PART III Of the Manners of the Siameses according to their several Conditions.
CHAP. I. Of the several Conditions among the Siameses.
Of the Slavery according to the Manners of Siam; In what the Slaves are employed; How he is born a Slave, and to whom he belongs; The difference between the King of Siam's Slaves, and his other Subjects; The Slaves of private men owe not any service to the King; Of the Siamese Nobility; Of the Priests or Talapoins.
At Siam all Persons are either Freemen or Slaves. The Master has all power over the Slave, except that of killing him: And tho' some may report, that Slaves are severely beaten there, (which is very probable in a Country where free persons are so rigidly bastinado'd) yet the Slavery there is so gentile, or, if you will, the Liberty is so abject, that it is become a Proverb, that the Siameses sell it to eat of a Fruit, which they call Durions. I have already said, that they chuse rather to enjoy it, than to enjoy none at all: 'Tis certain also, that they dread Begarry more than Slavery; and this makes me to think, that Begarry is there as painful as ignominious, and that the Siameses, who express a great deal of Charity for Beasts, even to the relieving them, if they find any sick in the Fields, have very little for the Men.
They employ their Slaves in cultivating their Lands and Gardens, and in some domestick Services; or rather, they permit them to work to gain their livelihood, under a Tribute which they receive, from four to eight Ticals a Year, that is to say, from seven Livres ten Sols, to fifteen Livres.
One may be born, or become a Slave. One becomes so either for Debt, as I have said, or for having been taken Captive in War, or for having been confiscated by Justice. When one is made a Slave for Debt, his Liberty returns again by making satisfaction; but the Children born during this Slavery, tho' it be but for a time, continue Slaves.
One is born a Slave, when born of a Mother-slave; and in Slavery, the Children are divided as in the Divorce. The first, third, fifth, and all the rest in the odd number belong to the Master of the Mother: the second, fourth, and all the others in the even rank belong to the Father, if he is free; or to his Master, if he is a Slave. 'Tis true, that it is necessary upon this account, that the Father and Mother should have had Commerce together, with the consent of the Master of the Mother: for otherwise all the Children would belong to the Master of the Mother.
The difference of the King of Siam's Slaves from his Subjects of free condition, is, that he continually employs his Slaves in personal labours, and maintains them; where his free Subjects only owe him six months service every Year, but at their own expense.
In a word, the Slaves of particular men owe not any service to the Prince; and tho' for this Reason he loses a Freeman, when this man falls into slavery, either for Debt, or to avoid Beggary, yet his Prince opposes it not, neither pretends any Indemnity upon this account.
Properly speaking, there is not two sorts of Conditions among free persons. Nobility is no other thin than the actual possession of Offices, the Families which do not maintain themselves therein, do become doubtless more illustrious and more powerful; but they are rare: and so soon as they have lost their Offices, they have nothing, which distinguishes them from the common People. There is frequently seen at the Pagaye, the Grandson of a Man who died a great Lord, and sometimes his own Son.
The distinction between the People and the Priests is only an uncertain distinction, seeing that one may continually pass from of the theses States to the other. The Priests are the Talapoins, of whom we shall speak in the sequel. Under the Name of People I comprehend whatever is not a Priest, viz. the King, Officers, and People, of whom we now proceed to speak.