The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 3/Chapter 2

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Description of the Island of Chipangu, and the Great Kaan's Despatch of a Host Against It[edit]

Chipangu is an Island towards the east in the high seas, 1500 miles distant from the Continent; and a very great Island it is.[1]

The people are white, civilized, and well-favoured. They are Idolaters, and are dependent on nobody. And I can tell you the quantity of gold they have is endless; for they find it in their own Islands, [and the King does not allow it to be exported. Moreover] few merchants visit the country because it is so far from the main land, and thus it comes to pass that their gold is abundant beyond all measure.[2]

I will tell you a wonderful thing about the Palace of the Lord of that Island. You must know that he hath a great Palace which is entirely roofed with fine gold, just as our churches are roofed with lead, insomuch that it would scarcely be possible to estimate its value. Moreover, all the pavement of the Palace, and the floors of its chambers, are entirely of gold, in plates like slabs of stone, a good two fingers thick; and the windows also are of gold, so that altogether the richness of this Palace is past all bounds and all belief.[3]

[Illustration: Ancient Japanese Emperor. (After a Native Drawing; from Humbert.)]

They have also pearls in abundance, which are of a rose colour, but fine, big, and round, and quite as valuable as the white ones. [In this Island some of the dead are buried, and others are burnt. When a body is burnt, they put one of these pearls in the mouth, for such is their custom.] They have also quantities of other precious stones.[4]

Cublay, the Grand Kaan who now reigneth, having heard much of the immense wealth that was in this Island, formed a plan to get possession of it. For this purpose he sent two of his Barons with a great navy, and a great force of horse and foot. These Barons were able and valiant men, one of them called ABACAN and the other VONSAINCHIN, and they weighed with all their company from the ports of Zayton and Kinsay, and put out to sea. They sailed until they reached the Island aforesaid, and there they landed, and occupied the open country and the villages, but did not succeed in getting possession of any city or castle. And so a disaster befel them, as I shall now relate.

You must know that there was much ill-will between those two Barons, so that one would do nothing to help the other. And it came to pass that there arose a north wind which blew with great fury, and caused great damage along the coasts of that Island, for its harbours were few. It blew so hard that the Great Kaan's fleet could not stand against it. And when the chiefs saw that, they came to the conclusion that if the ships remained where they were the whole navy would perish. So they all got on board and made sail to leave the country. But when they had gone about four miles they came to a small Island, on which they were driven ashore in spite of all they could do; and a large part of the fleet was wrecked, and a great multitude of the force perished, so that there escaped only some 30,000 men, who took refuge on this Island.

These held themselves for dead men, for they were without food, and knew not what to do, and they were in great despair when they saw that such of the ships as had escaped the storm were making full sail for their own country without the slightest sign of turning back to help them. And this was because of the bitter hatred between the two Barons in command of the force; for the Baron who escaped never showed the slightest desire to return to his colleague who was left upon the Island in the way you have heard; though he might easily have done so after the storm ceased; and it endured not long. He did nothing of the kind, however, but made straight for home. And you must know that the Island to which the soldiers had escaped was uninhabited; there was not a creature upon it but themselves. Now we will tell you what befel those who escaped on the fleet, and also those who were left upon the Island.

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Footnotes[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 +CHIPANGU represents the Chinese Jih-pen-kwe, the kingdom of Japan, the name Jih-pen being the Chinese pronunciation, of which the term Nippon, Niphon or Nihon, used in Japan, is a dialectic variation, both meaning "the origin of the sun," or sun-rising, the place the sun comes from. The name Chipangu is used also by Rashiduddin. Our Japan was probably taken from the Malay Japun or Japang.

    ["The name Nihon ('Japan') seems to have been first officially employed by the Japanese Government in A.D. 670. Before that time, the usual native designation of the country was Yamato, properly the name of one of the central provinces. Yamato and O-mi-kuni, that is, 'the Great August Country,' are the names still preferred in poetry and belles-lettres. Japan has other ancient names, some of which are of learned length and thundering sound, for instance, Toyo-ashi-wara-no-chi-aki-no-naga-i-ho- aki-no-mizu-ho-no-kuni, that is 'the Luxuriant-Reed-Plains-the-Land-of- Fresh-Rice-Ears-of-a-Thousand-Autumns-of-Long-Five-Hundred-Autumns.'" (B.H. Chamberlain, Things Japanese, 3rd ed. p. 222.)--H.C.]

    It is remarkable that the name Nipon occurs, in the form of Al-Nafun, in the Ikhwan-al-Safa, supposed to date from the 10th century. (See J.A.S.B. XVII. Pt. I. 502.)

    [I shall merely mention the strange theory of Mr. George Collingridge that Zipangu is Java and not Japan in his paper on The Early Cartography of Japan. (Geog. Jour. May, 1894, pp. 403-409.) Mr. F.G. Kramp (Japan or Java?), in the Tijdschrift v. het K. Nederl. Aardrijkskundig Genootschap, 1894, and Mr. H. Yule Oldham (Geog. Jour., September, 1894, pp. 276-279), have fully replied to this paper.--H.C.]

  2. 2.0 2.1 The causes briefly mentioned in the text maintained the abundance and low price of gold in Japan till the recent opening of the trade. (See Bk. II. ch. 1. note 5.) Edrisi had heard that gold in the isles of Sila (or Japan) was so abundant that dog-collars were made of it.
  3. 3.0 3.1 This was doubtless an old "yarn," repeated from generation to generation. We find in a Chinese work quoted by Amyot: "The palace of the king (of Japan) is remarkable for its singular construction. It is a vast edifice, of extraordinary height; it has nine stories, and presents on all sides an exterior shining with the purest gold." (Mem. conc. les Chinois, XIV. 55.) See also a like story in Kaempfer. (H. du Japon, I. 139.)

    [Illustration: Ancient Japanese Archer. (From a Native Drawing.)]

  4. 4.0 4.1 Kaempfer speaks of pearls being found in considerable numbers, chiefly about Satsuma, and in the Gulf of Omura, in Kiusiu. From what Alcock says they do not seem now to be abundant. (Ib. I. 95; Alcock, I. 200.) No precious stones are mentioned by Kaempfer.

    Rose-tinted pearls are frequent among the Scotch pearls, and, according to Mr. King, those of this tint are of late the most highly esteemed in Paris. Such pearls were perhaps also most highly esteemed in old India; for red pearls (Lohitamukti) form one of the seven precious objects which it was incumbent to use in the adornment of Buddhistic reliquaries, and to distribute at the building of a Dagoba. (Nat. Hist. of Prec. Stones, etc., 263; Koeppen, I. 541.)