Friday, October 2, 2009

I. Its Geographical Description.

How much the Kingdom is unknown; Its Frontier Northward; The City of Chiamai and its Lake; The Country of Siam is only a Valley; Cities seated on the River; The Gardens of Bancok; Other Cities on the Menam; Another River likewise called Menam; Cities of Wood; The superstition of the Siameses at Meuang-fang; Another Superstition at Prabrat; What it is; The Original of this Superstition.

Navigation has sufficiently made known the Sea Coasts of the Kingdom of Siam, and many Authors have described them; but they know almost nothing of the Inland Country, because the Siameses have not made a Map of their Country, or at least know how to keep it secret. That which I here present is the work of an European, who went up the Menam, the principal River of the Country, to the Frontiers of the Kingdom; but was not skilful enough to give all the Positions with an entire exactness. Besides he has not seen all; and therefore I thought it necessary to give his Map to Mr. Cassini, Director of the Observatory at Paris, to correct it by some Memorials which were given me at Siam. Nevertheless I know it to be still defective; but yet it fails not to give some notices of this Kingdom which were never heard of, and of being more exact in those we already have.

Its Frontiers extend Northward to the 22d. Degree, or thereabouts; and the Road which terminates the Gulf of Siam, being almost at the Latitude of 13 degrees and a half, it follows, that this whole extent, of which we hardly have any knowledge, runs about 170 Leagues in a direct Line, reckoning 20 Leagues to a degree of Latitude, after the manner of our Seamen.

The Siameses do say that the City of Chiamai is fifteen days journey more to the North, than the Frontiers of their Kingdom, that is to say at most, between sixty and seventy Leagues; for they are Journeys by water, and against the Stream. ‘Tis about thirty years since their King, as they report, took this City, and abandon’d it, after having carried away all the People; and it has been since repeopled by the King of Ava, to whom Pegu does at present render Obedience. But the Siameses which were at that expedition, do not know that famous Lake, from whence our Geographers make the River Menam arise, and to which, according to them, this City gives its Names: which makes me to think either that it is more distant than our Geographers have conceived, or that there is no such Lake. It may also happen that this City adjoyning to several Kingdoms, and being more subject than another to be ruined by War, has not always been rebuilt in the same place: And this is not difficult to imagine of the Cities which in their destruction leave not any Ruines nor Foundations. However it may be doubted, whether the Menam springs from a Lake, by reason it is so small at its entrance into the Kingdom of Siam, that for about fifty Leagues, it carries only little Boats capable of holding no more than four or five Persons at most.

The Kingdom of Siam is bounded from the East to the North by high Mountains, which separate it from the Kingdom of Laos, and on the North and West by others, which divide it from the Kingdoms of Pegu and Ava. This double Chain of Mountains (inhabited by a few, savage, and poor, but yet free People, whose Life is innocent) leaves between them a great Valley, containing in some places between fourscore and an hundred Leagues in bredth, and is watered from the City of Chiamai to the Sea, that is to say from the North to the South, with an excellent River which the Siameses call Menam, or Mother-water, to signify, a great water, which being increased by the Brooks and Rivers it receives on every side, from the Mountains I have mentioned, discharges it self at last into the Gulph of Siam by three mouths, the most navigable of which is that toward the East.

On this River, and about seven Miles from the Sea, is seated the City of Bancok: and I shall transiently declare, that the Siameses have very few habitations on their Coasts, which are not far distant from thence; but are almost all seated on Rivers navigable enough to afford them the Commerce of the Sea. As to the names of most of these places, which for this reason may be called Martitime, they are disguised by Foreigners. Thus the City of Bancok is called Fon in Siamese, it not being known from whence the name Bancok is derived, altho there be several Siamese Names, that begin with the word Ban, which signifies a Village.

The Gardens which are in the Territory of Bancok, for the space of four Leagues, in ascending towards the City of Siam to a place named Talacoan, do supply this City with the Nourishment which the Natives of the Country love best, I mean a great quantity of Fruit.

The other principal places which the Menam waters, are, Me-Tac the first City of the Kingdom to the North, North-West, and then successively Tian-Tong, Campeng-pet or Campeng simple, which some do pronounce Campingue, Laconcevan, Tchainat, Siam, Talacoan, Talaqueou, and Bancok: Between the two Cities of Tchainat and Siam, and at a distance, which the Mæanders of the River do render almost equal from each other, the River leaves the City of Louvo a little to the East, at the 14d. 42 m. 32 S. of Latitude, according to observations which the Jesuits have published. The King of Siam does there spend the greatest part of the year, the more commodiously to enjoy the diversion of Hunting: but Louvo would not be habitable, were it not for a channel cut from the River to water it. The City of Me-Tac renders obedience to an Hereditary Lord, who, they say, is a Vassal to the King of Siam, whom some call Paya-Tac, or Prince of Tac. Tian-Tong is ruin’d, doubtless by the Ancient Wars of Pegu. Campeng is known by the Mines of excellent Steel.

At the City of Laconcevan the Menam receives another considerableRiver which comes also from the North, and is likewise called Menam, a name common to all great Rivers. Our Geographers make it to spring from the Lake of Chiamai: but it is certain that its source in the Mountains, which lye not so much to the North as this City. It runs first to Meuang-fang, then to Pitchiai, Pitsanoulouc, and Pitchit, and at last to Laconcevan, where it mixes, as I have said with the other River.

Pitsanoulouc, which the Portuguese do corruptly call Porselouc has formerly had hereditary Lords, like the City of Me-Tac: and Justice is at present executed in the Palace of Ancient Princes. ‘Tis a City of great commerce, fortified with fourteen Bastions, and is at 19 degrees and some minutes Latitude.

Laconcevan stands about the mid-way from Pitsanoulouc or Porselouc to Siam, a distance computed to be Twenty five days Journey, for those that go up the River in a Boat or Balon; but this voyage may be performed in twelve days when they have a great many Rowers, and they ascend the River with speed.

These Cities, like all the rest in the Kingdom of Siam, are only a great number of Cabbins frequently environ’d with an enclosure of Wood, and sometimes with a Brick, or Stone Wall, but very rarely of Stone. Nevertheless as the Eastern people have ever had as much magnificence and pride in the figures of their Language, as simplicity and poverty in whatever appertains to Life, the names of these Cities do signify great things; Tian-Tong, for instance, signifies True Gold; Campeng-pet, Walls of Diamond; and ‘tis said that its Walls are of Stone: and Laconcevan signifies the Mountain of Heaven.

But as for what concerns Meuang-fang, the word Fang being the name of a Tree famous for dying, and which the Portuguese have called Sapan; some interpret it the City of Wood Sapan. And because that there is kept a Tooth, which is pretended to be a Relick of Sommona-Codom, to whose Memory the Siameses do erect all their Temples; there are some who call not this City Meuang-fang, but Meuang-fan, or the City of the Tooth. The superstition of these people continually draws thither a great number of Pilgrims, not Siameses only, but from Pegu, and Laos.

Such another Superstition prevails at a place named Pra-bat, about five or six leagues to the East-North-East of the City of Louvo; the superstition is this; In the Balie Language, which is the learned tongue of the Siamese, or the Tongue of their Religion, Bat signifies a Foot, and the word Pra, of which it is not possible exactly to render signification, signifies in the same tongue whatever may be conceived worthy of veneration and respect. The Siameses do give this title to the Sun and Moon, but they do also give it to Sommona-Codom, to their Kings, and some considerable Officers.

Rhinoceros horn was one of the exotic products of the forest of Siam much prized by foreign traders. The killing of a rhinoceros was a slow and cruel business. (Ayutthaya Venice of the East by Derick Garnier.)

The Prabat is therefore the print of a mans foot, cut by an ill Graver upon a Rock; but this impression containing about 13 or 14 inches in depth, is five or six times as long as a man’s Foot, and proportionally is broad. The Siameses adore it, and are perswaded that the Elephants, especially the white ones, the Rhinoceros, and all the other Beasts of their Woods, do likewise go to worship it when no person is there; And the King of Siam himself goes to adore it once a year with a great deal of Pomp and Ceremony. It is covered with a Plate of Gold, and inclosed in a Chappel which is there built. They report that this Rock which is now very flat and like a new mown Field, was formerly a very high Mountain, which shrunk and waxed level on a sudden under the Foot of Sommona-Codom, in memory of whom they believe that the Impression of the Foot does there remain. Nevertheless it is certain by the Testimony of ancient men, that the Antiquity of this Tradition exceeds 90 years. A Talapoin, or Religious Siamese, of that time, having doubtless made this Impression himself, or procured it to be made, and then feigned to have miraculously discovered it; and without any other appearance of Truth, gave Reputation and Credit to this Fable of the levell’d Mountain.

Now in all this the Siameses are only gross Imitators. In the Histories of India it is related, with what respect a King of the Island of Ceylon kept an Apes Tooth, which the Indians averred to be a Relique, and with what Sums he endeavoured to purchase and ransom it from Constantine of Brigantium, then Viceroy of the Indies, who had found it amongst the Spoils taken from the Indians. But Constantine chose rather to burn it, and afterwards throw the Ashes into a River. ‘Tis known likewise that in the same Island of Ceylon, which the Indians do call Lanca, and on a real Mountain which is not levelled, there is a pretended print of a Man’s foot, which has for a long time been in great Veneration there. It doubtless represents the Left foot: For the Siameses report that Sommona-Codom set his right foot on their Prabat, and his left on Lanca; altho the whole Gulph of Bengala runs between them.

The Portuguese have called the Print at Ceylon Adam’s Foot, and believe that Ceylon was the Terrestrial Paradise, from the Faith of the Indians at Ceylon, who declare that the Impression which they reverence, is the Print of the first Man inhabited in their Country. Thus the Chinese do call the first man Puoncuò, and believe that he inhabited China. I say nothing of some other Impressions of this nature, which are rever’d in several places of the Indies; nor of the pretended print of Hercules foot, mentioned by Herodotus. I return to my subject.

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