Friday, October 2, 2009

II. A Continuation of the Geographical Description of the Kingdom of Siam, with an Account of its Metropolis.

Other Cities of the Kingdom of Siam; A Country intersected with Channels; The City of Siam described; Its Names; The true Name of the Siameses signifies Frances; Two of the People are Siameses; Other Mountains, Other Frontiers; The Coast of Siam; Isles of Siam in the Bay of Bengal; The City of Merguy.

On the Frontiers of Pegu is seated the City of Cambory, and on the borders of Laos the Town of Corazema, which some do call Carissima, both very Famous. And in the Lands which lie between the Rivers above the City of Laconcevan, and on the Channels which have a Communication from one River to the other, there are two other considerable Cities, Socotai, almost in the same Latitude with Pitchit, and Sanquelouc more to the North.

The Country being so hot that it is inhabitable only near Rivers, the Siameses have cut a great many Channels; and without having better Memoirs or Notes, ‘tis impossible to reckon up all the Cities seated thereon.

‘Tis by the means of these Channels, called by the Siameses Cloum, that the City of Siam is not only become an island, but is placed in the middle of several Islands, which renders the situation thereof very singular. The Isle wherein it is situated, is at present all inclosed within its walls, which certainly was not in the time of Ferdinand Mendez-Pinto; if notwithstanding the continual mistakes of this Author, who seems to rely too much on his memory, we may believe what he says, that the Elephants of the King of Pegu, who then besieged the City of Siam, did so nearly approach the Walls, as with their Trunks to beat down the Palisado’s which the Siameses had there placed to cover themselves.

Its Latitude, according to Father Thomas the Jesuit, is 14 d. 20 m. 40 S. and its Longitude 120 d. 30 m. It has almost the figure of a Purse, the mouth of which is to the East, and the bottom to the West. The River meets it at the North by several Channels, which run into that which environs it; and leaves it on the South, by separating itself again into several streams. The King’s Palace stands to the North on the Canal which embraces the City; and by turning to the East, there is a Causey, by which alone, as by an Isthmus, People may go out of the City without crossing the water.

The City is spacious, considering the Circuit of its Walls, which, as I have said, incloses the whole Isle; but scarce the sixth part thereof is inhabited, and that to the South-East only. The rest lies desart, where the Temples only stand. ‘Tis true that the Suburbs, which are possessed by strangers, do considerably increase the number of People. The streets thereof are large and strait, and in some places planted with Trees, and paved with Bricks laid edgewise. The Houses are low, and built with Wood; at least those belonging to the Natives, who, for these Reasons, are exposed to all the Inconveniences of the excessive heat. Most of the streets are watered with strait Canals, which have made Siam to be compar’d to Venice, and on which are a great many small Bridges of Hurdles, and some of Brick very high and ugly.

The Name of Siam is unknown to the Siamese. ‘Tis one of those words which the Portuguese of the Indies do use, and of which it is very difficult to discover the Original. They use it as the Name of the Nation, and not of the Kingdom: And the Names of Pegu, Lao, Mogul, and most of the Names which we give to the Indian Kingdoms, are likewise National Names; so that to speak rightly, we must say, the King of the Peguins, Loas, Mogus, Siams, as our Ancestors said, the King of the Franc’s. In a word, those that understand Portuguese, do well know that according to their Orthography, Siam and Siaom are the same thing; and that by the Similitude of our Language to theirs; we ought to say the Sions, and not the Siams: so when they write in Latin, they call them Siones.

The Siameses give to themselves the Name of Tai, or Free, as the word now signifies in their Language: And thus they flatter themselves with bearing the Name of Francs, which our Ancestors assum’d when they resolved to deliver the Gauls from the Roman power. And those that understand the Language of Pegu, affirm that Siam in that Tongue signifies Free. ‘Tis from thence perhaps that the Portuguese have derived this word, having probably known the Siameses by the Peguins. Nevertheless Navarete in his Historical Treatises of the Kingdom of China, chap. 1, art. 5. relates that the Name of Siam, which he writes Sian, comes from these two words Sien lo, without adding their signification, or of what Language they are; altho’ it may be presumed he gives them for Chinese, Meuang Tai is therefore the Siamese Name of the Kingdom of Siam (for Meuang signifies Kingdom) and this word wrote simply Muantay, is found in Vincent le Blanc, and is several Geographical Maps, as the Name of the Kingdom adjoining Pegu: But Vincent le Blanc apprehended not that this was the Kingdom of Siam, not imagining perhaps that Siam and Tai were two different Names of the same People.

As for the City of Siam, the Siameses do call it Si-yo-thi-ya, the o of the Syllable yo being closer than our Dipthong au. Sometimes also they call it Crung-the-papra maha nacon: But most of these words are difficult to understand, because they are taken from this Baly Language which I have already declared to be the learned Language of the Siameses, and which they themselves do not always perfectly understand. I have already remarked what I know concerning the word Pra, that of Maha signifies Great. Thus in speaking of their King, they stile him Pra Maha Crassat; and the word Crassat, according to their report signifies living; and because the Portuguese have thought that Pra signifies God, they imagin that the Siameses called their King, The great living God. From Si-yo thi ya, the Siamese Name of the City of Siam, Foreigners have made Judia, and Odiaa, by which it appears that Vincent le Blanc, and some other Authors, do very ill distinguish Odiaa from Siam:

In a word, the Siameses, of whom I treat, do call themselves Tai Noi, little Siams. There are others, as I was informed, altogether savage, which are called Tai yai, great Siams, and which do live in the Northern Mountains. It several Relations of these Countries, I find a Kingdom of Siammon, or Siami: but all do not agree that the People thereof are savage.

In fine, the Mountains which lie on the common Frontiers of Ava, Pegu and Siam, gradually decreasing as they extend to the South, do form the Peninsula of India extra Gangem, which terminating at the City of Sincapura, separates the Gulphs of Siam and Begala, and which with the Island of Sincapura, separates the Gulphs of Siam and Bengala, and which with the Island of Sumatra forms the famous Strait of Malaca, or Sincapura. Several Rivers do fall from every part of the Mountains into the Gulphs of Siam and Bengala, and render these Coasts habitable. The other Mountains which rise between the Kingdom of Siam and Laos, and extend themselves also towards the South, do run gradually decreasing, till they terminate at the Cape of Camboya, the most Eastern of all those in the Continent of Asia toward the South. ‘Tis about the Latitude of this Cape, that the Gulph of Siam begins; and the Kingdom of this Name extends a great way towards the South in form on an Horseshoe on either side of the Gulph, viz. along the Eastern Coast to the River Chantebon, where the Kingdom of Camboya begins; and opposite thereunto, viz. in the Peninsula extra Gangem, which lies on the West of the Gulp;h of Siam, it extends to Queda and Patana, the Territories of the Malayans, of which Malaca was formerly the Metropolis.

After this manner it runs about 200 Leagues on the side toward the Gulph of Siam, and 180, or thereabouts, on the Gulph of Bengal, an advantageous situation which opens unto the Natives of the Countrey the Navigation on all these vast Eastern Seas. Add that as Nature has refus'd all manner of Ports and Roads to the Coast of Coromandel, which forms the Gulph of Bengal to the West, it has therewith enrich'd that of Siam which is opposite to it, and which is on the East of the same Gulph.

A great number of Isles do cover it, and render it almost everywhere a Harbor for Shis; besides, that most of these Isles have very excellent Ports and abundance of fresh water and wood, an invitation for new Colonies. The King of Siam affects to be called Lord thereof, altho’ his People, who are very thin in the firm Land, have never inhabited them; and he has not strength enough at Sea to prohibit or hinder the entrance thereof to strangers.

The City of Merguy lies on the North-West Point of a great and populous Island, which at the extremity of its course forms a very excellent River, which the Europeans have called Tenasserim, from the Name of a City seated on its Banks about 15 Leagues from the Sea. This River comes from the North, and after having passed through the Kingdoms of Ava and Pegu, and enter’d into the Lands under the King of Siam’s Jurisdiction, it discharges itself by three Channels into the Gulph of Bengal, and forms the Island I have mention’d. The Ports of Merguy, which some report to be the best in all India, is between this Isle and another that is inhabited, and lies opposite, and to the West of this, wherein Merguy is situated.

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