The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 2/Chapter 49

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Concerning a Further Part of the Province of Carajan[edit]

After leaving that city of Yachi of which I have been speaking, and travelling ten days towards the west, you come to another capital city which is still in the province of Carajan, and is itself called Carajan. The people are Idolaters and subject to the Great Kaan; and the King is COGACHIN, who is a son of the Great Kaan.[1]

In this country gold-dust is found in great quantities; that is to say in the rivers and lakes, whilst in the mountains gold is also found in pieces of larger size. Gold is indeed so abundant that they give one saggio of gold for only six of the same weight in silver. And for small change they use porcelain shells as I mentioned before. These are not found in the country, however, but are brought from India.[2]

In this province are found snakes and great serpents of such vast size as to strike fear into those who see them, and so hideous that the very account of them must excite the wonder of those to hear it. I will tell you how long and big they are.

You may be assured that some of them are ten paces in length; some are more and some less. And in bulk they are equal to a great cask, for the bigger ones are about ten palms in girth. They have two forelegs near the head, but for foot nothing but a claw like the claw of a hawk or that of a lion. The head is very big, and the eyes are bigger than a great loaf of bread. The mouth is large enough to swallow a man whole, and is garnished with great [pointed] teeth. And in short they are so fierce-looking and so hideously ugly, that every man and beast must stand in fear and trembling of them. There are also smaller ones, such as of eight paces long, and of five, and of one pace only.

The way in which they are caught is this. You must know that by day they live underground because of the great heat, and in the night they go out to feed, and devour every animal they can catch. They go also to drink at the rivers and lakes and springs. And their weight is so great that when they travel in search of food or drink, as they do by night, the tail makes a great furrow in the soil as if a full ton of liquor had been dragged along. Now the huntsmen who go after them take them by certain gyn which they set in the track over which the serpent has past, knowing that the beast will come back the same way. They plant a stake deep in the ground and fix on the head of this a sharp blade of steel made like a razor or a lance-point, and then they cover the whole with sand so that the serpent cannot see it. Indeed the huntsman plants several such stakes and blades on the track. On coming to the spot the beast strikes against the iron blade with such force that it enters his breast and rives him up to the navel, so that he dies on the spot [and the crows on seeing the brute dead begin to caw, and then the huntsmen know that the serpent is dead and come in search of him].

This then is the way these beasts are taken. Those who take them proceed to extract the gall from the inside, and this sells at a great price; for you must know it furnishes the material for a most precious medicine. Thus if a person is bitten by a mad dog, and they give him but a small pennyweight of this medicine to drink, he is cured in a moment. Again if a woman is hard in labour they give her just such another dose and she is delivered at once. Yet again if one has any disease like the itch, or it may be worse, and applies a small quantity of this gall he shall speedily be cured. So you see why it sells at such a high price.

They also sell the flesh of this serpent, for it is excellent eating, and the people are very fond of it. And when these serpents are very hungry, sometimes they will seek out the lairs of lions or bears or other large wild beasts, and devour their cubs, without the sire and dam being able to prevent it. Indeed if they catch the big ones themselves they devour them too; they can make no resistance.[3]

In this province also are bred large and excellent horses which are taken to India for sale. And you must know that the people dock two or three joints of the tail from their horses, to prevent them from flipping their riders, a thing which they consider very unseemly. They ride long like Frenchmen, and wear armour of boiled leather, and carry spears and shields and arblasts, and all their quarrels are poisoned.[4] [And I was told as a fact that many persons, especially those meditating mischief, constantly carry this poison about with them, so that if by any chance they should be taken, and be threatened with torture, to avoid this they swallow the poison and so die speedily. But princes who are aware of this keep ready dog's dung, which they cause the criminal instantly to swallow, to make him vomit the poison. And thus they manage to cure those scoundrels.]

I will tell you of a wicked thing they used to do before the Great Kaan conquered them. If it chanced that a man of fine person or noble birth, or some other quality that recommended him, came to lodge with those people, then they would murder him by poison, or otherwise. And this they did, not for the sake of plunder, but because they believed that in this way the goodly favour and wisdom and repute of the murdered man would cleave to the house where he was slain. And in this manner many were murdered before the country was conquered by the Great Kaan. But since his conquest, some 35 years ago, these crimes and this evil practice have prevailed no more; and this through dread of the Great Kaan who will not permit such things.[5]

[1] [2] [3] [4]




  1. 1.0 1.1 There can be no doubt that this second chief city of Carajan is TALI-FU, which was the capital of the Shan Kingdom called by the Chinese Nan-Chao. This kingdom had subsisted in Yun-nan since 738, and probably had embraced the upper part of the Irawadi Valley. For the Chinese tell us it was also called Maung, and it probably was identical with the Shan Kingdom of Muang Maorong or of Pong, of which Captain Pemberton procured a Chronicle. [In A.D. 650, the Ai-Lao, the most ancient name by which the Shans were known to the Chinese, became the Nan-Chao. The Meng family ruled the country from the 7th century; towards the middle of the 8th century, P'i-lo-ko, who is the real founder of the Thai kingdom of Nan-Chao, received from the Chinese the title of King of Yun-Nan and made T'ai-ho, 15 lis south of Ta-li, his residence; he died in 748. In A.D. 938, Twan Sze-ying, of an old Chinese family, took Ta-li and established there an independent kingdom. In 1115 embassies with China were exchanged, and the Emperor conferred (1119) upon Twan Ch'eng-ya the title of King of Ta-li (Ta-li Kwo Wang). Twan Siang-hing was the last king of Ta-li (1239-1251). In 1252 the Kingdom of Nan-Chao was destroyed by the Mongols; the Emperor She Tsu (Kublai) gave the title of Maharaja (Mo-ho Lo-tso) to Twan Hing-che (son of Twan Siang-hing), who had fled to Yun-Nan fu and was captured there. Afterwards (1261) the Twan are known as the eleven Tsung-Kwan (governors); the last of them, Twan Ming, was made a prisoner by an army sent by the Ming Emperors, and sent to Nan-King (1381). (E. H. Parker, Early Laos and China, China Review, XIX. and the Old Thai or Shan Empire of Western Yun-Nan, Ibid., XX.; E. Rocher, Hist. des Princes du Yunnan, T'oung Pao, 1899; E. Chavannes, Une Inscription du roy de Nan Tchao, J.A., November-December, 1900; M. Tchang, Tableau des Souverains de Nan-Tchao, Bul. Ecole Franc. d'Ext. Orient, I. No. 4.)--H.C.] The city of Ta-li was taken by Kublai in 1253-1254. The circumstance that it was known to the invaders (as appeals from Polo's statement) by the name of the province is an indication of the fact that it was the capital of Carajan before the conquest. ["That Yachi and Carajan represent Yuennan-fu and Tali, is proved by topographical and other evidence of an overwhelming nature. I venture to add one more proof, which seems to have been overlooked.

    "If there is a natural feature which must strike any visitor to those two cities, it is that they both lie on the shore of notable lakes, of so large an extent as to be locally called seas; and for the comparison, it should be remembered that the inhabitants of the Yuennan province have easy access to the ocean by the Red River, or Sung Ka. Now, although Marco does not circumstantially specify the fact of these cities lying on large bodies of water, yet in both cases, two or three sentences further on, will be found mention of lakes; in the case of Yachi, 'a lake of a good hundred miles in compass'--by no means an unreasonable estimate.

    "Tali-fu is renowned as the strongest hold of Western Yuennan, and it certainly must have been impregnable to bow and spear. From the western margin of its majestic lake, which lies approximately north and south, rises a sloping plain of about three miles average breadth, closed in by the huge wall of the Tien-tsang Mountains. In the midst of this plain stands the city, the lake at its feet, the snowy summits at its back. On either flank, at about twelve and six miles distance respectively, are situated Shang-Kuan and Hsia-Kuan (upper and lower passes), two strongly fortified towns guarding the confined strip between mountain and lake; for the plain narrows at the two extremities, and is intersected by a river at both points." (Baber, Travels 155.)--H.C.]

    The distance from Yachi to this city of Karajang is ten days, and this corresponds well with the distance from Yun-nan fu to Tali-fu. For we find that, of the three Burmese Embassies whose itineraries are given by Burney, one makes 7 marches between those cities, specifying 2 of them as double marches, therefore equal to 9, whilst the other two make 11 marches; Richthofen's information gives 12. Ta-li-fu is a small old city overlooking its large lake (about 24 miles long by 6 wide), and an extensive plain devoid of trees. Lofty mountains rise on the south side of the city. The Lake appears to communicate with the Mekong, and the story goes, no doubt fabulous, that boats have come up to Ta-li from the Ocean. [Captain Gill (II. pp. 299-300) writes: "Ta-li fu is an ancient city ... it is the Carajan of Marco Polo.... Marco's description of the lake of Yun-Nan may be perfectly well applied to the Lake of Ta-li.... The fish were particularly commended to our notice, though we were told that there were no oysters in this lake, as there are said to be in that of Yun-Nan; if the latter statement be true, it would illustrate Polo's account of another lake somewhere in these regions in which are found pearls (which are white but not round)."--H.C.]

    Ta-li fu was recently the capital of Sultan Suleiman [Tu Wen-siu]. It was reached by Lieutenant Garnier in a daring detour by the north of Yun-nan, but his party were obliged to leave in haste on the second day after their arrival. The city was captured by the Imperial officers in 1873, when a horrid massacre of the Mussulmans took place [19th January]. The Sultan took poison, but his head was cut off and sent to Peking. Momein fell soon after [10th June], and the Panthe kingdom is ended.

    We see that Polo says the King ruling for Kublai at this city was a son of the Kaan, called COGACHIN, whilst he told us in the last chapter that the King reigning at Yachi was also a son of the Kaan, called ESSENTIMUR. It is probably a mere lapsus or error of dictation calling the latter a son of the Kaan, for in ch. li. infra, this prince is correctly described as the Kaan's grandson. Rashiduddin tells us that Kublai had given his son HUKAJI (or perhaps Hogachi, i.e. Cogachin) the government of Karajang, and that after the death of this Prince the government was continued to his son ISENTIMUR. Klaproth gives the date of the latter's nomination from the Chinese Annals as 1280. It is not easy to reconcile Marco's statements perfectly with a knowledge of these facts; but we may suppose that, in speaking of Cogachin as ruling at Karajang (or Tali-fu) and Esentimur at Yachi, he describes things as they stood when his visit occurred, whilst in the second reference to "Sentemur's" being King in the province and his father dead, he speaks from later knowledge. This interpretation would confirm what has been already deduced from other circumstances, that his visit to Yun-nan was prior to 1280. (Pemberton's Report on the Eastern Frontier, 108 seqq.; Quat. Rashid. pp. lxxxix-xc.; Journ. Asiat. ser. II. vol. i.)

  2. 2.0 2.1 [Captain Gill writes (II. p. 302): "There are said to be very rich gold and silver mines within a few days' journey of the city" (of Ta-li). Dr. Anderson says (Mandalay to Momien, p. 203): "Gold is brought to Momein from Yonephin and Sherg-wan villages, fifteen days' march to the north-east; but no information could be obtained as to the quantity found. It is also brought in leaf, which is sent to Burma, where it is in extensive demand."--H.C.]
  3. 3.0 3.1 It cannot be doubted that Marco's serpents here are crocodiles, in spite of his strange mistakes about their having only two feet and one claw on each, and his imperfect knowledge of their aquatic habits. He may have seen only a mutilated specimen. But there is no mistaking the hideous ferocity of the countenance, and the "eyes bigger than a fourpenny loaf," as Ramusio has it. Though the actual eye of the crocodile does not bear this comparison, the prominent orbits do, especially in the case of the Ghariyal of the Ganges, and form one of the most repulsive features of the reptile's physiognomy. In fact, its presence on the surface of an Indian river is often recognisable only by three dark knobs rising above the surface, viz. the snout and the two orbits. And there is some foundation for what our author says of the animal's habits, for the crocodile does sometimes frequent holes at a distance from water, of which a striking instance is within my own recollection (in which the deep furrowed track also was a notable circumstance).

    The Cochin Chinese are very fond of crocodile's flesh, and there is or was a regular export of this dainty for their use from Kamboja. I have known it eaten by certain classes in India. (J.R.G.S. XXX. 193.)

    The term serpent is applied by many old writers to crocodiles and the like, e.g. by Odoric, and perhaps allusively by Shakspeare ("Where's my Serpent of Old Nile?"). Mr. Fergusson tells me he was once much struck with the snake-like motion of a group of crocodiles hastily descending to the water from a high sand-bank, without apparent use of the limbs, when surprised by the approach of a boat.

    Matthioli says the gall of the crocodile surpasses all medicines for the removal of pustules and the like from the eyes. Vincent of Beauvais mentions the same, besides many other medical uses of the reptile's carcass, including a very unsavoury cosmetic. (Matt. p. 245; Spec. Natur. Lib. XVII. c. 106, 108.)

    ["According to Chinese notions, Han Yue, the St. Patrick of China, having persuaded the alligators in China that he was all-powerful, induced the stupid saurians to migrate to Ngo Hu or 'Alligators' Lake' in the Kwang-tung province." (North-China Herald, 5th July, 1895, p. 5.)

    Alligators have been found in 1878 at Wu-hu and at Chen-kiang (Ngan-hwei and Kiang-Su). (See A. A. Fauvel, Alligators in China, in Jour. N. China B.R.A.S. XIII. 1879, 1-36.)--H.C.]

  4. 4.0 4.1 I think the great horses must be an error, though running through all the texts, and that grant quantite de chevaus was probably intended. Valuable ponies are produced in those regions, but I have never heard of large horses, and Martini's testimony is to like effect (p. 141). Nor can I hear of any race in those regions in modern times that uses what we should call long stirrups. It is true that the Tartars rode very short--"brevissimas habent strepas," as Carpini says (643); and the Kirghiz Kazaks now do the same. Both Burmese and Shans ride what we should call short; and Major Sladen observes of the people on the western border of Yun-nan: "Kachyens and Shans ride on ordinary Chinese saddles. The stirrups are of the usual average length, but the saddles are so constructed as to rise at least a foot above the pony's back." He adds with reference to another point in the text: "I noticed a few Shan ponies with docked tails. But the more general practice is to loop up the tail in a knot, the object being to protect the rider, or rather his clothes, from the dirt with which they would otherwise be spattered from the flipping of the animal's tail." (MS. Notes.)

    [After Yung-ch'ang, Captain Gill writes (II. p. 356): "The manes were hogged and the tails cropped of a great many of the ponies these men were riding; but there were none of the docked tails mentioned by Marco Polo."--H.C.]

    Armour of boiled leather--"armes cuiraces de cuir bouilli"; so Pauthier's text; the material so often mentioned in mediaeval costume; e.g. in the leggings of Sir Thopas:--

      "His jambeux were of cuirbouly,
       His swerdes sheth of ivory,
          His helme of latoun bright."

    But the reading of the G. Text which is "cuir de bufal," is probably the right one. Some of the Miau-tzu of Kweichau are described as wearing armour of buffalo-leather overlaid with iron plates. (Ritter, IV. 768-776.) Arblasts or crossbows are still characteristic weapons of many of the wilder tribes of this region; e.g. of some of the Singphos, of the Mishmis of Upper Assam, of the Lu-tzu of the valley of the Lukiang, of tribes of the hills of Laos, of the Stiens of Cambodia, and of several of the Miau-tzu tribes of the interior of China. We give a cut copied from a Chinese work on the Miau-tzu of Kweichau in Dr. Lockhart's possession, which shows three little men of the Sang-Miau tribe of Kweichau combining to mend a crossbow, and a chief with armes cuiraces and jambeux also. [The cut (p. 83) is well explained by this passage of Baber's Travels among the Lolos (p. 71): "They make their own swords, three and a half to five spans long, with square heads, and have bows which it takes three men to draw, but no muskets."--H.C.]

  5. 5.0 5.1 I have nowhere met with a precise parallel to this remarkable superstition, but the following piece of Folk-Lore has a considerable analogy to it. This extraordinary custom is ascribed by Ibn Fozlan to the Bulgarians of the Volga: "If they find a man endowed with special intelligence then they say: 'This man should serve our Lord God;' and so they take him, run a noose round his neck and hang him on a tree, where they leave him till the corpse falls to pieces." This is precisely what Sir Charles Wood did with the Indian Corps of Engineers;--doubtless on the same principle.

    Archbishop Trench, in a fine figure, alludes to a belief prevalent among the Polynesian Islanders, "that the strength and valour of the warriors whom they have slain in battle passes into themselves, as their rightful inheritance." (Fraehn, Wolga-Bulgaren, p. 50; Studies in the Gospels, p. 22; see also Lubbock, 457.)

    There is some analogy also to the story Polo tells, in the curious Sindhi tradition, related by Burton, of Baha-ul-hakk, the famous saint of Multan. When he visited his disciples at Tatta they plotted his death, in order to secure the blessings of his perpetual presence. The people of Multan are said to have murdered two celebrated saints with the same view, and the Hazaras to "make a point of killing and burying in their own country any stranger indiscreet enough to commit a miracle or show any particular sign of sanctity." The like practice is ascribed to the rude Moslem of Gilghit; and such allegations must have been current in Europe, for they are the motive of Southey's St. Romuald: