The Rohingya population is concentrated in the historical region of Arakan, an old coastal country of Southeast Asia. It is not clear who were the original settlers of Arakan.
Burmese nationalist claims that the Rakhine inhabited Arakan since 3000 BCE are not supported by any archaeological evidence. By the 4th century, Arakan became one of the earliest Indianized kingdoms in Southeast Asia. The first Arakanese state flourished in Dhanyawadi. Power then shifted to the city of Waithali. Sanskrit inscriptions in the region indicate that the founders of the first Arakanese states were Indian. Arakan was ruled by the Chandra dynasty. The British historian Daniel George Edward Hall stated that “The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as the tenth century AD. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near modern Akyab”.
Arrival of Islam (8th–9th century)
Due to its coastline on the Bay of Bengal, Arakan was a key center of maritime trade and cultural exchange between Burma and the outside world, since the time of the Indian Mauryan Empire. Arab merchants had been in contact with Arakan since the third century, using the Bay of Bengal to reach Arakan. Starting in the 8th century, Arab merchants began conducting missionary activities, and many locals converted to Islam. Some researchers have speculated that Muslims used trade routes in the region to travel to India and China. A southern branch of the Silk Road connected India, Burma and China since the neolithic period. Arab traders are recorded in the coastal areas of southeast Bengal, bordering Arakan, since the 9th century. The Rohingya population trace their history to this period.
Besides locals converting to Islam, Arab merchants married local women and later settled in Arakan. As a result of intermarriage and conversion, the Muslim population in Arakan grew. Modern day Rohingya believe they descended from these early Muslim communities.
Settlers from Burma proper (9th–15th century)
The Rakhines were one of the tribes of the Burmese Pyu city-states. The Rakhines began migrating to Arakan through the Arakan Mountains in the 9th century. The Rakhines established numerous cities in the valley of the Lemro River. These included Sambawak I, Pyinsa, Parein, Hkrit, Sambawak II, Myohaung, Toungoo and Launggret. Burmese forces invaded the Rakhine cities in 1406. The Burmese invasion forced Rakhine rulers to seek help and refuge from neighboring Bengal in the north.