The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xix.

Concerning the Two Brothers who have Charge of the Kaan’s Hounds.

The Emperor hath two Barons who are own brothers, one called Baian and the other Mingan; and these two are styled Chinuchi (or Cunichi), which is as much as to say, “The Keepers of the Mastiff Dogs.”1 Each of these brothers hath 10,000 men under his orders; each body of 10,000 being dressed alike, the one in red and the other in blue, and whenever they accompany the Lord to the chase, they wear this livery, in order to be recognized. Out of each body of 10,000 there are 2000 men who are each in charge of one or more great mastiffs, so that the whole number of these is very large. And when the Prince goes a-hunting, one of those Barons, with his 10,000 men and something like 5000 dogs, goes towards the right, whilst the other goes towards the left with his party in like manner. They move along, all abreast of one another, so that the whole line extends over a full day’s journey, and no animal can escape them. Truly it is a glorious sight to see the working of the dogs and the huntsmen on such an occasion! And as the Lord rides a-fowling across the plains, you will see these big hounds coming tearing up, one pack after a bear, another pack after a stag, or some other beast, as it may hap, and running the game down now on this side and now on that, so that it is really a most delightful sport and spectacle.

[The Two Brothers I have mentioned are bound by the tenure of their office to supply the Kaan’s Court from October to the end of March with 1000 head of game daily, whether of beasts or birds, and not counting quails; and also with fish to the best of their ability, allowing fish enough for three persons to reckon as equal to one head of game.]

Now I have told you of the Masters of the Hounds and all about them, and next will I tell you how the Lord goes off on an expedition for the space of three months.

NOTE 1. — Though this particular Bayan and Mingan are not likely to be mentioned in history, the names are both good Mongol names; Bayan that of a great soldier under Kúblái, of whom we shall hear afterwards; and Mingan that of one of Chinghiz’s generals.

The title of “Master of the Mastiffs” belonged to a high Court official at Constantinople in former days, Sámsúnji Báshi, and I have no doubt Marco has given the exact interpretation of the title of the two Barons: though it is difficult to trace its elements. It is read variously Cunici (i.e. Kunichi) and Cinuci (i.e. Chinuchi). It is evidently a word of analogous structure to Kushchi, the Master of the Falcons; Parschi, the Master of the Leopards. Professor Schiefner thinks it is probably corrupted from Noghaichi, which appears in Kovalevski’s Mongol Dict. as “chaesseur qui a soins des chiens courants.” This word occurs, he points out, in Sanang Setzen, where Schmidt translates it Aufseher über Hunde. (See S. S. p. 39.)

The metathesis of Noghai-chi into Kuni-chi is the only drawback to this otherwise apt solution. We generally shall find Polo’s Oriental words much more accurately expressed than this would imply — as in the next chapter. I have hazarded a suggestion of (Or. Turkish) Chong-lt-chi, “Keeper of the Big Dogs,” which Professor Vámbéry thinks possible. (See “chong, big, strong,” in his Tschagataische Sprachstudien, p. 282, and note in Lord Strangford’s Selected Writings, II. 169.) In East Turkestan they call the Chinese Chong Káfir, “The Big Heathen.” This would exactly correspond to the rendering of Pipino’s Latin translation, “hoc est canum magnorum Praefecti.” Chinuchi again would be (in Mongol) “Wolf-keepers.” It is at least possible that the great dogs which Polo terms mastiffs may have been known by such a name. We apply the term Wolf-dog to several varieties, and in Macbeth’s enumeration we have —

——“Hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,

Shoughs, water rugs, and Demi–Wolves.”

Lastly the root-word may be the Chinese Kiuen “dog,” as Pauthier says. The mastiffs were probably Tibetan, but may have come through China, and brought a name with them, like Boule-dogues in France.

[Palladius (p. 46) says that Chinuchi or Cunici “have no resemblance with any of the names found in the Yuen shi, ch. xcix., article Ping chi (military organisation), and relating to the hunting staff of the Khan, viz.: Si pao ch’i (falconers), Ho r ch’i (archers), and Ke lien ch’i (probably those who managed the hounds).”— H. C.]

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24