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


 "Various 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) - Willem van Schendel 1992


"It 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 - 2009 

“Rohingya 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’…" 

“Theories 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[s]. We will continue to regard them [as] 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 was in Amarpura (near Mandalay) in 1795, he was told by two Hindu Brahmin priests that Muslims in Arakan called themselves "Rooinga" which 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 Emergence of the ULA/AA and The Question of the Rohingya Crisis: Kyaw Lynn TNI - 26 Jan 2023

Rebel Yell: Arakan Army chief talks to Asia Times: Bertil Lintner 18 January 2022

Tun Mrat Naing attempts to erase Rohingya identity and history - Maung Zarni 9 January 2022

Interview with Arajan Army Chief Twan Mrat Naing:  Prothomalo - 2 January 2022

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

A 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 March 1965

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 December 1963

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 February 1961

Arakan Muslims ask for Constitutional Safeguards - The Nation 27 October 1960

Slave raids in Bengal: U Ba Tha - Guardian Magazine October 1960

"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.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohingyas - Major Speeches and Articles

Address in Nay Pyi Taw on “National Reconciliation and Peace” - 19 September 2017

Address at ISEAS in Singapore on “Democratic Transition” - 21 August 2018

Presentation in The Hague to the International Court of Justice -  11 December 2019

Give Myanmar time to deliver justice on War Crimes: Financial Times - 23 January 2020

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingyas and Muslims - Commentaries and Press Reports


Suu Kyi discusses Burmese perceptions of Indians, Chinese, Japanese and British - 13 November 1979

Suu Kyi condemns rape in conflicts - VOA News 23 May 2011

Murder of Ko Ni, Suu Kyi’s adviser: The Guardian - 30 January 2013

Peter Popham on Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi and Tariq Hyder in Oxford 1966: Myanmar Express - 29 April 2013

BBC: Suu Kyi interviewed by Mishal Husain - 24 October 2013

Has the Lady lost her voice (on the Rohingya)? Time Hume CNN - 31 May 2014


The Muslim "Rohingya" and Myanmar's upcoming elections: Dr Anthony Ware - AIIA  25 September 2015

"Nobody told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim" - Daily Mail 25 March 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi has turned into an apologist for genocide:  Mehhdi Hasan The Intercept - 4 April 2017

Suu Kyi says "fake news helping terrorists - huge iceberg of misinformation": BBC - 6 September 2017

ASSK - Myanmar does not fear scrutiny over the Rohingya Crisis: The Guardian - 19 September 2017

Why did Suu Kyi not name Rohingya in her State address? ANI - 20 September 2017

Rohingya Crisis: Suu Kyi speech criticised by global leaders: BBC - 20 September 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi on Politics and Crises - in Quotes: The Irrawaddy - 27 September 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi visits Rakhine State - AFP (Youtube) - 2 November 2017

Suu Kyi "avoided" discussion on Rohingya rape - The Guardian 27 December 2017

How Aung San Suu Kyi sees the Rohingya Crisis: BBC - 25 January 2018

House of Commons: International Development Committee - Report on Burma 15 May 2018

House of Commons: Government Response to IDC Report on Burma 24 July 2018

Final Report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission: Paragraphs 1548-1550 on Suu Kyi's culpability - 17 September 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi's Fall from Grace: Hannah Ellis-Petersen 'The Guardian' - 21 November 2018

It's time to indict Suu Kyi for genocide against the Rohingya: Mehdi Hasan - The Intercept 24 August 2019

Petition to Argentinian Courts: Page 41 - request for Suu Kyi "to be investigated for genocide" - 4 November 2019

Is Aung San Suu Kyi an Islamophobe? Haikal Mansor: Rohingya Today - 9 June 2019

2021 +

A Critical Assessment of the Exhibition "Burma's Path to Genocide" at the US Holocaust Museum - July 2022

Linked-In Entry for Tariq Osman Hyder - February 2023

"The Voice of Hope" - Aung San Suu Kyi: Alan Clements and Fergus Harlow - World Dhama Publications 2023

Dr Win Myat Aye, NUG and NLD Minister, apologises to Rohingya: VoA News - 17 August 2023

Revocation of the Freedom of the City award by Brighton and Hove City Council to Suu Kyi - 28 October 2023

Moving towards Understanding and Reconciliation in Rakhine State: Christopher Win - The Diplomat 18 April 2024

The History of Cox's Bazaar is the History of the Rohingya: Op-Ed by Md Mostafa Araf - 6 May 2024

Contributions by Jacques Leider of the Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient

(i). Torkel Opsahl Academic E-Publisher "Policy Briefs"

1. 'Recent Steps in Rakhine State's March' PBS No. 144 (2023)

2. 'The Arakan Army, Rakhine State, and the Promise of Arakan’s IndependencePBS No. 128 (2022)

3. 'Rohingya: The Foundational YearsPBS No. 123 (2020)

4. 'The Chittagonians in Colonial Arakan: Seasonal and Settlement MigrationsPS No. 40 (2020)

5. 'Mass Departures in the Rakhine-Bangladesh BorderlandsPBS No. 111 (2020)

6. 'Territorial Dispossession and Persecution in North Arakan (Rakhine), 1942-43PBS No. 101 (2020)

(ii). Miscellaneous

  1. Violence and Belonging: Conflict, War and Insecurity in Arakan 1942-1952 - March 2023
  2. The 'Chittagonians' in  Arakan". Film record of a lecture in Yangon - 16 November 2019 : Text
  3. Rohingya: The History of a Muslim Identity in Myanmar - Oxford Research Encyclopaedia - May 2018
  4. History and Victimhood: Engaging with Rohingya Issues - Insight Turkey January 2018
  5. From Arakan Mahomedans to Muslim Rohingyas - Towards an archive of naming practices - 2018
  6. "Frictions are less about Islamophobia than Rohingya-phobia": The Wire - September 2017
  7. Transmutations of the Rohingya Movement in the Post-2012 Crisis - Dec 2016
  8. Conflict and Violence in Arakan: the 1942 events and political identity formation - Feb 2017
  9. King Manh Co Mvan's Exile in Bengal: Legend, History and Context: JL and Kyaw Minn Htin
  10. Competing identities and the hybridized history of the Rohingyas: September 2015
  11. Identität und historisches Bewusstsein - October 2014
  12. Rohingya - The name, the movement, the quest for identity - January 2014
  13. Presentation on the conquest of Arakan - March 2013
  14. The political project of the Rohingyas - October 2012
  15. "Rohingya”: An historical and linguistic note - August 2012 
  16. "Rohingya", Rakhaing and the recent outbreak of violence - Burma Studies 2012
  17. Articles and Books written by Jacques Leider - EFEO


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