Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/20

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
6
SIAM

successful, the value of the tical having thereby been increased from 111/2d. in 1902 to 1s. 515/16d. in 1909, to the improvement of the national credit and of the value of the revenues. A paper currency was established in 1902, and proved a financial success. In 1905 Siam contracted her first public loan, £1,000,000 being raised in London and Paris at 951/2 and bearing 41/2% interest. This sum was employed chiefly in railway construction, and in 1907 a second loan of £3,000,000 was issued in London, Paris and Berlin at 931/4 for the same purpose and for extension of irrigation works. A further sum of £4,000,000 was borrowed in 1909 from the government of the Federated (British) Malay States at par and bearing interest at 4%, also for railway construction.

Weights and Measures.—In accordance with the custom formerly prevalent in all the kingdoms of Further India, the coinage of Siam furnishes the standard of weight. The tical (baht) is the unit of currency and also the unit of weight. Eighty ticals equal one chang and fifty chang equal one haph, equivalent to the Chinese picul, or 133½lb avoirdupois. For the weighing of gold, gems, opium, &c, the fuang, equal to ⅛ tical, and the 'salung, equal to ¼ tical, are used. The unit of linear measure is the 'wah, which is subdivided into ¼ wah or sauk, ⅛ wah or kup, and into 1/96 wah or niew. Twenty wah equal one sen and 400 sen equal one yote. The length of the wah has been fixed at two metres. The unit of land measure is the rai, which is equal to 400 square wah, and is subdivided into four equal ngan. Measures of capacity are the tang or bucket, and the sat or basket. Twenty tanan, originally a half coco-nut shell, equal one tang, and twenty-five of the same measure equal one sat. The tang is used for measuring rice and the sat for paddi and other grain. One sat of paddi weighs 42½ lb avoirdupois.

Army and Navy.—By a law passed in 1903, the ancient system of recruiting the army and navy from the descendants of former prisoners of war was abolished in favour of compulsory service by all able-bodied men. The new arrangement, which is strictly territorial, was enforced in eight montons by the year 1909, resulting in a standing peace army of 20,000 of all ranks, in a marine service of about 10,000, and in the beginnings of first and second reserves. The navy, many of the officers of which are Danes and Norwegians, comprises a steel twin-screw cruiser of 2500 tons which serves as the royal yacht, four steel gunboats of between 500 and 700 tons all armed with modern quick-firing guns, two torpedo-boat destroyers and three torpedo boats, with other craft for river and coast work.

Justice.—Since the institution of the Ministry of Justice in 1892 very great improvements have been effected in this branch of the administration. The old tribunals where customary law was administered by ignorant satellites of the great, amid unspeakable corruption, have all been replaced by organized courts with qualified judges appointed from the Bangkok law school, and under the direct control of the ministry in all except the most outlying parts. The ministry is well organized, and with the assistance of European and Japanese officers of experience has drafted a large number of laws and regulations, most of which have been brought into force. Extra-territorial jurisdiction was for long secured by treaty for the subjects of all foreign powers, who could therefore only be sued in the courts maintained in Siam by their own governments, while European assessors were employed in cases where foreigners sued Siamese. An indication, however, foreshadowing the disappearance of extra-territorial rights, appeared in the treaty of 1907 between France and Siam, the former power therein surrendering all such rights where Asiatics are concerned so soon as the Siamese penal and procedure codes should have become law, and this was followed by a much greater innovation in 1909 when Great Britain closed her courts in Siam and surrendered her subjects under certain temporary conditions to the jurisdiction of the Siamese courts. When it is understood that there are over 30,000 Chinese, Annamese, Burmese and other Asiatic foreign subjects living in Siam, the importance to the country of this change will be to some extent realized.

Religion.—While the pure-blooded Malays of the Peninsula are Mahommedans, the Siamese and Lao profess a form of Buddhism which is tinged by Cingalese and Burmese influences, and, especially in the more remote country districts, by the spirit-worship which is characteristic of the imaginative and timid Ka and other hill peoples of Indo-China. In the capital a curious admixture of early Brahminical influence is still noticeable, and no act of public importance takes place without the assistance of the divinations of the Brahmin priests. The Siamese, as southern Buddhists, pride themselves on their orthodoxy; and since Burma, like Ceylon, has lost its independence, the king is regarded in the light of the sole surviving defender of the faith. There is a close connexion between the laity and priesthood, as the Buddhist rule, which prescribes that every man should enter the priesthood for at least a few months, is almost universally observed, even young princes and noblemen who have been educated in Europe donning the yellow robe on their return to Siam. A certain amount of scepticism prevails among the educated classes, and political motives may contribute to their apparent orthodoxy, but there is no open dissent from Buddhism, and those who discard its dogmas still, as a rule, venerate it as an ethical system. The accounts given by some writers as to the profligacy and immorality in the monasteries are grossly exaggerated. Many of the temples in the capital are under the direct supervision of the king, and in these a stricter rule of life is observed. Some of the priests are learned in the Buddhist scriptures, and most of the Pali scholarship in Siam is to be found in monasteries, but there is no learning of a secular nature. There is little public worship in the Christian sense of the word. On the day set apart for worship (Wan Phra, or "Day of the Lord") the attendance at the temples is small and consists mostly of women. Religious or semi-religious ceremonies, however, play a great part in the life of the Siamese, and few weeks pass without some great function or procession. Among these the cremation ceremonies are especially conspicuous. The more exalted the personage the longer, as a rule, is the body kept before cremation. The cremations of great people, which often last several days, are the occasion of public festivities and are celebrated with processions, theatrical shows, illuminations and fireworks. The missionaries in Siam are entirely French Roman Catholics and American Protestants. They have done much to help on the general work of civilization, and the progress of education has been largely due to their efforts.

Education.—As in Burma, the Buddhist monasteries scattered throughout the country carry on almost the whole of the elementary education in the rural districts. A provincial training college was established in 1903 for the purpose of instructing priests and laymen in the work of teaching, and has turned out many qualified teachers whose subsequent work has proved satisfactory. By these means, and with regular government supervision and control, the monastic schools are being brought into line with the government educational organization. They now contain not far short of 100,000 pupils. In the metropolitan monton there are primary, secondary and special schools for boys and girls, affording instruction to some 10,000 pupils. There are also the medical school, the law school, the civil service school, the military schools and the agricultural college, which are entered by students who have passed through the secondary grade for the purpose of receiving professional instruction. Many of the special schools use the English language for conveying instruction, and there are three special schools where the whole curriculum is conducted in English by English masters. Two scholarships of £300 a year each for four years are annually competed for by the scholars of these schools, the winners of which proceed to Europe to study a subject of their own selection which shall fit them for the future service of their country. Most of the special schools also give scholarships to enable the best of their pupils to complete their studies abroad. The result of the widespread monastic school system is that almost all men can read and write a little, though the women are altogether illiterate.

History. Concerning the origin of the name "Siam" many theories have been advanced. The early European visitors to the country noticed that it was not officially referred to by any such name, and therefore apparently conceived that the term must have been applied from outside. Hence the first written accounts give Portuguese, Malay and other derivations, some of which have continued to find credence among quite recent writers. It is now known, however, that "Siam" or "Sayam" is one of the most ancient names of the country, and that at least a thousand years ago it was in common use, such titles as Swankalok-Sukhotai, Shahr-i-nao, Dwarapuri, Ayuthia, the last sometimes corrupted to "Judea," by which the kingdom has been known at various periods of its history, being no more than the names of the different capital cities whose rulers in turn brought the land under their sway. The Siamese (Thai) call their country Muang Thai, or "the country of the Thai race," but the ancient name Muang Sayam has lately been revived. The gradual evolution of the Siamese (Thai) from the fusion of Lao-Tai and Khmer races has been mentioned above. Their language, the most distinctively Lao-Tai attribute which they have, plainly shows their very close relationship with the latter race and its present branches, the Shans (Tai Lông) and the Ahom of Assam, while their appearance, customs, written character and religion bear strong evidence of their affinity with the Khmers. The southward movement of the Lao-Tai family from their original seats in south-west China is of very ancient date, the Lao states of Luang Prabang and Wieng Chan on the Mekong having been founded at least two thousand years ago. The first incursions of Lao-Tai among the Khmers of northern Siam were probably later, for the town of Lampun (Labong or Haribunchai), the first Lao capital in Siam, was founded about A.D. 575. The fusion of races may be said to have begun then, for it was during the succeeding centuries that the kings of Swankalok-Sukhotai gradually assumed Lao characteristics, and that the Siamese language, written character and other racial peculiarities were in course of formation. But the finishing