Table of “Rohingya” Designations
A review of designations based on "Rohang" (or other words meaning "Arakan" in Bengali) which have been used to describe certain communities of Muslims in
Arakan (Rakhine State) since 1799
parts of the Hills in this neighbourhood are inhabited by Mugs from Rossawn, Rohhawn, Roang, Reng or Rung, for by all these names is
Arakan called by the Bengalese."
Francis Buchanan in Southeast
Bengal (1798) - William van Schendel 1992
is a fact that Arakan in Bangladesh is colloquially called Rohang, Roshang, and Rowang with a little difference of accent, region wise."
A study on the issue of
ethnicity in Arakan: Abu Anin aka Kyaw Min -
may be a term that had been used by both Hindu and Muslim Bengalis living in
Rakhaing since the sixteenth century, either as resident traders in the capital
or as war captives resettled in the Kaladan River Valley... Yunus
explains that Roang/Rohang/Roshang is probably derived from the Arabic ‘Raham,’
or ‘blessings’, thus meaning ‘the land of God’s blessings’…"
and Histiography of Ethnonyms in Rakhaing”: Michael Charney - 2005
From a lingustic point of view, the
name “Rohingya” is derived from the Indianized form of Rakhine, i.e. Rakhanga.
Following Dr Thibaut d’Hubert, “the rules of historical linguistics of the
Indo-aryan languages allow to easily explain the phonological derivation ‘Rakhanga’
> ‘Rohingya’. The passage from [kh] to [h] is the rule in the passage from
Sanskrit to Prakrit, which allows us to derive Rohingya from Rakhanga: Rakhanga
> *Rahanga > (short “a” becomes “o” in bengali) *Rohangga >
(introduction of [y]# to indicate the gemination which induces an alternative
pronounciation “ –gya” and influences the vowel [a] which becomes [i]) thence
”Rohingya”. While the scientific demonstration may look a bit awkward to the
lay reader, it accounts in fact for the change of each letter and sound. In
association with the paradigm “Rakhanga>Rohingya”, one should refer as well
to the name “Roshanga”, “widely spread since the beginning of Bengali
literature in the Chittagong region, i.e. since the early 17th century till the
end of the 18th c.” In sum, the word “Rohingya” does not refer to, or mean
anything else, but “Rakhine” in the local Muslim language.
"Rohingya: The Name, the Movement, The Quest for Identity": Jacques Leider - 2014
References to contemporary documents distinguishing between quasi-indigenous Rooinga/Rwangya/Rohinga and migrants to Arakan during British Rule known as Chittagonians who later took on the Rohingya identity.
(a) - “According to the 1931 census, there
were 130,524 Muslims in the regions of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. A significant
section of these were not Arakanese Muslims, called Rohingas (see above, page 25) – but
Chittagongs who came from Bengal with the annual stream of immigrating cheap
labour brought by landowners and merchants. Many of them remained and settled
in Arakan”. Moshe Yegar "The Muslims of Burma" 1972 Page 95
(b) - "There continue to be
sporadic reports of trouble in the Muslim areas, but it is
clear that Pakistan has continued to preserve a strictly
correct attitude, and publicity has been given to
protestations of loyalty to the Union Government made to U
Aung Zan Wai on his visit in October by the 'Rwangya' Community (Arakanese as opposed to Chittagonian Muslims); it
is doubtful whether these represent the true feelings of
more than a small fraction of the North Arakan Muslims." UK Ambassador James Bowker, Despatch to the Foreign Office 22 December 1949
(c) - "In conclusion let me stress that I am not against those Arakan Muslims who have stayed
among us for generation. We will continue to regard them our kinsmen and our brethren.
However, we cannot accept those so-called Rohingyas who are trying to create discord
among our people. We will not recognize them as separate indigenous race, but if they prefer they
can remain as foreigners the Chittagonians." Seit Twe Mauung, Rohengya Affairs, Taunzang Magazine Vo 2 No 9 1960-61
(d) - "Locally
those slave Muslims are known as Royanka or Arakanese Muslims. The immigrants
of the Chittagonian race find their way into the society of local Royankya and
gradually they become absorbed within them. Eventually, they also claim to be
Royangya [sic], descendants of the Muslim slaves in Arakan.” Tha Htu, Akyab the Capital of Arakan Guardian Magazine, August 1963
It has not yet been possible to establish the first public reference to "Rohingya". This was at
one time thought to be an English-language version of the Memorandum by Abdul Gaffar in 1948 (see below) which was said to have appeared in the Guardian Daily of 20 August 1951 (Footnote 5 of an article by
Kei Nemoto). But this newspaper did not start publication until 1956 and in any case the word used
was probably "Rwangya", not "Rohingya".
The modern version of "Rohingya" in Burmese is ရိုဟင်ဂျာ and this I have found in Burmese versions of reports of the surrender of the Mujahid in 1961, though the word used by Vice Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Aung Gyi was given in the English-language press at the time as "Rohinja". The first use of "Rohingya" in English which I have found was also in 1961, in an article by Seit Twe Maung (see below). The Muslim scholar Tahir Ba Tha first started to use the word "Rohingya" in his essays and other publications only in 1963.
In most cases, these terms have a common etymological source - the Bengali word for Arakan which is "Rohang". This is not always recognised or acknowledged. In some cases, another meaning is attributed to the word used, or the Bengali word "Rohang" meaning Arakan is said to be derived originally from other historical sources.
When Dr Francis Buchanan met one or more deported Arakaner Muslims in Amarpura (near Mandalay) in 1795, they told him that they called themselves "Rooinga" which they said meant "natives of Arakan" (or Arakaners). No doubt they continued to call themselves by the same name afterwards. British records do not record the name as such, though they might well have done if records had been kept in Bengali.
Finally, it should be noted that regular Western use of the term "Rohingya" started only in late 1991 when the second mass exodus of Arakan Muslims began and Western diplomatic missions found it useful to use the term as shorthand for "Arakan-Muslims-some-of-whom- wish-to-be-known-as-Rohingya", and also because the Rohingya Solidarity Organsiation and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front were responsible for military attacks in Rakhine State which preceded the exodus. At the time of the first mass exodus in 1978, the US mainly used the term Arakan-Chittagonians and the UK the term Arakan Muslims. The term "Rohingya" does not appear at all in diplomatic cables and reports except in proper names like "Rohingya Patriotic Front".
[Note: the entries from 1811 to 1852 below are all sourced to Buchanan 1799. In most case they are purely encyclopedic references. In no case is the entry derived from or constitutes a new, independent source.]
Table of "Rohang" Designations
Attached at this link is a table of terms derived from the Bengali word
for Arakan - “Rohang” - used since 1799 to describe Arakan Muslims, also more
recently known as “Rohingya” or “Arakaners”.
Military and Political Organisations - for details see Wikipedia
(Note: these organisations have been verified independently)
Rohingya Independence Front 1964
Rohingya Independence Army 1969
Rohingya Liberation Party 1972
Rohingya Liberation Army 1972
Rohingya Patriotic Front 1973
Rohingya Solidarity Organisation 1982
Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front 1986
Arakan Rohingya National Organisation 1988
Rohingya National Army 1988
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Harakah al-Yaqin) 2013
Social, Cultural and Youth Organisations
Details provided in "The Muslims of Burma" by Moshe Yegar in 1972
Note: Moshe Yegar generally describes the quasi-indigenous inhabitants of Arakan as "Rohinga" [without the 'y'] but contrasted them with the more numerous "Chittagongs". This distinction between the "old" and "new" settlers existed very clearly among writers during the years immediately following independence in 1948. The distinction has been lost for some decades as Chittagongs/Chittagonians abandoned this designation and took the "Rohingya" label, endeavouring to emphasize their quasi-indigenous origins in order to secure citizenship as natives of Burma.
On Page 25 of his 2002 publication "Between Integration and Secession", Moshe Yegar writes: "Despite a number of Shiite traditions which they practice, Arakan Muslims are Sunnis, who call themselves Rohinga, Rohingya or Roewengya. The name is more commonly heard among the Muslims of north Arakan (the Mayu region) where more Arakan Muslims are to be found than in therAkyab region. In 1961, their total numbers were estimated at 300,000."
United Rohinga Organization 1956
Rohinga Youth Organization 1959
Rohinga Students Organization 1960
Rohinga Labour Organization 1960
Rangoon University Rohinga Students Association 1960
Details provided in an article by Aman Ullah in 2016
Note: These details are almost identical to those provided by Moshe Yegar in 1972 and we may reasonably assume that "The Muslims of Burma" was his source. The sole variation is that "Rohinga" with Moshe Yegar becomes "Rohinya" with Aman Ullah.
"The Guardian" of 3 August 1960 reported on a meeting organised by the "Ruhangya Youth League" which may well have been the same organisation as the "Rohingya Youth Organization"- see below. The article is headlined "Ruhangyas against Arakan Statehood".
United Rohingya Organization 1956
Rohingya Youth Organization 1959
Rohingya Students Organization 1960
Rohingya Labour Organization 1960
Rangoon University Rohingya Students Association 1960
The Distortion of British Colonial and Diplomatic Archives - Derek Tonkin 16 March 2021
A Note on the International Utilisation of the "Rohingya" Designation - Derek Tonkin 24 April 2020
From Aracan Mahomedans to Rohingya Muslims-Towards an archive of naming practices. Jacques Leider 2018
Compendium of Articles on the Rohingya and
Arakan - ARNO Monthly Magazine July 2009
Appendix B to Moshe Yegar "Between Integration and Secession" 2002 - Estimate of Rohingya Population
Brief Study of the Rohingyas in Arakan: U Ba Tha - The
Islamic Review April 1966
The coming of Islam to Arakan: U Ba Tha - Guardian Magazine
The early Hindus and Tibeto-Burmans in Arakan: U Ba Tha -
Guardian November 1964
Minority Peoples in the Union
of Burma: George A Theodorson - JESH Vol. 5 No 1 March 1964
A Short History of Rohingya and Kaman of Burma: U Ba Tha
Akyab, the Capital of Arakan -
U Tha Htu: The Guardian August 1963
The Mayu Frontier
Administrative Area - U Tha Htu: The Guardian February 1962
Rohengya Affairs - A critique
of U Ba Tha's articles: Seit Twe Maung - Tanzaung 1961
Rowengya Fine Arts: U Ba Tha
Arakan Muslims ask for Constitutional Safeguards - The
Nation 27 October 1960
Slave raids in Bengal: U Ba Tha - Guardian Magazine October
"Unity among ourselves": Mohamed Akram Ali -
Guardian Magazine August 1960
"Ruhangyas against Arakan
Statehood" - Guardian Daily 3 August 1960
Roewengyas in Arakan: U Ba Tha
- Guardian Magazine May 1960
Shah Shujah in Arakan:
U Ba Tha - Guardian Magazine September 1959
References and Quotations
“The British never used the term ‘Rohingya’. It was the word some
Muslims, especially in the north of Arakan, used to refer to themselves in
their own Bengali-related language. It simply means ‘of Rohang’, their name for
Arakan. It implied that Arakan was their home. In the same way, people just
across the border, speaking a mutually intelligible Bengali dialect, called
themselves Chaygaya, ‘of Chittagong’.”
Thant Myint-U: Page 27: “The History of Modern Burma” - Atlantic
Books, London 2019
Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies - Background Paper on Rakhine State 28 May 2018
This briefing paper published by MISIS is important because it records the historical presence of people of Muslim faith in Arakan (Rakhine) and identifies five main influxes, including three migrations even before the conquest of Arakan by the Burmese in 1785.
MISIS is responsible to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its papers may be held to reflect official thinking on any issues examined. It presents a coherent account of the historical origins of the Muslim presence in Arakan (Rakhine) as well as of the nature of the "Rohingya" terminology.