The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxvi.

Concerning the Kingdom of Gozurat.

Gozurat is a great kingdom. The people are Idolaters and have a peculiar language, and a king of their own, and are tributary to no one. It lies towards the west, and the North Star is here still more conspicuous, showing itself at an altitude of about 6 cubits.1

The people are the most desperate pirates in existence, and one of their atrocious practices is this. When they have taken a merchant-vessel they force the merchants to swallow a stuff called Tamarindi mixed in sea-water, which produces a violent purging.2 This is done in case the merchants, on seeing their danger, should have swallowed their most valuable stones and pearls. And in this way the pirates secure the whole.

In this province of Gozurat there grows much pepper, and ginger, and indigo. They have also a great deal of cotton. Their cotton trees are of very great size, growing full six paces high, and attaining to an age of 20 years. It is to be observed however that, when the trees are so old as that, the cotton is not good to spin, but only to quilt or stuff beds withal. Up to the age of 12 years indeed the trees give good spinning cotton, but from that age to 20 years the produce is inferior.3

Illustration: Mediaeval Architecture in Guzerat. (From Fergusson.)

They dress in this country great numbers of skins of various kinds, goat-skins, ox-skins, buffalo and wild ox-skins, as well as those of unicorns and other animals. In fact so many are dressed every year as to load a number of ships for Arabia and other quarters. They also work here beautiful mats in red and blue leather, exquisitely inlaid with figures of birds and beasts, and skilfully embroidered with gold and silver wire. These are marvellously beautiful things; they are used by the Saracens to sleep upon, and capital they are for that purpose. They also work cushions embroidered with gold, so fine that they are worth six marks of silver a piece, whilst some of those sleeping-mats are worth ten marks.4

NOTE 1. — Again we note the topographical confusion. Guzerat is mentioned as if it were a province adjoining Malabar, and before arriving at Tana, Cambay, and Somnath; though in fact it includes those three cities, and Cambay was then its great mart. Wassáf, Polo’s contemporary, perhaps acquaintance, speaks of Gujarat which is commonly called Kambáyat. (Elliot, III. 31.)

NOTE 2. —[“The origin of the name [Tamarina] is curious. It is Ar. tamar-u’l-Hind, ‘date of India,’ or perhaps rather, in Persian form, tamar-i-Hindí. It is possible that the original name may have been thamar, (‘fruit’) of India, rather than tamar, (‘date’).” (Hobson–Jobson.)]

NOTE 3. — The notice of pepper here is hard to explain. But Hiuen Tsang also speaks of Indian pepper and incense (see next chapter) as grown at ’Ochali which seems to be some place on the northern border of Guzerat (II. 161).

Marsden, in regard to the cotton, supposes here some confused introduction of the silk-cotton tree (Bombax or Salmalia, the Semal of Hindustan), but the description would be entirely inapplicable to that great forest tree. It is remarkable that nearly the same statement with regard to Guzerat occurs in Rashiduddin’s sketch of India, as translated in Sir H. Elliot’s History of India (ed. by Professor Dowson, I. 67): “Grapes are produced twice during the year, and the strength of the soil is such that cotton-plants grow like willows and plane-trees, and yield produce ten years running.” An author of later date, from whom extracts are given in the same work, viz., Mahommed Masúm in his History of Sind, describing the wonders of Síwí, says: “In Korzamin and Chhatur, which are districts of Siwi, cotton-plants grow as large as trees, insomuch that men pick the cotton mounted” (p. 237).

These would appear to have been plants of the species of true cotton called by Royle Gossipium arboreum and sometimes termed G. religiosum, from its being often grown in South India near temples or abodes of devotees; though the latter name has been applied also to the nankeen cotton. That of which we speak is, however, according to Dr. Cleghorn, termed in Mysore Deo kapás, of which G. religiosum would be a proper translation. It is grown in various parts of India, but generally rather for ornament than use. It is stated, however, to be specially used for the manufacture of turbans, and for the Brahmanical thread, and probably afforded the groundwork of the story told by Philostratus of the wild cotton which was used only for the sacred vestments of the Brahmans, and refused to lend itself to other uses. One of Royle’s authorities (Mr. Vaupell) mentions that it was grown near large towns of Eastern Guzerat, and its wool regarded as the finest of any, and only used in delicate muslins. Tod speaks of it in Bikanír, and this kind of cotton appears to be grown also in China, as we gather from a passage in Amyot’s Mémoires (II. 606), which speaks of the “Cotonniers arbres, qui ne devoient être fertiles qu’après un bon nombre d’années.”

The height appears to have been a difficulty with Marsden, who refers to the G. arboreum, but does not admit that it could be intended. Yet I see in the English Cyclopaedia that to this species is assigned a height of 15 to 20 feet. Polo’s six paces therefore, even if it means 30 feet as I think, is not a great exaggeration. (Royle, Cult. of Cotton, 144, 145, 152; Eng. Cycl. art. Gossypium.)

NOTE 4. — Embroidered and Inlaid leather-work for bed-covers, palankin mats and the like, is still a great manufacture in Rajkot and other places of Kattiawar in Peninsular Guzerat, as well as in the adjoining region of Sind. (Note from Sir Bartle Frere.) The embroidery of Guzerat is highly commended by Barbosa, Linschoten, and A. Hamilton.

The G.T. adds at the end of this passage: “E qe voz en diroi? Sachíés tout voiremant qe en ceste reingne se labore roiaus dereusse de cuir et plus sotilment que ne fait en tout lo monde, e celz qe sunt de greingnors vailance.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/polo/marco/travels/book3.26.html

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