Dr Francis Buchanan and Roang
“The term Rohingya is derived from Rohang the ancient name of Arakan”. Dr. Ganganath Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University of India
Francis Buchanan’s account, ‘His Journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hills Tracts, Noakhali and Commiila during 1798’, is the earliest and the most significant source of new information of 18th Century Bengal, Arakan, Tripura, Cachar, Manipur, Mizoram and Burma (Myanmar). It provides unique information on Southeastern Bengal in particular and further regions to the South and East in general and is a good example of how Europeans collected knowledge of the wider world and what views they held. It contains information on rural economy, social life and ethnic relations and above all of the British imperial policy in the region. Although Buchanan’s account is presented as a travel diary, it is the diary of a disciplined traveller and is thus seen to represent a genre. His surveys are of far more than antiquarian interest as they provide us with the first detailed information in existence about rural Bangladesh. “He is, first and foremost, an intellectual forbear of all social scientists trying to make sense of social structure and social change in South Asia.” [Professor Willem van Schendel of Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in his editor note]
In his account he mentioned in page 31, 104 and 108 that: –
On 24th March 1798 Buchanan reached at Choonooty of Chittagong, as Rennell calls, Sunouttee, and then he went Hrvang village, and also Baratulla Valley. There he said, “All the way from Chanpour to Baratulla we have had low hills between us and sea: ….Various parts of the Hills in this neighbourhood are inhabited by Mugs from Rossawn, Rohhawn, Roang, Reng or Rung, for by all these names is (are) Arakan called by the Bengalese. These people left their country on its conquest by the Burmas, and subsist by fishing, Boat building, a little cultivation, and by the cloth made by their women. They also build houses for the Mohammedan refugees, of whom many come from Arakan on the same occasion, and settling among men of their own sect, are now much better off than their former Masters. A Bengalese Mohammedan would consider himself as polluted by living in a House built by Mug.” [p.31]
In evening of 27th April 1798, Buchanan reached at Raing-ghaiung-bak (Rainkyoung-bak) a small Chakma village near the mouth of the Rainkhyong. There he said that, “I found here a man, who was dressed in a yellow habit: but the man said, that he was not a priest, and that his assuming the dress was only temporary. He was reading a book in Bengalese character, and on inquiry I found, that the men, except a few words, understand no other language. They say that they are the same with the Sak of Roang or Arakan: that originally they came from that country; and that on account of their having lost their native language, and not having properly acquired the Bangalese, they are commonly called Doobadse (Dubhashi).” [p.104]
On the evening of 28th April 1798, Buchanan reached at Taubboka, which by the Bengalese is commonly called Rajbary near Rangamatty, there he saw a priest, who assumed the name of Poun-do-gye or Great royal virtue. The priest informed him that, “the Chakmas have in general forgot the Roang language: but that it is the dialect spoken by the Sak-mee, who still live in Arakan. The books, which this priest has, are written both in the Rohang character and dialect.”[p.108]
According to Dr. Ganganath Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University of India, the term Rohingya is derived from Rohang the ancient name of Arakan. The Muslims of Arakan called their country, in their own language, ‘Rohang or Roang’ and called themselves as Rohangya (Rohang+ya) or Roangya (Roang+ya) means native of Rohang or Roang. In Burmese it is ‘ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ’, in Rakhine’s pronunciation it will read as ‘Rohangya’ but in Burmese pronunciation it became ‘Rohingya’ and now it’s established as ‘Rhinggya’. Like other peoples of the world, they have needed to identify as Rohingya to some degree for centuries.
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