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Letters From Arakan


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Marni Echevarria



Welcome to the enchanting land of Arakan, a region nestled in the western part of Myanmar. Known for its rich cultural heritage, breathtaking natural beauty, and diverse communities, Arakan offers a unique and captivating experience for travelers and locals alike.


In this series of letters from Arakan, we will delve into various aspects of this fascinating region, providing you with an insider’s perspective on its history, traditions, challenges, and more. Join us on this virtual journey as we uncover the hidden gems of Arakan and shed light on the vibrant tapestry that makes up its fabric.


Arakan, also known as Rakhine, is home to the Rakhine ethnic group, who have inhabited the region for centuries. With its strategic location along the Bay of Bengal and its proximity to neighboring countries, Arakan has a rich history of cross-cultural influences, resulting in a melting pot of traditions and customs.


Throughout these letters, we will explore the daily life of the people in Arakan, their cultural practices, the natural wonders that adorn the region, its historical significance, the socio-economic challenges that exist, the religious diversity that thrives, and the state of health and education in this unique corner of Myanmar.


Whether you are planning a visit to Arakan, have a fascination for Myanmar’s cultural heritage, or simply wish to expand your knowledge, these letters will offer you a comprehensive and engaging insight into the wonders of this remarkable region.


So fasten your seatbelts and get ready for an exciting journey through the captivating land of Arakan!


Letter 1: Life in Arakan

Dear reader,


I am thrilled to share my first letter from Arakan, giving you a glimpse into the vibrant and colorful life of this remarkable region. Arakan, also known as Rakhine, is home to a rich and diverse community that embraces a unique blend of traditions, customs, and ways of life.


Life in Arakan revolves around close-knit communities that foster strong social connections. The people are warm, hospitable, and take immense pride in their cultural heritage. Families play an integral role in society, with multi-generational households being common. Respect for elders is deeply ingrained, and traditional values are passed down through generations.


The daily lives of the people in Arakan are deeply rooted in their age-old traditions. From the early morning ritual of offering alms to Buddhist monks, to the vibrant festivals that showcase the region’s cultural diversity, there is always something happening that celebrates the richness of Arakanese culture.


The cuisine of Arakan is a delightful reflection of its geography and influences from neighboring countries. The region is known for its delectable seafood dishes, with fresh fish, prawns, and crabs being staples of the Arakanese diet. Mouthwatering curries, spicy soups, and fragrant rice dishes are also popular, tantalizing the taste buds of locals and visitors alike.


Arakan is blessed with natural beauty that will leave you breathless. The pristine beaches, such as Ngapali Beach and Maung Shwe Lay Beach, offer a tranquil retreat with crystal-clear waters and sandy shores. Inland, you will find lush green hills, scenic rivers, and verdant rice fields that paint a picturesque backdrop for the region.


In addition to its natural wonders, Arakan also boasts a rich historical heritage. The ancient city of Mrauk U, once a flourishing center of trade and culture, is now a treasure trove of intricately carved temples and pagodas. Exploring these archaeological marvels offers a glimpse into the grandeur of the ancient Arakanese civilization.


From its vibrant communities to its captivating traditions and breathtaking landscapes, Arakan is a region that truly encapsulates the essence of Myanmar. Join me for my next letter as we delve into the cultural traditions of the Arakan people.


Until then, may your curiosity be piqued and your imagination be ignited by all that Arakan has to offer!


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent


Letter 2: Cultural traditions of the Arakan people

Dear reader,


Welcome back to our series of letters from Arakan! In this letter, we will immerse ourselves in the vibrant cultural traditions of the Arakan people, gaining a deeper understanding of their unique customs and practices.


The Arakanese culture is a beautiful tapestry woven with influences from various ethnic groups and neighboring countries. The Arakan people have managed to preserve their distinct identity while embracing the diversity that surrounds them.


One of the defining features of Arakanese culture is its deep-rooted connection to Buddhism. Buddhism plays a central role in the lives of the Arakan people, with numerous pagodas and monasteries scattered throughout the region. These religious sites serve as places of worship and meditation, as well as centers of community activity.


Arakan is renowned for its vibrant festivals, which provide a window into the rich cultural heritage of the region. The most significant festival is the Water Festival, known as Thingyan, which marks the traditional New Year. During this festival, the streets come alive with music, dance, and water-throwing festivities, symbolizing the cleansing of the past year and welcoming the new year with joy and positivity.


The Arakanese also celebrate the Khaung-Yay festival, which is dedicated to the revered Tharrawaddy Min, an Arakanese king known for his contributions to the development of the region. This festival showcases traditional music, dance, and theatrical performances, allowing the younger generation to connect with their cultural roots.


Arakanese people are known for their exquisite craftsmanship, particularly in the fields of weaving and pottery. Traditional textiles, known as “longyi,” are skillfully hand-woven using vibrant colors and intricate patterns. These textiles are worn by both men and women and are considered a symbol of Arakanese identity.


Another notable aspect of Arakanese culture is its unique music and dance forms. The traditional Arakanese music, with its distinct rhythm and melodies, is often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the saung gauk (harp), pat ma (xylophone), and chauk lon pat (drums). Traditional dance forms, such as the Dhanyawaddy Dance and Mahar Bandula Dance, showcase the grace, elegance, and storytelling abilities of the Arakanese people.


The Arakanese people also have a strong connection to their ancestral heritage and pay homage to their ancestors through ancestral worship ceremonies. Family members gather to offer prayers, food, and flowers to their departed loved ones, seeking their blessings and guidance.


These cultural traditions not only serve as a way for the Arakanese people to express their identity and preserve their heritage but also create a sense of unity and pride within the community. Through their festivals, arts, crafts, music, and ancestral rituals, the Arakan people pass on their traditions from one generation to the next, ensuring the legacy of their culture continues to thrive.


Join me in my next letter as we venture into the natural beauty of Arakan, exploring its breathtaking landscapes and discovering its hidden gems.


Until then, stay curious and embrace the wonders of Arakanese culture!


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent


Letter 3: Exploring the natural beauty of Arakan

Dear reader,


Welcome back to our journey through Arakan! In this letter, we will immerse ourselves in the awe-inspiring natural beauty that adorns this region. From pristine beaches to lush forests and majestic mountains, Arakan offers a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.


Arakan is blessed with a coastline that stretches along the Bay of Bengal, boasting some of the most stunning beaches in Myanmar. Ngapali Beach, with its crystal-clear waters and soft sandy shores, is a slice of paradise where you can soak up the sun, swim in the turquoise sea, and indulge in fresh seafood delicacies.


For those seeking a more secluded beach experience, Maung Shwe Lay Beach is a hidden gem tucked away from the crowds. Surrounded by picturesque fishing villages and framed by lush palm trees, this beach offers a tranquil retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation.


As you venture inland, you will be greeted by rolling hills, verdant rice fields, and breathtaking waterfalls. The Chin State in southern Arakan is home to the awe-inspiring Mount Victoria, offering stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. The trek up the mountain is a challenging yet rewarding experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of nature.


The mighty Kaladan River, flowing through the heart of Arakan, is another natural wonder worth exploring. Take a boat trip along the river and witness the lush mangrove forests, home to a rich ecosystem of flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins that call this river their home.


Arakan is also home to a number of pristine lakes and waterfalls that add to its natural allure. The Laymro River, with its cascading waterfalls and crystal-clear pools, offers a refreshing escape for those seeking tranquility and natural beauty.


For nature enthusiasts, a visit to Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range is a must. This protected area is home to a population of wild elephants and provides a unique opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.


Arakan’s natural beauty extends beneath the surface as well. The region is a paradise for snorkelers and divers, with its vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life. Explore the underwater world and marvel at the kaleidoscope of colors and biodiversity that exists beneath the waves.


Whether you’re hiking through dense forests, lounging on pristine beaches, or exploring vibrant coral reefs, the natural beauty of Arakan will leave you in awe. This region is a testament to the raw and untouched splendor that Myanmar has to offer.


Join me in my next letter as we delve into the historical significance of Arakan, exploring the ancient ruins and cultural heritage that shape the region.


Until then, may you find solace and inspiration in the breathtaking natural beauty of Arakan!


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent


Letter 4: Historical significance of Arakan

Dear reader,


As we continue our exploration of Arakan, we cannot overlook its rich historical heritage. In this letter, we will delve into the historical significance of Arakan, uncovering the ancient ruins, cultural heritage, and tales of the past that have shaped this remarkable region.


Arakan has a long and storied history that dates back centuries. The region was once a powerful and independent kingdom, known as the Kingdom of Arakan, which flourished from the 15th to the 18th century. It was a center of trade and a melting pot of cultural influences, attracting merchants and traders from across Asia.


One of the most notable historical sites in Arakan is the ancient city of Mrauk U. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Arakan, Mrauk U is renowned for its impressive collection of temples, pagodas, and forts. The architectural marvels of Mrauk U showcase the grandeur and sophistication of the Arakanese civilization during its heyday.


The Shitthaung Temple, also known as the Temple of 80,000 Buddhas, is a highlight of Mrauk U. This magnificent temple, built with intricate stone carvings and adorned with countless Buddha images, is a testament to the religious and artistic prowess of the Arakanese people.


Another iconic historical site in Arakan is the Koe Thaung Temple, the largest temple in Mrauk U. With its towering spires and over 90,000 Buddha images, this temple is a testament to the devotion and craftsmanship of the Arakanese people. Exploring these ancient temples feels like stepping back in time, as you witness the remnants of a glorious past.


Arakan’s historical significance is not confined to Mrauk U alone. The region is also dotted with other ancient sites, such as the fortress city of Vesali, which was the first capital of the Kingdom of Arakan. The ruins of Vesali offer a glimpse into the early history of Arakan and its strategic importance in the region.


The cultural heritage of Arakan can also be seen in its arts and crafts. Intricately carved woodwork, lacquerware, and traditional textiles are a testament to the skilled craftsmanship of the Arakanese people. These art forms have been passed down through generations, preserving the rich artistic traditions of the region.


Arakan’s historical heritage is a source of pride for its people, serving as a reminder of their glorious past and contributions to the cultural tapestry of Myanmar. It is also a valuable resource for historians and archaeologists, who continue to uncover the secrets and stories hidden within the ancient ruins.


Join me in my next letter as we address the socio-economic challenges faced by the people of Arakan and how they strive to overcome them.


Until then, may the echoes of the past guide us in understanding the historical significance of Arakan!


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent


Letter 5: Socio-economic challenges in Arakan

Dear reader,


As we continue our exploration of Arakan, it is important to acknowledge the socio-economic challenges that exist within the region. In this letter, we will shed light on some of the obstacles faced by the people of Arakan and their ongoing efforts to overcome them.


Arakan is a region that has experienced various socio-economic challenges over the years. One of the primary issues is poverty, with a significant portion of the population living below the poverty line. Limited access to quality education, healthcare, and employment opportunities exacerbate this problem.


Economically, Arakan faces obstacles in terms of infrastructure development and access to markets. The region’s remote location and inadequate transportation networks make it difficult for businesses to thrive and access larger markets. This, in turn, hinders economic growth and development opportunities for the local communities.


Additionally, Arakan has experienced religious and ethnic tensions, which have further contributed to socio-economic challenges. These tensions have disrupted communal harmony and hindered social cohesion, impeding progress and development in the region.


However, despite these challenges, the people of Arakan exhibit resilience and determination in overcoming adversity. Community-driven initiatives and grassroots organizations play a vital role in addressing the socio-economic issues faced by the region.


Efforts are being made to improve access to education and healthcare, with organizations focusing on building schools and medical facilities in remote areas. These initiatives aim to provide individuals with the necessary skills and services to uplift themselves and their communities.


Arakanese artisans and entrepreneurs are also finding innovative ways to overcome economic barriers. They are showcasing their traditional crafts and cultural heritage to promote tourism and generate income for the local communities. By highlighting their unique cultural identity, they are creating sustainable livelihoods and economic opportunities.


Furthermore, various NGOs and international organizations are collaborating with local communities to implement sustainable development projects. They are working on initiatives such as agricultural training, infrastructure development, and capacity building to enhance the socio-economic conditions of the region.


Addressing the socio-economic challenges in Arakan requires a multi-faceted approach that includes government support, community involvement, and collaboration with national and international stakeholders. By empowering the people of Arakan and fostering an environment that promotes inclusivity and progress, the region can overcome these obstacles and create a brighter future for all.


Join me in my next letter as we explore the religious diversity that thrives in Arakan, highlighting the coexistence of different faiths and the cultural richness it brings.


Until then, may the resilience and determination of the people of Arakan inspire us in the face of challenges!


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent


Letter 6: Religious diversity in Arakan

Dear reader,


Arakan is a region known for its religious diversity, where different faiths coexist harmoniously, contributing to the cultural richness of the area. In this letter, we will explore the various religious traditions present in Arakan and how they shape the lives of its people.


One of the prominent religions in Arakan is Buddhism. Buddhism has deep roots in the region, and numerous pagodas and monasteries can be found throughout Arakan. These religious sites serve as centers of spiritual devotion, where Buddhists gather to meditate, offer prayers, and seek enlightenment.


However, Arakan is also home to a substantial Muslim population, primarily belonging to the Rohingya community. The Rohingya people have faced significant challenges and ongoing conflicts, which have affected their religious and cultural practices. Despite these hardships, the Rohingya community has a strong spiritual connection, with mosques serving as places of worship and congregation.


In addition to Buddhism and Islam, other religious communities also thrive in Arakan. Christianity, predominantly practiced by the ethnic Chin community, has a presence in the region. Churches play a vital role in the lives of Christian Arakanese, providing a space for worship, fellowship, and community engagement.


The cultural exchange and influences between different religious communities in Arakan are evident in the festivals and celebrations that fill the calendar year. The Water Festival, celebrated during the traditional New Year, brings people from different faiths together to join in the festivities of water-throwing and merrymaking.


Another notable festival is Eid al-Fitr, observed by the Muslim community in Arakan. This joyous occasion marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting and spiritual reflection. Families gather to celebrate with special meals, gift-giving, and communal prayers.


The diverse religious landscape of Arakan not only reinforces the importance of religious freedom and tolerance but also enriches the cultural fabric of the region. It provides an opportunity for interfaith dialogue and understanding, fostering a sense of unity and respect among different religious communities.


However, it is crucial to acknowledge that Arakan has also experienced tensions and conflicts along religious lines, particularly between the Buddhist and Muslim communities. These conflicts have disrupted communal harmony and challenged the coexistence of different faiths.


Efforts are being made by local communities, religious leaders, and organizations to promote interfaith dialogue, peacebuilding, and reconciliation in Arakan. These initiatives aim to foster understanding, bridge divides, and cultivate a society where religious diversity is celebrated and respected.


Join me in my next letter as we delve into the state of health and education in Arakan, examining the challenges and initiatives undertaken to improve the well-being and opportunities for the people of the region.


Until then, may the spirit of religious diversity in Arakan inspire us to embrace tolerance and understanding in our own lives.


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent


Letter 7: Health and education in Arakan

Dear reader,


In this final letter from Arakan, we will delve into the state of health and education in the region. Like many other parts of the world, Arakan faces challenges in these crucial areas, but efforts are underway to improve the well-being and educational opportunities for the people of the region.


Healthcare in Arakan, particularly in remote and underserved areas, remains a concern. Limited access to medical facilities, shortages of healthcare professionals, and inadequate infrastructure pose significant challenges to the delivery of quality healthcare. In response, organizations and government initiatives are striving to bridge this gap. They are building clinics and hospitals, training healthcare workers, and implementing healthcare programs to reach communities in need.


Education is essential for the development and empowerment of individuals and communities. However, educational opportunities in Arakan are not equally distributed, with disparities between urban and rural areas. Lack of access to quality education, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of qualified teachers remain persistent challenges. Efforts are being made to improve the situation, including the construction of schools, teacher training programs, and initiatives to increase enrollment rates and reduce dropouts.


One of the unique educational challenges in Arakan is the language barrier. The region has diverse linguistic communities, and facilitating education in multiple languages is essential to ensure effective learning. Efforts are being made to promote multilingual education and preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of different communities.


Health and education programs in Arakan often rely on collaborations between governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international agencies, and community-driven initiatives. These collaborative efforts aim to address the specific needs of the region and create sustainable solutions to empower and uplift the people of Arakan.


Despite the challenges, there have been notable achievements in improving health and education in Arakan. The dedication of healthcare workers, teachers, and community leaders is inspiring. Their commitment to making a positive impact in the lives of the people they serve is evident in the progress that has been made.


With ongoing efforts and continued support, the state of health and education in Arakan can be further strengthened. Empowering individuals through education and ensuring access to quality healthcare serves as a foundation for a prosperous and thriving society.


As we conclude our journey through Arakan, I hope these letters have provided you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, and the resilience of the people of this remarkable region.


Thank you for joining me on this virtual exploration of Arakan. May the lessons learned and experiences shared stay with you as you continue to venture into the diverse and fascinating corners of our world.


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent



As we come to the end of our journey through Arakan, it is clear that this region holds a unique place not only in Myanmar but also in the hearts of those who have had the opportunity to explore its wonders. From its rich cultural traditions and historical significance to its breathtaking natural beauty and diverse communities, Arakan has much to offer.


Through these letters, we have witnessed the vibrant and colorful life of the Arakan people, learned about their cultural practices, marveled at the beauty of the region’s landscapes, and explored the historical significance that shaped Arakan’s identity. We have also discussed the socio-economic challenges faced by the people of Arakan and the efforts made to overcome them, as well as the religious diversity and the importance of health and education in the region.


Arakan is a place of contrasts and complexities, where ancient traditions coexist with modern aspirations, where natural beauty is juxtaposed with socio-economic challenges. It is through understanding and appreciation of these intricacies that we can truly grasp the essence of Arakan and its people.


While there are challenges that remain, the resilience, determination, and collaborative efforts of the Arakanese people and those supporting the region have shown promise and progress. The commitment to preserving cultural heritage, promoting interfaith dialogue, providing healthcare, and improving educational opportunities speak to a brighter future for Arakan.


As we conclude this journey, may these letters serve as a reminder of the rich tapestry of Arakan, its captivating landscapes, and the vibrant communities that call it home. Let us continue to value and celebrate the diversity, resilience, and cultural heritage that Arakan represents.


Thank you for joining me on this virtual exploration of Arakan. May the spirit of Arakan dwell within you as you venture forth into new adventures, carrying the stories and experiences of this remarkable region in your heart.


Warm regards,


Your Arakan correspondent