Occasionally linked to present-day Bangladesh, the Arakanese boasts that their army already controls much of the Bay of Bengal by the 15th century. Besides attaining fame for their strong military, Rakhine was called Dhanyawaddy – ‘Land of Bounteous Rice’, exporting large quantities of rice yearly. The Arakanese, primarily adherents of Buddhism, make up four percent of Myanmar’s population. Besides Buddhists, the minority population of Muslim Rakhine also lives alongside them, some of whom are known as Rohingya. Bordering Bangladesh are the ruins of the ancient capital of Mrauk U in the Rakhine State, a precious piece of history ravaged by carelessness, destruction and neglect.
The Arakanese speak a version of Burmese which historians are convinced is the earliest form of the language. However, due to their geographical location, they have unknowingly absorbed a fair bit of culture from the Indian subcontinent. In the eyes of the Burmese, the Arakanese are a Creole race – a mixture of Burmese and Indian – a misunderstood perception that Buddhist Rakhine strongly resent.
Girls carry ewers in Mrauk U, an archaeologically important town in the northern Rakhine State, Myanmar
A farmer transplants rice seedlings in rural Myanmar
Little is known about the Khami tribe, except they are closely associated with the Mro tribe as both are sub-groups of the Rakhine group. The Khami people resemble the Burmese but are mostly of a lighter complexion. To get by, the Khami people cultivate crops like paddy, chilli and pumpkin in the hilly areas. The Khami women used to tattoo their shoulders to complement the tribe’s exquisite weaving. It is said that the Khami cloth is so fine that one panel of a dress takes six months to complete, and is woven so tightly it is waterproof.
Very little has been published about the Khami dialect, despite much curiosity surrounding it. The Khami dialect is derived from the southern dialect of the Khami language, differing from the Southern dialect mainly in pronunciation and phonics.