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Imperial gazetteer of India .. (Volume 17) online

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There is little immigration, and the mining coolies brought from
China do not as a rule settle in the country. A large proportion of the
population in the extreme south is made up, however, of temporary
immigrants, and the fluctuations in this source of supply account for
the diminution that took place in the sparsely populated Maliwun
township between 1891 and 1901. Except along the coast, the inhabi-
tants are very scattered. Burmese is almost universally spoken in the
Mergui township, where even the people who admit, in other parts of
the District, kinship with pure Siamese call themselves Burmans. They
speak a dialect understood with difificulty by an ordinary Burman, with
some Siamese words and idioms, the most remarkable of the latter
being the inversion of the parts of compound verbs. The hard con-
sonants are retained as in Arakanese, but the r and h and final conso-
nants practically disappear. In Palaw an even less intelligible dialect of
Burmese is spoken by two-thirds of the population, the other third speak-
ing Karen. In Tenasserim, out of every roo persons 43 talk Burmese,
40 Siamese, and 16 Karen. Farther south Burmese tends to disappear
entirely, Siamese, Malay, and Chinese being the languages most heard.
According to religion, about 87 per cent, of the people are Buddhists.
There are a few Animists and Hindus, but most of the non-Buddhist
population are Musalmans, who numbered about 7,000 in 1901.

There were nearly 57,000 Burmans in 1901, about 2,000 Chinese,
and nearly 9,000 Siamese. A considerable proportion of the population
in the town and the mines is Baba or half-Chinese, the men retaining
the pigtail, but talking Burmese or Siamese, and the women wearing
the dress of their mothers. Of the Mu.salmans, between 2,000 and
3,000 are Malays and the rest nearly all Zairbadis.

Living in boats among the islands is a wild people of obscure origin



called by the JJurmesc Salons, by the Malays Orang Basin, by the
Siamese Chaunam (' vvaterfolk '), and by themselves Mawken ('drowned
in the sea '). The Salons are expert divers and swimmers, and the
supply of green snails and bcche-de-mer is obtained entirely through
them. Their language has hitherto generally been regarded as akin to
Malay, but according to a recent view it is an entirely independent
form of speech, most nearly related to the Cham of Cambodia.

Two-thirds of the total population of the District are agricultural.
Outside Mergui the Burmans are husbandmen or fishermen, the
Siamese mostly agriculturists with a few miners, the Chinese usually
miners, and the Karens all agriculturists.

The Christian population in 1901 numbered 2,215. C)f these, 2,135
were natives, mostly Karens in the Palaw and Mergui townships, where
the American Baptist Union started work in 1837.

There is little of special interest to note in connexion with the agri-
cultural methods obtaining in the District. The use of the plough is
practically unknown. In some parts a harrow with
a single tooth is used ; but the Siamese of the
Pakchan and other parts do nothing but tread out the soil with buffa-
loes, and this practice is followed by the Burmans on low-lying lands.
Fruit trees are planted in pits filled with burnt earth, which is also, with
cattle-dung, used as manure after the young tree has been planted out.

The area permanently cultivated is small. About one-third of it lies
in the Palaw township, rather more than a half in the basin of the
Tenasserim river, and the rest in the valley of the Pakchan.

The following table shows the main agricultural statistics for 1903-4,
in square miles : —








Tenasserim .....
Bokpyin .....
Maliwun .....












1 5,600



In the area under rice, which comprises about three-fourths of the
whole, the soil is generally rich, except in the Tenasserim township,
where it is inclined to be sandy. About 7 per cent, of the cultivated
area is planted with the dani palm {Nipa), which is at its best in this
District. It is grown on mud-banks in tidal creeks, which are covered
with water, more or less salt, at high tide. The leaves of this palm are
used for the roofs and walls of houses, and its juice for making toddy
and jaggery sugar. About 18 per cent, of the cropped land consists



of fruit orchards, usually on undulating land or the lower slopes of hills.
The soil is particularly well suited for areca palms and durians. There
are 12,640 rice holdings and 14,200 assessed orchards, but to the latter
must be added a very large number of gardens of less than a quarter
of an acre, which are not assessed. Of the area under rice, nearl)- half
is in the Mergui township and one-fourth in Palaw. IMore than 6,000
acres, of which 4,800 are in the Mergui township, are under the dani
palm. Nearly 2,000 acres in Palaw, and about the same area in Mergui,
are planted with areca palms. Durians cover a similar area in the
Mergui township, and coco-nuts 1,600 acres in the District as a whole.

Very little is done to improve the methods of husbandry, but con-
siderable progress has been made in bringing fresh land under culti-
vation. The cultivated area was 62 square miles in 1881, 81 in 1891,
134 in 1 90 1, and 139 in 1903-4. The area under rice has more than
doubled, and that of orchards nearly trebled, during the past twenty
years. The increase has been most marked in Palaw.

Buffaloes are practically the only cattle known outside Mergui town.
They are bred locally and are of a good quality.

The number of persons engaged in or dependent upon fishing is
between 10,000 and 11,000, or about one-eighth of the population. All
^. , . the fisheries are in the sea. The principal implements

are the sanda (the hauling net) and the gawa. The
first is a lofty rectangular structure of wooden piles, often supporting
a small house in one corner, and provided with long wings of saplings,
which sometimes extend for half a mile. An immense net is lowered
from it by means of pulleys, and into this fish or prawns are swept by
the tide. The larger fish are dried on bamboo platforms ; the prawns
are boiled and similarly dried, after which the shells are removed by
being beaten in a bag, and go to feed the pigs or to manure the land of
the Chinese in the Straits. Long rows of sandas stand in the fair
season across the vast shallows of Whale and Auckland Bays, and as
many as 120 may be seen at once. The gawa is a triangular net form-
ing a kind of scoop, which a man pushes before him in shallow water,
towing a canoe at the same time. It is used only for collecting shrimps,
which are made into a paste and exported largely to Rangoon, where
this paste is regarded as the finest kind of ngapi.

Next to sea-fishing proper, the principal maritime industry is pearling.
Before 1893 a certain number of pearls were obtained by the Salons,
who are capable of diving to a depth of 5 fathoms or more without
apparatus. The richness of the beds was little suspected, however,
until a Singapore company obtained a lease in that year of part of the
Archipelago, and started operations with diving gear and P'ilipino,
Malay, and Japanese divers. This attracted a number of pearlers from
the Australian fisheries, to whom they sublet their rights. Meantime


Chinese puinp-owners began work in other parts of the Archipelago,
and in 1898 a Chinese syndicate obtained a lease of the entire area.
The white pearlers continued work for a time under this syndicate ;
but the supply of shell, on which, rather than the pearls, they depended
for their profits, had greatly diminished, and by 1900 all had left.
Their place was taken by Chinese, Zairbadis, and Burmans of Mergui,
who were attracted by the gambling nature of the industry, were
content with smaller average profits, and above all were better able to
check their divers. It is impossible for the pump-owner to prevent
peculation unless he, or some one he can trust, travels in each diving-
boat. Ostensibly the shells are opened only in the owner's presence,
but it is a very easy matter for the div£r to test one for pearls and
reclose it.

Since 1900 licences have been issued at a fixed fee of Rs. 400 per
pump, the licensee working where he pleases ; and this system has
proved more satisfactory than the old one of auctioned leases. The
exports of shell declined from 414 tons in the year ending March,
1895, to 71 tons in 1905 ; but the price of both shell and pearls had
meanwhile risen, and in 1905 there were 77 pumps at work. The
finest pearl yet found in the beds, so far as is known, is a drop pearl
weighing 34 carats and sold at Singapore for $16,000 in 1902, but
a smaller pearl fetched Rs. 30,500 at Mergui in 1904. The shell is
usually found in waters from t8 to 23 fathoms deep. The best grounds
are in the neighbourhood of Owen and Malcolm Islands, about 100
miles south of Mergui ; but diving is also carried on near Ross and
Elphinstone, 30 miles west of the town. Mr. Jardine, an Australian
pearler, in a report prepared for Government in 1894, pronounced the
shells to be very fine specimens of the true mother-of-pearl shell of
commerce {Mekagnna margaritifera), weighing on the average 600 to
the ton. In the month ending January 16, 1894, eighteen boats
brought up 20,000 shells weighing 34^ tons, and containing pearls of
an estimated value of £2,600.

Other maritime products of the District are green snails {Turbo
inarmoratiis\ the shells of which are exported for conversion into
imitation mother-of-pearl ; trochus, a conical shell of smaller size ; and
sea-slugs or becke-de-mer, which, with the contents of the snail-shells,
are exported to the Straits for the delectation of the Chinese palate.

Among maritime products, since they are found in caves far out to
sea, may be included edible birds'-nests, of which 20 viss (73 lb.), of
the finest quality, valued in Penang at Rs. 4,000, were collected in
a single day in April, 1903, from one of the rocky islets near Tavoy
Island. The nests, which are milk-white and shaped like the half of
a diminutive basin glued to the rock, are, it is believed, made with the
saliva of a small species of swift [CoUocalia franciia), which sleeps in

U 2


the caves but s[}ends the day, when not actually at woik, high u[)

in the sky. 'J"he nests arc to be found only in the most inaccessible

corners of the caves, at a height sometimes of several hundred feet.

Three collections are made during the fair season, lasting respectively

four, seven, and three days. The birds rebuild their nests in the

intervals, and only the last made are available for rearing their young.

The best cjuality is obtained from the second collection.

Practically the whole District, with the exception of 139 square

miles of cultivation and perhaps a similar extent of old tautigya

„ clearings, is under dense forests ; and of this a large


part, approaching perhaps 1,000 square miles, is

mangrove. The area treated as forest by the department is about

5,600 square miles in extent, but only 330 square miles of this total

are ' reserved.' The forests are not generally valuable, and teak is

unknown ; but the lofty kafiyin-ixee i^Dipterocarpus laevis) yields an oil

largely used in the manufacture of torches ; the wood of the thi?iga7i

{Hopea odoratd) is, owing to its elasticity, unequalled for boats ; and

kyathnan or pink-on {Carapa moluccensis), anan [Fagraea fragrans),

hmanthin [Curcuma Roscoeana), kanazo {Bassia longi folia), and kokko

{Albizzia Lebbek) are all useful timbers. Pyingado {Xylia dolabriforniis)

is plentiful in the extreme north. Kalaniet {Santalum sp.), found on

a branch of the Little Tenasserim on the border of Siam, is prized for

its fragrance. The precious scented wood-aloes, or eagle-wood, the

diseased heart-wood of the akyaav tree {Aquiiaria Agaliocha), is still an

article of commerce, though not so plentiful as formerly ; and sappan

wood, once the most famous product of the District, exists in the

Tenasserim township, but is not now worked. Pivenyet, the resinous

nest of the Trigona iaeviceps, or dammer bee, makes valuable caulking

for boats when mixed with earth-oil. Rubber exists in a wild state

in some parts of the District ; and the Hcvca braziliensis, introduced

by the Government from Kew Gardens in 1878, is yielding good

results in an experimental plantation near Mergui. The outside of the

stem of the Phryniiim dichotomum, called by the Burmese ////;/, is

exported in large quantities to Danubyu to be made into the mats for

which that place is famous. The vast mangrove forests are being

utilized, their bark yielding a kind of tannin which is known in

Europe as cutch, though inferior to the genuine article, the produce

of the Acacia Catechu.

The existence of tin in Mergui L)istrict came to the notice of the

Government of India soon after the annexation of Tenasserim.

. Favourable reports were made in 1841-3 by Colonel

Tremenheere, and in 1855 by Dr. Oldham, but

without practical results. In 1873 the mining rights in the Maliwun

township were leased to a Rangoon llrm, who introduced European


macliiii'jry, but retired in 1877 after incurring heavy loss. This is
explained partly by the want of good expert advice and partly by the
employment of Indian coolies, who were unable to stand the hard
work and exposure. Various officers have since then been deputed
to examine and report on the mines. The backward condition of
Maliwun, so far as Chinese immigration is concerned, is perhaps due
to the unsuitability of our laws, which the Government is reluctant to
suspend in so comparatively small an area for the sake of an industry
which has as yet attained no great importance. In 1895 the Jelebu
Mining Company started operations, but used only Chinese methods
for the extraction of the tin, and retired in 1898. In 1901 a concession
of 4 square miles was granted, but cancelled in 1903, as the con-
cessionaires had not found sufficient capital to work the lode.

Tin ore may be found : (i) in the original lode ; (2) in the masses
of decomposed rock on the sides of hills ; (3) deposited beneath
a layer of silt on low-lying lands, to which it has been carried by the
action of water ; and (4) in the beds of streams. Of these four classes,
the first can be worked only with the aid of explosives and expensive
machinery, which are now being introduced by a European firm. The
second class may be worked on a large scale, by sluicing away the side
of a hill with water forced through pipes. The Chinese are described
as picking out the eyes of the hills with picks and crowbars, thus
obtaining a rich out-turn with comparatively little labour, but spoiling
the ground for those who come after them. Their usual method,
however, is lampan working, in which a small stream is diverted to the
piece of land to be worked, and the overburden or overlying earth is
removed by the force of the water assisted by cross channels cut in
the shape of a gridiron. In the third class the overburden has to be
removed by manual labour before the ore can be extracted. . Here
again the ground is apt to be spoilt by the practice of fossicking, in
which, instead of the overburden being removed continuously, pits
about 6 feet wide are dug in it and allowed to fall in after the wash
dirt, or tin-bearing mass, has been removed from the bottom. No
objection can be urged against the practice of panning, or washing in
the beds of streams, the last of the four classes. This has been com-
pared to gleaning, and is carried on chiefly by Malay and Siamese
women, who are said to earn sometimes a dollar a day in this fashion.

The ore, after being cleaned by the action of running water, is
smelted at or near the mines in clay furnaces, and exported to Penang
or Rangoon in blocks weighing about a hundredweight. The labour
is mainly Chinese, but some of the small outlying mines are worked
by Siamese. The monthly wage for unattached Chinese coolies is
Rs. 20, with board and lodging; but the large mines are worked by
labour im])orted under contract, the usual rate being 100 Straits dollars


a year, all found. The importation is done through the (Chinese
Protectorate at Penang, the coolies being bound by written contract
to work for periods extending from one to three years. The annual
out-turn of tin for some years past has been about 60 tons, paying a
royalty of rather over Rs. 3,500.

'J'he District yields about 500 tons of salt yearly, produced at Palaw
in the Palaw township. More than fifty families are employed in the
brine-boiling business. The water of a tidal creek is diverted into
fields of impervious clay, in which it is confined by means of small
ridges. The fields are of different heights, and the water remains a
day or two in each till the evaporation caused by the heat of the sun
has converted it into brine. It is then run into a tank, from which it is
eventually ladled into an iron pan, 4 feet square, placed over a furnace.
The salt is scraped from the bottom of the pan. Duty is levied at
8 annas a maund of 82 lb. The industry was first introduced in 1896.

On the Great Tenasserim river, between 12° 20'' and 12° 30' N., is
a bed of coal estimated to contain not less than a million tons. It has
been calculated that the outside cost of placing the coal at Mergui
would be Rs. 7-12 a ton. The coal is said to be superior in quality to
most Indian coals ; but no serious attempt has yet been made to work
the field, though two prospecting licences have recently been issued.

Gold exists in many places, but not, so far as is known, in paying
quantities. A practically inexhaustible supply of iron, though not of
very good quality, is reported on the island of Kalagyun, about 8 miles
west of Mergui by sea. On Maingy Island Mr. Mark Fryar in 1872
discovered the existence of a valuable lode of lead (galena) containing
II oz. of silver per ton, but most of it below the sea. An outcrop
inland, however, has recently been found, and some of the ore has
been sent to England for examination. Graphite exists on the almost
unexplored island of Kisseraing, and manganese at places on the
Great Tenasserim. The Marble Isles, between Kisseraing and Domel,
are composed of marble of a coarse quality, suitable for building.

The richness of Mergui in natural products and the sparseness of
its population account for the almost total absence of arts or manu-
factures of any kind. A notable instance of the

iraae ana | j^ ^^ manufacturing enterprise is the fact that thin.
communications. ...... \. , '

the fine reed of which the famous mats of Danubyu

are made, is largely exported to Central Burma, and comes back into

the District in the form of mats.

The trade of the District is carried on entirely by sea. Nearly all
of it passes through the port of Mercui. Other ports are Palaw and
Victoria Point, but their trade is insignificant.

The British India Steam Navigation Company runs a weekly steamer
from Rangoon, calling at the moulli of tlie Tavoy river, and n fort-


niglitly coasting steamer from Moulmein. The trade with Penang and
intervening ports to the south is very inadequately served by a single
boat of 194 tons, belonging to a Chinese firm in Penang. This
steamer is the sole means of communication with Victoria Point,
the head-quarters of the southern subdivision. xV weekly service with
Tenasserim is kept up by means of small native boats, and with Palaw
by the police boat and the Moulmein coasting steamer, which also
runs on to Bokpyin. Road communications hardly exist, mainly owing
to the abundance of waterways. Roads from Mergui to Palaw, and
from Bokpyin to the newly opened mines at Yanngwa, are in course. of
construction ; and a survey has been made from Victoria Point to the
Maliwun tin mines, which have already 4 miles of metalled road.

The District has two subdivisions, one of which, Mergui, is divided
into the townships of Mergui, Palaw, Tenasserim, and Bokpyin,
each under a township officer. The other subdivision,
called Victoria Point, consists of a single township,
Maliwun, which has no separate township officer. Below the town-
ship officers are 128 village headmen. These are taking the place of
the old circle thugyis, of whom, however, five still remain. The District
forms a portion of the Amherst Public Works division (head-quarters,
Moulmein) and of the vSouth Tenasserim Forest division (head-quarters,
Tavoy). The Deputy-Commissioner, in addition to his judicial and
revenue duties, discharges those of Collector of Customs and Port

For judicial purposes the District forms part of the Tenasserim civil
and sessions division. The Deputy-Commissioner is District Magistrate
and District Judge. The Mergui township court is presided over by
a judge, who sits for fifteen days in the month at Tavoy and for fifteen
at Mergui, but the subdivisional and the other township courts are
presided over by the executive officers. Outside Mergui there is not
much litigation and but little crime ; but assaults of a serious nature
are common, and theft is prevalent in the town, where there is a large
and turbulent population of Zairbadis. Opium smuggling on a large
scale was carried on in former years by junks from Penang, but has
been almost entirely suppressed by the excise staff appointed in 1902.
Cattle-theft is practically unknown. The Deputy-Commissioner is
Political Officer for Renong and other Siamese States ; and, owing
to the cordial co-operation of the Siamese authorities, the gangs of
border robbers who infested the Pakchan river have long since dis-

When the British annexed the District the revenue was very small,
as might be expected in a country where the original population had
been, to a great extent, exterminated within the previous sixty years.
In 1854-5, the earliest year for which there are reliable data, the land



revenue was Rs. 26,000. The f(jllo\ving talile shows, in thousands
of rupees, the growth under tlie main heads of revenue since
1 880-1 :—



1900-1. 1903-4-

Lnnd revenue .
Total revenue .




98 1 1,58 1,66

22 ' 70 90
2,77 5.28 5,16

Tlie District has not been settled. A cadastral survey of 577 s(iuare
miles was made between 1891 and 1894, but there are still about
10,000 acres of permanent cultivation not regularly surveyed. A topo-
graphical survey of 3,211 square miles, on the scale of one inch to
the mile, embracing most of the tin-mining areas, was carried out
between 1889 and 1893. Orchards in the Mergui township pay
Rs. 3 per acre ; rice land, Rs. 2 or Rs. 1-12 ; and vegetables, tobacco,
&:c., R. 1. In the thinly populated tracts the rates are less by about

The District cess fund had an income in 1903-4 of Rs. 18,700,
which is devoted to education and the maintenance of village headmen,
roads, and bungalows. Mergui Town is the only municipality.

The civil police force consists of 3 inspectors, 6 head constables,
19 sergeants, and 180 men, under the District Superintendent. Siamese
are usually employed in Bokpyin and Maliwun. There are also
100 military police, employed in guarding treasure and escort duty.
A police station has been established at every township head-quarters,
with additional posts at Palauk, Lenya, and Marang. Besides the
training depot at Mergui town, a police school has been established
at Victoria Point for Siamese constables. Mergui town has a jail, with
accommodation for 74 prisoners. The average number of inmates is
about 40. Long-term prisoners are removed to other jails to serve
out their sentences.

The standard of education is comparatively low for Burma. In
1 90 1 only 20 per cent. (33-3 males and 5-4 females) were returned as
able to read and write. In 1904 there were 7 secondary, 45 primary,
and 59 elementary (private) schools, with 3,775 pupils (including
542 girls) on their rolls. The number of pupils has risen to this
figure from 1,985 in 1891 and 2,379 in 1901. The total exi)enditure
on education in 1903-4 was Rs. 13,800, of which Provincial funds