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“Far Cathay,” says : “The Burman with his numerous faults has many virtues. Given to braggadocio, he is withal the very pink of courtesy; cruel under excitement, he evinces the tenderest compassion for the meanest of God's creatures; though bigoted, he is extremely tolerant. Apathetic and lazy when he has no need of exertion, he is vivacious and energetic on occasions ; partial to much exaggeration, yet generally truthful; sober and abstemious, yet prone to excessive indulgence under temptation ; devoid of ambition or sordid desire for wealth, yet keenly anxious for power and the fruit thereof; full of eccentricities and contradictions though he be, Englishmen thrown into daily contact with the Burman entertain for him, and in turn inspire him with, a kindly feeling rarely met with where natives of India are concerned."
The Burman is gay and light-hearted, he is always jolly, he will eat anything, he loathes work, and he hates drill and discipline, but no one is more expert than he at preparing an entrenchment, erecting a stockade or constructing an abattis; he can march, and shoot, and ride, and paddle, and swim; he is a born geographer, even peasants, men and women can read a map; moreover the Burman is sure that Burmans are superior to other mortals, that they are viser, better and braver than any other people.
. As examples of his disinclination for labour two instances may be quoted. Early in 1886 it was determined to improve and metal some of the roads in Mandalay, but the inhabitants were by no means anxious to be employed on them, and those engaged were lazy ; but one morning the Commanding Engineer exultingly reported that at last he had succeeded in finding work that suited the natives, for the previous evening, having arranged heaps of stone by the road side, he gave to some Burmans the contract for breaking them; they at once handed over the hammers to the women and girls of their families, who finished their task before morning, while the men sat on the heaps smoking, joking, and enjoying the beauty of the moonlight night.
These contracts were very popular, and the working parties were very picturesque and joyous.
About the same time the construction of a road from Toungoo towards Mandalay was commenced with the idea of bringing the Burmans together in gangs of workmen and thus pacifying the country. The engineers, however, soon found that nothing would induce the Burman to dig ; he would cut down trees and brushwood, and would make the wooden bridges because he fancied that kind of occupation, but nothing would induce him to touch the earthwork, so it was actually necessary to employ Telugu coolies from the Northern Division of Madras to construct the military road that was urgently wanted to facilitate the movements of troops and stores.
When comparing the courage in war of the Buddhist with that of the Mussulman it is necessary to remember that the former is forbidden by his religion to take life, while the follower of the Prophet attains a glorious hereafter as a reward for death in defence of the faith. But are we entitled to say that the Burmans are cowards ?
Sir Archibald Campbell, who commanded the British Forces, spoke highly of the conduct of the enemy on many occasions. On ist July, 1824, at Rangoon, they stood till 1,000 Burmans had been killed ; on the 8th October, 1824, a force of 900 men under Lieut.-Colonel Smith was defeated at Kykloo with the loss of 7 officers and 88 men.
On the 7th March, 1825, Brigadier-General Cotton with 1,168 men failed in his attack on the outworks of Donabue ; Sir Archibald Campbell marched to his assistance with 2,400 men, but it was not till the 2nd April, after their famous General, Maha Bandoola, had been killed by a shell, that the Burmans retreated from their works at Donabue.
On the 7th January, 1825, Lieut.-Colonel Conry's attack on Sittang failed utterly ; and on the 11th January Colonel Pepper's columns of attack on the same place, though victorious, were much cut up by the enemy's fire.
In the 2nd war the Burmans were again victorious at Donabue. A force of bluejackets, marines, and 67th Bengal N.I., with 25 officers and two 3-pounder guns, under Captain Loch, C.B., R.N., attacked Donabue, but were defeated, with the loss of Captain Loch and 82 officers and men and the 2 guns. Sir John Cheape with strong reinforcements of men and 2 guns then attacked Donabue, and after a gallant struggle entirely defeated Myat-toon on the 19th March, 1853, but the victory was at times within an ace of being a defeat.
During the 3rd Burmese War I do not think that any considerable British force has been defeated, but, on many occasions, the Burmans have shown real gallantry, and occasionally the enemy has roughly handled detachments of our troops. Considering the vast superiority of the British ordnance and rifles, it must be conceded that some courage must have been displayed by our foe in keeping the field against such odds.
The fact is that the Burman has learnt war in a different school from the British ; in 1824-26 he invariably made use of fortifications and stockades except at the decisive battle of Pagan; in 1852-54 he again distinguished himself by his skill in field-works and stockading, notably at Donabue, Prome, and Pegu; and in the operations from 1885 to the present time he has habitually fought behind stockades or other cover.
The Burmans, having neither drill nor discipline, wisely abstain from fighting in open plains, where they could not manæuvre, but would certainly be mown down by troops skilled in the use of arms of precision having a range
far longer than that of their own firearms. Burmans are quite aware that for them to form line and charge would be folly ; "it may be magnificent but it is not war,” but in laying an ambuscade, in fortifying the platform of a pagoda when he knows that an enemy is obliged to pass close to it, the Burman is an adept, and his assaults have often been delivered with great spirit.
Fytche, who knew how to handle them, made excellent use of his Burman Levies in January, 1853, at Eng-ma Khyoung-you, the affair near Lemena, and in his retreat before Myat-toon, in March, 1853.
Although it seems absurd and unjust to class whole divisions of troops in the field as “dacoits,” and to speak of 10,000 gang-robbers being assembled in a district, and to stigmatize patriots fighting in defence of their country, and bands of warriors not more guilty than the foragers in the days of Rob Roy, as “ dacoits,” yet it must be admitted that throughout Burma “dacoity"—to use a common expression -is a favourite pastime. No young man is held in esteem by the girls of his village who has not taken part in one or more of these expeditions.
A and B resolve to plunder C; they make up a party and do so ; C does not fight, but clears out of his house promptly, and is robbed of everything he possessed. The neighbours commiserate C. One gives him a bullock, another a cart, a third some clothes, and he is not much the worse for the misadventure. After a time C thinks it is his turn, and with the aid of D attacks A's house ; again very little harm is done ; but when A and B combine to plunder E, the Englishman or angry Burman, E does not play the game. He, in defence of his property, uses his rifle and sword, and there is bloodshed, horrible gashes with the dah, and trouble afterwards ; but that is all because he does not understand the system and accept the custom of the country.
I am not an advocate for robbery in this or any other form, but my desire is to show that Burmans bearing arms are not always dacoits, and that dacoits do not always use
It is very easy for men drilled, disciplined, instructed in tactics, and practised in the use of the Martini-Henry or magazine rifle to taunt undisciplined Orientals armed with swords, spears, fowling-pieces, or, at best, with rifles to which they are unaccustomed, because they prefer woodfighting to meeting the enemy in the open. But how would it be if the weapons were changed ? Till fighting under such conditions has been tried, are we entitled to consider Burmans cowards ? They certainly face death with the greatest composure. I am convinced that Burmans have many qualities most valuable to soldiers, and I believe that Burmans properly dressed, efficiently armed, discreetly treated, and well commanded by officers, selected not on account of smartness only, but for accurate and sympathetic knowledge of the people, their customs, and their language, and for sound sense and activity, would be most valuable auxiliaries in warlike operations within and beyond the frontiers of Burma.
The conduct of King Theebaw had, since his accession to the throne, been, at all times, unsatisfactory and, occasionally, insolent, yet so long as the Kingdom of Ava occupied an isolated position, the British Government could afford to submit to much provocation, but when the external policy of the Burmese Court indicated designs which, if prosecuted with impunity, could only result in the establishment of preponderating foreign influence in the Upper Valley of the Irrawaddy, it became impossible for Her Majesty's Government to view the situation without considerable anxiety. In March 1885, a contract for a Royal Bank at Mandalay was signed at Paris and a treaty with France granting a monopoly of railroads was signed in January 1885 and ratified on 25th November 1885; in August 1885 King Theebaw attempted to impose a ruinous fine on the British Burma Trading Company and on the 7th November 1885 orders were issued for the mobilization of the Burman Army and for the march of the advance guard in three columns towards the frontier, the ist down the Irrawaddy River, the 2nd on Taungdwengyi, and the 3rd on Toungoo.—War was then declared; the Head