Salween District, 1908

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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.


Salween District

Physical aspects

Burmese, Tkanlwtn) A hill District in the extreme north of the Tenassenm Division of Lower Burma, lying be- tween 17 17' and 1 8 41' N, and 96 58' and 97 46' E., with an area of 2,666 square miles. It includes the whole of the country between the Salween on the east and the Paunglaung range (the watershed between the Sittang and the Yunzalm and Bilm) on the west. To the noith of the District lies Karenni ; to the west Toungoo District ; to the south and south-east Thaton District and to the east, on the farther side of the Salween, the province of Chiengma in Northern Siam. The District is about 120 miles long by 40 to 50 miles broad in a direct line.

Its distinctive features are the long nairow valleys into which it is divided aspects by ranges of hills, having a general direction of north-north-west and south-south-east, with peaks rising to 3,000 and 5,000 feet. The whole country is, m point of fact, a wilderness of mountains, and the valleys may more pioperly be described as long winding gorges, in which the view is naturally very limited. The scenery in the Yunzalin valley is extremely picturesque , but, owing to the nature of the country, it is confined to short stretches of river and hill, a picture that is lepeated with monotonous iteration through- out the greater part of the valley. The pine forests that clothe the hills farther north, however, afford some variation to the otherwise tedious beauty of the scenery in general.

The country is drained by three main rivers . the SALWEEN, which gives the District its name, to the east; the Yunzalm, one of the Salween's affluents, m the centre ; and the Bilin to the west all fed by innumerable mountain torrents and partaking somewhat of the nature of their turbulent tributaries. They all flow in a south-south- easterly direction.

The Yunzalm, which divides the District into iwo halves east and west, is navigable by country boats as far as Papun, the head-quarters of the District; the Bilin as far as Pawota, near the south-west corner of the District ; the Salween, which forms the eastern border, can be navigated, notwithstanding many rapids, by native craft throughout as much of its course as lies within the District except at the Hatgyi (the 'great rapids'), a series of formidable falls which bar the passage a little below the place where the Thaungym, the north-eastern boundary of Thaton District, flows into it from the east. The Bilm is not an affluent of the Salween, but enters the sea in Thaton District.

Salween is essentially a hill tract, and is traversed in a general north and south direction by ranges of hills. The country is com- posed of several groups of beds of Palaeozoic age, togethei with metamorphic rocks, the whole traversed by granite and elvan dikes in which gneiss, limestone, and hard calcareous sandstone are associated. The last two are probably of the Moulmem group and of Carboniferous age.

A dense mass of tropical forest trees covers the lower or southern portions of the narrow river basins, becoming interspersed higher up the valleys and on the hill-slopes with mixed forest trees, including teak, fadauk (Pterocarpus indicus\ pytngado (Xylia dolabnformis), and Albtzzia Lebbek, with species of oak, fig, bamboo, &c. Orchids and ferns abound on the trees and rocks. In the northern part of the District large forests of pine occur at an elevation of 2,000 feet and upwards. The species met with are Pinus Khasya and Pmus Merkusii.

The District abounds in wild animals, principally deer and wild hog. Tigers and leopards are numerous, and bears are also fre- quently met with, but large game of other kinds is not common.

The climate m the valleys, generally speaking, is moist, hot, and unhealthy, and has a peculiarly enervating effect on persons not acclimatized to it. In the upper part of the Yunzalin valley, how- ever, at an elevation of 2,000 feet and upwards, in the pine-forest tract, pleasanter and healthier conditions prevail, though even there the climate leaves much to be desired. In the north the thermo- meter falls to freezing-point at night in the month of January At Papun the temperature in the cold season ranges between 65 and 80 ; m the hot season, between 75 and 97.


The rainfall, which averages 114 inches annually, is evenly dis- tributed throughout the District. There is practically no ram during the first four and the last two months of the year. Very little is known of the early history of Salween. Tradition asserts that the eastern portion of the country was formerly inhabited by Yun (Lao) Shans, who have given their name to the Yunzalin river. Most of these are said to have been brought away by Alaungpaya on his return from the invasion of Siam, and to have settled in the neighbourhood of Syriam.

The Karens appeal to have afterwards occupied and obtained possession of the country, but were some time later sub- jugated by the chief of Chiengmai, a state at that time independent of Siam. The remains of extensive fortifications, said to have been constructed by the Shans, and probably of this period, are still to be seen in the District. After the second Burmese War the country became British territory and was included in the old Shwegyin District, but remained for some years in a very disturbed state. A Karen, who called himself a Minlaung (' the incarnation of a prince '), collected around him a number of adventurers from the neighbouring Shan and Kaien areas, and reduced the tract to complete subjection. This outlaw and his follower^, however, did not remain long in the country. They were driven out by a mixed British force of troops and police, aided by friendly Karens, and were obliged to take refuge in Chiengmai.

Disturbances recommenced in 1867 >& chief named Di Pa attacked and plundered several villages, and threatened Papun, and dacoities continued for some time. For the better administration of the tract it was accordingly separated from Shwegyin in 1872, and placed in charge of an officer immediately under the Commissioner of Tenasberim ; and from this date the area ceased to be styled the Yunzalin (Rwonzaleng) subdivision of Shwegyin District, and became the Salween District, with Papun as its head-quarters.


The population in 1901 was 37,837, distributed in 246 villages, the head-quarters being at PAPUN VILLAGE. Its numbers have been increasing steadily during the past thirty years. The . total was 26,117 in 1872; 30,009 in 1881; and 31,439 in 1891. The District forms a single township called PAPUN. Of the total population, 23,500 (or 62 per cent) are Animists and 13,800 (or nearly 37 per cent.) Buddhists. The majority of the Karen population are animistic in their belief, but the number pro- fessing Buddhism is increasing yearly. Karen is the prevailing language.

The Karens form the most important racial element, numbering 33,400. The Shans come next with 2,816, while the Burman total is only 953. The other races are for the most part Taungthus and Takings, There are a few natives of India. About 86 per cent, of the total population were engaged in or dependent upon agriculture in 1901. Of this number, nearly seven-eighths were supported by taungya cultivation alone.


In 1901 native Christians numbered 174, of whom 133 were Baptists, chiefly converted Karens. These latter possess a chapel at Papun, and support a native pastor.

The soil is uniformly poor, except here and there in the Bilin and Yunzalm valleys, where loamy alluvial deposits have been formed. The rainfall is always ample and seasonable, but gnc ure. ^ ex t reme iy hilly nature of the country and its poor soil afford little scope for agricultural development. Owing to the confoimation of the surface, iaungya cultivation naturally takes the first place Le or 'wet' rice cultivation is carried on in the small area of low-lying plain land in the valleys It is mostly in the form of tei raced fields, flooded by means of drains connected with hill streams or torrents, which, dependent on the rainfall, can supply the necessary water for this kind of cultivation only during the monsoon penod. Areca palms are giown in sheltered spots be- tween the lesser hill spurs.

In 1903-4 only 36 square miles were cultivated. Rice is the staple giam, occupying 31 square miles of the total. Other food-crops are raised in such small quantities as scarcely to deserve mention. A moderate quantity of sesamum is grown on old taungyas, but details of the area under this crop are not available The greater part of the oilseed is expoited in bulk, though some of it passes through the local oil-mills (si-zoti). Betel-nuts are also produced for export in fairly large quantities, on an area of 3,000 acres in 1903-4. Nothing else is grown, save a little tobacco and sugar-cane for local consumption.

Cultivation has steadily increased yeai by year, but it cannot be expected in a rugged country like Salween to attain anything like the important position it holds in other Districts The increase in the production of rice is chiefly due to the demands of an in- creasing population, Improvement in quality by selection of seed is not understood by the cultivators. No loans for land improvement have been applied for or made, but advances to agriculturists foi the extension of cultivation have from time to time been granted Droughts, floods, and insect plagues have never been experienced in the District^ but cattle-disease occurs > early, though not to any serious extent.

There is no cattle or pony breeding , and although elephants, buffaloes, and bullocks are largely used, they are all impoited from elsewhere, chiefly from Northern Siam All overland transport is effected by means of elephants and pack-bullocks. Ponies and mules are scarce and rarely used.


The forests are of three classes. In the lowlands the ground is covered with tropical forests, while higher up the valleys and on the hills the slopes are clad with mixed and pine forests. The timber contained in them includes teak, pyingado (Kylia dolabriformis\ pyinma (Lagerstroemia Flos Reginae\ padauk (Pterocarpns indicits\ thingan (Hopea odorata), and a number of other trees Bamboos are plentiful, and various kinds of cane are found. 'Reserved' forebts cover 128 squaie miles, of which the gieatei part is under measures of protection from fire No forests have been notified as 'piotected, 5 but the 'unclassed' forests amount to approximately 2,000 squaie miles Teak plantations m an area of nj acies were started in the year 1876, and in a few of these fiadaitk has been mixed with young teak with fair success. The receipts from forests m 1903-4 amounted to 1-6 lakhs All the timber extracted from the District is floated down the Salween river to Moulmein.

Lead and non oie have been discovered in various places, but much of the former could not be profitably extracted unless a great demand for the metal were to arise in the immediate neighbourhood of the workings. Veins of lead have also been found in moie accessible paits of the District. The ore is said to contain about 14 oz. of silver to a ton of metallic lead.

An attempt was once made to exploit a vein discovered a short distance up the Kanyindon, a tributary of the Yunzalm ; but though much valuable machinery was imported, the work was abandoned very soon after operations had commenced. The iron ore occurring in the District is of little or no value. Gold-dust is found in the Mewamg creek, a tributary of the Bihn, flowing into it from the west. The inhabitants of the Shan village of Mewaing, who are mostly petty shopkeepers, wash for gold in the dry season, when the auriferous mudbanks are exposed The gold occurs in diminutive scales, and the lesult of a season's washing is said to be from one to two ounces of gold-dust for each worker

Trade and Communication

Manufactures are almost non-existent Cotton-weaving by hand is carried on as a source of income on a small scale, for v the most part by Shan and Taking women. The industry is ^^ ^ universal among the Karens, whose women supply communications. the gi eater part of the i equipments of their house- hold in the way of clothing, but they do not manufacture foi sale Mats are woven by both men and women for domestic use Oil is expressed from sesamum seed m a few oil-mills, the produce being disposed of in the local market The Karens are permitted to manufacture liquor m small quantities for their own consumption. There are four licensed distilleries for the manufacture of country spirit for sale.

In addition to traffic with other portions of Burma, there is a steady trade with Karenni and Siam, over three main routes : the Dagwin route, leading due east from Papun across the Salween river into Siarn; the Kyaukhnyat loute, somewhat more to the north, and the Kawludo route, farther north again. Both the latter loutes communicate with Karenni as well as with Siam. The chief imports are cattle and treasure. Clothing, jewellery, tea, &c., are also brought in, but in small quantities. About 80 per cent, of the imports come from Siam The chief exports are silk and cotton piece-goods, wearing apparel, jewellery, betel-nuts, manufactured iron, petroleum, salt, and piovisions, as well as silver (rupees) and gold (Chinese). Siam receives 60 per cent, of what is sent out, and Karenni the rest.

Ninety per cent, of the imports from Siam and 80 per cent, of the exports to that country are carried over the Dagwm route, while the remainder go through Kyaukhnyat. The roads on both these loutes are rough paths crossing extremely hilly country, and as a rule only elephants and bullocks are employed as transport. An im- proved bridle-path between Papun and Dagwm is, however, under construction.

The exports and imports to Karenni are divided between the land and river routes. The former passes close to Kawludo, a police post in the north of the District j the latter commences at Kyau- khnyat, at which place goods for Karenni, carried from Papun on elephants or bullocks, are transhipped into boats which proceed up the Salween river to their destination. With the exception of betel- nuts, nearly all goods for export are brought to Papun by boat from Moulmem. There are trade registration stations at Dagwin, Kyaukhnyat, and Kawludo. The total value of the merchandise im- ported from Siam and Karenni in 1903-4 was 46-! lakhs, and the total value of that exported 2-| lakhs.

The chief lines of road connect Papun, the head-quarters of the District, with Bihn in Thaton District (71 miles), Kamamaung on the Salween (53 miles), Dagwm on the Salween (28 miles), Kyau- khnyat, Kawludo, Lomati, and Mewamg within the limits of the District, and Shwegym in Toungoo District. All these roads were mere jungle tracks till very recently, but are now being improved. The Papun-Bilm road is to be a cart-road, the others will be bridle- paths.

The waterways are the Salween, the Yunzalm, and the Bihn rivers. On the first, intercourse between Kyaukhnyat and the Karenni country on the north is maintained by means of country boats. The Yunzalm is the chief means of communication between Papun and Moulmein, and nine-tenths of the goods brought to Papun for local consumption or for export are carried by boat. The weekly mails are also conveyed by the same means. The Yunzalm is not at present navigable by launches, but might without great difficulty be made so during four to six months m the year. The Bilin river is an important waterway, and is the channel for most of the im- port and export trade of the western areas of the District. There are ferries across the Salween at Dagwin and Kyaukhnyat, and others on the Yimzahn and Bilin rivers.


The District Superintendent of police is also the Deputy-Com- missioner, and carries on the administration of the District with the assistance of a township officer. There are six A . tlutgyts of circles. Sections 2 to 13 of the Lower Admlmstratl n - Burma Village Act have not been extended to Salween , and con- sequently the village headmen, who are here called kyedangyis, exercise no magisterial powers and have very little authority in the villages under them The District forms a subdivision of the Martaban Public Works division, and is included in the West Salween Forest division, which also comprises a portion of Thaton District.

Salween forms part of the Tenasserim civil and sessions division, while the Deputy-Commissioner is ex-offido District Judge, Civil work is light, and the District is on the whole remarkably free from crime Cases of petty theft are confined to Papun and the large villages, but the culprits are seldom Karens, who are not generally given to petty thieving Elephant-stealing, traffic in stolen elephants, and the illicit extraction and sale of teak logs, however, are forms of crime that have a great attraction for the Karen.

No thorough survey has yet been undertaken, and somewhat primitive methods of conducting revenue work prevail. Land is assessed according to the nature of the cultivation as well as the quality of the soil. The rates for rice land are Rs. 1-8, R. i, and 8 annas per acre, according to the quality of the soil and other conditions prevailing in the different parts of the District. Garden land and kaing are uniformly assessed at Rs. 2 per acre. Taungya is assessed at 8 annas per da or per man, and for revenue purposes a man is estimated to be capable of working 2 acres of taungya land. The aggregate number of holdings amounts to 9,650, and the average extent of each holding is 2 acres. No revision of assessments has been made for over ten years

The following table shows, in thousands of rupees, the collections of land revenue and total revenue since 1880-1 :


The income of the District cess fund for the maintenance of communications and other local necessities amounted in 1903-4 to Rs. 8,000. Public works absoibed Rs. 1,000 of this total, and District post charges a similar amount. There are no municipalities. For police work the District Superintendent is assisted by an Assistant Superintendent and two inspectors, all of whom are sta- tioned at head-quarters. There are 4 head constables, 9 sergeants, 102 constables, and 10 yawwut-gaungs (rural policemen), as well as a military police force of 125, including 2 native officers. The armed police arc posted in eight stations.

The District possesses no jail. All prisoners but those sentenced to short terms of imprisonment are sent to the Moulmem jail. The short-term prisoners detained at Papun are confined in the police lock-up.

The standard of education in Salween is lower than anywhere else in the Province except in the Chin Hills. In 1901 the pro- portion of persons able to read and write was only 7-2 per cent, (5-1 males and o 56 females). A school has been opened by the American Baptist Mission at Papun It is under a Karen teacher, and is attended by about 40 boys and girls. Another small school has been started by the same mission in Bwado, a small Karen village south-east of Papun. There is also a small elementary school in Papun for Buddhist chilaren, who are taught in the vernacular only. The Buddhist monks, as elsewhere in Burma, impart such education as is not given in the missionary and lay schools.

The hospital at Papun is the only one in the District. It has accommodation for 9 m-patients. During 1903 the number of in- patients treated was 113, and that of out-patients 1,808, while the number of operations performed was 44. Its income consisted of a grant from Provincial funds of Rs. 3,400, and Rs. 170 from subscriptions.

Vaccination is compulsory only in Papun. In 1903-4 the number of persons successfully vaccinated was 583, representing 15 per 1,000 of population.

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