Friday, October 2, 2009

XI. Of the Palace, and of the King of Siam's Guard.

Officers within and without; Three Inclosures in the King of Siam’s Palace; Of the Oc-ya Vang; The Gates of the Palace, and of the precautions with which persons are admitted; The Meuing Tchion; Painted Arms; A Guard of Slaves for a Show; The King of Siam has no standing Japponese Guard; The Horse-Guard from Meen, and Laos; A Foreign Horse-Guard; Of what it is composed; What is costs; The Elephants and Horses of the Palace; The Elephants of Name; The Esteem which the Siameses do make of the White colour in Animals; The King of Siam’s Balons.

It now remains for me to speak of the King, and of his House. This Prince’s Palace has its Officers within, and its Officers without; but so different in dignity, that an Oc-Meuing within commands all the Oc-ya without. They call Officers within, not only those which lodge always in the Palace, but those whose functions are excercised in the Palace. And they call Officers without the Palace, not all the Officers of the Kingdom, which have no Function in the Palace, but those which having no Function in the Palace; yet have not any without which respects not the Service of the Palace. Thus the Spaniards have Servants, which they call de Escalera arriba, and others which they call de Escalera abaxo, that is to say Servants at the top of the Stairs, or which may go up the Stairs to their Master, and to those to whom their Master sends them, and others who wait always at the bottom of the Stairs.

The King of Siam’s Palaces have three Inclosures: and that of the City of Siam has them so distant one from the other, that the space thereof appears like vast Courts. All that the inward Close includes, viz. the King’s Apartment, some Court, and some Garden, is called Vang in Siamese. The whole Palace with all its Inclosures is called Prassat by that of Throne. The Siameses neither enter into the Vang, nor depart thence without prostrating themselves, and they pass not before the Prassat. And if sometimes the stream of the Water carries them, and forces them to pass thereby, they are pelted with showers of Pease, which the King’s Servants shoot over them with Trunks. Mr. de Chaumont and the King’s Ambassadors landed, and left their Umbrella’s at the first entrance of the Prassat.

The Oc-ya Vang commands in the Vang; and in him reunites all the Functions which respect the Reparations of the Palace, the Order which must be observed in the Palace, and the Expence which is made for the Maintenance of the King, of his Wives and of his Eunuchs, and all those whom this Prince maintains in the Vang. ‘Twas the Oc-ya Vang who, after the Example of all the other Governours, which had received the King’s Ambassadors at the entrance of their Government, came to receive them at the Gate of the Vang; and who introduced them to the Audience of the King his Master.

The Gates of the Palace are always shut; and behind each stands a Porter, who has some Arms, but who instead of bearing them, keeps them in his Lodge near the Gate. If any one knocks, the Porter advertises the Officer, who commands in the first enclosure, and without whose permission no person enters in, nor goes out: but no person enters armed, nor after having drunk Arak, to assure himself that no drunken man enters therein. Wherefore the Officer views, and smells the breath of all those that must enter therein.

This Office is double, and those that are in it do serve alternatively and by day. The days of Service they continue twenty four whole hours in the Palace, and the other days they may be at home. Their Title is Oc-Meuing Tchion, or rather Pra Meuing Tchion: for at the Palace before the word Meuing there are some who put the word Pra instead of Oc, though some have told me that it is Oc-Meuing, and not Pra-Meuing that must be always called. ‘Twas one of these Meuing Tchions who brought the first Compliment from the King of Siam to the Ambassadors, when they were in the Roads; and who stayed constantly with them after they were landed, as Mr. Torpff, continued always with the Ambassadors of Siam.

Between the two first Inclosures, and under a Pent-house, is a small number of Soldiers unarmed and stooping. They are those Kembai or Painted Arms, of whom I have spoken. The Officer who commands them immediately, and who is a Painted-Arm himself, is called Oncarac, and he and they are the Prince his Executioners; as the Officers and Soldiers of the Pretorian Cohorts, were the Executioners of the Roman Emperors. But at the same time they omit not to watch the Prince’s person: for in the Palace there is wherewith to arm them in case of need. They row the Balon of State, and the King of Siam has no other Foot-guard. Their Employment is hereditary, like all the rest of the Kingdom; and the ancient Law imports that they ought not to exceed six hundred: But this must doubtless be understood that there ought to be no more than six hundred for the Palace: for there must needs be many more in the whole extent of the State; because the King, as I have said elsewhere, gives thereof to a very great number of Officers.

But this prince is not contented with this Guard on days of Ceremony, as was that of the first Audience of the King’s Ambassadors. On such occasions he causes his Slaves to be armed; and if their number is not sufficient, the Slaves of the principal Officers are armed. He gives to them all some Muslin Shirts dyed red, Muskets, or Bows, or Lances, and Pots of gilded wood on their Heads, which for this purpose are taken out of the Magazine: and the quantity of which, in my opinion, determines the number of these Soldiers of show. They formed a double Rank at the reception of Mr. de Chaumont; and so soon as he was past, those which he had left behind, made haste to get before by the by-ways, to go to fill up the vacant places which were left for them. In our time they marched by the sides of the Ambassadors, till they stopt up the space through which they were to pass. We also found part of these Slaves prostrate before the little Stairs, which goes up to the Hall of Audience. Some held those little useless Trumpets, which I have spoken of; and others had before them those little Drums, which they never beat. The Meuing Tchion are the Nai of all these Slaves; and these Slaves row the Balons of the King’s retinue, and are moreover employed on several works.

Anciently the King of Siam had a Japponese Guard, composed of six hundred men: but because these six hundred men alone, could make the whole Kingdom to tremble when they pleased, the present King’s Father, after having made use of them to invade the Throne, found out a way to rid himself of them, more by policy than force.

The King of Siam’s Hourse-guard is composed of Men from Laos, and another neighbouring Country, the chief City whereof is called Meen: and as the Meens and Laos do serve him by six Months, he makes his Guard as numerous as he pleases, and as many Horse as he would employ therein.

Oc-Conne Ran Patchi commands this Guard on the right hand: His Son is in France, and has for some years learnt the Trade of a Fountain-maker at Triannon. Oc-Conne Pipitcharatcha, or as the People say, Oc-Conne Petracha, commands the half of this Guard, which serves on the left hand: but over these two Officers Oc-ya Lao commands the Guard of the Laos, and Oc-ya Meen the Guard of the Meen: and this Oc-ya Meen is a different person from him that prostitutes lewd Women.

Besides this the King of Siam has a foreign standing Horse gurd, which consists in an Hundred and Thirty Gentlemen: but neither they, nor the Meen, nor the Laos, do ever keep Guard in the Palace. Notice is given them to accompany the King when he goes out, and thus all this is esteemed the exterior Service, and not the interior Service of the Palace.

This foreign Guard consists, first in two Companies of thirty Moors each Natives, or originally descended from the States of the Mogul, of an excellent Meen, but accounted Cowards. Secondly, in a Company of twenty Chinese Tartars armed with Bows and Arrows, and formidable for their Courage; and lastly in two Companies of Twenty five Men each, Pagans of the true India, habited like the Moors, which are called Rasbouts, or Raggibouts, [Rajputs] who boast themselves to be of the Royal blood, and whose Courage is very famous, though it be only the effect of Opium, as I have before remarked.

The King of Siam supplies this whole Guard with Arms, and with Horses: and besides this every Moor costs him three Catis and twelve Teils a year, that is to say 540 Livres, or thereabouts, and a red Stuff Vest; and every of the two Moorish Captains five Catie and twelve Teils, or 840 Livres, and a Scarlet Vest. The Raggibouts are maintained according to the same rate; but every Chinese Tartar costs him only six Teils, or 45 Livres a year, and their Captain fifteen Teils, or 112 Livres, ten Sols.

In the first Inclosures are likewise the Stables of the Elephants and Horses, which the King of Siam esteems the best, and which are called Elephants and Horses by Name: because that this King gives them a Name, as he gives to all the Officers within his Palace, and to the important Officers of the State, which in this are very much distinguished from the Officers on whom he imposes none. He that hath the care of the Horses, either for their maintenance, or to train them up, and who is as it were the chief Querry, is called Oc Louang Tchoumpon; his Belat, or Lieutenant is Oc-Meuing Si Sing Toup Pa-tchat; but he alone has the Priviledge of speaking to the King: Niether his Belat nor his other inferior Offices do speak to him.

The Elephants of Name are treated with more or less Dignity, according to the more or less honourable Name they bear; but every one of them has several Men at his Service. They stir not out, as I have elsewhere declared, without trappings; and because that all the Elephants of Name cannot be kept within the Compass of the Palace, there are some that have their Stables close by.

These People have naturally so great an esteem of Elephants, that they are perswaded that an Animal so noble, so strong, and so docile, can be animated only with an illustrious Soul, which has formerly been in the body of some Prince, or of some great Person: but they have yet a much higher Idea of the White Elephants. These Animals are rare, and are found, say they, only in the Woods of Siam. They are not altogether White, but of a flesh colour, and for this reason it is that Vliet in the Title of his Relation has said, the White and Red Elephant. The Siameses do call this colour Peuak, and I doubt not that it is this colour inclining to White and moreover so rare in this Animal, which has procur’d it the Veneration of those People to such a degree, as to perswade them what they report thereof, that a Soul of some Prince is always lodged in the body of a White Elephant, whether Male or Female it matters not.

By the same reason of the colour, White Horses are those which the Siameses most esteem. I proceed to give a proof thereof. The King of Siam having one of his Horses sick, intreated Mr. Vincent, the Physician which I have frequently mentioned, to prescribe him some Remedy. And to perswade him to it (for he knew well that the European Physicians debased not themselves to meddle with Beats) he acquainted him that the Horse was Mogol (that is to say White) of four races by Sire and Dam, without any mixture of Indian blood; and that had it not been for this consideration he would not have madehim this request. The Indians call the White, Mogols, which they distinguish into Mogols of Asia, and Mogols of Europe. Therefore whence soever this respect is for the White colours, as well in Men as in Beats, I could discover no other reason at Siam, than that of the veneration which the Siameses have for the White Elephants. Next to the White they most esteem those which are quite Black, because they are likewise very rare; and they Dye some of this colour, when they are not naturally not black enough. The King of Siam always keep s a White Elephant in his Palace, which is treated like the King of all those Elephants, which this Prince maintains. That which Mr. de Chaumont saw in this Country, was dead, as I have said, when we arrived here. There was born another as they reported on the 9th of December 1687, a few days before our departure: but this Elephant was still in the Woods, and received no Visit, and so we saw no White Elephant. Other Relations have informed us how this Animal is served with Vessels of Gold.

The care of the King’s Balons, and of his Gallies, belongs to the Calla hom. Their Arsenal is over against the Palace, the River running between. There every one of these Barges is lock’d up in a Trench, whereinto runs the Water of the River; and each Trench is shut up in an Inclosure made of Wood, and covered. These Inclosures are locked up, and besides this a person watches there at Night. The Balons of ordinary Service are not so adorned as those for Ceremony; and amongst those for Ceremony there are some which the King gives to his Officers for these occasions only: for those which he allows them for ordinary Ceremonies, are less curious and fine.

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