RAKHINE STATE is located in western Myanmar along the Bay of Bengal near Bangladesh. The State is home of the Rakhine, a people who forged a great kingdom that reached its peak in the 16th century. Some of Myanmar best beaches are here. Rakhine is a sparsely populated, coastal state (population 2.7 million), covering 14,200 square miles. Sittwe, the state capital, is the biggest city. The Rakhine people generally depend on fishing, prawn breeding, farming and salt production for their livelihood.
Rakhine State lies in in a region of Burma traditionally known as Arakan. Rakhines and Bamars live in the delta region and on Yambyai and Man Aung islands. Chin inhabit the northern mountain ranges. Myo, Thet, Khami, Daignet, Maramargyi and Khaman live in the mountains which are to the west and north of the Sittwe Plain. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]
Largely unknown to the Western world for much of its turbulent history, Rakhine played a pivotal role in the exchange of cultures and religions between India and Southeast Asia. For over a thousand years the region which now forms the Rakhine State was an independent state whose rich history is only slowly being paid the attention it deserves.
The coastal region is full of rocks and reefs and may be that is why so many stone-sculptures can be seen as ancient cultural crafts in the Rakhine region. The climate in Sittwe is moderate. Rainfall in the year round is not more than 200 inches. Monsoon starts in the last week of May and heavy rainfall months are June, July and August. The best month of the year is November and the best travelling months are November up to February.
Rakhines reside primarily on the western Rakhine coast and closely related to the Bamars (Burmans), Myanmar’s main ethnic group, though their form of Burmese language varies from the language of the Irrawaddy Valley, notably through the retention of the 'R' sound which in Burmese proper has been replaced by the 'Y sound'. Rakhine are predominately Buddhists. Their total population is over 2 million. Sittway is the most populous place in Rakhine State.
The Rakhine are comprises of seven major subgroups: 1) the Rakhine; 2) Kamein; 3) Kwe Myi; 4) Daingnet; 5) Maramagyi; 6) Mro; and 7) Thet. Rakhine houses are three meters of the ground and have many rooms. The Living room is at the first entrance of the house. On the left of living room there is a shrine room, then the parent's room and rooms for unmarried sons and daughters. Passing them, you will get to the kitchen and dining room. In the courtyard there is a well and a special bathroom. You can sometimes see Rakhine traditional dance.
Rakhine men wear delicately woven longyis, shirts without collars and traditional jackets. They also wear ready-made turbans with the wing-cloth standing to the left. Rakhine women wear their hair in a variety of styles. They wear front-opening blouses buttoned either in the center or on the side. Their longyis are woven in beautiful designs usually consisting of horizontal stripes. A shawl is wrapped across the body passing over the left shoulder. Rakine longyi patterns fracture a thick, high- relief weave in light, reflective grays and blues.
Burman, Kayin, Chin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan women’s “longyis” are nearly the same, made by cotton. A black waistband is stitched along the waist end. This waistband is folded in front to form a wide pleat, and then tucked behind the waistband to one side. Bamar, Kachin, Mon, Shan, Kayah and Rakhine men wear a traditional jacket called a “teik -pon” over their “eingyi”. It is white, grey, black or terracotta in color.
Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Chin, Kayah, and Shan women’s” eingyis” are nearly the same, comprised of a form-fitting waist length blouse. Kayah women tie this traditional shawl on their “eingyi”. It is embroiled of male and female royal birds of them called “Keinayee & Keinayah”. Burman, Rakhine and Mon women put the shawl on their shoulders. Kayah, Kayin, Shan , Kachin, Chin women tie a lovely band on their head Bamar, Mon and Radhine women wear beautiful flowers in their hair.
The ngapi of Rakhine State contains no or little salt, and uses marine fish. It is used as a soup base for the Rakhine 'national' cuisine (mont di). It is also used widely in cooking vegetables, fish and even meat. Galangal: alpinia conchgera (ba de: go) is an essential spice in the broth in mohinga of the Rakhine nationals. The spice is aromatic, tonic and carminative. Rakhine mohingar is famous for its distinct blend of flavors that includes a very liberal mix of hot pepper. Rakhine Mohingar is popularly known by the name "Hot palate. hot tongue concoction" (Aap- lYap). [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]
Rakhine-inspired dishes include: a Mont di, an extremely popular and economical fast food dish where rice vermicelli are either eaten with some condiments and soup prepared from nga-pi, or as a salad with powdered fish and some condiments; 2) Kya zan thohk, glass vermicelli salad with boiled prawn julien and mashed curried duck eggs and potatoes; 3) Ngapi daung, an extremely spicy condiment made from pounded ngapi and green chili; 4) Khayun thee nga chauk chet - aubergine cooked lightly with a small amount of oil, with dried fish and chilli; 5) Nga-pyaw-thi-bohn, bananas stewed in milk and coconut, and garnished with black sesame. Eaten either as a dish during meals, or as a dessert; 6) Saw-hlaing mont, a baked sweet, made from millet, raisins, coconut and butter; and 7)Sut-hnan - millet cooked in sweet milk with raisins. [Source: Wikipedia]
Rakhine Mone-Ti: Rakhine nationals on the Bay of Bengal coast have a special way of making mohinga, the national dish. It is cooked differently, served differently, tastes different and is consumed differently. It is so different is worthy of its different name—Rakhine mone-ti. It may be enjoyed as a mixed salad accompanied by a soup or as noodles in clear fish soup. Ingredients: Thin rice noodles 1. 6 kg; Pike Conger Fish 400 gm (nga-shwe); oil 320 gm; Turmeric a dash ginger 2. 5 cm; garlic sliced 320 gm; onion sliced 320 gm; greater galangal 80 gm (pade-gaw); shrimp paste 3 tsp; pepper 1/2 tsp; chili powder 2 tbs; tamarind 80 gm; salt to taste; coriander leaves 160 g; Water to make 15 cups. =
How to cook: Boil fish until tender together with ginger and salt in water to just cover the fish. Debone the fish and slightly squeeze out the water when mashing it with the turmeric. and roast on slow fire in one tablespoon of oil until the fish becomes grainy. This is the fish garnish. Strain the liquid in which the fish has been boiled, add shrimp paste and boil for 40 minutes. Cool and let the solids settle. Take only the clear liquid. Place the roughly ground galangal together with 160 grams of crushed garlic in a muslin bag in the liquid. add the pepper and boil 30' filling up with water to get 15 cups of liquid. This is the clear soup to serve ten persons. Fry the remaining 160 grams of sliced garlic in oil and remove the garlic into a dish adding 4 tablespoons of the cooked oil. This is the garlic garnish. Fry the onion in the remaining oil until golden. Strain into another dish. This is the onion garnish. Make paste of chili powder in 2 tablespoons of water and cook in the frying oil until the water evaporates. This is the chili sauce. Dissolve the tamarind in warm water to form a thick sauce. How to serve: take the noodles and add roasted fish, tamarind sauce, chili sauce, fried garlic in oil, fried onions and coriander leaves and mix thoroughly. Serve soup in a separate bowl. Alternately put all the above ingredients in a bowl and pour the soup into the bowl. This is served as Rakhine mone-ti. =
Rohingya and the History of Arakan (Rakhine)
The Rohingya are a minority who practice Islam and primarily live in Rakhine State, near the border with Bangladesh. They speak a regional Bengali dialect and resemble Bangladeshis, with darker skin than most people in Burma, which is mostly Buddhist. Descendants of South Asians from the Indian subcontinent, they are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are heavily discriminated against. “Bengalis” is the a term common in Myanmar for the Rohingya, indicating the belief that they belong in Bangladesh.
The United Nations estimates the Rohingya population in Burma at 800,000, but the Burma government does not recognize them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. Most are denied citizenship and have no passports, though many of their families have lived in the country for generations. Bangladesh also refuses to accept them as citizens. Khin Yi, a Myanmar minister, told Reuters there are 1.33 million Rohingya in the country of 60 million people, above past estimates of 800,000. He said 1.08 million are in Rakhine State. Only about 40,000 had citizenship, he said.
Rakhine state in home to 80 percent of the Royingya in Myanmar. Rakhine lies in a region of Burma traditionally known as Arakan state. Most Rohingya are to three districts in Rakhine— Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. Most are stateless, recognized as citizens neither by Myanmar nor neighboring Bangladesh. They are the world’s largest stateless population.
SITTWE (500 kilometers northwest of Yangon).is a port town of mainly wooden houses where Buddhists and Muslims have long lived in uneasy proximity. It has a population of around 180,000, mostly Rakhine but also large numbers of Rohingya. There are dozens of mosques. Formerly called Akyab, Sittwe is located near the Bay of Bengal Originally a small fishing village, it became a port for exporting rice after being occupied by the British in 1826. Places of interest include the beautiful Kaladan River, Sittwe Museum and Sittwe Viewpoint. See VIOLENCE AGAINST THE ROHINGYAfactsanddetails.com .
Sittwe is situated on an estuarial island at the confluence of the Kaladan River, Myu River, and Lemyo River at the mouth of the Kaladan River where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. Off shore delta islands form a wide protected channel that has served as an important harbour for many centuries. The city started as a trading port around 200 years ago and further developed after the British occupation of 1826. International trade alone the coast bloomed during the British era. Two huge cargo steamers a day plied back and forth between Calcutta and Sittwe. Scottish short-storywriter and novelist Hector Hugh Munro, known by his pen name ‘Saki’, was born here in 1870. There is a distinctive Rakhine twist on standard Myanmar culture that includes the enjoyment of much spicy food and brighter-colored clothing.
Places in Sittwe
Mahamuni temple is situated in the center of town and features a large plain shed supported by pillars decorated with glass mosaic. A large seated Buddha image was cast in 1900 in the Rakhine style with the royal costume common to many Rakhine images. The face of the figure shines with gold, while the rest of the body is of bronze. This is the place where town people celebrate the annual lighting festival at the end of Buddhist Lent which usually falls in the month of October and November.
The Buddhist Museum is a modest two-storey museum is the best place in Myanmar to view Rakhine Style Buddha images. The collection here represents a rare instance of historical preservation. Most of the images are under a meter in height with the royal attire common to Rakhine Buddhas Images. The majority dates to the Mrauk U period, while a few date as far back as the Wethali era and are made of bronze, silver, quartz or alabaster. There are also some Indian Buddha images and Hindu deities on display, a few Thai and Japanese Buddha statues, silver coins from the Mrauk U era, clay pipes, terracotta votive tablets and engraved astrological charts. Entry is free.
Sittwe View Point is a lovely recreational spot where one can enjoy breathing fresh sea breeze. It shows the panoramic view of Baronga islands on the other side of the Kaladan River, and also the Layshinedaung savage island lighthouse. The View Point was also known as Farkir Point. Thalondaw Datt Pagoda is situated in the western end of the town lying over the Ahgyettaw ridge near the north-western corner of the Royal Lake. This pagoda is said to have been donated and built by King Ashoka. It was called Letwai Thalonedaw Datt because Lord Buddha's left thigh bone relic was enshrined in this pagoda. There is also the Rakhine State Cultural Museum. Myanmar Tourism Services Sittwe Office: No. (25), Main Road, Ywar Gyi Taung Quarter, Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar., Tel & Fax: (+95 43) 2315,
Mrauk-U (80 kilometers or five hours by boat from Sittway) is where the Rakhine kings built their palaces and ruled over their people. Located on the banks of the Shwenatpyin Tributary of the Kaladan River, Mrauk-U was established by King Min Saw Mun in 1530 and today it is known for Hindu-influenced temples and murals.
Worth checking out are the ruins of the ancient palaces walls; the stupa of Andawthein Phato (with unique stone carvings and floral designs); Htokekanthein Pahto (built from rock by King Phalaungmin and known for its interesting stone sculptures); Saka-man-aung (a tall attenuated stupa) and Yadanabon Zedi Pagoda. Inside the Theindawgyi Pagoda are paintings and statues of courtiers and dancers with elaborate clothes and hairstyles. Inside the old palaces wall is an archeological museum. The main sights are Shittthaung Pagodas, Ananda Sandra Pillar, Andaw Thein temple, Yadanarpon temple, Dukkanthein or Htoke Kan Thein, Koe Thaung Pagodas, Pitakataik (or) the Library, Five Victory Pagodas, and the Palace Site.
Myauk-U Archaeological Area and Monuments were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Capital city of the first Arakanese Kingdom, the site measures 7 by 6 kilometers and contains some 200 Buddhist monuments (temples, stupas, monasteries, etc.) mostly built in the 15th and 16th centuries AD. Located at the junction of the deltaic plain and the Arakanese mountains, the site is an exceptional example of the cleaver use of natural features (hill ranges, waterways, marshes) for fortification. A network of rivers provides easy access to the sea. The religious monuments in various states of conservation and maintenance, have no equivalent in the region. the monuments, particularly several fortified temples, are mostly built in well dressed stone, including skillful vaulting over geometrically complex spaces. Impressive decoration includes outstanding examples of stone carving and sculpture. The Myauk-u kingdom had an important rôle in the history of trade and warfare in the Bay of Bengal, and was the seat of intense cultural and religious interaction between Buddhism and Islam through the Bengali sultanates, between Buddhism and Christianity through the Portuguese. [Source: Department of Archaeology of Myanmar]
MAGWE DIVISION is located in the central part of Myanmar in the Dry Zone. Covering an area of 17,305 square miles, it borders Sagaing Division to the north, Mandalay Division to the east; Bago Division the south, and Rakhine and Chin States to the west.
The population of Magwe Division is 4,218,699. The majority of the people are Bamars and there are also Chins, Rakhines, Kayins, Shans and others. A total of 98 percent of the people are Buddhists and the rest are Christians, Hindus, Muslims or Animists. Magwe Division embraces Magwe, Minbu, Thayet, Pakokku and Gangaw Districts where there are 25 townships and 1,696 ward village-tracts. Magwe is the divisional capital. Its population in 1994 was about 300,000. Other major towns of the Division are Pakokku and Minbu. Other well-known towns are Taungdwingyi, Thayet, Aunglan, Natmauk, Pwintbyu, Chauk, Yenangyaung, Pauk, Gangaw and Yesagyo.
Farmland occupies 1.6 million acres of about 2.5 million acres of total arable land in the Division. The rest is occupied by rice paddy land, silt land (Kaing-kyunmya), hill-side cultivated land (taungya-myay) and vegetable land. Multiple cropping is practiced on paddy land and farmland. In Magwe Division 500,000 acres is put under paddy. The major crops are sesamum and over one million acres is put under the crop. Other crops grown are millet, maize, common millet (lu), ltalian millet (Hsat), groundnut, sunflower, bean and pulses, Virginia tobacco, toddy. chili, onion, and potato. There are three water-pump stations, nine electric water-pump sites, and 32 diesel-powered water-pump sites. There are Thanakha (Limonia acidissima) plantations and the Shinmataung Thanaka variety is well-known in the country. The famous product of Magwe Division is Phangar (Chebulic myorobalan) fruit. Magwe Division produces 694 million kyats worth of monsoon sesamum and 515 million kyats worth of monsoon groundnut each year.
As the majority part of Magwe Division falls within the Dry Zone, it is very hot during the hot season and relatively cold during the cold season. The average temperature of April, which is the hottest month of the year, is 90 degrees with the temperatures during daytime ranging between 100 degrees - 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The average temperature of January, which is the coolest month of the year, is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperature sometimes falls as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The rainfall in the western hilly region is slightly higher than other parts of the Division. The Bago Mountain Range and the southernmost part have a tropical savannah climate.
Magwe City (331 miles from Yangon by road) is the divisional capital of Magwe Division. Its population in 1994 was about 300,000. Myathalun Pagoda or Magwe Myathalun Pagoda is well-known in Myanmar. The name of the Pagoda means "The Jade Throne Pagoda". According to legend the Jade Throne was enshrined by two ogre brothers in ancient times. Therefore, faces of ogres are carved into the flowery patterns on the side of the pagoda. The pagoda is situated on the bank of the Irrawaddy River. The Myathalun Pagoda festivals, which are common in other parts of the country, are also held in Magwe Division. The festivals of Myathalun Pagoda in Magwe and of Shwesettaw Pagoda in Minbu are very well-known throughout the country. Being one of the greatly venerated shrines, and also because Magwe lies midway between the upcountry and the lower parts, its annual festival has served as a great fair for the exchange of local goods. According to legend the original pagoda had a height of about 55.5 feet (16.9 meters) and was built by U Baw Gyaw and his wife the daughter of a certain Maha Bawga, a man of great wealth with an official title.
King Saw Lu (1077-1084) of Pagan encapsulated the original pagoda and raised it to a height of 87 feet (26.5 meters). In 1847, it was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt by the mayor of the town Min Din Min Hla Kyaw Gaung. The pagoda was rebuilt to the present height of approximately 104 feet (31.7 meters).
Minbu Shwe Settaw (in Settawyam 34 miles west of Minbu on the opposite bank of Magwe) is the home of a pair of Buddha's Footprints enshrined in a forest pagoda and surrounded by shrines. One can go there also by the Minbu A Road following a brach road at the 22 miles post. The site is on the river Man. The festival is held on the fifth waxing moon of the Myanmar calendar month, Tabodwe (February and March) annually. On the way from Minbu, the visitors can pay homage to Sandal wood Monastery at Legging, visited, it is said, by the Lord Buddha in his lifetime. The Footprint was purportedly left by the Lord Buddha when he visited Sunapranta. The lower Footprint is under water during the monsoon months as the river Man is flooded. Therefore the festival is celebrated in the later winter months.
CHIN STATE borders India in the north and west, Rakhine State to its south and Sagaing and Magwe divisions in the east. It is one of the wildest and least-known corners of south-east Asia. High in the mountains between Myanmar and India, it is home to the Chin people. For centuries, they lived in the mountains while the dominant Burmans occupied the plains. Other minorities also made their homes I n the mountains that surround the lowlands. The dense forests were once the home of tigers, bears and deer. The hills are now denuded and the animals are largely gone. [Source: Peter Popham, The Independent, May 3, 2014]
Peter Popham wrote in The Independent:“Chin State is one of the last corners of Burma to be opened to foreigners, and we were among the first non-Burmese to reach here, as the shy smiles and curious glances we got everywhere we went made plain. Given the rigours of the journey and the Spartan character of the hotel – and the fact that this large state has no airport – I would hesitate to predict that large numbers will be following us in. According to the Myanmar government: Because Chin State is hilly and access is difficult, there is a slight difference in languages spoken in one region and another. It had a population of about 412,700 in 1983 and 465,361 in 1996 respectively.
The Chin is a group that lives in the mountains along the Myanmar-India borders and neighboring areas. The name “Chin” comes from the English version of the Burmese name and is used mostly in Myanmar. The Chin call themselves the Zo or Zomi, names used for them in India. Regional and dialect groups include the Chinbok, Chinbon, Dai, Lai, Laizo, Mara and Ngala. They are related to the Mizo, Kuki and Hmar in Mirozam and Manipur state in eastern India.
There are believed to be around 300,000 Chin in Burma and roughly 600,000 in Mizoram State in eastern India. They have traditionally lived in an area of high mountains in villages that ranged between 1,000 and 2,000 meters. These areas were traditionally seen as so inhospitable few other groups wanted to lived there. The northern Chins have different customs and beliefs from the southern Chins. Groups like the Purum, Lakher, Mizo and Thadou also live in the hill country of northeastern India and northwestern Burma and have customs and lifestyles similar to that of the Chins.
The Chin are a predominately Christian. The Chin tend to have darker skin than the Burmese.The Chin languages belong to the Kuki-Chin Subgroup of the Kuki-Naga Group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. They are all tonal and monosyllabic and had no written form until missionaries gave them Roman alphabets in the 1800s.
Chin women have traditionally worn facial tattoos. On his experience seeking out lowland Chin with facial tattoos from Mrauk U, near Sittwe, Jay Tindall wrote in his blog: “I woke up early and drove to the Lay Myo River where I took a small local boat upriver heading for my destination. Along the way we saw villages of fisherman and farmers and many traditional sail boats, most of them Muslim people living in Myanmar since British colonial days. We eventually reached the first Chin tribal village, and my guide was well known there as he had sponsored the son of one family though school and he is now a teacher. Because of this bond we were readily welcomed into the family home where there were no less than four women with tattooed faces. [Source: Jay Tindall, remotelands.com December 21, 2012 ^^]
Traveling to Chin State
Chin State can be reached in an arduous seven hour overland journey from Pagan to Mindat , with very poor accommodation options. An easier way to see the Chin by using the ancient kingdom of Mrauk U in Rakhine State as a base. It is about 3½ hours up river from Mrauk U and its eerie, endless and spectacular temples. Here the population are primarily Chin as it is near the border with Southern Chin State. To get to Mrauk U you can fly from Yangon to Sittwe — an area that is 40 percent Muslim — then take a four hour boat up the Kaladan River.
On his trip to the Chin State capital of Hakharin the highlands, Peter Popham wrote in The Independent: We “left Mandalay at four in the morning, heading west and climbing up into the Sagaing Hills, leaving in our wake the great tail of temples, monasteries, convents and gold-plated stupas that bejewel the heartland of Buddhist Burma. The fine four-lane road shrank to two lanes as we passed mountains of slag left by copper refineries to right and left, then further to one-and-a-half as the Nissan 4x4, the right sort of car for the job, clambered higher and higher into the mountains, the broad, high, wild marches on Burma's far west. And we drove and we drove and we drove. [Source: Peter Popham, The Independent, May 3, 2014]
“We passed road-building gangs, women scarfed and cowled breaking big stones into smaller ones under the eyes of the young gang master, always a man; we came through villages that were no more than a couple of dozen flimsy wooden houses, clinging to the narrow verge on either side of the ribbon of road, the clapboard church with its cross on a headland protruding above the roofs. In one of those teetering hamlets, we stopped to greet a convoy of Toyotas and Jeeps with luggage piled on the roof and flags of the now-pacified and legal Chin National Liberation Front – two hornbills on a branch on a blue-and-red-striped background – strapped to the bumper.
“Night fell and still we climbed; the cough I had been nursing since London was getting worse and the temperature was dropping. Finally, at 7pm, after 15 hours on the road, the driver told us we had arrived in Hakha, Chin State's largest town. We were more than 6,000 feet above sea level; we had left tropical, sea-level Mandalay, where during the first weeks of February the sun blazed down more fiercely every day as summer began tuning up; now it was a couple of degrees above freezing and pouring with rain.
Hakhar is the capital of Chin State in Myanmar. The city is 1865 meters (6120 feet) above sea level and it lies at the foot of Rungtlang (Mount Rung), which is about 2230 meters (7543 feet) high, and is one of the most famous and beautiful mountain peaks in the Chin State. January is the coldest month of the year with a mean temperature of around 27 degrees Celsius. April is the hottest month at a mean of 36 degrees. The total rainfall is about 86.22 inches every year. The total area of Hakhar is about 12.50 square miles. Hakhar is in the center of Chin State and it is connected with Thantlang, Falam, Gangaw and Matupi by truck roads.
Hakhar was founded around A.D. 1400 by the Laimi ethnic group. There were only 30 houses at that time and the area was ruled by local chiefs for many generations. After the second World War, Hakhar became an important city as the headquarter for one of the sis subdivisions in the Chin Special Division and Falam was the capital in that time. The Chin Special division was abolished and formed the Chin State in 1974 and Hakhar became the capital for the Chin State. That brought an influx of government workers, housing development and extension of the city limits. Hakhar eventually became the largest city in the Chin State with about 20,000 people.
Hakhar’s main pagoda lies at the confluence of Neyinzaya and Myittha Rivers in Kalemyo, Chin State. It was one of the 84,000 pagodas sponsored by King Thiri Dhamma Thawka as- it was built under the reign of (wing Landapala in Sakarit 225 enshrining the relics sent by King Thiri Dhamma Thawka. It is over 300 years older than the city of Kale as the city was built on the 5th waning moon day of Tabodwe, Kawza Sakarit 328. In Sakarit 450, King Alaung Sithu of Pagan got to the venue of the pagoda and had it repaired while the barge was at rest. The pagoda has been repaired successively by lay people and it is now standing in full splendour.
Peter Popham wrote in The Independent: We stumbled from the car into the Grace Hotel, where we learnt we were booked into an annex with neither heating nor hot water. I had a panicky feeling that I was going to get pneumonia and die here, that my bones would be buried in the soil of Chin.At the hotel, as the rain teemed down, we met our fixers, two young guys called Sang and Mang, who took us 20 paces up a steep hill sluicing with rain water to a cosy eating house where we ate fried rice and a fabulously rich dish of fish-head soup washed down with Myanmar Beer. I began to revive, and fears of imminent death and burial receded. The hotel did indeed have no heating – and no electricity after 10pm, when the generator shut down – but the duvets were thick and plentiful and I rose in the morning to face another day. And I found myself in a town unlike any in the world – and quite unlike anything I had ever seen in Burma. [Source: Peter Popham, The Independent, May 3, 2014]
“We are among the first foreigners to travel to Burma's Chin State in more than half a century. And yet there is a strong sense that we have got here too late. What we see – this American frontier town – covers up what this land once was, erasing it so completely that we can only guess what it was like before. And to make it even more confusing, this cowboy town is populated by a short, stocky, coffee-coloured race who might be mistaken for Red Indians.
“The steep main street was lined with clapboard buildings painted lurid shades of yellow, pink and sky-blue, but if you were to see a monochrome photograph you would not be surprised to learn that it had been shot on the frontier of the American Wild West, circa 1860. I did not see any bars with swinging doors, nor any horses tied up outside them, and even cowboy hats were in short supply; had these details been present, however, the illusion would have been complete. But the biggest town in Chin state is like a stage set for a production of Annie Get Your Gun. If they were to haul up the backdrop and pack away the flats, what would remain?
Nabual: A Town Near Hakha
Peter Popham wrote in The Independent: We went to the village of Nabual, a couple of miles from Hakha, reached by a rough single-track road; 'Warmly welcome to NABUAL' says the sign in English, in tender expectation, finally fulfilled, of someone able to understand it. And once we are in the village, suddenly Chin's limbo doesn't seem too bad a place to be [Source: Peter Popham, The Independent, May 3, 2014].
“The loudest noise in this village of 50 houses is the shuttle of a small wooden loom being whacked against the wood of the frame by a pretty teenage girl in her long Chin skirt. Her knees are tucked under her as she weaves away on her sunny balcony, while a tiny kitten washes its face. It takes one month to make the material for a skirt, she says.
“The simple wooden village school has three classes and 18 pupils. Five of them are studying English, chanting the rhyme chalked up on the board:
School is over, oh what fun!
Lessons finished, play begun
Who'll run faster, you or I?
Who'll laugh louder, let us try!'
“Stop right here, one wants to say: this is all the development you need. In this village clinging to a steep hillside, the tranquillity is profound: there are no cars, no trucks, a rough ribbon of road that is just barely motorable. The state provides a fitful, meagre supply of electricity, but its meagreness doesn't matter much: in Laura Carson's day the Chin used to, in her words, "go to bed with the chickens" for fear of the evil spirits abroad at night. Today, the superstitions may have receded but the habit remains.
The modern world has not yet twisted the Chin way of life out of shape. There are a few telephones, and microwave coverage enough to justify ownership of that new status symbol, a smart phone; there are also a few motor scooters. But there are no buildings made of anything but wood, and none higher than two storeys. On small plots adjoining their homes the villagers grow yams, beans, bananas and sugar cane. One man weaves the handsome cane baskets the Chin use for their shopping.
“In Nabual, the small plum trees are in blossom, the cocks are crowing in the middle of the afternoon, the cats and dogs, loved and well treated as is rarely the case in Asia, seem as contented as the chickens and the people. In the tranquil spring sunshine, the rest of the world seems a very long way away.
Natma Taung National Park
Natma Taung National Park (Mindat District, Chin State) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Natma Taung National Park (NTNP; also known as Nat Ma Taung or Natmataung) is located in Chin State in western Myanmar. The park covers 72,300 hectares of the Chin Hills and contains Mt. Natma Taung, which rises 2,200 meters above the surrounding landscape to a height of 3,051 meters (Platt et al. 2012). NTNP ranges in elevation from 740 meters to 3,051 meters. NTNP was established in 1994 primarily to protect the upper watersheds of the Lemro and Myittha Rivers. Dipterocarp, pine, oak, and oak-rhododendron forests are found across the elevation gradient. NTNP is an alpine “sky island” containing a Holarctic floral species assemblage. [Source: Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar]
Chin villages can be found below 2,500 meters with the most populated area, Kanpetlet at 1,390 meters. The Chin are a Tibeto-Burman group and comprise about 1% of Myanmar’s population. The Chin are comprised of multiple sub-groups with distinct identities. There are 6,000 Chin people living around NTNP and about 100 inside the park. They depend on shifting cultivation, NTFP collection, and hunting (Aung 2012).
The prominence of Mt. Natma Taung as it rises from the surrounding Chin Hills, rapid changes in forest type along a steep elevation gradient, and the presence of an “island” of Himalayan flora all contribute to NTNP’s great natural beauty. NTNP served as a refuge for Holarctic species during the last glacial period and today its flora provides insight into the biogeographical, evolutionary, and ecological history of Asia. It is one of the southernmost alpine islands containing a Holarctic floral assemblage in Asia and is isolated from other areas with Himalayan flora. These qualities make NTNP a particularly important site for the study of Quaternary biogeography and alpine island biogeography.
Natma Taung National Park Ecosystem and Wildlife
According to the report submitted to UNESCO: Natma Taung National Park (NTNP) is outstanding for its plant life, which is highly diverse and provides insight to the biogeographical history of Asia. It is also an important site for wildlife conservation, containing multiple threatened birds, mammals, and reptiles. NTNP is an Important Bird Area and lies within the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area. It is an ASEAN Heritage Park and was listed as an Alliance for Zero Extinction Site because of the White-browed Nuthatch, which is endemic to NTNP. [Source: Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar]
NTNP’s plant diversity is high, with more than 252 plant genera identified by a preliminary survey in 2012 (Fujikawa et al. 2012). Surveys here have recorded 808 plant species, including 70 species of fern, as well as 233 bird, 23 amphibian, 65 reptile, and 77 butterfly species (Oikos and BANCA 2011). A rich diversity of orchids, including highly threatened medicinal varieties, can be found between 1,000 meters and 2,000 meters (Oikos and BANCA 2011). The endemic White-browed Nuthatch’s entire range is within the Oak-Rhododendron forest between 2,300 meters and 3,000 meters in the property (Naing 2003). Additional species of interest found in NTNP are (Myanmar Biodiversity 2012):
Mammals: Endangered: Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock spp.); Vulnerable: Bangal Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Gaur (Bos gaurus), Red Goral (Naemorhedus baileyi). Reptiles: Endangered: Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata); Vulnerable: Asiatic Softshell Turtle (Amyda cartilaginea). Birds: Endangered: White-browed Nuthatch (Sitta victoriae); Vulnerable: Blyth's Tragopan (Tragopan blythii), Grey-sided Thrush (Turdus feae), Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis); Near-threatened: Hume’s Pheasant (Syrmaticus humiae)
Conservation in Natma Taung National Park
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Natma Taung National Park was established as a watershed protection area on which three million people depend. Due to its original purpose, the park has an elongated shape with a high perimeter-to-area ratio and consequently a high degree of accessibility, which complicates protection efforts. Because of heavy hunting, wildlife is severely depleted. The gaur population has probably been extirpated. The quality of the forest is generally good, however. [Source: Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar]
NTNP covers parts of three townships. The Forestry Department has an office in the town of Kanpetlet with 31 staff (Fujikawa et al. 2012). No formal management plan exists for NTNP but core and buffer zones have been unofficially demarcated. Two core zones, one in the north and one in the south, have the best forest cover and wildlife in NTNP. The Chin are permitted to practice shifting agriculture in a “local use” zone
Hunting has resulted in a marked decline in wildlife populations but there are no formal population estimates. Guar have not been seen by some villages for over 10 years and local inhabitants are divided on whether Red Goral are still present in the park. Birds are hunted with a method called bird liming; research is needed to determine if this is practiced at a sustainable rate (Platt et al. 2012). The current decline in wildlife may provide an opening to establish participatory management with Chin villages to limit hunting and allow wildlife populations to rebound. Further biodiversity and socio-economic surveys, as well as immediate interventions to stop or limit hunting, are priorities for the property.
Habitat conversion is a threat to NTNP. Tea plantations have encroached into parts of NTNP (Platt et al. 2012). Logging has had a significant impact below 2,000 meters but does not extend into the range of the White-browed Nuthatch (BirdLife 2013b). Fires from shifting cultivation and campfires result in forest loss at higher elevations. Tourism must be managed to ensure that campfires are properly controlled.
Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2022