The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 3/Chapter 10

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The Kingdoms of Samara and Dagroian[edit]

So you must know that when you leave the kingdom of Basma you come to another kingdom called Samara, on the same Island.[1] And in that kingdom Messer Marco Polo was detained five months by the weather, which would not allow of his going on. And I tell you that here again neither the Pole-star nor the stars of the Maestro[2] were to be seen, much or little. The people here are wild Idolaters; they have a king who is great and rich; but they also call themselves subjects of the Great Kaan. When Messer Mark was detained on this Island five months by contrary winds, [he landed with about 2000 men in his company; they dug large ditches on the landward side to encompass the party, resting at either end on the sea-haven, and within these ditches they made bulwarks or stockades of timber] for fear of those brutes of man-eaters; [for there is great store of wood there; and the Islanders having confidence in the party supplied them with victuals and other things needful.] There is abundance of fish to be had, the best in the world. The people have no wheat, but live on rice. Nor have they any wine except such as I shall now describe.

You must know that they derive it from a certain kind of tree that they have. When they want wine they cut a branch of this, and attach a great pot to the stem of the tree at the place where the branch was cut; in a day and a night they will find the pot filled. This wine is excellent drink, and is got both white and red. [It is of such surpassing virtue that it cures dropsy and tisick and spleen.] The trees resemble small date-palms; ... and when cutting a branch no longer gives a flow of wine, they water the root of the tree, and before long the branches again begin to give out wine as before.[3] They have also great quantities of Indian nuts [as big as a man's head], which are good to eat when fresh; [being sweet and savoury, and white as milk. The inside of the meat of the nut is filled with a liquor like clear fresh water, but better to the taste, and more delicate than wine or any other drink that ever existed.]

Now that we have done telling you about this kingdom, let us quit it, and we will tell you of Dagroian.

When you leave the kingdom of Samara you come to another which is called DAGROIAN. It is an independent kingdom, and has a language of its own. The people are very wild, but they call themselves the subjects of the Great Kaan. I will tell you a wicked custom of theirs.[4]

When one of them is ill they send for their sorcerers, and put the question to them, whether the sick man shall recover of his sickness or no. If they say that he will recover, then they let him alone till he gets better. But if the sorcerers foretell that the sick man is to die, the friends send for certain judges of theirs to put to death him who has thus been condemned by the sorcerers to die. These men come, and lay so many clothes upon the sick man's mouth that they suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man's kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them; for they say that if any nourishment remained in the bones this would breed worms, and then the worms would die for want of food, and the death of those worms would be laid to the charge of the deceased man's soul. And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway. It is a very evil custom and a parlous.[5]

Now that I have told you about this kingdom let us leave it, and I will tell you of Lambri.








  1. 1.0 1.1 I have little doubt that in Marco's dictation the name was really Samatra, and it is possible that we have a trace of this in the Samarcha (for Samartha) of the Crusca MS.

    The Shijarat Malayu has a legend, with a fictitious etymology, of the foundation of the city and kingdom of Samudra, or SUMATRA, by Marah Silu, a fisherman near Pasangan, who had acquired great wealth, as wealth is got in fairy tales. The name is probably the Sanskrit Samudra, "the sea." Possibly it may have been imitated from Dwara Samudra, at that time a great state and city of Southern India. [We read in the Malay Annals, Salalat al Salatin, translated by Mr. J.T. Thomson (Proc.R.G.S. XX. p. 216): "Mara Silu ascended the eminence, when he saw an ant as big as a cat; so he caught it, and ate it, and on the place he erected his residence, which he named Samandara, which means Big Ant (Semut besar in Malay)."--H.C.] Mara Silu having become King of Samudra was converted to Islam, and took the name of Malik-al-Salih. He married the daughter of the King of Parlak, by whom he had two sons; and to have a principality for each he founded the city and kingdom of Pasei. Thus we have Marco's three first kingdoms, Ferlec, Basma, and Samara, connected together in a satisfactory manner in the Malayan story. It goes on to relate the history of the two sons Al-Dhahir and Al-Mansur. Another version is given in the history of Pasei already alluded to, with such differences as might be expected when the oral traditions of several centuries came to be written down.

    Ibn Batuta, about 1346, on his way to China, spent fifteen days at the court of Samudra, which he calls Samathrah or Samuthrah. The king whom he found there reigning was the Sultan Al-Malik Al-Dhahir, a most zealous Mussulman, surrounded by doctors of theology, and greatly addicted to religious discussions, as well as a great warrior and a powerful prince. The city was 4 miles from its port, which the traveller calls Sarha; he describes the capital as a large and fine town, surrounded with an enceinte and bastions of timber. The court displayed all the state of Mahomedan royalty, and the Sultan's dominions extended for many days along the coast. In accordance with Ibn Batuta's picture, the Malay Chronicle represents the court of Pasei (which we have seen to be intimately connected with Samudra) as a great focus of theological studies about this time.

    There can be little doubt that Ibn Batuta's Malik Al-Dhahir is the prince of the Malay Chronicle the son of the first Mahomedan king. We find in 1292 that Marco says nothing of Mahomedanism; the people are still wild idolaters; but the king is already a rich and powerful prince. This may have been Malik Al-Salih before his conversion; but it may be doubted if the Malay story be correct in representing him as the founder of the city. Nor is this apparently so represented in the Book of the Kings of Pasei.

    Before Ibn Batuta's time, Sumatra or Samudra appears in the travels of Fr. Odoric. After speaking of Lamori (to which we shall come presently), he says: "In the same island, towards the south, is another kingdom, by name SUMOLTRA, in which is a singular generation of people, for they brand themselves on the face with a hot iron in some twelve places," etc. This looks as if the conversion to Islam was still (circa 1323) very incomplete. Rashiduddin also speaks of Sumutra as lying beyond Lamuri. (Elliot, I. p. 70.)

    The power attained by the dynasty of Malik Al-Salih, and the number of Mahomedans attracted to his court, probably led in the course of the 14th century to the extension of the name of Sumatra to the whole island. For when visited early in the next century by Nicolo Conti, we are told that he "went to a fine city of the island of Taprobana, which island is called by the natives Shamuthera." Strange to say, he speaks of the natives as all idolaters. Fra Mauro, who got much from Conti, gives us Isola Siamotra over Taprobana; and it shows at once his own judgment and want of confidence in it, when he notes elsewhere that "Ptolemy, professing to describe Taprobana, has really only described Saylan."

    We have no means of settling the exact position of the city of Sumatra, though possibly an enquiry among the natives of that coast might still determine the point. Marsden and Logan indicate Samarlanga, but I should look for it nearer Pasei. As pointed out by Mr. Braddell in the J. Ind. Arch., Malay tradition represents the site of Pasei as selected on a hunting expedition from Samudra, which seems to imply tolerable proximity. And at the marriage of the Princess of Parlak to Malik Al-Salih, we are told that the latter went to receive her on landing at Jambu Ayer (near Diamond Point), and thence conducted her to the city of Samudra. I should seek Samudra near the head of the estuary-like Gulf of Pasei, called in the charts Telo (or Talak) Samawe; a place very likely to have been sought as a shelter to the Great Kaan's fleet during the south-west monsoon. Fine timber, of great size, grows close to the shore of this bay, and would furnish material for Marco's stockades.

    When the Portuguese first reached those regions Pedir was the leading state upon the coast, and certainly no state called Sumatra continued to exist. Whether the city continued to exist even in decay is not easy to discern. The Ain-i-Akbari says that the best civet is that which is brought from the seaport town of Sumatra, in the territory of Achin, and is called Sumatra Zabad; but this may have been based on old information. Valentyn seems to recognise the existence of a place of note called Samadra or Samotdara, though it is not entered on his map. A famous mystic theologian who flourished under the great King of Achin, Iskandar Muda, and died in 1630, bore the name of Shamsuddin Shamatrani, which seems to point to the city of Sumatra as his birth place. The most distinct mention that I know of the city so called, in the Portuguese period, occurs in the soi-disant "Voyage which Juan Serano made when he fled from Malacca," in 1512, published by Lord Stanley of Alderley, at the end of his translation of Barbosa. This man speaks of the "island of Samatra" as named from "a city of this northern part." And on leaving Pedir, having gone down the northern coast, he says, "I drew towards the south and south-east direction, and reached to another country and city which is called Samatra," and so on. Now this describes the position in which the city of Sumatra should have been if it existed. But all the rest of the tract is mere plunder from Varthema.

    There is, however, a like intimation in a curious letter respecting the Portuguese discoveries, written from Lisbon in 1515, by a German, Valentine Moravia, who was probably the same Valentyn Fernandez, the German, who published the Portuguese edition of Marco Polo at Lisbon in 1502, and who shows an extremely accurate conception of Indian geography. He says: "La maxima insula la quale e chiamata da Marcho Polo Veneto Iava Minor, et al presente si chiama Sumotra, da un emporie di dicta insula" (printed by De Gubernatis, Viagg. Ita. etc., p. 170).

    Several considerations point to the probability that the states of Pasei and Sumatra had become united, and that the town of Sumatra may have been represented by the Pacem of the Portuguese. I have to thank Mr. G. Phillips for the copy of a small Chinese chart showing the northern coast of the island, which he states to be from "one of about the 13th century." I much doubt the date, but the map is valuable as showing the town of Sumatra (Sumantala). This seems to be placed in the Gulf of Pasei, and very near where Pasei itself still exists. An extract of a "Chinese account of about A.D. 1413" accompanied the map. This states that the town was situated some distance up a river, so as to be reached in two tides. There was a village at the mouth of the river called Talumangkin.

    [Mr. E.H. Parker writes (China Review, XXIV. p. 102): "Colonel Yule's remarks about Pasei are borne out by Chinese History (Ming, 325, 20, 24), which states that in 1521 Pieh-tu-lu (Pestrello [for Perestrello ?]) having failed in China 'went for' Pa-si. Again 'from Pa-si, Malacca, to Luzon, they swept the seas, and all the other nations were afraid of them.'"--H. C]

    Among the Indian states which were prevailed on to send tribute (or presents) to Kublai in 1286, we find Sumutala. The chief of this state is called in the Chinese record Tu-'han-pa-ti, which seems to be just the Malay words Tuan Pati, "Lord Ruler." No doubt this was the rising state of Sumatra, of which we have been speaking; for it will be observed that Marco says the people of that state called themselves the Kaan's subjects. Rashiduddin makes the same statement regarding the people of Java (i.e. the island of Sumatra), and even of Nicobar: "They are all subject to the Kaan." It is curious to find just the same kind of statements about the princes of the Malay Islands acknowledging themselves subjects of Charles V., in the report of the surviving commander of Magellan's ship to that emperor (printed by Baldelli-Boni, I. lxvii.). Pauthier has curious Chinese extracts containing a notable passage respecting the disappearance of Sumatra Proper from history: "In the years Wen-chi (1573-1615), the Kingdom of Sumatra divided in two, and the new state took the name of Achi (Achin). After that Sumatra was no more heard of." (Gaubil, 205; De Mailla, IX. 429; Elliot, I. 71; Pauthier, pp. 605 and 567.)

  2. 2.0 2.1 "Vos di que la Tramontaine ne part. Et encore vos di que l'estoilles dou Meistre ne aparent ne pou ne grant" (G.T.). The Tramontaine is the Pole star:--

      "De nostre Pere l'Apostoille
       Volsisse qu'il semblast l'estoile
       Qui ne se muet ...
       Par cele estoile vont et viennent
       Et lor sen et lor voie tiennent
       Il l'apelent la tres montaigne."
           --La Bible Guiot de Provins in Barbazan, by Meon, II. 377.

    The Meistre is explained by Pauthier to be Arcturus; but this makes Polo's error greater than it is. Brunetto Latini says: "Devers la tramontane en a il i. autre (vent) plus debonaire, qui a non Chorus. Cestui apelent li marinier MAISTRE por vij. estoiles qui sont en celui meisme leu," etc. (Li Tresors, p. 122). Magister or Magistra in mediaeval Latin, La Maistre in old French, signifies "the beam of a plough." Possibly this accounts for the application of Maistre to the Great Bear, or Plough. But on the other hand the pilot's art is called in old French maistrance. Hence this constellation may have had the name as the pilot's guide,--like our Lode-star. The name was probably given to the N.W. point under a latitude in which the Great Bear sets in that quarter. In this way many of the points of the old Arabian Rose des Vents were named from the rising or setting of certain constellations. (See Reinaud's Abulfeda, Introd. pp. cxcix.-cci.)

  3. 3.0 3.1 The tree here intended, and which gives the chief supply of toddy and sugar in the Malay Islands, is the Areng Saccharifera (from the Javanese name), called by the Malays Gomuti, and by the Portuguese Saguer. It has some resemblance to the date-palm, to which Polo compares it, but it is a much coarser and wilder-looking tree, with a general raggedness, "incompta et adspectu tristis," as Rumphius describes it. It is notable for the number of plants that find a footing in the joints of its stem. On one tree in Java I have counted thirteen species of such parasites, nearly all ferns. The tree appears in the foreground of the cut at p. 273.

    Crawford thus describes its treatment in obtaining toddy: "One of the spathae, or shoots of fructification, is, on the first appearance of the fruit, beaten for three successive days with a small stick, with the view of determining the sap to the wounded part. The shoot is then cut off, a little way from the root, and the liquor which pours out is received in pots.... The Gomuti palm is fit to yield toddy at 9 or 10 years old, and continues to yield it for 2 years at the average rate of 3 quarts a day." (Hist. of Ind. Arch. I. 398.)

    The words omitted in translation are unintelligible to me: "et sunt quatre raimes trois cel en." (G.T.)

    ["Polo's description of the wine-pots of Samara hung on the trees 'like date-palms,' agrees precisely with the Chinese account of the shu theu tsiu made from 'coir trees like cocoa-nut palms' manufactured by the Burmese. Therefore it seems more likely that Samara is Siam (still pronounced Shumuro in Japan, and Siamlo in Hakka), than Sumatra." (Parker, China Review, XIV. p. 359.) I think it useless to discuss this theory.--H.C.]

  4. 4.0 4.1 No one has been able to identify this state. Its position, however, must have been near PEDIR, and perhaps it was practically the same. Pedir was the most flourishing of those Sumatran states at the appearance of the Portuguese.

    Rashiduddin names among the towns of the Archipelago Dalmian, which may perhaps be a corrupt transcript of Dagroian.

    Mr. Phillips's Chinese extracts, already cited, state that west of Sumatra (proper) were two small kingdoms, the first Naku-urh, the second Liti. Naku-urh, which seems to be the Ting-'ho-'rh of Pauthier's extracts, which sent tribute to the Kaan, and may probably be Dagroian as Mr. Phillips supposes, was also called the Kingdom of Tattooed Folk.

    [Mr. G. Phillips wrote since (J.R.A.S., July 1895, p. 528): "Dragoian has puzzled many commentators, but on (a) Chinese chart ... there is a country called Ta-hua-mien, which in the Amoy dialect is pronounced Dakolien, in which it is very easy to recognise the Dragoian, or Dagoyam, of Marco Polo." In his paper of The Seaports of India and Ceylon (Jour. China B.R.A.S., xx. 1885, p. 221), Mr. Phillips, referring to his Chinese Map, already said: Ta-hsiao-hua-mien, in the Amoy dialect Toa-sio-hoe (or Ko)-bin, "The Kingdom of the Greater and Lesser Tattooed Faces." The Toa-Ko-bin, the greater tattooed-face people, most probably represents the Dagroian, or Dagoyum, of Marco Polo. This country was called Na-ku-erh and Ma Huan says, "the King of Na-ku-erh is also called the King of the Tattooed Faces."--H.C.]

    Tattooing is ascribed by Friar Odoric to the people of Sumoltra. (Cathay, p. 86.) Liti is evidently the Lide of De Barros, which by his list lay immediately east of Pedir. This would place Naku-urh about Samarlangka. Beyond Liti was Lanmoli (i.e. Lambri). [See G. Schlegel, Geog. Notes, XVI. Li-tai, Nakur.--H.C.]

    There is, or was fifty years ago, a small port between Ayer Labu and Samarlangka, called Darian-Gade (Great Darian?). This is the nearest approach to Dagroian that I have met with. (N. Ann. des V., tom. xviii. p. 16.)

  5. 5.0 5.1 Gasparo Balbi (1579-1587) heard the like story of the Battas under Achin. True or false, the charge against them has come down to our times. The like is told by Herodotus of the Paddaei in India, of the Massagetae, and of the Issedonians; by Strabo of the Caspians and of the Derbices; by the Chinese of one of the wild tribes of Kwei-chau; and was told to Wallace of some of the Aru Island tribes near New Guinea, and to Bickmore of a tribe on the south coast of Floris, called Rakka (probably a form of Hindu Rakshasa, or ogre-goblin). Similar charges are made against sundry tribes of the New World, from Brazil to Vancouver Island. Odoric tells precisely Marco's story of a certain island called Dondin. And in "King Alisaunder," the custom is related of a people of India, called most inappropriately Orphani:--

      "Another Folk woneth there beside;
       Orphani he hatteth wide.
       When her eldrynges beth elde,
      And ne mowen hemselven welde
       Hy hem sleeth, and bidelve
       And," etc., etc. --Weber, I. p. 206.

    Benedetto Bordone, in his Isolario (1521 and 1547), makes the same charge against the Irish, but I am glad to say that this seems only copied fiom Strabo. Such stories are still rife in the East, like those of men with tails. I have myself heard the tale told, nearly as Raffles tells it of the Battas, of some of the wild tribes adjoining Arakan. (Balbi, f. 130; Raffles, Mem. p. 427; Wallace, Malay Archip. 281; Bickmore's Travels, p. III; Cathay, pp. 25, 100).

    The latest and most authentic statement of the kind refers to a small tribe called Birhors, existing in the wildest parts of Chota Nagpur and Jashpur, west of Bengal, and is given by an accomplished Indian ethnologist, Colonel Dalton. "They were wretched-looking objects ... assuring me that they had themselves given up the practice, they admitted that their fathers were in the habit of disposing of their dead in the manner indicated, viz., by feasting on the bodies; but they declared that they never shortened life to provide such feast, and shrunk with horror at the idea of any bodies but those of their own blood relations being served up at them!" (J.A.S.B. XXXIV. Pt. II. 18.) The same practice has been attributed recently, but only on hearsay, to a tribe of N. Guinea called Tarungares.

    The Battas now bury their dead, after keeping the body a considerable time. But the people of Nias and the Batu Islands, whom Junghuhn considers to be of common origin with the Battas, do not bury, but expose the bodies in coffins upon rocks by the sea. And the small and very peculiar people of the Paggi Islands expose their dead on bamboo platforms in the forest. It is quite probable that such customs existed in the north of Sumatra also; indeed they may still exist, for the interior seems unknown. We do hear of pagan hill-people inland from Pedir who make descents upon the coast, (Junghuhn II. 140; Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal, etc. 2nd year, No. 4; Nouv. Ann. des. V. XVIII.)