict. The sandstone ridges opposite Akyab are covered with upper mixed forest, containing abundance of Xylia dolabriformis, but no teak. Melocanna baccifera is plentiful in some localities. Evergreen forests occur here and there, especially on Boronga Island. Inland are the prolongations of the Arakan Hill Tracts, clothed with forest vegetation of the type described under Northern Arakan. Farther east are the western slopes of the Arakan Yoma, covered with dense forest and bamboo jungle, as yet unexplored by the botanist.

The most important wild animals are elephants, bison, tigers, and leopards (including the black variety). Sambar are plentiful on the hill-sides, hog deer are common in the low-lying jungle, and barking- deer are to be met with throughout the District. Wild hog abound, and, contrary to the usual rule in Burma, the jackal is found every- where.

Owing to proximity to the sea, the same extremes of heat and cold are not met with as in Upper Burma. The cold season, from December to February, is the pleasantest part ol the year. The wet season is trying, and the hot season is oppressive, although the actual temperature recorded is not extreme. The average maximum tem- perature for the whole year is 86° and the average minimum 74°, the average mean being 7 8°.

The rainfall is heavy, amounting to 180 inches in 1903-4, and varying from 173 inches at Maungdaw to 203 at Akyab itself.

The District has from time to time been visited by severe cyclones. A devastating storm occurred on November 13, 1868 ; and on May 17, 1884, a cyclone of very similar character caused great destruction of property. There was another severe storm on April 25, 1895, but the damage caused was not so great as in 1884.

The District formed part of the kingdom of Arakan, and its earlier fortunes are included in the history of that kingdom (see Arakan Division). During the first Burmese War, in 1825, a body of troops under General Morrison crossed the Naaf from Chittagong, and, co-operating with a flotilla that had come up the Kaladan, attacked the town of Myohaung or Old Arakan. The force was repulsed with some loss in the pass leading to Myohaung from the hills; but eventually a turning movement caused the Burmans to evacuate their position in the pass, and finally to retreat across the Yoma. Akyab became British with the rest ol Arakan at the termination of the war in 1826. At Myohaung are to be he found the most important archaeological remains in Arakan. The ruins in their present state date chiefly from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. At Mahamuni, in the Kyauktaw township, is a pagoda, once famous as the receptacle of an image of Gautama of great sanctity, which, on the conquest of Arakan in r 1784, was removed by the victorious Burmans from Mahamuni to Amarapura and enshrined there. It is now in the Arakan pagoda at Mandalay.

The population of the District has steadily increased. At the last four enumerations it was: (1872) 276,671, (1881) 359,706 , (1891) 416,305, and (1901) 481,666. Its distribution in 1901 is shown in the following table:


Portions of the District are hilly and sparsely populated ; and thus, though in the lowlands the population is very dense, the District as a whole contains only 94 persons per square mile. The head-quarters are at Akyab Town. The majority of the inhabitants are Buddhists (280,000), but a very considerable proportion (155,200) are Musalmans : in fact, nearly half the Muhammadan population of the Province in 1901 resided within Akyab District. The number of Aniinists (31,700) is high, and Hindus numbered 14,000 in 1901. Arakanese is spoken by a little over half the population, and Bengali by about one-third.

Of races, the Arakanese (239,600) showed the highest aggregate in 1901. The Burmans were only 35,800 in number, the Kands 11,600. the Mros 10,100, and the Chins 9,400. The three last are hill tribes who inhabet the north and east of the District. Other indigenous tribes are the Daingnets (3,400), a probably hybrid people living on the borders of Chittagong, and speaking a corrupt form of Bengali; and the Chaungthas (250) and Thets (230), communities of Chin and Arakanese-Chin origin. The greater part of the non-Arakanese element is foreign. More than 150,000 of the inhabetants are Bengalis, or the offspring of Bengalis, from the adjacent District of Chittagong. In 1901 the population dependent on agriculture was 350,100, or 72 per cent, of the total. About one-tenth of the total is dependent on taungya (shifting) cultivation.

The number of Christians in 1901 was 720, of whom 230 were natives. Roman Catholics form nearly half the total. There is a Roman Catholic mission in Akyab town, which, since 1888, has been under the charge of the Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. A convent school founded in 1889 in connexion with the mission has nearly 100 pupils.

Throughout the whole ol the District the conditions of agriculture, so far as soil and rainfall are concerned, are easy in the extreme. The soils are loams, more or less sandy, and there are few clays. The land is usually very fertile, and the abundant Rainfallallows even high-lying and sandy ground to yield a good out- turn in a normal year. The land in the delta and on the banks of the principal rivers is level, low-lying, and suitable for rice ; the higher land and undulating country at the foot of the hills is better adapted for garden and miscellaneous crops, and for grazing ; while on the hills themselves only taungya (shifting) cultivation is carried on. On lands that are occasionally flooded by the tide it is not considered necessary even to plough. Owing to the abundant rainfall, irrigation is not prac- tised, except on a very small scale, in the dry season, for the benefit of gardens which happen to be near a supply of water. In the settled area the methods of cultivation differ little from those obtaining in other parts of Lower Burma. Transplantingol rice is practically unknown, and the seed is sown broadcast on the rich muddy levels.

Two features which make agriculture less profitable than might be expected are the laziness of the cultivator and the prevalence of cattle- disease. The amount of labour hired is very great, and in some cases the Arakanese cultivator even pays a manager to superintend his coolies, though as a rule he condescends to do his own supervision. The cost of cultivation in Akyab is higher than in most parts of Lower Burma. The wasteful system of taungya, or shifting cultivation, still prevails in the hills, and is responsible for the destruction of a vast amount of forest.

The area under cultivation was 575 square miles in 1881, 877 square miles in 1891, and 953 square miles in 1901. The main agricultural statistics for 1903-4 are given on the next page, in square miles.

The principal crop is rice, covering 931 square miles in 1903 4. It is all of the kaukkyi or cold-season variety ; no mayin or hot-season rice is grown. Tobacco and sugar-cane are little cultivated, except on the Lemro, east of Myohaung. There are 32 square miles of garden culti vation, for the most part in the Rathedaung, Maungdaw, and Myohaung townships. Chillies cover 4,000 acres, half of which are in the Kyauk taw and Rathedaung townships ; mustard is grown on about 2,300 acres in the Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships. The area under cotton has decreased rapidly. Flax for making rope is cultivated to very small extent in Maungdaw. The dani palm is grown throughout the tidal region, the leaves being used for thatch, while the fermented juice or sap is the principal intoxicant consumed by the people. The average area of a holding is 9 acres.

As the figures given above show, the area under cultivation has of late years increased largely. Akyab has proved a paradise to the emigrant from Chittagong, who is of a more frugal and industrious dis- position than his Arakanese neighbour, and is steadily ousting the latter as cultivator and landowner. As a very large area of cultivable land is still available, there is every prospect of further rapid extension of culti- vation. Good land being plentiful in ordinary years, there has little scope for agricultural advances.

The buffaloes bred locally are, as a rule, superior to the plough bullocks. The price of an ordinary plough buffalo has been estimated at Rs. 75 and that ol a bullock at Rs. 45. Sheep-breeding is not prac- tised ; but goats are reared in numbers, chiefly by people from China gong and other natives of India, though no trouble is taken to improve the breeds by selection or otherwise. The grazing-grounds reserved are small in size, and are scattered throughout the District.

The Forest department has only recently extended its operations over the District. There are a few teak plantations, which were started by private enterprise in 1872-4. One at Myauktaung comprises an area of 35 acres, and another at Nagara about 50 acres. The timbers mostly in demand at Akyab, the chief market, are pyingado (XylIa dolabriformis), pyinma (Lagerstroemi Flos Reginae), thitkado (Cedrela Toona), and kabaung (Strychnos Nux-vomica), on which seigniorage is collected by the District officers. The forest receipts in 1903-4 amounted to Rs. 8,800.

There has been no detailed geological survey of the District, and its mineral resources remain to be exploited. Coal is found, but is said to be of an inferior quality, and has not been worked. Tradition has it that there are gold and silver mines in the interior, but they have yet to be located. About 1,000 forts of laterite and sandstone are quarried annually for road- making, and some clay is extracted for making bricks and the rough local pottery.

Oil-wells have been worked by two lessees in the Eastern Boronga Island for upwards of twenty years. The annual output has of late been about 50,000 gallons. The usual method of obtaining it is by lowering a metal cylinder with a valve in the bottom, which fillrs with oil and is then hauled up and emptied. After the water has been allowed to run off, the oil is stored and exported to Akyab town by boat. The oil is disposed of locally, and is used in native lamps without any refining. The depth of the wells varies from 300 to 700 feet, and the boring is done by steam-power.

The salt-boiling industry finds employment for some of the coast population, but the annual production does not exceed 220 forts, or less than one-fifth of the consumption of the District. The methods em- ployed are crude in the extreme. The upper layer of earth, which the tide has impregnated with salt, is collected. The earth is then treated with salt water to dissolve the brine, and the resulting liquid is boiled down in a pan or cauldron till it has evaporated, leaving the salt as a deposit. The local product is of good quality and is preferred to the imported article.

The chief hand industries are cotton- and silk-weaving, gold and silver work, carpentry, shoemaking, pottery, and iron-work. Weaving is entirely a home industry, and is carried on more or communications. less by the maJority of Arakanese women. Locally made hand-looms are used, and the fabrics are of coarse texture. The silks, however, are noted for their durabelity, and find a sale in Burma proper. The gold- and silversmiths are chiefly Arakanese, and their workmanship is inferior. The carpenters are Arakanese, or men from Chittagong and China, of whom the last are by far the best. There are a few boat-builders in Akyab town and elsewhere. Shoes for native wear are made by Chinese and natives of India, the leather used in their manufacture being tanned locally. Akyab town possesses two small potteries. The clay used is obtained locally, and the pots manufactured are of poor quality and cannot compete with those imported from Madras. Bricks are made when required, but are of a very interior description. The blacksmiths come mostly from Chittagong, and their work lacks finish. course mats are woven by Arakanese and people from Chittagong speaking generally, the District is singularly poor in artificers of all kind and the work turned out is of inferior quality. The only factory industry of importance is rice-milling in Akyab town, where there are also two small tanneries.

Paddy and rice are naturally the staple trade products. Akyabis ordinarily the market for the whole District, paddy being brought there in boats from the surrounding rice-growing areas; but when prices in Chittagong are favourable, most of the rice grown in the Maungdaw township is sent there direct, while a few cargoes generally find then way from the Naaf in small native craft to other parts of India. Statistics of the external trade of the District, practically concentrated in Akyab Town, are given in the article on that town. The internal trade is almost entirely water-borne. The Arakanese are being ousted as traders by the Chittagong people, who now control the bulk of the local traffic. Barter is still prevalent among the hill tribes in the remoter portions of the District.

There is practically no vehicular traffic except in Akyab town and its environs. Outside the town, the only metalled cart-road of importance is that from Akyab to Yechanbyin, 19/2 miles long, maintained from Provincial funds. A good metalled road, 15 miles in length, leads from Maungdaw on the Naaf to Buthidaung on the Mayu river. The total length of metalled roads, excluding those within the limits of the Akyab municipality, is 40 miles, and of unmetalled roads 160 miles.

The principal means of communication are by water. The steamer of the British India Company call at Akyab once a week for Kyaukpyu, Sandoway (during the fair season), and Rangoon, and once a week for Chittagong and Calcutta. From February to May, and often later, steamers take cargoes of rice to Indian and other ports. The river steamers of the Arakan Flotilla Company ply on as much of the Kaladan as lies within the District, and through the tidal creeks of the coast. The greater part of the District is intersected by these tidal creeks, and these and the principal rivers are largely used as highways. Practically all articles of merchandise are brought to Akyab town, and distributed thence, in boats of local make, while passengers travel both in these boats and in sampans rowed exclusively by Bengalis.

The lighthouse on Savage Island, at the entrance to Akyab harbour, is a stone structure 138 feet high. It was built in 1842, and raised to its present height in 1891. The light is visible for 14 miles. Fourteen miles off the port of Akyab is the Oyster Island lighthouse (20degree 5' N and 92 degree 39' E.). It was first lighted with a permanent light in 1892

The District includes four subdivisions, AKYAB, MINBYA,KYAUKTAW, and Buthidaung, the subdivisional officers being usually Extra-Assistant Commissioners, and nine townships, each under a myo-ok. The townships are : in the Akyab sub- division, Akyab, Rathedaung, and Ponnagyun ; in the Minbya subdivision, Pauktaw and Minbya ; in the Kyauktaw subdivision, Kyauktaw and Myohaung; and in the Buthidaung subdivision, Buthidaung and Maungdaw. At head-quarters are a treasury officer, an akunwun (in subordinate charge of the revenue administration), and a superintendent of land records. An officer of the Royal Indian Marine is Port Officer, Collector of Customs, and Superintendent of Mercantile Marine at Akyab. The Civil Surgeon is also Port Health Officer and Superintendent of the jail, Akyab ; and the District forms a subdivision of the Arakan Public Works division, with head-quarters at Akyab. Each village is in immediate charge of its headman, or ywatkugyi, who is responsible (where there is no circle thugyi) for the collection of revenue, and has certain police and petty magisterial powers. The District contains 1,203 ywathugyi-ships The old system by which a number of villages were grouped together for purposes of revenue into a circle, or taik, under a circle officer, or taikthugyi, is being gradually done away with. There are still, however, 27 circle thugyis, who are responsible for the collection of revenue, on which they receive commission, in their circles. Each of them is also head- man for the village in which he resides.

The Commissioner of Arakan is Sessions Judge. Up to 1905 the Deputy-Commissioner was District Judge. In that year, however, a whole-time District Judge was appointed, who hears all civil appeals from township courts and tries all District court cases and cases from the Akyab subdivision of over Rs. 500 in value, and who is also senior Magistrate with special powers under section 30 of the Criminal Pro- cedure Code. For Rathedaung-cum-Maungdaw, as also for Kyauktaw- cum-Myohaung, a special township judge is appointed, who sits for half the month at each of the township head-quarters. In Akyab town there are two additional Magistrates with first-class powers, who also take up District cases if necessary. A special feature of the criminal returns is the large number of stabbeng cases, the Arakanese being prone to the use of the clasp-knife in their quarrels. Opium smuggling is rife, and the number of cases under the opium and excise laws is very considerable. Occasionally there is an outbreak of dacoity.

The revenue history of Akyab is a record of steady progress. In 1832 the total revenue collected was 2.5 lakhs. In 1837 the taxes on forest produce, huts, boats, sugar-presses, handicraftsmen, and others, were abolished ; but their discontinuance did nothing to arrest the fiscal growth of the District.

The tax on fisheries was imposed in 1864-5, and brought in Rs. 6,800 that year. The first recorded settle- ment took place in 1866-7, when the land revenue assessment produced 5 lakhs. A revision of rates was undertaken in 1879-80, and under the new assessment the revenue rose to 7.7 lakhs. A further revision, the first regular assessment, as opposed to the previous summary settle- ments, was carried out in 1885-8, when die land revenue increased to 8.3 lakhs. The revenue on rice land for 1902-3, the last year of the enforcement of these rates, amounted to 12 lakhs, showing an increase of 140 per cent, in the thirty-six years since the first settlement, during which interval the area under cultivation had more than doubled. The latest revision, carried out in 1901-2, is expected to yield a further increase of about 25 per cent., and the area under cultivation is still increasing rapidly. The whole of the District has not yet been sur- veyed. Grants under the Waste Land Rules of 1839 -41, which were designed to promote extension of cultivation, are numerous in Akyab. There appear to have been at one time as many as ninety-four such grants; but in many cases the land has since reverted to the possession of Government, and there remain at present forty-two, covering an area of 150 square miles, and paying Rs. 65,000 as revenue and cess. These grants were usually given with twenty-four years' exemption from assessment, after which the rates payable were 10 annas per acre for six years; then Rs. 1-4 per acre for six years; and finally Rs. 1-10 per acre for twelve years, after which a new settlement could be demanded. Revenue is, however, payable on only three-fourths of the land. When the grants were first cadastrally surveyed, it was found that the area actually granted exceeded the recorded area by 83 square miles, a difference largely owing to faulty surveying in the first instance.

The ordinary rates of assessment fixed in 1879-80 varied from 8 annas to Rs. 2-8 per acre of rice land, and at the revision of 1885-8 from Rs. 1-4 to Rs. 3. In the revision recently completed it has been proposed to increase the maximum rate on rice land to Rs. 4 per acre, leaving the minimum unchanged. Outside rice land, there were in 1903 only two rates of assessment in the settled area : namely, Rs. 2 per acre on garden land and R. 1 on miscellaneous cultivation. In the unsurveyed portion the rates on garden land vary from Rs. 2-8 to Rs. 1-8, and on miscellaneous cultivation from Rs. 2-4 to R. 1. This gives a maximum rate of Rs. 2-8, a minimum of R. 1, and an average of nearly Rs. 2 per acre.

The figures for 1903-4 include Rs. 4,42,000 capitation tax and Rs. 2,70,000 excise.

There is a District cess fund, the income of which amounted in 1903-4 to Rs. 1,71,000. This fund is provided mainly from a 10 per cent, levy on the total land revenue, and is expended by the Deputy-Commissioner on communications and other local needs. Akyab Town is the only municipality.

The District contains eight police stations, one at each township head-quarters. Each police station is usually in charge of a head constable, assisted by one or more sergeants. There are also eight outposts, each in charge of a sergeant or first-grade constable. The strength of the civil police is 10 head constables, 19 sergeants, and 305 rank and file. In addition to the civil police, the District has a detachment olmilitarypolice from the Rangoon battalion, with a strength of 220 men.

Akyab town contains a District jail, with accommodation for 489 prisoners (459 male and 30 female). The chief industries carried on are carpentry, iron-work, tailoring, stone-breaking, mat- making, paddy-grinding, and cane-work. The products are disposed of to Government departments, the municipality, and private individuals.

In consequence, no doubt, of the large Indian element in the population, Akyab occupies a low place for Burma in the matter of literacy. The proportion of literate persons in 1901 was 28-6 per cent, in the case of males and 3-4 per cent, in that of females, or 17.4 for both sexes together. The proportion of females is considerably below the Provincial average. Owing to the early age at which girls are given in marriage, and the seclusion in which they are usually kept after their tenth year, the majority of them leave school before they have had time to do more than learn the rudiments of reading and writing. The total number of pupils at school increased from 1,863 m 1880-1 to 6,384 in 1890-1, and 12,782 in 1900-1. In 1903-4 there were 6 special, 9 secondary, 258 primary, and 477 elementary (private) schools, with 13,944 male and 957 female pupils. The Akyab high school is the only institution of individual importance. The total expenditure on education in 1903-4 was Rs. 40,000, made up as follows : fees, Rs. 15,700; municipal contributions, Rs. 10,100; Provincial grants, Rs. 7,800; Local grants, Rs. 6,200.

There were till 1905 only two hospitals, with 122 beds in all, and a dispensary. In 1903 the number of cases treated was 42,240, of whom 1,618 were in-patients, and 1,202 operations were performed. The total income was Rs. 26,800, towards which municipal funds contributed Rs. 14,500, Local funds Rs. 6,700, and subscriptions Rs. 3,000. A new hospital has lately been built by private charity at Buthidaung, and hospitals will shortly be constructed at Minbya and Kyauktaw. Vaccination is compulsory only in Akyab town. In 1903-4 the number of persons successfully vaccinated was 6,689 representing 14 per 1,000 ol population.

[H. Adamson, Settlement Reports (1887 and 1888);W.E LOWERY, Settlement Report (1903).]

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