« AnteriorContinuar »
south divides into numerous streams, all of which discharge themselves into the bay of Bengal.
Climate, Soil and Productions | The climate is more salubri ous than that of Hindoostan. The southern provinces are finely watered and produce luxuriant crops of rice, and in the northern districts wheat of an excellent quality is raised. All the trophical fruits also grow here spontaneously ; but the mosi valuable production for exportation is the celebrated teak timber or Indian oak, which is said to be more durable, and to resist the worms better than any wood that is known, and is now much used by the British in ship building.
Chief Towns. Ummerapoora, the capital, is on the Irawaddy, 400 miles from its mouth. It was founded in 1783, and in 1800 the population was estimated at 175,000. Ava, the former capital, is four miles from Ummerapoora, and is now almost deserted. Pegu, on one of the outlets of the Irawaddy, was formerly a splendid city and capital of the ancient kingdom of Pegu, but was destroyed by the Birmans, when they conquered this country in 1757. Rangoon, the principal port of the Birman empire, and the only place where Europeans are allowed to trade, is on one of the outlets of the Irawaddy, 30 miles from its mouth. The population is about 30,000, and is composed of persons from many different nations. Arracan, formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name, which was conquered by the Birmans in 1783, is situated near the mouth of a river which discharges itself into ihe bay of Bengal in about 20° N. lat. It has a fine harbor, but no ships are allowed to enter it. Mergui is a seaport in lat. 12° 12' N. It gives name to a large cluster of islands in the adjacent sea, called the Mergui archipelago.
Population and Character.] The population is estimated at 17,000,000. The Birmans are entirely different in their character from the Hindoos. They are bold, active, fiery, enterprising and full of curiosity. The fair sex in this country are ex empted from that restraint and confinement which they suffer generally in the East. Yet they are not respected, but are subjected to severe labor, and often bought and sold almost as slaves.
Religion | The religion, as in all the countries of Farther India, is that of Boodh or Buddha, who is universally the object of worship. He is represented as a young man with a placid countenance, and usually sitting cross-legged on a throne. The images are in some cases of the most gigantic magnitude. Monasteries, the inmates of which devote themselves to celibacy and seclusion from the world, are characteristic of this religion. The literature of the Birmans, like that of the Hindoos, is founded almost entirely on their religion.
Punishments. The mode of punishing crimes among the Birmans is of the most horrid kind. Among the modes of inflicting capital punishment are, beheading, crucifying, starving to death, ripping pen the body, sawing it in two, pouring red hot lead down the throat, plonging into boiling oil, and roasting to death
by a slow fire. The milder punishments are putting out the eyes, cutting off the tongue, the hands, feet, ears, nose, &c.
Governinent. The government is entirely despotic; the will of the sovereign is the supreme law, and is subject to no check either from the aristocracy or the people. The administration, however, appears to be mild, and property is respected. There are a considerable number of conquered princes, who are allowed to retain the internal government of their own states, upon paying military service and tribute, and residing a certain portion of the year at Ummerapoora.
Army.) The Birmans are a pation of soldiers, yet no regular army is maintained, except about 4,000 royal guards, but on an emergency every village is obliged to furnish a certain number of soldiers. The principal dependence, however, is on the war boats, which are built very long and narrow, and each carries from 50 to 80 armed men. Of these, the king, on a short potice, can command about 500. The Birmans are frequently at war with the Siamese, and have sometimes almost conquered them. The two nations cherish an inveterate enmity towards each other.
Assam is a country lying between Bengal, Bootan, Tibet and the Birman empire, and intersected by the river Bralimaputra. It is a very fertile country, and produces gold, ivory, pepper, silk and cotton, but the climate is very unhealthy. The inhabitants are jealous of foreigners, and the country has seldom been visited by Europeans, although some commerce is carried on with Bengal by means of the great river Brahmaputra. Ghergong is the capital. The population has been estimated at 1,800,000.
Situation.] Malacca consists of a largé peninsula, extending from 1° to 11° N. lat. and connected with the kingdom of Siam on the north by a narrow isthmus. It is bounded E. by the gulf of Siam, S, by the straits of Malacca, which separate it from the island of Sumatra ; and W. by the bay of Bengal
Face of the Country. The country is traversed by a chain of very lofty mountains, and is covered with extensive forests and marshes, so that it is very difficult to penetrate into the interior.
Political Condition.] Malacca is divided into 10 or 12 separate states, all of which were formerly subject to the king of Siam, but since the wars between the Siamese and the Birmans, all the southern part of the peninsula has shaken off the yoke, while the northern states pay only a moderate tribute.
Inhabitants.] The inhabitants of the coast are of the race called Malays, who are well known and widely diffused througbout all the Eastern seas. They are of a ferocious and restless dis
position, strongly attached to a seafaring life, and fond of war, plunder and desperate enterprises. The love of piracy is deeply rooted in their nature; they often attack European ships, and murder all the crew. The inhabitants of the interior are a race of negro savages, who subsist entirely by hunting, and are frequently engaged in war with each other.
Running amok.] The Malays carry the point of honor to the most romantic excess: every thing which they can construe into an insult drives them to a fury bordering on desperation. An accumulation of such treatment impels them at last to those deeds of frenzy, which are known by the name of running amok. The Malay who has resolved upon this step, begins by taking a large dose of his favorite opium, till he is half intoxicated; he then throws loose bis long black hair, draws his deadly crise, and rushes into the streets, crying " kill, kill;" and in fact kills every one that encounters him in his furious career.
Language.) The Malay language is distinguished above all others in the east for its smoothness and softness, in which respect it has been compared to the Italian. It has become a sort of current and oniversal language over all the sea coasts of Eastern Asia. This distinction it has attained in consequence of the extensive traffic which the Malays carry on throughout all these countries. Chief Towns.] Malacca, situated on the straits of the
same name, formerly belonged to the Portuguese, and was the centre of their trade in these seas. In 1640 it was taken by the Dutch, and in 1795 fell into the hands of the English. Since the formation of the settlement at Pulo Penang or Prince of Wales' island, however, Malacca has been almost deserted. Pulo Penang is an island belonging to the British, in lat. 5° 25' N. lying off the west coast of the Malay peninsula from which it is separated by a narrow strait about two miles broad, which forms the harbor, and affords 'excellent anchorage for the largest ships. A settlement was begun in 1786, and has since rapidly increased. The commerce is now extensive, and the population is composed of a great variety of nations.
Situation.) Siam is bounded N. by China; E. by Laos, CochinChina, and Cambodia; S. by the gulf of Siam and the peninsula of Malacca ; and W. by the Birman empire.
Face of the Cauntry.] Siam consists almost exclusively of the valley of the Menam, a great river which rises in Tibet and running south through the whole length of the kingdom, discharges itself into the gulf of Siam. The land on the banks of the river is perfectly level and fertile, but at a little distance on each side it rises into mountains, which separate Siam from the Birman empire on the west, and the countries composing the new kingdom of Apam on the east.
Soil and Productions.) A large portion of the valley is inundated during a part of the year by the overlowing of the Menam, which everywhere fertilizes the soil and enables it to produce ample crops of rice, the only grain of the country and the principal food of the inhabitants. The sugar cane, the cocoa-nut, the pine-apple, the tamarind and the banana are also very plentiful in Siam. The mountains are covered with forests, which abound with wild animals, particularly the elephant. This animal always accompanies the army and the king on public occasions, and to ride it with skill is considered one of the highest accomplishments of the prince or poble The forests and marshes are also frequented by the rhinoceros, a dangerous animal when enraged and difficult to overcome, his skin being so hard that a musket ball cannot penetrate it. The most numerous and dangerous, however, of all wild animals is the tiger, particularly the royal tiger, the very fierceness of whose aspect is sufficient to appal the most courageous.
Chief Town.] Siam, the capital, is on a low island in the river Menam about 50 or 60 miles from its mouth. The surrounding country is very flat and is intersected by numerous canals through which the people are continually passing in boats. Some of the boats covered like houses, and the families which inhabit then continually reside on the water, as in China.
Population, &-c.] The population is estimated at 4,000,000. la their religion, literature, government, state of the army, cruelty of punishments, and general character, the Siamese bear a strong resemblance to the Birmans.
Customs.] Among the customs of the Siamese is the decision of all difficult cases in their courts of justice by ordeal. The usual trial is by causing the accused to walk over red hot iron or burning coals, which operation it is supposed the innocent will be able to perforın perfectly unhurt. Another ordeal is by water, in which hoth parties are immersed, and he who remains longest beneath is declared innocent. Pills that provoke vomiting are also employed: they are administered to both parties, and he on whom they first take effect is adjudged guilty. The most peril. ons test of all is that of throwing the accused to tigers, which an. imala, it is supposed, will make the proper distinction between the innocent and guilty.
Cambodia is bounded N. by Laos and Cochin-China ; E. and S. E. by the China sea ; S. W. by the gulf of Siam, and W. by the kingdom of Siam. It is watered by the Cambodia river, which runs from north to south through the whole length of the coustry, and discharges itself by many mouths into the sea. The soil on the river is fertile, producing rice in abundance. The moun. tains, which rise on each side of the river at a short distance from its banks, yield gold and many precious stones; the forests abound
with wild animals, among which are elephants, lions and tigers. The inbabitants, estimated at 1,000,000 in number,have very little intercourse with other nations, and there are few eastern countries with which Europeans are less acquainted. It probably has been conquered by the king of Cochin-China, and forms part of the new kingdom of Anam. Cambodia, the capital, is an inconsiderable place on the river Cambodia, about 150 miles from the sea.
Situation.] Cochin-China is bounded N. by Tonquin ; E. by the China sea ; S. by Cambodia ; and W. by Laos. It extends upwards of 400 miles along the coast.
Face of the Country.] Cochin-China consists of a long narrow plain, included between the sea-coast and a chain of mountains running parallel to, and often approaching within a short distance of it. This plain is of most exuberant fertility, yielding abundantly all the tropical productions, but more particularly rice
History.] Within the last 50 years, extensive revolutions have taken place in this part of Asia. The king of Cochin-China is said to have conquered Cambodia, Laos and Tonquin, and his dominions are now known by the name of the kingdom of Anam. All these territories were once included in the Chinese empire, from which they were severed towards the end of the 14th century.
Population and Character.] The population of the kingdom of Anam is estimated at 18,000,000. To their external forms of behavior the inhabitants resemble the Chinese, but in other respects they are a very different people. They are open, familiar, always gay and talkative, while the Chinese are grave, and reserved. They are the most courteous and affable of all the Eastern nations, and treat Europeans with the greatest kindness, while the Chinese, naturally abhor them.
Government.] The government is despotic. The late sovereign, who died in 1820, is described as almost a second Peter the Great. In the course of ten years, be raised his navy from a single vessel to 1,200 of various descriptions. He was equally active in improving the army, which amounts now to 113,000 men, of whom opwards of 40,000 are disciplined after the European system. He did much also in building bridges, facilitating all kinds of commercial intercourse, and promoting agriculture, His successor appears to be of the same spirit.
Commerce.] The coast abounds with fine harbors, the two principal of which are in the bay of Turon under lat. 16° 7' N. The trade is principally with China, to which are exported a vast quantity of sugar and several other articles. Among European nations the favor of government is principally confined to the French, owing to the influence of the Catholic missionaries.