The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lvii.

Of the Kingdom of Erguiul, and Province of Sinju.

On leaving Campichu, then, you travel five days across a tract in which many spirits are heard speaking in the night season; and at the end of those five marches, towards the east, you come to a kingdom called ERGUIUL, belonging to the Great Kaan. It is one of the several kingdoms which make up the great Province of Tangut. The people consist of Nestorian Christians, Idolaters, and worshippers of Mahommet.1

There are plenty of cities in this kingdom, but the capital is ERGUIUL. You can travel in a south-easterly direction from this place into the province of Cathay. Should you follow that road to the south-east, you come to a city called SINJU, belonging also to Tangut, and subject to the Great Kaan, which has under it many towns and villages.2 The population is composed of Idolaters, and worshippers of Mahommet, but there are some Christians also. There are wild cattle in that country [almost] as big as elephants, splendid creatures, covered everywhere but on the back with shaggy hair a good four palms long. They are partly black, partly white, and really wonderfully fine creatures [and the hair or wool is extremely fine and white, finer and whiter than silk. Messer Marco brought some to Venice as a great curiosity, and so it was reckoned by those who saw it]. There are also plenty of them tame, which have been caught young. [They also cross these with the common cow, and the cattle from this cross are wonderful beasts, and better for work than other animals.] These the people use commonly for burden and general work, and in the plough as well; and at the latter they will do full twice as much work as any other cattle, being such very strong beasts.3

In this country too is found the best musk in the world; and I will tell you how ’tis produced. There exists in that region a kind of wild animal like a gazelle. It has feet and tail like the gazelle’s, and stag’s hair of a very coarse kind, but no horns. It has four tusks, two below and two above, about three inches long, and slender in form, one pair growing upwards, and the other downwards. It is a very pretty creature. The musk is found in this way. When the creature has been taken, they find at the navel between the flesh and the skin something like an impostume full of blood, which they cut out and remove with all the skin attached to it. And the blood inside this impostume is the musk that produces that powerful perfume. There is an immense number of these beasts in the country we are speaking of. [The flesh is very good to eat. Messer Marco brought the dried head and feet of one of these animals to Venice with him.4]

The people are traders and artizans, and also grow abundance of corn. The province has an extent of 26 days’ journey. Pheasants are found there twice as big as ours, indeed nearly as big as a peacock, and having tails of 7 to 10 palms in length; and besides them other pheasants in aspect like our own, and birds of many other kinds, and of beautiful variegated plumage.5 The people, who are Idolaters, are fat folks with little noses and black hair, and no beard, except a few hairs on the upper lip. The women too have very smooth and white skins, and in every respect are pretty creatures. The men are very sensual, and marry many wives, which is not forbidden by their religion. No matter how base a woman’s descent may be, if she have beauty she may find a husband among the greatest men in the land, the man paying the girl’s father and mother a great sum of money, according to the bargain that may be made.

NOTE 1. — No approximation to the name of Erguiul in an appropriate position has yet been elicited from Chinese or other Oriental sources. We cannot go widely astray as to its position, five days east of Kanchau. Klaproth identifies it with Liangchau-fu; Pauthier with the neighbouring city of Yungchang, on the ground that the latter was, in the time of Kúblái, the head of one of the Lús, or Circles, of Kansuh or Tangut, which he has shown some reason for believing to be the “kingdoms” of Marco.

It is probable, however, that the town called by Polo Erguiul lay north of both the cities named, and more in line with the position assigned below to Egrigaya. (See note 1, ch. lviii.)

I may notice that the structure of the name Ergui-ul or Ergiu-ul, has a look of analogy to that of Tang-keu-ul, named in the next note.

[“Erguiul is Erichew of the Mongol text of the Yuen ch’ao pi shi, Si-liang in the Chinese history, the modern Liang chow fu. Klaproth, on the authority of Rashid-eddin, has already identified this name with that of Si-liang.” (Palladius, p. 18.) M. Bonin left Ning-h’ia at the end of July, 1899, and he crossed the desert to Liangchau in fifteen days from east to west; he is the first traveller who took this route: Prjevalsky went westward, passing by the residence of the Prince of Alashan, and Obrutchev followed the route south of Bonin’s. — H. C.]

NOTE 2. — No doubt Marsden is right in identifying this with SINING-CHAU, now Sining-fu, the Chinese city nearest to Tibet and the Kokonor frontier. Grueber and Dorville, who passed it on their way to Lhasa, in 1661, call it urbs ingens. Sining was visited also by Huc and Gabet, who are unsatisfactory, as usually on geographical matters. They also call it “an immense town,” but thinly peopled, its commerce having been in part transferred to Tang-keu-ul, a small town closer to the frontier.

[Sining belonged to the country called Hwang chung; in 1198, under the Sung Dynasty, it was subjugated by the Chinese, and was named Si-ning chau; at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (from 1368), it was named Si-ning wei, and since 1726 Si-ning fu. (Cf. Gueluy, Chine, p. 62.) From Liangchau, M. Bonin went to Sining through the Lao kou kau pass and the Ta–Tung ho. Obrutchev and Grum Grijmaïlo took the usual route from Kanchau to Sining. After the murder of Dutreuil de Rhins at Tung bu mdo, his companion, Grenard, arrived at Sining, and left it on the 29th July, 1894. Dr. Sven Hedin gives in his book his own drawing of a gate of Sining-fu, where he arrived on the 25th November, 1896. — H. C.]

Sining is called by the Tibetans Ziling or Jiling, by the Mongols Seling Khoto. A shawl wool texture, apparently made in this quarter, is imported into Kashmir and Ladak, under the name of S’ling. I have supposed Sining to be also the Zilm of which Mr. Shaw heard at Yarkand, and am answerable for a note to that effect on p. 38 of his High Tartary. But Mr. Shaw, on his return to Europe, gave some rather strong reasons against this. (See Proc. R. G. S. XVI. 245; Kircher, pp. 64, 66; Della Penna, 27; Davies’s Report, App. p. ccxxix.; Vigne, II. 110, 129.) [At present Sining is called by the Tibetans Seling K’ar or Kuar, and by the Mongols, Seling K’utun, K’ar and K’utun meaning “fortified city.” (Rockhill, Land of the Lamas, 49, note.)— H. C.]

[Mr. Rockhill (Diary of a Journey, 65) writes: “There must be some Scotch blood in the Hsi-ningites, for I find they are very fond of oatmeal and of cracked wheat. The first is called yen-mei ch’en, and is eaten boiled with the water in which mutton has been cooked, or with neat’s-foot oil (yang-t’i yu). The cracked wheat (mei-tzü fan) is eaten prepared in the same way, and is a very good dish.”— H. C.]

NOTE 3. — The Dong, or Wild Yak, has till late years only been known by vague rumour. It has always been famed in native reports for its great fierceness. The Haft Iklím says that “it kills with its horns, by its kicks, by treading under foot, and by tearing with its teeth,” whilst the Emperor Humáyún himself told Sidi ‘Ali, the Turkish admiral, that when it had knocked a man down it skinned him from head to heels by licking him with its tongue! Dr. Campbell states, in the Journal of the As. Soc. of Bengal, that it was said to be four times the size of the domestic Yak. The horns are alleged to be sometimes three feet long, and of immense girth; they are handed round full of strong drink at the festivals of Tibetan grandees, as the Urus horns were in Germany, according to Caesar.

A note, with which I have been favoured by Dr. Campbell (long the respected Superintendent of British Sikkim) says: “Captain Smith, of the Bengal Army, who had travelled in Western Tibet, told me that he had shot many wild Yaks in the neighbourhood of the Mansarawar Lake, and that he measured a bull which was 18 hands high, i.e. 6 feet. All that he saw were black all over. He also spoke to the fierceness of the animal. He was once charged by a bull that he had wounded, and narrowly escaped being killed. Perhaps my statement (above referred to) in regard to the relative size of the Wild and Tame Yak, may require modification if applied to all the countries in which the Yak is found. At all events, the finest specimen of the tame Yak I ever saw, was not in Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet, or Bootan, but in the Jardin des Plantes at Paris; and that one, a male, was brought from Shanghai. The best drawing of a Yak I know is that in Turner’s Tibet.”

[Lieutenant Samuel Turner gave a very good description of the Yak of Tartary, which he calls Soora–Goy or the Bushy-tailed Bull of Tibet. (Asiat. Researches, No. XXIII, pp. 351–353, with a plate.) He says with regard to the colour: “There is a great variety of colours amongst them, but black or white are the most prevalent. It is not uncommon to see the long hair upon the ridge of the back, the tail, tuft upon the chest, and the legs below the knee white, when all the rest of the animal is jet black.” A good drawing of “an enormous” Yak is to be found on p. 183 of Captain Wellby’s Unknown Tibet. (See also Captain Deasy’s work on Tibet, p. 363.) Prince Henri d’Orléans brought home a fine specimen, which he shot during his journey with Bonvalot; it is now exhibited in the galleries of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. Some Yaks were brought to Paris on the 1st April, 1854, and the celebrated artist, Mme. Rosa Bonheur, made sketches after them. (See Jour. Soc. Acclimatation, June, 1900, 39–40.)— H. C.]

Captain Prjevalsky, in his recent journey (1872–1873), shot twenty wild Yaks south of the Koko Nor. He specifies one as 11 feet in length exclusive of the tail, which was 3 feet more; the height 6 feet. He speaks of the Yak as less formidable than it looks, from apathy and stupidity, but very hard to kill; one having taken eighteen bullets before it succumbed.

[Mr. Rockhill (Rubruck, 151, note) writes: “The average load carried by a Yak is about 250 lbs. The wild Yak bull is an enormous animal, and the people of Turkestan and North Tibet credit him with extraordinary strength. Mirza Haidar, in the Tarikhi Rashidi, says of the wild Yak or kutás: ‘This is a very wild and ferocious beast. In whatever manner it attacks one it proves fatal. Whether it strikes with its horns, or kicks, or overthrows its victim. If it has no opportunity of doing any of these things, it tosses its enemy with its tongue twenty gaz into the air, and he is dead before reaching the ground. One male kutás is a load for twelve horses. One man cannot possibly raise a shoulder of the animal.’” — Captain Deasy (In Tibet, 363) says: “In a few places on lofty ground in Tibet we found Yaks in herds numbering from ten to thirty, and sometimes more. Most of the animals are black, brown specimens being very rare. Their roving herds move with great agility over the steep and stony ground, apparently enjoying the snow and frost and wind, which seldom fail. . . . Yaks are capable of offering formidable resistance to the sportsman. . . . ’"— H. C.]

The tame Yaks are never, I imagine, “caught young,” as Marco says; it is a domesticated breed, though possibly, as with buffaloes in Bengal, the breed may occasionally be refreshed by a cross of wild blood. They are employed for riding, as beasts of burden, and in the plough. [Lieutenant S. Turner, l.c., says, on the other hand: “They are never employed in agriculture, but are extremely useful as beasts of burthen.”— H. C.] In the higher parts of our Himalayan provinces, and in Tibet, the Yak itself is most in use; but in the less elevated tracts several breeds crossed with the common Indian cattle are more used. They have a variety of names according to their precise origin. The inferior Yaks used in the plough are ugly enough, and “have more the appearance of large shaggy bears than of oxen,” but the Yak used for riding, says Hoffmeister, “is an infinitely handsomer animal. It has a stately hump, a rich silky hanging tail nearly reaching the ground, twisted horns, a noble bearing, and an erect head.” Cunningham, too, says that the Dso, one of the mixed breeds, is “a very handsome animal, with long shaggy hair, generally black and white.” Many of the various tame breeds appear to have the tail and back white, and also the fringe under the body, but black and red are the prevailing colours. Some of the crossbred cows are excellent milkers, better than either parent stock.

Notice in this passage the additional and interesting particulars given by Ramusio, e.g. the use of the mixed breeds. “Finer than silk,” is an exaggeration, or say an hyberbole, as is the following expression, “As big as elephants,” even with Ramusio’s apologetic quasi. Caesar says the Hercynian Urus was magnitudine paullo infra elephantos.

The tame Yak is used across the breadth of Mongolia. Rubruquis saw them at Karakorum, and describes them well. Mr. Ney Elias tells me he found Yaks common everywhere along his route in Mongolia, between the Tui river (long. circa 101°) and the upper valleys of the Kobdo near the Siberian frontier. At Uliasut’ai they were used occasionally by Chinese settlers for drawing carts, but he never saw them used for loads or for riding, as in Tibet. He has also seen Yaks in the neighbourhood of Kwei-hwa-ch’eng. (Tenduc, see ch. lix. note 1.) This may be taken as the eastern limit of the employment of the Yak; the western limit is in the highlands of Khokand.

These animals had been noticed by Cosmas [who calls them agriobous] in the 6th century, and by Aelian in the 3rd. The latter speaks of them as black cattle with white tails, from which fly-flappers were made for Indian kings. And the great Kalidása thus sang of the Yak, according to a learned (if somewhat rugged) version ascribed to Dr. Mill. The poet personifies the Himálaya:—

“For Him the large Yaks in his cold plains that bide

Whisk here and there, playful, their tails’ bushy pride,

And evermore flapping those fans of long hair

Which borrowed moonbeams have made splendid and fair,

Proclaim at each stroke (what our flapping men sing)

His title of Honour, ‘The Dread Mountain King.’”

Who can forget Père Huc’s inimitable picture of the hairy Yaks of their caravan, after passing a river in the depth of winter, “walking with their legs wide apart, and bearing an enormous load of stalactites, which hung beneath their bellies quite to the ground. The monstrous beasts looked exactly as if they were preserved in sugar-candy.” Or that other, even more striking, of a great troop of wild Yaks, caught in the upper waters of the Kin-sha Kiang, as they swam, in the moment of congelation, and thus preserved throughout the winter, gigantic “flies in amber.”

(N. et E. XIV. 478; J. As. IX. 199; J. A. S. B. IX. 566, XXIV. 235; Shaw, p. 91; Ladak, p. 210; Geog. Magazine, April, 1874; Hoffmeister’s Travels, p. 441; Rubr. 288; Ael. de Nat. An. XV. 14; J. A. S. B. I. 342; Mrs. Sinnett’s Huc, pp. 228, 235.)

NOTE 4. — Ramusio adds that the hunters seek the animal at New Moon, at which time the musk is secreted.

The description is good except as to the four tusks, for the musk deer has canine teeth only in the upper jaw, slender and prominent as he describes them. The flesh of the animal is eaten by the Chinese, and in Siberia by both Tartars and Russians, but that of the males has a strong musk flavour.

The “immense number” of these animals that existed in the Himalayan countries may be conceived from Tavernier’s statement, that on one visit to Patna, then the great Indian mart for this article, he purchased 7673 pods of musk. These presumably came by way of Nepal; but musk pods of the highest class were also imported from Khotan viâ Yarkand and Leh, and the lowest price such a pod fetched at Yarkand was 250 tankas, or upwards of 4l. This import has long been extinct, and indeed the trade in the article, except towards China, has altogether greatly declined, probably (says Mr. Hodgson) because its repute as a medicine is becoming fast exploded. In Sicily it is still so used, but apparently only as a sort of decent medical viaticum, for when it is said “the Doctors have given him musk,” it is as much as to say that they have given up the patient.

[“Here Marco Polo speaks of musk; musk and rhubarb (which he mentions before, Sukchur, ch. xliii.) are the most renowned and valuable of the products of the province of Kansu, which comparatively produces very little; the industry in both these articles is at present in the hands of the Tanguts of that province [Su chow chi].” (Palladius, p. 18.)

Writing under date 15th February, 1892, from Lusar (coming from Sining), Mr. Rockhill says: “The musk trade here is increasing, Cantonese and Ssu-ch’uanese traders now come here to buy it, paying for good musk four times its weight in silver (ssu huan, as they say). The best test of its purity is an examination of the colour. The Tibetans adulterate it by mixing tsamba and blood with it. The best time to buy it is from the seventh to the ninth moon (latter part of August to middle of November).” Mr. Rockhill adds in a note: “Mongols call musk owo; Tibetans call it latsé. The best musk they say is ‘white musk,’ tsahan owo in Mongol, in Tibetan latsé karpo. I do not know whether white refers to the colour of the musk itself or to that of the hair on the skin covering the musk pouch.” (Diary of a Journey, p. 71.)— H. C.]

Three species of the Moschus are found in the Mountains of Tibet, and M. Chrysogaster which Mr. Hodgson calls “the loveliest,” and which chiefly supplies the highly-prized pod called Kághazi, or “Thin-as-paper,” is almost exclusively confined to the Chinese frontier. Like the Yak, the Moschus is mentioned by Cosmas (circa A.D. 545), and musk appears in a Greek prescription by Aëtius of Amida, a physician practising at Constantinople about the same date.

(Martini, p. 39; Tav., Des Indes, Bk. II. ch. xxiv.; J. A. S. B. XI. 285; Davies’s Rep. App. p. ccxxxvii.; Dr. Flückiger in Schweiz. Wochenschr. für Pharmacie, 1867; Heyd, Commerce du Levant, II. 636–640.)

NOTE 5. — The China pheasant answering best to the indications in the text, appears to be Reeves’s Pheasant. Mr. Gould has identified this bird with Marco’s in his magnificent Birds of Asia, and has been kind enough to show me a specimen which, with the body, measured 6 feet 8 inches. The tail feathers alone, however, are said to reach to 6 and 7 feet, so that Marco’s ten palms was scarcely an exaggeration. These tail-feathers are often seen on the Chinese stage in the cap of the hero of the drama, and also decorate the hats of certain civil functionaries.

Illustration: Reeves’s Pheasant

Size is the point in which the bird fails to meet Marco’s description. In that respect the latter would rather apply to the Crossoptilon auritum, which is nearly as big as a turkey, or to the glorious Múnál (Lopophorus impeyanus), but then that has no length of tail. The latter seems to be the bird described by Aelian: “Magnificent cocks which have the crest variegated and ornate like a crown of flowers, and the tail feathers not curved like a cock’s, but broad and carried in a train like a peacock’s; the feathers are partly golden, and partly azure or emerald-coloured.” (Wood’s Birds, 610, from which I have copied the illustration; Williams, M. K. I. 261; Ael. De Nat. An. XVI. 2.) A species of Crossoptilon has recently been found by Captain Prjevalsky in Alashan, the Egrigaia (as I believe) of next chapter, and one also by Abbé Armand David at the Koko Nor.

[See on the Phasianidae family in Central and Western Asia, David et Oustalet, Oiseaux de la Chine, 401–421; the Phasianus Reevesii or veneratus is called by the Chinese of Tung-lin, near Peking, Djeu-ky (hen-arrow); the Crossoptilon auritum is named Ma-ky. — H. C.]

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