Rohingya Muslim Primary Sources


Rohingya Muslim Primary sources considered for this article include published and unpublished documents in Burmese or Western languages. Urdu, Bengali, Arabic, and Malay sources may contain relevant information and call for further research. Burmese (including Arakanese/Rakhine) and Western (mainly English) sources may be divided into those that provide information on the historical presence of Muslims in precolonial and colonial Arakan, and those that are essential to understand the Rohingyas as a self-defining ethnic and politically active group after independence. Rohingya historiography has heavily drawn on the Buddhist chronicle tradition of Arakan, creatively embedding both mythical and historical Islamic elements.62

The travelogue of the Augustinian missionary Father Sebastião Manrique and the various descriptions relating to the Arakanese kingdom in the Dutch surgeon Wouter Schouten’s account contain references to Muslim traders in the 17th century and are best read in conjunction with recent academic work on archival Portuguese and Dutch East India Company documents.63

Descriptions of the Muslim elite at the Arakanese court are found in Alaol’s poetry in Sanskritized Bengali and are accessible in Thibaut d’Hubert’s French and English translations.64 British narratives and reports between the late 18th century and the second part of the 19th century, both printed and kept in the India Office collections, convey a checkered picture of the Muslim communities of Arakan before the Chittagonian immigrations.65 At the time of writing this article, an entry point to engage with an array of British imperial sources (such as census reports), printed accounts relating to Arakan during World War II, and administrative correspondence of the early postwar and Burma’s postindependence years is the archived website of Network Myanmar, which provides downloadable Portable Document Format (PDF) files of such documents.66 Modern reprints of gazetteers produced in the early 20th century are still widely available in Myanmar and elsewhere, and provide access to valuable information and statistics.67

READ  Muslims in Early Modern and Colonial Arakan

The foundational texts legitimizing a Rohingya identity on historical grounds were published during and around the early 1960s, when several Rohingya-denominated organizations engaged in campaigns to lobby for their political and ethnic claims in Burma. Prañ thoṅ cu i tuiṅḥ raṅḥ sāḥ lū myuiḥ ta myuiḥ phrac so “Ruihaṅgyā” lū myuiḥ cu i rājavaṅ akyañ: khyup (A short history of “Rohingyas”: An indigenous race of the Union of Burma), published by the United Rohingyas Organization in 1960, is an essential document for any in-depth study of Rohingya self-representation. It was the first in a succession of efforts to muster historical research to argue in favor of a Rohingya genealogy.68 Simultaneously, Mohammed Tahir Ba Tha’s cultural and historical publications in The Guardian and a few other magazines between 1959 and 1965 supported the political struggle of the Rohingyas.69

There are very few sources documenting relations between the Middle East diaspora and the refugee communities in Bangladesh on the one hand, and the North Arakan Muslims in Burma until the late 1980s on the other. Biographical sources are rare.70 Only in the 1990s, following the impact of the 1982 citizenship law, did human rights issues (and the citizenship issue in particular) become overriding themes in international Rohingya publications. These developments, as well as political shifts among Rohingya exile organizations, can be partly followed in irregular publications by the ARNO after 1998.71 Yet there is no single archive of the pamphlets and booklets of Rohingya militant movements from the 1960s to the 1990s. Some of these can occasionally be traced via private collections and Rakhine anthologies contesting Rohingya claims.

READ  Rise of a Muslim Nationalist Movement, 1942–1964

The texts of Burma’s constitutions of 1947, 1974, and 2008 are searchable on the Internet, and yet internal documents relating to Burmese/Myanmar policies in Rakhine State remain hard to access. An overview of reports on human rights violations in Rakhine State would call for a systematic study of publications by human rights organizations that have taken an interest in Rohingya refugee issues.72 The UNHCR archives in Geneva contain primary evidence on the refugee crises of 1978 and 1991–1992, although not all these materials will be available for consultation.