Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rangoon: Extracted from Twentieth Century Impressions of Burma (1)

Rangoon
Extracted from Twentieth Century Impressions of Burma: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources by Wright, Arnold (1910)


The city of Rangoon is a striking monument to the manner in which Burma has rapidly risen to a position of importance in the world of commerce. In fifty years it has as developed from an unimportant town set in the midst of a swamp into the first town in Burma and the fifth town of the Indian Empire; in thirty-years its population has been almost trebled; in twenty years a similar proportionate growth has been shown in its imports, and its exports have been multiplied in value by more than three.

According to the Talaing tradition, the accuracy of which cannot be implicitly trusted, Rangoon had its beginning 585 years before the birth of Christ. The founders were two brothers; Pu and Ta Paw by name, who received (from Gautama himself some of the Buddha' hairs, and enshrined them in a pagoda which has since become known as the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Further records state that the town was refounded in 750 a.d. by the King of Pegu, Punnarika, under the name of Aramana. In 1413 it was occupied by the Burmese, but it was still little beyond a collection of huts and was of no practical importance. Dagon, as the town came to be called, frequently changed hands in the wars which were waged between the rulers of Burma and Pegu. In 1753 Alompra defeated the Talaing garrison at Ava, and under his direction Dagon was practically rebuilt, and the Shwe Dagon Pagoda was thoroughly repaired. By Alompra's orders the name of Dagon was changed to that of "Yan Kon," literally "the end of the war." The modification to the present title of Rangoon was not a far step. Although under Alompra, Yan Kon became the seat of a Viceroy, an incessant struggle for its possession was waged between the Peguans and the Burmese.

About ten years before the dawn of the nineteenth century the British colours were hoisted over the town of Rangoon by the East India Company, and a British Resident was appointed in 1798. An interesting description of the town at this period, from the pen of Captain Symes is still extant.

"It stretches along the bank of the river about a mile, "he wrote," and is not more than a third of a mile in breadth. The city or myo, is a square surrounded by a high stockade, and on the north side it is further strengthened by an indifferent fosse, across which a wooden bridge is thrown. In this face there are two gates, in each of the others only one. On the south side, towards the north, there are a number of huts and three wharves with cranes for landing goods. A battery of twelve cannon (six and nine-pounders) raised on the bank commands the river, but the guns and carriages are in such a wretched condition that they could do but little execution. The streets of the town are narrow, and much inferior to those of Pegu, but clean and well paved. The houses are raised on posts from the ground. All the officers of the Government, the most opulent merchants, and persons of consideration, live within the fort: ship stockade, and on the north side it is further strengthened by an indifferent fosse, across which a wooden bridge is thrown. In this face there are two gates, in each of the others only one. On the south side, towards the north, there are a number of huts and three wharves with cranes for landing goods. A battery of twelve cannon (six and nine-pounders) raised on the bank commands the river, but the guns and carriages are in such a wretched condition that they could do but little execution. The streets of the town are narrow, and much inferior to those of Pegu, but clean and well paved. The houses are raised on posts from the ground. All the officers of the Government, the most opulent merchants, and persons of consideration, live within the fort: shipwrights and persons of inferior rank inhabit the suburbs."

During the first Burmese War, in 1824, Rangoon fell into the hands of the British, but it was evacuated three years later tinder the terms of the Treaty of Yandabo. On the outbreak of the second Burmese War in 1852, one of the first actions of the British forces was to occupy the town again, and since then its record has been one of almost uniform prosperity and growth. At the present day, about five-sixths of the total maritime trade of Burma passes through Rangoon.

The modern town is situated on both sides of the Rangoon River at the point of junction to the Poozoondaung Creek. Docks and warehouses line the water's edge, more especially on the northern side, from whence rise the buildings of the mercantile and business quarters, which both in size and solidity of structure compare favourably with the buildings of other large commercial cities in the East. It is a somewhat curious fact, however, that in the world's great centre for the buying and selling of paddy and rice, there is no building in which rice exchange business is transacted, neither is there a stock exchange. Persons interested in the buying and selling of stocks and shares congregate at the corner of Mogui Street and Merchant Street and there transact their business, while millions of tons of rice change hands yearly a few yards further along the roadway. The main business thoroughfares are Strand Road, Merchant Street, and Dalhousie Street, all running parallel to the river and wharves, and the cross-roads which form a connection between them. The native quarters occupy a considerable portion of the town adjacent to this district and there is a large centrally situated Chinese quarter.

From the business portion of the town there is a gradual rise towards the wooded cantonment, which lies around the let of the eminence where stands, glistening in the sunlight, the famous Shwe Dagon Pagoda. In this locality are most of the more important European residences, airy structures all of them, and generally surrounded by well-kept gardens and grounds.

The visitor to Rangoon carries away with him two well-defined and pleasing impressions. The one is of the pagodas of the town, and more especially of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda; the second is that of the beauty of the parks, the Dalhousie Park standing out clearly in the memory as a spot unrivalled in Eastern cities.


to be continued...

Source: Twentieth century impressions of Burma: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources by Wright, Arnold (1910)e
Digitized and Rekey by NLS

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