The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter vii.

Wherein the Isles of Sondur and Condur are Spoken Of; and the Kingdom of Locac.

When you leave Chamba1 and sail for 700 miles on a course between south and south-west, you arrive at two Islands, a greater and a less. The one is called SONDUR and the other CONDUR.2 As there is nothing about them worth mentioning, let us go on five hundred miles beyond Sondur, and then we find another country which is called LOCAC. It is a good country and a rich; [it is on the mainland]; and it has a king of its own. The people are Idolaters and have a peculiar language, and pay tribute to nobody, for their country is so situated that no one can enter it to do them ill. Indeed if it were possible to get at it, the Great Kaan would soon bring them under subjection to him.

In this country the brazil which we make use of grows in great plenty; and they also have gold in incredible quantity. They have elephants likewise, and much game. In this kingdom too are gathered all the porcelain shells which are used for small change in all those regions, as I have told you before.

There is nothing else to mention except that this is a very wild region, visited by few people; nor does the king desire that any strangers should frequent the country, and so find out about his treasure and other resources.3 We will now proceed, and tell you of something else.

NOTE 1. — All the MSS. and texts I believe without exception read “when you leave Java,” etc. But, as Marsden has indicated, the point of departure is really Champa, the introduction of Java being a digression; and the retention of the latter name here would throw us irretrievably into the Southern Ocean. Certain old geographers, we may observe, did follow that indication, and the results were curious enough, as we shall notice in next note but one. Marsden’s observations are so just that I have followed Pauthier in substituting Champa for Java in the text.

NOTE 2. — There is no reason to doubt that these islands are the group now known as that of PULO CONDORE, in old times an important landmark, and occasional point of call, on the route to China. The group is termed Sundar Fúlát (Fúlát representing the Malay Pulo or Island, in the plural) in the Arab Relations of the 9th century, the last point of departure on the voyage to China, from which it was a month distant. This old record gives us the name Sondor; in modern times we have it as Kondór; Polo combines both names. [“These may also be the ‘Satyrs’ Islands’ of Ptolemy, or they may be his Sindai; for he has a Sinda city on the coast close to this position, though his Sindai islands are dropt far away. But it would not be difficult to show that Ptolemy’s islands have been located almost at random, or as from a pepper castor.” (Yule, Oldest Records, p. 657.)] The group consists of a larger island about 12 miles long, two of 2 or 3 miles, and some half-dozen others of insignificant dimensions. The large one is now specially called Pulo Condore. It has a fair harbour, fresh water, and wood in abundance. Dampier visited the group and recommended its occupation. The E.I. Company did establish a post there in 1702, but it came to a speedy end in the massacre of the Europeans by their Macassar garrison. About the year 1720 some attempt to found a settlement there was also made by the French, who gave the island the name of Isle d’Orléans. The celebrated Père Gaubil spent eight months on the island and wrote an interesting letter about it (February, 1722; see also Lettres Edifiantes, Rec. xvi.). When the group was visited by Mr. John Crawford on his mission to Cochin China the inhabitants numbered about 800, of Cochin Chinese descent. The group is now held by the French under Saigon. The chief island is known to the Chinese as the mountain of Kunlun. There is another cluster of rocks in the same sea, called the Seven Cheu, and respecting these two groups Chinese sailors have a kind of Incidit-inScyllan saw:—

Shang p’a Tsi-chéu, hia-pa Kun-lun,

Chen mi t’uo shih, jin chuen mo tsun.1

Meaning:—

“With Kunlun to starboard, and larboard the Cheu,

Keep conning your compass, whatever you do,

Or to Davy Jones’ Locker go vessel and crew.”

(Ritter, IV. 1017; Reinaud, I. 18; A. Hamilton, II. 402; Mém. conc. les Chinois, XIV. 53.)

NOTE 3. — Pauthier reads the name of the kingdom Soucat, but I adhere to the readings of the G.T., Lochac and Locac, which are supported by Ramusio. Pauthier’s C and the Bern MS. have le chac and le that, which indicate the same reading.

Distance and other particulars point, as Hugh Murray discerns, to the east coast of the Malay Peninsula, or (as I conceive) to the territory now called Siam, including the said coast, as subject or tributary from time immemorial.

The kingdom of Siam is known to the Chinese by the name of Sien–Lo. The Supplement to Ma Twan-lin’s Encyclopaedia describes Sien–Lo as on the sea-board to the extreme south of Chen-ching. “It originally consisted of two kingdoms, Sien and Lo-hoh. The Sien people are the remains of a tribe which in the year (A.D. 1341) began to come down upon the Lo-hoh, and united with the latter into one nation. . . . The land of the Lo-hoh consists of extended plains, but not much agriculture is done.”2

In this Lo or LO-HOH, which apparently formed the lower part of what is now Siam, previous to the middle of the 14th century, I believe that we have our Traveller’s Locac. The latter half of the name may be either the second syllable of Lo–Hoh, for Polo’s c often represents h; or it may be the Chinese Kwo or Kwé, “kingdom,” in the Canton and Fo-kien pronunciation (i.e. the pronunciation of Polo’s mariners) kok; Lo-kok, “the kingdom of Lo.” Sien-LO-KOK is the exact form of the Chinese name of Siam which is used by Bastian.

What was this kingdom of Lo which occupied the northern shores of the Gulf of Siam? Chinese scholars generally say that Sien–Lo means Siam and Laos; but this I cannot accept, if Laos is to bear its ordinary geographical sense, i.e. of a country bordering Siam on the north-east and north. Still there seems a probability that the usual interpretation may be correct, when properly explained.

[Regarding the identification of Locac with Siam, Mr. G. Phillips writes (Jour. China B.R.A.S., XXI., 1886, p. 34, note): “I can only fully endorse what Col. Yule says upon this subject, and add a few extracts of my own taken from the article on Siam given in the Wu-pé-ché. It would appear that previously to 1341 a country called Lohoh (in Amoy pronunciation Lohok) existed, as Yule says, in what is now called Lower Siam, and at that date became incorporated with Sien. In the 4th year of Hung-wu, 1372, it sent tribute to China, under the name of Sien Lohok. The country was first called Sien Lo in the first year of Yung Lo, 1403. In the T’ang Dynasty it appears to have been known as Lo-yueh, pronounced Lo-gueh at that period. This Lo-yueh would seem to have been situated on the Eastern side of Malay Peninsula, and to have extended to the entrance to the Straits of Singapore, in what is now known as Johore.” — H.C.]

In 1864, Dr. Bastian communicated to the Asiatic Society of Bengal the translation of a long and interesting inscription, brought [in 1834] from Sukkothai to Bangkok by the late King of Siam [Mongkut, then crown prince], and dated in a year 1214, which in the era of Salivahana (as it is almost certainly, see Garnier, cited below) will be A.D. 1292–1293, almost exactly coincident with Polo’s voyage. The author of this inscription was a Prince of Thai (or Siamese) race, styled Phra Râma Kamhêng (“The Valiant”) [son of Sri Indratiya], who reigned in Sukkothai, whilst his dominions extended from Vieng-chan on the Mekong River (lat. 18°), to Pechabur, and Sri–Thammarat (i.e. Ligór, in lat. 8° 18”), on the coast of the Gulf of Siam. [This inscription gives three dates — 1205, 1209, and 1214 s’aka = A.D. 1283, 1287 and 1292. One passage says: “Formerly the Thaïs had no writing; it is in 1205 s’aka, year of the goat = A.D. 1283, that King Râma Kamhêng sent for a teacher who invented the Thaï writing. It is to him that we are indebted for it today.” (Cf. Fournereau, Siam ancien, p. 225; Schmitt, Exc. et Recon., 1885; Aymonier, Cambodge, II. p. 72.)— H.C.] The conquests of this prince are stated to have extended eastward to the “Royal Lake”, apparently the Great Lake of Kamboja; and we may conclude with certainty that he was the leader of the Siamese, who had invaded Kamboja shortly before it was visited (in 1296) by that envoy of Kúblái’s successor, whose valuable account of the country has been translated by Rémusat.3

Now this prince Râma Kamhêng of Sukkothai was probably (as Lieutenant Garnier supposes) of the Thai-nyai, Great Thai, or Laotian branch of the race. Hence the application of the name Lo-kok to his kingdom can be accounted for.

It was another branch of the Thai, known as Thai-noi, or Little Thai, which in 1351, under another Phra Rama, founded Ayuthia and the Siamese monarchy, which still exists.

The explanation now given seems more satisfactory than the suggestions formerly made of the connection of the name Locac, either with Lophaburi (or Lavó, Louvo), a very ancient capital near Ayuthia, or with Lawék, i.e. Kamboja. Kamboja had at an earlier date possessed the lower valley of the Menam, but, we see, did so no longer.4

The name Lawek or Lovek is applied by writers of the 16th and 17th centuries to the capital of what is still Kamboja, the ruins of which exist near Udong. Laweik is mentioned along with the other Siamese or Laotian countries of Yuthia, Tennasserim, Sukkothai, Pichalok, Lagong, Lanchang (or Luang Prabang), Zimmé (or Kiang-mai), and Kiang–Tung, in the vast list of states claimed by the Burmese Chronicle as tributary to Pagán before its fall. We find in the Aín-i-Akbari a kind of aloes-wood called Lawáki, no doubt because it came from this region.

The G.T. indeed makes the course from Sondur to Locac sceloc or S.E.; but Pauthier’s text seems purposely to correct this, calling it, “v. c. milles oultre Sandur.” This would bring us to the Peninsula somewhere about what is now the Siamese province of Ligor,5 and this is the only position accurately consistent with the next indication of the route, viz. a run of 500 miles south to the Straits of Singapore. Let us keep in mind also Ramusio’s specific statement that Locac was on terra firma.

As regards the products named: (1) gold is mined in the northern part of the Peninsula and is a staple export of Kalantan, Tringano, and Pahang, further down. Barbosa says gold was so abundant in Malacca that it was reckoned by Bahars of 4 cwt. Though Mr. Logan has estimated the present produce of the whole Peninsula at only 20,000 ounces, Hamilton, at the beginning of last century, says Pahang alone in some years exported above 8 cwt. (2) Brazil-wood, now generally known by the Malay term Sappan, is abundant on the coast. Ritter speaks of three small towns on it as entirely surrounded by trees of this kind. And higher up, in the latitude of Tavoy, the forests of sappan-wood find a prominent place in some maps of Siam. In mediaeval intercourse between the courts of Siam and China we find Brazil-wood to form the bulk of the Siamese present. [“Ma Huan fully bears out Polo’s statement in this matter, for he says: This Brazil (of which Marco speaks) is as plentiful as firewood. On Ch’êng-ho’s chart Brazil and other fragrant woods are marked as products of Siam. Polo’s statement of the use of porcelain shells as small change is also corroborated by Ma Huan.” (G. Phillips, Jour. China B.R.A.S., XXI., 1886, p. 37.)— H.C.] (3) Elephants are abundant. (4) Cowries, according to Marsden and Crawford, are found in those seas largely only on the Sulu Islands; but Bishop Pallegoix says distinctly that they are found in abundance on the sand-banks of the Gulf of Siam. And I see Dr. Fryer, in 1673, says that cowries were brought to Surat “from Siam and the Philippine Islands.”

For some centuries after this time Siam was generally known to traders by the Persian name of Shahr-i-nao, or New City. This seems to be the name generally applied to it in the Shijarat Malayu (or Malay Chronicle), and it is used also by Abdurrazzák. It appears among the early navigators of the 16th century, as Da Gama, Varthema, Giovanni d’Empoli and Mendez Pinto, in the shape of Sornau, Xarnau. Whether this name was applied to the new city of Ayuthia, or was a translation of that of the older Lophaburi (which appears to be the Sansk. or Pali Nava pura = New–City) I do not know.

[Reinaud (Int. Abulfeda, p. CDXVI.) writes that, according to the Christian monk of Nadjran, who crossed the Malayan Seas, about the year 980, at this time, the King of Lukyn had just invaded the kingdom of Sanf and taken possession of it. According to Ibn Khordâdhbeh (De Goeje, p. 49) Lukyn is the first port of China, 100 parasangs distant from Sanf by land or sea; Chinese stone, Chinese silk, porcelain of excellent quality, and rice are to be found at Lukyn. — H.C.]

(Bastian, I. 357, III. 433, and in J.A.S.B. XXXIV. Pt. I. p. 27 seqq.; Ramus. I. 318; Amyot, XIV. 266, 269; Pallegoix, I. 196; Bowring, I. 41, 72; Phayre in J.A.S.B. XXXVII. Pt. I. p. 102; Aín Akb. 80; Mouhot, I. 70; Roe and Fryer, reprint, 1873, p. 271.)

Some geographers of the 16th century, following the old editions which carried the travellers south-east or south-west of Java to the land of Boeach (for Locac), introduced in their maps a continent in that situation. (See e.g. the map of the world by P. Plancius in Linschoten.) And this has sometimes been adduced to prove an early knowledge of Australia. Mr. Major has treated this question ably in his interesting essay on the early notices of Australia.

1 [From the Hsing-ch’a Sheng-lan, by Fei Hsin.]

2 The extract of which this is the substance I owe to the kindness of Professor J. Summers, formerly of King’s College.

3 I am happy to express my obligation to the remarks of my lamented friend Lieutenant Garnier, for light on this subject, which has led to an entire reform in the present note. (See his excellent Historical Essay, forming ch. v. of the great “Voyage d’Exploration en Indo–Chine,” pp. 136–137).

4 The Kakula of Ibn Batuta was probably on the coast of Locac. The Kamárah Komar of the same traveller and other Arab writers, I have elsewhere suggested to be Khmer, or Kamboja Proper. (See I.B. IV. 240; Cathay, 469, 519.) Kakula and Kamarah were both in “Mul–Java”; and the king of this undetermined country, whom Wassáf states to have submitted to Kúblái in 1291, was called Sri Rama. It is possible that this was Phra Rama of Sukkothai. (See Cathay, 519; Elliot, III. 27)

5 Mr. G Phillips supposes the name locac to be Ligor, or rather lakhon as the Siamese call it. But it seems to me pretty clear from what has been said the Lo-kok though including Ligor, is a different name from Lakhon. The latter is a corruption of the Sanskrit, Nagara, “city.”

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