Their Domestick Animals; The King of Siam's Horses; The Cavalry and Infantry of Batavia; The King of Siam rides little or not at all on Horseback; A Guard Elephant in the Palace; The King of Siam never seen on Foot; Their Sedans; The Imperial not very honourable at Siam, but the Parasol is; How they get upon an Elephant; The Carriage of the Balons; An exact Description of a Balon; Several sorts of Balons; The Balons of the Body which they are called Balons of State; The Swiftness of the Balons; The Enterance of the Kings Ambassadors into the River; The ancient Magnificence of the Court of Sim; Umbrella's; The Umbrella of the Talapoins, and the Origine of the word Talapoin; The Elephant and Boat permitted to all; When and how the King of Siam shews himself; The King of Siam lives with less pomp at Louvo than at Siam; The King of Siam's Retinue; The singular Respect of the Siameses for their King.
Besides the Ox and Buffalo, which they commonly ride, the Elephant is thier sole domestick Animal. The hunting of Elephants is free for all, but they pursue this Chase only to catch them, never to kill them. They never cut them, but for ordinary service they use only the Female Elephants: the Males they design for the War. Their Country is not proper for the breeding of Horses, or they know not know to breed them: but I believe also that their Pastures are too course an moorish, to give Courage and Mettle to their Horses; and this is the reason that they need not to cut them to render them more tractable. They have neither Asses nor Mules; but the Moors which are settled at Siam, have some Camels, which come to them from abroad. The King of Siam only keeps about two thousand Horses: He has a dozen of Persian, which are now nothing worth. The Persian Ambassador presented them to him about four or five years since, from the King his Master. Ordinarily he sends to buy some Horses at Batavia, where they are all small and very brisk, but as resty as the Javan people are mutinous; either for that the Country makes them so, or that the Hollanders know not to manage them. I have more than once seen in the streets of Batavia the Burgesses of the City on Horseback; but in an instant their Ranks were broken, by reason that most of their Horses would stop on a sudden, and would refuse to march: and mine Host hereupon inform'd me, that the common fault of the Javan Horses was to prove very resty. The Dutch Company maintain Infantry at Batavia, amongst which there is a good number of French. As for what concerns the Cavalry, there is no other than the Burgesses, who notwithstanding the heat of the Climate, do cloath themselves with good Buff, with rich trappings embroider'd with Gold and Silver. No Burgher serves in the Infantry but is a Souldier demonstrates that he has wherewith to settle and maintain himself at Batavia, either by a Marriage or a Trade, they never refuse him neither his liberty, nor his right of Burghership.
When we arriv'd there were two Siameses to buy two hundred Horses for the King their Master, about an hundred and fifty of which they had already sent away for Siam. 'Tis not that this Prince loves to ride on Horseback; this way seems to him both too mean and of too little defence: for the Elephant appears to them much more proper for Battel, though when all comes to all, it may reasonably be doubted whether he be more proper for War, as I shall show in the sequel. They report that this Animal knows how to defend his Master, and to set him upon his back again with his Trunk, if he is faln, and to throw his Enemy on the ground. When the King of Siam seiz'd on the Crown, the King his Uncle fled from the Palace on an Elephant, and not on Horseback, altho a Horse seems much properer to fly.
In the Palace there is always an Elephant on the Guard, that is t say Harnessed and ready to mount, and no Guard Horse. Yet some have assur'd me, that the King of Siam disdains not absolutely to ride on Horseback, but that he does it very rarely.
In this place of the Palace where the Grand-Elephant stands, there is a little Scaffold, to which the King walks from his Apartment, and from this Scaffold he easily gets upon his Elephant. But if he would be carry'd in a Chair by men, which he sometimes is, he comes to this sort of carriage, at the due heighth of placing himself therein, either by a Window or a Terrace, and by this means neither his Subjects nor Strangers do ever see him on Foot. This Honour is only reserved for his Wives and Eunuchs, when he is lock'd up within his Palace.
Their Chairs or Sedans are not like ours, they are square and flat Seats, more or less elevated, which they place and fix on Biers. Four or eight men (for the Dignity herein consists in the Number) do carry them on their naked Shoulders, one or two to each Staff, and other men relieve these. Sometimes these Seats have a Back and Arms like our Chairs of State, and sometimes they are simply compast, except before, with a small Ballister about half a Foot high; but the Siameses do always place themselves cross-legged. Sometimes these Seats are open, sometimes they have an Imperial; and these Imperials are of several sorts, which I will describe in speaking of the Balons, in the middle of which they do likewise place these Seats, as well as on the backs of Elephants.
As often as I have seen the King of Siam on an Elephant, his Seat was without an Imperial, and all open before. At the sides and behind do rise up to the top of his Shoulders three great Foliages, or Feathers gilt, and bent outwards at the Point: but when this Prince stops, a Footman, who stands ten or twelve paces from him, shelters him from the Sun with a very high Umbrella like a Pike, with the Head three or four Foot in Diameter: and this is not a small fatigue, when the Wind blows thereon. This sort of Umbrella, which is only for the King, is called Pat-boouk.
To return to the riding of the Elephant, those that would guide him themselves do seat themselves on his Neck, as on a Horse, but without any kind of Saddle; and with a punch of Iron or Silver they prick him on the head, sometimes on the right side, sometimes on the left, or exactly in the middle of the Forehead, telling him at the same time whether he must go, and when he must stop; and on the Road in the descents of the ways they advise him to go descending, Pat, Pat, that is to say, descend, descend. But if one will not take the pains to guide him, he places himself on his back in a Chair, instead of a Saddle, or without a Chair and on his Hair, if we may so speak of an Animal that has none: And then a Servant, or commonly he that takes care of feeding the Elephant, gets up on his Neck and guides him; and sometimes there is also another man seated on the Crupper. The Siamese do call him that is placed on the Crupper Houa-sip, or the Chief of Ten, because that they suppose out of Pride, that an Elephant has a greater number of men to serve him, and that there are ten under the command of the Houa-sip. Him that sits upon the Elephants Neck they do call Nai-Tchang, or Captain of the Elephant, and he commands over all those that are appointed for the service of the Elephant.
But because that in this Country they go more by Water than by Land, the King of Siam has very fine Balons. I have already said that the Body of a Balon is composed only of one single Tree, sometimes from sixteen to twenty Fathom in length. Two men sitting cross-leg'd by the side one of another, on a Plank laid across, are sufficient to take up the whole breadth thereof. The one Pagayes at the right, and the other on the left side. Pagayer is to row with the Pagaye, and the Pagaye is short Oar, which one holds with both hands, by the middle, and at the end. It seems that he can only sweep the water though with force. It is not fixed to the edge of the Balon, and he that manages it, looks where he goes; whereas he that rows, turns his back to his Road.
In a single Balon there are sometimes an hundred, or a hundred and twenty Pagayeurs, thus ranged two and two with their Legs crossed on Planks: but the inferior Officers have Balons a great deal shorter, where few Pagayes or Oars, as sixteen or twenty do suffice. The Pagayeurs or Rowers, do strike the Pagaye in Consort, do sing, or make some measured Noises; and they plunge the Pagaye in a just cadence with a motion of the Arms and Shoulders, which is vigorous, but easy, and graceful. The weight of this Bank of Oars serves as Ballast to the Balon, and keeps it almost even with the water, which is the reason that the Pagayes are very short. And the Impression which the Balon receives from so many men which vigorously plunge the Pagaye at the same time, makes it always totter with a motion which pleases the Eye, and which is observ'd much more at the Poop and Prow; because they are higher, and like to the Neck and Tail of some Dragon, or some monstrous Fish, of which the Pagayes on either side shew like the Wings or the Fins. At the Prow one single Pagayeur takes up the first Rank, without having any comrade at his side. He has not room enough to cross his Leg with his right, and he is forced to stretch it out over an end of a stick, which proceeds from the side of the Prow. 'Tis this first Pagayeur that gives the motion to all the rest. His Pagaye is somewhat longer, by reason that he is posted in that place where the Prow begins to rise, and that he is so much the further from the Water. He plunges the Pagaye once to every measure, and when it is necessary to go swifter he plunges it twice; and lifting up the Pagaye continually, and only for decency with a shout, he throws the water a great way, and the next stroke all the Equipage imitates him. The pilot stands always at the Poop, where it rises exceedingly. The Rudder is a very long Pagaye, which is not fixed to the Balon, and to which the Steersman seems to give no other Motion, than to keep it truly perpendicular in the water, and against the edge of the Balon sometimes on the right side, and sometimes on the left. The Women Slaves do row the Ladies Balons.
In the Balons of ordinary service, wherein there are fewer Pagayeurs, there is in the middle a Cabin of Bamboo, or other Wood, without Painting or Varnish, in which a whole family may be held, and sometimes this Cabin has a lower Pent-house before, under which the Slaves are; and many of the Siameses have no other Habitation. But in the Balons of Ceremony, or in those of the King of Siam's body, which the Portuguese have called Balons of State, there is in the middle but one Seat, which takes up almost the whole breadth of the Balon, and whereon there is only one Person and his Arms, the Sabre and Lance. If it is an ordinary Mandarin, he has only a single Umbrella like ours to shelter himself; if it is a more considerable Mandarin, besides that his Seat is higher, his is covered with what the Portugueses call Chirole, and the Siameses Coup. 'Tis an Arbor all open before and behind, made of Bamboos cleft and interlac'd, and cover'd within and without with a black or red Varnish. The red Varnish is for the Mandarins at the right hand, the black for those of the left, a distinction which I shall explain in its due place. Besides this the extremities of the Chirole are gilded on the outside the breadth of three or four Inches, and some pretend that 'tis in the fashion of these gildings, which are not plain, but like Embroidery, that the Marks of the Mandarins Dignity are. There are also some Chiroles cover'd with Stuff, but they serve not for rainy weather. He that commands the Equipage sometimes cudgels, but very rarely, those which row softly and out of measure, places himself cross-leg'd before the Mandarin seat, on the extremity of the Table, on which the Seat is fixed. But if the King chances to pass by, the Mandarin himself descends upon this Table, and there prostrates himself; his whole Equipage does likewise follow his example, and his Balon stirs not till the King's be out of sight.
The Imperials of the Balons of State are all over gilded, as well as the Pagayes: They are supported by Columns, and loaded with several pieces of Sculpture in Pyramids, and some have sheds against the Sun. In the Balon where the King's Person is, there are four Captains or Officers to command the Equipage, two before and two behind they sit cross-leg'd; and this is the Ornament of the Balons.
Now as these Vessels are very narrow, and very proper to cut the water, and the Equipage thereof numerous, it cannot be imagin'd with what swiftness it carries them, even against the Stream, and how pleasant a sight it is to behold a great number of Balons to row together in good order.
I confess that when the King's Ambassadors entered in the River, the Beauty of the Show surpriz'd me. The River is of an agreeable breadth, and now withstanding its Meanders, there is always discover'd a very great extent of its Channel, the Banks whereof are two Hedge-rows continually green. This would be the best Theater in the World for the most sumptuous and magnificent Feasts: but no Magnificence appears like a great number of men devoted to serve you. There were near three Thousand embarkt in seventy or eighty Balons, which made the Train of the Ambassador. They rowed in two ranks, and left the Balon with the King's Ambassadors in the middle. Everyone was animated and in motion: All eyes were taken up with the diversity and number of the Balons, and with the pleasantness of the River's Channel; and yet the ears were diverted by a barbarous, but agreeable noise of Songs, Acclamations and Instruments, in the intervals of which the Imagination ceased not to have a sensible tase of the natural silence of the River. In the night there was another sort of Beauty, by reason that every Balon had its Lanthorn; and that a noise which pleases, is much more pleasant in the night.
'Tis asserted at Siam that the Court was formerly very magnificent, that is to say, there was a great number of Lords adorn'd with rich Stuffs, and a great many precious Stones; and always attended with a hundred or two hundred Slaves, and with a considerable number of Elephants: but this is gone ever since the Father of the present King cut off almost all the considerable, and consequently the most formidable Siameses, as well as those who had served him in his Revolt, as those which had opposed him. At present three or four Lords only have permission to use those Chairs or Sedans, which I have spoken of. The Palakin (which is a kind of Bed, that hangs almost to the ground, from a great Bar, which men carry on their Shoulders) is permitted to sick persons, and some diseased old men, for 'tis a Carriage wherein they can only lie along. But although the Siameses may not freely use these sorts of Conveniences, the Europeans which are at Siam, have more permission herein.
The use of Umbrellas, in Siamese Roum, is also a Favour which the King of Siam grants not to all his Subjects, although the Umbrella be permitted to all the Europeans. Those which are like to ours, that is to say, which have but one round, is the least honorable, and most of the mandarins have thereof. Those that have more rounds about the same handle, as if they were several Umbrella's fix'd one upon another, are for the King alone. Those which the Siamese call Clot, which only have one round, but from which do hang two or three painted Cloaths like for many Hangings, one lower than the other, are those which the King of Siam gives to the Sacrats or Superiors of the Talapoins. Those which he gave to the King's Ambassadors were of this last sort, and with three Cloaths. You may see the figure thereof in that of the Balons of the King's Ambassadors.
The Talapoins have Umbrella's in the form of a Screen, which they carry in their hand. They are a kind of Palmito leaf cut round and folded, and the folds thereof are tyed with a thread near the stem, and the stem which they make crooked like an S is the handle thereof. In Siamese they call them Talapat, and 'tis probable that from hence comes the name of Talapoi or Talapoin, which is in use amongst Foreigners only, and which is unknown to the Talapoins themselves, whose Siamese name is Tchaou-cou.
The Elephant is the carriage of every one that can take one by hunting, or purchase one; but the Boat is the more universal carriage: no person can travel without one, by reason of the annual Inundation of the Country.
Whilst the King of Siam is in his Metropolis, the ancient custom of his Court requires that he show himself to the people five or six days of the year only, and that he does it with Pomp. Heretofore the Kings his Predecessors did first break up the ground every year, till they left this Function to the Oc-ya-kaou; and it was attended with great Splendor. They also went out another day to perform on the water another Ceremony, which was not less superstitious, or less splendid. 'Twas to conjure the River to return to its Channel, when the Agriculture requir'e it, and when the Wind inclining to the North assured the return of fair weather. The present King was the first that dispenc'd with this troublesom work, and it is several years since it seem'd abolished; because, say they, that the last time he perform'd it, he had the disgrace of being surpriz'd with rain, altho his Astrologers had promised him a fair day.
Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, relates that in his time the King of Siam used to shew himself one day in a year upon his white Elephant, to ride through nine streets of the City, and to extend great Liberalities to the People. This Ceremony, if it has been in use, is now abolished. The King of Siam never mounts the white Elephant, and the reason which they give is, that the white Elephant is as great a Lord as himself, because he has a King's soul like him. Thus this Prince shews himself in his Metropolis no more than twice a year, at the beginning of the sixth and twelfth month, to go and present Alms of Silver, yellow Pagnes--, and fruits to the Talapoins of the Principal Pagods. On these days, which the Siamese do call Van pra, a holy, or excellent day, he goes upon an Elephant to the Pagodes which are in the same City, and by water to another, which is about two leagues from the City down the River. On the days following he sends the like Alms to the less considerable Pagods: but this extends not above two leagues from the Metropolis, or thereabouts. And in the last month of the year 1687, this Prince went no where in person; he contented himself with sending every where.
If therefore the King of Siam shews himself in his Metropolis, 'tis upon some Ceremonies of Religion. At Louvo, where it is permitted him to lay aside his Kingship, he frequently goes abroad, either for the hunting of the Tyger and Elephant, or to stir himself; he goes with so little Pomp, that when he marches from Louvo to his little house of Thlee-poussone with his Ladies, he gives not any carriage to the women which are of the Company: which is doubtless a respect from these women Slaves to their Mistresses.
Nevertheless he has always in his retinue two or three hundred men as well on foot as on horseback; but what is this in comparison of those Trains of fifteen and twenty thousand men which the Relations do give him on days of Ceremony? Before him do march some Footmen with Staves, or with long Truncks to shoot Peas with, to drive all the People out of his way, and especially when the Ladies follow him; and likewise before he goes out the Europeans are therewith acquainted, if there are any lately arrived, to avoid meeting him: As for all the Asiaticks, they very well know this custom, which is the same in all the Courts of Asia. Barros reports, that in the true India, when a Nobleman walks in the Streets he is always preceded by one of his Domesticks, who crys po, po, that is to say, close, close, to the end that all the Ploughmen may disperse themselves. Osorius reports, that 'tis the Ploughman that is obliged to cry out, and he subjoyns, that is for fear lest any Nobleman should touch him unawares, and revenge this Affront by killing him. The Neiras I call Nobles, who alone make prosession of Arms, and who think themselves defiled, when they touch a Ploughman. At Siam and China the principal Magistrates have Officers that go before them, who make the People to stand in Ranks, and who would cudgel those who would not retire, or which would not render to their Master all the other respects which are due unto him, and which in these Countries we found very insupportable. 'Tis no wonder there fore if the King of China, the Great Mogul, the King of Persia, and the other Asiatick Potentates have thought it consistent with their Dignity, thus to advertize the People of their March. Those that do for this purpose precede the King of Siam, are called Conlaban and Coeng. The Conlaban's do keep the right hand, and the Coeng's the left: and we shall see in the List of certain Officers, that Coeng is the Title of the Provost. 'Tis upon the same account, that is to say, to disperse the People from the person of the King of Siam, when he travels, that two officers of his Horse Guard, of Men and Laos, do march on both sides, but about 50 or 60 paces from him. His Courtizans appear first at the Rendevouz, or they do sometimes follow on Foot with their hands joyn'd on their Breast. Sometimes they follow on Horseback, sometimes on Elephants, but in this case their Elephants have no Chairs. The Foot and Horse-Guards do likewise follow, but confusedly and without any order; and if this Prince stops, all that follow him on Foot, prostrate themselves, on their Knees and Elbows; and those that follow on Horseback, or on Elephants, do entirely bow down themselves on these Animals. Those which are named Schaou-mou, do also follow a Foot: They are the King's Domesticks, which are not Slaves. Some do carry his Arms, and others his Boxes with Betel and Arek.
When this Prince gave to the King's Ambassadors the diversion of taking an Elephant, twelve Lords cloath'd in Scarlet with their red Caps, arrived before the King at the place of the Show, and seated themselves cross-leg'd on the ground before the place, where the King their Master was to stand. They were turn'd to the place of the Show; but so soon as they heard the Noise of this Prince's March, they prostrated themselves on their Knees and Elbows towards the place from whence the sound came, and as the Noise approached they turned themselves by little and little towards the Noise, and still remained prostrate: So that when the King their Master was come they were prostrate before him, and their back was turned to the Show; and whilst the Show continued they made not any motion, and exprest not any sign of Curiosity. But my Discourse insensibly leads me to speak of the Shows and other Diversions of the Siameses.