Akyab Town

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This article has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Akyab Town

Head-quarters of the Arakan Division and of Akyab District, Lower Burma, situated in 20 degree 8' N. and 92 degree 55' E., at the mouth of the Kaladan river. Akyab ranks fourth among the towns of the Province. The population was 19,230 in 1872, 33,989 in 1881, 37,938 in 1891, and 35,680 in 1901. The decrease in the last decade is attributed to an unwonted paucity of coolies from outside at the time of the Census. The population is mixed, comprising Arakanese (11,531), Burmans, Chinese, and natives of India, notably Bengalis from the Chittagong coast (18,328).

The origin of the name Akyab is unknown. Some authorities allege that it is a corruption of Akyat, the name of a pagoda which is supposed; to be the shrine of the jawbone of Buddha, and was built by one of the ancient Arakanese kings. The Arakanese name of the town is Sit-twe (literally, 'where the war began'). There are no legends connected with the origin of this name. Until the British occupation Akyab was merely a small fishing village, the capital of Arakan being Myohaung After the annexation of Arakan, in 1826, Akyab was made the capital of the new province, and has since ranked as its chief port. The town is situated on well-wooded low-lying ground between the sea the Kaladan, which, flowing down from the north, opens out as reaches the sea into an ample roadstead, partially protected from the monsoons by the Boronga and Savage Islands. The latter of these lies at the seaward end of the port and is surmounted by a lighthouse. The harbour has an outer and inner bar. At high water vessels oF any draught can safely enter or leave, but at low water a pilot is needed The harbour is provided with an iron wharf, a smallstone pier, and several smaller wooden jetties.

The town is really an island, triangular in shape and about 5 square miles in extent, cut olf from the mainland by a creek which connects the Kaladan river on the east with the estuary of the Mayu river on the west, and open on the south and south-west to the sea. Two sides of the triangle run in a southerly direction to where the river meets the sea, and the apex is known locally as The Point. The houses of the European residents are built in the southern portion of this wedge, along the eastern shore of the harbour as far as the stone pier. The native town fills the north of the triangle between the pier and the Cherogea creek, which forms the northern boundary of the town proper, and along both banks of which the rice- mills are situated.

The town is unhealthy, being subject to regular epidemics of cholera as well as to malarial fever, which formerly earned for Akyab the not altogether unmerited sobriquet of ' the white man's grave.'

The principal public buildings are the jail, the hospital, the municipal high school, and the Government offices. There are Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, and the latter has a convent and a school attached to it. Most of the dwelling-houses are built of wood or mat, with thatched roofs. A clock-tower commemorates the first, and a race- stand the second, Jubelee of Queen Victoria. The jail is a second-class District jail, with accommodation for 489 prisoners. It was the scene of a serious outbreak in 1892, during the course of which the European jailor in charge was murdered by the convicts.

There are eleven steam-power mills in the town, of which five mill white rice, and the remainder what is known as ' cargo rice.' From May to December most of the mills close, opening again in January. Recently short crops and high prices have led to much of the grain being exported in the husk. The rice trade is carried on extensively by natives of India. Besides the rice-mills there are no factories in the town deserving of note, except a saw-mill and a tannery, both of which are owned and worked by Chinese, and another tannery worked by natives of India.

There are two banks in the town, several printing presses and local newspapers. All or nearly all of the unskilled labourers are imported from Chittagong. They usually return to their homes at the close of the busy season in April or May. Nearly all the skilled workmen are Indians. There are, however, a few Arakanese artisans, chiefly gold and silver workers. The Indian appears to be gradually ousting the indigenous handicraftsman here as elsewhere.

The foreign trade of Akyab port was valued at 76 lakhs in 1903-4, and the trade with Indian ports at 157 lakhs. The exports consist almost exclusively of rice, ' cargo rice ' being sent ordinarily to the Mediterranean and white rice to Indian ports. The former was valued in that year at 74 lakhs, all but about 9 lakhs' worth being shipped to Europe. The rice exports to Madras coast ports were valued at 34 lakhs, and those to Bombay at 15 lakhs. The total of imports in 1903-4 was made up for the most part of 37 lakh of treasure from Calcutta, 31 lakhs' worth of commodities from thesame port,and 17 lakhs' worth from Burmese ports, comprising gunnies,dried fish, cotton, betel-nuts, &c. From foreign ports the import are insignificant

Akyab was constituted a municipality in 1874. The municipal committee consists of a president, vice-president, and fifteen members The Deputy-Commissioner is president and the Civil Surgeon vice- president. The elective system is in force, but the interest taken in local self-government is not keen. A scheme is under consideration for supplying the town with water from a reservoir to be construction for outside municipal limits. The municipal revenue and expenditure for the ten years ending 1900 averaged a lakh. In 1903-4 the income and expenditure came to 1.3 lakhs.

The principal receipts were Rs. 26,000 from houses and lands, Rs. 28,000 from conservancy fees, and Rs. 38,000 from tolls or markets and slaughter-houses, while the chief items of expenditure were administration (Rs. 15,000), conservancy (Rs. 31,000), and roads (Rs. 20,000). The Port fund provides lights and buoys, and maintains the wharves. Its income, derived from shipping dues for the most part, was Rs. 99,000 in 1903-4.

The municipality maintains a high school, which has upwards of 370 pupils. The total expenditure on education is about Rs. 24,000. A portion of this is met from school fees and a portion from contri- butions by Provincial and District cess funds, while about one-quarter is an actual charge on municipal revenues.

There is a large general hospital with 114 beds. This, and the Shwebya dispensary (in which during the same year 6,543 persons were treated), are almost entirely supported by the municipality, which contributed Rs. 14,500 in 1903 towards their upkeep, the balance being met out of subscriptions (Rs. 2,500). Attached to the general hospital is a European Seamen's Hospital, built in 1902, chiefly from funds derived from the accumulation of Sunday labour fees levied at the port.

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