Sandoway 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.


Sandoway District

Physical aspects

(Burmese, Thandwe). A coast District in the Arakan Division of Lower Burma, formed by a narrow strip of sea-board lying between 17 15' and 19 32' N. and 94 o' and 94 $2' E., with an extreme length of 179 miles and an extreme breadth of 48 miles, and an area of 3,784 square miles. It is bounded on the north by the Ma-i river, which separates it from Kyaukpyu District ; on the east by the Arakan Yoma, which divides it from Thayetmyo, Prome, Henzada, and Bassein ; on the south by the Kyaukchun stream and the Kyadaung hills \ and on the west by the Bay of Bengal. The southern boun- dary was formerly the Gwa river, but in 1893 a small tract to the south of that stream was added from Bassein District.

The District is mountainous. The spurs of the Arakan Yoma reach almost to the coast, so that not more than one-eighteenth of the area is level. Except in this plain, and on the sides of the hills where taungya clearings have been made, the aspects District is covered with dense jungle of considerable variety, which adds much to its beauty. The main range of the Arakan Yoma has in the north a direction south-east-by-south ; but it gradually curves towards the west, and at the source of the Gwa, where it crosses the border into Bassein District, it runs nearly due north and south. In the north some of the peaks attain an elevation little short of 5,000 feet, which falls to 3,200 feet at Shaukbin, where the Taungup pass crosses the range. South of 18 21' N. the height rapidly diminishes, and at the sources of the Gwa is only about 890 feet. From the mouth of the Sandoway river northwards the coast is indented with intercommunicating tidal creeks ; southwards it presents a rugged and rocky barrier to the ocean. An uninhabited island, known as Foul Island, and called by the Burmans Nanthakyun, lies off the coast. The name is derived from a mud volcano, which gives the island its conical appearance, and at times pours out a strongly smelling torrent of hot mud bubbling with marsh gas,

Most of the rivers draining the District are but mountain torrents to within a few miles of the coast. The most important streams, all of which rise in the western slopes of the Arakan Yoma, are the Ma-i and the Tanlwe, falling into the arm of the sea which divides the island of Ram- ree from the mainland ; the Taungup, entering the Bay of Bengal a little farther down the coast near the village of the same name ; the Sandoway, a tidal river navigable by large boats as far as Sandoway town, but un- fortunate in its roadstead, which is exposed and dangerous ; and the Gwa, which falls into the Bay of Bengal at 17 36' N., and forms a good anchorage for steamers and vessels drawing from 9 to 10 feet of water.

The rocks of the District are mostly Cretaceous, The Ma-i river has given its name to a group of beds of the Arakan Yoma, which occupies a large part of the ground, the remainder being taken up by beds of eocene age (Nummulitic). The Ma-i beds comprise limestone, shales, and greyish-green sandstone, while shales, sandstone, and some lime- stones make up the strata of the Nummulitic group.

Almost the whole face of the country is covered with forest, varying in kind according to the elevation of the land, whether low, slightly hilly, or high. The lowest ground, within tidal limits, is covered with dense mangrove jungle. Above this, interspersed among the rice plains, trees such as the pyinma (Lagerstroemia Flos Reginae) and the kanyinbyu (Dipterocarpus alatus) are found in some numbers ; and as soon as the ground rises, dry forest appears and forms a belt along the lower hill slopes. The most important and characteristic trees here are the pyingado (Xylia dolabriformis\ the in (Dipterocarpus tuber- culatus), the pyinma, the kanyMyu, the thingan (Hopea odorata\ the zinbyun (Dilhnia pentagyna\ and the myaukchaw (Homalium tomen- tositni). Various kinds of palm are common, especially the dani (Nipa fruticans}.

The fauna is very rich and varied, including elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, leopards, wild cats, bears, bison, wild hog, deer, monkeys, and crocodiles. The jackal is pressing in on the north, and has now become quite common in the neighbourhood of Taungup. Game-birds are plentiful.

The climate of Sandoway is generally considered to be more pleasant and healthy than that of any other part of Arakan. As throughout Burma, the year falls into three seasons : the cold season, from November to February; the hot season, from February to May; and the wet season, from May to October. The mean monthly maximum and minimum temperatures are 90 in June and 72 in January.

The rainfall is very heavy. During the three years ending 1904 it averaged 189 inches over the District, ranging from 158 inches at Gwa to 201 at Taungup, and amounting to 198 inches at Sandoway town. July is the rainiest month of the year. Floods are not uncommon in the Sandoway township. The creeks being narrow, the superfluous water received during heavy rains causes them to overflow their banks, and in some cases to damage cultivated fields, though in other cases the loam deposited helps to enrich the soil.


The origin of the name of the District is obscure. The following is one of the most imaginative of the derivations assigned to it in the palm-leaf chronicles. There reigned in Benares, at a time when the duration of human life was 90 1S ry *

millions of years, a descendant of the first Buddha of the present epoch, one of whose sons received as his portion the country now forming Sandoway District. For him the nats or spirits built a city, Dwarawadi, near the modern Sandoway. Many ages later a branch of another Benares house overthrew the ruling dynasty and started a line of their own in Dwarawadi. During the reign of the last of these monarchs the country was attacked by the grandsons of a king who ruled in Mogaung. Arriving at the mouth of the Thandwe river, the invaders failed in their attempts to find the city, owing to the devices of its guardian naf, or, as some say, to its miraculous power of soaring above the earth in times of danger.

At length the guardian withdrew her protection, and the brothers then bound the city to the earth with an iron chain and divided their conquest into ten shares, making Thandwe ('iron-bound') their capital. The legend of the rule in Sandoway of princely houses from Benares rests probably on no basis of fact ; but that there has been at least one Shan invasion of Arakan is certain, and there seems no reason to doubt that at one time Sandoway was the capital of the kingdom of Arakan. In later years Sandoway appears only as a province of the Arakan kingdom, until the conquest of Arakan by the Burmans in 1784. It was then formed into a governorship, and its wun or governor was one of the commanders of the Burmese army which invaded Bengal at the beginning of the first Burmese War. The country was ceded to the British with the rest of Arakan by the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, and was at first garrisoned by a regiment of native infantry. A few years later the military head- quarters were transferred to Kyaukpyu. In 1890 Sandoway town was attacked by a band of fanatics headed by certain pongyis.

The insurgents succeeded in setting fire to the courthouse, but dispersed when fired upon by the police, and since then the District has enjoyed uninterrupted quiet.

Sandoway does not boast of many antiquities ; but it possesses three features of archaeological interest in the pagodas known as the Sandaw, Andaw, and Nandaw, on the hills near Sandoway town. These pagodas are said to have been erected by the old Arakanese kings in the years A.D. 761-84, to cover respectively a hair, a tooth, and a rib of Gautama. Three times a year pilgrims resort to these pagodas, remaining one day at each shrine. Ancient silver coins are sometimes found, struck by kings of Arakan, some of which bear dates and names in Burmese characters, and others in Persian or varieties of Nagari. Stones inscribed in Sanskrit, of the eighth century, have been dis- covered near the Sandoway river.


The population at the last four enumerations was: (1872)55,325, (1881) 65,182, (1891) 78,509, and (1901) 90,927. puation. The principal statistics of area and population in 1901 are given in the following table:


For Lower Burma the rate of growth during the past thirty years has been slow, though the population has increased more rapidly than in the adjacent District of Kyaukpyu. The density is still, however, below that of Kyaukpyu, and in view of the large proportion of hill country is never likely to be much enhanced. In 1901, 79,400 persons (or 87 per cent, of the population) were Buddhists, 6,500 (7 per cent.) Animibts, and 3,900 (4 per cent.) Musalmana. The tide of Muham- madan immigration, which has flooded the northern portion of the coasts of Arakan, can hardly be said to have yet penetrated as far south as Sandoway. In 1901 the Hindus numbered only 558. Burmese was spoken by 54,300 persons, Arakanese by 28,100, and Chin by 7,100.

The number of Arakanese in the District in 1901 was 29,400; but, unlike Akyab and Kyaukpyu, Sandoway possesses more Burmans than Arakanese, the total of the former being 49,700. The only other indigenous race of importance are the Chins, inhabiting the eastern hill areas, who numbered 6,800 in 1901. The number of those engaged in or dependent upon agriculture in 1901 was 71,800, or nearly 79 per cent, of the total population, a very high proportion. Of the total, about n,ooo were returned as dependent upon taungya cultivation alone.

There were 528 Christians in 1901, of whom 477 were natives, mostly Baptists. The American Baptist Union has established a church at Sandoway town, and a school for Chin children. The mission has a good many converts among the Chins and a few among Burmans.


The prevalent soils are loams, more or less sandy. Owing to the hilly conformation of the surface, there are no large homogeneous tracts. In the low-lying lands which receive the .

drainage from the surrounding hills, the soil may be excellent, while that on neighbouring slopes may be poor. A tract classification was, however, made at the settlement of 1897-8, as follows. The best land includes the greater portion of the Taungup township, a belt of land on both banks of the Sandoway river, an open space surrounded by hills in the Sandoway township, and a few scattered areas of excellent crop-bearing land in the Gwa township. A second tract consists of the lighter and inferior soils found in the vicinity of Taungup, and some scattered stretches near the sea-coast and on the slopes of the hills in the Sandoway and Gwa townships. The last division is a sandy ridge along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, stretching from Padin to Gwachaimg, where the soil is very much exhausted and inferior to that in the two other areas.

Taungya or hill clearings are worked chiefly for sugar-cane, plan- tains, cotton, and maize, while rice, tobacco, and sesamum are grown in the plains and valleys. Different systems of cultivation are followed in different parts of the District. In the Taungup and Sandoway townships, where the rainfall is exceedingly heavy, an ordinary plough is used to turn the soil soon after the^beginning of the rains; but in the Gwa township the surface of the land is simply scraped with harrows before the seed is sown.

The occupations of the people are almost exclusively agriculture and fishing. Rice holdings as a rule are too small to support a family, and rice cultivators engage also in the cultivation of miscellaneous crops, as well as in fishing and cattle-breeding.

Only 1 06 square miles were cultivated in 1903-4, but this represents an increase of nearly 50 per cent, since 1880-1. The principal crops grown in 1903-4 were: rice, 92 square miles; tobacco, 1,900 acres; and sugar-cane. The staple food-grain is rice ; other food-crops are chillies, plantains, coco-nuts, and a little maize. Of garden fruits, mangoes, pine-apple, and jack are grown throughout the District, but are of inferior quality. The area under garden cultivation is 1,900 acres. The dani palm covers 3,100 acres, for the most part in the Taungup township, while tobacco is grown mainly in the Sandoway township.

Agricultural loans amounting to a few hundred rupees yearly are given under the Agriculturists' Loans Act; but nothing is advanced under the Land Improvement Loans Act, and very little is done by the people themselves to improve their agricultural methods.

No systematic cattle-breeding is carried on, but the stock employed is mainly home-bred. Ponies are scarce, and would be of little use in this country of hill ridges and tidal creeks. The grazing problem is not acute, for abundant fodder is to be had on the hills, and almost every village has grazing grounds sufficient for its need. A little difficulty is, however, sometimes experienced near the sea beach, where the grass is apt to dry up by the end of the dry season. Cattle-disease is rare. This has been ascribed to the industry of the cultivators in supplying their cattle with water from wells during the hot season, instead of allowing them to drink from the tanks in which they bathe.

The District has no system of irrigation; cultivation is dependent upon the annual rainfall, which fortunately is on the whole regular. Unseasonable rain or breaks in the monsoon sometimes cause local scarcity owing to the deficiency of communications, but widespread distress is unknown. The only important leased fisheries are the Maungdauk and Migyaungye turtle-banks, which fetch about Rs. 800 annually. Net licences are issued by township officers and circle thugyis. The number of fishermen and their dependents in 1901 was 1,404.


A description of the forests has been given under the head of Botany. From an economic point of view, the three most valuable trees are the pyingado (Xylia dolabriformis) or iron- wood, a timber almost equal to teak in hardness, and much used for house-building, railway sleepers, and furniture; the in (Dipterocarpus tuber culatus)^ a useful timber from which a thick resin is extracted ; and the kanyinbyu (Dipterocarpus alatus\ a large tree which yields an inflammable oil, much used in making torches. It is only recently that the Forest department has extended its operations regularly into the District. There is a teak plantation of yf acres near Sandoway town. Teak-trees exist also near Taungup and on the upper waters of the Thade river. The forest receipts in 1903-4 were slightly in excess of Rs. 7,000.

There are no minerals of any importance, so far as is known. Car- bonaceous deposits have from time to time been reported in the neigh- bourhood of Sandoway town, but it is not probable that the coal is of value. Limestone is burnt in certain circles. Salt-boiling is carried on in a few villages near the coast. Salt is manufactured in two ways, known locally as sitpo and lebo (the ' straining ' and the ' field ' pro- cesses). By the first method the saline crusts are gathered after ebb- tide, the salt contained in them is dissolved and the solution boiled. In the second the salt water is evaporated on the fields and the process repeated till the brine is sufficiently concentrated, when it is drained off into a tank. In boiling, iron cauldrons and earthen pots are used the former exclusively in the Sandoway, and the latter in the Taungup township.

Trade and communication

The manufactures as a whole are few and unimportant, Bricks are burnt in the neighbourhood of Sandoway. Pots (unglazed) of the usual kind are made at Kinmaw and Natmaw. Rough mat-plaiting and thatch-making are universal. Silk- and cotton-weaving are common in the villages, where the women work on hand-looms to supply the local demand. The Chins weave and embroider shawls of good quality and artistic design. Sugar-cane mills worked by cattle are common. The juice obtained is boiled down into jaggery, which is exported to Akyab in large quantities, the total produce being estimated at over 1,600 tons a year. There is a steam saw-mill at Gyiwa, half-way between Sandoway town and Taungup.

The commerce of Sandoway is not extensive or important. It con- sists chiefly of a small coasting trade in salted fish, rice, and vegetables with Akyab and Kyaukpyu along the tidal creeks, and of a land trade with the Pegu and Irrawaddy Divisions over the Arakan Yoma by way of several passes : namely, the old military road from Taungup to Prome, and four smaller routes starting from the Gwa township and known as the Ponsogyi, Lekkok, Bawmi, and Thitkauk routes. The Gwa township also carries on a small trade by sea during the favourable season with parts of Bassein District. The merchandise, consisting chiefly of fish, rice, hides, and jaggery, is transported in thanpans^ native-built boats of English design, often over 50 feet in length. The principal exports are salted fish and ngafi (fish-paste), rice, timber, cattle, horns, hides, tamarinds, chillies, jaggery, and coco-nuts. These go to Akyab, Kyaukpyu, Bassein, Rangoon, and Prome. Railway sleepers are sent as far as Chittagong. The imports are cotton twist, silk and other apparel, oils, and iron ; large quantities of tobacco and betel-nuts are also imported into the Gwa township.

The means of communication are as yet very imperfect. There are no railway lines, and only three metalled roads of short length, maintained by the Public Works department one from Sandoway town southwards to Padegaw, about 9 miles, now being continued to Kyeintali ; another from Sandoway westwards to Lintha on the coast, 6 miles; and a third of 5 miles from Sandoway north-westwards to Kinmaw. The roads from village to village are mere foot-tracks without any banking or formation. The new road from Sandoway to Kyeintali will eventually be extended to Gwa, and will facilitate communication between the northern parts of the District and the Irrawaddy delta. The only means of communication eastwards are the passes over the Arakan Yoma mentioned above. The chief of these connects the village of Taungup in the north with Padaung on the Irrawaddy, in Prome District. This is an old route which was followed by the Burmans in their invasion of Arakan in 1784, and again by the British m 1825, though it was then pronounced to be unfit for troops or laden cattle. The road has since been considerably widened and rendered practicable for cart traffic, and has recently been surveyed for a railway line. Its value as a trade route is not, however, very great, for it is not metalled and cannot be used by carts during the rains. The other passes are not much used.

In the Taungup and Sandoway townships travelling by water is practicable during most of the year, as from the mouth of the Sando- way river northwards the coast is indented with navigable tidal creeks, by means of which communications can be kept up. Southwards the coast is rugged and rocky, with few available harbours. The steamers of the British India Company call weekly each way at the mouth of the Sandoway river, communication between the roadstead and the town of Sandoway, 15 miles off, being maintained by launch. Only small steamers of 19 or 20 tons can ascend the river as far as Sandoway town, and in the dry season even these are detained till the tide serves. This is the cause of much delay and inconvenience, both in the delivery of mails and in the expedition of merchandise.

Foul Island has been surveyed with a view to the building of a lighthouse. At present no portion of the coast of the District is lighted.


The District is divided into three townships : TAUNGUP in the north, SANDOWAY in the centre, and GWA in the south. There are no sub- divisions. The head-quarters magistrate is in charge of the treasury at Sandoway town; where also are an akunwun in charge of the revenue and a superintendent of land records, under whom are 2 inspectors and 10 surveyors. The excise staff is under the District Superintendent of police, subject to the con- trol of the Deputy-Commissioner. The District forms a subdivision of the Arakan Public Works division, which is conterminous with the civil Division.

The northern township, where the system of revenue collection by the agency of village headmen has as yet been introduced only to a small extent, has six circle thugyis] the central four; and the southern none. The total number of village headmen in the District is 233, of whom 1 06 are revenue collectors, remunerated by commission at 6 and 7 per cent, in the northern and central townships, and at 10 per cent, in the southern township.

The Deputy-Commissioner and the township officers are magistrates and judges for their respective charges, and the treasury officer is additional judge of the Sandoway township court. He does all the civil work of that court, and also tries criminal cases when the town- ship officer is on tour. Fifteen of the village headmen have been empowered to try certain classes of petty civil suits, and two have special criminal powers under the Village Act. There are benches of honorary magistrates at Sandoway town and Taungup.

Under native rule revenue from land in Sandoway was taken in the shape of a plough tax. Five baskets of paddy were levied for .each pair of buffaloes used in ploughing, half a basket being claimed by the keeper of the royal granary as wastage. A poll tax and transit dues were also collected. In 1828, shortly after the annexation of Arakan, it was calculated that every head of a family paid Rs. 17 per annum in the shape of revenue to Government. In 1865-6 a partial settle- ment was carried out by the Deputy-Commissioner, resulting in a few reductions of rates on account of the alleged exhaustion of the soil and a desire to encourage the cultivation of waste land, and there were further settlement operations in 1890-1 ; but practically there may be said to have been a uniform rate of Rs. i-io per acre throughout the District until 1897-8, when an area of 148 square miles which had been cadastrally surveyed in 1892-3, and brought under supplementary survey in 1894-5, was classified according to the fertility of the soil" and regularly settled. The average rate for rice land over the whole District is now Rs. 1-9-1 per acre, and, in the settled areas, ranges from 14 annas to Rs. 2-8. Garden cultivation is assessed at a umV form rate of Rs. 1-12, and miscellaneous cultivation at Rs. 2 to Rs. 4. Over the unsettled area the rates vary from 4 annas to Rs, r-io. A further area of about 120 square miles was surveyed in 1901-2, and summarily settled in 1903-4. The average extent of a holding in the settled tract is 2-8 acres, and in the unsettled tract 2-5 acres. A grant of 452 acres under the old waste-land grant rules of 1865 still exists at Indainggyi. The capitation tax rates are Rs f 4 on married couples and Rs. 2 on single persons, except in a few Chin villages, where lower rates of Rs. 2 and R. i are in force,

The following table shows, in thousands of rupees, the growth in the revenue since 1880-1 :


The total revenue for 1903-4 includes excise (Rs. 62,000) and capi- tation tax (Rs. 72,000). The excise receipts include Rs. 49,500 from opium, Rs. 4,000 from tari (made from the juice of the dam palm), and Rs. 4,000 from country spirit. Four shops are licensed for the sale of kaung, a favourite liquor among 'the Chins and an important adjunct at their ^/-worshipping festivals.

The District cess fund, the income of which is derived mainly from. a rate of 10 per cent, on the total land revenue, is administered by the Deputy-Commissioner for the maintenance and construction of roads and other local necessities. The income in 1903-4 was Rs. 14,000. The only municipality is SANDOWAY TOWN, which was constituted in 1885.

The District contains nine police stations and one outpost. The District Superintendent is assisted by 2 inspectors ; and the force con- sists of 3 head constables and 138 sergeants and constables, besides 1,259 rural police. There are 75 military police, stationed at Sando- way town, Taungup, Lamu, Kyeintali, and Gwa. The District jail has accommodation for 84 prisoners. Mat-making, cane-work, coir-work, gardening, and carpentry are carried on by the prisoners.

The standard of education in Sandoway is not high. At the same time, though below the Provincial mean, the proportion of literate males in every 1,000 (343) is higher than in any of the other Dis- tricts of the Arakan Division. For females the corresponding figure is 32, and for both sexes together 189. The total number of pupils was 650 in 1880-1, 1,034 in 1890-1, and 1,586 in 1900-1. In 1903-4 there were 6 secondary, 48 primary, and 60 elementary (private) schools, with 2,329 male and 276 female pupils. The most important schools are the Sandoway municipal Anglo-vernacular school, and the American Baptist Anglo-vernacular Chin school, also in Sandoway town. The American Baptist Union have opened a number of small schools for Chins in the rural areas. The majority of these, however, have not come under the Educational department and draw no results-grants. The expenditure on education in 1903-4 from municipal funds was Rs. 2,800 ; from Provincial funds, Rs. 600 ; and from the District cess fund, Rs. 1,900. Receipts from fees at the municipal school yielded Rs. 3,200.

There are two hospitals, with accommodation for 20 in-patients. During 1903 the number of in-patients treated was 318, and that of out-patients 18,677, and 257 operations were performed. The expen- diture in the same year was Rs. 4,000, chiefly borne by Local and municipal funds.

Vaccination is compulsory in Sandoway municipality, but not in the interior of the District. The proportion of the inhabitants protected is, however, said to be fairly high. In 1903-4 the number of persons successfully vaccinated was 1,735, representing 19 per 1,000 of popu- lation.

[B. Houghton, Settlement Report (1892) ; Maung Pan Hla, Settlement Report (1899).]

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