W. Gwynne Hughes.

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witliin our frontier line in 1875, as they could no longer withstand
the frequent attacks made on them beyond the border. They



17

THE HILL TRACTS OF AH ARAN. ■■■ '

appreciated the more keenly the advantages of becoming subjects
of Government from liaving, for three or four years previously,
lived sufficiently near to the British boundary, though without it,
to enjoy the advantages accruing from proximity in the way of
trade, &c., but not security of life and property from tribes further
north. This chief, Ka Pa (since dead), was a most influential man,
and, as early as 1871, I had secured his good offices as a friend
by an oath of loyalty to Government which he never violated.
Previous to 1871 'there were few, if any, of the many cruel raids
committed on our tributary tribes of the Kooladan in which he or
his tribe were not actively mixed up, and now his people, number-
ing above seventy houses, have removed to our territory, and
become peaceful subjects, exporting in large quantities some of the
best cotton grown on the hills. There is no striking difference
between the Koons and the Kamees ; but they bury and do not burn
their dead, and are somewhat finer in physique. There is also but
little difference in the language of both tribes.

Of the six divisions of hill races above described, none present
any striking contrast either in their domestic lives or in the man-
ner in whicb, under a wild and primitive form, they abide by and
recognize certain common principles which regulate their social
usages connected with birth, marriage, death, divorce, inheritance,
and debt. Without the faintest notion of a Supreme Being, these
races enjoy a happy, primitive rehgion, which sees in the moun-
tain streams, trees^ and woods mysterious spirits, whose mission
is to watch over them for good or evil. Superstitious and igno-
rant to a degree, the hill men look to these spirits (almost as
numerous as the natural forces they represent) for the relief of
their bodily ailments, for protection from contagious diseases, and
even from death itself, and make suitable offerings to them accord-
ing to their status ; while, before embarking on any undertaking
associated with the routine of their daily life, whether it be, for
instance, the commencement of a journey, or the selection of the
site for a new village, they must always be consulted ; they have
neither priests nor caste distinctions, nor is polygamy common,
though a few chiefs practise it. Divorce is common and easily
obtained, marriage being regarded simply as a civil rite. It is
indeed often very difficult to fathom or account for the motives which
actuate their conduct even in trivial daily matters, as, Uke most
wild races, their behaviour and hfe are marked by a child -like
suspiciousness, which acts as a barrier to our ever becoming
thoroughly familiar with them, a difficulty which is increased by the
poverty of their language and its want of power to express abstract
ideas. Again, the circumstance of their brain being seldom called

3



18



THK HII,1. TKACTS OK ARAKAX.



upon to work has rfiidored it so dormant and narrow, and theii
conception is so limited, that it is impossible to make an ordinary
hill man grasp any other suhject than the one he is immediately
occupied with or interested in. For instance, if engaged at tli(
moment in an ordinary avocation, such as cleaning a plate o:
folding up a cloth, he finds it quite beyond him to follow 3'ou if yoi
speak to him of anything which is to take place a few hours after
They possess but a limited nomenclature for the most mundaui
reqiiirements or for the expression of their feelings, while term
indicative of another or higher sphere of existence are quite wantino
I have often thought how conservative must have been their habit
to maintain to the extent they do their idiosyncracies of race am
primitive life. At no period do their women or men appear t
have married with natives of the plains, or to have imbibed thei
religion or race prejudices ; and, as a partial consequence, w"e stil
find the tribes of Arakan without priests and gods and with n
mythology.

There are, however, two customs which in every detail cha
racterise in the same manner all the hill tribes of Arakan. Thes
are —

(1) the method of cultivation by them ;

(2) the practice of slavery.

As to method of cultivation, it is the same wasteful system a
that pursued by all wild tribes throughout India ; and it woul
appear to be adopted partly through ignorance, and partly o
account of the difficult and mountainous nature of the countr}
which renders any other far from easy. The hill man's implemer
is a da or big knife. A piece of rich virgin soil is selected by hii
on which there is a good growth of timber or bamboo jungle, th
latter being preferred, as where the bamboo grows luxuriantly th
soil is said to be the best. Except perhaps the larger trees, wdiic
are girdled, the jungle is all cut down by about January, an
allowed to dry under the hot rays of the sun during February, Marcl
and part of April ; it is then set fire to, and on the rich surfac
thus formed are sown, or rather scattered, paddy, a few pumpkii:
and other vegetables, and cotton seed. If the rains are favourah
and set in early all the seed sown germinates, and by the end (
November this miscellaneous crop will have been gathered, tb
paddy or rice being reaped in September and the cotton later oi
Each man will, with a good harvest, ])robably have enough padd
saved for himself and family for the year's consumption if wi]
animals, birds, and rats have treated his joom or da kindlv
but this is not always the case. In 1874-75 the rats made sue
inroads on the crops of the Karen tribes of the Toungoo hill trad



THE HILL TRACTS OF ARAKAN.



19



as to result in a scarcity which was the cause of much anxiety
and outlay of Government money on rehef works, &c., for the
tribes were unable to meet the distress.

Of late years the hill tribes have suffered to some extent from
scarcity of grain, which is attributable to two causes : —

(1) The area of their jooming operations as population

increases becomes limited, unless they proceed far into
the interior.

(2) Finding tobacco cultivation an easy and lucrative source

of livelihood, they neglect jooming, which involves far
more labour and trouble, and with the proceeds of their
tobacco crop purchase grain from the plains.
The increase of tobacco cultivation at the expense of joom-
ing is not to be regretted on the whole, for jooming is undoubt-
edly a wasteful method of cultivation ; and it is very desirable that,
in the interests of the tribes themselves, the practice should be dis-
couraged. Among the wilder and more remote tribes, when scar-
city exists, rice well soaked in water is eaten ; and resort is also
freely had to many of the roots and jungle edibles which a
bountiful Providence has placed within easy access, so that
famine need never cause Government great anxiety with refer-
ence to the hill tribes. Great scarcity, and even distress, may
occur, as among the Karens in Toungoo, but need never,
with ordinary precaution, assume the dimensions of a famine.
The toungyas, or, as they are termed in India, " jooms," and da
clearings are abandoned after the first year, and being soon covered
with a thick undergrowth of jungle are not again employed for
cultivation until five or even eight years have elapsed. Tobacco-
planting is practised in the lowlands and on the rich aUuvial
deposits formed along the banks of the larger rivers and streams
after the subsidence of the heavy rains in October. In Novem-
ber, the seed, which is mostly of American origin, is sown
broadcast on the alluvial deposits, and when the plants are about
two feet high, the lower leaves are broken off to throw vigour and
substance into the plant. About April, the remaining leaves are
plucked and strung through the stalk on thin bamboo skewers —
about thirty to a skewer — and after being hung up in a shed or house
to dry and arranged in bundles are ready for sale. Owing to
ignorance of a proper system of fermentation and curing the
tobacco is coarse and only commands a local sale ; but further on
allusion will be made to the steps taken of late years both to
extend the cultivation, and also by proper curing to render the
leaf a valuable product. The local demand for the tobacco in
the plains is already great, and, from an ap[)roximale return



20 THE HILL TRACTS OF ARAKAN,

furnished, it appears that about 4,000 iiiauuds (a maund is SOftis.
avoirdupois) were exported in 1876 from the hills. The Chins
are the only division of the hill tribes who do not follow this culti-
vation as a Uvelihood ; their extremely wild, shy, and retiring
habits have the effect of rendering them isolated and shut out from
civilization and tlie busy ways of men far more than the other
tribes. The hill tribes doubtless, in the tirst instance, acquired
the knowledge of the culture of the plant from the Choungthas
and immigrants from the plains, for we have old documents which
go to show that more than a century back tobacco was grown in
these hills, and so prized that it formed part of the tribute which
was paid to the old Arakanese kings by their Choungtha subjects.

Slavery in a mild, and also in its worst, form is common among
all the tribes, though nnder our rule in the hills it has been
reduced almost to a minimum within the administrative frontier.
Slaves in these hills, as past records show, arrange themselves in
three groups —

"War captives, or those taken in raids;
Debtor-slaves ;

Slaves who have become so voluntarily, or who have been
made over as slaves by their relatives in default of pay-
ment of gambling debts.

As regards war captives, in several instances they have been
sold by the more remote trans-frontier Sliandoo tribes to other
trans-frontier tribes, and again by them to tribes within our
frontier. It has generally been found impossible to ameliorate the
condition of these captives, and they have consequently been left in
stalu quo. For instance, there are some who, carried otf in raids
at a tender age and oblivious of or having survived their relatives,
have become part and parcel of the family household. Often
indeed, on being questioned, they do not know who their parents
were, and in such cases interference would be cruel as it would be
impolitic. Captives carried off in raids are not invariably sold into
hopeless captivity, for in many instances the relations of the captive,
after nnicli discussion of the terms carried on through the agency
of a neutral clan, manage to effect the release of the captive,
thouorh some years may have intervened since the commission of
the raid. Tlie ransom demanded is proportional to the position in
life of the captive and his family : thus, in the case of a member
of a small clan enjoying no influence or prestige, eighty to two
hundred rupees would be demanded ; while in the instance of a
child of a ])owerful and well-known chief, or for an influential
chief himself, six hundred to one thousand rupees, or the equiva
lent, would be exacted before the restoration of the captive could



91

THE HILL TRACTS OP ABAKAN. ^■^

be effected. Chief Lahawk, whose vihage was attacked by Looshais
ill 1869, as previously noted, did not effect the ransom of his son,
who was carried off on the occasion, until as late as 1875. A ran-
som of nearly seven hundred rupees was paid for the boy, though
he was only about 13 years of age. Muskets, spears, cattle, and
copper bowls and gongs, the possessions chiefly valued by the
trans-frontier tribes, are usuahy demanded as ransom. From my
experience in late years I find that it has been generally on behalf
of captives of the second and third classes above mentioned that
the intervention of Government has been desired. The exten-
sion of the Gambling Act to these hills (a measure I had strongly
advocated) has exercised a most beneficial effect in checking cases
of this kind, for the hill man entertains a strong sense of honour
regarding debt generally, but especially debt incurred in gambling,
to satisfy which, rather than be held up to public opprobrium, he
will readily mortgage himself or one of his family for a term of
years : this custom, analogous to the provision of the Mosaic law,
has been in vogue among the hill tribes for generations past, and
it will be the work of time before the provisions of the Civil Proce-
dure Code in relation to judgment-debtors will be viewed as a
substitute for their time-hallowed practice in this respect.

In the matter of reUgion, there is little difference between any
of the tribes ; their creed, as has been before remarked, is of the
most primitive kind, and is chiefly limited to the worship of the
numerous siurits which are supposed to reside in the mountains,
streams, and trees, and whose protection is invoked, or malignity
appeased, by blood-offerings of fowls, goats, and pigs. Y/liether
the good offices of the spirit are invited in aid of a war party start-
ing on a foray, or to bring a bumper crop to the hill man preparing
to cut his joom, an offering is in each case made after omen has
been sought by an incantation and ceremony held over an egg or
fowl.

In 1873, when requiring the attendance at Akyab of a
witness in an important trial of a captured outlaw who had joined
in the murder and raid of the British subjects in 1870, I had
practical experience of the influence of omens over the peculiarly
constituted mind of a hill man. Akyab being in the plains, and
about 140 miles from the witness's mountain home, he considered
attendance there almost in the hght of punishment, and the omen
of the egg, which he consulted, proving adverse to his journey,
he absented himself and braved all the penalties of the^law. It
need hardly be stated that, under the circumstances, he was let off
with merely a mild rebuke, which however was but dimly appreci-
ated by him. None of the numerous spirits which are objects
of worship to the tribes are, however, symbolized by idols.



22



THE HILL TRACTS OF AKAKAN.



notwitli stall diiipr their proximity to a nation which for centuries has
seenvthe embodiment of all that is good represented by images of the
sacred Gaudama. It is worthy here of remark, as characteristic of
the Buddhist faith, that it has never sought to pros^'iijiize Uke other
religions in the workl, and is as tolerant of the doctrines of others
as it is unselfish and charitable in practice itself ; and hence we
find the hill tribes of Burma influenced in no respect by the religion
of the great majority of the province.

The generally' accepted dictum that every race on earth,
however wild and uncivilized be its condition, has an innate con-
ception of an All-powerful Being is certainly not correct as regards
the hill tribes. Words even are wanting in their language to convey
the idea of an almighty or other supreme controhing spirit or of
a heaven or hell ; they hold but a vague idea of a future state,
and are quite contented when they ' shuffle off this mortal coil' to
have placed near their bones, after the body has been burnt, every
month for the space of a year, sufficient rice to satisfy the appetite
of the departed. Should the deceased have been a mighty Nimrod,
his clan deposit along with his bones* his favourite spear or gun
to enable him to hold his own against wild animals and to provide
himself with food ; they have a vague belief that the defunct has
on the expiration of the year been able to settle down in some
other world to those pursuits to which in his lifetime he was
addicted. Cremation is, as a rule, practised by all the tribes, except
the IShandoos and Koons ; but there is one exception to this, and
that is in the case of those who have been killed by wild beasts or
alligators ; in such instances there is seldom any ceremony of
cremation held over the body, the bones are not collected and
dei)osited in a separate hut, nor are steps taken for providing the
manes of the deceased with the customary commissariat supply.
The explanation of this custom given by the people is that hill
lore abounds in legends and stories, tending to prove that when
for those who have departed this life by other than natural causes
obsequies are performed similar to those which are bestowed on
those who receive their quietus in the ordinary course of nature, the
members of the same family have again fallen victims to an
alligator's hug or a tiger's embrace. In the case of the death
of a chief the corpse is kept for several days, the length of time
varying according to his status. I have known the body of an
unusually influential chief kept as long as twelve days, during which
period a kind of «Y/Ac is kept u]) night and day and a quantity of
kouwj, which is not so intoxicating as its equivalent whiskey, is
consumed.

•■ For Kiinilar obsequieK and cnstoixiB in byfjone ages in Europe and elsewhere see
Chapter XI, Vuhime I, of Tyler's L'rhn'itivc Culture.



THK 1111,1; TllACTS OF AKAKAN.



'23



The burial-places of many of the clans, and especially of the
Chins, are worthy of attention; they resemble miniature Stone-
henges, and consist of a slab of stone lying across four or six hewn
pillars. Under this slab, deep in the earth, is placed an urn con-
taining the bones of the deceased after cremation has been per-
formed. Round about are the skulls of animals sacrificed at the
funeral rites.

The average specimen of the hill men of Arakan is, in physi-
que, strong, robust, and hardy, a result which is to a great extent
due, I should think, to constant indulgence in animal food at
feasts, &c. In character they are honest in their dealings, and,
as a rule, truthful on most points, except those bearing on raids,
captives, or slaves. As they come into closer proximity to, and
contact with, the natives of the plains, they become more tricky
and cunning, but in their own primeval state they can compare
favourably with most races of mankind. Improvident to a degree,
they never look to the future, but, enjoying the present, almost
invariably spend their money as soon as they get it in feasting and
drinking; their wants being few and extremely simple, money,
beyond a certain sum, possesses but little attraction for them, and
the fertility of the soil and the peace and tranquillity which they
enjoy under our rule tend to make them lazy, good-natured, and
apathetic. Another marked trait in the character of the tribes
generally is the love they have for their country, a love so strong
that I have known villages to remain in their original sites until
literally decimated by raids before the inhabitants have been forced
to retreat lower down. The common and favourite reply of old
chiefs when asked why they do not remove to within our frontier
rather than incur the insecurity to life and property which they
experience beyond that limit is " do pyay, ho miiaij, ma pijit hnaing,"
which, interpreted, means " we cannot forsake our own ground
and country." Even in isolated cases, where Kamees and Shan-
doos have followed officers to Burma, and enjoyed all the advan-
tages of civilization, they have almost invariably returned to their
mountain homes and wild life in the hihs, which have far stronger
fascinations for them.

The pursuit of cotton and tobacco cultivation allows a hill
man of industrious habits to realize, on an average, a yearly income
of about £4 to £5 by the sale of his cotton and from £6 to i^'lO
by tobacco, while the earnings of a family would be considerably
greater. About twelve years back tlie respective prices for these
two products ranged for tobacco from 8,s. to 10s. a maund and
cotton from 2.s. to 45. The ruling price for the last three years
has been £1 6s. to ^1 lO.s. for the former and 6.s. to 8s. for the



24



THE HILL Tl'.ACTR OF ARAKAN.



latter, while the out-turn of both, and especially of tobacco, has
of late years increased to a degree which has surpassed the
expectation of those who have watched the yearly progress of each
on the spot. A great portion of the surplus cash, which with a
rich prolific soil is acquired, as shown, with but little trouble by
cultivation, is generally soon squandered in feasting and drinking.
It is the great ambition of the chiefs of clans or villages to possess
the reputation of having killed a large number of cattle at one
feast ; and hence during the year there is a considerable amount
of money expended in the purchase of cattle for such convivialities.
I have heard of as many as ninety head being killed at one feast,
the animals being tied up and speared to death, and the slaughter
followed by days spent in eating and drinking. Such jovialities
are not confined to any time or circumstance, neither are they held
as a rule with the object of commemorating any occurrence, but
would appear to be simply the outcome of a mind determined to
enjoy itself while health and money are left : these festivities are
accompanied by the music of drums and wind instruments of various
sorts, to the time of which men and women, forming a circle, dance
or rather shufile along with a side step. The music is remarkable
more for its monotony than for anything else, and certainly, as far
as I have been able to judge from experience among many different
tribes, possesses no charms "to soothe the savage breast:" on
these occasions, from the combined effect of drink and excitement,
the assembly becomes somewhat uproarious towards the end ; how-
ever, the proceedings rarely terminate in a fight. The improvident
nature of the hill men seldom suggests to them the necessity of
saving money against a rainy day, and their wants being extremely
limited, while the taxation or tribute imposed by Government is
merely nominal, a considerable amount of money is at their disposal
for indulging in such harmless festivities. The incidence of taxation
upon all tribes within our administrative boundary is only 45. a
house, irrespective of the number of the family in it : this system
of taxation commends itself to the hill tribes for its simplicity and
the ease with which it is collected. It has superseded within the
last two years one whicli was somewhat abused by Choungtha
officials, and which was in many cases quite unintelligible to the
hill man, who in the absence of a written language could not check
the proceedings of the tax-gatherer or understand the principles of
the system of taxation : this is now rendered clear to him, inas-
much as each house in a village knows that all it has to pay is 4s.,
or lis. 2 a year ; and as every one can count the number of
houses, there is little cause for anxiety lest hungry tax-collectors
should abuse their power. The principle adopted by Government



THE HILL TRACTS OF ARAKAN.



25



of enlisting on the side of order the more influential chiefs of the
country has had so far a good effect in tending to make our rule
popular, and in causing all taxes to be willingly and cheerfully
paid.

The hill women are decidedly plain, far more so than the men,
and as they work harder, and do more of the manual labour in the
jooms, they become coarse and uninteresting, with painfully ugly
high shoulders. The practice of carrying uphill on their backs
heavy baskets of paddy, cotton, or firewood fastened round their
forehead merely by a string has conduced towards making them
mostly knock-kneed, and causing them to waddle with an ungainly
gait. During marriage the women are usually faithful to their
husbands, and I have only in one solitary instance known an
injured husband ask for a divorce on account of the amours and
inconstancy of his wife. Divorces are common and easily obtained,
which probably accounts for the fidelity of the women while the
connection lasts. The principal causes which are urged for separa-
tion are much the same as those which influence highly civilized
communities, namely, the desh-e of change, incompatibility of tem-
per, and jealousy. The return of the dowry,* which generally is
from £4 to £5, by the husband to the wife, is aU that is necessary
to obtain a divorce. Among almost all the tribes, including the
Chins, it is the custom for the widow to become the wife of her
late husband's brothers; and I notice in Burnaby's Ride to Khiva
a reference to a similar usage to this day in force among the
Tartar tribes, of whose numerous family these hill tribes are
doubtless but an off-shoot. As regards the administration of jus-
tice, it is still left as much as possible to the people themselves.
Cases which involve the usages and habits of the tribes are, as long


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Online LibraryW. Gwynne HughesThe hill tracts of Arakan → online text (page 3 of 7)