Oxen and Buffalo's employ'd in Husbandry; The Siamese Plough; How they cleanse the Rice from the Chaff; Three Seasons only, and two sorts of years; The name of their days from the Planets; From whence they begin their years; The Cycle of 60 years; Their months; The distinction of their Seasons; Of the Monsoons; The time of ploughing and reaping; Another sort of Rice; The original of Agriculture with the Siameses; the Ceremony of the Siameses touching Agriculture; It is Politick and Superstitious both together.
They equally employ Oxen and Buffalo in Husbandry. They guide them with a Rope put through a hole which they make in the Cartilage that separates the Nostrils: And to the end that the Rope may not slip when they draw it, they do tie a knot on each side. This same Cord runs also through a hole, which is at the end of the draught Tree of their Plough.
The Plough of the Siameses is plain, and without Wheels. It consists in a long Beam which is the Rudder, and another crooked piece which is the Handle, and in another shorter and stronger piece, fastened almost at Right Angles underneath at the end of the Handle; and 'tis this Third which bears the share. They fasten not these four pieces with Nails, but with leather Thongs.
To unhusk the Rice, they employ large Beasts; when it is trodden out, they let it fall by little and little from a very high place, to the end that the wind may carry away the Chaff. And because the Rice has an hard Skin like Spelt, a sort of Corn very common in Flanders, and other places, they bruise it in a great wooden Mortar, with a Pestle of the same; or in a Hand-mill, all the pieces of which are also of Wood. They knew not how to describe them to me.
They know only three Seasons, the Winter, which they call Nanaou, the Beginning of Cold; the Little Summer, which they call Naron, the Beginning of Heat; and the Great Summer, which they call Naron-yai, the Beginning of Great Heat; and which strips the Trees of their Leaves, as the Cold does ours. They have two years together consisting of twelve months, and a third of thirteen.
They have no word to express Week; but, like us, they call the seven days by the Planets, and their days correspond to ours. I mean, that when it is Monday here, it is Monday there, and so of the rest; but the day begins about six hours sooner there, than here. Amongst the Names they have given to the Planets, that of Mercury is Pout, a Persian word, which signifies an Idol; from whence comes Pout-Gheda, a Temple of false Gods; and Pagoda comes from Pout-Gheda.
They begin their year on the first day of the Moon in November or December, according to certain Rules; and they do not always denote the years by their number, but by the names they give them; for they make use of a Cycle of sixty years, like the other Eastern Nations.
A Sexagenary Cycle is a Revolution of sixty years, as a week is a Revolution of seven days; and they have names for the years of the Cycle, as we have for the days of the week. 'Tis true, I have not been able to discover that they have more than twelve different names, which they repeat five times in every Cycle to arrive at the number of sixty, and in my opinion with some additions which do make the differences thereof. They will date therefore, for instance, from the year of the Pigg, or of the Great Serpent, which amongst them are the names of the year; and they will not always denote what year of their Æra this shall be, as we sometimes date a Letter upon one of the days of the week to which we set down the name, without noting what number it is in the month. At the end of this Relation, I will give you the twelve names of the years in Siamese, with those of the seven days of the week.
Their months are vulgarly esteem'd to consist of thirty days. I say vulgarly, because that in Astronomical exactness there may be some month longer or shorter; but the Siameses do observe it otherwise than we, in that we give names to the months, and they do not. They call them by their order, the first month, second month, etc.
The two first Months, which answer almost to our Months of December and January, do make their whole Winter; the third, fourth, and fifth, do belong to their little Summer, the seven others to their great Summer. Thus they have Winter at the same time as we; by reason they lye to the North line like us. But their greatest Winter is at least as hot as our greatest Summer. After the time of the Inundation they cover the Plants in their Gardens from the heats of the Sun, as we do sometimes cover ours from the cold of the Night or Winter: But as to their Persons, the diminution of the heat appears unto them a very incommodious cold. The little Summer is their Spring, and they utterly ignore the Autumn. They only reckon a great Summer; although it seems that they might reckon two after the manner of the Ancients, who have written of India, seeing that they have the Sun perpendicularly over their heads twice a year; once when it comes from the Line to the Tropick of Cancer, and another time when it returns from the Tropick of Cancer towards the Line.
Their Winter is dry, and their Summer is rainy. The Torrid Zone would doubtless be uninhabitable, as the Ancients have held, were it not for that marvellous Providence which makes the Sun continually to draw the Clouds and Rains after it, and the Wind incessantly to blow there from one of the Poles, when the Sun is toward the other. Thus at Siam in Winter, the Sun being in the middle of the Line, or towards the Antarctick Pole, the North-winds do constantly prevail, and temper the Air very sensibly to refresh it. In Summer, when the Sun is on the North of the Line, and perpendicularly over the head of the Siameses, the South-winds which continually blow there, do cause continual Rains, or at least do make the weather always inclined to Rain; leaving most People in doubt whether this Season of Rains ought not to be called the Winter of Siam. 'Tis this constant Rule of the Winds, which the Portugueses have called Monçaos, and we after them Monsoons (Motiones aëris, according to Ozorius and Masseus.) And this is the reason that the Ships can hardly arrive at the Bar of Siam during the Six Months of the South-winds. At the end of this work I will give the order of the Winds and Tides in the Gulph of Siam, in favour of those that love to reason on Philosophical matters.
The Siamese do not give many forms to their Lands. They till them and sowe them, when the Rains have sufficiently softened them; and they gather their harvest when the waters are retired, and sometimes when they are yet remaining on the ground, and they can go only by Boat. All the land that is overflowed is good for Rice, and 'tis said that the Ear always surmounts the waters; and that if they encrease a foot in twenty four hours, the Rice grows a foot also in twenty four hours: but though it be averr'd that this happens sometimes, I cannot without much difficulty believe it in so vast an Inundation: And I rather conceive that when the Inundation surmounts the Rice at any time, it rots it.
They gather Rice also in divers Cantons of the Kingdom which the Rains do not overflow; and this is more substantial, better relisht, and keeps longer. When it has grown long enough in the Land where it was sown, it is transplanted into another, which is prepared after this manner. They overflow it, as we do the Salt Marshes, until it be thoroughly soft; and for this purpose it is necessary to have high Cisterns, or rather to keep the Rain-water in the Field it self by little Banks made all round. Then they let the water go to feed the Land, level it, and in fine, transplant the Rice-Roots one after the other, by thrusting them in with the Thumb.
I am greatly inclined to believe, that the Ancient Siameses lived only upon Fruits and Fish, as still do several people of the Coasts of Africk; and that in process of time Husbandry has been taught them by the Chineses. We read in the History of China that 'twas anciently the King himself, that annually first set his hand to the Plough in this great Kingdom, and that of the Crop which his Labour yielded him, he made the Bread for the Sacrifices. The Lawful King of Tonquin and Cochinchina together, who is called the Buado's, likewise observe this Custom of first breaking up the Lands every year; and of all the Royal Functions, this is almost the only one remaining to him. The most important are exercised by two Hereditary Governors, the one of Tonquin, and the other of Cochinchina, who wage war, and who are the true Sovereigns; although they profess to acknowledge the Bua, which is at Tonquin, for their Sovereign.
The King of Siam did formerly also set his hand to the Plough, on a certain day of the year: For about an Age since, and upon some superstitious Observation of a bad Omen, he labours no more; but leaves this Ceremony to an imaginary King, which is purposely created every year: yet they will not permit him to bear the Title of King, but that of Oc-ya-Kaou, or Oc-ya of the Rice. He is mounted upon an Ox, and rides to the place where he must plough, attended by a great train of Officers that are obedient to him. This Masquerade for one day gets him wherewithal to live on the whole year. And by the same superstition has deterred the Kings themselves. It look'd upon us as ominous and unlucky to the person. I suspect therefore that this custom of causing the lands to be ploughed by the Prince, came from China, to Tonquin, and Siam, with the Art of Husbandry.
It may perhaps have been invented only to gain credit to Husbandry, by the example of the Kings themselves; but it is intermixt with a great many superstitions, to supplicate the good and evil Spirits, whom they think able to help or hurt the goods of the Earth. Amongst other things, the Oc-ya Kaou offers them a Sacrifice, in the open field, of a heap of Rice-sheaves, whereupon he sets fire with his own hand.