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CHARACTERS.

Of the Malais; from the Travels of a Philosopher. Bj)<Mr.le Poivre.

BEYOND the kingdom of Siam is the peninsula of Malacca; a country formerly well peopled, and, consequently, well cultivated. This nation was once one of the greatest powers, and made a very considerable figure on the theatre of Asia. The sea was .^covered with their ships, and they ^carried on a most extensive comlerce. Their laws, however, were apparently very different from those j/which subsist among them at present. From time to time, they sent out numbers of colonies, which, one after another, peopled the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, the Celebes or Macaflbr, the Moluccas, the Philippines, and those innumerable islands of the Archipelago, ■which bound Asia on the east, and which occupy an extent of seven hundred leagues in longitude, from east to west, by about six hundred of latitude, from north to south. The inhabitants of all these islands, those at least upon the coasts, are the fame people; they speak almost the same language, have the same laws, the fame manners.—Is it not somewhat singular, that this nation, whose possessions are so extensive, should icarce be known in Europe ?—I {hall endeavour to give you an idea of those laws, and those manners; you will, from thence, easily judge of their agriculture. Vol. XII.

Travellers who make observations on the Malais, are astonished to find, in the centre of Asia, under the scorching climate of the Line, the laws, the manners, the customs, and the prejudices of the ancient inhabitants of the north of Europe. The Malais are governed by feudal laws, that capricious system, conceived for the defence of the liberty of a few against the tyranny of one, whilst the multitude is subjected to flavery and oppression.

A chief, who has the title of king, or sultan, issues his commands to his great vassals, who obey when they think proper. These have inferior vassals, who often act in the fame manner with regard to them. A small part of the nation live independent, under the title of Oramcai or noble, and sell their services, to those who pay them best; whilst the body of the nation is composed of .flaves, and live in perpetual servitude.

With these laws the Malais are restless, fond of navigation, war, plunder, emigrations, colonies, desperate enterprizes, adventures, andgallantry. They talk incessantly of their honour and their bravery, whilst they are universally considered, by those with whom they have intercourse, as the most treacherous, ferocious people on the face of the globe; and yet, which appeared to me extremely singular, they speak the softest language of

B Asia. Asia. That which the Count de Forbin has said, in his memoirs, of the ferocity of the Macassars, is exactly true, and is the reigning characteristic of the whole Malay nations. More attached to the absurd laws of their pretended honour, than to those of justice or humanity, you always observe, that, amongst them, ~the strong oppress and destroy the weak; their treaties of peace and friendstup never subsisting beyond that felt-interest which induced them to make them, they are almost always armed, and either at war amongst themselves, or employed in pillaging their neighbours.

This ferocity, which the Malais qualify under the name of courage, is so well known to the European companies, who have settlements in the Indies, that they have universally agreed in prohibiting the captains of their (hips, who may put into the Malay islands, from taking on board any seamen of that nation, except in the greatest distress, and then, on no account, to exceed two or three.

It is nothing uncommon for a handful of these horrid savages suddenly to embark, attack a vessel by surprize, poignard in hand, massacre the people, and make themselves masters of her. Malay batteaux, with . twenty-five or thirty men, have been known to board European (hips of thirty or forty guns, in order to take possession of them, and murder, with their poignards, great part of the crew. The Malay history is full of such enterprises, which mark the desperate ferocity of these barbarians.

The Malais, who are not slaves, go always armed: they would think themselves disgraced if they went abroad without their poig

nards, which they call Crit. The industry of this nation even surpasses itself, in the fabric of this destructive weapon.

As their lives are a perpetual round of agitation and tumult, they could never endure the long flowing habits which prevail amongst the other Asiatics. The habits of the Malais are exactly adapted to their shapes, and loaded with a multitude pf buttons, which fasten them close to their bodies in every part.—I relate tbese seemingly trifling observations, in order to prove, that, in climates the most opposite, the fame laws produce similar manners, customs, and prejudices. Their tirect is the fame too with respect to agriculture.

The lands possessed by the Ma-'i lais are, in general, of a superia quality. Nature seems to' ha taken pleasure in there asseinblij her most favourite productions! They have not only those to be found in' the territories' of Siam, but a variety of others peculiar to these islands. The country is covered with odoriferous woodd, such as the eagle or aloes wood, the sandal, and-the cassia odorata, a speeies of cinnamon. You there breathe an air impregnated with the odours of innumerable flowers of the greatest fragrance, of which there is a perpetual succession the year round, the sweet flavour of which captivates the foul, anl inspires the most voluptuous sensations. No traveller, wandering over the plains of Malacca, but feels himself strongly impelled to wish his residence fixed in a place so luxuriant in allurements, where nature triumphs without the assistance of art.

The Malay islands produce various kinds of dying woods, particularly the Sa fan, which is the • fame same with the Brazil wood. There we also a number of gold mines, which the inhabitants of Sumatra and Malacca call Ophirs: some of which, those especially on the eastern coast, are richer than those of Brazil or Peru. There are likewise mines of fine copper, mixed with gold, which the inhabitants name Tombage. In the islands of Sumatra and Banea are mines of calin, or fine tin; and at 3uccadana, in the island of Borneo, is a mine of diamonds. Those islands enjoy also, exclusively, the rotin, the sagou (or bread palm-tree) the camphire, and other precious aromatics, which we know under the name of various fpiceries. ^ The sea too teems with abundance of excellent fish, together with ambergris, pearls, and those delicate birds nests, (so much in request in China) formed in the rocks with the spawn of fishes, and the foam of the sea, by a species of sinall-fized swallow, peculiar to those seas: this is of such an exquisite substance and flavour, that the Chinese long purchased them for their weight in gold, and still buy them at an excessive price.

In the midst of all this luxuriance of nature, the Malay is miserable. The culture of the lands, abandoned to llaves,*is fallen into contempt. These wretched labourers, dragged incessantly from their rustic employments, by their restless masters, who delight in war and maritime enterprises, have rarely time, and never resolution, to give the necessary attention to the labouring of their grounds.- Their lands, in general, remain uncultivated, and produce no kind of grain for the subsistence of the inhabitants.

The fagou-tree, in part, supplies the defect of grain. This admi

rable tree is a present which bountiful nature hath made to men incapable of labour. It requires no culture; it is a species of the palmtree, which grows naturally, in the woods, to the height of about twenty or thirty feet; its circumference being sometimes from five to fix. Its ligneous bark is about, an inch in thickness, and covers a multitude of long fibres, which, being interwoven with one another, envelope a mass of a gummy kind of meal. As soon as this tree is ripe, a whitish dust, which transpires through the pores , of the leaves, and adheres to their extremities, proclaims its maturity. The Malais then cut them down near the root, divide them into several sections, which they split into quarters: they soon scoop out the mass of mealy substance, which is enveloped by and adheres to the fibres; they dilute it "in pure water, and then pass it through a straining bag of fine ci&th, in order to separate it from the fibres. When this paste has lost part of its moisture by evaporation, the Malais throw it into a kind of earthen vessel, of different ihapes, where they allow it to dry and harden. This paste is wholesome nourishing food, and preserves for many years.

The Indians in general, when , they use the sagou, use no other preparation than diluting it in water; but sometimes they dress it after different manners; they have the art of separating the finest of the flour, and reducing it to little grains, somewhat resembling grains of rice. The sagou, thus prepared, is preferred to the other, for the aged and infirm;-and is an excellent remedy for many complaints in the stomach. When diluted, either in cold or boiling water, it

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forms a whitish jelly, ver)' agreeable to the taste. Though this sagoubearing-paira grows naturally in the forests, the Malay chief's have formed considerable plantations of it, --iiich constitute one of their principal resources foi subsistence.

They might have the finest orchards jn the world, would they give themselves the trouble to collect the various plants of those excellent fruits which nature has so liberally bestowed upon them: we find, however, none but a few straggling trees, planted at random around their houses, or dispersed over their lands without symmetry or order.

der the Merovingian race of the kings of France) retired with his soldiers and adherents across the river which divides that kingdom from Cochin-China. The savages, who then possessed this country, fled before these strangers, and took refuge amon. the mountains of Tfiampa. Alter a long war with their old enemies, who pursued then, the Tonquinese fugitives remained ar length peaceable possessors of the country known under the name of Cochin-China: it extends about two hundred leagues from north to south, but narrow and unequal from east to west. They then applied themselves entirely to the cultivation of rice, * "" "" ' TM which being the ordinary food of

Of the Cochin-Chinese; from the the inhabitants of Asia, is to them same. an object of the greatest impor

tance. They separated yito litd» TH E Cochin-Chinese, who cantonments, and established themborder on Camboya to the selves on the plains, which extend north, observing the lands of this along the banks of the river, kingdom desolated and abandoned, The fertility of the soil, which some years ago took possession of had laid long uncultivated, soon resuch tracts as were most conve- compensed their labours by abunnient, and have there introduced dance; population increased in proan excellent culture. The pro- portion to their culture; and their vince of Donnay, usurped in this cantons extended in such a manner, manner from Camboya, is at pre- that all the plains of this vast coun

sent the granary of Cochin-China. This kingdom, one of the greatest in Eastern Asia, about one hundred and fifty years ago, was inhabited by an inconsiderable nation, barbarous and savage, known by the name of Lot, who, living partly by fi/hing, partly on roots, and the wild fruits of the country, paid little regard to agriculture.

A Tonquinese prince, unsuccessful in a war he carried, on against the king of Tonquin (under whom he enjoyed an office somewhat resembling the maires de palais, un

try, being put into a state of improvement, they were tempted to make encroachments on those of Camboya, which were in a manner totally abandoned. I never saw »ny country where the progress of population was so lemarkable as in Cochin-China, which must be attributed not only to the climate, and the fertility of the foil, but to the simplicity of their manners, to die prudence and industry of the women as well as the men, and to the variety of excellent fish, which, with rice, is their ordinary food.

Our author, after giving an account of the culture praclised by the natives of this country, for the j>roiuttions of •vaji crops of different Unit of rice and other grain, as well as the greatest quantities of sugar of any country in Asia, together luith their methods of refining it, proceeds as follows:

The process of the Cochin-Chinese, in refining their sugar, goes no further: they are unacquainted with the stoves in use in the WestIndies. After havmg clayed their sugars sufficiently, tLey sell them in the public markets, particularly to the Chinese, and other strangers, who are invited to their ports by the moderate price of their commodity, which is cheaper at Cochin* China than any where in India.

_ The white sugar of the best quality is generally fold at the port of Faiso, in exchange for other merchandize, at the rate of three piastres, (about fourteen fhiltings) the Cochin-China quintal, which weighs from one hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds French*. The trade in this commodity is immense. The Chinese . alone, whose lands do not produce enough for their own consumption, purchase annually from Cochin-China about forty thousand barrels, -weighing about two thousand pounds per barrel.

This country, it should be observed, which produces this commodity jri such abundance, and at so low a price, being a new kingdom, ought to be considered in some measure as a colony: it is worthy observation too, that the

segar-cane is there cultivated by free nen, and all the process of preparation and refimnj, the work of'iiee hands. Compare then the price of the Cochin-Chinese production with the same commodity which is cultivated and prepared by the .wretched slaves of our European colonies, and judge if, to procure sugar from our colonies, it was necessary to authorize by law the slavery of the unhappy Africans transported to America. From what I have observed at Cochin-China, I cannot entertain a doubt, but that our West-IndJan colonies, had they been distributed without reservation amongst a free people, would have produced double the quantity that is now procured from the labour of the unfortunate negroes.

What advantage, then, has accrued to Europe, civilized as it is, and thoroughly versed in the laws of nature an; the rights cf mankind, by legally authorising in our colonies the daily outrages against human nature, permitting them to debase man almost below the level of the beasts of the field? These slavish laws have proved as opposite to its interest as they are to its honour, and to the laws of humanity. This remark I have often made.

Liberty and pr-'perty form the basis of abundance, and good agriculture; I never observed it to flourish where those rights of mankind were not firmly established. The earth, which multiplies her productions with a kind of profusion, under the hands of the freebom labourer, seems to shrink into barrenness under the sweat of the slave. Such is the will of the B 3 great

Ninety-one pounds eight ounces French, make one hundred pounds Engliib.

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