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March 19, 2019

Sittway District: the homeland of ethnic Rakhine people

  • By Maung Tha
    (Archaeology)
The hundreds of pagodas in MraukU are the treasures of Myanmar. Photo: Nyi zaw moe

Rakhine people, once steeped in long traditions of culture, have lived in Rakhine State in the western part of Myanmar. Throughout history Rakhine kingdoms had had kings and palaces which were contemporary with those of Myanmar. Among tangible and intangible cultural heritages in Rakhine State, olden MraukU has been arranged by the government to be able to put in the UNESCO heritage list.
Rakhine State is composed of five districts with 17 townships with the capital city of Sittway. With better transportation, it is easily accessible to the State by Roads; people once reached the State by means of waterway. The journey between Sittway and Thandwe was once only reachable by a domestic flight.

State capital city of Sittway
According to the records of Home Affairs Ministry, the Rakhine went under the British rule after the First Anglo-Burma war on February 24, 1826. The British earlier used the city of MraukU as an administrative headquarters but moved to a commercial hub of Sittway in 1836.
Sittway is situated at the mouth of Kaladan and Mayu Rivers, getting a lot cool winds from the sea and its location is militarily vital. The Arkyat Hill is two miles west of Sittway and the British changed its name as Akyab after several changes of name for the Capital. Sittway Township is 9.88 miles long from the east to the west; 13. 24 miles long from south to north and area of Sittway town covers six square miles. Pauktaw township and Kaladan River are situated in the east, with the Bay of Bengal in the west and the south and in the north lie Ponnagyun and Rathedaung townships. Sittway is situated in the coastal plain, just 15 feet above the sea level. It has a tropical climate with winter temperature lowest degrees of 13.7 centigrade and summer temperature highest degrees of 34.5 centigrade during the period of four years. Every year the township has a rainfall of 200 inches, but in 2017 there was a rainfall of only 48 inches.
According to a statistics issued in March, 2017 the township consists of 33 wards, 27 village tracts and 87 villages with a population of 229,376 of which 136,869 are Rakhine people, larger than in numbers than any other communities. Sittway has an airport, six helipads, and many seaports; people could go there by air as well as by sea. Buthidaung Township is 80 nautical miles; 40 nautical miles from Rathedaung, MraukU and Minbya townships; 16 nautical miles away from Ponnagyun township; 128 nautical miles away from Kyaukpyu; 224 nautical miles from Taungup and Manaung; 176 nautical miles from Yanbye; 70 nautical miles from Kyauktaw; 64 nautical miles from Myebon and 16 miles from Pauktaw. Now there is a direct link of 534-mile road between Yangon and Sittway which can be covered by car.
Economically vibrant Sittway has two big bazaars: Myoma has 826 shops and Mayu has 144 shops. The town has the Sittway University, the technological University and the Computer University. There are 8 high schools, 6 branch high schools, 6 middle schools, branch middle schools, primary schools and nursery schools. It has a State 500-bed hospital and 16-bed hospital and three Clinics for Leprosy, tuberculosis and malaria. Medical services are being provided for different kinds of patients in the hospitals and clinics.
There are ten pagodas, 172 monasteries and four nunneries with 1030 monks, 1699 novices and 240 nuns residing and keeping the Sabbath in those monasteries. Some monasteries such as Konawin Aye Pagoda, Atulamarazein Pyilone Chantha Pagoda and Lawka Nanda Pagoda are famous among others. Myanmar’s first lighthouse tower was established in Shukhintha Ward in 1844.
As the capital city of the State, Sittway has been prosperous and highly developed with smooth transportation and infrastructural developments.

Ponnagyun township
As the Sittway District consists of Sittway, Ponnagyun, Yathedaung and Pauktaw townships, the Ponnagyun township is situated on the left bank of the Kaladan River. It is 20 miles away from Sittway by road. In ancient times, the Brahmins were allowed to live to be mingled with the locals, thus getting the name of Ponnagyun. During the days of Rakhine kings, Ponnagyun was known as Uritaung; it was a branch of Yathedaung on 1 April, 1887 and again a branch of Kyauktaw town on 1 July, 1891 after the First Anglo- Burman war. Ponnagyun was then located near Mingan and Natseitma villages at the foot of Uritaung Pagoda. Uritaung town was badly damaged by a fierce storm on 23 October, 1868 and then moved to the present-day Ponnagyun. The Ponnagyun township is 21 miles from the east to the west and 55 miles from the south to the north and area of Ponnagyun Town coverd a total square mile of 0.52.
Pautaw and MraukU townships lie east of Ponnagyun town, in the west lie Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships, in the south lies Sittway and in the north lies Yathedaung Township.
Ponnagyun is 20 feet above the sea level with mountainous regions in the north and a plain in the south. Situated in a tropical monsoon, the town has a temperature ranging between 13 centigrade and 36 centigrade.
According to the statistics issued in October, 2017, Ponnagyun town consists of 4 wards , 92 village tracts and 193 villages with a population of 2137845. Among them are 122070 are Rakhine nationals; 90% of its population are Buddhists.
The town has two hospitals: 25-bed hospital and 16-bed hospital are for the welfare and healthcare of the people.
In addition, there are five high schools and two branch schools and other basic schools in the township.
There are 115 pagodas, 186 monasteries and 8 nunneries; according to the statistics issued in 2017, there were 388 monks, 46 novices and 33 nuns keeping the Sabbath in those monasteries and nunneries.
Yathedaung Township
The township which lies in the north of Sittway was established in 1863. With reference to stories of hermits who once dwelt in mountains, the name of the town is known as Yathedaung (Hermits’ mountain). Buthidaung and Maungtaw townships were allowed to join the border administration on 25 July, 1960. Yathedaung consists of 29 village tracts which were transferred and again allowed to come under the Administration of Yathedaung township.
Present-day Yathedaung is 12 miles wide from east to west and 34 miles from the south to the north, and Yathedaung Town’s area is totaling a square of 1.73 miles. It borders with Ponnagyun in the east, in the west with Maungtaw and Buthidaung townships, in the south with
Sittway and in the north with Buthidaung township. Religious buildings include pagodas and stupas with 200 monasteries in which 315 monks , 461 novices and 20 nuns residing and meditating in those buildings. There are many famous pagodas Buddha statues and stupas in the township.
The people have depended on agriculture and animal husbandry for their livelihood; less development is found in the township due to difficult transportation.

Pauktaw township
The town, situated in the east of Sittway, was established in 1788.
According to the records of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Zinchaung village of Ramawaddy town chief U San Phyu Aung and his wife Daw Mi Hla May bought a plot of pasture from U Mra Phaw Aung of Thayay village for the Rakhine 30 coins; the village of Thawyay Pautaw was established in1788. The name ‘Pauktaw’ implies the felling of trees grown on the rich pasture. As the village became a town in 1898 to be ruled by the British Township Officer for being in a strategic waterway. Under the Revolutionary Council government , the town was upgraded to B-level status.
The town is 19 miles from the east to the west , 40 miles from the south to the north, tand area of Pauktaw Town covers 0.14 square miles. It is in the east of Sittway and Ponnagyun townships; in the west of Minbya township and in the south of MraukU. It is 11 feet above the sea level and the southern part borders with the Bay of Bengal. The township is composed of five wards 53 village tracts and 177 villages with a population of 187000; among them are154326 Rakhine Buddhists. There are only 18804 townspeople in the wards of the town. A 25-bed hospital and 16-bed station hospital are open to the public. For the students in the township, there are five high schools, seven branch schools, seven middle schools and other basic schools have already opened.
There are 29 pagodas, 244 monasteries with 339 monks, 432 novices and 20 nuns residing and meditating in those buildings. Among the famous pagodas are Sandawshin Pagoda on Myegnu Island and Layudaw Pagoda in the west ward and other pagodas in Taungnyo and Kyauksu wards. The town is situated on the left bank of Kyweku River and in the south there are 8 islands including three Frongar islands.
Sittway District is situated veering towards the west of Myanmar. With better transportation more and more people keep visiting the town for various reasons. Those who wish to go to MraukU will have to go via Sittway so that they are able to study Rakhine’s rich cultural heritage.

(Translated by Arakan Sein)

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