Billeder på siden

payment of debts is enforced by shackles and stripes ; and as debtors have for the most part no means of supporting life, they may be seen daily passing in chains through the bazaar, receiving eleemosynary supplies of food. If there seem no hope that the debtor will be able to discharge his liabilities, or if, as is too often the case, his necessities drive him to crime, he becomes subjected to perpetual slavery. A man may become a slave by crime, or through the chances of war, as well as by debt; and all children of a bond-mother are themselves slaves.

In suits of a civil nature the delays of the law in Siam are as notorious as in England. No cause of any consequence is decided within a year, and sometimes it is prolonged for three or four. Witnesses are examined upon oath on solemn and important cases only, according to the universal practice of Oriental nations. The form of this solemn appeal is curious in itself, and interesting as illustrative of the character and religious opinions of the people. It is thus translated by Captain Lowe:-'I, who have been brought here as an evidence in this matter, do now, in the presence of the divine Pra-Phull’-hi-róp,* declare that I am wholly unprejudiced against either party, and uninfluenced in any way by the opinions or advice of others, and that no prospects of pecuniary advantage or of advancement to office have been held out to me: I also declare that I have not received any bribe on this occasion. If what I have now spoken be false, or if in my farther averments I should colour or pervert the truth, so as to lead the judgment of others astray, may the three Holy Existences-namely, Buddha, the Bali,† and the Talapoins--before whom I now stand, together with the glorious Dewatas I of the twenty-two firmaments, punish me!

'If I have not seen, and yet shall say that I have seen; if I shall say that I know that which I do not know, then may I be thus punished. Should innumerable descents of the Deity happen for the regeneration and salvation of mankind, may my erring and migrating soul be found beyond the pale of their mercy! Wherever I go, may I be encompassed with dangers, and not escape from them, whether arising from murderers, robbers, spirits of the earth, of the woods, of water, or of air, or from all the divinities who adore Buddha, or from the gods of the four elements, and all other spirits !

. May blood flow out of every pore of my body, that my crime may be made manifest to the world !—may all or any of these evils overtake me within three days, or may I never stir from the spot on which I now stand, or may the hatsani, or lash of the sky, cut me in two, so that I may be exposed to the derision of the people! Or if I should be walking abroad, may I be torn to pieces by either of the four supernaturally-endowed lions, or destroyed by poisonous herbs or venomous snakes! If in the waters of the rivers or ocean, may supernatural crocodiles or great fishes devour me, or may the winds and waves overwhelm me, or may the dread of such evils keep me, during life, a prisoner at home, estranged from every pleasure, or may I be afflicted by the intolerable oppression of my superiors, or may a plague cause my death : after which may I be precipitated into hell, there to go through innumerable stages of torture,

* Buddha. + The Bali personified obviously to represent the holy books, against which the perjury would be an offence. # Demigods.

§ Lightning.

amongst which may I be condemned to carry water over the flaming regions in open wicker-baskets, to assuage the heat of Than-Wetsuwan when he enters the infernal hall of justice, and thereafter may I fall into the lowest pit of hell; or if these miseries should not ensue, may I after death migrate into the body of a slave, and suffer all the pain and hardship attending the worst state of such a being during a period measured by the sand of four seas; or may I animate the body of an animal or a beast during five hundred generations, or be born a hermaphrodite five hundred times; or endure in the body of a deaf, blind, dumb, houseless beggar, every species of loathsome disease during the same number of generations, and then may I be hurried to Narak, and there be crucified by Phria-Yam !**

In important cases of treason or atrocious robbery, torture is sometimes employed to extort evidence; and occasionally, where there is difficulty in deciding between litigating parties, recourse is had to the ordeal of diving in water, or immersing the hands in boiling oil or melted tin. In the first case, he who remains longest under water gains his cause; in the second, he who withdraws his hand unhurt.


Arts Divisions of Time-Regulation of Money.

It would be unreasonable to expect either expertness or industry from a people who are compelled to devote one-third of the labour of their manhood to the service of an oppressive government. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that the Siamese have made but very

slender progress

in the useful arts. Besides, if a man is known to have attained any considerable degree of mechanical skill, he is immediately made a retainer of the king, or one of his courtiers, and is obliged to spend his life working for whatever his majesty chooses to allow him as wages. It is accordingly very difficult for a private individual to procure the services of even the most homely mechanic, and the few that may be had are chiefly foreigners. Even in the fabrication of jewellery, which is often found in considerable perfection among very rude people, the Siamese have attained little skillthe only exception being in reference to certain gold and silver vases which have been made in the palace invariably after the same pattern for at least one hundred and thirty years, and in the fabrication of which the artificers have necessarily acquired some dexterity. Almost all utensils of zinc and brass are brought from China ; and the Chinese resident in Siam have turned to account the iron and tin which are found abundantly in the country. At present there are several extensive manufactories of castiron vessels wholly conducted by the Chinese, as is the fabrication of tin vessels, which is very considerable. These articles are often of very handsome forms, and highly polished, which might cause a stranger to mistake a tinsmith's shop for that of a silversmith, but for the circumstance of the trade of the currier being almost always united with the former. The preparation of leather is carried on to a great extent-not to be made into shoes, for these are scarcely known, but for covering matresses and pillows. The skins of leopards, tigers, &c. are dressed with the fur on, and exported to China, as is also a great deal of leather.

* The Lord Yama-that is, the Hindoo Pluto.

Coarse pottery for common purposes is home-manufactured; but large importations of the better kinds of porcelain are made from China. The women are the only manufacturers of silk and cotton fabrics, and these are coarse and homely, inferior even to those of Java and Celebes. The art of dyeing is in a similarly backward state, and the printing of silks and cottons is not attempted at all. All the cutlery and tools of the Siamese are of the rudest description; and for the better kinds, as well as for almost all their firearms, they are dependent on their commerce with Europeans.

Very little progress has been made in useful architecture. Even the residences of the nobles are for the most part made of the bamboo and the leaf of the Nipa palm, a few in the capital only being of masonry. So far as we can learn, there are only two considerable roads in the kingdom, and at Bankok wheel-carriages are quite unknown. The Siamese seem never to have attempted the construction of an arch; and we cannot learn that there are any such public works as wells, tanks, or stone-bridges : even about the palace the latter consist merely of rough and naked beams laid across the stream.

Like all other half-civilised nations, this people reserve the best efforts of their architectural skill for their religious edifices; and it is worth remarking, that while most of the useful arts in Siam are left in the hands of foreigners, the natives themselves execute every work connected with their religion.

Statuary is used exclusively for religious purposes, and is indeed generally confined to the fabrication of one form-which is the image of Buddha sitting. The best are made of bronze or brass; and when a large image is casting, it is the practice of the pious to send contributions of whatever metal they happen to possess, and no offering, however trifling or incongruous, is rejected. The various parts of the figure are cast separately, and the whole dexterously put together, and richly gilded. Most of the idols, however, are made of plaster, rosin, oil, and hair; and when the figure is formed, it is so thickly varnished and gilded as quite to conceal the baser materials. It is said that the late king, who was a very devout man in his way, daily gilded an image with his own hands, and presented it to some temple.

The Siamese seem to have made considerable progress in the cultivation of music, of which they are passionately fond. Most of their melodies are of a lively character, and have considerable resemblance to some of the Scotch and Irish airs. A full Siamese band consists of ten instruments, several of which are quite unlike any used in this country.

The following are the principal divisions of time:—Twelve watches are reckoned from sunrise to sunset, and four from this till sunrise again, the chronometer being a copper cup with a small hole in the bottom, placed in a bowl of water, where it sinks at the expiration of each watch. The Siamese week consists of seven days, the month of twenty-nine and thirty alternately, and the year of twelve months or 354 days. An intercalary month of thirty days is added every third year. The months are divided into the bright half and the dark, and the year commences with the first moon in December. The greater divisions of time are cycles—the larger containing sixty years and the lesser twelve, which are named after various animals. There are two epochs—the sacred, which dates from the death of Gaudama, and is used in all matters connected with religion; and the vulgar era, which is said to begin from the introduction of Buddhism, corresponding with the year of our Lord 638. This is used in civil matters of high importance; but to name the year of the lesser cycle is deemed sufficient on ordinary occasions. Thus a letter written on the 26th May 1822 was dated · Angkhan (Tuesday), in the 7th month, on the 8th day of the bright half of the moon and the year of the horse.'

The currency consists of cowry shells and silver coins, neither gold nor copper being used as money. Two hundred cowries are equal to the smallest silver coin, and there are three other denominations between this and the bat or tical, which is worth about 2s. 6d. sterling. There are also two higher denominations—the cattic, equal to L.10 sterling, and the picul, to L.100.


Manners and Customs.

That which of all things surprises and disgusts a European on visiting Siam is the extreme servility of their manners. If he is invited to the house of a great man—a royal minister of the fourth or fifth rank-he finds him seated cross-legged on a mat or carpet at the upper end of the room, and those who are privileged to sit in his presence arranged at proper distances according to their rank, while the attendants lie prostrate on the ground, resting on their elbows and knees. If he speaks to them, they raise their heads a little, folding their hands together before their faces, and without daring to lift their eyes, they answer in a whisper: if they are ordered to bring refreshments, they crawl in on their elbows and toes, shoving the dishes before them as they can. In short, crawling upon all fours is the universal ceremonial of Siam. The premier crawls into the presence of his sovereign, the secretary crawls before the premier with his black paper-slate and pencil, the messenger crawls before the secretary, and the servant crawls before the messenger. One might imagine these distant Asiatics a species of human crab, especially as they crawl equally well both forward and backward, always keeping what seems the head steadily directed towards the liege lord for the time being.

The sacredness attached to a man's head, and the association of degradation with a position of physical inferiority, meet us at almost every step. To hold a thing over one's head is to pay it the highest honour ; and this is often practised on the occasion of receiving a present. So lifting the hand to the head in salutation signifies putting the person saluted on one's head; and whenever a Siamese passes a superior, he must at once assume à stooping attitude, and raise his hands. Connected with this is the horror every man has of allowing another to pass literally over his head, in consequence of which no dwelling-house has more than one storey. When Mr Crawford was at Bankok, his majesty, according to a usual custom, signified to one of his ministers his pleasure that he should furnish a European entertainment at the house where the English embassy was lodged, and himself do the honours of the feast. But this house, having been intended for a warehouse, had an upper floor, to which the only access was by an awkward stair and a trap-door. This placed the minister in a most distressing difficulty, for in the loft the banquet must be. It was at length obviated by placing a ladder against the side of the house; and his excellency, though possessing a very unsuitable corporeity for such an enterprise, effected his ascent with safety at the appointed hour.

Though the Siamese have some scruples about taking away animal life, they have none whatever about using the flesh if some one else kills it; and they frequently purchase fish or fowls alive in the market, stipulating that they are to be put to death before delivery. The Chinese have no scruple whatever on this subject; and not only slay for the Siamese, but also and still more abundantly for themselves. Their food is excessively gross : pork is their favourite dish ; but they often indulge also in such delicacies as cats, dogs, rats, and lizards. In fact, the antiquated Jewish distinctions between clean and unclean have no place in their creed. A Chinese spends more in a week's eating than a Siamese in two or three months; and his superior ingenuity and industry enable him to do so.

Marriage is in Siam, as in most Eastern nations, a purely civil rite, accompanied with music, dancing, and feasting. The women are not immured or rigorously excluded from the society of strangers of the other sex; they are, however, far from profligate, and in this respect are very superior to the females of Pegu and Cochin-China. Polygamy, though sanctioned by law, is little indulged in, except among the wealthier class. The wives of the monarch are often numerous: the late king was said to have three hundred besides the queen. Whatever their number or rank they are all under her majesty's control, and their children use the appellation of mother' to her alone.

In the humbler walks of life the support of the family devolves almost entirely on the females, the men being apparently given up to the most indomitable indolence. The women plough, sow, harrow, row,

and weave, but they do not seem to be subject to anything like harshness or ill-treatment. On the contrary, the fact that they are invariably the cashkeepers, and conduct all the buying and selling, gives them a position of considerable influence.

As the use of elephants and palanquins is, in the low part of the country, permitted only to great officers of state, the balons, or boats, by which locomotion is almost exclusively performed, are of some importance. The river is at once the highway, the exchange, the market, and the pleasureground, having innumerable boats of every size moving about in it continually. The larger ones are at once boat, shop, and dwelling-house; the smallest are scarcely so large as a coffin. Hucksters and retailers of all sorts ply about with their wares, and call them as in the streets of a European town; while children of five or six years old push about in vessels not much larger than themselves, with the edge hardly two inches above the water. Of course there is often a collision and an upset, but it is interesting to see how a little good- nature prevents confusion and danger. No one

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »