The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xlvi.

Further Discourse Concerning Tebet.

This province, called Tebet, is of very great extent. The people, as I have told you, have a language of their own, and they are Idolaters, and they border on Manzi and sundry other regions. Moreover, they are very great thieves.

The country is, in fact, so great that it embraces eight kingdoms, and a vast number of cities and villages.1 It contains in several quarters rivers and lakes, in which gold-dust is found in great abundance. 2 Cinnamon also grows there in great plenty. Coral is in great demand in this country and fetches a high price, for they delight to hang it round the necks of their women and of their idols.3 They have also in this country plenty of fine woollens and other stuffs, and many kinds of spices are produced there which are never seen in our country.

Among this people, too, you find the best enchanters and astrologers that exist in all that quarter of the world; they perform such extraordinary marvels and sorceries by diabolic art, that it astounds one to see or even hear of them. So I will relate none of them in this book of ours; people would be amazed if they heard them, but it would serve no good purpose. 4

These people of Tebet are an ill-conditioned race. They have mastiff dogs as bigs as donkeys, which are capital at seizing wild beasts [and in particular the wild oxen which are called Beyamini, very great and fierce animals] They have also sundry other kinds of sporting dogs, and excellent lanner falcons [and sakers], swift in flight and well-trained, which are got in the mountains of the country.5

Now I have told you in brief all that is to be said about Tebet, and so we will leave it, and tell you about another province that is called Caindu.

Illustration: Village of Eastern Tibet on Szechwan Frontier (From Cooper)

As regards Tebet, however, you should understand that it is subject to the Great Kaan. So, likewise, all the other kingdoms, regions, and provinces which are described in this book are subject to the Great Kaan, nay, even those other kingdoms, regions, and provinces of which I had occasion to speak at the beginning of the book as belonging to the son of Argon, the Lord of the Levant, are also subject to the Emperor; for the former holds his dominion of the Kaan, and is his liegeman and kinsman of the blood Imperial. So you must know that from this province forward all the provinces mentioned in our book are subject to the Great Kaan; and even if this be not specially mentioned, you must understand that it is so.

Illustration: Roads in Eastern Tibet. (Gorge of the Lan t’sang Kiang, from Cooper.)

Now let us have done with this matter, and I will tell you about the Province of Caindu.

NOTE 1. — Here Marco at least shows that he knew Tibet to be much more extensive than the small part of it that he had seen. But beyond this his information amounts to little.

NOTE 2. —“Or de paliolle” “Oro di pagliuola” (pagliuola, “a spangle”) must have been the technical phrase for what we call gold-dust, and the French now call or en paillettes, a phrase used by a French missionary in speaking of this very region. (Ann. de la Foi, XXXVII. 427.) Yet the only example of this use of the word cited in the Voc. Ital. Universale is from this passage of the Crusca MS.; and Pipino seems not to have understood it, translating “aurum quod dicitur Deplaglola”; whilst Zurla says erroneously that pajola is an old Italian word for gold. Pegolotti uses argento in pagliuola (p. 219). A Barcelona tariff of 1271 sets so much on every mark of Pallola. And the old Portuguese navigators seem always to have used the same expression for the gold-dust of Africa, ouro de pajola. (See Major’s Prince Henry, pp. 111, 112, 116; Capmany Memorias, etc., II. App. p. 73; also “Aurum de Pajola,” in Usodimare of Genoa, see Graberg, Annali, II. 290, quoted by Peschel, p. 178.)

NOTE 3. — The cinnamon must have been the coarser cassia produced in the lower parts of this region (See note to next chapter.) We have already (Book I. ch. xxxi.) quoted Tavernier’s testimony to the rage for coral among the Tibetans and kindred peoples. Mr. Cooper notices the eager demand for coral at Bathang: (See also Desgodins, La Mission du Thibet, 310.)

NOTE 4. — See supra, Bk. I. ch. lxi. note 11.

NOTE 5. — The big Tibetan mastiffs are now well known. Mr. Cooper, at Ta-t’sien lu, notes that the people of Tibetan race “keep very large dogs, as large as Newfoundlands.” And he mentions a pack of dogs of another breed, tan and black, “fine animals of the size of setters.” The missionary M. Durand also, in a letter from the region in question, says, speaking of a large leopard: “Our brave watch-dogs had several times beaten him off gallantly, and one of them had even in single combat with him received a blow of the paw which had laid his skull open.” (Ann. de la Prop de la Foi, XXXVII. 314.) On the title-page of vol. i. we have introduced one of these big Tibetan dogs as brought home by the Polos to Venice.

The “wild oxen called Beyamini” are probably some such species as the Gaur. Beyamini I suspect to be no Oriental word, but to stand for Buemini, i.e. Bohemian, a name which may have been given by the Venetians to either the bison or urus. Polo’s contemporary, Brunetto Latini, seems to speak of one of these as still existing in his day in Germany: “Autre buef naissent en Alemaigne qui ont grans cors, et sont bons por sommier et por vin porter.” (Paris ed., p. 228; see also Lubbock, Pre-historic Times, 296–7.)

[Mr. Baber (Travels, pp. 39, 40) writes: “A special interest attaches to the wild oxen, since they are unknown in any other part of China Proper. From a Lolo chief and his followers, most enthusiastic hunters, I afterwards learnt that the cattle are met with in herds of from seven to twenty head in the recesses of the Wilderness, which may be defined as the region between the T’ung River and Yachou, but that in general they are rarely seen. . . . I was lucky enough to obtain a pair of horns and part of the hide of one of these redoubtable animals, which seem to show that they are a kind of bison.” Sir H. Yule remarks in a footnote (Ibid. p. 40): “It is not possible to say from what is stated here what the species is, but probably it is a gavoeus, of which Jerdan describes three species. (See Mammals of India, pp. 301–307.) Mr. Hodgson describes the Gaur (Gavoeus gaurus of Jerdan) of the forests below Nepaul as fierce and revengeful.”— H.C.]

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