W. Gwynne Hughes.

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Maior W. GAVYNNE HUGHES, F.R.n.s.,

Deputy Comin'se.on. r, British. Burma, and late
SiiperiiiteiKLiM^';. Hill Tracts, A"-»kan.


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Major W. GWYNNE HUGHES, f.r.g.s.,

Depiitj- Commissioner, British Burma, and late
Superintendent, Hill Tracts, Ai'akan.

" If we deem ourselves a uoble race, we should act as the gardener does, who grafts upon the wild pear
" tree a twig from a nobler stem, and so gives it the durability and higher qualities which he is
" anxious to propagate. It would be a disgrace to our boasted civilization to allow him, the abori-
" gine, to be oppressed by strangers who have no interest in the country ; no regard or attachment
" towards it, beyond its money value."

Travels in New Zealand, by Earnest Dieffenbach, 1843.

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SiE ARTHUR PURVIS PHAYRE, c.b., g.c.m.g., k.c.s.i.,

the able administrator who served in British Borma for over a quarter of century, and for

five years as the Chief Commissioner of the province, in the development and

■welfare of which he proved himself one of her best friends,


is with feelings of gratitude and respect dedicated.



The condition of wild tribes and the country inhabited by
them has of necessity from time to time attracted the attention,
not only of Government, but also of the general i)ublic. Although
it may be open to question whether our rule and civilization in India
have been duly appreciated by dwellers on the plains and inhabit-
ants of cities, there cannot exist a doubt that England's policy
generally towards the hill tribes living on her north-east frontier
from Assam to Arakan has been beneficent and successful. In
tracts where butchery, slavery, misrule, and disorder reigned
supreme, raiding, with its attendant traffic in captives, has been
stamped out, and order and good government have been inaugu-
rated. The resources of the several hill tracts have been developed,
and hill men have been taught that trade and agricultural industry
are as attractive and as profitable as the barter of captives and
slaves. Thus, following in the wake of the Cossyah, Jynteah,
Naga, and other aboriginal tribes along our eastern border, the
Arakan hill races are gradually being brought to order ; internal
raids and crime are repressed, and external raids reduced in mag-
nitude. For so satisfactory a state of affairs it would be unsafe to
predict permanence, for on our north and north-east frontier are
many powerful and marauding tribes from time immemorial inde-
pendent of the British power, who have ceased to harass our fron-
tier only within the last few years, since the close of the Lushai
campaign. The habitat of these tribes, noted on the map as a
blank, undefined and unsurveyed, abuts on Upper Burma, and
is populated by the powerful tribe of Shandoos or Pools.

It is, however, the tract of country known as the Arakan hills,
lying between longitude 92° 35' and 93'' 30' East and latitude


20° 30' and 22° 10' North, and its tribes, which I shall attempt to
describe. Little information has hitherto been placed before the
pubhc regarding this interesting conntry or the tribes inhabiting
or bordering on it. It is one of those few portions of the Indian
Empire whose superstitions have not yet yielded to education or to
the missionary, notwithstanding the steady march of civilization
in other parts. It still offers a virgin soil to the philanthropist for
the social elevation of wild races, such as has already been attained
in the case of the Cossyah, Garo, and other frontier tribes, and
notably the Karens of Burma.

These facts are in themselves sufficient grounds for my
bringing to public notice these tribes, their country, and the pro-
gress that has been made towards introducing rule and order
amongst them. But a few years ago this part of the eastern fron-
tier was notorious for its turbulence and disorder. The interest
shown by friends in England has also had its weight in inducing
me to give an account of the country. Should this book prove
useful to officers engaged in frontier administration, and assist
them in maintaining a firm, just, and patriarchal rule over an
interesting section of their fellowmen, I shall consider myself more
than requited. The appendices contain short vocabularies of the
Kamee, Shandoo, and Chin languages, which may be of service
to the philologist, as also to the officer studying the dialects of
these parts. With these and the codes (civil and criminal) of
the Chin and Kamee tribes, I trust that there are sufficient mate-
rials to enable future officers to form a correct estimate of the
races committed to their care.

W. G. Hughes.


Chapter. . Page.

I. Introductory ... ... ... ... ... 1

II. Historical ... ... ... ... ... ... 7

III. Ethnological ... ... ... ... ... 10

IV. General ... ... ... ... ... ... 34

V. Trans-Fronterial ... ... ... ... ... 42

VI. Conclusion ... ... ... ... ... ... 49

Appendix ... ... ... ... ... ... i — x.

Frontispiece.— Kyouk Tan Doung. | Eastern Frontier of British India,


CHAPTER I. ■ ' ■

Introductory. ' ' " '^ '•■-

The first part of the journey from Akyab, up the Kooladan
river to the northern parts of Arakan, hes through a flat and
uninteresting country, of which depressingly level plains and fields
of rice form the principal features. Higher up the river, however,
this monotony is relieved by a complete change ; a fine wooded
country opens out, with ranges of hills rising from the banks, while
the stream itself, now pursuing its winding course over pebbly
banks and through hiUs, becomes more and more rapid, and
reminds one in places of a fine Scotch or Welsh salmon river. Here
and there are to be seen small villages, guarded against the attacks
of raiders by clievaux-de-frise set in the fords, or, as on the Mee river,
which is a tributary of the Kooladan, trusting for protection to a
musket-proof planked hut built in the fork of an ancient tree. The
hut is connected with the village by a bamboo ladder, and on the
approach, or rumour of the approach, of a raiding party, men,
women, and children take refuge in it. Against the coarsely-manu-
factured powder of the Looshai and Shandoo raider such planked
towers of refuge offer a fair resistance. Amidst such scenery,
one is introduced to the Hill tracts of Arakan ; they may be said
to commence about 100 miles from Akyab, and terminate on the
northern confines of our Indian Empire in a country inhabited by
independent wild tribes and described in maps as " undefined" and
" unsurveyed."

The Hill tracts of Arakan are separated from Cachar on the
north by the territories of independent tribes, chiefly Looshais and
Shaudoos ,• on the east, between Arakan and Upper Burma, lies
the country of the Shandoos and Chins ; on the south the Akyab
district; and on the west Chittagong and Hill tracts. But
although these are the geographical boundaries, the power of the
British Government beyond certain points has always been little
more than nominal, the wild tribes paying tribute either to Upper
Burma or to the more powerful neighbouring chiefs, much in the
same manner as, not so many centuries ago, blackmail was paid
among the Higliland clans. The Government of India accordingly
determined to lay down an inner or administrative boundary, within
which internal crime could be effectively repressed, and protection


afforded against external violence in the shape of raids and
depredations on British territory by trans-frontier tribes. Within
these limits, control, order, and administrative measures were to
be introduced, and at the same time friendly relations with the
independent 'bordfti' races were to be gradually established.

After long .and cy.reful consideration by the supreme and local
Gover,nrjients,.ibW'ai^ decided in 1866 that the Chief Commissioner
of British Burma should assume the direct administration of the
hill country. Colonel Phayre,* whose long experience of the hill
tribes of Arakan specially enabled him to deal with the question,
was at the time Chief Commissioner. He saw that in permanent
European supervision over the wild tribes lay the best chance of
success. A special officer, with the designation of " Superintendent
of Hill tribes," was therefore appointed to the exclusive charge of
the Hill tracts. The appointment was not made before it was
wanted, for at that time, to use the words of Colonel Phayre,
"the country was as little known to the British Government as
the tribes of Central Africa before the days of Burton, Speke, and
Grant." Notwithstanding these measures, however, raids on our
territory were of frequent occurrence from 1868 to 1870, and the
lives and liberty of British subjects were from time to time sacrificed
to the marauding proclivities of trans-frontier tribes : these raids
culminated in two on such a sanguinary and large scale as had for
years been unknown. In one, which was committed by some
remote Looshai tribes, the village of one of our most loyal and
influential tributary chiefs, named " Lahawk," was attacked, and
nine people were killed and forty made captives, f The other was
committed also on a tributary chief residing within the heart of the
hills named " Poonwet." The raiders, who were of the trans-
frontier tribes of Koon and Boukyay Shandoos, captured thirty of
our subjects and killed four.

Thus in two raids thirteen British subjects were killed and
seventy carried off as prisoners : these daring and cruel outrages
liad the effect of bringing before Government more prominently
than ever the question of the administration of these disturbed
tracts, and Colonel Fytche, who had succeeded Colonel Phayre as
Chief Commissioner of British Burma, was called upon by the
Earl of Mayo, then Governor-General, to submit a definite and
well-considered scheme " for the defence of this harassed frontier."
Th e scheme was, after copious correspondence, left to be inaugurated

* Now Sir Arthur Phayre, c.b., k.c.s.i.

t Of these captives, ten wore recovered from the [jooshais during the Looshai
Expedition in 1872 ; but twenty-eij,'ht still remain unrecovered, and though their where-
ahouts is known, it is considered that to press for thoir restoration may lead to compli-


by the late Chief Commissioner of British Burma, Mr. Eden,*
who from long and mature experience of hill tribes was the better
able to deal with the question. The general pohcy of the plan
which he submitted received the full approval of Government in
July 1871. Its salient features may be described as follows : —

(1) The demarcation of the administrative limits of the Hill

tracts district as distinct from the territorial limits, which
must for many reasons remain undefined.

(2) The enforcement of a stronger policy than had yet been

pursued. A necessary consequence of this was a con-
siderable increase in the pohce force and in the number
of officers. It was also decided that the Superintendent
of Hill tracts should reside permanently in the hills, so as
to be accessible to trans-frontier chiefs and emissaries
who might wish to visit him. With the border tribes,
the Superintendent was enjoined to " cultivate and
" maintain friendly relations, influencing them so far
" as he can, but not endeavouring to coerce or interfere
*' with them, or on the other hand doing anything which
" will have the effect of making us responsible for their
'* protection from other tribes."

(3) Efforts were to be made to interest in the administration

of the district, and enlist on the side of rule and order,
the more influential chiefs of the hill population.
The appointment of Superintendent of Hill tracts had been
previously sanctioned, and, in March 1870, Mr. E. F. St. John, of
the British Burma Commission and late of the 60th Rifles, was
appointed to the post. He held the office until June 1871, when
he was reheved by the writer, who, with the exception of two years
during which he was absent on furlough in England, in 1875 and
1876, \eld it till March 1880.

The physical features of the Hill tracts are characterized by
ranges of hills, covered with dense bamboo and tree jungle, and
drained by two large rivers, the Kooladan and Lemroo, on the
banks of which the majority of the hill tribes reside. It is worthy
of observation that, as will be seen by reference to the map, both
the ranges of hills and the rivers run nearly directly north and
south. Looking down on a fine clear day from the highest range,
which at its summit is over 4,500 feet, the lower ranges appear
to be a chaotic mass of hills tossed about here and there as if by
volcanic action. The area of the Hill district within our territorial
boundaries is calculated to be over 5,000 square miles, although

* Now Sii- Ashley Eden, Lieutenant-Governor of BengaU


the portion under our direct and administrative control has for the
present been restricted to about 1,300 square miles. The Kooladan
and Lemroo are fine rivers, falling into the Bay of Bengal at Akyab ;
the exact position of their sources is not clearly known, as they rise
in a portion of the Hill tracts as yet unsurveyed. The Kooladan
has been explored by Europeans to nearly 300 miles from its mouth,
and the Lemroo to about 120 miles from its source : both of these
rivers are navigable by large boats and small steamers to the centre
of the hills, after which, owing to rapids and rocks, navigation
becomes difficult and dangerous. Of the more remarkable ranges
of mountains is one called the " Kyouk-pandoung," with a fine
plateau of several miles on the top composed of sandstone and trap
formation. Piunning almost due east and west, this plateau extends
over 13 miles, and averages in height from 3,000 to 4,500 feet.
Historical interest also attaches to this mountain, tradition describ-
ing it as having been, many centuries back, the site of a large city
and the seat of government under a prince called the " Kan Eaja."
The tradition that it was at one period inhabited is corroborated by
the fact that old fruit and palm trees are still growing there, and
by the existence of relics of the past in the shape of small pagodas
which have been discovered on the top. A large portion of the
surface is entirely denuded of all vegetation, and several acres are
covered with bare rock, indented here and there with remarkable
" pot-holes" or ** giants'-kettles." These pot-holes are of all
sizes, ranging from four inches to three and four feet in diameter.
As is generally the case with Burmese or Arakanese manuscripts
which purport to relate the history of remote ages, fact is freely
interlarded with myth and fiction. The legend refers to a period
prior to the appearance of Gaudama ; but it is quite clear that since
then, and (judging from the freshness of the inscription on a stone
found on the top and from the well preserved state of a small
pagoda discovered there in 1872) at no very remote date, this
mountain has been peopled. Many miles to the east, on the Yoma-
toung which separates Arakan and Pegu, is another prominent
mountain summit called to this day *' Pogouiig-toung." It is
referred to in this story as having been a halting-place for Prince
Kan Yaza Gyee on his way from the Irrawaddy to the Kooladan,
or, as it is known in the Pali language, Guttshapa-nuddee river,
prior to his forming the settlement of Kyouk-pandoung. Prettily
wooded with cinnamon and other valuable trees and a dwarf species
of oak, with a sheer precipice on one side of over 1,000 feet, this
mountain stands out grandly in the distance, and forms a ]-»ro-
niinent landmark. The temperature on the top is remarkal)ly
equable ; a soft sea breeze usually blows throughout the hot


months, and the thermometer has not been known to rise above 85°
in April and May, which are the hottest months of the year, and
when often in the i)lains it is over 103°. Hill stations have to the
great benefit of the Anglo-Indian community been established in,
or are easily accessible from, every province throughout our Indian
Empire, British Burma alone excepted. If energy and public spirit
were devoted to the project, this range might supply the want at
Uttle cost. The practicability of the scheme will be recognized
when it is noted that to within 22 miles of the range a small
steamer or large-sized steam-launch, drawing from three to five
feet, could come up from Akyab throughout the year, while the
construction of a fair road from the point of disembarkation to the
top of the range presents no great engineering difficulties, the
ascent being gradual all the way.

The fauna and flora of the hills, though as yet comparatively
unknown, are both varied and interesting. The wild elephant,
rhinoceros, bison, bear, tiger, leopard, deer, pig, monkey, sloth,
woodcock, pheasant, partridge, jungle-fowl, imperial pigeon,
quail, green pigeon, duck, and snipe are found there. In this
varied collection the absence of the peacock is noteworthy. I have
never met with it on these hills, though it is abundant in other parts
of Burma. The monkey tribe furnishes some curious specimens,
and some months back a perfectly white one with a long tail, which
I understand is extremely rare, was given me. It was caught on the
Mee river, audit was my'^ intention to have sent it to the Zoological
Gardens, Calcutta, but "it died. The domesticated animals among
the hill tribes are the gyall, buffalo, goat, and pig ; and it is a
curious coincidence that as a white elephant is prized by the Courts
of Burma and Siam, so is a white buffalo by the hill man, whose
ambition is gratified by the possession of one of these ungainly
looking animals. I am unable to divine the charm which white
animals more than any other present to the Burmese race, unless
it be their comparative rarity. The gyall is a stately, noble animal,
and would seem to be a hybrid between a bison and common cow ;
in shape and appearance it partakes strongly of the bison
type, but the question of its breed is still an open one. It would
appear that its habitat is confined strictly to the hill ranges and
districts of the eastern border from Assam down to Arakan.
Attempts to bring up and acclimatize this animal in the plains
have, I believe, generally failed, and once banished from its home
among the mountains and streams it pines away and dies. Gyalls
are to be seen brought up by the hill men in as domestic
and quiet a state as the cow, roaming about the villages and hill-
sides, and so intensely fond of salt are they that they will follow


any one with some like a dog. It is the height of a hill chiefs
ambition to own one or two of these animals, which are given often
as a marriage portion by the affianced to the father of his bride..
Keptiles are well represented in snakes, from the small carpet
snake to the gigantic python ; but accidents from snake-bites are
extremely rare, a fact which is attributable in a great measure to
the universal custom among hill tribes of having the houses well
raised off the ground. Deaths from attacks of wild animals are
also few ; and within the last five years I have only known of six
deaths caused by tigers and two by alligators, which abound at the
foot of the hills. Like most hill races, the tribes of Arakan are
extremely keen and skilful trappers, and no sooner does a tiger or
panther carry off a village cow or pig than a bamboo or gun trap
is set for him, and he is almost certain to be taken. The timber
and flora of the hills are as numerous and varied as the animal
world. Of timber trees, there are Teak {Tectona grandis), Thingan
(Hopca odorata), Toungsakapin (Eiptaga arhorea, Kurz), Zeebin
{Ziziiphm jujiiba), Pyinma {Lagerstncmia regina), Pyingado {Xylia
dolahriformi.s), Thitseing {Terminalia belerica), Lulinkio {Cinnamomwn
iners, Kurz), Nyoungbin (Ficus laccifera), &c., &c., and on the
higher hills a dwarfed species of the oak (Quercus) : all these are
very useful and valuable, some for making the hulls of boats and
cutting into planks, and others for the oil or oil seed and gums
which they yield. In the forest flora we have various beautiful
shrubs, plants, and orchids, the latter being well represented by
Dendrohia ccelogyines, Vandas, Fleones, &c. Some of the orchids
W'hich have been sent to England have been j^ronounced valuable.
The sweet-scented Bauhinia and other plants and flowers are
much used by the young folks of the hills, who wear them in their
hair or in their ears when their " fancy lightly turns to thoughts
of love," or when they are otherwise anxious to appear smart and

Tlie climate of the hiUs, especially in the valleys and along
the river banks, is notoriously unhealthy, owing to malaria,
consequent on the vast extent of uncleared jungle which pre-
disposes the system to fever in a severe and often fatal form :
this fever attacks with great severity newcomers, especially natives
of the plains. Goorkhas or other hill races are most at home on
such service. They, we know from the experience of late years,
possess in an eminent degree the qualities necessary for desultory
mountain warfare, such as campaigning against the hill tribes of
our Eastern frontier. What tends to make the climate the more
trying and depressing is the extreme ranges the thermometer is
liable to. I have known it be at 56° to 58° in the early morning


and over 90° in the afternoon : this, together with an extremely
moist chmate during the greater part of the year, has gained for
the country anything but an enviable notoriety. One rule towards
ensuring fair health is a good and generous diet, and certainly the
reverse of the adage "plain living and high thinking" has to be

From November until the middle of March the weather is
cool and pleasant ; but April, May, and June are trying months,
and the heat is aggravated by the burning of the jooms all over
the country. In June the rains begin, having been preceded by
violent storms, with the wind blowing often from every point of the
compass ; and the south-west monsoon continues with steady rain
until October. The rainfall averages from 1'20 to 130 inches.

During the rains, communication, otherwise than by boat, is
quite impracticable throughout the hills ; and under the old regime,
to avoid the secluded and isolated hfe otherwise imposed on the
Superintendent, he was allowed to remain at Akyab until the mon-
soon was over : this concession has of late years been withdrawn,
and the Superintendent and his officers are expected to remain
throughout the year in the hiUs. The present arrangement has
this advantage, that the Superintendent is accessible at all times
to the chiefs, frontier and trans-frontier, as well as to hill men
generally ; and hence he is fully alive to all their disputes and wants,
and cognizant of all that is going on, both in politics and in their
tribal life, and he thus gains, or should gain, a personal influence
over them, which is the keynote to an efficient administration.



Old records of Arakanese lore, together with the more recent
despatches of officers employed in the administration of Arakan
when under the Bengal Government, all testify to the unruly and
turbulent character of the hill tribes. Prior to the annexation of
Arakan by our Government in 1826, we hear of the King of Arakan
deputing the hardiest and bravest of his subjects to settle high up
in the hills on the river Kooladan in order to check and control
the marauding habits of the Kwaymees or Kamees. To this day
the remnant of these immigrants exist, in dress and manners
resembling closely the Arakanese of the plains, though from the
force of habit and time they have become, in customs and life,
part and parcel of the hill tribes. These early immigrants from



the plains are now termed '' Choungthas," and Sir Arthur Phayre
thus alludes to them in the Journal of the Asiatic Society for
lg47 : — «' How they came to be separated from their countrymen

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Online LibraryW. Gwynne HughesThe hill tracts of Arakan → online text (page 1 of 7)