Friday, October 2, 2009

VI. Concerning the Shows, and other Diversions of the Siameses.

The way of catching a wild Elephant; What the Siameses do think of the Elephants; How the Siameses took leave of three Elephants, which the King of Siam sent to France; The Elephant is very dangerous when he is enraged; A Fight of Elephants; Cock-fighting; A Chinese Comedy; Puppets; Rope-dancers and other sorts of excellent Tumblers; Tame Serpents; Religious Shows: An Illumination on the Waters, and another on the Land, and in the Palace; Excellent Artificial Fireworks; A Paper-Kite; Three sorts of Stage-Plays amongst the Siameses; Wrestling and Boxing; A Race of Oxen; A Race of Balons; The excessive love of Gaming; The Siameses love to smoke Tobacco; The common life of a Siameses.

Elephant Kraal, Ayutthaya

The place, where the Elephant is that they would take, is as it were a very broad and very long Trench: I say, as it were a Trench, because it is not made by digging, but by raising the Earth almost perpendicular on each side, and it is upon these Terrasses that the Spectators stand. In the bottom, which is between the terrasses, is a double row of Trunks of Trees above ten Foot high, planted in the Earth, big enough to resist the Attacks of the Elephant, and far enough from one another to let a Man pass between, but too close to let an Elephant pass through. ‘Tis between these two rows of trunks that the tame Female Elephants, which they had led into the Woods, had enticed a wild Male Elephant. Those which guide them thither, do cover themselves with Leaves, to avoid frighting the Elephants of the Woods, and the Female Elephants have understanding enough, to make the Cries proper to call the Males. He was already intrap’d in the double row of Trunks, by following the Females, and could no more return into the Woods; but the design was to take him and tie him, to shut him up and tame him. The Egress from the space wherein he was, is a strait Cortina, composed also of great Trunks of Trees. So soon as the Elephant is enter’d into this Cortine, the Gate through which he enters, and which he opens by thrusting it before him with his Proboscis, shuts again with its own weight: the other Gate through which he must pass is shut; and besides the space is so narrow, that he cannot turn himself therein. The difficulty was to engage the wild Elephant in this Cortine, and to engage him single; for the Females were still with him in the Trench, and he did not separate from them. Several Siameses who stood behind the Pallisdo’s of the Trunks, and the Foot of the Terrasses, where the Elephant could not come at them, enter’d every where between the Trunks into the space, where the Elephant was, to vex him; and when the Elephant pursued one of them, he fled very sweftly behind the Pallisado’s, between which the enraged Elephant vainly thrust his Proboscis, and against which he broke the end of one of his Teeth. Whilst he thus pursued after those which provoked him, others laid Nooses for him. One of the ends of which they kept; and they threw them at him with so much dexterity, that the Elephant in running never fail’d to put one of his hind-feet therein: so that by diligently putting the end of the Noose, they clos’d and fasten’d it a little above the Elephant’s foot. These Nooses were of great Ropes, one of the ends of which was put into the other like a Slip-knot, and the Elephant dragged three or four of them at each hind-foot. For as soon as the Noose is once knit, he lets go the end thereof to avoid being drag’d himself by the Elephant. The more he is exasperated, the less he associates with the Females; and yet to make them quit this space, a Man mounted on another Female enter’d therein, and went back again several times through the Cortine, and this Female which he mounted, called the others, by a dry blow, which she struck against the ground with her Proboscis. She darted it perpendicularly downwards, yet avoiding to strike altogether with the end, which she kept bended upwards. And when she had repeated this Call twice or thrice, he that rid her, made her to return back again through the Cortine. In fine, after he had perform’d this Trick five or six times with this Female, the other Female follow’d her, and soon after the Elephant return’d to himself, because they forbore to vex him, resolv’d to go after them. He pushe’d open the first door of the Cortine with Proboscis, and so soon as he was enter’d, they threw several Buckets of water on his Body to refresh him, and with an incredible swiftness and dexterity they ty’d him to the Trunks of the Cortine with the Nooses, which were already at his feet. Then they made a tame Elephant to enter backwards into the Cortine, to whose Neck they also ty’d the savage Elephant by the Neck, and at the same time unloos’d him from the Trunks; and two other tame Elephants being likewise led to the Succor, all the three, the one on one side, the other on the other, and the third behind, do conduct the wild Elephant under a Pent-house near adjoining, where they fasten and tie him close by the Neck to a Pivot planted upright, which he made to turn as he turn’d round. They said that he need remain at this Pivot but 24 hours, and that in this space of time they would lead some tame Elephants to him to keep him company, and comfort him: that after 24 hours they would carry him into the Stable appointed for him; and that in eight days he would bethink himself, and submit to Slavery.

They speak of an Elephant as of a Man; they believe him perfectly rational, and they relate such rational things of him, that he only wants Speech. This is one, for Example, to which you may give what Credit you please. Some have related to us for a known Truth, that a Man having crack’d a Coco on the head of an Elephant which he rode, and using for this purpose the back of that kind of Punch, with which I have said that they guide the Elephants, this Elephant took up a resolution of revenging himself as soon as he could. He gather’d up with his Proboscis, as they say, one of the Shells of the Coco, and kept it several days, never letting it go but to eat, during which he kept it carefully between his two fore-feet. In fine, he that had affronted him, approaching him to give him food, the Elephant seiz’d him, trampled him under his feet, and slew him, and for his Justification laid the Coco-Shell on the dead Body. ‘Tis in these terms that the Relation was made to us: for the Siameses do think that Elephants are capable of Justice, and of profiting by the punishments one of another; and they alledge that in War, for Instance, when these Animals mutiny, it is needful only to kill one on the spot, to render all the others wise. But these Relations, and several others, which I have forgot, do seem very fabulous; and not to digress from the Example, which I have mentioned, it is, in my opinion, very evident, that if the offended Elephant had consulted reason, he would not have waited another opportunity for revenge, but would have wreak’d his vengeance on the spot; seeing that every Elephant can with his Proboscis throw off the Rider, and having thrown him on the ground, trample him under foot, and kill him.

As for my self, during the time I was at Siam, I saw no marvelous Act perform’d by any of these Animals, tho’ I am persuaded that they are more docible than others. They embarked three young ones, which the King of Siam sent to the three Princes the Grandsons of France. The Siameses which brought them on Board our Ships to embark them, took leave of hem, as they would have done of three of their Companions, and whisper’d them in their Ears, saying, Go, depart cheerfully, you will be Slaves indeed, but you will be so to three the greatest Princes of the World, whose Service is as moderate as it is glorious. They afterwards hoisted them into the Ships, and because they bow’d down themselves to go under the Decks, they cry’d out with admiration, as if all Animals did not as much to pass under low places.

One day at Louvo an Elephant tore in pieces in the Street the Brother of a young Mandarin, who was with the King’s Ambassadors, as Mr. Torph had been with the Ambassadors of Siam. They said indeed that the Elephant was enraged, but this Rage was not of a Beast more reasonable, but only more cruel than the rest. Thus to render the Elephants of War more tame, they are accompany’d with Females, when they are led out to water and wash themselves, and I know not whether without this Train it could ever be accomplish’d. The Siameses report, that the Elephants are sensible of Grandeur; that they love to have a great House, that is to say, several Grooms for their service, and some Females for their Mistresses, (with whom neverless it is said that the Elephants desire familiarity only in the Woods, so long as they are savage, and at full liberty:) that without this state, they afflict themselves at the little regard had for them; and that when they commit any great Fault, the severest punishment that can be inflicted on them, is to retrench their House, to take away their Females, to remove them from the Palace, and to send them into Stables abroad. They say that an Elephant having been punish’d after this manner, and being set at liberty, returns to his Lodge at the Palace, and kills the Elephant which was put in his place; which seems neither incredible nor strange, provided the way being free and open: for every Animal loves his usual Lodging, and according as he is more or less Couragious, he will use more or less Violence to drive out another Animal.

To return to the Diversions of the Court of Siam, we saw a Fight of two Elephants of War. They were retained by the hind-feet with Cables, which several Siameses held, and which besides this were fasten’d to Capstains. The Elephants could hardly cross their Trunks in the Fight, two Men were mounted on each of them to animate them; but after five or six Attacks the Combat ended, and they brought in the Females, who parted them. At the great Mogul’s Palace, the Elephants are permitted to approach nearer, and these Animals endeavor to beat off each other’s Rider, and frequently they knock him down and kill him. At Siam they neither expose the Life of Men or Beasts, by way of Sport or Exercise.

They love Cock-Fighting. The most Couragious are not always the biggest, but those which are naturally the best armed, that is to say, those which have the best Spurs. If a Cock falls, they give him drink; by reason that they experimentally know that it is oftentimes only an effect of Thirst, and indeed he generally renews the Fight after quenching his Thirst. But as it almost always cost the life of one of the Cocks, the King of Siam prohibited these sort of Duels; because the Talapoins cry’d, and said, That the Owners of the Cocks would for their punishment be bastinado’d in the other World with Bars of Iron. I forbore going to a Fight of an Elephant and a Tyger, because the King of Siam would not be there, and that I knew they would not permit to these Animals the liberty of using all their Courage. Some inform’d me that the Tyger had been very Cowardly, and that the Show had succeeded ill. The hunting of Elephants perform’d by an enclosure of Fires in the Woods, has been described by others: the King of Siam went not to that which was perform’d whil’st the King’s Ambassadors were at his Court, neither were they invited; but the other Diversions which were exhibited to them all at once, and in a vast Court, were these:

The one was a Chinese Comedy, which I would willingly have seen to the end, but it was adjourned, after some Scenes, to go to Dinner. The Chinese Comedians, whom the Siameses do love without understanding them, do speak in the Throat. All their words are Monosyllables, and I heard them not pronounce on single one, but with a new breath: some would say that it throttles them. Their Habit was such as the Relations of China describe it, almost like that of the Carthusians, being clasp’d on the side by three or four Buckles, which reach from the Arm pit to the Hip, with great square Placards before and behind, whereon were painted Dragons, and with a Girdle three Fingers broad; on which, at equal distances, were little squares, and small rounds either of Tortoise-Shell or Horn, or of some sort of Wood: And these Girdles being loose, they were run into a Buckle on each side to sustain them. One of the Actors who represented a Magistrate, walk’d so gravely, that he first trod upon his Heel, and then successively and slowly upon the Sole and Toes; and as he rested on the Sole, he rais’d the Heel; and when he rested on his Toes, the Sole touch’d the ground no more. On the contrary, another Actor, walking like a Madman, threw his Feet and Arms in several extravagant Postures, and after a threatning manner, but much more excessive, than the whole Action of our Captains or Mattamores. He was the General of the Army; and if the Relations of China are true, this Actor naturally represented the Affectations common to the Soldiers of his Country. The Theater had a Cloth on the bottom, and nothing on the sides, like the Stages of our Rope-dancers and Jackpuddings.

The Puppets are mute at Siam, and those which come from the Country Laos are much more esteemed than the Siamese. Neither the one nor the other have any thing, which is not very common in this Country.

But the Siamese Tumblers are excellent, and the Court of Siam gives the diversion thereof to the King, when he arrives at Louvo. Aslian reports, that Alexander had some Indian Rope-dancers at his Wedding, and that they were esteem’d more nimble than those of other Nations. These are their Actions, which it is necessary to confess I did not closely and carefully consider, because I was more attentive to the Chinese Comedy, than to all the other Shows, which were at the same time exhibited to us. They plant a Bambou in the ground, and to the end of this they join another, and to the end of this second a third, and to the end of the third a Hoop: so that this makes as it were the wood of a round Racket, the Handle of which would be very long. A Man holding the two sides of the Hoop with his two hands, puts his Head upon the inferior and inward part of the Hoop, raises his Body and his Feet on high, and continues in this posture an hour, and sometimes an hour and half: then he will put a Foot where he had plac’d his Head, and without standing otherwise, and without fixing the other Foot, he will dance after their manner, that is to say, without raising himself, but only by making Contorsions: And what renders all this more perilous and difficult, is the continual wavering of the Bambou. A Bambou dancer of this sort, they call Lot Bouang; Lot signifies to pass, and Bouang a Hoop.

There dyed one, some Years since, who leap’d from the Hoop, supporting himself only by two Umbrella’s, the hands of which were firmly fix’d to his Girdle: the Wind carry’d him accidentally sometimes to the Ground, sometimes on Trees or Houses, and sometimes into the River. He so exceedingly diverted the King of Siam, that this Prince had made him a great Lord: he had lodged him in the Palace, and had given him a great Title; or, as they say, a great Name. Others do walk and dance, after the mode of the Country, without raising themselves; but with Contorsions on a Copper-wire as big as the little Finger, and stretch’d after the same manner as our Rope-dancers do stretch their Rope: And they say, that the more the Wire is stretched, the more difficult it is to stand, by reason it gives a greater spring, and is so much the more uncertain. But what they account most difficult, is to get upon this Wire by the part of that same Wire which is fasten’d to the ground, and to descend thence by one of the Bambou’s, which are plac’d like a St. Andrew’s Cross to support it: as also to fit on the Wire cross-leg’d, to hold there one of those Bands, which serves them as a Table to eat on it, and to raise themselves on their Feet. They cease not likewise to ascend and dance upon an extended Rope, but without a Counterpoise, and with Babouches or Slippers on their Feet, and with Sabres, and Buckets of water fasten’d to their Legs. There are such who plant a very high Ladder in the ground, the two sides of which are of Bambou’s, and the steps of Sabres, the edges of which are turned upwards. He goes to the top of this Ladder, and stands, and dances without any support on the edge of the Sabre, which makes the last step thereof; whilst the Ladder has more motion than a Tree shaken by the wind: then he descends Head foremost, and passes nimbly, winding between all the Sabres; and I went not to examine whether the Steps were Sabres: not reckoning that the sabres could be keen, except perhaps the lowest, because they are most expos’d to view. I omit the rest of this matter, as little important, and because I have not sufficiently observ’d it to support it with my Testimony.

The Emperor Galba being in his Prætorship, exhibited to the Roman People the sight of some Elephants dancing upon Ropes. The Elephants of Siam are not so experienc’d, and the only Animals that I know the Siameses instruct, are great Serpents, which, they say, are very dangerous. These Animals do move themselves at the sound of instruments, as if they would dance. But this passes for Magic, because that always in that Country, as oftentimes in this, those who have some extraordinary Artifice, do pretend that it consists in some mysterious words.

The Siameses also have some Religious Shows. When the Waters begin to retreat, the People returns them Thanks for several Nights together with a great Illumination; not only for that they are retired, but for the Fertility which they render to the Lands. The whole River is then seen cover’d with floating Lanthorns, which pass with it. There are different Sizes, according to the Devotion of every particular Person; the variously painted Paper, whereof they are made, augments the agreeable effect of so many Lights. Moreover, to thank the Earth for the Harvest, they do on the first days of their Year make another magnificent Illumination; and we saw the Walls of the City adorned with lighted Lanthorns at equal distances; but the inside of the Palace was much more pleasant to behold. In the Wall which do make the Inclosures of the Courts, there were contrived three rows of small Niches all round, in every of which burnt a Lamp. The Windows and Doors were likewise all adorn’d with several Fires, and several great and small Lanthorns, of different Figures, garnished with Paper, or Canvas, and differently painted, were hung up with an agreeable Symmetry on the Branches of the Trees, or on Posts.

I saw no Fire-works, in which nevertheless the Chineses of Siam do excel, and they made some very curious during our residence at Siam and Louvo. At China there is also made a solemn Illumination at the beginning of their Year, and at another time another great Festival on the Water without any Illumination. The Chineses agree not in the Reasons they give thereof, but they give none upon the account of Religion, and those which they give are puerile and fabulous.

We must not omit the Paper-Kite, in Siamese Vao, the Amusement of all the Courts of the Indies in Winter. I know not whether it be a piece of Religion, or not; but the great Mogul, who is a Mahometan, and not an Idolater, delights himself also therein. Sometimes they fasten Fire thereunto, which in the Air appears like a Planet. And sometimes they do there put a piece of Gold, which is for him that finds the Kite, in case the String breaks, or that the Kite falls so far distant, that it cannot be drawn back again. That of the King of Siam is in the Air every Night for the two Winter-months, and some Mandarins are nominated to ease one another in holding the String.

The Siameses have three sorts of Stage Plays. That which they call Cone is a Figure-dance, to the Sound of the Violin, and some other Instruments. The Dancers are masqued and armed, and represent rather a Combat than a Dance. And tho’ every one runs into high Motions, and extravagant Postures, they cease not continually to intermix some words. Most of their Masks are hideous, and represent either monstrous Beasts, or kinds of Devils. The Show which they call Lacone, is a Poem intermixt with Epic and Dramatic, which lasts three days, from eight in the Morning till seven at Night. They are Histories in Verse, serious, and sung by several Actors always present, and which do only sing reciprocally. One of them sings the Historian’s part, and the rest those of the Personages which the History makes to speak; but they are all Men that sing, and no Women. The Rabam is a double Dance of Men and Women, which is not Martial, but Gallant; and they presented unto us the Diversion thereof with the others, which I have before mentioned. These Dancers, both Men and Women, have all false Nails, and very long ones, of Copper: They sing some words in their dancing, and they can perform it without much tyring themselves, because their way of dancing is a simple march round, very slow, and without any high motion; but with a great many slow Contorsions of the Body and Arms, so they hold not one another. Mean while two Men entertain the Spectators with several Fooleries, which the one utters in the name of all the Men-dancers, and the other in the name of all the Women dancers. All these Actors have nothing singular in their Habits: only those that dance in the Rabam, and Cone, have gilded Paper Bonnets, high and pointed, like the Mandarins Caps of Ceremony, but which hang down at the sides below their Ears, and which are adorned with counterfeit Stones, and with two Pendants of gilded wood. The Cone and the Rabam are always call’d at Funerals, and sometimes on other occasions; and ‘tis probable that these Shows contain nothing Religious, since the Talapoins are prohibited to be present thereat. The Lacone serves principally to solemnize the Feast of the Dedication of a new Temple, when a new Statue of their Sommona-Codom is plac’d therein.

This Festival is likewise accompany’d with races of Oxen, and several other Diversions, as of Wrestlers, and Men that fight with their Elbow and Fist. In Boxing, they guard their Hand with three or four rounds of cord instead of the Copper Rings, which those of Laos do use in such Combats.

The running of Oxen is perform’d in this manner. They mark out a Plat of 500 Fathom in length, and two in breadth, with four Trunks, which are planted at the four Corners, to serve as Boundaries; and it is round these Limits that the Course is run. In the middle of this place they erect a Scaffold for the Judges: and the more precisely to mark out the middle, which is the place from whence the Oxen were to start, they do plant a very high Post against the Scaffold. Sometimes ‘tis only a single Ox which runs against another, the one and the other being guided by two men running afoot, which do hold the Reins, or rather the String put into their Noses, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and other Men are posted at certain distances, to ease those which run. But most frequently it is a Yoke of Oxen fasten’d to a Plough, which runs against another Yoke of Oxen joined to another Plough; some Men guide them on the right side and on the left, as when it is only a single Ox which runs against another: But besides this, it is necessary that each Plough be so well sustained in the Air by a Man running, that it never touch the ground, for fear it retard the Animals that draw it; and these men which thus support the Ploughs, are more frequently reliev’d than the others. Now tho’ the Ploughs run both after the same manner, turning always to the right round the space which I have described, they set not out from the same place. The one starts at one side of the scaffold, and the other at the other, to run reciprocally one after the other. Thus at the beginning of their Course they look from opposite places, and they are distant one from the other half a Circle, or half the space over which they were to run. Yet they run after the same manner, as I have said, turning several times round the four Boundaries, which I have mentioned, till the one overtakes the other. The Spectators are nevertheless all round, yet it is not necessary to have Bars to hinder from approaching too near. These Courses are sometimes the subject of Bettings, and the Lords do breed and train up small, but well-proportion’d Oxen for this Exercise; and instead of Oxen, they do likewise make use of Buffalo’s.

I know not whether I ought to rank amongst the Shows, the Diversion which was given us of a Race of Balons; for in respect of the Siameses it is rather a Sport, than a Show. They chuse two Balons the most equal in all things as is possible, and they divide themselves into two Parties to bett. Then the Captains do beat a precipitate measure, not only by knocking with the end of a long Bambou which they have in their hands, but by their Cryes, and the Agitation of their whole Body. The Crew of Rowers excites itself also by several redoubled Acclamations, and the Spectator which betts, hollows also, and is no less motion than if he really rowed. Oftentimes they commit not to the Captains the care of animating the Rowers, but two of the Bettors do execute this Office themselves.

The Siameses love Gaming to such an Excess as to ruine themselves, and lose their Liberty, or that of their Children: for in this Country, whoever has not wherewith to satisfy his Creditor, sells his Children to discharge the Debt; and if this satisfies not, he himself becomes a Slave. The Play which they love best is Tick-Tack, which they call Saca, and which they have learnt perhaps from the Portuguese; for they play it like them and us. They play not at Cards, and their other hazardous Sports I know not; but they play at Chesse after our and the Chinese way. At the end of this Work I will insert the Game of Chesse of the Chinese.

Tobacco-Smoke (for they take none in Snuff) is also one of their greatest pleasures, and the Women, even the most considerable, are entirely addicted thereunto. They have Tobacco from Manille, China, and Siam; and tho’ these sorts of Tobacco are very strong, the Siamese do smoke it without any weakening it; but the Chineses and Moors do draw the Smoke through water, to diminish the strength thereof. The method of the Chineses is, to take a little water into their mouth, and then proceed to fill their mouth with Tobacco-Smoke, and afterwards they spit out the water and the Smoke at the same time. The Moors make use of a singular Instrument, the Description and Figure of which you will find at the end of this Work.

Such are the Diversions of the Siameses, to which may be added the Domestic. They love their Wives and Children exceedingly, and it appears that they are greatly beloved by them. Whilst the Men acquit themselves of the six months work, which they every one yearly owe to the Prince, it belongs to their Wife, their Mother, or their Children to maintain them. And when they have satisfy’d the Service of the King, and they are return’d home, the generality know not unto what business to apply themselves, being little accustomed to any particular Profession; by reason the Prince employs them indifferently to all, as it pleaseth him. Hence it might be judged how lazy the ordinary life of a Siamese is. He works not at all, when he works not for the King: he walks not abroad; he hunts not: he does nothing almost but continue sitting or lying, eating, playing, smoking and sleeping. His Wife will wake him at 7 a clock in the morning, and will serve him with Rice and Fish: He will fall asleep again hereupon; and at Noon he will eat again, and will sup at the end of the day. Between these two last meals will be his day; Conversation or Play will spend all the rest. The Women plough the Land, they sell and buy in the Cities. But it is time to speak of the Affairs and serious Occupations of the Siamese, that is to say of their Marriages, of the Education they give to their Children, of the Studies and Professions to which they apply themselves.

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