Friday, October 2, 2009

XIV. Of the Traffick amongst the Siameses.

Fishing and Commerce are the two Professions which do almost employ all the Siameses; What their private Writings are; What their Signature is; They have no public Writing nor Notaries; The small Trades; They use no Ell; The Coupan the Gold Money of Japan; Shells, the base Money of Siam; How much the use of this Money is extended.

The most general Professions at Siam are Fishing for the common People, and Merchandize for all those that have wherewith to follow it. I say all, not excepting their King himself. But the Foreign Trade being reserved almost entire to the King, the Home Trade is so inconsiderable, that it is impossible to raise any competent Fortune thereby. That simplicity of Manners, which makes the Siameses to let go most of the Arts, makes them also to slight most of the Commodities which are necessary to the Europeans; yet see how the Siameses carry on their Commerce.

In their Loans, a third person, whosoever he be, writes down the Promise; and this sufficeth them in Justice, because it is determined against the word of the Debtor who denies, upon the double Testimony of him that produces the Promise, and of him that writ. It is necessary only that it appear by the viewing of the Writing, that it is not the Creditor that writ the Promise.

Moreover, they sign no Writings, neither do they apply any Seal to private Writings. 'Tis only the Magistrates that have a Seal, that is properly a Seal which the King gives them as an Instrument of their Offices. Particular Persons, instead of a Signature, do put a single Cross; and tho' this kind of Signature be practiced by all, yet every one knows the Cross which is under his own hand; and it is very rare, they say, that any one is of a Reputation so bad as to disown it in Justice. In a word, I shall transiently declare, that we must not search out any Mystery in that they sign with a Cross: 'Tis amongst them only a kind of Flourish which they have preferr'd before any other, probably because it is more plain.

I have said, that they endow the Virgins at their marrying; and that the Portion is paid to the Husband in presence of the Parents, but without any Writing. I have said also, that they make no Will, and that before their death the dispose of their Estate with their own hand, and to whom they please, and that after this manner Custom disposes of their Inheritance. They Trade little with Immoveables, no person amongst them thinking it safe to purchase Land of another; the Prince gives, or sells thereof, to whoever would have it. But the real PRoperty remaining always in him, is the reason that none in this Country does care to purchase much Land, nor to meliorate it, for fear of exciting a desire of it in one more powerful than himself. And thus needing no Writings of long continuance, they have not thought fit to have any Notaries.

As to the small Trades, they are almost all of so little Consequence, and Fidelity is there so great, that in the Bazars or Markets the Seller counts not the Money which he receives, nor the Buyer the Commodity, which he purchases by Tale. They were scandaliz'd to see the French buy the least things more Caution.

The Hour of the Market is from Five in the Evening to Eight or Nine. They use no Ell, by reason they buy Muslins, and other Linnens, all in whole Pieces. They are very poor and miserable in this Country, when they buy cloth by Keu, a term which signifies the Elbow and Cubit both, and for these they measure with their Arm, and not with any sort of Ell.

Nevertheless they have their Fathom, which equals the French Toise within an Inch. They use it in Buildings, in surveying of Land, and perhaps in other things; and especially in measuring the Roads, or Channels, through which the King generally passes. Thus from Siam to Louvo, every Mile is marked with a Post, on which they have writ the number of the Mile. The same thing is observ'd in the Country of the great Mogul, where Bernier reports, that they mark the Kosses, or Half-miles, with Tourrettes, or little Pyramids, and every one knows that the Romans denoted their Miles with Stones.

The Coco serves as a Measure for Grain and Liquors in this manner. As all the Coco's are naturally unequal, they measure the Capacity thereof by those little Shells called Coris, which serve for small Money at Siam, and which are not sensibly greater one than the other. There is therefore such a Coco which contains a thousand Coris, as some have informed me, such an one which contains five hundred, and such another more or less. To measure Corn they have a kind of Bushel, call Sat in the Siamese, which is made only with interlac'd Bambou; and to measure Liquors, they have a Pitcher called Canan in Siamese, Choup in Portuguese; and it is according to these sorts of Measures, that they make their Markets. But for want of Policy, and a Standard, according to which the Measures should legally be regulated, the Buyer accepts them only after having measur'd them with his Coco, the Capacity of which he knows by the Coris; and he uses either Water, or Rice, according as he would measure either the Canan or the Sat with his Coco. In a word, the quarter of the Canan is called Leeng, and forty Sats do make the Seste, and forty Seste's the Cohi. It is impossible to declare the resemblance which Measures so little exact have with ours. I have said moreover, that a Pound of Rice a day sufficeth a Man, and that it is worth no more than a Farthing. Mr. Gervaise says, that the Seste of Rice is reckon'd to weigh an hundred Catis, that is to say, two hundred and twenty and five of our Pounds.

They are not more exact as to their Weights, in general they call them Ding; and the pieces of their Money are more nice and true, and almost the only ones which they use, altho' their Money be frequently false or light. Some inform'd me, as a thing very remarkable, that the Siamese sold course Silver by weight, because they had seen in the Market that Commodity in one of the Scales, and the silver Money which serv'd as a Weight in the other. The same Names do therefore signify the Weights and Money both.

Their silver Coins are all of the same Figure, and struck with the same Stamps, only some are smaller than others. They are of the Figure of a little Cylinder or Roll very short, and bowed quite at the middle, so that both ends of the Cylinder touch'd one another. Their Stamps (for they have two on each piece, struck one at the side of the other in the middle of the Cylinder, and not at the ends) do represent nothing that we knew, and they have not explain'd them to me. The proportion of their Money to ours is, that their Tical, which weighs no more than half a Crown, is yet worth three shillings and three half-pence. I give the Figure and Size thereof, and at the end of this Work you will find their Measures for the Lengths, as well as their Coins and their Weights. They have no Gold, nor Copper-Money. Gold is a Merchandize amongst them, and is twelve times the value of Silver, the purity being supposed equal in both the Metals.

Neither Gold nor Silver are Monies at China: They cut these Metals into ill shaped pieces, with which they pay for other Commodities; and for this purpose it is necessary, that they always have a pair of Gold Scales, and a Touchstone in their hand. Their pair of Gold Scales is a little Roman Balance; but amongst them their is such cheap living, that for ordinary Provisions their own Money, which is only Copper, sufficeth them. They thred it in a certain number on a Cord, for it is perforated in the middle, and they count by strings, and not by pieces.

The Japanese have a flat Gold Coin somewhat longer than broad, and rounded like an oval. I give exactly the size and figure thereof. It is struck at several stamps with hatchings. Its weight is four Drams and a half, and twelve grains, and is at least Twenty three Carrats, as far as we can judge thereof without melting it. It is called Coupan, and its value is vulgarly esteemed Ten Crowns a piece.

The base Coin at Siam is no other than those little Shells I have already mentioned, and of which I have likewise given the size and figure. The Europeans which are at Siam do call the Coris, and the Siameses Bia. They fish them up abundantly at the Maldives Islands, and sometimes at the Philippine Isles, but in very little quantity, as some have informed me. Nevertheless Navarrette in his Discourse of China, pag. 62, speaks thus concerning the Coris, which he calls Seguejes. 'Tis imported, saith he, from the coast of India and Manille: They are innumerable at the Isle of Luban, which is one of the Philippines. And a little after he subjoyns, the Seguejes are brought from the Isles of Baldivia, which are the Maldivia.

'Tis not easie to say how far the use of this Money extends it self. It is current throughout India, and almost over all the coasts of Africk; and some have informed me that it is received in some places of Hungary: but I can hardly believe it, by reason I see it not worth the trouble to carry it thither. It breaks much in the use; and as there is less of it, it is more worth in respect to the Silver Money; as likewise it lowers its price when there arrives any considerable cargo by an Ship: for it is a kind of Merchandize. The ordinary price at Siam is that a Fouan, or the eighth part of a Fical, is worth eight hundred Coris, or that 7 or 800 Coris are hardly worth a Penny: The lowness of Money being a certain sign of a good Market, or rather the cheapness of Commodities.

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