Mog/Magh

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Mog/Magh

(a note written by Kyaw Minn Htin)

Mugh [Mog] is a referrent for the Rakhaing [Arakanese/ Arakan] with very early roots. In 1585, Ralph Fitch referred to the “Kingdom of Recon and Mogen” [Kingdom of Arakan and Mog]. On the basis of this reference, one must reject Sukomal Chaudhuri’s assertion that the Rakhaing came to be known as Mugh in the from the start of the seventeenth century. In the seventeenth century, references to Mugh do increase rapidly. Portuguese accounts, for example, used Mogo [Mog] to refer to the population of Rakhaing (1605, c. 1638), the King of Rakhaing (c. 1620, c. 1 638), and to Rakhaing language. In 1798, Buchanan referred to the “Marma” in Southeastern Bengal as Joomea Mugs [Mogs]. In 1835, Foley referred to the Rakhaing people within Rakhaing [State] as Mughs or Magas [Mogs]. Persian accounts also used Mugh to refer to the Rakhaing in the early modern period, as in “the tribe of the Magh” (1590, c. 1641) and the ‘Magh Raja’ (1604, 1638, c. 1641). From the seventeenth century, Bengali sources also used Maghi to refer to the Rakhaing era.

Westerners remained inconsistent in their references into the nineteenth century, using Rakhaing (and its versions) as a political term and as an ethnonym, while also using Mugh as interchangeable with Rakhaing in both usages. Thus, Bernier (1665) referred to the “Kingdom of Rakan, or Mog”. Heath refers to “Muggs or Arrackanners” (1689), Ovington refers to “this Kingdom of Arracan, or Empire of Mogo.”(1696), and one anonymous account of Rakhaing refers to the “Mugs or Aracaners” (1777).

There was a simultaneous trend for using Mugh as an ethnonym together with Rakhaing as a political or geographic term, as indicated in Fitch (1585). This occurred as well in some Persian accounts, as in the Tuzuk-I-Jahagiri (c. 1620) which referred to the Maghs, as opposed to state of Arracan. Likewise, the Baharistan-I-Ghaybi (c.1641) applied “Mag” to the king and the people of Rakhaing, but “Achrang” and “Rakhang” to the country. This usage as also adopted by British officials in the early part of the nineteenth century, for as Bayfield uses the terms, “Mugs, or native inhabitants of Arracan” (1834). The last case can be explained, however, according to the annexation of Rakhaing and its establishment as a British province, which left Rakhaing on both sides of the provincial borders; hence, Rakhaing was used after the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) in its strictest geographical and political sense.

The origins of ‘Mugh’ are murky at best and have led to confusion at least since the eighteenth century. In 1696, John Ovington complained that he could not ascertain from “whence they [the kings] derive that Appellation of Moghi.” There are perhaps as many, mutually irreconcialable, theories to explain the origins of Mugh as there are for Rakhaing. Nevertheless, Mugh appears to have been entirely an external ethnonym, applied to the Rakhaing, rather than accepted by them. Hamilton (Buchanan) explained in the late eighteenth century that while the Rakhaing at Calcutta were called ‘Muggs,’ they “are scarcely known by that name in their native country” As Buchanan further explained in 1799:

Arakan, or the kingdom of the Mugs, as we often call it. Whence this name of Mug given by Europeans to the natives of Arakan, has been derived, I know not, but, as far as I could learn, it is totally unknown to the natives and their neighbours, except such of them as, by their intercourse with us, have learned its use.
Likewise, Leyden explained in 1810 that the “term Mugg, these people assured me, is never used by either themselves or by the Hindus, except when speaking the jargon commonly called Hindustani by the Europeans”. Arthur Phayre also admitted that the Rakhaing people [who live in Arakan State] themselves “do not know this term”.

Michael W. Chareney, SOAS, University of London
“Buddhism in Arakan: Theories and Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms” (pp. 36-37).
-Paper presented at the Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan Workshop: From Dhanyawadi to 1962 (A public seminar on history, identity, culture, and the challenges they face) 23-24 November 2005. Organized by the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn Univerrsity, Bangkok, Thailand.



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