The brilliant Performance of Tatmadaw in Nyaung Yan Period

  • Hailing the 72nd anniversary of Armed Forces Day 27-3-2017
  • Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja Sithu,
    Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
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Boat racing plays an important role in the recruitment of soldiers during the time of kings.

Our past is our lesson for our present and our guide for our future. To hail the 72nd anniversary of Tatmadaw Day the writer contributes to the highly esteemed Daily the Global New Light of Myanmar the following article entitled “The brilliant Performance of Tatmadaw in Nyaung Yan Period [1605-1752 A.D] of Myanmar history.
King Anaukpet Lun [1605-1628 A.D] whose army decisively defeated the Portuguese intruders at Syriam [Than Hlyin] in 1613 A.D deserves a place among our great leaders who timely saved the nation from falling under foreign yoke. His war against the Portuguese was as equally important for us as achievements of any other of our national leaders. Viewed from the angle of historic continuity, it was our second resistance against alien domination, after our first encounter with a foreign aggression in the 13th century. The Tartar armies of Kublai Khan that invaded Myanmar [Old Bagan] in the reign of King Narathihapate [1256-1287 A.D]. It was also our successful resistance against the first European imperialists from overseas.
Today, although the war of 1613 was more than five centuries old, its import still bears relevance in modern context. To recapture it the events of the war may be briefly reviewed. The coming of the Portuguese to our country was the side effect of their imperialism in India, Ceylon [Sri Lanka] the East Indies and Malay the four regions in Asia in which they were vitally interested. A variety of motives prompted them to come out to the orient at the turn of the 16th century. Love of sea adventures, quest for new land, hunt for fortune, propagation of Christianity, trade with the fabulously rich oriental countries, and many other personal reasons. Being a seafaring people themselves and having discovered the technique of building larger and all weather ocean going boats and also being equipped with modern arms-[muskets and cannons] and navigation devices, these European from the Iberian peninsula were able to build up their maritime empire in the eastern hemisphere of the world. But in religion, trade and navigation, they were surpassed by their Arab predecessors, who were much far in advance in these fields. So in their expansion in the East, they found themselves up against the Arab barrier which they tried to break up with the only strength they had —navy. This explains why the Portuguese maritime Empire in the 16th and the 17th centuries covered the eastern seaboards and the surrounding rim lands —the beaten treks of the Arabs. From the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Sea to the China Coast in the Pacific Ocean, the Arab strongholds were taken one by one by the Portuguese by sheer force. The capture of Goa in 1510 laid the foundation of their Empire. It was from Goa that Portuguese imperialism stretched out its tentacles to grip all lands, places and seaports of strategic and commercial importance.
Most historians hold the view that as Myanmar coastline is off the international navigation route her seaports are of little or no use to the maritime travelers. Hence Myanmar’s oversea contact, if composed to those of other nations in the South-east Asian region has been sparse. This view, however, oversimplifies the geographical factor and ignores the navigation conditions of the time. The sea route from Portugal via the Cape of Good Hope to India was quite a long journey pregnant with all kinds of risks, dangers and hardships. Then again the route from Goa on the Malabar Coast of India to the East Indies or Malay Peninsula was another great distance. Nonstop sail whether from homeland or Goa to their bases in Malay or the East Indies was quite unthinkable for the Portuguese. Besides, navigation conditions in those days were still primitive by our modern standard.
Although the Portuguese galleons were equipped with strong sails and oars they could not withstand Hurricane and Cyclone. Sea routes in those days were fraught with piracies in which the Portuguese themselves participated largely. Therefore stations for transit, repair of boats and ships and supply of.water and food ration were needed, and the Portuguese tried to secure them either by military conquest or political arrangements with the local magnates. On the coastlines around the Bay of Bengal, the Rakhine Province, Myanmar deltas, and along the Teninthayy strip were a chain of Portuguese bases either well-fortified or strongly guarded by armed boats and galleons anchored off the shores. Chittagong, Sund wip Island at the mouth of the Hoogli River. Mrohaung, Ciryon [Syruan oHvQif], Pegu, Martavan [rkwår] and Tanacary [Taninthayy] were the places they made settlements.
Apart from navigation, the Portuguese had economic reason to come to Myanmar. Although it was true that their main focus was on the most profitable spice trade of the East Indies and the oriental merchandizes of India, China and Japan, Myanmar’s natural products such as rubies, and precious stones of all kinds, lac, bee wax, indigo, musk, ivory, and such like forest products did not fail to attract the commercial interest of the Portuguese merchants. These products fetched handsome prices in European markets. So merchant ships frequented Myanmar’s seaports Mrohaung, Cosmin [Bassim] Dalla, Ciryan [Thanhlyin], Pegu, Martavan, and Tanacary [Taninthayy], where they bartered the commodities they brought with Myanmar products. Some got settled down at seaport towns and capital cities, married native women and lived a family life among local populace. Others stayed on for a few years, seeking fortune by all means, including piracy and slave trade and returned home taking back the loots or wealth they had accumulated. They did not pose a menace to the nation provided their number was negligible and they kept aloof from local polities.
But in the first half of the 16th century, the Portuguese residents in Myanmar increased manifold and they began to dabble in the court intrigues. It was the time when the Portuguese Empire was at the height of its power. Portuguese “free booters” or the “Ferringhees” [Bayingee b&if*sD] as they were then commonly called in the East made themselves available as professional fighters for hire. They had no loyalty to any authority, not even to their King. They would serve him well who could offer them better terms and a greater reward which was usually a lion’s share in the war spoils. Kings and princes of south and South-east Asian countries employed them in their dynastic wars and family feuds. In Myanmar, Taungoo Kings like Tabin Shwe Hti [1531-1550 A.D] and his successor and brother-in-law King Bayint Naung [1551-1581 A.D], Mon King of Pegu Tagarupi, Mastaban Prince Banya Dala, Rakhine King Min Rajah Gri [1593-1612 A.D] and Lord of Chittagong Min Mangri hired these Portuguese free booters for their military campaigns. Lavish rewards were given to them and titles and high posts were awarded to those who distinguished themselves by leravery and fighting ability. Glovani Caeyro and Diago soarze de Mello were the two outstanding Portuguese who served in the armies of the above-mentioned Taungoo Kings. The latter was promoted to the highest military rank and post by King Bayintnaung because of his excellent military service. Ferdinand de Morales fought on the side of King Tagarupi when the latter went to war with Tabin Shwe Hti. Philip de Brito and Sebastio Gon salves were the favourites of King Rayah Gri and King Min Mangri respectively.
At first, these free booters were not organized nor did they owe allegiance to their home Government or any political authority in their colonies. They were just free-lance fighters. But later the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa Alfonso de Albuquerque tried to use them in carrying out his imperial design on Myanmar. As early as 1511 A.D he was pursuing a policy of aggression in the South-east Asian region. In that year he attacked Malacca, the great emporium town of the region and forcibly took it from the Malay Sultans. From there he planned to bring all South-east Asian Seaports under his control. So he sent two missions to Myanmar, one led by Ruy Nunezd’ Achunnha was dispatched to Pegu in 1511 A.D and the other headed by John de Silveira to Chittagong in 1517 A.D. The declared object of these missions was to open diplomatic relations with the Rakhine and Pegu Courts. But the ulterior motive was to influence the native Kings through Portuguese residents there. But both missions failed in their purposes. In 1519 A.D Portuguese Governor at Malacca Digo Lopes de Sequiera sent a mission to Martalean, headed by Andrea Correa. This mission succeeded in signing a commercial treaty with the Lord of Martaban Banya Yan. By this treaty the Portuguese were permitted to open a factory [trading station] at Martaban, settle down there and their ships were free to ply along and anchor off the coast.
Subsequent missions were not successful as the native Kings were once again engaged in their dynastic quarrels. Ferdinand Morales who headed the mission to Pegu sent by Goa Viceroy in 1513 A.D only saw the war going between Taungoo and Pegu. He sided with Pegu and died in the battle. Ferdinand Mendes Pinto was sent to Martaban in 1545 A.D. by the Governor of Malacca Pedro de Faria to renew the 1519 treaty. He became an eye witness to the fighting between Martaban and Taungoo.
Though these missions failed in their immediate objectives, they established contacts between Portuguese colonial authorities and Portuguese communities in Myanmar. With the blessing and encouragement of Goa Viceroy Portuguese residents now became rebellious and their activities turbulent and defiant. They came under his influence and control. The Viceroy entered into secret dealings with those who held high posts in the royal services, promising them handsome rewards, positions and titles if they cooperated with him in pursuing imperial policy in Myanmar. It is said that the young Portuguese who brought King Tabin Shwe Hti to excessive drinking was the nephew of Goa Viveroy sent by his uncle to debauche the young King Tabin Shwe Hti. The result of the Viceroy’s political intrigues was the rise to power of two Portuguese adventures-Philip de Brito at Syriam and Sebastiao Gonsalves Tibao on the Sand wip island. Being frequently engaged in personal rivalry and family feuds native Kings and lords were little aware of the growing menace of their Portuguese employees who were misusing their authorities and position for their selfish ends. But public who had suffered enough at the hands of these powerful royal servants resisted them as best they could. Digo Soarze de Mello was the first to meet the punishment from the people for his acts of high handedness, cruelty, and immoral crimes which he had committed in the heyday of his power. On one occasion he disturbed a Mon wedding ceremony in Pegu by killing the bridegroom and taking the pretty bride for his harem Ashamed, and heartbroken the bride hanged herself. Her father vowed to avenge him at any opportunity. By 1582 his royal master King Bayint Naung was dead and he himself fell from power under the new King Now was the time for the bride’s father to take vengeance. The old man roused up a mob by provoking public hatred for de Mello. Recalling the tragedy of his daughter he appealed to the Peguans to bring the wrongdoer to justice. The angry mob marched with him to de mello’s house where they stoned him to death. His body was cut into pieces and his house destroyed. This incident was a prelude to the nation-wide resistance against Portuguese imperialism.
Regarding de Brito and Sehastio Gonsalves a united action of Rakhine, Mon and Myanmar Kings was needed to overthrow their power. Here the Tatmadaws of these three native Kings timely appeared at the clarion call of our nation in danger of falling under foreign yoke.
Like any other adventurer of their type these two Portuguese were upstarts who rose to greatness by a combination of intrigues, arms and sheer luck. Philip de Brito was a cabin boy who came to Rakhine during the reign of King Min Rajah Gri. His gallantry and fighting skill impressed the King and he won royal favour. He received promotions in the King’s Service.
In 1599 A.D a dynastic war broke out between Rakhine and Taungoo on the one hand and Pegu on the other. Min Rajah Gri appointed De Brito as a minor officer in the combined armies of Rakhine and Taungoo which laid seigs to Pegu. When Pegu fell and the war was won Rakhine and Taungoo divided the spoils between them. To keep a constant with Taungoo, the Rakhine King stationed his officers and an army at Syriam. But at this time the Portuguese were commanding Myanmar’s seas and there was a large number of their communities residing in Syriam. So Rakhine King appointed de Brito as Governor of Syriam so as to cooperate with his officers in collecting customs duties and protecting the port. But in no time de Brito made himself Lord of Syriam’s by expelling King’s officers and bringing the town under his personal rule. He harbored a high ambition of becoming the sovereign of Myanmar. He built up his military strength by recruiting local Portuguese into his army and entering into an alliance with the Lord of Martaban Banya Dala. The alliance was reinforced by a dynastic marriage between his son Simon and Banya Dala’s daughter. He also went to Goa to seek support from the Viceroy who supplied him with arms, ammunition and war ships and in addition offered him as bride his own niece Dona Luisa de Saldana. The Viceroy recognized Syriam as Portuguese possession and he hoped that all of Myanmar’s coastal provinces would fall under the Portuguese sway.
To be continued
Alarmed by these treacherous activities of de Brito, Rakhine King and Lord of Proms led their armies against Syriam while de Brito was away in Goa. For eight months syriam withstood the heavy siege. The besiegers withdrew when de Brito returned with reinforcement, he bribed army officers and bought off Pegu’s neutrality. In 1604 A.D Rakhine and Taungoo combined their Tatniadaws to attack Syriam. Though the enemies were outnumbered they had better weapons to repulse the attackers successfully. In the fierce battle on sea, Rakhine King’s son Min Khamaung was captured by the Portuguese, de Brito received a good ransom for the release of the young prince and once again he was the victor. But there was one thing over which he could not win victory. That was the resistance spirit of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities de Brito made two blunders to arouse that spirit-insult to religion and intrigue in local politics. Buddhist shrines were broken open to loot the treasures enshrined inside and the natives were forcibly converted to Christianity. He made alliance with the Lords of Martaban, Pegu and Taungoo and played one against another, until all realized that he was their common enemy.
By the turn of the 17th century a new power was rising in Upper Myanmar. With Ava [Inwa] as his base Prince Nyaung Yan, a son of Bayint Naung was restoring the Empire which had disintegrated since his father’s death. Nyaung Yan’s son King Anauk Phet Lun continued his father’s work. Having reunified Upper Myanmar he marched with his Tatmadaw to Proms which he took in 1607 A.D. Chienmai, Rakhine and Taungoo voluntarily submitted themselves to him. Thus began the union of Myanmar, Mon and Rakhine to fight the Portuguese. As a last resort de Brito tried to divide them in 1612 A.D he and his ally the Lord of Martaban attacked Taungoo, destroyed the city and took away treasure and Taungoo Prince Nat Shin Naung. De Brito won over Prince Nat Shin Naung to his side by adopting him as his brother and making him a Christian convert. But his divide and rule policy no longer worked, for his days were numbered. King Anaukphetlun took the vow not to return to Ava until Syriam was captured. Rakhine and Prome promised to aid him militarily. In 1613 A.D. he led military expedition to Syriam both by land and sea. It was the war of resistance against common enemy from abroad-the Portuguese on a nation-wide scale, because the Mons, the Rakhines and the Myanmars United participated in their repulse of their common foes. For three months Syriam was surrounded and attacked by the King’s Tatmadaw. De Brito held out and defended the town to the limit of his resources Reinforcements from Bengal, Madras and Goa did not arrive in time. Exhausted and starved his men deserted him. So Syriam fell at last. De Brito and Taungoo Prince Nat Shin Naung were captured and tried at the court martial on charges of high taeason of both as well as sacrilege of de Brito who not only looted Buddhist shrines but also brought down the largest bronze bell of King Dhammazedi from the platform of Shwedagon Pagoda for making weapons and cannons and in ferrying it across the river, it dropped in the Dawbon creek to lie in its watery grave till today and converting local people to Christianity by force in spite of the objection of the Vatican. The two were publicly executed. Followers and soldiers of de Brito were deported to Upper Myanmar and the King gave them lands for their settlements in the Mu valley. They were allowed to retain their religion and many were employed in royal services. Their descendants still live there and other places well known as Ferrighee [b&if*sD].
De Brito’s counterpart in Rakhine was Sebastio Gonsalves. Like the former he had a romantic career. He came to Bengal in 1605 A.D to trade in salt. But he became the leader of the Portuguese pirates who prevailed in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Seas. By slave raid, looting and all kinds of underhand methods he became rich and lived like a prince on the island of Sandwip. He assumed himself as the lord of that island. For political reason, Rakhine King tolerated the Ferringhees in his Kingdom. Their arms, ships and fighting skills were useful for the defense of his kingdom, especially against the Mughols on the Indian side. Besides, their slave trade and piracy were a source of revenue. The King employed them in his armies and kept friendly relations with the pirate leaders like Gonsalves.
In 1610 A.D, a rebellion broke out in Rakhine. The Lord of Chittagong, Min Mangri who was the younger son of King Min Rajah Gri quarreled with his elder brother Min Khamaung the heir apparent, because the former wanted to supercede his brother in succession to the throne Gonsalves seized this opportunity to promote his self-interest. He persuaded Min Mangri to ally with him. To strengthen their alliance Gonsalves married his son to Min Mangri’s daughter, while he himself took Min Mangri’s sister as his lesser wife. The two allies revolted. After initial successes the rebels were beaten back by the Tatmadaw of the King. Min Mangri died in the fighting and his survivors and treasures were taken to Sandwip by Gonsalves. By now the Munghols were wiping out the pirates in the Bay of Bengal and threatening to take Rakhine border territories, especially Chittagone. Therefore faced by common enemies, Gonsalves and Min Rajah Gri made an alliance. Gondlaves was to command all Rakhine fleets, while his nephew was kept as hostage at the court. But Gonslaves had made a double dealing. He accepted heavy bribes from the Munghols and turned against his ally. Rakhine officers were treacherously put to death. As a reprisal the King impaled his nephew. Gonslaves escaped to his island abode from where he continued pirating and slave raiding along the surrounding coasts. When Min Khamaung succeeded his father’s throne in 1612 A.D. he marched on to Chittagong to bring Gonslaves to punishment. Gonslaves, however, made the last attempt to become the sovereign of Rakhine. He asked military aid from the Viceroy of Goa Dom Jeromyno de Azevedo, proposing to divide the Rakhine kingdom between themselves. But Viceroy declined his offer because he wanted to take Rakhine kingdom for himself. Accordingly in 1615 A.D. he set out to Rakhine with 14 war ships under the command of Dom Francis de Menesse, with Gasper de Abreu as Assistant. But the Rakhine people were now well organized under their leader King Min Kha Maung, who had resolved to clean up the meddlesome Ferringhes from kingdom once and for ever and for all. After a series of naval fightings the enemies were defeated and their warships captured. Those which escaped, sailed straight back to Goa and never returned. Gonslaves also fled to his base. In 1617 A.D. Min Kha Maung dispatched a naval force to Sandwip to destroy the Portuguese strongholds there. Fortresses were pulled down and the buildings were burnt to ashes. Many Feringhes were put to death. But Gonslaves escaped and never reappeared in Myanmar waters.
What are the historical lessons which we should take from the episodes just recounted? They are firstly because of her natural resources and geographical and strategic location Myanmar has been and is always an attractive ground for imperial ventures as well as spillover of population from neighbour countries at any time of her history. Secondly world politics especially politics of the South East Asian region has always its impact upon Myanmar. Thirdly alliance with big Powers and angers her own security. Fourthly external danger comes in when her ethnic nationalities are divided and it is repulsed when they are united. Lastly it is always Myanmar Tatmadaw that comes up at the clarion call of the nation in danger and protects the people and retains the country’s sovereignty and independence.

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