ARAKAN, a division of Lower Burma. It consists of a strip of country running along the eastern seaboard of the Bay of Bengal, from the Naaf estuary, on the borders of Chittagong, to Cape Negrais. Length from northern extremity to Cape Negrais, about 400 m.; greatest breadth in the northern part, 90 m., gradually diminishing towards the south, as it is hemmed in by the Arakan Yoma mountains, until, in the extreme south, it tapers away to a narrow strip not more than 15 m. across. The coast is studded with islands, the most important of which are Cheduba, Ramree and Shahpura. The division has its headquarters at Akyab and consists of four districts—namely, Akyab, Northern Arakan Hill Tracts, Sandoway and Kyaukpyu, formerly called Ramree. Its area is 18,540 sq. m. The population at the time of the British occupation in 1826 did not exceed 100,000. In 1831 it amounted to 173,000; in 1839 to 248,000, and in 1901 to 762,102.
The principal rivers of Arakan are—(1) the Naaf estuary, in the north, which forms the boundary between the division and Chittagong; (2) the Myu river, an arm of the sea, running a course almost parallel with the coast for about 50 m.; (3) the Koladaing river, rising near the Blue mountain, in the extreme north-east, and falling into the Bay of Bengal a few miles south of the Myu river, navigable by vessels of from 300 to 400 tons burden for a distance of 40 m. inland; and (4) the Lemyu river, a considerable stream falling into the bay a few miles south of the Koladaing. Farther to the south, owing to the nearness of the range which bounds Arakan on the east, the rivers are of but little importance. These are the Talak and the Aeng, navigable by boats; and the Sandoway, the Taungup and the Gwa streams, the latter of which alone has any importance, owing to its mouth forming a good port of call or haven for vessels of from 9 to 10 ft. draught. There are several passes over the Yoma mountains, the easiest being that called the Aeng route, leading from the village of that name into Upper Burma. The staple crop of the province is rice, along with cotton, tobacco, sugar, hemp and indigo. The forests produce abundance of excellent oak and teak timber.
The natives of Arakan trace their history as far back as 2666 B.C., and give a lineal succession of 227 native princes down to modern times. According to them, their empire had at one period far wider limits, and extended over Ava, part of China, and a portion of Bengal. This extension of their empire is not, however, corroborated by known facts in history. At different times the Moguls and Pegus carried their arms into the heart of the country. The Portuguese, during the era of their greatness in Asia, gained a temporary establishment in Arakan; but in 1782 the province was finally conquered by the Burmese, from which period until its cession to the British in 1826, under the treaty of Yandaboo, its history forms part of that of Burma. The old city of Arakan, formerly the capital of the province, is situated on an inferior branch of the Koladaing river. Its remoteness from the ports and harbours of the country, combined with the extreme unhealthiness of its situation, have led to its gradual decay subsequently to the formation of the comparatively recent settlement of Akyab, which place is now the chief town of the province. The old city (now Myohaung) lies 50 m. north-east of Akyab. The Maghs, who form nearly the whole population of the province, follow the Buddhist doctrines, which are universally professed throughout Burma. The priests are selected from all classes of men, and one of their chief employments is the education of children. Instruction is consequently widely diffused, and few persons, it is said, can be found in the province who are unable to read. The qualifications for entering into the priestly order are good conduct and a fair measure of learning—such conduct at least as is good according to Buddhist tenets, and such learning as is esteemed among their votaries.
The Arakanese are of Burmese origin, but separated from the parent stock by the Arakan Yoma mountains, and they have a dialect and customs of their own. Though conquered by the Burmese, they have remained distinct from their conquerors.
The Northern Arakan Hill Tracts district is under a superintendent, who is usually a police officer, with headquarters at Paletwa. The area of the Hill Tracts is 5233 sq. m.; pop. (1901) 20,682. (J. G. Sc.)