The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 3/Chapter 11
Of the Kingdoms of Labri and Fansur
When you leave that kingdom you come to another which is called LAMBRI.  The people are Idolaters, and call themselves the subjects of the Great Kaan. They have plenty of Camphor and of all sorts of other spices. They also have brazil in great quantities. This they sow, and when it is grown to the size of a small shoot they take it up and transplant it; then they let it grow for three years, after which they tear it up by the root. You must know that Messer Marco Polo aforesaid brought some seed of the brazil, such as they sow, to Venice with him, and had it sown there; but never a thing came up. And I fancy it was because the climate was too cold.
Now you must know that in this kingdom of Lambri there are men with tails; these tails are of a palm in length, and have no hair on them. These people live in the mountains and are a kind of wild men. Their tails are about the thickness of a dog's. There are also plenty of unicorns in that country, and abundance of game in birds and beasts.
Now then I have told you about the kingdom of Lambri.
You then come to another kingdom which is called FANSUR. The people are Idolaters, and also call themselves subjects of the Great Kaan; and understand, they are still on the same Island that I have been telling you of. In this kingdom of Fansur grows the best Camphor in the world called Canfora Fansuri. It is so fine that it sells for its weight in fine gold.
The people have no wheat, but have rice which they eat with milk and flesh. They also have wine from trees such as I told you of. And I will tell you another great marvel. They have a kind of trees that produce flour, and excellent flour it is for food. These trees are very tall and thick, but have a very thin bark, and inside the bark they are crammed with flour. And I tell you that Messer Marco Polo, who witnessed all this, related how he and his party did sundry times partake of this flour made into bread, and found it excellent.There is now no more to relate. For out of those eight kingdoms we have told you about six that lie at this side of the Island. I shall tell you nothing about the other two kingdoms that are at the other side of the Island, for the said Messer Marco Polo never was there. Howbeit we have told you about the greater part of this Island of the Lesser Java: so now we will quit it, and I will tell you of a very small Island that is called GAUENISPOLA.
- The name of Lambri is not now traceable on our maps, nor on any list of the ports of Sumatra that I have met with; but in old times the name occurs frequently under one form or another, and its position can be assigned generally to the north part of the west coast, commencing from the neighbourhood of Achin Head.
De Barros, detailing the twenty-nine kingdoms which divided the coast of Sumatra, at the beginning of the Portuguese conquests, begins with Daya, and then passes round by the north. He names as next in order LAMBRIJ, and then Achem. This would make Lambri lie between Daya and Achin, for which there is but little room. And there is an apparent inconsistency; for in coming round again from the south, his 28th kingdom is Quinchel (Singkel of our modern maps), the 29th Mancopa, "which falls upon Lambrij, which adjoins Daya, the first that we named." Most of the data about Lambri render it very difficult to distinguish it from Achin.
The name of Lambri occurs in the Malay Chronicle, in the account of the first Mahomedan mission to convert the Island. We shall quote the passage in a following note.
The position of Lambri would render it one of the first points of Sumatra made by navigators from Arabia and India; and this seems at one time to have caused the name to be applied to the whole Island. Thus Rashiduddin speaks of the very large Island LAMURI lying beyond Ceylon, and adjoining the country of Sumatra; Odoric also goes from India across the Ocean to a certain country called LAMORI, where he began to lose sight of the North Star. He also speaks of the camphor, gold, and lign-aloes which it produced, and proceeds thence to Sumoltra in the same Island. It is probable that the verzino or brazil-wood of Ameri (L'Ameri, i.e. Lambri?) which appears in the mercantile details of Pegolotti was from this part of Sumatra. It is probable also that the country called Nanwuli, which the Chinese Annals report, with Sumuntula and others, to have sent tribute to the Great Kaan in 1286, was this same Lambri which Polo tells us called itself subject to the Kaan.
In the time of the Sung Dynasty ships from T'swan-chau (or Zayton) bound for Tashi, or Arabia, used to sail in forty days to a place called Lanli-poi (probably this is also Lambri, Lambri-puri?). There they passed the winter, i.e. the south-west monsoon, just as Marco Polo's party did at Sumatra, and sailing again when the wind became fair, they reached Arabia in sixty days. (Bretschneider, p. 16.)
[The theory of Sir H. Yule is confirmed by Chinese authors quoted by Mr. Groeneveldt (Notes on the Malay Archipelago, pp. 98-100): "The country of Lambri is situated due west of Sumatra, at a distance of three days sailing with a fair wind; it lies near the sea and has a population of only about a thousand families.... On the east the country is bordered by Litai, on the west and the north by the sea, and on the south by high mountains, at the south of which is the sea again.... At the north-west of this country, in the sea, at a distance of half a day, is a flat mountain, called the Hat-island; the sea at the west of it is the great ocean, and is called the Ocean of Lambri. Ships coming from the west all take this island as a landmark." Mr. Groeneveldt adds: "Lambri [according to his extracts from Chinese authors] must have been situated on the north-western corner of the island of Sumatra, on or near the spot of the present Achin: we see that it was bounded by the sea on the north and the west, and that the Indian Ocean was called after this insignificant place, because it was considered to begin there. Moreover, the small island at half a day's distance, called Hat-island, perfectly agrees with the small islands Bras or Nasi, lying off Achin, and of which the former, with its newly-erected lighthouse, is a landmark for modern navigation, just what it is said in our text to have been for the natives then. We venture to think that the much discussed situation of Marco Polo's Lambri is definitely settled herewith." The Chinese author writes: "The mountains [of Lambri] produce the fragrant wood called Hsiang-chen Hsiang." Mr. Groeneveldt remarks (l.c. p. 143) that this "is the name of a fragrant wood, much used as incense, but which we have not been able to determine. Dr. Williams says it comes from Sumatra, where it is called laka-wood, and is the product of a tree to which the name of Tanarius major is given by him. For different reasons, we think this identification subject to doubt."
Captain M.J.C. Lucardie mentions a village called Lamreh, situated at Atjeh, near Tungkup, in the xxvi. Mukim, which might be a remnant of the country of Lameri. (Merveilles de l'Inde, p. 235.)--H.C.]
(De Barros, Dec. III. Bk. V. ch. i.; Elliot, I. 70; Cathay, 84, seqq.; Pegol. p. 361; Pauthier, p. 605.)
- Stories of tailed or hairy men are common in the Archipelago, as in many other regions. Kazwini tells of the hairy little men that are found in Ramni (Sumatra) with a language like birds' chirping. Marsden was told of hairy people called Orang Gugu in the interior of the Island, who differed little, except in the use of speech, from the Orang utang. Since his time a French writer, giving the same name and same description, declares that he saw "a group" of these hairy people on the coast of Andragiri, and was told by them that they inhabited the interior of Menangkabau and formed a small tribe. It is rather remarkable that this writer makes no allusion to Marsden though his account is so nearly identical (L'Oceanie in L'Univers Pittoresque, I. 24.) [One of the stories of the Merveilles de l'Inde (p. 125) is that there are anthropophagi with tails at Lulu bilenk between Fansur and Lameri.--H.C.] Mr. Anderson says there are "a few wild people in the Siak country, very little removed in point of civilisation above their companions the monkeys," but he says nothing of hairiness nor tails. For the earliest version of the tail story we must go back to Ptolemy and the Isles of the Satyrs in this quarter; or rather to Ctesias who tells of tailed men on an Island in the Indian Sea. Jordanus also has the story of the hairy men. Galvano heard that there were on the Island certain people called Daraque Dara (?), which had tails like unto sheep. And the King of Tidore told him of another such tribe on the Isle of Batochina. Mr. St. John in Borneo met with a trader who had seen and felt the tails of such a race inhabiting the north-east coast of that Island. The appendage was 4 inches long and very stiff; so the people all used perforated seats. This Borneo story has lately been brought forward in Calcutta, and stoutly maintained, on native evidence, by an English merchant. The Chinese also have their tailed men in the mountains above Canton. In Africa there have been many such stories, of some of which an account will be found in the Bulletin de la Soc. de Geog. ser. IV. tom. iii. p. 31. It was a story among mediaeval Mahomedans that the members of the Imperial House of Trebizond were endowed with short tails, whilst mediaeval Continentals had like stories about Englishmen, as Matthew Paris relates. Thus we find in the Romance of Coeur de Lion, Richard's messengers addressed by the "Emperor of Cyprus":--
"Out, Taylards, of my palys!
Now go, and say your tayled King
That I owe him nothing."
--Weber, II. 83.
The Princes of Purbandar, in the Peninsula of Guzerat, claim descent from the monkey-god Hanuman, and allege in justification a spinal elongation which gets them the name of Punchariah, "Taylards." (Ethe's Kazwini, p. 221; Anderson, p. 210; St. John, Forests of the Far East, I. 40; Galvano, Hak. Soc. 108, 120; Gildemeister, 194; Allen's Indian Mail, July 28, 1869; Mid. Kingd. I. 293; N. et Ext. XIII. i. 380; Mat. Paris under A.D. 1250; Tod's Rajasthan, I. 114.)
- The Camphor called Fansuri is celebrated by Arab writers at least as old as the 9th century, e.g., by the author of the first part of the Relations, by Mas'udi in the next century, also by Avicenna, by Abulfeda, by Kazwini, and by Abul Fazl, etc. In the second and third the name is miswritten Kansur, and by the last Kaisuri, but there can be no doubt of the correction required. (Reinaud, I. 7; Mas. I. 338; Liber Canonis, Ven. 1544, I. 116; Buesching, IV. 277; Gildem. p. 209; Ain-i-Akb. p. 78.) In Serapion we find the same camphor described as that of Pansor; and when, leaving Arab authorities and the earlier Middle Ages we come to Garcias, he speaks of the same article under the name of camphor of Barros. And this is the name--Kapur Barus--derived from the port which has been the chief shipping-place of Sumatran camphor for at least three centuries, by which the native camphor is still known in Eastern trade, as distinguished from the Kapur China or Kapur-Japun, as the Malays term the article derived in those countries by distillation from the Laurus Camphora. The earliest western mention of camphor is in the same prescription by the physician Aetius (circa A.D. 540) that contains one of the earliest mentions of musk. (supra, I. p. 279.) The prescription ends: "and if you have a supply of camphor add two ounces of that." (Aetii Medici Graeci Tetrabiblos, etc., Froben, 1549, p. 910.)
It is highly probable that Fansur and Barus may be not only the same locality but mere variations of the same name. The place is called in the Shijarat Malayu, Pasuri, a name which the Arabs certainly made into Fansuri in one direction, and which might easily in another, by a very common kind of Oriental metathesis, pass into Barusi. The legend in the Shijarat Malayu relates to the first Mahomedan mission for the conversion of Sumatra, sent by the Sherif of Mecca via India. After sailing from Malabar the first place the party arrived at was PASURI, the people of which embraced Islam. They then proceeded to LAMBRI, which also accepted the Faith. Then they sailed on till they reached Haru (see on my map Aru on the East Coast), which did likewise. At this last place they enquired for SAMUDRA, which seems to have been the special object of their mission, and found that they had passed it. Accordingly they retraced their course to PERLAK, and after converting that place went on to SAMUDRA, where they converted Mara Silu the King. (See note 1, ch. x. above.) This passage is of extreme interest as naming four out of Marco's six kingdoms, and in positions quite accordant with his indications. As noticed by Mr. Braddell, from whose abstract I take the passage, the circumstance of the party having passed Samudra unwittingly is especially consistent with the site we have assigned to it near the head of the Bay of Pasei, as a glance at the map will show.
Valentyn observes: "Fansur can be nought else than the famous Pantsur, no longer known indeed by that name, but a kingdom which we become acquainted with through Hamza Pantsuri, a celebrated Poet, and native of this Pantsur. It lay in the north angle of the Island, and a little west of Achin: it formerly was rife with trade and population, but would have been utterly lost in oblivion had not Hamza Pantsuri made us again acquainted with it." Nothing indeed could well be "a little west of Achin"; this is doubtless a slip for "a little down the west coast from Achin." Hamza Fantsuri, as he is termed by Professor Veth, who also identifies Fantsur with Barus, was a poet of the first half of the 17th century, who in his verses popularised the mystical theology of Shamsuddin Shamatrani (supra, p. 291), strongly tinged with pantheism. The works of both were solemnly burnt before the great mosque of Achin about 1640. (J. Ind. Arch. V. 312 seqq; Valentyn, Sumatra, in Vol. V., p. 21; Veth, Atchin, Leiden, 1873, p. 38.)
Mas'udi says that the Fansur Camphor was found most plentifully in years rife with storms and earthquakes. Ibn Batuta gives a jumbled and highly incorrect account of the product, but one circumstance that he mentions is possibly founded on a real superstition, viz., that no camphor was formed unless some animal had been sacrificed at the root of the tree, and the best quality only then when a human victim had been offered. Nicolo Conti has a similar statement: "The Camphor is found inside the tree, and if they do not sacrifice to the gods before they cut the bark, it disappears and is no more seen." Beccari, in our day, mentions special ceremonies used by the Kayans of Borneo, before they commence the search. These superstitions hinge on the great uncertainty of finding camphor in any given tree, after the laborious process of cutting it down and splitting it, an uncertainty which also largely accounts for the high price. By far the best of the old accounts of the product is that quoted by Kazwini from Mahomed Ben Zakaria Al-Razi: "Among the number of marvellous things in this Island" (Zanij for Zabaj, i.e. Java or Sumatra) "is the Camphor Tree, which is of vast size, insomuch that its shade will cover a hundred persons and more. They bore into the highest part of the tree and thence flows out the camphor-water, enough to fill many pitchers. Then they open the tree lower down about the middle, and extract the camphor in lumps." [This very account is to be found in Ibn Khordadhbeh. (_De Goeje's transl. p. 45.)--H.C.] Compare this passage, which we may notice has been borrowed bodily by Sindbad of the Sea, with what is probably the best modern account, Junghuhn's: "Among the forest trees (of Tapanuli adjoining Barus) the Camphor Tree (Dryabalanops Camphora) attracts beyond all the traveller's observation, by its straight columnar and colossal grey trunk, and its mighty crown of foliage, rising high above the canopy of the forest. It exceeds in dimensions the Rasamala, the loftiest tree of Java, and is probably the greatest tree of the Archipelago, if not of the world, reaching a height of 200 feet. One of the middling size which I had cut down measured at the base, where the camphor leaks out, 7-1/2 Paris feet in diameter (about 8 feet English); its trunk rose to 100 feet, with an upper diameter of 5 feet, before dividing, and the height of the whole tree to the crown was 150 feet. The precious consolidated camphor is found in small quantities, 1/4 lb. to 1 lb. in a single tree, in fissure-like hollows in the stem. Yet many are cut down in vain, or split up the side without finding camphor. The camphor oil is prepared by the natives by bruising and boiling the twigs." The oil, however, appears also to be found in the tree, as Crawford and Collingwood mention, corroborating the ancient Arab.
It is well known that the Chinese attach an extravagantly superior value to the Malay camphor, and probably its value in Marco's day was higher than it is now, but still its estimate as worth its weight in gold looks like hyperbole. Forrest, a century ago, says Barus Camphor was in the Chinese market worth nearly its weight in silver, and this is true still. The price is commonly estimated at 100 times that of the Chinese camphor. The whole quantity exported from the Barus territory goes to China. De Vriese reckons the average annual export from Sumatra between 1839 and 1844 at less than 400 kilogrammes. The following table shows the wholesale rates in the Chinese market as given by Rondot in 1848:--
Qualities of Camphor Per picul of 133-1/3 lbs Ordinary China 1st quality 20 dollars " 2nd " 14 " Formosa 25 " Japan 30 " Barus 1st quality 2000 " " 2nd " 1000 "
The Chinese call the Sumatran (or Borneo) Camphor Ping-pien "Icicle flakes," and Lung-nan "Dragon's Brains." [Regarding Baros Camphor, Mr. Groeneveldt writes (Notes, p. 142): "This substance is generally called dragon's brain perfume, or icicles. The former name has probably been invented by the first dealers in the article, who wanted to impress their countrymen with a great idea of its value and rarity. In the trade three different qualities are distinguished: the first is called prune-blossoms, being the larger pieces; the second is rice-camphor, so called because the particles are not larger than a rice-kernel, and the last quality is golden dregs, in the shape of powder. These names are still now used by the Chinese traders on the west coast of Sumatra. The Pen-ts'au Kang-mu further informs us that the Camphor Baros is found in the trunk of a tree in a solid shape, whilst from the roots an oil is obtained called Po-lut (Pa-lut) incense, or Polut balm. The name of Polut is said to be derived from the country where it is found (Baros.)" --H. C] It is just to remark, however, that in the Ain Akbari we find the price of the Sumatran Camphor, known to the Hindus as Bhim Seni, varying from 3 rupees as high as 2 mohurs (or 20 rupees) for a rupee's weight, which latter price would be twice the weight in gold. Abul Fazl says the worst camphor went by the name of Balus. I should suspect some mistake, as we know from Garcias that the fine camphor was already known as Barus. (Ain-i-Akb. 75-79.)
(Mas'udi, I. 338; I.B. IV. 241; J.A. ser. IV. tom. viii. 216; Lane's Arab. Nights (1859), III. 21; Battalaender, I. 107; Crawf. Hist. III. 218, and Desc. Dict. 81; Hedde et Rondot, Com. de la Chine, 36-37; Chin. Comm. Guide; Dr. F.A. Flueckiger, Zur Geschichte des Camphers, in Schweiz. Wochenschr. fuer Pharmacie, Sept., Oct., 1867.)
- An interesting notice of the Sago-tree, of which Odoric also gives an account. Ramusio is, however, here fuller and more accurate: "Removing the first bark, which is but thin, you come on the wood of the tree which forms a thickness all round of some three fingers, but all inside this is a pith of flour, like that of the Carvolo (?). The trees are so big that it will take two men to span them. They put this flour into tubs of water, and beat it up with a stick, and then the bran and other impurities come to the top, whilst the pure flour sinks to the bottom. The water is then thrown away, and the cleaned flour that remains is taken and made into pasta in strips and other forms. These Messer Marco often partook of, and brought some with him to Venice. It resembles barley bread and tastes much the same. The wood of this tree is like iron, for if thrown into the water it goes straight to the bottom. It can be split straight from end to end like a cane. When the flour has been removed the wood remains, as has been said, three inches thick. Of this the people make short lances, not long ones, because they are so heavy that no one could carry or handle them if long. One end is sharpened and charred in the fire, and when thus prepared they will pierce any armour, and much better than iron would do." Marsden points out that this heavy lance-wood is not that of the true Sago-palm, but of the Nibong or Caryota urens; which does indeed give some amount of sago.
["When sago is to be made, a full-grown tree is selected just before it is going to flower. It is cut down close to the ground, the leaves and leaf-stalks cleared away, and a broad strip of the bark taken off the upper side of the trunk. This exposes the pithy matter, which is of a rusty colour near the bottom of the tree, but higher up pure white, about as hard as a dry apple, but with woody fibres running through it about a quarter of an inch apart. This pith is cut or broken down into a coarse powder, by means of a tool constructed for the purpose.... Water is poured on the mass of pith, which is kneaded and pressed against the strainer till the starch is all dissolved and has passed through, when the fibrous refuse is thrown away, and a fresh basketful put in its place. The water charged with sago starch passes on to a trough, with a depression in the centre, where the sediment is deposited, the surplus water trickling off by a shallow outlet. When the trough is nearly full, the mass of starch, which has a slight reddish tinge, is made into cylinders of about thirty pounds' weight, and neatly covered with sago leaves, and in this state is sold as raw sago. Boiled with water this forms a thick glutinous mass, with a rather astringent taste, and is eaten with salt, limes, and chilies. Sago-bread is made in large quantities, by baking it into cakes in a small clay oven containing six or eight slits side by side, each about three-quarters of an inch wide, and six or eight inches square. The raw sago is broken up, dried in the sun, powdered, and finely sifted. The oven is heated over a clear fire of embers, and is lightly filled with the sago powder. The openings are then covered with a flat piece of sago bark, and in about five minutes the cakes are turned out sufficiently baked. The hot cakes are very nice with butter, and when made with the addition of a little sugar and grated cocoa-nut are quite a delicacy. They are soft, and something like corn-flour cakes, but have a slight characteristic flavour which is lost in the refined sago we use in this country. When not wanted for immediate use, they are dried for several days in the sun, and tied up in bundles of twenty. They will then keep for years; they are very hard, and very rough and dry...." (A. R. Wallace's Malay Archipelago, 1869, II. pp. 118-121.) --H.C.]
- In quitting the subject of these Sumatran Kingdoms it may appear to some readers that our explanations compress them too much, especially as Polo seems to allow only two kingdoms for the rest of the Island. In this he was doubtless wrong, and we may the less scruple to say so as he had not visited that other portion of the Island. We may note that in the space to which we assign the six kingdoms which Polo visited, De Barros assigns twelve, viz.: Bara (corresponding generally to Ferlec), Pacem (Basma), Pirada, Lide, Pedir, Biar, Achin, Lambri, Daya, Mancopa, Quinchel, Barros (Fansur). (Dec. III. v. 1.)
[Regarding these Sumatrian kingdoms, Mr. Thomson (Proc.R.G.S. XX. p. 223) writes that Malaiur "is no other than Singapore ... the ancient capital of the Malays or Malaiurs of old voyagers, existent in the times of Marco Polo [who] mentions no kingdom or city in Java Minor till he arrives at the kingdom of Felech or Perlak. And this is just as might be expected, as the channel in the Straits of Malacca leads on the north-eastern side out of sight of Sumatra; and the course, after clearing the shoals near Selangore, being direct towards Diamond Point, near which ... the tower of Perlak is situated. Thus we see that the Venetian traveller describes the first city or kingdom in the great island that he arrived at.... [After Basman and Samara] Polo mentions Dragoian ... from the context, and following Marco Polo's course, we would place it west from his last city or Kingdom Samara; and we make no doubt, if the name is not much corrupted, it may yet be identified in one of the villages of the coast at this present time.... By the Malay annalist, Lambri was west of Samara; consecutively it was also westerly from Samara by Marco Polo's enumeration. Fanfur ... is the last kingdom named by Marco Polo [coming from the east], and the first by the Malay annalist [coming from the west]; and as it is known to modern geographers, this corroboration doubly settles the identity and position of all. Thus all the six cities or kingdoms mentioned by Marco Polo were situated on the north coast of Sumatra, now commonly known as the Pedir coast." I have given the conclusion arrived at by Mr. J.T. Thomson in his paper, Marco Polo's Six Kingdoms or Cities in Java Minor, identified in translations from the ancient Malay Annals, which appeared in the Proc.R.G.S. XX. pp. 215-224, after the second edition of this Book was published and Sir H. Yule added the following note (Proc., l.c., p. 224): "Mr. Thomson, as he mentions, has not seen my edition of Marco Polo, nor, apparently, a paper on the subject of these kingdoms by the late Mr. J.R. Logan, in his Journal of the Indian Archipelago, to which reference is made in the notes to Marco Polo. In the said paper and notes the quotations and conclusions of Mr. Thomson have been anticipated; and Fansur also, which he leaves undetermined, identified."--H.C.]