Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/18

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SIAM

Inhabitants.— A census of the rural population was taken for the first time in 1905. The first census of Bangkok and its suburbs was taken in 1909. Results show the total population of the country to be about 6,230,000. Of this total about 3,000,000 are Siamese, about 2,000,000 Laos, about 400,000 Chinese, 115,000 Malay, 80,000 Cambodian and the rest Burmese, Indian, Mohn, Karen, Annamite, Kache, Lawa and others. Of Europeans and Americans there are between 1300 and 1500, mostly resident in Bangkok. Englishmen number about 500; Germans, 190; Danes, 160; Americans, 150, and other nationalities are represented in smaller numbers. The Siamese inhabit central Siam principally, but extend into the nearer districts of all the other sections. The Laos predominate in northern and eastern Siam, Malays mingle with the Siamese in southern Siam, and the Chinese are found scattered all over, but keeping mostly to the towns. Bangkok, the capital, with some 650,000 inhabitants, is about one-third Chinese, while in the suburbs are to be found settlements of Mohns, Burmese, Annamites and Cambodians, the descendants of captives taken in ancient wars. The Eurasian population of Siam is very small compared with that of other large cities of the East. Of the tribes which occupy the mountains of Siam some are the remnants of the very ancient inhabitants of the country, probably of the Mohn-Khmer family, who were supplanted by a later influx of more civilized Khmers from the south-east, the forerunners and part-ancestors of the Siamese, and were still farther thrust into the remoter hills when the Lao-Tai descended from the north. Of these the principal are the Lawa, Lamet, Ka Hok, Ka Yuen and Kamoo, the last four collectively known to the Siamese as Ka. Other tribes, whose presence is probably owing to immigration at remote or recent periods, are the Karens of the western frontier range, the Lu, Yao, Yao Yin, Meo and Musur of northern Siam. The Karens of Siam number about 20,000, and are found as far south as 13 N. They are mere offshoots from the main tribes which inhabit the Burma side of the boundary range, and are supposed by some to be of Burmo-Tibetan origin. The Lu, Yao, Yao Yin, Meo and Musur have Yunnanese characteristics, are met with in the Shan States north of Siam and in Yun-nan, and are supposed to have found their way into northern Siam since the beginning of the 19th century. In the mountains behind Chantabun a small tribe called Chong is found, and in southern Siam the Sakei and Semang inhabit the higher ranges. These last three have Negrito characteristics, and probably represent a race far older even than the ancient Ka.

The typical Siamese is of medium height, well formed, with olive complexion, darker than the Chinese, but fairer than the Malays, eyes well shaped though slightly inclined to the oblique, nose broad and flat, lips prominent, the face wide across the cheek-bones and the chin short. A thin moustache is common, the beard, if present, is plucked out, and the hair of the head is black, coarse and cut short. The lips are usually deep red and the teeth stained black from the habit of betel-chewing. The children are pretty but soon lose their charm, and the race, generally speaking, is ugly from the European standpoint. The position of women is good. Polygamy is permitted, but is common only among the upper classes, and when it occurs the first wife is acknowledged head of the household. In disposition the Siamese are mild-mannered, patient, submissive to authority, kindly and hospitable to strangers. They are a light-hearted, apathetic people, little given to quarrelling or to the commission of violent crime. Though able and intelligent cultivators they do not take kindly to any form of labour other than agricultural, with the result that most of the industries and trades of the country are in the hands of Chinese.

The national costume of the Siamese is the panung, a piece of cloth about 1 yd. wide and 3 yds. long. The middle of it is passed round the body, which it covers from the waist to the knees, and is hitched in front so that the two ends hang down in equal length before; these being twisted together are passed back between the legs, drawn up and tucked into the waist at the middle of the back. The panung is common to both sexes, the women supplementing it with a scarf worn round the body under the arms. Among the better classes both sexes wear also a jacket buttoned to the throat, stockings and shoes, and all the men, except servants, wear hats.

The staple food of the Siamese is rice and fish. Meat is eaten, but, as the slaughter of animals is against Buddhist tenets, is not often obtainable, with the exception of pork, killed by Chinese. The men smoke, but the women do not. Everybody chews betel. The principal pastimes are gambling, boat-racing, cock- and fish- fighting and kite-flying, and a kind of football.

Slavery, once common, has been gradually abolished by a series of laws, the last of which came into force in 1905. No such thing as caste exists, and low birth is no insuperable bar to the attainment of the highest dignities. There are no hereditary titles, those in use being conferred for life only and being attached to some particular office.

Towns.—There are very few towns with a population of over 10,000 inhabitants in Siam, the majority being merely scattered townships or clusters of villages, the capitals of the provinces (muang) being often no more than a few houses gathered round the market-place, the offices and the governor's residence. The more important places of northern Siam include Chieng Mai (q.v.), the capital of the north, Chieng Rai, near the northern frontier; Lampun, also known as Labong (originally Haribunchai), the first Lao settlement in Siam; Lampang, Tern, Nan and Prè, each the seat of a Lao chief and of a Siamese commissioner; Utaradit, Pichai, Pichit, Pechabun and Raheng, the last of importance as a timber station, with Phitsnulok, Sukhotai, Swankalok, Kampeng Pet and Nakhon Sawan, former capitals of Khmer-Siamese kingdoms, and at present the headquarters of provincial governments. In eastern Siam the only towns of importance are Korat and Ubon, capitals of divisions, and Nong Kai, an ancient place on the Mekong river. In central Siam, after Bangkok and Ayuthia, places of importance on the Menam Chao Phaya are Pak-Nam at the river mouth, the seat of a governor, terminus of a railway and site of modern fortifications; Paklat, the seat of a governor, a town of Mohns, descendants of refugees from Pegu; Nontaburi, a few miles above Bangkok, the seat of a governor and possessing a large market; Pratoomtani, Angtong, Prom, Inburi, Chainat and Saraburi, all administrative centres; and Lopburi, the last capital before Ayuthia and the residence of kings during the Ayuthia period, a city of ruins now gradually reawakening as a centre of railway traffic. To the west of the Menam Chao Phaya lie Suphanburi and Ratburi, ancient cities, now government headquarters; Pechaburi (the Piply of early travellers), the terminus of the western railway; and Phrapatoom, with its huge pagoda on the site of the capital of Sri Wichaiya, a kingdom of 2000 years ago, and now a place of military, agricultural and other schools. To the east, in the Bang Pakong river-basin and down the eastern shore of the gulf, are Pachim, a divisional headquarters; Petriou (q.v.); Bang Plasoi, a fishing centre, with Rayong, Chantabun (q.v.) and Krat, producing gems and pepper. In southern Siam the chief towns are Chumpon; Bandon, with a growing timber industry; Nakhon Sri Tammarat (q.v.); Singora (q.v.); Puket (q.v.); Patani.

Communications.—Central Siam is supplied with an exceptionally complete system of water communications; for not only has it the three rivers with their tributaries and much-divided courses, but all three are linked together by a series of canals which, running in parallel lines across the plain from E. to W., make the farthest corners of this section of the kingdom easily accessible from the capital. The level of the land is so low, the soil so soft, and stone suitable for metal so entirely absent, that the making and upkeep of roads would here be ruinously expensive. Former rulers have realized this and have therefore confined themselves to canal making. Some of the canals are very old, others are of comparatively recent construction. In the past they were often allowed to fall into disrepair, but in 1903 a department of government was formed to control their upkeep, with the result that most of them were soon furnished with new locks, deepened, and made thoroughly serviceable. The boat traffic on them is so great that the collection of a small toll more than suffices to pay for all maintenance expenses. In northern and southern Siam, where the conditions are different, roads are being slowly made, but natural difficulties are great, and travelling in those distant parts is still a matter of much discomfort.

In 1909 there were 640 miles of railway open. All but 65 miles was under state management. The main line from Bangkok to the north had reached Pang Tong Phung, some distance north of Utaradit and 10 m. south of Meh Puak, which was selected as the terminus for the time being, the continuation to Chieng Mai, the original objective, being postponed pending the construction of another and more important line. This latter was the continuation through southern Siam of the line already constructed from Bangkok south-west to Petchaburi (110 m.), with funds borrowed, under a recent agreement, from the Federated (British) Malay States government, which work, following upon surveys made in 1907, was begun in 1909 under the direction of a newly constituted southern branch of the Royal Railways department. From Ban Paji on the main line a branch extends north-eastwards 110 m. to Korat. To the east of Bangkok the Bangkok-Petriew line (40 m.) was completed and open for traffic.

The postal service extends to all parts of the country and is fairly efficient. Siam joined the Postal Union in 1885. The inland telegraph is also widely distributed, and foreign lines communicate with Saigon, the Straits Settlements and Moulmein.

Agriculture.—The cultivation of paddi (unhusked rice) forms the