Prome District, 1908

From Indpaedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hindi English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish


Prome District, 1908

Physical aspects

District in the Pegu Division of Lower Burma, stretching across the valley of the Irrawaddy between 18degree 18' and 19degree 11' N. and 94degree 41' and 95degree 53' E., with an area of 2,915 square miles. It is bounded on the north by Thayetmyo District ; on the east by the Pegu Yoma ; on the south by Henzada and Tharrawaddy Districts ; and on the west by the Arakan Yoma. The Irrawaddy flows through the District from north to south, dividing it into two portions, differing considerably in area, appearance, and fertility. To the west of the

river lies the Padaung township, constituting about one-third of the total area of the District. Here the country is broken up by thickly wooded spurs from the Arakan Yoma into small valleys, drained by short and unimportant tributaries of the Irrawaddy, and but little cultivated. The remaining six townships lie to the east of the Irra- waddy. North and north-east of Prome town the country resembles that on the Padaung side ; for the forest-covered spurs of the Pegu Yoma form numerous valleys and ravines, stretching as far as the Irrawaddy, and watered by torrents which, as they proceed south-west towards level country, eventually unite into one large stream called the Nawin, spanned by a wooden bridge to the north of Prome. The south and south-west consist of a large and well-cultivated plain, inter- sected by low ranges with a general north and south direction, the chief of which are called the Prome hills. Towards the east and south-east this fertile tract is drained by streams, shut out from the Irrawaddy by the Prome hills, and sending their waters into the Inma Lake, from which the Myitmaka (known farther south as the Hlaing) flows seawards in a line parallel to that of the Irrawaddy. The Inma, the only lake of any size, is 10 miles long and 4 wide in the broadest part. It is 12 feet deep during the rains, but practically dries up in the dry season.

The hills that bound the District, the Pegu Yoma on the east and the Arakan Yoma on the west, are geologically dissimilar. The eastern range, in common with the whole country lying between the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers (with the exception of an outlier or two of crystalline rocks near Toungoo), is composed of beds none of which is older than the miocene or Middle Tertiary period, while the western range consists of two groups of beds, a newer of eocene or Early Tertiary age, and an older group of (probably) Triassic age, with here and there scattered outcrops of serpentine. The Pegu group, made up of the Pegu range and the greater part of the District cast of the Irrawaddy, as well as a tract to the west of that stream, may be divided into three parts lower, middle, and upper. The lower division consists mainly of a series of beds of blue clay, which seem entirely devoid of fossils, and may, it is conjectured, have a thickness of 400 feet. The middle division is represented by a considerable thickness of massive argilla- ceous sandstone grits and shales, the latter predominating towards the base. These beds are generally devoid of fossils, and can be seen to the best advantage in the gorge above Prome. The upper division, not less than 600 feet thick, contains shales and sandstones, and is extremely rich in fossils, apparently of Middle Tertiary age. The bed at the base of this division forms the river bank nearly opposite Prome.

The vegetation is mainly composed of deciduous forests, which can be divided into in forests, upper mixed forests, dry forests, and savannah forests. The in forests are mainly characterized by in (Dipterocarpns tuberculatus) and are similar to those described under PEGU DISTRICT, as also are the upper mixed forests, in which teak is abundant. The dry forests are characteristic, and contain among their chief constituents Dalbergia cultrate, Diospyros burmannica, Buchanania latifolia, and Crataeva religtosa, and among shrubs Thespesia Lampas, Barleria cristata, B. dichotoma, Calotropis, Clero- dendron infortunatum, and Bambusa Tulda and B. stricta. In certain areas sha (Acacia Catechu) forms a conspicuous part of the vegetation. The river is bordered with savannah forests (described under HANTHA- WADDY DISTRICT) and many widespread weeds Amaranthus, Rumex maritimus, Polygonum, Ranunculus sceleratus, and others.

The fauna is of the usual type. One of the most characteristic wild animals of Burma, the thamin or brow-antlered deer, abounds in the high grounds to the east of Prome. The elephant and the rhino- ceros are found, but only in the Arakan Yoma.

The climate of Prome is much drier than that of the rest of the Pegu Division, and its temperature has a wider range, from about 60 degree in January to 100 degree in June. The District has a lighter rainfall than any other District of Lower Burma, except Thayetmyo; it is fairly regular and well distributed, the average for the last decade being 48 inches for the whole District, 43 inches at Prome, 48 inches at Shwedaung, and 53 inches at Paungde.


The Burmese name for Prome is Pyi; and according to tradition the once-flourishing kingdom of Prome was founded by a king named Dutabaung, of the Pyu tribe, who with the Arakanese and other tribes constituted the Burman race in the remote past. Early accounts place the foundation of Tharekhettra, the old capital, in the year after the second great Buddhist Council, held in 443 H. c. Of this ancient city only a few embankments and pagodas remain in marshy ground 5 or 6 miles from Prome. Later on, we hear of a reigning house founded by one Tepa, which, as there is no record of a subsequent line, probably lasted till the first break-up of the kingdom of Prome. There is little of historical value in the ancient Prome chronicles ; but these seem to point to the conclusion that the Pyus were members of the Burman race, who, cutting themselves off at an early date from the parent stock, then concentrated at Tagaung, and struck off down the Irrawaddy valley till they were brought up by the Talaing dominion on the edge of the delta, where they halted and formed a principality of their own. Little credence can be given to the stories of the early kings, but it seems clear that during the early centuries of the Christian era the Pyus suffered defeat at the hands of the Takings. The vear 104 B.E. (A.D. 742) is given as the date of the destruction of Prome by the Peguans.

With the overthrow of the Pyu dynasty the reigning house is said to have withdrawn north again, and founded a new kingdom at Pagan ; and it seems probable that the sack of Prome in the eighth century was more or less connected with one of the movements which culminated in the glories of mediaeval Pagan. The Talaings never had a firm hold over Prome. We hear later of an independent kingdom ; and it was in the neighbourhood of Prome that the forces of Prome, Ava, and Arakan were defeated by a Toungoo army in 1542. In the middle of the eighteenth century Prome was, however, held by the Talaings, and the town was the scene of much carnage during the operations which ended in the overthrow of the Peguans by the Burmese conqueror Alaungpaya. Prome played a not inconspicuous part in the first Burmese War, for the investment of the town by a Burman army of 60,000 men in 1825, and the defeat of this force by Sir A. Campbell, constituted one of the most decisive features of the campaign. The town was temporarily occupied in the second Burmese War by a small force under Commander Tarleton, and the subsequent defeat of the Burman leader by General Godwin conpirmed its possession by the British in 1852. The timely rebellion of Mindon Min caused the withdrawal of the Burman troops from the District during the rest of the war, and there has been no serious trouble since its annexation in 1852.

The chief objects of archaeological interest are two pagodas, the Shwesandaw and the Shwenattaung. The former is 80 feet high and stands, its gilded cone conspicuous from afar, on a platform of stone on a hill in Prome town. Various tales describe its foundation, and it is supposed to contain four hairs from Gautama's head. It has been repaired and enlarged from time to time, and the festival in November is numerously attended. The Shwenattaung pagoda lies in the Shwe- daung township, 14 miles south of Prome, and tradition makes the wife of Dutabaung its foundress. It is said to be the repository of certain relics of Gautama, and its eight-day festival in March is attended by thousands.


The population of the District at the last four enumerations was : (l872) 28o , 288 , ( l88l ) 328,905, (1891) 368,977, and (1901) 365,804. The distribution according to town- ships in 1901 is shown in the following table :

Prome district.png

The rural population (excluding Prome, Paungde, and Shwedaung towns) is 316,537, distributed in 1,761 villages, giving a density of 109 persons per square mile. 'Away from the Irrawaddy valley, in the forest areas of the Paukkaung and Padaung townships, the population is sparse. Prome is one of the very few Districts of Burma which returned a smaller population in 1901 than in 1891. The decrease is due to the emigration of Burmans from Prome town and the neighbouring country, and from the hill tracts in the east and west of the District, to the more generous rice-bearing areas of the delta. The other portions of the District, especially the townships of Thegon and Paungde, lying on either side of the railway, have increased in population. The people are nearly all Buddhists, the total professing the faith of Gautama numbering 351,000 in 1901. Hindus and Muhammadans are confined to the towns, and number only 2,600 each ; and the total of Animists is 8,600. Burmese is the language of 94 per cent, of the people, but Karen and Chin are spoken in the hilly areas.

Burmans form 93 per cent, of the population, and are found every- where except in the hills. There are 4,200 Karens, who nearly all retain their dialect, and 1,200 Shans, of whom rather more than half still talk their own vernacular. The Chins, living for the most part to the west of the Irrawaddy, number 11,600, and about 60 per cent, speak the Chin language. They are said all to profess Buddhism (though the census figures do not bear out this assertion), and those near the Burmese villages have adopted Burmese dress and dropped their own, language. The number of people dependent on agriculture in 1901 was 251,300, or less by 7 per cent, than the corresponding total in 1891. Of these, 17,600 were supported by taungya or shifting cultivation.

There are only 481 Christians, half of whom are Baptists. The American Baptist Mission started work at Prome town in 1854, and now has centres at Prome, Paungde, and Inma. The Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches are also represented at Prome.


The rainfall, though light, can on the whole be depended upon. The principal rice-tracts are in the Hmawza township, the middle of the Thegon and Paungde townships, and the .

Shwedaung township. In the rest of the District taungya, or shifting hill cultivation, is prevalent ; in fact, the percentage of taungya cultivation is higher in Prome than in any other District in the Pegu and Irrawaddy Divisions. Field-work begins in the hot season with the carrying of manure to the ground. The custom of stabling the cattle provides the husbandman with a large supply of cow-dung, which is mixed with paddy husk before use. It is now usual to manure both nurseries and fields. The nurseries are sown broadcast and the rice is transplanted, not sown broadcast on the fields, as in Pegu District. For transplantation, and frequently for reaping, the able-bodied women work in gangs under chosen leaders. The custom of hiring a number of men for a fixed sum to reap the whole crop is unknown; in fact the rates of pay would not attract Burmans or natives of India from other Districts. The threshing is done in the villages, an arrangement which dispenses with the necessity for huts in the fields. Owing to the scarcity of cultivable waste, the rent paid by tenants is exceptionally high; in certain 'parts of the District as much as one-half of the crop is given to the land- lord, who pays the revenue. Famine is unknown, in spite of the comparative dryness of the climate.

The cultivated area has increased from 372 square miles in 1880-1 to 437 square miles in 1891, and 500 square miles in 1903-4. The main agricultural statistics for 1903-4 are shown below, in square miles :

Prome district 1.png

More than a hundred varieties of rice are recognized, and this crop covered 428 square miles in 1903-4. Besides the ordinary cold-season crop a certain amount of mayin, or hot-season rice, is grown. The area under rice has increased by nearly 40 per cent, in the twenty years ending 1903. In 1903-4 gardens covered 33 square miles, and 3,700 acres were cultivated with tobacco on the banks and islands of the Irrawaddy. During the same year cotton was grown on the hills on i, 600 acres, as compared with 3,000 acres in 1882. Prome is famous for custard-apples, which are planted largely on the hill-slopes facing Prome town.

No improvements in cultivation are noted. Havana tobacco was experimentally introduced in 1903, but beyond this no new crops of importance have been tried. Without being actually prosperous, the cultivators are, on the whole, fairly well-to-do, and till recently have not resorted to Government for loans. No agricultural advances were granted during the ten years ending 1900, but a beginning was made with loans to the extent of Rs. 1,400 in 1901-2, and Rs. 7,440 in 1903-4.

There are plenty of cattle for ploughing, which are bred and trained in the District. Ponies, sheep, and goats are not bred locally. The cattle are kept under the houses and stall-fed. It has been found that there is little need for grazing grounds, and such as exist are but little used. This accounts for the unusually healthy state of the cattle, for there is little doubt that large grazing grounds tend to spread epidemics.

No large irrigation works have been constructed, but a few minor works exist in the Padaung and Paukkaung townships. The Inma Lake, an important fishery, is the only large natural reservoir. In all, 61 square miles were irrigated in 1903-4, of which nearly 9 were supplied from private canals. Of the total, about 38 square miles are situated in the Hmawza township. The fisheries are comparatively unimportant, producing a revenue of Rs. 38,000 in 1903-4.


The forest tracts fall naturally into two groups : those to the west of the Irrawaddy on the Arakan Yoma, and those to the east of the river on the Pegu Yoma. The latter can be sub- divided again into two groups : those lying in the drainage of the Nawin in the north, and those in the drainage of the Shwele in the south. The former were worked to excess by the Burmans, but natural obstructions near the mouth of the Shwele fortunately preserved the Shwele forests from the indigenous methods of timber extraction. The Shwele has now been cleared, and the timber is worked departmentally by the Forest officials. The hill- slopes contain, besides teak, other valuable timbers, such as pyingado (Xylia dolabriformis) padauk (Pterocarpus indica) and pyinma (Lager- stroemia Flos Reginae). Between the hills and the river are large stretches of in and cutch forests, containing, in addition to these trees (Dipterocarpits tuberculatus and Acacia Catechu), useful growths such as thitya (Shorea obtusd) thitsi (Melanorrhoea usitata), and ingyin (Pentacme siamensis). The total area of ' reserved' forests is 538 square miles, and an area of 169 square miles is under settlement with a view to reservation. The forest receipts in 1903-4 were 9-7 lakhs. There are 1,467 square miles of 'unclassed' state forest.

No discoveries of metal or precious stones have so far been made. Large quantities of laterite and stone ballast are extracted from a hill near Hmawza by the Burma Railways Company, and small outcrops of coal have been met with in the Padaung township. Prospecting licences have been taken out for petroleum, but there has been no success so far.

Trade and communication

Cotton- and silk-weaving are carried on throughout the District, the former for the most part as a subsidiary occupation. Silk-weaving is mainly pursued in the town of Shwedaung and in the neighbouring circles, where, in fact, every other house has a loom. The census returns in 1901 showed that there were more silk-weavers in Prome than in any other District of Burma, with the single exception of Mandalay. Cotton looms are plentiful throughout the country, and in most cases the family loom provides the members of the household with clothing.

The only exceptional industry is sericulture, which was probably imported from China. It is carried on largely by the Yabein tribe, who live apart in their own villages, their occupation being offensive to the strict Buddhist. The method of manufacture is crude in the extreme. The eggs are hatched in a coarse cloth, and the worms swept into a tray and fed on mulberry leaves. After 30 days or so the larvae begin to spin, and when ready to commence this process, are picked out with the hand, and thrown on to the cocooning tray, on which a plaited bamboo ribbon, about two inches wide, is coiled. To this ribbon the larvae attach their cocoons, and these, when ready, are torn off and put to simmer in a common pot. The filaments are then picked up with a fork and reeled on a bamboo reel suspended over the pot. The thread thus produced is coarse and dirty, and mixed with pupae and other refuse. The price of raw silk at the river-side markets is Rs. 5 to Rs. 6 a pound. Other manufactures are ornamental boxes for keeping palm-leaf books, coarse brown sugar, and cutch from the forest-covered townships. The Acacia Catechu is common, and in 1901 Prome returned a larger number of cutch- workers than any other District of Burma. In Prome town there is a steam rice-mill, employing 60 hands, and a steam saw-mill, employ- ing 47 ; but on the whole, factory industries are poorly represented.

The main exports are paddy and timber. Paddy is sent by the railway to the south, and by the Irrawaddy steamers to Mandalay and intermediate towns, while teak from the Pegu Yoma is floated down the river in large quantities to Rangoon. A small amount of cotton is exported to Rangoon after a partial cleaning at Prome.

The principal imports are piece-goods, hardware, European goods, ngapi) and salted fish from Rangoon and other parts of the delta. The trade of Prome has declined somewhat since the opening of the Toungoo- Mandalay railway, as, previous to this, goods for Upper Burma were sent largely by rail to Prome town, and thence by steamer. This is still the route, however, for the passenger and mail traffic between Rangoon and a number of up-river stations, so that there is still a certain amount of transhipment business at Prome.

The Rangoon-Prome railway enters the District 5 miles from Paungde in the south, and runs through the middle of the Paungde, Thegon, and Hmawza townships to Prome, the terminus of the line. It has stations at Paungde, Padigon, Thegon, Sinmizwe, and Hmawza.

The Irrawaddy, flowing from north to south through the District, gives access to the Hmawza, Shwedaung, and Padaung townships ; and an excellent system of metalled roads connects the remoter places in the District with the landing-places on the river or the stations on the railway. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company's steamers provide a daily service from Prome to Thayetmyo, and from Prome to Henzada, and a tri-weekly service from Prome to Rangoon, and from Prome to Mandalay, stopping at river-side stations.

There are 91 miles of metalled and 116 miles of unmetalled roads maintained from Provincial funds. The main routes are the Prome- Rangoon road (mile 177 to mile 140) through Shwedaung and Paungde, and the road from Prome to Paukkaung, both of which are metalled and bridged. Unmetalled roads lead northwards into Thayetmyo District, and westwards over the Arakan Yoma to Taung- up in Sandoway District. A number of footpaths are bridged and embanked, but are not available for wheel-traffic. The most impor- tant of these is from Shwedaung to Nyaungzaye on the Irrawaddy. Roads maintained from Local funds connect the more important villages. Of the District cess fund roads, 7 miles are metalled and 84 1/2 unmetalled.


The District is divided into three subdivisions : Prome, containing the townships of PROME, PAUKKAUNG, and HMAWZA ; Paungde, con- taining the townships of PAUNGDE and THEGON : and Shwedaung, containing the townships of SHWE- DAUNG and PADAUNG. The executive staff is of the usual kind, the Paungde subdivision being generally in charge of an Assistant Com- missioner. There are 669 village headmen. At head-quarters there are, besides the Deputy-Commissioner, a treasury officer, an akunwun (in charge of the revenue), and a superintendent of land records, with a staff of 4 inspectors and 34 surveyors. The District forms a sub- division of the Tharrawaddy Public Works division, and a Forest division with a subdivisional officer at Paungde.

Prome, with Tharrawaddy, forms the jurisdiction of a Divisional as well as of a District Judge : the District Judge has his head-quarters at Tharrawaddy, the Divisional Judge at Prome. There are, besides the Divisional and District Judges, two civil judges, one at Prome, pre- siding over the Prome and Hmawza township courts, the other at Paungde, presiding over the Paungde and Thegon township courts. These judges have Small Cause Court jurisdiction up to Rs. 50 in the Prome and Paungde municipalities respectively. The other township courts are presided over by the township officers. In addition to the District, subdivisional, and township magistrates, there is an additional magistrate at Paungde. The District is noted for cattle-thefts ; but this form of crime is decreasing slowly, though in 1901 the number of con- victions was as large as 411. Cattle-theft is kept down as much as possible by active co-operation between the village headmen, the magistrates, and the police, and by the patrolling by military police of the roads most used by cattle-thieves.

Previous to the British occupation the principal sources of revenue were land tax and a form of income tax. The latter was assessed by the local officers, who were guided mainly by the property of the person assessed, but no fixed rates were laid down. It would appear that in portions of the District half the produce was demanded 'from the cultivators. After annexation efforts were made to distribute the land tax properly, and acreage rates were introduced in 1862 for rice lands. There was a settlement of the richest portion of the District in 1867-8, and again in 1884-5 ; and in 1900-1 a revision of the rates fixed in 1884-5 produced an increase of over a lakh, or nearly 30 per cent. The present rates on rice land vary from 6 annas to Rs. 2-6 an acre, and on gardens from 6 annas to Rs. 3. The average area of a holding at present is 5 1/2 acres, compared with 7 acres in 1881.

The steady growth of the revenue during the past twenty years may be gathered from the table below, which gives the figures in thousands of rupees. The total for 1903-4 includes 3 lakhs from capitation tax and 3.8 lakhs from excise.

Prome district 2.png

There is a District cess fund, administered by the Deputy-Com- missioner for the upkeep of roads and other local necessities. Its income (composed for the most part of a cess of 10 per cent, on the total land revenue) was Rs. 71,600 in 1903-4, and its expenditure Rs. 64,000, of which nearly one-third was devoted to public works. There are two municipalities : that of PROME, constituted in 1874, and that of PAUNGDE, in 1884. SHWEDAUNG has a town committee, which was formed in 1882.

The strength of the police is 406 of all ranks, under the orders of the District Superintendent. An Assistant Superintendent is in charge of the police in the Paungde subdivision. The force consists of 3 inspectors, 2 chief head constables, 6 head constables, 41 sergeants, and 352 constables, distributed in 14 police stations and 4 out- posts. The military police number 166 of all ranks, 66 being stationed at Prome town, the rest distributed in the other six town- ships. The District possesses two jails, at Prome and Paungde, with accommodation for 325 and 177 prisoners respectively. The Paungde jail was built in 1900, taking the place of the old reformatory school, which had been used as a jail since 1896.

The percentage of literate persons in 1901 was 45 in the case of males, 4 in that of females, and 24 in the case of the two sexes together. The number of pupils was 8,946 in 1881, 8,851 in 1891, 10,201 in 1901, and 10,166 in 1903-4, including 1,093 girls. In the last year there were 19 secondary, 126 primary, and 428 elementary (private) schools in the District. The most important institutions are the schools at Prome and Paungde. Judging from the attendance and from the passes obtained, female education is making a steady advance. The total expenditure on education in 1903-4 was Rs. 44,600, muni- cipal funds contributing Rs. 12,900 and Provincial funds Rs. 8,800, while Local funds provided Rs. 10,000 and fees Rs. 12,900.

The District contains hospitals at Prome, Paungde, and Shwedaung, with 78 beds. In 1903 the number of cases treated was 30,179, includ- ing 1,011 in-patients, and 559 operations were performed. Towards a total expenditure of Rs. 13,800, municipal funds contributed Rs. 7,600 and Local funds Rs. 4,900.

Vaccination is compulsory only within municipalities, but the esti- mated percentage of protected persons in the District as a whole is fairly high. In 1903-4 the number of persons successfully vac- cinated was 17,490, representing 48 per r,ooo of population. At one time small-pox was a scourge of particular virulence in Prome town, but vaccination has done much to reduce the ravages of this disease. [W. E. Lowry, Settlement Report (1902).]

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, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Personal tools