1902 Encyclopedia > British Burma (British Burmah)

British Burma
(British Burmah)

BRITISH BURMAH (or BRITISH BURMAH), the country acquired by the British Indian Government after the two wars with the Burman empire, is situated between 10° and 22° N. lat., and 92° and 100° E. long. It is bounded on the N. by Independent Burrnah, on the E. by Siam, on the S. by the Indian Ocean, and on the W. by the Bay of Bengal and the Chittagong division of Bengal. The province of British Burmah extends along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal, and is geographically divided into four portions,—Arakán, extending from the Náf estuary to Cape Negrais, and consisting of a narrow strip of country between the sea and the high mountain chain called Yoma; the valley of the Irawadi, which, divided from the Sittang valley by the Pegu Yoma range, unites with it in its southern portion ; the valley of the Salwin; and Tenasserim, a narrow strip, separated from Siam by a lofty chain of hills running from north to south. For administrative purposes the country is divided into three commissionerships, Arákán, Pegu, and Tenasserim, and into fifteen districts, viz., Akyab, Ramree, Sandoway, Northern Arákán, Rangoon, Bassein, Myanoung, Prome, Thayet-myo, Toungoo, Shwegyen, Amherst, Tavoy, Mergui, and Salwin.

Physical Aspects.—The greater part of the province is covered with hills, forests, estuaries, and river beds. The eastern and southern part is particularly mountainous thinly populated, and much intersected by streams. In the central part of the province the valley of the Irawadi unites with the valley of the Sittang at its lower end, and forms an extensive plain, stretching from Cape Negrais on the west to Martaban on the east. The more northern of these valleys are rugged and hilly, and are so densely covered with jungle that but little cultivation can be carried on. A chain of mountains called the Yoma range forms the boundary of the Arakán division on the east. It is the continuation of the Pátkoi and Baráil range, which shoots forth from the Himálayas at their north-eastern extremity, runs south, forms the eastern boundary of Assam and Bengal, and turning south-east, gradually diminishes both in breadth and elevation till it ends in the rocky promontory of Cape Negrais. Blue Mountain, one of its peaks, on the northern boundary of the province, is said to rise 8000 feet above the sea-level; but within the province the range nowhere attains a height much above 4000 feet. The same Yoma range forms the western boundary of the Irawadi valley; and the Poung Loung range, rising to a supposed height of 7000 feet, bounds the Sittang valley, towards the east. The Pegu Yoma range forms the watershed between these two streams. The mountains of Tenasserim rise to a height of 5000 feet, with a breadth varying from 10 to 40 miles ; they are covered with pathless jungle, and devoid of human habitations of any kind.

Rivers.—Beginning from the extreme west the following are the principal rivers:—The Náf estuary is on the western boundary. The Mroo River, an arm of the sea, about 40 miles to the eastward, is from 3 to 4 miles broad at its month. The Koladan or Arakán River rises near the Blue Mountain in about 23° N. lat., and is navigable for 40 miles from its mouth by vessels of 300 or 400 tons burden. The Talak, Aeng, Sandoway, Toungoop, and Gwa are streams of minor importance. The mouth of the last, however, forms a good port and haven for steamers or vessels of from 9 to 10 feet draught. The Irawadi rises in about 28 N. lat. and 97° 30' E. long., and flows for upwards of 600 miles before reaching the British possessions, through which it has a course of 240 miles to the sea in a S.S.W, direction. As it approaches the coast it divides into numerous branches, converting the lower portion of the valley into a network of tidal creeks. Its principal branches are the Bassem River, Thekkay-thoung, Yuay, Dayaybhyoo, Pyenmaloo, Pyengazaloo. Dalla, Phyapoon, Donyan, Thanateat, and China Buckir rivers. It is navigable for river n steamers as far as Bhamo, nearly 400 miles beyond the British frontier. The river when full runs about five miles an hour. The Hleing rises close to Prome, where it is called the Myitmakat stream, and flowing in a southerly direction nearly parallel to the Irawadi, it next takes the name of the Hleing, and finally of the Rangoon River, and falls into the sea a few miles below Rangoon. Its principal tributaries are the Nyoungdon, an offshoot of the Irawadi, and the Pegu and Poozoondoung rivers. It is navigable by vessels of the largest size for some distance above Rangoon, but owing y to the Hastings shoal, formed at the junction of the Pegu, the Poozoondoung, and the Rangoon rivers, vessels of more than 6 feet draught cannot ascend beyond the shoal at low tide. The Sittang River rises far north of British territory, which it enters just about Toungoo, and flowing southwards, falls into the Gulf of Martaban, when it widens so rapidly that it is impossible to tell where the river ends and the gulf begins. Its principal tributary is the Shwegyen River. A bore, or tidal wave, sweeps up this river, and its effect is felt as far as Shwegyen town. The Biling River rises in the Poungloung hills, flows southward, and falls into the Gulf of Martaban. The Salwin River rises in Tibet, flow south through the Shan states, and falls into the sea at Moulmein. The Attaran rises in the chain of hills which forms the boundary between the kingdom of Siam and British Burmah, and flows in a south-westerly direction through dense teak forests and an almost uninhabited country. The Gyne has numerous villages on its banks, and is navigable for 180 miles by country boats. The Tenasserim River falls into the sea by two mouths, the northern of which is navigable for large ships.

There is only one canal in the province, connecting the Pegu and the Sittang rivers. The lakes are the Thoo, Lahgyin, and Kandaugyee.

A large part of the province is covered with forests, but the state reserved area only amounts to 133 square miles. The teak plantations lie in the Rangoon division. The total receipts from the forests in 1871-72 amounted to £77,240.

Population—The total area of the province is 88,556 square miles; the population was returned by the census of 1872 at 2,747,148, giving an average of 31 inhabitants to the square mile. The Buddhists numbered 2 447 831, Mahometans 99,846, Hindus 36,658, Christians 52,299 and aborigines 110,514. The villages, townships,&c., numbered 14,107 ; the inhabited houses, 535,533. Only ten towns in the province had a population exceeding 10,000,—Rangoon, the capital, containing 98,745.

Productions.—Rice is the staple product of the province and m 1871-72 1,836,021 acres were devoted to its cultivation. Other food grains covered 4860 acres ; sesamum 25,002 acres; sugar-cane, chiefly cultivated in the gardens around the cultivators houses, 3179 acres; and cotton principally grown in the hill clearing, 14,120 acres. The fibre of the indigenous cotton is short but strong and it adheres with great tenacity to the seed. The export of cotton is increasing. Tobacco, grown on sandbanks or in the dry beds of streams, inferior in quality, and wholly used for home consumption, occupied 12,866 acres. The other crops produced in the province are indigo, vegetables, hemp mixed fruits, &c. The system of cultivation known in Bengal as the júm, that is clearing virgin soil by burning, cultivating it for one or two years, and then leaving it again to the jungle, is here extensively practised under the name of toungya cultivation. Although discouraged on account of its wasteful character it cannot be altogether prohibited as it is the only means of subsistence for a large part of the population. Seven great embankments have been constructed in the province for the protection and extension of regular cultivation. The average rent per acre of rice land varies from 1s. to 10s., while the high land, on which other grains can be cultivated, fetches generally from 3s. to 4s. per acre. Of the total area of the province (88,556 square miles) only 3414 square miles are cultivated; 51,117 square miles are cultivable, and the rest uncultivable waste.

Internal Communication is chiefly carried on by water. Steamers ply on the Irawadi between Thayetmyo, Prome, Myanoung, Henzada, and Rangoon. There is also steam communication from Calcutta, via Akyab, to Rangoon and Moulmein, and between Tavoy and Mergui. There were, however, 814 miles of road in the province in 1871-72.

Mines—The only mines in the province are those worked for tin in the southern portion of the Tenasserim division. This mineral (a binoxide) exists over a large extent of country in the Mergui and Tavoy districts, and is obtained by removing and washing the pebble and boulder deposits of the river beds. Samples of the tin-stone, once washed, have produced about 70 per cent. of metal, and twice washed 75 per cent. The ore is therefore very rich, and the metal produced is of excellent quality. Hitherto these deposits have been washed by Chinese and natives of the country in a very rough and unscientific manner, and the tin-stone is smelted in a most primitive way, the produce realized being 68 per cent. of metal. European capitalists have now begun to turn their attention to the subject, and arrangements are being made to lease out certain tracts. Coal exists on the banks of the Tenasserim River, and in other parts of the province, but it has never been worked to any extent. Lead has been found in Toungoo, and on Maingay’s Island in the Mergui Archipelago, but nothing has been done towards utilizing it. This mineral also exists in the Shwegyen district, as well as gold, antimony ore, and iron-stone. The quantity of the precious metals is, however, very small, and the workers make but a poor living Limestone exists in several parts of the province, and quarries are worked pretty extensively in Thayetmyo and Bassein; stone might also be excavated in Sandoway if a demand existed.

Manufactures.—Mills are employed in the seaport towns for husking rice and for sawing timber. There were in 1871-72 twenty-six steam rice mills in the province; five years before there were only three; and the number rapidly increases with the demand for rice for shipment to Europe, to the Straits, and to China. Silk and cotton goods are manufactured in large quantities, chiefly, however, for home use, and by small hand-looms. A loom forms a regular piece of furniture in a Burmese household; it is worked by the female members of the family. The cotton cloths thus manufactured are rough but strong; some of the silk goods fetch a high price. A coarse description of salt is made on the sea-coast, used chiefly in the preparation of Ngapee (a mess of half-salted, half-decomposed fish and other ingredients), which forms a favourite article of food among the Burmese. The manufacture of salt has lately fallen off, owing to the introduction of Liverpool salt, which undersells the local article. The other manufactures of the province consist of gold and silver bowls (of peculiar and elaborate workmanship), lacquered ware, carved and gilt work, and dyes, especially cutch, an extract of the Acacia Catechu.

Trade.—The total value of the trade of the province in 1871-72 was £10,777,705; exports, £5,452,148; imports, £5,325,557. The value of the sea-borne trade was—exports, £4,236,997; imports, £4,220,723—total, £8,457,721; and of the inland trade—exports, £1,245,150; imports, £1,104,832. The most important article of sea-borne exports is rice. The trade increased from 380,009 tons in 1865 to 470,893 tons in 1871, and made a sudden rise to 700,784 tons in 1872. Next in importance is the timber trade, shipments of which during the year 1872 amounted to 87,545 tons, of the value of £51,210. The other articles of export are cotton, cutch, hides, horns, ivory, jade stone, petroleum, rice and paddy, precious stones, stick-lac, tobacco, &c. The articles of import consist of betel-nut, cotton twist and yarn, crockery ware, cutlery, gunny bags, hardware; cotton, silk, and woollen piece goods; raw silk, spirituous liquors wines, beers, &c., sugar and tobacco.

Finances.—The gross revenue from all sources in 1871-72, £1,363,452, of which £1,217,053 was from imperial taxation, £37,320 for provincial services, and £109,079 from local funds. The land revenue of the province was £344,523. Owing to the sparse population and vast extent of country cultivable but uncultivated, the rates of assessment range low. No class of landed proprietors, like the zamindars of Bengal, exists in Burmah. The cultivators themselves hold the land from Government, the extent of their holdings averaging about 5 acres. The exceptions are, where grants of waste land have been made to Europeans or natives of India, but such grants are but little cultivated. The light land tax of the province is supplemented by a capitation tax, peculiar to Burmah; and by the rice duty, which, from the circumstances of the local trade, falls on the producer, and is equivalent to a tax of 14 per cent. ad valorem on this article of export. The capitation tax is a poll-tax on the male population of the province, from 18 to 60 years of age, with the exception of immigrants during the first five years of their residence, religious teachers, school-masters, Government servants, and those unable to obtain their own livelihood. In 1871-72 it was levied on 556,035 persons, and yielded a revenue of £226,954. The expenditure on the civil administration of the province in 1871-72 was £497,002. For the protection of British Burmah 5016 fighting men, Europeans and natives, were maintained in 1871 at a total cost of £270,200. The strength of the police in 1871 was 5319. The prisons consist of two great central gaols, Rangoon and Moulmein, chiefly for long-term convicts, with twelve subordinate gaols and lock-ups.

Education has not made much progress in British Burmah under the English plan of public instruction; but the people have a wide-spread system of primary education of their own in the monastic schools. Setting aside these monastic schools, the educational machinery of the province consists of seven Government schools, educating 505 boys; fifteen aided missionary schools, teaching 1494 pupils; and twenty-two other unaided school under Government inspection, teaching 499 pupils.

Christianity has spread largely among the Karen tribes, chiefly through the work of American missions.

Climate.—The climate of British Bnrmah is moist and depressing for part of the year, but cooler than that of India. Some of the forest tracts during the monsoons, and after the cold weather has set in, are impregnated with deadly malaria; but the coast and the frontier ranges are not unhealthy. The prevalent complaints amongst Europeans are fever, dysentery, and hepatic diseases, from winch the natives also suffer. On the whole, however, the climate of British Burmah seems better adapted to the European constitution than any part of India, and of late the statistics of the British troops show a very low rate of disease and mortality. The rainfall varied in 1871 from 245·85 inches at Moulmein to 54·85 inches at Thayetmyo. The average temperature is greatly affected by the sea breeze,— being 80º Fahr, at the sea-coast, and 90° in the interior.

Form of Government.—The highest authority in the province of British Burmah is the chief commissioner and agent to the Governor-General of India, established under a resolution of the Government of India, dated January 1862. The chief commissioner is assisted by a secretary and assistant-secretary, three commissioners of revenue and circuit, thirteen deputy-commissioners, one superintendent of hill-tracts, twenty-two assistant-commissioners, four collectors of sea-customs a director of public instruction, an inspector-general of police, an inspector-general of prisons, and a conservator of forests. A political agent is established at the court of Mandalay, and an assistant political agent at Bhamo, for facilitating British trade with Independent Burmah and China. The judicial officers are—the recorder of Rangoon, the judicial commissioner, the judge of the town of Moulmein, the judge of the Small Cause Court, Rangoon, and three town magistrates. For history, see the preceding article.

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