Friday, October 2, 2009

III. Of the Officers of the Kingdom of Siam in general.

The proper signification of the word Mandarin; The King of Siam gives Names to the considerable Mandarins; All Offices are hereditary; The Profits of the Offices; The Oath of Fidelity; The Public Law of Siam is written; The difficulty of procuring the Books thereof.

The Portugeses have generally called all the Officers throughout the whole extent of the East Mandarins; and it is probable that they have formed this word from that of Mandar, which in their Language signifies to command. Navarette, whom I have already cited, is of this opinion;and we may confirm it, because that the Arabian word Emir, which is used at the Court of the Great Mogul, and in several other Mahometan Courts of the Indies, to signifie the Officers, is derived from the Arabian Verb amara, which signifies to command. The word Mandarin extends also to the Children of the Principal Officers, which are considered as Children of Quality, called Mon in Siamese. But I shall make use of the word Mandarin, only to signifie the Officers.

The King of Siam therefore makes no considerable Mandarins, but he gives him a new Name; a Custom established also at China, and in other States of the East. This Name is always an Elogiam; sometimes it is purposely invented, like that which he gave to the Bishop of Metelpolis, and like those which he gives to the Forreigners that are at his Court; but oftentimes these Names are ancient, and known for having been formerly given to others; and those are the most honourable, which have been heretofore born by persons very highly advanced in Dignity, or by the Princes of the Royal Blood. And although such Names be not always accompanied with Offices and Authority, they cease not to be a great Mark of Favour. It likewise happens that the same Name is given to several persons of different Dignities; so that at the same time the one, for example, will call himself, Oc Pra Pipitcharatcha, and the other Oc Counne Pipitcharatcha. These Names, of which the first words are only spoken, and which do every one make a Period, are taken almost all the entire out of the Baly Tongue, and are not always very well understood: But this, and the Stile of the Laws, which participate very much of the Baly, and the Books of Religion, which are Baly, are the cause why the Kings of Siam ought not to ignore this Tongue. Forasmuch as, I have elsewhere said, it lends all its Ornaments to the Siamese, and that oftentimes they do elegantly intermix them, either in speaking or in writing.

The Law of the State is, that all Offices should be hereditary; and the same Law is in the Kingdom of Laos, and was anciently at China. But the selling of Offices is not there permitted: and moreover the least fault of the Patent, or the capricious Humor of the Prince, or the Dotage of the Inheritor may take away the Offices from the Families, and when this happens it is always without Recompence. Very few Families do long maintain themselves therein, especially in the Offices of the Court, which are more than the rest under the Master's power.

Moreover, no Officer at Siam has any Sallary. The Prince lodges them, which is no great matter; and gives them some moveables, as Boxes of Gold or Silver for Betel; some Arms, and a Balon; some Beasts, as Elephants, Horses, and Buffalo's; some Services, Slaves, and in fine some Arable Lands. All which return to the King with the Office, and which do principally make the King to be the Heir of his Officers. But the principal gain of the Offices consists in Extorsions, because that in this there is no Justice for the weak. All the Officers do hold a correspondence in pillaging; and the Corruption is greatest in those from whence the Remedy ought to come. The Trade of Presents is publick; the least Officers do give unto the greatest, under a Title of Respect; and a Judge is not there punished for having received Presents, if otherwise he be not convicted of Injustice, which is not very easie to do.

The Form of the Oath of Fidelity consists in swallowing the water, over which the Talapoins do pronounce some Imprecations against him, who is to drink it, in case he fails in the Fidelity which he owes to his King. This King dispenses not with this Oath to any persons that engage themselves in his Service, of what Religion or Nation soever.

The Public Law of Siam is written in three Volumes. The first is called Pra Tam Ra, and contains the Names, Functions, and Prerogatives of all the Offices. The second is intituled, Pra Tam Non, and is a Collection of the Constitutions of the Ancient Kings; and the third is the Pra Rayja Cammanot, wherein are the Constitutions of the now Regent King's Father.

Nothing would have been more necessary than a faithful extract of these three Volumes, rightly to make known the Constitution of the Kingdom of Siam: but so far was I from being able to get a Translation, that I could not procure a Copy thereof in Siamese. It would have been necessary upon this account to continue longer at Siam, and with less business. This is therefore what I could learn certainly about this matter, without the assistance of those books, and in a Country where every one is afraid to speak. The greatest token of Servitude of the Siamese is, that they dare not to open their mouth about any thing that relates to their Country.

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