Friday, October 2, 2009

III. Of the Furniture of the Siameses.

Of the Furniture of the Siameses. Their gross Household stuff; Their Vessels; Their Tools; The King’s Furniture; The Table Place which we saw at the King’s Palace.

Their Bedstead is a wooden Frame very strait and matted, but without Head or Posts. It has sometimes six Feet, which are not joined by cross pieces, sometimes it has none at all; but the generality have no other Bed than a Matt of Bulrush. Their Table is like a Drum-head with the Edges raised, and without Feet. They have at Table neither Cloth nor Napkin, nor Spoon, nor Fork, nor Knife, they are serv’d with Morsels ready cut. Not Seats, but Bulrush Matts, finer or course: No Carpet, when the Prince gives them not to them: And those of fine Cloth are very honourable, by reason of the dearness thereof. The Rich have Cushions to lean on, but they use them not to sit on, not the King himself. That which amongst us is of Stuff or Wooll, or Silk, is generally amongst them of white or painted Cotton.

Their Vessels are either of Porcelane, or Potters Clay, with some Vessels of Copper. Wood plain, or varnishe’d, coco and Bambou afford them all the rest. If they have any Vessel of Gold or Silver, ‘tis very little, and almost only by the Liberality of the Prince, and as a Chattel belonging to their Offices. Their Buckets to draw up Water are of Bambou, very neatly woven. In the Markets the people are seen to boil their Rice in a Coco, and the Rice to be sufficiently drest, before the Coco begins to burn; but the Coco serves no more than once.

In short, every one builds his House, if he causeth it not to be built by his Slaves; and for this Reason the Saw and the Plane are every ones Tools. At the end of this Volume the most Curious will find a List, which two Mandarins gave me of the ordinary Moveables in their Families. ‘Tis not that every particular person has so many, but perhaps none has more. They do there add the names of the principal parts of a House, of their Habits, and of their Arms. There may be seen the plain, but neat manner after which they built, and furnisht themselves with Moveables; and several particulars of their Manners, which I there relate upon the occasion of certain Moveables.

Their King’s furniture is almost the same, but richer and more precious than those of particular persons. The Halls, which I saw at the Palaces of Siam and Louvo, are all Wainscoted, and the Wainscot is varnish’d Red, with some streaks and foliages of Gold. The Floors were cover’d with Carpets. The Hall of Audience at Louvo was all over embellish’d with Looking-glasses, which the King’s Squadron had brought to Siam. The Council-Chamber was furnish’d after this manner. In the Room there was a Sopha made exactly like a great Bedstead with its Posts, its Bottom and its Curtain-Rods all cover’d with a Plate of Gold, and the bottom with a Carpet, but without Tester or Curtains, on which the King lean’d, but sat not thereon, as I have remark’d, he had only a Carpet under him. In this Hall, at the Wall of the right side in relation to the Sopha, there was an excellent Glass which the King’s Ambassadors at a private Audience, which I have mention’d; and a Tiab or Cup to put Betel in, about two Foot high, or thereabouts, and cas’d with Silver curiously wrought, and gilded in some places.

In all the Entertainments which were receiv’d at the Palace, we saw great store of Silver Plate, especially great Basons round and deep, with a Brim about a Finger’s breadth, in which were serv’d up great round Boxes about a Foot and an half in Diameter. They were cover’d, and had a Foot proportion’d to their bigness, and ‘twas in these Boxes that the Rice was serv’d up. For the Fruit they give us some gold Plates, which were reported to have been made purposely for the Entertainments which the King of Siam made for M. de Chaumont; and it is true that this Prince eats not in flat Plate. They esteem for his Dignity, that the Messes which are serv’d up to him only in high Vessels, and Porcelane is more common at his Table, than Gold or Silver: A general Custom in all the Courts of Asia, and even in that of Constantinople.

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