Photo Essays | Society | Southeast Asia

Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Myanmar’s archaeological wonder is marred by the violence in Rakhine state.

By Libby Hogan for
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

A monk walks through the narrow entrance in Koe Thaung Pagoda. 

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Sunset once attracted flocks of tourists to photograph the silhouettes of pagodas at sundown. Since the attacks in northern Rakhine state there has been a drop in tourists visiting Mrauk U. Now the ruins are only frequented by locals.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

This weaving house, which combines the ethnic minority Kalay with Chin designs, has experienced fewer sales due to the drop of tourism in the area. “I don’t understand why we are being punished by the violence we didn’t do,” said one weaver.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Mrauk U has some of the most detailed engravings inside its many temples and archaeological buildings. Little to no attempt has been made to restore or preserve the wall art and engravings.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

The Mrauk U kingdom was once a cosmopolitan hub for Arab, French, Dutch, and Armenian traders. All four kingdoms that ruled the region for centuries mixed elements of Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Temples around Mrauk U have a distinct architectural Buddhist style with a Muslim influence in some of the bell shaped structures. This Muslim influence is also identifiable in historic coins found in the site that were minted in Arabic and the unusual bell-shaped, bunker-like walls.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Farmers mend their thatched roofs before the rainy season. Southern Rakhine state is fertile land that was once a booming rice growing area. However local farmers experienced “land grabbing” during the military years and many farmers are now land poor.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Myanmar’s Department of Archaeology is currently mapping the site. In their recent satellite surveys they recorded over 500 temples or structures.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Community-based tourism groups installed new signposts to help guide tourists. Now tourists are either choosing to ethically boycott Rakhine state or choosing not to visit because of security concerns in response to the Rohingya crisis in the north.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Wall art inside Shittaung Paya temple. The name means “shrine of 80,000 images,” a reference to the religious imagery lining the temple walls.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Reflections outside Shittaung Paya temple.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Two monks watch the storm roll in.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

A Buddha inside Shittaung Paya. Mrauk U is predominantly Buddhist.

Credit: Libby Hogan
Mrauk U: In the Shadow of the Rohingya Crisis

Kids play during Mrauk U’s Thingyan water festival.

Credit: Libby Hogan

The ruins around the city of Mrauk U, the last Rakhine capital, date back to the 15h century. Mrauk U was prepping to becoming Myanmar’s newest archaeological site on the UNESCO world heritage protection list at the end of last year. But after violence erupted in northern Rakhine state, causing over 500,000 Rohingya refugees to flee, hopes for UNESCO status have been put on hold. Since the violence in August last year there has been a drop in tourist numbers; now the zone around the ruins of Mrauk U stand eerily quiet.

Many ethnic minorities live in Rakhine state including the Mro, Khami, Chin, Kaman Daing Net, as well as the Rakhine and Rohingya. In southern Myanmar around Mrauk U, local businesses are struggling to stay afloat in light of the northern Rakhine conflict.

This photo essay looks at southern Rakhine state around Mrauk U, which hasn’t made the news reports, yet has been marred by the shadow of the Rakhine crisis in the north.

Libby Hogan is a journalist based in Yangon, Myanmar.