Friday, October 2, 2009

IV. Of the Productions of Siam, and first of the Woods or Trees.

The Bambou; The Arvore de Raiz; The Cotton Tree and Capoquier; Trees which produce Oyls or Gums; Trees whose Bark serves to make Paper; Wood for other uses; Trees for Balons; They have none of our Wood; The Cinnamon and Fir Tree; Wood Aquila.

The Country of Siam lies almost wholly incultivated and cover'd with Woods. One of their most eminent Trees is a kind of Reed, called in Indian, Mambou, in Portuguese, Bambou, in Siamese, Mai pai. The Indians apply it to an infinite number of uses, Ælian lib. 4. cap. 34. mentions it as their most ancient nourishment. At present they use it little; and that in only some of their dishes, when it is tender; and to preserve it, they Pickle it up in Vinegar, as we do Cucumbers and Samphire. This Tree resembles the Poplar, it is strait and tall, and the Leaves thereof few, pale, and longish. It is hollow, and grows in shoots like our Reeds, and its shoots are separated from one another by knots: but it has Branche and Thorns, which our Reeds have not. It grows very close, and the same Roots do shoot forth several items, so that nothing is thicker or more difficult to pass than a Forest of Bambou; and so much the more because the wood thereof is hard and difficult to cut, although it be ease to cleave. The Siameses do set it on fire by Friction, which is a token of its hardness. They have two pieces of Bambou cleft, which are like two pieces of Lath, in the edge of the one they make a notch, and do forcibly rub in this hole with the edge of the other, as with a Saw; and some dry leaves, or other combustible matter, which is put in the notch, fails not to catch fire without firing the Bambou. There is no Reed but has naturally somewhat either or or less of a Sugary juice. That of the Bambou is famous in some places of India, as an excellent Remedy for several Maladies. It escaped my curiosity to ask whether the Sugar of the Bambou of Siam is as much sought after upon this account, as that of the Bambou of Malaca, which is not far distant.

The Siameses likewise report that they have that Tree, which the Portuguese have called Arvore de Raiz, and they Co-pai, but that they have no plenty: and they add that its wood hath this property (doubtless by its smell) that when any person hath a little of it near him in his Bed, it drives away the Gnats. 'Tis from the Branches of this Tree, so frequently described in the Relations of India, that several Fibers do hang down to the ground, which there take root, and become as so many new Trunks: so that by little and little this Tree gains a considerable plot of ground, on which it forms a kind of Labyrinth by its stems, which continually multiply, and which adhere to one another by the branches, from which these items are fall'n. We have seen the Siameses seek out othe Remedies against the Gnats than that of this wood: and this perswades me either that it is very rare, or that this vertue which is attributed thereunto, is not well attended.

But the Siameses have other Trees more useful, and in great plenty. From the one they do gather Cotton: another yields themn Capoc, a kind of Cottonwool extremely fine, and so short that 'tis impossible to spin it, to them it serves instead of Down.

From certain Trees they extract several Oyls which they mix in Ciments, to render them more binding. A wall that is plaister'd therewith, is whiter, and bears as good a Polish as Marble; and a Bason made of one of these Ciments preserves water better than glazed Earth. They do likewise make better Mortar than our's: by reason that in the water which they use, they do boyl a certain bark, the skins of Oxen, or Buffalo's, and Sugar. A kind of Trees very common in their Woods yields that Gum, which composes the body of that excellent Varnish, which we see on several works of Japan, and China. The Portuguese do call this Gum Cheyram, a word perhaps derived from Cheyra, which signifiesa Perfume, although this Gum has not any Odor of it self. The Siameses do not well know how to put it in use: At Siam I saw a Tunquinese of this Trade, but he wrought nothing well for want perhaps of a certain Oil which was necessary to mix with the Cheyram, and which he supplied, as he could, by a much worse. I would have brought him to France, had he not been afraid to pass the Sea, as he had promised me at first. In a word, some say that the best way to render the Varnish more curious, is to lay on the more coverings, but this is to make it much dearer. The Relations of China do also declare, that there are two different Materials for the Varnish, and that the one is much better than the other. The Cheyram is proved by a drop thereof pour'd into Water; and if this drop sinks to the bottom without separating, the Cheyram is good.

The Siameses make Paper of old Cotton rags, and likewise of the bark of a Tree named Toi coi, which they pound as they do the old rags: but these Papers have a great deal less Equality, Body and Whiteness than ours. The Siameses cease not to write thereon with China Ink. Yet most frequently they black them, which renders them smoother, and gives them a greater body; and then they write thereon with a kind of Crayon, which is made only of a clayish Earth dry'd in the Sun. Their Books are not bound, and consist only in a very long Leaf, which they roll not up as our Ancestors did theirs, but which they fold in and out like a Fan: and the way which the Lines are wrote, is according to the length of the folds, and not according to their breadth. Besides this they write with a Styletto and the Leaves of a Tree resembling the Palm: This tree they call Tan, and these Leaves Bailan; they cut them in a very long and narrow Square, and on these Tables are writ the Tables and Prayers, which the Talapoins do sing in their Temples.

The Siameses have also Timber proper for the building of Ships, and furnishing them with Masts: But they having no hemp, their Cordages are made of the Brou of Coco, and their Sails are Mats of great Rushes.: Their Equipments do not countervail ours by much; but their Sails have this advantage, that spontaneously supporting themselves, they do better receive the Wind, when it is near it; that is to say when it blows as much against us as possibly it can, without being contrary to the Course.

In fine, the Siameses have Timber proper for building of Houses, for Wainscotting and Carving; they have both light and very heavy Wood, some easie to cleave, others which cleaveth not, what Wedges soever it receives. This last is called by the Europeans, Wood-Mary, and is better than any to make the Ribs of Ships. That which is heavy and tough is called Iron-wood, very well known in our Islands of America, and it is affirmed in process of time it eats the Iron. They have a Wood which for its Lightness and Colour some conceive to be Fur, but it takes the Carver's Chisel in so many different ways without splitting that I question whether we have any like it in Europe.

But above all, the Siameses have Trees so high and so strait, that one alone is sufficient to make a Boat or Balon, as the Portuguese speak, between 16 and 20 Fathom long. They hollow the Tree, and then by the heat of the Fire enlarge the Capacity thereof; which done, they raise the sides with an edge, that is to say with a Board of the same length: And in fine, at both the ends they fasten a Prow and a Poop very high, and a little bending out, frequently adorn'd with sculpture and gilding, and with some pieces of Mother of Pearl.

Nevertheless amongst so many different sorts of Wood, they have none of those which we know in Europe.

They have not been able to raise any Mulberry Trees, and for this reason they have no Silk-worms. No Flax also grows amongst them, nor in any other place of India, or at least it is not in any esteem. The Cotton which they have in abundance is, they say, more agreeable and more healthful to them; by reason that Cotton-cloth grows not cold by being wet with sweat, and consequently occasions not the catching cold, as Linnen does.

They have the Cinnamon Tree, inferior indeed to that of the Island of Ceylon, but better than any other; they have the Sapan, and other Woods proper for Dying.

They have also the Wood Aquila or Aloes, not so good indeed as the Calamba of Cochinchina, but better than the Wood Aquila of any other Country. This Wood is found only in pieces, by reason that they are only certain rotten places in Trees of a certain kind. And every Tree of this same Species has it not, and those which have, have them not all in the same place; so that it requires a tedious search in the Wood. 'Twas formerly very dear at Paris, but is at present to be had at a reasonable rate.

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