Friday, October 2, 2009

III. Concerning the History and Origine of the Siameses.

The Siamese little curious of their History; The Epocha of the Siameses; Their Kings; The Race of the present King; Another example of the Revolutions of Siam; A Doubt as to the Origine of the Siameses; Two Languages at Siam; What the Siameses report concerning the Origine of their Laws and Religion; Of the Balie Language; The Siamese resemble thier Neighbours; The King of Siam loves Children till 7 or 8 years old; Strangers that have come to Siam; The people the Kingdom of Siam not very numerous.

The Siamese History is full of Fables. The Books thereof are very scarce, by reason the Siameses have not the use of Printing; for upon other Accounts I doubt of the report, that they affect to conceal their History, seeing that the Chineses, whom in many things they imitate, are not so jealous of theirs. However that matter is, notwithstanding this pretended Jealousy of the Siameses, they who have attain'd to read any thing of the History of Siam, after that it ascends not very high with any character of truth.

Behold a very dry and insipid Chronological Abridgement which the Siameses have given thereof: But before we proceed, it is necessary to tell you, that the current year 1689, beginning in the month of December 1688, is the 2233 of their Æra, from which they date the Epocha, or beginning (as they say) from Sommona-Codom's death. But I am persuaded that this Epocha has quite another foundation, which I shall afterwards explain.

Their first King was named Pra Poat honne sourittep-pennaratui sonanne bopitra. The chief place where he kept his Court was called Tchai pappe Mahanacon, the situation of which I ignore; and he began to reign An. 1300. computing after their Epocha. Ten other Kings succeeded him, the last of which, named Ipoja sanne Thora Thesma Teperat, remov'd his Royal Seat to the City of Tasoo Nacora Louang, which he had built, the situation of which is also unknwon to me. The twelfth King after him, whose Name was Pra Poa Noome Thele seri, obliged all his People in 1731, to follow him to Locintai, a City seated on a River, which descends from the Mountains of Laos, and runs into the Menam a little above Porselouc, from which Lacontai is between 40 and 50 Leagues distant. But this Prince resided not always at Lacontai; for he came and built, and inhabited the City of Pipeli on a River, the mouth of which is about two Leagues to the West of the most occidental mouth of the Menam. Four other Kings succeeded him, of which Rhamatilondi, the last of the four, began to build the City of Siam in 1894, and there established his Court. By which it appears, that they allow to the City of Siam the Antiquity of 338 years. The King Regent is the twenty fifth from Rhamatilondi, and this year 1689, is the 56th or 57th of his age. Thus do they reckon 52 Kings in the space of 934 years, but not all of the same Blood.

Mr. Gervaise in his Natural and Political History of the Kingdom of Siam, gives us the History of the now Regent King's Father; and Van Vliet gives us much more circumstanciated, in his Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam, printed at the end of Sir Thomas Herbert's Travels into Persia. I refer the Reader thither to see an Example of Revolutions, which are common at Siam: for this King who was not of the Royal Race, tho' Vliet asserts the contrary, took away the Scepter and Life of his Natural Lords, and put to death all the Princes of their Blood except two, which were alive when Vliet writ, but of whom I could not learn any News. Without all doubt this Usurper put them to death like the rest. And in truth, John Struys, in the First Tome of his Voyages, asserts that this was the Fate of the last of these two Princes, who was alive in the year 1650, and was then 20 years old; the Tyrant put him to death that very year, with one of his Sisters, upon an Accusation notoriously false: But a remarkable Circumstance of the History of his Usurpations, was, that entering by force of Arms into the Palace, he forced the King to quit it, and flie into a Temple for refuge; and having drag'd this unfortunate Prince out of this Temple, and carry'd him back a Prisoner to the Palace, he caus'd him to be declared unworthy of the Crown and Government, for having deserted the Palace. To this Usurper who died in 1657, after a Reign of 30 years, succeeded his Brother; because his Son could not, or durst not then to dispute the Crown with him. On the contracry, to secure his Life, he sought a Sanctuary in a Cloyster, and cloath'd himself with the inviolable Habit of a Talapoin. But he afterwards so politickly took his measures, that he disposess'd his Uncle, who flying from the Palace on his Elephant, was slain by a Portuguese with a Musquet.

Ferdinand Mendes Pinto relates that the King of Siam, who reigned in 1547, and to whom he gives great Praises, was poyson'd by the Queen his Wife at his return from a military Expedition. This Princess deliberated thus to prevent the vengeance of her Husband, by reason that during his absence she had maintain'd an amorous Commerce, by which she prov'd with Child. And this Author adds, that she soon after destroy'd the King her own Son in the same manner, and had the Credit to get the Crown set upon her Lover's Head the 11th of November 1548. But in January 1549, they were both assassinated in a Temple, and a Bastard Prince, the Brother and Uncle of the two last Kings, was taken out of a Cloyster to be advanced to the Throne. The Crowns of Asia are always instable, and those of India, China and Japan, much more than the others.

As for what concerns the Origine of the Siameses, it would be difficult to judge whether they are only a single People, directly descended from the first Men that inhabited the Countrey of Siam, or whether in process of time some other Nation has not also settled there, notwithstanding the first Inhabitants.

The principal Reason of this Doubt proceeds from the Siameses understanding two Languages, viz. the Vulgar, which is a simple Tongue, consisting almost wholly of Monosyllables, without Conjugation or Declension; and another Language which I have alreadyt spoken of, which to them is a dead Tongue, known only by the Learned, which is called the Balie Tongue, and which is enricht with the inflexions of words, like the Languages we have in Europe. The terms of Religion and Justice, the names of Offices, and all the Ornaments of the Vulgar Tongue are borrow'd from the Balie. In this Language they compose their best Songs; so that it seems at least that some Foreign Colony had formerly inhabited the Countrey of Siam, and had carry' thither a second Language. But this is a Dispute that might be raised concerning all the Countries of India; for, like Siam, they all have two Languages, one of which is still remaining only in their Books.

The Siameses assert that their Laws are Foreign, and came to them fom the Countrey of Laos, which has, perhaps, no other Foundation than the Conformity of the Laws of Laos with those of Siam, even as there is a Conformity between the Religions of these two Nations, and with that of the Peguins. Now this does not strictly prove that any of these three Kingdoms hath given its Laws and its Religion to the rest, seeing that it may happen that all the three may have deriv'd thier Religion and their Laws from another common Source. However it be, as the Traditions is at Siam, that their Laws and Kings came from Laos, the same Tradition runs at Laos, that their Kings and most of their Laws came from Siam.

The Siameses speak not of any Country where the Balie Language, which is that of thier Laws and their Religion, is now in use. They suspect indeed, according to the report of some amongst them, which have been at the Coast of Coromandel, that the Balie Language has some similitude with some one of the Dialects of that Country: but they agree at the same time that the Letters of the Balie Language are known only amongst them. The secular Missionaries established at Siam, are of opinion that this Language is not entirely extinct: by reason they saw in their Hospital a man come from about the Cape of Comorin, who interspers'd several Balie words in his discourse, affirming that they were used in his Country, and that he had never studied, and knew only his Mother Tongue. They moreover averr for truth, that the Religion of the Siameses came from those Quarters, because they have read in a Balie Book, that Sommona-Codom whom the Siameses adore, was the son of a King of the Island of Ceylon.

But setting aside all these uncertainties, the vulgar Language of the Siameses, like in its Simplicity to those of China, Tonquin, Cochinchina, and the other States of the East, sufficiently evinces that those who speak it, are near of the same Genius with their Neighbours. Add hereunto their Indian Figure, the colour of their Complexion mixt with red and brown, (which corresponds neither to the North of Asia, Europe, nor Africk,) Add likewise their short Nose rounded at the end, as their Neighbours generally have it; the upper Bone of their Cheeks high and raised, their Eyes slit a little upwards, their Ears larger than ours, in a word all the Lineaments of the Indian and Chinese Physiognomy; their Countenance naturally squeez'd and bent like that of Apes, and a great many other things which they have in common with these Animals, as well as a marvellous passion for Children. Nothing is equal to the Tenderness which the great Apes expressed to their Cubs, except the Love which the Siameses have for all Children, whether for their own, or those of another.

The King of Siam himself is incompass'd with them, and delights to educate them till seven or eight years old: after which, they lose the childish Air, they do also lose his Favour. One alone, say some, was there kept till between twenty and thirty years of Age, and is still his favourite. Some do call him adopted Son, others suspect him to be his Bastard; He is at least Foster Brother to his Lawful Daughter.

But if you consider the extremely Low Lands of Siam, that they seem to escape the Sea as it were by miracle, and that they lye annually under rain water for several Months, the almost infinite number of very incommodious Insects which they endanger, and the effective Heat of the Climate under which they are seated; it is difficult to comprehend that others could resolve to inhabit them, excepting such as came thither by little and little from places adjacent. And it may be thought that they have been inhabited not many Ages, if a Judgment may be made thereof by the few Woods that are stubbed as yet. Moveover it would be necessary to travel more to the North of Siam, to find out the warlike People which could yield those innumerable swarms of men, which departed out of their own Country to go and possess others. And how is it possible that they should not be stopp'd on the Road, among some of those soft and effeminate People, which lye between the Country of the Scythians, and the Woods and impassable Rivers of the Siameses? 'Tis not therefore probable that the Lesser Siameses, which we have spoken of, are descended from the Greater, and that the Greater withdrew into the Mountains which they inhabit, to free themselves from the Tyranny of the neighbouring Princes, under which they were born.

Nevertheless it is certain that the Siamese blood is very much mixed with foreign. Not to reckon the Peguins, and the Inhabitants of Laos, which are at Siam, and whom I consider almost the same Nation with the Siameses; 'tis not to be doubted that there formerly fled to Siam a great number of Strangers from different Countries, upon the account of a free Liberty of Trade, and by reason of the Wars of the true India, China, Japan, Tonquin, Cochinchina, and other States in the South part of Asia. They report likewise that in the City of Siam, there are forty different Nations: but inasmuch as Vincent le Blanc speaks in these very terms concerning the City of Martaban, this affected Number of Forty Nations appears unto me an Indian Vanity. The entire annihilation of the Commerce of Siam, having in these last years forc'd most of the Foreigners, that fled thither, to seek out new Retreats, three or four Canoniters which are of Bengal, do now compose a Nation; three Cochinchinese Families do make another; the Moors alone which ought to be reckon'd only for one, do make more than ten, as well for that they came to Siam from different Nations, as for their being of various conditions, as Merchants, Soldiers, and Labourers. (I call Moors after the Spanish manner, not the Negro's, but those Mohametans of Arabian Extraction, which our Ancestors have called Saracens, and whose race is spread almost through our whole Hemisphere.) And notwithstanding all this, when the Ambassadors of the Foreigners, which at Siam are called the Forty Nations, came to salute the King's Envoys, there were reckoned no more than one and twenty Nations, computing as the Siameses would have us.

They inhabit different quarters in the City or Suburbs of Siam; and yet this City is very little inhabited in respect to its Bigness, and the Country much less in Proportion. It must be imagined that they desire not a greater People, for the count them every year; and do well know, what no person ignores, that the only secret to encrease them, would be to ease them in the Taxes and Impositions. The Siameses do therefore keep an exact account of the Men, Women, and Children; and in this vast extent of Land, according to their own Confession, they reckon'd up the last time but Nineteen Hundred Thousand Souls. From which I question not that some retrenchment is to be made for Vanity and Lyes, Characters essential to the Eastern people; but on the other hand, thereunto must be added the Fugitives, which do seek a Sanctuary in the Woods against the Government.

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