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A kingdom of Southeastern Asia, divided into 41 Provinces. The government is an absolute monarchy. Area and population are but imperfectly known; foreign estimates place the former at 280,564 square miles, and the population at about 5,750,000. Prevailing religion, Buddhism. Siam has no public debt. Capital, Bangkok; population, 600,000. There is a small standing army, and a general armament of the people in form of a militia.

Though much of the land is fertile, it is badly cultivated. Chief products, rice, gums, teak, sandalwood, rosewood, spices and fruits. Foreign commerce centres at Bangkok. Total value of exports from there in 1883, $8,525,655; imports, $4,783,570. Commercial marine numbers 44 sailing vessels and 1 steam vessel. In 1883, 884 vessels, of 185,612 tons, cleared the port of Bangkok.

Writers upon foreign countries generally consider it a portion of their task to make mental if not outspoken comparisons between their mother land and the land they have been discussing, and they generally make their comparisons in favour of the former. Yet it is not easy for any man to hold the balance fairly, and to say in what way a nation is wanting; for whether the comparison be of things moral or social, there arises the difficulty of fixing a standard of measurement. Morality cannot be weighed in a balance or measured with a foot-rule. What is reprehensible in one country may be at least excusable in another. Take, for instance, the effect of climate upon national morality. In a cold country a man who is not born to wealth must either work or starve. Hence arise the pushing, prosperous, practical, so-called civilised nations of the world. But in a warm and fertile country where the fruit grows to your hand, and the earth brings forth her abundance for your maintenance, where the sun and the rain perform nearly all the agricultural labour that is needed, it is scarcely to be wondered at that the people do not hanker after work. It is therefore scarcely permissible to call them lazy according to the general acceptation of the meaning of the term. They have no particular liking for long and vigorous toil in the blazing heat of the sun, and their apparent indolence is the result of their environment. It will never be otherwise until humanity has lost its human nature.

The progress of any Oriental nation towards civilisation, such as we understand it, must of necessity be slow. Their intense conservatism is not easily to be abolished.

To the country of Siam these remarks are particularly applicable. Those who describe the habit of chewing betel-nut as disgusting, forget that there can be no one universal standard to judge by, and that many European habits appear equally revolting to the Eastern. When speaking of the dirtiness of their dwellings it would be as well to remember the slums of the great European cities, and the defective sanitation of the majority of their dwelling-places. And when pronouncing judgment upon the slowness with which educational reforms are being undertaken, it should not be forgotten that we ourselves, in spite of our long educational history and our modern reforms, number our illiterate voters by hundreds.

The climatic, racial, and social differences between the nations of the East and of the West are too great to render it easily possible for a member of either to sum up for or against the general moral condition of the other. The present writer, while believing that the evolutionary laws of growth and development apply as well to nations as to animals and plants, is well content to leave to others the task of estimating the intrinsic value of Siam's present moral and social condition; hoping only that his attempts to portray briefly some of the manners and customs, the ideas and interests of her people, as he has actually seen them in daily life and intercourse, may help to give a truer notion of their condition and prospects, than would more lengthy criticisms founded on general observations of those merely political matters which necessarily bound the horizon of the casual and passing traveller.


Slavery or serfdom is one of the most interesting features in the social life of the Siamese. It is another of those customs which they have borrowed from a neighbouring nation. The Shan ancestors of the Siamese were "free" men, and the name "Thai", which was the name they called themselves, signified that fact. It is, moreover, the name of the nation to-day, though the condition of slavery is a very wide-spread one. For many years the inhabitants of the plains were tributary to Cambodia, whose princes and nobles treated all servants and aliens as slaves. When the foreign yoke was thrown off, this domestic custom was instituted amongst the "free" men, and all the subjects of the king became theoretically his slaves. But as he was unable to find employment for this large body of serfs, he delegated a portion of his ownership to persons of lower rank. These in turn handed on their powers to other people, and so arose a condition of universal serfdom, which, however, was only strictly enforced in the case of the poorer classes. The system thus organised divided the whole nation into a series of social strata, but the limits between the different grades of society have never been so rigid and impassable as the adamantine boundaries that separate the castes of India. In fact, the serf in Siam to-day may be a nobleman of high rank in the future, should he possess ability of sufficient distinction to warrant so great a promotion. Until the present reign there were theoretically no "free" men in the kingdom at all, for everybody owed homage to some one of higher degree; but one of the first acts of H. M. King Chulalongkorn after he came to the throne, was to issue a decree by which all children born of slaves were thereafter declared free. As freedom could be purchased there were also many people in the land who had obtained their independence. Though the king's decree struck a very decisive blow at the condition of domestic slavery, a system of state slavery still prevails inasmuch as the laws relating to corvée  and conscription are still enforced. Chinese, priests, and foreigners are all exempt from enforced labour of any kind, but the first-named of these classes has to pay a triennial tax as the price of its exemption. The people who are now in bondage are in that condition chiefly as the result of financial indebtedness.

When a native borrows money he either promises to pay a certain amount of interest for the loan, or he promises and actually allows the lender to have his services for a specified time in lieu of interest. Should the borrower under the first agreement here mentioned, fail to pay the interest he has promised, he then offers his personal services in payment of both interest and capital. If the total sum is large, a lifetime may not be long enough to work off the debt at the native rate of wages, and he so becomes a slave for life. Many people, too, when heavily in debt, sell themselves bodily to someone who will discharge their numerous debts for them. The man who has lost his freedom as the result of financial misfortunes can always re-obtain it if he can in any way obtain sufficient money to pay off his debts. There is nothing cruel or revolting in the treatment of the serfs, and many of them are sincerely attached to their masters, and have been known voluntarily to afford them any assistance they could when misfortunes have overtaken them. They are fed, clothed, and housed at the expense of their owners, and rarely experience in their dependent condition any real hardship. Away in the country the majority of the people prefer to live as the bondservants of some powerful person, who in return for their labour provides both them and their families with protection and support.

The corvée  laws are also responsible for a certain number of those who are in bondage. When the central authorities claim the services of someone resident in a remote quarter of the country, the order is made through the governor of the province in which the person whose time and labour are required, resides. If this person desires to avoid the requisition, he is often allowed by the local officials to pay a certain sum of money sufficient for the hire or purchase of a substitute. A mark is then tattooed on the wrist of the substitute, and he becomes definitely the property of the government. Now if the "marked" man should die at an early date, an illegal claim is often made for the provision of another proxy, on his wife and children. This claim is in opposition to the law, but has often been made by officials of cruel, arbitrary dispositions. In most cases he who so breaks the law is also the administrator of the law for that district, and if the woman and her children are unable to satisfy the demand for money thus unjustly made, they must become themselves the slaves of the official till they work off the amount required from them. When the boys have grown to such a height that they too may be called upon by the government for corvée  or conscription, their master also marks them upon the wrist, and in this way the condition of serfdom is perpetuated from generation to generation. When at a later date the government does actually requisition their services, their owner professes that they are really his own personal property, and he pays to the central authorities a tax of ninety cents per annum for each male, and so retains them as his dependants. In these cases also, the bond-man becomes free when he is prepared to pay a certain fixed sum, but it is rarely possible for a serf to obtain the necessary funds, as he is daily employed in the service of his master and so prevented from earning wages elsewhere. No slaves can be sold to another person without their own consent. If a slave is sold, and if he afterwards absconds, the seller is bound to repay to the buyer the sum originally paid, less a reasonable amount reckoned for loss of service during the time he has been absent from his old master, unless it is directly specified to the contrary in the agreement made at the time of purchase. Before the king's decree freed the children of all slaves, they too became the property of the owners of their parents, but they could be set at liberty by paying a sum of money which was fixed by law. They could not be sold to anyone else without the consent both of themselves and their parents.

Each slave has a paper on which is stated the amount to be paid for his or her redemption. The paper is kept by the owner, but it must be given up whenever the amount specified therein is forthcoming. The slave who attempts to gain freedom by running away, and so avoiding what is often a perfectly just and legal debt, is punished by being put in chains, but the fetters are of no great weight and are simply put on the ankles to prevent any further attempt at escape. In any case they are preferable to an indefinite period of imprisonment in the native goal.

If a man buys a new servant, and afterwards sees reason to regret his bargain, he may demand the return of the purchase money, and the cancelling of the agreement, provided he makes his claim before the expiration of three months from the date of purchase. If any bond-servant neglects the due performance of any of the duties prescribed by the master, the losses that are thereby incurred are added to the amount of the redemption money, and must be paid before freedom can be claimed. If any female slave is married against her will to any favourite of her owner, or maybe to the owner himself, the price of her freedom must forthwith be reduced by one half. When wars took place, the man who fought in lieu of his master, thereby regained his freedom. Should any serf sustain injury in any way while carrying out work demanded from him by his owner, he is entitled to receive compensation according to the nature and extent of his injuries. When a slave is killed in defending either his master or his master's property, no claim can be made against the person who was security for the slave. But if any slave absconds, then any money spent in his apprehension is added to the price of his redemption. It will be seen that the laws of the kingdom which govern the system of domestic bondage, are on the whole of a just and equitable nature. And it must not be forgotten that these laws were made long before Western influence had in any way exercised any effect in the land. They are sufficient in themselves to demonstrate the essentially broad-minded and humanitarian character of the present and previous sovereigns. It is true that they are often broken by powerful officials in remote districts, but under the new system of administration now being rapidly organised, there will perhaps arise a more rigorous and judicial application of the principles of the legislative code.

Society and Culture

The national etiquette is the logical result of the national condition of society. Briefly put, it consists of a certain number of laws relating to the amount of deference to be paid by persons of one social grade to those of a higher one. Most of the old forms of etiquette are strictly observed by all ranks, though of late years a few have disappeared under the pressure of progressive social reforms stimulated and often initiated by the king himself. As the head is the most sacred part of the body, the chief rules that concern the behaviour of an inferior person in the presence of his superior, relate to the position of the body. Formerly no person dared raise his head to the level of that of one of higher rank. He might not cross a bridge while his superior passed beneath, nor could he walk in a room situated above that in which his superior might be lying or sitting. At the present time, bridges and floors are trodden indiscriminately. Until the year 1874 A.D., all persons approached the sovereign on hands and knees, crawling with the head upon a level with the monarch's feet. The crawling in public has been abolished, but nearly every person crouches in the streets when he speaks to, or passes, one whom he knows to be of higher rank than himself. The abolition of public crawling was made by the present king in the presence of his assembled courtiers a few years after he ascended the throne. The occasion will ever remain a memorable one in the annals of the country. All the chief members of the different government services were in their accustomed positions on hands and knees, with heads bent to the ground, when a decree was read to them of which the following paragraphs formed a portion.

"Since His Majesty ascended the throne, it has been the Royal purpose to cherish the State and augment the happiness of the greater and lesser princes, ministers and nobles, the clergy, the Brahmins, and the masses of the people all over the kingdom. Whatever is oppressive and burdensome, it has been the Royal purpose to remove from the people, and abolish from the State. His Majesty has noticed that the great countries and powers in Eastern and Western Asia, that is to say to the East of our country, China, Cochin China and Japan, and to the West, India and the regions where oppression existed, compelling the inferiors to prostrate and worship their masters and persons of rank, similar to the custom prevailing in Siam, have at present ceased these customs and instituted new ones.

"They have universally changed and ceased the custom of prostration and worship, to make manifest the good purpose that there shall be no more oppression in their countries. The countries that have abolished these rigorous exactions, have manifestly greatly increased in their prosperity.

"In this kingdom of Siam there are some national customs that are rigorous, hostile to good usage, and ought to be modified; but the changing and modifying of customs cannot be effected at once; such changes must be the subject of much thought and gradual modification, adapted to times and circumstances. It is in this way that states will augment their susceptible prosperity.

"The custom of prostration and human worship in Siam, is manifestly an oppressive exaction which an inferior must perform to a superior, causing him embarrassing fatigue in order to honour a superior. These acts of showing honour by such prostration and worship, His Majesty perceives are of no benefit whatever to the country. Inferiors who are obliged to perform them, to honour their superiors, must endure and suffer much till the time when they leave the presence of their superior and thus escape the requisition. This custom His Majesty perceives is a primary cause of many existing oppressive exactions, therefore, this ancient national custom, which made prostration the prescribed method of demonstrating respect in Siam, must be abolished; for His Majesty is graciously disposed to confer happiness upon all, and to this end, will relieve them from the burden of prostration as practised heretofore. His Majesty proposes to substitute in the place of crouching and crawling, standing and walking; and instead of prostration on all-fours and bowing with palm-joined hands to the ground, a graceful bow of the head.

"Standing, walking, bowing the head, are equal demonstrations of respect with crouching and crawling.

"Perhaps some persons of rank who may favour the custom of crouching and crawling as heretofore, thinking it good, may have their doubts as to the wisdom or advisability of the new regulations, and may wish to know why the change from prostration to standing will be advantageous to the State. These may rest assured that the proposed change is ordered to impress upon the people the intention to remove from them all oppressive exactions. States that do not oppress the inferior ranks will assuredly have great prosperity.

"Henceforth, the princes and nobles according to their rank, when in solemn audience before the throne, or wherever His Majesty may be present, will please observe this Royal Edict, which is hereby promulgated to regulate henceforth the conduct of noblemen in every particular in in this matter."[D]

The decree proceeded to detail and explain the new social rules, after which the whole crowd rose from the ground, and for the first time in the history of the country, the subject stood upright in the presence of the sovereign. The people to whom this wise edict was addressed are of a conservative nature, and believe in precedent as an infallible guide in all matters. They have no love for innovations, and have been slow to follow their king in his forward march towards a pure and enlightened form of government. There are many noblemen who still insist upon their servants approaching them in the ancient way, in spite of the proclamation and the king's own wishes. But on court days no such demonstrations are now ever seen within the precincts of the Audience Chamber.

The place of honour is on the right hand of the chief guest. Places near the wall on the right hand are of greater honour than those on the left, while the position of greatest distinction in any room is opposite the door.

Civil and religious holidays follow each other in rapid succession the whole year round. The King's birthday is celebrated for three days by the entire nation. Ships are wreathed in flowers and bunting, banquets are given, receptions are held, and salutes are fired. At night, the palaces in the city, the vessels in the river, every house by the side of a road or on the bank of a stream, are ablaze with light. Night is turned to day, and earth becomes a fairy land.


The New Year holidays also last three days. They commence on the First of April, a day which is scarcely auspicious from the European point of view. For the usual feasting that accompanies this and all other holidays, a special kind of cake is made, which is as much in demand as our own Shrove-Tuesday pancakes or our Good-Friday hot cross-buns. The temples are thronged with women and children making offerings to Buddha and his priests.

The people inaugurate their New Year with numerous charitable and religious deeds. The rich entertain the monks, who recite appropriate prayers and chants. Every departed soul returns to the bosom of his family during these three days, freed from any fetters that may have bound him in regions of indefinable locality. On the third day the religious observances terminate, and the remaining hours are devoted to "the world, the flesh, and the devil." Gambling is not confined to the licensed houses, but may be indulged in anywhere. Games of chance hold powerful sway in every house as long as the license to participate in them lasts.

Priests in small companies occupy posts at regular intervals round the city wall, and spend their time in chanting away the evil spirits. On the evening of the second day, the ghostly visitors from the lower realms lose the luxury of being exorcised with psalms. Every person who has a gun may fire it as often as he pleases, and the noise thus made is undoubtedly fearful enough in its intensity to cause any wandering traveller from the far-off fiery land to retrace his steps with speed. The bang and rattle of pistols, muskets, shot-guns, and rifles cease not till the break of day, by which time the city is effectually cleared of all its infernal visitors.

Twice each year another important holiday occurs, in connection with the taking of the oath of allegiance. Every person who is a prince, a nobleman, or a paid servant of the Government, is required to present himself at the temple in the grounds of the Royal Palace, or at other placesappointed in other parts of the country, to swear his allegiance to the king. Each person signifies his acceptance of the oath read to him, by drinking, and sprinkling upon his forehead, a few drops of specially prepared water. Some ordinary rain-water is first placed in a bowl, and then stirred with swords, pistols, spears and other weapons such as are likely to be used in the punishment of those who are guilty of treasonable practices. Priests are excused, as it is considered that their professions of holiness are sufficient guarantees of their loyalty.

Portions of the symbolical water are afterwards sent to the distant provinces. The local governors then assemble those people who are in any way connected with the local administration, and require them also to take the oath and drink the water of allegiance. The formula of the oath is somewhat lengthy, but the following translation of a portion of it will serve to show its general character.

"We beseech the powers of the deities to plague with poisonous boils that will rapidly prove fatal, and with all manner of terrible diseases, the dishonourable, perverse, and treacherous. May we be visited with untimely wretched and appalling deaths that our disloyalty may be made manifest in the eyes of the whole world. When we shall have departed from this life upon earth, cause us to be sent to, and all to be born again in, that great hell where we shall burn with unquenchable fire through limitless transmigrations. And when we have expiated our penalties there, and are born again into any other world, we pray that we may fail to find the least happiness in any pleasurable enjoyments that may there abound. Let us not meet the god Buddha; let us not hear the sacred teachings; let us not come into contact with the sacred priests whose mission it is to be gracious to men and animals, and to help them to escape from misery, to attain a progressive succession of births and deaths, and finally to reach heaven itself. Should we by any chance meet with holy men or priests, let us receive therefrom no gracious helpful assistance."[E]

Although the oath is rather a terrible one to take, very very little solemnity prevails on these occasions, and every one performs his part of the ceremony in a most casual manner.

Those natives who have had little or no communication with Europeans are the best exemplars of the true character of the nation. They are very gentle in their manners; timid, especially in the dark or with strangers; gay and cheerful, and fond of cheerful persons. They rarely quarrel amongst themselves, as they dislike worry and trouble of every description. They are lazy when ordinary work has to be done, but busy enough when preparations have to be made for amusements or holiday processions. Their idea of the millenium is that the tide will flow up one side of the river and down the other, so that everyone may go whithersoever he pleases without the trouble of rowing. There will be no work of any description, and men will lie in the sunshine, as happy as birds. The country peoplenever beg, and even in the capital it is only the leprous and the blind who ask for alms. There is no clamouring for backsheesh as in other Oriental countries. The people are sharp and witty, and delight in jokes and sharp sayings. They are not nearly so imitative as the Chinese, but they absorb new ideas, and adapt themselves to changes of custom with great rapidity, when they have once overcome their initial prejudice against the innovation. When the electric tramway was first opened in Bangkok, the absence of any visible locomotive machinery caused them the greatest bewilderment, and for several days they half worshipped the cars as they passed them in the streets, murmuring to themselves the while, "It is the Devil's carriage." In less than a week, the cars were packed on every journey with a crowd who distinctly appreciated the speed and ease with which they were being carried along.

They are not greater liars than other men, except when they have come into close contact with civilisation. There are old residents living in Bangkok who remember the day when the word of a native was as good as his bond. Today the dwellers in the city are never to be trusted. Some of them carefully avoid speaking the truth on all occasions, even when it would be quite as serviceable as an untruth.

The money formerly used consisted of sea-shells of small value, eight hundred to a thousand being equal to about two pence. It was easy in those days for a man however poor to get something to eat, for there was always something on sale that could be bought for the thousandth part of two-pence. In imitation of foreign ways, a flat coin was introduced made of lead, and the old sea-shell was abolished as legal currency. The Government made a huge profit out of the transaction, for they refused to buy up any of the worthless little cowries, and they sold the leaden coins for more than they were worth. Counterfeiting naturally followed, and the coins were re-called, but as soon as the treasury-boxes were filled with a mixture of good and false money the Government refused to receive any more. All those who still had any of the leaden money in their possession experienced a serious loss. An alloy of lead and copper was issued at a reduced value; but the profit to be made by coining was still so great that counterfeit coins speedily found their way into circulation. Small bullets of gold and silver next came into use, and one of them still remains in circulation. None of these coins were stamped with the image of the king, for at that time there was a strong prejudice against the making of portraits in any medium. Europeans who travel into the jungle, have even at the present time, only to point a camera at a crowd in order to procure its instant dispersion. When a copy of the face of a person is made and taken away from him, a portion of his life goes with the picture. Unless the sovereign had been blessed with the years of a Methuselah he could scarcely have permitted his life to be distributed in small pieces together with the coins of the realm. But not many years ago the present king ordered a new issue of the coinage. Flat, round copper and silver pieces were made at the mint in the palace, and on every disc appeared the shapely profile of the reigning monarch. Postage stamps followed, with the same profile printed on them; then the king was painted and photographed; and so the old superstition has lost its power; while modern fashion requires that all who can afford it shall be photographed. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to add here, that with the exception of two or three Europeans, all the professional photographers are Chinamen.

The flat, gold coins were hoarded by the people, turned into ornaments or used in the making of jewelry. They are no longer used as money, but are bought as curios for four times their original value.

Weights and scales have not as yet displaced the old methods of measurement. The table of Siamese Dry Measure is a good illustration of the devices adopted by uncivilised people to facilitate their buying and selling in the absence of any fixed legal standard.

880 Tamarind seeds make one cocoa-nut shell (kanahn)
25 Cocoa-nut shells make one bamboo basket (sat)
80 Bamboo baskets make one cart (kwien)
830 Tamarind seeds make one cocoa-nut shell
20 Cocoa-nut shells make one bucket (tung)
100 buckets make one cart.

In calculating time two calendars are used. One is a religious one and is only used for ecclesiastical purposes. It commences with the death of Buddha, about 543 B.C. The civil calendar is the one in general use. It dates from the founding of Bangkok in 1784 A.D. The idea of eternity is expressed in concrete form in the following manner. Eternity is divided into long periods of time, called "kops". Each "kop" is represented by a stone measuring ten miles each way. Once in every hundred years, an angel descends to one of these stones and wipes its surface with a gossamer web. When by these successive century wipings, one stone shall have been thoroughly worn away, one "kop" will have been completed, and a second period of eternity will begin.

The human race is gradually dwindling away. In the misty ages of the past all men were giants. The present race of Siamese is well proportioned, but small. Their descendants will be smaller. Some of them will diminish till they are as small as dogs; a few centuries later, all will be no bigger than rats; the stature of a butterfly and then of a flea will measure the height of men, and ultimately they will disappear altogether from the face of the earth.

The Siamese speak a language of their own. It possesses its own nouns, verbs and other parts of speech, a sprinkling of slang, and practically no "swear" words. These are only used by those whose knowledge of English is colloquial. There is a special language devoted to the sacred person and attributes of the king, which must be used by all who speak to or of him. The special vocabulary required is a difficult one to learn even to the natives themselves. The hairs of the monarch's head, the soles of his feet, the breath of his body—in fact every single detail of his person both internal and external, has a particular name. When he eats or drinks, sleeps or walks, a special word indicates that these acts are being performed by the sovereign himself, and such words cannot possibly be applied to any other person whatever. There is no word in the language by which any creature of higher rank or greater dignity than a monarch can be described; and the missionaries in speaking of "God" are forced to use the native word for "king". Each person in speaking to another uses a pronoun which at once expresses whether the speaker is of superior, equal, or inferior rank to the person spoken to. In this way superiority of social position is asserted, or corresponding inferiority confessed, in every conversation between two persons.

The language spoken by the pure Siamese is monosyllabic and toned. The apparently longer words are really a collection of monosyllables. For instance:

"mi-keet-fi" "a match" is made up of three words,
"mi" ... "wood"
"keet" ... "a line"
"fi" ... "a fire"

The word for "ice" is a combination of two words meaning "hard water", and that for "cheese" a combination of two words meaning "hard butter".

The toned words are a great trouble to foreigners who are not accustomed to a "sing-song" form of speech. Some syllables have three different sounds, others as many as five, and each different tone expresses a different meaning. In many cases the mistakes that are made by the foreigner cause little difficulty, as his meaning is clear, though his speech is mysterious. The word for "horse" is a differently sounded form of the word for "dog," but any such mistake in speech, as "Chain that horse to his kennel," or "Order me a two-dog carriage," would be readily understood by a servant, who would merely receive the order with a smile and then proceed to execute it according to the wish of his master. There are many words between which the difference in sound is important, as the smallest mistake would make all the difference between an ordinary and an obscene word. There are others too where it behoves the white man to be careful of his inflections, or he may, when intending to say to some village farmer, "I am going to dance upon your field," unfortunately remark, "I am going to dance upon your aunt," or even "I am going to dance upon your face," either of which errors might be productive of results not foreseen by the imperfect linguist.

Names in Siam often indicate precise relationships. On pointing out one person to another and asking "Who is that?"—the person spoken to may reply, if any such relationship exist, "That is my elder brother," or "That is my younger brother" as the case may be, never simply "That is my brother." Nearly all such words as "grandfather," "grandmother," "uncle," and "aunt" when spoken by anyone indicate whether the relationship is on the paternal or maternal side. Names of children often relate to their appearance, or circumstances connected with their birth. One is "little," another "large," while even a particular deformity may be perpetually called attention to by such a name as "hunch-back." There are no names specially set aside as belonging to male and female, so that both a boy or girl may be called "lotus," or "black," or any other name fancied by the parents. There are also no surnames.

"Nai" is a general term comparable to "Mr." and applied to males of all ages who possess no higher title. "Maa" is similarly used in the case of females. The absence of surnames, and also of numbered houses in most of the streets, causes some difficulty when it becomes necessary to send letters through the post. An envelope has often to be addressed something like the following:

To Mr. Lek ,
Student of the Normal College,
Son of Mr. Yai, Soldier,
Near the foot of the Black Bridge
at the back of the Lotus Temple,
New Road, Bangkok.

The alphabet is derived from Pali. There is no distinction between the written and printed characters, nor are there any capital letters. Letters and books are written from left to right as in the European languages, but no spaces are left between the words. Printing has only been in use in the country for about forty years, and all the old religious texts are written with a style, on long thin strips of palm leaf about eighteen inches long and two inches broad. The edges of the leaves are covered with gold leaf, and the "pages" of any book are fastened together with silk cords. Every monastery possesses a good collection of these leafy documents. They are kept in the temples in cases which are often elaborately gilded or inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

[D]"Siam Repository."

[E]"Siam." Miss Cort.

Courtship and Marriage

Although marriage does not follow immediately after the shaving of the top-knot, yet after the important event has taken place, both boys and girls are legally entitled to marry. In the case of the girls, marriage takes place about fourteen, but the men defer their entrance into the matrimonial condition until they are about twenty. Every girl gets married sooner or later, so that old maids do not exist.

There are about as many ways of attaining the state of matrimony in Siam as there are in England. Two people may fall in love with each other with the consent of their parents; they may elope without the consent of their parents; or a wife may be bought out and out without any real affection existing on either side. In the methods adopted to secure this most desirable consummation of human happiness, there are several dissimilarities of procedure between the East and the West. If a Siamese wishes to go through the ceremony of a strictly regular marriage, he must be prepared to observe a great deal of formality and to experience a great deal of trouble. Should he attempt to pay his addresses to the object of his affections in any but the recognised way, he will, if discovered, be suspected of improper motives, and will be liable to suffer personal chastisement at the hands of the young lady's male relatives.

A young Siamese who is anxious to join the ranks of the Benedicts, first chooses amongst the maidens of his acquaintance the particular one to whom he wishes to be allied. If he allowed himself to be guided in this matter by the counsels given in one of the native books, he would consider the reputed character of the lady he desires for his wife, and try to discover to which of seven distinct classes of wives his beloved belonged. There is nothing very remarkable in the remarks of the philosopher who has thus catalogued the several classes of women who are mated with men, but as his classification throws considerable light upon the power, position, and character of Siamese women, it is here given in full.

1.—Some wives are to their husbands as a younger sister. They look to their husbands for approving smiles as the reward of their kind and affectionate forethought. They confide in him and feel tenderly towards him. And when they have once discovered the wish, the taste, and the ideas of him whose approval they respect, they devote themselves thoughtfully and assiduously to the realisation of his desires. Their own impulsive passions and temper are kept under strict control lest some hasty word should mar the harmony of their union.

2.—Some wives are to their husbands as an elder sister. They watch sedulously their husband's outgoings and incomings so as to prevent all occasion for scandal. They are careful as to the condition of his wardrobe and keep it always in order for every occasion. They are diligent in preserving from the public gaze anything that might impair the dignity of their family. When their lord and master is found wanting in any particular they neither fret nor scold, but wait patiently for the time when they can best effect a reformation in his morals and lead him towards the goal of upright manly conduct.

3.—Some wives are to their husbands like a mother. They are ever seeking for some good thing that may bring gladness to the heart of the man for whom they live. They desire him to be excellent in every particular, and will themselves make any sacrifice to secure their object. When sorrow or trouble overtakes them, they hide it away from the eyes of him they love. All their thoughts centre round him, and they so order their conversation and actions that in themselves he may find a worthy model for imitation. Should he fall sick, they tend him with unfailing care and patience.

4.—Some wives are to their husbands as a common friend. They desire to stand on an exactly equal footing with him. If ill-nature is a feature in the character of their husbands, they cultivate the same fault in themselves. They will quarrel with him on the slightest provocation. They meet all his suggestions with an excess of carping criticism. They are always on the look-out for any infringement of what they deem their rights, and should the husband desire them to perform any little service for him, he must approach the subject with becoming deference or their refusal is instant and absolute.

5.—Some wives wish to rule their husbands. Their language and manners are of a domineering nature. They treat the man as if he were a slave, scolding, commanding, and forbidding with unbecoming asperity. The husbands of such women are a miserable cringing set of men.

6.—Some wives are of the robber kind. Their only idea in getting married is the possession of a slave and the command of a purse. If there is money in the purse they are never satisfied until they have it in their own grasp. Such wives generally take to gambling and staking money in the lottery, or purchasing useless articles. They have no care as to where the money comes from or by whose labours it is earned, so long as they can gratify their own extravagant and ruinous fancies.

7.—Some wives are of the murderess kind and possess revengeful tempers. Being malicious and fault-finding, they never appreciate their own homes and families, and are always seeking for sympathisers from outside. They share their secrets with other men, using their pretended domestic discomfort as a cloak for their own vice and an excuse for their greatest misdeeds.

No young man ever imagines that his beloved will fall into any of the undesirable classes, but, deeming her worthy in every respect, he seeks her hand. What the young lady may think concerning his intentions towards herself counts for little or nothing, as the would-be bridegroom never consults her; though if he were desirous that she should return his affections he could attain his desire by purchasing from a fortune-teller or quack, a love-potion, which when taken by the maiden would arouse in her the most passionate longing to become his wife. He does not dare to outrage his national etiquette by asking for her hand direct from her parents, but, with all avoidance of secrecy concerning the state of his affections, he communicates the matter to his friends and to the elders of his own household. They select a rather elderly woman, who must be acquainted with and respected by the girl's parents. She pays a visit to their home, and while engaged in sipping her tea, gently insinuates the purpose of her call. She does this with an art only perfected by long practice, gained in many similar missions. The mother rolls up her reply in a great many vague expressions, the general tone of which can, however, be easily judged by the ambassadress to be favourable or otherwise. Nothing very decisive is uttered on either side, but the old lady on her return presents a report upon which after developments arise. If the indications are considered favourable, the parents of the young man choose from amongst their friends a few elderly persons of both sexes, who are respectable and who are also intimate friends of both families. They issue invitations to the selected friends to pay them a visit on a given day. Then in a protracted conversation they discuss the match, and decide amongst themselves as to whether it is desirable to enter into definite negotiations with the other parties or not. Having pronounced for the match, they choose a lucky day, and then the committee of counsellors repairs to the home of the young lady's parents.

These at once understand the object of the visit, and receive the visitors with great politeness, setting before them trays of tea, betel-nut and tobacco. When a sufficient amount of drinking and chewing has been accomplished, the elderly people open up the subject of their mission. They speak with due respect to the parents, and never fail to use exactly the right pronoun that describes their relative positions. The slightest hitch in the extremely delicate negotiations would be fatal to success. The conversation that ensues is of a formal and deliberate character. Says one of the visitors, "The parents of —— having ascertained that this is a propitious day, have commissioned us to come and confer with you concerning their son who at present has no wife. His parents have asked him if he had any one in his mind that he would like to take for his wife, and to whom he could trust his life in sickness and his obsequies after death. The young man replied that the only person he had in his mind was your daughter of the name of ——. Therefore at the request of the parents of this young man, we are here to visit you, the highly respected parents of this young lady, that we may confer with you in reference to this matter. What do the parents say?"

Then the parents reply after this wise. "Our daughter stands high in our affections, and the young man is also much beloved by his parents. We have an ancient proverb which says, 'Move slowly, and you will gain your object; a prolonged effort is usually attended with favourable results.' We will consult our relatives on the right hand and on the left hand and take their counsel and opinion upon the matter. Please call again."

It often happens that some youthful beauty is sought in marriage by more than one of her love-sick acquaintances, and a choice has to be made. But Phyllis is voiceless in this most important matter which so deeply concerns her future welfare. Her parents, with due regard to the interests of all concerned, settle the point for her after long and careful consideration.

The "go-betweens" wait for what they consider a reasonable time, and then on a lucky day they once more visit the lady. The parents of the maiden have by this time made up their minds, and if they are favourably inclined to the match, they say to their visitors, "We have consulted our relatives, and they are unanimously of the opinion that if the young man sincerely loves our daughter, and if he can place implicit confidence in her as a proper person to tend him in sickness, and direct his funeral ceremonies after death, then we will no longer place any barrier to the attainment of his wishes. But how is it with regard to the ages and the birthdays of the parties? Are they such as are suitable to each other?"

It takes a little while to answer this question. The Siamese have a cycle of twelve years, bearing respectively the names of the Rat, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Major Dragon, Minor Dragon, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Cock, Dog and Hog. One of their prevalent superstitions asserts that persons born in certain years should not marry each other, as any union between them would only be fruitful of endless discord. Thus a person born in the "year of the Dog" might lead a life of never ending discord with one born in the "year of the Rat." When a marriage between two persons is contemplated, this important question of the year of birth must be referred to a fortune-teller, who, being of an obliging disposition, and having a keen eye to business, will, for a small fee, generally pronounce that, so far as the conditions of birth are concerned, there is "no just cause or impediment why the two persons should not be joined in holy matrimony."

This difficulty having been satisfactorily settled, another visit follows, when the elders announce the result of their visit to the astrologer. "Since birthdays need cause no further delay, what shall be said about the money to be provided for the young couple to commence business on, and the money for building a house for their habitation?"

It must here be explained that every intending bridegroom must either possess a house or signify his willingness to erect one. In most cases the new houses are erected if possible upon the premises of the bride's parents, so that, provided a man has many daughters and plenty of land, he may ultimately gather round him quite a small village of descendants.

The girl's parents reply, "We are not in any way rich, so that we shall be quite unable to afford much money for the purpose you mention. But we should like to enquire how much the young man is likely to receive from his parents."

"That," answer the ambassadors, "depends almost entirely upon the parents of the young lady." They next suggest sums of money which of course vary in amount according to the wealth of the contracting parties. So much is put down as being for use in trade, and so much for building a house. The number of dishes is also specified, that the young man's friends will be expected to contribute towards the wedding festivities. As a rule, they discuss at the same time, the plan of the proposed house, the number of rooms it should contain and the quantity of furniture that should be provided. When all these details have been finally settled, the committee return and report the results of their negotiations.

The last preliminary detail is settled by the acceptation of the terms of the contract by the young man's parents. The fortunate lady is now informed that she is about to be married, and the young man is similarly told that he may soon call the desired one his own. He is not allowed to go near her, or to indulge in any form of courtship, but the obliging parents, with every desire to save the pair any unnecessary trouble or excitement, themselves convey all gifts and messages. During the whole time that elapses between the first mention of the marriage until the ceremony itself is actually accomplished, the betrothed pair are supposed never to meet. They have no opportunity of indulging in any of those little marks of affection which are supposed to be the especial weaknesses of young lovers. They are not allowed to be demonstrative after this fashion. Kissing is never at any time common, and even when it occurs it seems a very strange operation, for it consists of a vigorous sniff made when the nose is pressed against the cheek of the one so saluted. The mothers at this time guard their daughters with great vigilance, and any approach of the lover to his lass would put an end to all his schemes for future bliss.

The erection of the new house is rapidly proceeded with, and owing to the frail character of the structure, the work occupies but a very short time. All arrangements for the wedding are made, and many invitations issued to friends and relatives. The money mentioned in the agreement is paid over to the parents of the bride. It is called "Ka nom," or "the price of the mother's milk" with which the bride was nourished in her infancy. A number of gifts are exchanged between the parents, and then the astrologers fix the day for the wedding ceremony.

The wedding partakes of the nature of a feast. On the happy day, fruits and sweetmeats are prepared and laid out for the guests. Musicians and priests are summoned to the festival. The groom heads a procession to the bride's home, taking with him presents for his bride and for her father and mother. His most intimate friends and a band of musicians accompany him. Everyone is in his gayest attire, and the crowd is a medley of orange, yellow, saffron, blue, pink, scarlet and green. When the bridegroom reaches the house he goes to his own new quarters, where he is met by a boy, who brings him a tray of betel-nut sent by his future wife. At the commencement of the wedding ceremony a screen separates him from the lady, and he is not yet allowed to look upon her face. After a certain time spent in feeding, the money provided by both parties is laid upon the ground. The amount is examined in order to test the accuracy and genuineness of the sums deposited. If all is in order, they are sprinkled with rice, scented oil and flowers. The priests offer up a prayer, the screen is removed, and then the couple kneel down to be bathed with holy water. The chief elder pours it first over the head of the bridegroom, and then over the head of the bride, at the same time pronouncing a blessing upon them both. Very often the bowing and bathing are dispensed with, and the couple are considered as married as soon as the money is paid over. No registers are signed, and no official record of the event is made. The bride retires to remove her wet clothes, but the bridegroom waits till he receives her gift of a new suit, in which he speedily attires himself. The priests again engage in chanting, and the guests return to their feasting until evening, when they all return to their homes, with the exception of the bridegroom, who hires a band with which to serenade his lady-love until the small hours of the next morning. As yet he has had no conversation with her whatever.

On the morning of the next day, the priests and visitors arrive once more, when all busy themselves in waiting upon the monks as they make a hearty and luxurious meal. Should this day be a propitious one according to the wisdom of the astrologers, the ceremonies close in the evening. A respectable old couple who are intimate friends of the bride, and are themselves the parents of numerous offspring, go to the new house to make all ready for the homecoming of the newly married ones. The young man goes next, attended by his friends bearing torches. About nine o'clock, a crowd of elderly people escort the bride to her husband's dwelling, where they soon begin to drink tea and chew betel-nut, not forgetting at frequent intervals to give to the young people many wise yet unnecessary counsels. If anything should happen of doubtful omen, the bride is once more taken home again, for she may not take up her residence with her husband except under the most propitious circumstances. The end is reached at last, and the kind and benevolent friends retire to their homes, and leave the newly married couple to make each other's acquaintance. Then for the first time do they enjoy the pleasure of each other's company, and there can be no doubt, that no friends were ever so willingly parted with as those whose footsteps are heard last descending the bamboo ladder as they take themselves away into the darkness.

After a few days the groom takes his wife to visit his parents. She carries with her several presents, and on reaching the house, prostrates herself to the ground before her new relatives. In a few minutes she is raised by her mother-in-law, who embraces her and treats her with becoming respect and attention. The bride also takes her husband to visit her parents, where the same forms of etiquette are again observed.


At every wedding feast there are always three metallic plates or dishes containing respectively, Chinese cakes, a very highly seasoned kind of mincemeat, and a tray of betel-nut. These three dishes were formerly known collectively, under the name of "the betel-nut tray," and so universal is the custom of providing them, that the wedding ceremony itself is now frequently spoken of by the same name.

After the birth of the first child the joint stock is produced and the young couple are set up in business. Up to this time their household expenses have been defrayed by the bride's parents.

Siamese law gives the husband the right to administer a little wholesome chastisement to his wife, should he think she requires it; but such occasions must be of rare occurrence where the women are so good-tempered, and so gentle in their manners.

The whole ceremony above described is only observed in the case of the first or chief wife, who always remains the legal head of her husband's household. Other wives are merely bought as so much merchandise, all formality being omitted except such as attends the payment of the purchase money. Polygamy is extensively practised amongst the higher classes, but it is controlled in the case of the poor by the fact that a man must not have more wives than he can keep. Chastity is highly commended by the Buddhist religion, but although Buddha censured polygamy he did not absolutely forbid it. He did not see his way clear to a thorough prohibition of the practice, and even admits that if a man's wives are properly acquired, he is unable to pronounce it wrong. The practice of only having one wife he strongly commends, and looks upon it as a form of celibacy. No disgrace of any kind is attached to the condition of a subordinate wife, but she does not hold a high social position. Very often she inhabits a house separated from that in which the head wife resides. Upon the death of the husband, her children are legally entitled to a share of the property, but they do not share on equal terms with the children of the first wife. Then too, a bought wife can be sold or given away, while the head wife can only be divorced. It sometimes happens that a man sells one of his concubines, and she takes her children with her if she has any, so that her sons and daughters possess a father and a step-father both living at the same time.

There is a very elastic divorce law, and marriages can practically be annulled by mutual consent. In such cases the wife takes away with her all the property she brought to the husband on her marriage, and all she may have since acquired either by trade or purchase. She also retains possession of the first, third, and fifth children. Great respect is shown to the condition of motherhood, a wife of low rank with children being of far more importance in the family than even the chief wife should she be childless.

The king, the princes, and most—of the noblemen have fairly large harems. The late king had eighty-four children who were the offspring of thirty-five mothers. The possession of a large harem appears to be regarded as an honour to the owner, who glories in his property much after the same fashion as Western noblemen take great pride in their private art galleries or libraries. The king has generally one wife who is called the Queen. At the present time there are two queens—the First Queen and theSecond Queen, both of them being half-sisters of the reigning sovereign. The women of the royal harem, unlike all other Siamese women, are under great restrictions as regards their personal liberty. They are known under the name of "forbidden women", that is, women forbidden to leave the palace. They are not permitted to pass beyond their prison walls except with special permission, which is rarely, and only on occasions of extraordinary importance, granted to them. Their quarters are called "The Inside," and it is not considered polite in Siamese society to hold conversation concerning the place or its inmates. Into this region no man but the king ever enters. It is a city of women, complete in itself, with its own shops, markets, gaol and policemen. Those noblemen or princes who possess handsome daughters are only too glad to present them to their sovereign, for should their children become favourites with their royal husband, honours and promotion will most likely fall to them as a natural consequence. The late king once remarked that he was not particularly anxious to acquire all the youth and beauty of Siam himself, but, as so many of her fairest daughters had already been presented to him, he could not possibly refuse similar gifts in future, as he did not wish to offend any of his subjects.

The Siamese have several amusing reasons for permitting a man to have as many wives as he pleases, while they refuse to grant a like privilege to women folk. Woman, they say, is man's inferior, is under his control, and may not be allowed the luxury of possessing two masters. Besides, if a woman had several husbands, she would never know who was the father of her children, and the children, not knowing their own father, might possibly at some time or other injure him, or even commit parricide without knowing it. And moreover, there is a remarkable difference in the several dispositions of men and women; men, however many wives they have, and whatever their feelings towards them, would never desire to kill them, but if women had more husbands than one, they would wish to put to death all except the one they liked best, for such is their nature.

"There was once on a time a priest, who daily blessed a great king, saying, 'May Your Majesty have the firmness of a crow, the audacity of a woman, the endurance of a vulture, and the strength of an ant.' And the king, doubting his meaning, said, 'What do you mean by the endurance of a vulture?' And he replied, 'If a vulture and all other kinds of animals be caged up without food, the vulture will outlive them all.' And the king tried, and it was so. Then the priest said, 'I spoke of the strength of an ant, for the ant is stronger than a man or anything that lives. No other animal can lift a lump of iron or copper as large as itself, but an ant will carry off its own bulk of either metal if only it be smeared with sugar. Also I spoke of the firmness of a crow, for none can subdue the boldness and energy of the crow, however long it may be caged. It can never be tamed. And if the king would see the audacity of a woman, I beg him to send for a couple who have been married but one or two months, and who are as yet, deeply in love with each other. First call the husband and tell him to take this knife and cut off his wife's head and bring it to you, when, as a reward, you will give him half your kingdom and make him viceroy. And if he will not do it, then send for the woman and tell her that if she will cut off her husband's head and bring it to you, you will make her your chief queen and ruler of all the ladies in the palace.' And the king did so. He found a newly married couple who had never quarrelled and were deeply enamoured of one another, and sending for the husband, he spoke to him as the priest suggested. The man took the knife, hid it in his dress, and that same night he rose when his wife slept, thinking to kill her, but he could not, because he was kind-hearted and reflected that she had done no wrong. And the next day he returned the knife to the king, saying that he could not use it against his wife. Then the king sent messengers to the wife secretly, and they brought her to him, and he flattered her and enticed her with promises, as the priest had told him. She took the knife, and as soon as her husband slept, stabbed him, cut off his head, and took it to the king. This story shows not only that women are more audacious than men, but also that, if anyone entices or pleases them, they will plot the death of their husbands, which is good reason for not letting them have more than one husband."[C]

[C]"The Wheel of the Law". Alabaster.

The Shaving of the Top-Knot

Of all the ceremonies that attend the lives of Siamese children none are so important as those connected with the shaving of the top-knot. From their earliest days the whole of the hair is shaved off the top of the head, with the exception of one small tuft that is never touched until it is finally removed with great pomp and ritual. This single lock is daily combed, twisted, oiled, and tied in a little knot. A jewelled pin stuck through it, or a small wreath of tiny flowers encircling it, are its usual adornments. The head, as being the crown and summit of the human body is held in extreme reverence, and it is considered the height of impertinence for one person to touch another's head except when necessity demands. Under the tuft there lies, according to the Hindoo legend, a microscopic aperture through which the human spirit finds a means of entrance at birth and departure at death, and when Ravana, one of the giant kings of Ceylon, once carelessly or caressingly laid the tip of his finger upon the hair of the beautiful Vedavatti, she turned to him in direst anger, declaring that after such an unwarrantable insult, life was no longer possible to her, and that she would speedily cut off her abundant and outraged locks and then perish in flames before his eyes.

The ceremony of tonsure is a very ancient one, and is found existing in many countries separated from each other not only by miles of land and sea, but far more widely divided by different religious and social customs. The priests of Isis, the Hindoo Siva, the Roman Catholic monks, the candidates for admission to the religious brotherhood of Peru—are all examples of the extent to which this ceremony has been practised in many lands, through many years. It figures as a religious observance symbolical of a change of life and purpose; it occurred amongst the Chinese originally as a sign of subjection consequent upon a change of masters; and it exists in Siam as a civil rite terminating the period of childhood. In all cases it typifies a complete change of condition or purpose—it marks a re-birth. In the case of Siamese boys, who must shave the whole of the head before entering the priesthood, the ceremony takes place a year or so before the time when they must each, according to their national custom, don the yellow robe. Girls lose their top-knot when they are about eleven or thirteen years of age. In any case it must be removed before they reach the age of puberty, and as many of them reach this condition before or near the thirteenth year, their parents generally keep on the safe side by performing the operation when they are eleven years old. The twelfth year isinadmissible, as twelve, being an even number, is unlucky.

When the year has arrived in which it is deemed expedient to cut off the carefully tended lock, the astrologers are consulted as to the appointment of a propitious day. Now this is an extremely difficult task, for the day chosen must be one free from any of the numerous evil influences that affect the lives of men. These evil influences have been duly studied and catalogued, and include the powers of innumerable demons and of death. The day must not be one on which sickness is liable to appear; in the heavens above, no constellation bearing a female name must be visible; it must not be a day marked in the calendar as being likely to be visited by thunderbolts, conflagrations, wrecks or loss of life by drowning. Then also it must be free from dangers from enemies or wild beasts; or yet again, it must not be a day on which a man may expect severe punishment from his earthly rulers, or death by falling off a tree.

Even when the auspicious day has been decided after long and laborious calculations, and earnest consultations of old calendars, there yet remains the necessity of choosing a particularly lucky moment on the particularly lucky day.

When all these preliminary details have been satisfactorily settled, the date is announced and preparations are made for the celebration of the event with an elaborate and mystic ritual. The house of the parents of the child is cleaned and adorned, a process it never undergoes except on those occasions when it is the scene of the performance of religious ceremonies. A table is placed to receive the numerous offerings which will be freely made on the auspicious day, and a gilded image of Buddha is placed reverentially on an altar and surrounded with candelabra bearing waxen tapers, with incense sticks in china vases, with wax flowers and the sacred vessels used during the celebration. Around this decorated altar a hallowed circle is formed with certain utensils deemed especially important and holy. It includes within its circumference, a bench or table on which are placed several vessels of gold and silver, and the bowls of water which will be afterwards consecrated by means of a number of formulæ recited by the priests from the sacred Buddhist or Brahminical texts. The mystic conch-shell, and the shears and razors complete the holy ring. There are three pairs of scissors, the handles of one pair being of gold, of another of silver, and of the third of an alloy of copper and gold. On another stand about as high as the level of the eye of a man of average height, are placed several offerings of dainty food in small saucers made of plaited leaves. These are for the refreshment and propitiation of the tutelary deities of the place, to whom, and to the shades of the dead, the Brahminical astrologers make oblations and prayers at the rate of about two shillings and four pence per day. A curiously-shaped throne is next erected. It is a raised square dais with four slender posts, one at each corner, which lean towards each other at the top, and support a frail canopy. The whole structure is first covered with white cloth, and then draped with curtains of white gauze and cloth of gold. It is on this throne that the candidate sits to be bathed with consecrated water when the top-knot has been removed. During the initial stages of the proceedings it bears a nine-storied pagoda. The pagoda tapers towards the summit and is of very frail material. The corner stays are made of the mid-ribs of the plantain leaves, and each story is formed of strong fibrous leaves. On each stage there are nine square dishes also constructed of leaves. They hold a number of sweetmeats and foods that are supposed to be particularly palatable to the god Ketu. This deity is of a kindly and beneficent disposition, and, if properly worshipped, rewards his devotees by endowing them with long life and prosperity. Hence all these preliminary preparations in order to entreat his presence on this important occasion. Along the corner stays are stuck incense sticks, tapers, and flags of a peculiar pattern. The preparations are completed by surrounding the whole house with a protective cord or thread made of unspun cotton. The thread is attached at one end to the dais erected for the monks, passes over the altar, is twined round the bowls containing the water to be consecrated, is carried round the exterior of the house, and is then brought back to the hall, where it ends in a small ball, ready to be tied to the top-knot of the child. It is supposed to be efficacious in keeping out all evil spirits or other influences that would in the absence of any such consecrated barrier, force an entrance to the hall of ceremonies and render nugatory the performance of the various rites. A similar cord may be seen at times round the palace or city walls, serving a similar purpose.

On the appointed day, the floor of the house is covered with mats or carpets, and a dais is prepared for the monks who are to be present. It is raised above the level on which all ordinary mortals will sit, and is covered with fine white cloth. Pillows with embroidered triangular ends are prepared for the monks to lean against, and spittoons, bowls of water, and trays of tea-cups and betel-nut are placed before each pillow. There are usually seven or nine monks, but even when their number is more or less than this, it is never by any chance an even one. At the side of the platform a gong is hung from a tripod stand. This gong plays an important part in the subsequent proceedings, for it is used to mark the end of each successive stage of the ritual. Every relative and friend is invited, and each of the guests is expected to bring a present either of food or money. The more people are invited, the more profitable does the ceremony become to the candidate and his parents. If the people are poor, they can always borrow the gold and silver utensils that are required from some wealthy friend or relative, for it is the custom on these occasions for help to be freely requested and as freely rendered. About three or four in the afternoon of the first day the monks and friends arrive. As the first monk enters the house, one stroke is given to the gong. The arrival of the second monk is announced by two strokes, the third by three, and so on. It is customary amongst the lower classes to wash the feet of each priest on his entrance into the house. A basin of water is thrown over his feet, after which they are dried with a towel. When the priests are all seated, tea is poured out for each of them. While they are refreshing themselves the band in attendance strikes up a lively tune, the visitors at the same time seating themselves upon the floor in readiness for the first item on the official programme. In the meantime the child is being robed and otherwise adorned. He wears a full gala dress and is loaded with costly ornaments. The skirt is of rich brocade, and the cape round the shoulders is of gold filigree set with precious stones. Heavy gold and jewelled bangles are placed upon the wrists and ankles, and armlets of similar value encircle the arms. In certain cases a triple gold chain is placed over the left shoulder and under the right arm. Sometimes the child is so heavily weighted with these valuable ornaments that he is unable to walk without support. A coronet or wreath surrounds the top-knot. He bears in his hands a charm on which are written several sentences of protective import. In this way a further precaution is taken against the intrusions of undesirable visitors from the supernatural world.

Two household priests of the Brahmin faith precede the child as he comes forth from the inner apartments to meet the assembled guests. They scatter in front of them flowers and parched rice as an offering to those celestial beings whose favours and influence they desire. Behind these, comes another couple, one blowing the conch trumpet and the other vigorously agitating the hour-glass-shaped tabor. A musical outburst greets their appearance, while the smiling faces of every one present afford encouragement and sympathy to the nervous subject of the trying ordeal. The child proceeds to the dais, raises his hands, palm to palm, to his forehead and bows his head to the ground in obeisance to the monks. He repeats his salutations three times; at the third time, placing his head on a cushion on the floor of the dais. He remains in this prostrate condition until the end of that portion of the ritual which is celebrated on the first day. The priests now take the protective cord in their hands, and the monk of highest rank ties the loose end of the thread to the top-knot.

Then a member of the family crawls on hands and knees to the raised platform, and with bent head and uplifted hands, beseeches the monks to recite the five daily precepts of abstinence. In a monotonous Gregorian kind of chant, the assembled priests then intone these five precepts, asking Buddha to keep them that day from all destruction of life, from thieving, from impurity, from lying, and from intoxicating liquors. The guests repeat them solemnly after the priests, and by so doing bind themselves to a faithful observance of them for that day at least. A number of texts are next recited by the priests in the same monotonous kind of chant. At the end of each text, three strokes are given to the gong. When the recital is finished, the candidate rises from his prostrate position and leaves the room in the same way that he entered it, the Brahmins scattering offerings in front of him, the gongs, conch trumpets and band combining in one deafening burst of sound to indicate that that day's portion of the ceremonial is over. The texts that are recited are regarded by the people as so many exorcisms against malignant influences, but their real purpose, which has long been forgotten, is more of an instructive character, as they were intended by Buddha to teach the people what were the evils against which they were to strive.

The day closes with great merriment. Old friends tell their own experiences or those of their children on similar occasions; invitations to forthcoming ceremonies are given and accepted; every one feasts and smokes, and then a theatrical performance takes place that lasts long into the small hours of the morning.

The whole ceremony is now a complex mixture of both Buddhist and Brahminical rites, but there is very little difference between the parts enacted by the priests of Buddha and those of Brahma. The Brahminical priests, however, have a special set of chants of their own, and these they repeat during the first day's ceremonies. The object of their prayers is to entreat a number of their own supernatural beings to grant their approval of all that is being done. They appeal to the Devas, and to Siva sitting on his porpoise. They cry to Vishnu as he rides on the back of the serpent king in an ocean of milk; to the four-armed Brahma on his golden swan; to the god of the winds riding swiftly in his chariot of clouds; and to Indra on his wonderful elephant with the three and thirty heads. They recall to the minds of these deities the past existences of the tonsorial candidate. They remind them of the good actions he has previously performed, and wind up with a powerful and poetic appeal that they will combine to endow the subject of their prayers with a long and prosperous existence.

On the morning of the third day, when the actual cutting will take place, the monks arrive at a very early hour, before the sun has risen, but no gong tells of their arrival, nor is any noise of any description permitted, as the spirits of ill must not be awakened or allowed to know that this is the day of the great event. The priests take their breakfast in silence, no band accompanying their repast, with its joyful strains. As the hour of dawn approaches, the Brahmins lead in the child. As the particular moment, foretold by the astrologers, draws near, the Buddhist priests sing songs to Buddha, using the Pali, a language which is not understood by the people, relating his many triumphs, and by judicious praise securing his approval. These songs are thought to be extremely efficacious in procuring for the child an abundance of good luck in the future. While the singing is taking place, the top-knot is divided into three locks, each lock being then fastened at the ends. Amulets are placed in them, and every precaution is taken to carry out the final act of this, the most important, stage of this important rite, with the strict observance of the minutest detail. Any deviation from the prescribed mode of procedure would be fatal to its success. The chanting continues until the actual moment has arrived when the hair must be severed from the head. At the very moment the chants end, the gongs are beaten, and the guest of highest rank takes up the gold-encrusted scissors and quickly snips off one of the three locks. Then the two most aged relatives of the child present, take the other scissors, and cut off the remaining tufts. Each of the three in turn pretends to shave off the short hairs that are left, after which a skilled barber, with a genuine razor, speedily removes the last trace of the long-cherished appendage, leaving the head perfectly bald. The long hairs are placed in one basin, and the short hairs in another. They are afterwards dealt with in a manner to be presently described. More chanting and gong-beating announce that the performance has been successfully accomplished.

There are still other forms to be gone through, the first of which immediately follows the operation of shaving. The offering to Ketu is removed from the throne that it has occupied up to the present time, and the shaven-headed child is seated under the canopy on the exact spot previously occupied by the offering to the god. In his hand he holds a powerful charm, which he presses tightly to his breast. The eldest monk, or else the one of the highest rank, takes a portion of the consecrated water and pours it over the head of the child. All the other priests follow suit, and then comes the turn, first, of the relatives, and lastly, of the most distinguished visitors. As the bathing takes place in early morning, the air is generally rather cold, and the candidate is doubtless very much relieved when the last drop of holy water has been thrown over him.

When the bathing is over, he retires and changes his costume for the most gorgeous apparel that his friends possess or can borrow. He is dressed in the brightest of colours, adorned with jewels, and then returns to his friends. His first duty is to feed the officiating priests. This he does by first taking to each of them a silver bowl filled with rice, from which he helps each monk to a liberal portion, with a carved wooden ladle inlaid with mother of pearl. Having served out the rice, he takes trays of sweetmeats and fruit, going and returning on his knees, and prostrating himself before each monk in turn. Music again accompanies the feast, and at its conclusion the priests chant a song of thanksgiving, and give their blessing to the child.

In the afternoon another feast is held, followed by a purely Brahminical ceremony of peculiar interest. Each person, so say these priests, possesses a "kwun." It is difficult to translate this word into English, and it has been variously rendered as "soul," "spirit," "good-luck," and "guardian-angel." It is supposed to enter and leave the body at different times, and its absence is always indicated by the troubles that immediately visit the person whose corporeal frame it has vacated. Now at the time of the tonsure ceremony, great anxiety is felt, as at this time there is great probability that the "kwun" may depart, and so leave the unfortunate child a hopeless wreck in after life. The purpose of the subsequent ceremonies is to recall this mysterious being, should he by any chance have departed, and then to fix him so securely in the body of the child that ever afterwards he may be sure of possessing the subtle, fickle phantom. No time is wasted before making the attempt to induce the "kwun" to take up a permanent abode. A pagoda is erected, and on it are placed several kinds of food known to be favoured by the spirit. This pagoda, several mystic candle-holders, boxes of perfumed unguents, offerings of cocoa-nuts, and an auspicious torch are arranged in a holy circle. In the afternoon, after the "kwun" has had time to enter the charmed ring and satisfy his spiritual appetite with the perfumes of the unguents and the foods, the candidate is led into the centre of the hall and placed near the pagoda. A cloth is thrown over the food in order to confine the spirit and prevent him getting away. All the people present, sit down on the floor, forming a circle, with the child, the captured "kwun" and the priests in the middle. The Brahmins now address the spirit, and in a very earnest fashion ask him to come into the child. They tell tales to him, and so try to amuse him, and they entreat him with flattery, joke, and song. The gongs ring out their loudest notes, the people cheer, and the priests pray, and only a "kwun" of the most unamiable disposition could resist the combined appeal. The last sentences of the formal invocation run thus:—

"Benignant Kwun![A] Thou fickle being who art wont to wander and dally about! From the moment that the child wast conceived in the womb, thou hast enjoyed every pleasure, until ten (lunar) months having elapsed and the time of delivery arrived, thou hast suffered and run the risk of perishing by being born alive into the world. Gracious Kwun, thou wast at that time so tender, delicate, and wavering as to cause great anxiety regarding thy fate; thou wast exactly like a child, youthful, innocent, and inexperienced. The least trifle frightened thee and made thee shudder. In thy infantile playfulness thou wast wont to frolic and wander to no purpose. As thou didst commence to learn to sit, and, unassisted, to crawl totteringly on all fours, thou wast ever falling flat on thy face or on thy back. As thou didst grow up in years and couldest move thy steps firmly, thou didst then begin to run and sport thoughtlessly and rashly all round the rooms, the terrace, and bridging planks of travelling boat or floating house, and at times thou didst fall into the stream, creek, or pond, among the floating water-weeds, to the utter dismay of those to whom thy existence was most dear. O gentle Kwun, come into thy corporeal abode; do not delay this auspicious rite. Thou art now full-grown and dost form everybody's delight and admiration.

"Let all the tiny particles of Kwun that have fallen on land or water, assemble and take permanent abode in this darling little child. Let them all hurry to the site of thisauspicious ceremony and admire the magnificent preparations made for them in this hall."

The brocaded cloth from the central pagoda is now removed, rolled up tightly and handed to the child, who is told to clasp it firmly to his breast and not to let the "kwun" escape. Everyone stands up, still forming a ring round the candidate. The mystical torch in the centre is lit; the Brahmin takes three candlesticks, each containing three tapers, and lights them at the central fire. With his palms together he raises the nine lights above his head, describes with them a circle in the air, and then with the back of his right hand, wafts the smoke into the child's face. Each person in the surrounding group repeats the same actions in turn, and when the last person has finished, the officiating priest takes one betel leaf from the pagoda. A second and a third time is the waving of fire performed, and each time a betel leaf is removed from the stand. After the third time of waving, the priest replaces the candlesticks, and daubs the three leaves with a paste made of the sweet smelling oils and other substances on the different stories of the pagoda. He extinguishes the nine candles by pinching the wicks between the smeared leaves, after which he takes them all in his hands, relights them, once more puts out the flame and blows the smoke in the child's face. He repeats the same mystical operations twice, and at last replaces all the candlesticks. He now dips one finger into the dirty leaves, and with the paste draws a scroll between the child's eyebrows. Milk is taken from the cocoa-nuts in a small spoon, and the spoon is presented to each successive layer of the pagoda, as though it were taking a portion of each of the articles placed thereon. The child drinks the milk, and having thus imbibed the food of the "kwun," ensures ultimately the "kwun's" permanent residence in his body. Around his wrist is fastened a charmed and magic cord to protect him from those infernal spirits whose vocation it is to tempt the "kwun" to forsake its home. For three nights he sleeps with the embroidered cloth that was taken from the pagoda, fast clasped in his arms. If after three days nothing unfortunate occurs to trouble him, his future welfare is definitely established.

It now only remains to dispose of the hairs that were taken from the head on the removal of the top-knot. The short hairs are put into a little vessel made of plantain leaves, and sent adrift on the ebb tide in the nearest canal or river. As they float away, there goes with them also, all that was harmful or wrong in the previous disposition of the owner. The long hairs are kept until such time as the child shall make a pilgrimage to the holy Footprint of Buddha on the sacred hill at Prabat. They will then be presented to the priests, who are supposed to use them for the manufacture of brushes for the sweeping of the Footprint; but in reality, so much hair is presented to the priests each year, that they are unable to use it all, so they wait till the pilgrims have departed, when they consume with fire all that they do not require.

So important to the individual is this ceremony of shaving the top-knot, that were it omitted in the case of any single person, the unlucky one would believe himself ruled by evil influences for the rest of his life, and would unfailingly attribute every disaster in after-life to the fatal omission of the ceremony. Yet there are many people who have neither money themselves, nor friends or relatives from whom they can borrow it. Were it not for the kindness of the Government, their unfortunate offspring would never be able to enjoy the advantages conveyed to them by the celebration of the tonsorial ritual. The Government, however, holds a public ceremony which is less impressive and expensive than the private one, at which all who are too poor to afford the cost of the ceremony at home, may have their heads shaved by Brahmin priests gratuitously. Each child receives also a present of a small silver coin worth about two-pence. This public function is held immediately after the close of the "Swinging Festival,"[B] and three or four hundred people annually avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them to get their children's top-knots removed.


In the case of children of royal birth, the celebrations are of a still more imposing character. The essential details are similar, but various modifications are introduced in order to emphasise the extra importance of the rite to those belonging to the royal family. On these occasions the shaven candidate is not bathed upon a mere canopied dais. In the courtyard in front of the Royal Palace, a hillock is erected in imitation of Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva. It is a hollow structure, built up of plaited bamboo, supported on poles, and covered with tinsel. Upon the summit of this artificial hill is a central pavilion beautifully gilt, elaborately decorated, and adorned with tapestry and cloth of gold. A fence of prescribed pattern encloses the pavilion. It is an open framework with small rhomboidal openings, in each of which is hung a small gilded heart-shaped lozenge. Conical umbrellas with seven tiers occur at every two or three yards. There are four pavilions, also lavishly decorated, one at each corner of the hill. At one side, an artificial grotto is constructed in which the bathing takes place. In the walls of the grotto are representations of the heads of the horse, the elephant, the lion and the bull. Over the entrance appears the head of the hooded snake. These heads are connected with the water-main, and are so placed that the five streams of water from the five mouths all converge to the central spot which the candidate occupies when he takes the bath. The floor of the grotto is a miniature lake in which are placed golden models of water-beetles, fishes and other aquatic creatures. Rare flowering plants and ferns complete the internal decorations of the place. A little passage leads thence to the pavilion where the young prince or princess will change his or her attire on the completion of the ceremony. On the ground, four lath and plaster elephants covered with tinsel of different colours, face the four points of the compass. Here and there about the hill is a multitude of mechanical toys, plaster casts, waxen flowers, real plants and models of animals. The candidate is carried round the Palace each day, with an imposing procession of priests, members of the amazon guard, soldiers and attendants.

No other event in the life of any Siamese is celebrated with anything like the expense that attends the top-knot cutting, except perhaps a funeral.

Domestic Life and Customs

It is an easy matter to obtain some idea of the daily life and surroundings of the poorer inhabitants of Siam, for their houses are such open structures that every enquiring eye may gaze therein without any interruption. They spend so much of their time, and pursue so many of their employments in the open air, that even the most casual observer could not fail to rapidly acquire much information concerning their domestic life and customs. In the case of the wealthier classes there is much more privacy. They may be described as living also a kind of double life. Their houses are divided into two parts; in one quarter they live their own native life after their own native fashion; in the other portion an attempt is made to reproduce the European style of living. This latter part is the only one shown to the European visitor. He is received in a drawing-room with tables and chairs, piano and pictures; he dines in a room where the dishes are of European pattern, the servants have the habits of European waiters, and the menu contains only such dishes as are known to be palatable to the white man. All the surroundings are of such an unmistakably foreign origin, that the visitor looks in vain for any trace of the life and manners of the native in the house of his wealthy host. Were he permitted to pass beyond the bounds set by modern fashion, he would possibly find much to interest and amuse in the real house of the native prince or nobleman. As this is more or less unusual or impossible, he is forced to seek for his information in those poorer dwellings, which the forward march of so-called civilisation has, as yet, left completely untouched.

The house-boats which represent the original dwellings of the people have been already described. The land houses are of a very frail and rude character, though not without their own charm and picturesqueness when seen embedded in bowers of tropical foliage. Each house represents very strikingly the social grade of its owner, whether it be the low hut of the labourer in which a man of average height may scarcely stand upright, or the brick and stone palace with carpets and electric lights of the prince or nobleman. Most of the houses are of wood, and are made of either bamboo or teak. They stand upon wooden platforms about six feet from the ground, being supported in that position by strong teak pillars. Teak is used for this purpose not only on account of its strength, but because it is also one of the few woods which are so hard that the destructive little "white ant" leaves it alone. The walls are of teak boards, or else of plaited bamboo. In the latter case the dwelling is light and airy, for the numerous interstices between the strands of wood are left unclosed, thus admitting a plentiful supply of air and light. The roof is always covered with some form of thatch, never with slates or tiles. Along the river banks and near water generally, the attap palm grows in abundance, and its long fibrous leaves make an excellent thatch. The leaves are stitched together, forming rectangular layers about two feet long and one foot wide. When these leafy mats are placed on the roof in an inclined position they form a water-tight covering. In places remote from water, where the leaves cannot be easily obtained, an equally serviceable thatch is made from the long broad leaves of certain kinds of jungle grass. These leafy roofs last about three years. In the summer they get so completely dried by the sun that they become brittle, and every strong gust of wind carries away tiny bits of the thatch. In this condition they are extremely inflammable, and fires are of frequent occurrence. As the houses are usually very close together, a fire is a very serious calamity; for not only are numerous dwellings consumed in the rapidly spreading conflagration itself, but it is always necessary to destroy every house in the neighbourhood on which sparks would be likely to fall, in order to prevent a wholesale bonfire. There is no fire-brigade either amateur or professional, and the soldiers are always employed to put out the flames. One of these houses could be easily smashed to bits by a hatchet, especially in the dry season, when they are about as substantial as a match-box.

The houses are built on poles for two reasons; first, to avoid the floods during the rainy season, and secondly, to prevent the intrusion of the wild beasts who roam about at nights in the more remote parts of the country. There is no second storey, but a platform or verandah runs along the front or even round the whole of the house. The ascent to this verandah, or to the front door in the absence of one, is made by means of a rickety ladder constructed of the indispensable bamboo.


The house is divided into at least three rooms, a kitchen, a drawing-room and a bedroom. So powerful is the superstition that even numbers are unlucky, that the number of rooms is always an odd one. The same fancy regulates also the number of windows and doors, and even the rungs of the ladder. Of these rooms the least dirty is the one we have designated the drawing-room. The kitchen is always remarkable for its accumulation of dirt and rubbish. A properly constructed fireplace is of course impossible in a wooden house. A substitute for grate and oven is obtained in one of two ways. A wooden box is filled with earth, and a couple of bricks are placed thereon. The fire, which is of wood or charcoal, is laid between the bricks, and the pot, pan, or kettle is supported by them. A more civilised form of stove is an earthenware furnace. It resembles in shape a short narrow pail, containing a shelf midway, pierced by a number of round holes. Below the shelf an oblong aperture is cut in the side of the pail. The pot stands on the rim of the bucket, the charcoal is placed on the sieve-like shelf, and a current of air is caused to pass upwards by rapidly waving a fan to and fro in front of the lateral opening. No chimney or other method of exit is provided in the kitchen by which the smoke of the fire can escape. It finds its way to the exterior or into the other rooms of the house, through the holes in the walls or through the light frame-work screens and partitions that represent walls. Grime and soot accumulate year after year, and form a very complete if inartistic covering to the sides and roof of this Oriental kitchen. The place is never cleaned out or disinfected. Spiders spin their webs in undisturbed possession of every nook; tiny lizards crawl over the walls, open-mouthed, looking for flies and mosquitoes; multitudes of insects of the "crawly creepy" kind find comfortable breeding-places amidst the shreds of smoke-stained attap.

Every member of the household knows how to cook. If the mother is not at home, the father can easily take her place, for he knows quite well how long rice should be boiled or bananas stewed. The little children can fry the fish or make the curry, and so are independent of their parents in this respect. Whenever the voice of hunger makes itself heard, its appeal is promptly responded to, and consequently great irregularity prevails in the times of meals. But as a general rule there are two fixed meals each day, one at about seven o'clock in the morning and the other about half-past five in the afternoon. The chief article of food is rice. In the cooking of this grain the people have no rivals. They wash it four or five times, and then soak it for a little while. They put it next into boiling water for three or four minutes, and then pour off the water. The pot is left over the fire for some time longer so that it is well steamed, care being taken, however, to remove the pot before the rice is burned. When it is turned out into the basin, the grains are all considerably swollen, and are separate from each other. They are as white as snow and not at all sticky. Rice is cooked in many other ways; made into cakes, fermented to make an intoxicating drink, taken internally as medicine, and used externally as a poultice. Fruits and sweetmeats are eaten between meals. The rice is often served up cold.

When making a meal, the natives either follow the custom of the Chinese and poke their food into their mouths with chopsticks, or they attempt to imitate the European, and use spoons made of tin, lead, or china; or finally, they use their own fingers. A large bowl of rice is placed in the centre of the floor and the hungry ones sit round it in a circle, either squatting upon their haunches or sitting tailor-fashion with their legs crossed under them. Various curries and other foods are eaten with the rice, and these are placed in small china basins arranged round the central one. Each person has in front of him a small basin, and helps himself, so that the quickest eater naturally gets the biggest share.

Rice is sold in the markets and at many little shops, ready cooked, and wrapped up in small quantities in a banana leaf. Workmen and others engaged in outdoor occupations find it just as easy to get a meal outside as at home, for they never suffer from lack of plates, tables, or chairs. They just sit down by the side of the road and wait for the first itinerant dealer in eatable wares to appear, when they dip into his pots or baskets, and for a few cents get a fairly substantial meal.

As a relish with the rice, fish is generally eaten. This may be fresh or stale, fried or fermented. The stale fish eaten by the natives may be recognised from afar owing to its powerful perfume. Such forms of food, especially when they have the additional attraction of a particularly pungent flavour, are held in high esteem. Decaying prawn well covered with fiery pepper is a delicacy keenly appreciated. Eggs that have been salted and preserved are also considered palatable. Amongst the other dainties that figure on the menu may be mentioned the seeds and stalks of the sacred lotus, the stem of the young bamboo, peas, beans, sugar-cane, several kinds of weeds and blossoms, every kind of fruit obtainable, chilies, mango-chutney, cocoa-nut milk, and fat pork. The favourite sauce is called "Nam-prik" or "pepper-water." Red pepper is bruised in a mortar and then made into a paste with shrimps or prawns in a condition politely described as "high." To this is added black pepper, garlic and onions. Brine and citron juice give to the compound the necessary liquidity. A little ginger is also considered a desirable ingredient. This sauce is said to be decidedly efficacious in stimulating a jaded appetite. Being accustomed to this highly seasoned kind of diet, the Siamese fail as a rule to appreciate the more delicate flavours of the European table, which they describe as being perfectly insipid.

They excel in the art of preparing fruit, and they can remove the hard kernels from all stone fruit, with such skill that when placed upon the table, the eye fails to discover from its external appearance, that the natural condition of the fruit has been in any way altered. The meal is washed down with a draught of canal water. There are no water-works, and as the poor cannot afford to buy receptacles in which to store up rain water, they are forced during the dry season to drink the filthy sewage-water of the canals. Needless to state, cholera epidemics are by no means infrequent.

The floor of the kitchen is of plaited bamboo, like most of the walls. Through the cracks are thrown all the scraps that remain when breakfast or dinner is finished. The cooking water, the old bits of meat, bone, and fish, the skins of fruits, and most other domestic refuse are similarly disposed of. There is always a crowd of bony, hungry pariahs lying in wait beneath the kitchen floor, ready to snap up the bits as they fall. It is well for the inhabitants that these canine waifs and strays do thus frequent their habitations, for in the absence of any salaried scavengers, they would otherwise become veritable pest-houses. The little furniture that the kitchen boasts, is not of any great value. There is the fireplace,—a wooden box, or earthen stove; a few earthenware pots; a few china and brass basins;some old kerosine tins, which are used for carrying water; a few baskets; a kettle and a small table; an old stool or up-turned box.

Just as there are no cleaning days, so there are no washing days. When the people go to bathe, they go into the water in the garment they happen to be wearing at the time. When they come out again; they very dexterously wrap a clean dry one round the body, at the same time slipping off the wet one, which is then wrung out, and left to dry in the sun. The professional washermen or "dhobies" are all Chinese and are chiefly employed by the Europeans. Their methods of washing immediately destroy flannels, and ultimately ruin every article of whatever texture that is handed over to their tender mercies. They wash clothes on the banks of the canal in the dirty water. They first soak them till thoroughly wet, then rub them well over with soap, and then bang them against the stones till they have succeeded in knocking some of the dirt out, and many holes in. A rinse in water follows, and then the articles are dried in the sun. They understand the mysteries of "ironing and starching", but the "ironing" process is productive of numerous patches of "mould", and the "starching" results in an uncanny limpidity. Any man in want of a dress-shirt, or a clean pair of white drill trousers, can always borrow those belonging to someone else on application at the "laundry", and the payment of a small fee.

The drawing-room, sitting-room, parlour, or whatever other name it may be known by, is not luxuriously furnished. The visitor sits upon the floor, with only a skin or mat between himself and the boards. In many instances even this form of couch is absent. A few low stools may occasionally be found. The walls are commonly adorned with photographs, cheap lithographs, and prints. Every caller is offered a tray of betel-nut and its accompanying condiments; a cup of tea, and cigarettes. The betel-nut is not eaten alone, but with a mixture of tobacco, seri-leaf, turmeric and lime, and no host ever forgets to offer these things to his guest. In time, as a result of continual chewing, the gums and lips become a vivid red, and the teeth an intense shiny black, and in extreme old age the teeth also protrude in a repulsive fashion. The first effect of the nut upon a beginner is rather of an intoxicating or stupefying nature. But after having once contracted a strong liking for its bitter flavour, many people find themselves absolutely unable to do without it. Every man carries in his pocket a small box containing the nut, the tobacco etc., or is followed wherever he goes by his servant who bears it after him. When the master sits down, the servant deposits it by his side so that it is easily within reach of the owner. These boxes are often of valuable material and beautiful workmanship. The commonest material used in their construction is silver, but the wealthier classes have their betel-boxes made of rich, ruddy gold and set with jewels. The black teeth that are obtained by the constant use of the nut are considered beautiful. The natives express their contempt for white teeth in the remark, "Any dog can have white teeth." The local dentists keep in stock complete sets of black false teeth, so that when a naturally black tooth is removed, an artificially coloured one can at once take its place and so prevent any break in the uniform coal-like aspect of the mouth. Saliva is produced in copious quantities during mastication, and is of a blood red colour. As it is never swallowed, spittoons must always accompany the betel-box. If the saliva is allowed to fall upon wood or stone it produces brick-red stains which are not easily removable. Such stains are exceedingly common in the streets and houses. The black deposit formed upon the teeth is said to exercise a preserving influence upon them.

Smoking is to some extent gradually replacing betel-nut chewing, especially with the children, who now take to the weed when they are about five or six years old. The native tobacco is very strong, and when smoked as a cigarette wrapped in dried banana-leaf, it is decidedly unpalatable to the European. Light cigarette tobaccos of foreign manufacture are now much in vogue. Those who can afford it, roll up the tobacco in lotus leaf. For this purpose the petals of the lotus flowers are taken, dried in the sun, flattened with a hot iron, and then cut into rectangular pieces of the same size as ordinary cigarette paper. Pipes are rarely seen.

The natives are not addicted either to strong drink or to opium. Those who drink beer and spirits have learnt the habit from their Western friends. The opium monopoly is farmed, and is at present in the hands of a Chinaman who is the king's head cook. The late king feared that his subjects might take to the drug, and he issued a decree forbidding all of them under heavy penalties to buy or smoke it, but the law has become inoperative.

The bedroom, the third necessary room of every Siamese dwelling, cannot be held up as a model of cleanliness. Frequently it is the lumber-room where everything old and unnecessary is stowed away. The altar and the idols are placed therein, especially if the sick or dying are lying there. On retiring for the night, the doors and windows are closed, and the atmosphere soon becomes hot and unhealthy. Owing to the presence of innumerable mosquitoes whose buzzing and stinging are effective preventatives of somnolescence, every one must sleep inside a mosquito net. In the majority of cases the net is so dirty, and its meshes are so clogged with deposits of dust accumulated through many days, that neither air nor mosquitoes can penetrate its folds. People sleep on the bare boards, on mats or skins, and on mattresses stuffed with tree cotton. Pillows are not in common use, except amongst those who have borrowed the Chinese form of this luxury—namely, a hard, hollow, semi-cylindrical frame of bamboo.

When sleeping, the head must not be pointing to the West, as that point of the compass where the sun finishes his daily round, is synonymous with death. The favourable position is with the head to the North and the feet to the South. Other superstitions with regard to the points of the compass prevail, certain directions being considered auspicious according to the days of the week. Thus on Sunday, the East is the lucky situation; on Monday, the West; on Tuesday, the South; on Wednesday, the South West; on Thursday, the North; on Friday, the South East; and on Saturday, the North West. It is very important that on any given day a person should not set out to travel in any other direction, or place his face towards any other point of the compass should he be taking part in any ceremony of importance.

If the tenant of the house owns any cattle, they are stabled underneath, so that any thieves who may visit his premises during the night may readily be detected. Pigs and cows directly under one's bedroom are not usually considered as being conducive to healthy, restful sleep, but the Siamese do not seem to mind their presence in the least.

Frequent mention has been made of the bright colours of the clothes worn by the people. Most of the cotton or silk goods are manufactured in England, Germany, or Switzerland, but the brighter and more artistic colours are produced by the natives themselves, by means of a number of dyes made from various roots, fruits, and seeds. Some of the colours thus obtained are never to be found in any of the cloths imported from abroad, especially the many beautiful shades of yellow and orange, so conspicuous in the ecclesiastical vestments. To be thoroughly fashionable one must put on a differently coloured garment every day, and wear rings and other jewelled ornaments with stones of corresponding hue. This custom is not simply a fashionable one. It owes its origin to an old superstition. Sunday is under the rule of the sun, therefore on that day bright red silks and rubies should be worn; Monday, the day of the moon, can only be properly respected by wearing silver or white coloured garments and moonstones; Tuesday, the day of ruddy Mars, requires light red clothes with coral ornaments; Wednesday, devoted to the greenish tinted Mercury, is the day when green garments and emeralds are correct; the variegated appearance of Jupiter dominates the fashion for Thursday and prescribes the cat's-eye as the proper jewel; Venus rules on Friday, and requires from her worshippers silver-blue apparel and diamonds; while Saturday is under the influence of Saturn, who demands sapphires and dark-blue costumes.


The Siamese wear their hair cut short and brushed straight up from the forehead. This method of dressing the hair is of comparatively late origin. The king's crown, the actor's head-dress, and the hats worn in many processions are all of a conical shape. They owe their design to that period when the hair was knotted and piled up on the head in such a way as to require a conical hat or crown. Before the first century, the hair is said to have been worn in a long flowing plait, resembling the pig-tail of the Chinese. From the second to the eighth centuries, when Siam was tributary to Cambodia, a Hindoo style of dressing the hair was adopted from the sovereign state. At this time a central lock of hair adorned the head. At a later date when the country gained its independence, the hair was allowed to grow uniformly all over the head, but cut short. The change was made in order that some visible sign could be shown that freedom had been gained. This fashion remained in vogue till about the thirteenth century when the top-knot was introduced as a relic of Sivaitic worship, together with other Hindoo manners, by immigrants from India. Other forms were at different times adopted. For instance, from 1002 A.D. to 1768 A.D. the hair of the men was frequently cut in a cup-shaped fashion. The king who reigned at that time is popularly supposed to be responsible for this style, which could be most satisfactorily produced by placing half a cocoa-nut upon the head, and shaving or cutting away all the hair then visible. Women, however, allowed their locks to grow until they flowed over the shoulders. Again, from 1698 A.D. to 1798 A.D. many people adopted the "Great Freemen" pattern, in which the hair appeared in the form of a reversed brush in the centre of the head.

There are certain days of the week when it is unwise to visit the barber, others on which it is highly desirable that any alteration in the condition of the hair should be made. If it is cut on Sunday, lasting happiness and long life are ensured to him who then loses his locks; the unfortunate individual who undergoes the same operation on a Monday may expect fatal diseases, sorrows, and many unpleasant surprises; Tuesday hair-cuttings bring peacefulness and prosperity, and victory in war, while those of a Wednesday are attended with manifold evils, great anxieties, and troubles from enemies. If a man desires the powerful protection of those angels who inhabit the heavenly spheres, he must get his hair cut on a Thursday; if he would have the satisfaction of finding all kinds of food savoury and palatable, he must visit the barber on Friday; and lastly, if he would be certain of the successful accomplishment of every rite and deed performed on the Saturday, he should submit his locks to the shears on that day.

In a country where so many insanitary conditions surround the life of the people, sickness is common. Hence doctors and quacks abound. A few Siamese have been educated for the medical profession in foreign countries, and are skilful practitioners. A few others have learnt the principles of European medicine and surgery in the Medical School at Bangkok, but the vast majority of the native professors of the healing art have no other knowledge than that handed down to them by tradition. There are royal "doctors" attached to the court, quacks who profess to cure anything and everything under the sun, and magicians who both cure and kill for a moderate consideration. If a person has an enemy whose death he wishes to encompass, there are certain wizards who will give effect to his wishes by bewitching a buffalo. The animal then dwindles to the size of a pea. This highly condensed pill is given to the enemy, and when swallowed begins to expand to its original size, with a result that is best left undescribed. Other magicians make clay images to represent sick persons. Over these images they perform curious incantations, and then bury them in the jungle, where they absorb and so remove the sickness of the person whom they represent. There is, however, a distinct school and science of medicine which is not simply a matter of magic. In the treatment of fevers and other local ailments, the native doctors are as good as the European. They are clever practisers of the operation of massage; they understand the nature and use of many of the herbs and roots that grow in their jungles; and they are great believers in shower-baths, and in the healing properties of earth when applied to wounds and boils. Their physiological and scientific knowledge is summed up briefly in the following paragraphs.

All nature is composed of four elements, earth, fire, wind and water. The bodies of men and animals are made up of the same constituents, the earth and water being visible in the bones, flesh and blood, while the fire and wind, though invisible, are clearly present in the breath and heat. The earth of which all solid bodies are composed is of twenty-six varieties; the different forms of water are divided into twelve classes, those of wind into six classes, and those of fire into four. Now in the body of man all the six kinds of wind are known to exist. The first flows from his head to his feet, the second from his feet to his head. The third wind circulates in the region of the diaphragm; the fourth forms the pulse; the fifth enters the lungs; and the sixth is present in the abdominal viscera. Of the four kinds of fire that exercise any influence upon the health of humanity, two varieties of this subtle element are beneficial, and produce respectively the natural temperature of the body, and an easy digestion. The other two kinds are of an undesirable character, as one is the cause of fevers, and the other consumes the body in old age.

The body is divided into thirty-two parts subject to ninety-six diseases, all of which are the inevitable result of any excess in the amount of any one of the primary elements. An excess in the quantity of fire produces all kinds of fevers; any superabundance of water creates dropsy and kindred ailments. All sicknesses that cannot be easily accounted for, are attributed to an accumulation of wind, and the natives commonly reply when asked what is the matter with them, "ben lom", that is, "it is wind."


Ill health and good health are dispensed by numerous spirits, and it behoves all men so to order their lives and actions that they may not incur the displeasure of those spirits who have sickness at their disposal, but that they may win the favour of those who dispense the blessing of perfect health.

In the days when Buddha walked and talked amongst men, there lived a man of remarkable wisdom who is the father of medicine. To him the plants and flowers of the forest spoke, revealing their many virtues. The knowledge thus revealed to him he wrote down in books, and also taught by word of mouth to his fellow-men. The remedies he prescribed are sacred and infallible. If they apparently fail to cure, the failure is not to be attributed to the method of treatment he laid down, but to the want of sufficient goodness of life and character in the doctor or his patient. Every native physician has in his house an image of this legendary founder of his profession. Upon his face is a beneficent smile. One of his hands is held outstretched. In the hollow of this outstretched hand, every drug is placed to receive his blessing before it is administered to the ailing one. After having received the blessing, the drug is taken to the house of the patient and there boiled in an earthenware pot. The solution thus obtained, very often has to be drunk in quarts before any effect is produced. If the sick man dies the doctor gets no remuneration for his services. The following recipe for a mixture that will cure snake-bites should be noticed by all those who intend to hunt or work in jungles where poisonous reptiles abound.

  • A piece of the jaw of a wild hog.
  • A piece of the jaw of a tame hog.
  • A piece of the bone of a goose.
  • A piece of the bone of a peacock.
  • The tail of a fish.
  • The head of a venomous snake.

The Children

The lives of the children of the East are surrounded by a number of time-honoured rites and ceremonies of an imposing but superstitious character. The infant is a priceless gift from the beneficent gods, and its life must be ordered in accordance with the curious superstitions invented of old by the legendary deities of its forefathers. The infant is at once a source of pride, for it is a mark of heavenly favour, and of hope, for it shall, if good luck befall it, hand down its father's name unto another and a later generation. Whatever ritual has been devised aforetime as tending to bring long life and prosperity unto the new-born child, must therefore be observed with great pomp and careful attention to minute but important details. And lastly, the Oriental child causes its parent to reveal certain features in his character that otherwise lie hidden and unobserved. The fiercest Hindoo is the most tender-hearted of men when his little loved one lies sick; the fat, stolid, wooden-headed Chinaman becomes a lively youngster himself as he tosses his crowing chuckling babe aloft; and the genial, gentle Siamese is never so winning as when caressing the hope of his house. Siamese children exhibit in their earlier days the best qualities of their race to a very high degree.

The Hindoos instituted ten "samskâras" or rites, the due performance of which, was supposed to ensure to the child freedom from all evil influences. Now the original Siamese as they travelled south from the slopes of the Tibetan mountains, came into contact with the Hindoo civilisation and religion, and adopted therefrom their religious beliefs and many of their social customs. Owing to the absence of reliable written historic records in Siam itself, the mass of the people have long since forgotten where and how most of their ceremonial practices originated, but the learned amongst them have little difficulty in pointing out both their primary source and their latter-day modifications. The ten auspicious rites that encompassed the life of the Hindoo child, began with its birth, and ended with one imposing pageant more important and far-reaching in its effects than any of the nine that had preceded it, and marking very definitely the end of the period of childhood. One month after birth occurred the ceremony of shaving the first few hairs of the new-born, and about the same time, a rite somewhat similar to that of christening was observed, when the child received its first but temporary name. These two ceremonies still exist in Siam, but six of the original ones have disappeared. Amongst those that have thus been lost are the rite of ear-boring, which occurred about the third year and which still survives amongst the Laos and the Burmese; the rite of training the child to eat rice; the rite of teaching the first footsteps; the rite of speaking the first words; the rite of first putting on the loin-cloth; the rite of taking the first lessons in swimming, which was reserved for princesses; and lastly, the rites of shaving the top-knot and the subsequent investiture of the sacred thread, which form the final links in the chain of ceremonial practices devoted to the little ones.

It is obviously impossible therefore to pretend to give any adequate account of the people of this land, without first treating of the life and character of her children, on whose behalf the favour of the spirits of good are so frequently and carefully besought by their anxious parents. Considering the number of ritualistic observances that have occurred through successive generations, with the object of obtaining for the young the good-will of the angels, it might reasonably be supposed that if the numerous prayers had been in any way effective, by this time the present generation of children should be enjoying untold benefits, and should be leading lives far superior in their freedom from ordinary mishap or pain, to those of children not similarly descended. It would puzzle any observer, however, to discover in what way they are more tenderly cared for by the celestial dispensers of desirable things, than are other children. They cannot be described as differing in any very essential particulars from their little brothers and sisters in other lands. It is true that they have not the keen perception of truth, the chivalrous sentiment of honour, or the dogged industry which are common to some extent to most European children; but they have a respect for the aged, for their parents, and for all those set in authority over them that might well be copied by the democratic children of the West. In their behaviour towards their parents and their priests they stand as excellent exemplars of reverence and obedience.

The respectful manner they adopt in their dealings with all who may be presumed to control them, renders the work of any teacher in Siam a moderately light one. Insubordination or impertinence is unheard of. The oft-debated question of corporal punishment is here solved by the character of the children themselves. Schools can be managed without canes, hard words, or severe punishment of any description. Discipline, the first and chief goal that the European teacher strives to obtain, is here produced by merely wishing for it. The term "kroo" or "teacher" is a title that commands respect from parents and scholars alike, and they invariably use it in addressing him on all occasions and in all places whether public or private. The only teachers for years were the priests, even as the majority are to-day, and it seems as though in transferring the office of pedagogue from priest to layman, they have transferred also a portion of that atmosphere of reverence that is ever associated with the priesthood. The Siamese in this respect may be said to have reached a higher level than their whiter brethren, inasmuch as they recognise in an outward and visible manner, that the teacher of religion and the instructor of the young are both engaged in the same grand work of mental and moral progress.

Siamese children, especially the little girls, are exceedingly pretty, rivalling, if not excelling, all the other beauties of the East, Japan included. They are very merry, continually contented, easily pleased and most unselfish in their dealings with one another. Their almost absolute lack of selfishness is one of the most pleasing features in their very lovable characters. The boys at school lend their property to their fellow-scholars with the greatest readiness. Watches, knives, pencils, and other schoolboy treasures circulate sometimes to such an extent that one is inclined to fancy they must be common property; and, greatest test of pure good-nature, they even lend their bicycles to each other.

They are, however, early tainted with the national vices, vices that flourish more particularly in hot climates and luxurious soils. It will be wise, however, to make no attempt to describe these more mature characters until some one can lay down a code of moral virtue which shall be absolutely applicable to all people at all times. It will be safer to consider only the younger children at a time of life preceding the period when sensual enjoyments begin to enchain both mind and body.

Upon the birth of the child, a big fire is made by the side of the mother, who at this time forsakes her bed and lies on a long narrow flat board. A fruit supposed to possess protective properties is scattered round or under the house, and a cord is twined round the exterior of the dwelling, which has been blessed by the priests and which also serves the same purpose of keeping off those evil spirits who would otherwise enter and carry away the life of the child. The interior of the room is like a furnace, and it is to be feared that under these conditions, the evil spirits that haunt the sites of defective ventilation do only too often accomplish their fatal object. For three days, several old women attend the mother and make offerings to the powers whose influence is beneficial. This they do by making three balls of rice and then throwing them in three lucky directions. It is said that every new-born babe bears as its first name the word "Dang", which means "red". If this be so, then the mother or nurse speedily turns her attention to the best means of rendering the term singularly inaccurate, for instead of allowing the child to retain its original and natural colour, she immediately rubs it all over with a yellow paste whose chief constituent is turmeric powder. The baby presently appears as if it were suffering from a very severe and expansive attack of jaundice. This process of 'yellowing' is popularly supposed to keep away mosquitoes. It is not confined to red babies, but cats and dogs may often be seen who have received the same treatment. It is a common sight to see a couple of toddling yellow children engaged in teasing or amusing an equally yellow specimen of the canine or feline family.

For several years no clothes are worn, so that their health is never injured or their comfort marred by unsanitary garments. They are frequently adorned with massive gold or silver bracelets and anklets, and wear a little silver shield fastened in front of the body by a string of beads passed round the loins. The shield is merely an ornament and plays no indispensable part in their metallic apparel, for when it is once lost, it is seldom replaced, though the string of beads may persist for some months afterwards. The amount of wealth possessed by the poor in the shape of ornaments must be enormous, for almost every child bears somewhere on its body a heavy piece of gold or silver.

Until the child can walk it passes its life under the same system of treatment usually accorded to human beings at this tender age. It is nursed and petted by its mother, talked to, made a fuss of, presented to uninterested visitors, and generally tormented by the same excess of demonstrative affection which mothers of every colour lavish upon their own offspring. At a very early stage in its existence it is transferred with solemn ceremony from the wicker basket in which it has lain since its birth to a cradle peculiar to Siam. The cradle consists of a strong oblong rectangular frame-work at the top and a flat narrow board at the bottom. The two are connected round the four sides by a network made of strong twine. It is suspended from the rafters of the roof by four strong cords. It is swung, not rocked, and the mother or sister of the babe will sit tailor-fashion on the floor for hours at a time contentedly chewing betel-nut, or chanting monotonous Siamese Gregorians in a low plaintive tone, at the same time swinging the cradle gently to and fro by a long rope. When the baby is taken for an airing it is carried by some female member of the household, who places it on her hip and supports it with one arm. This method of carrying the child is said to be a healthy one for the baby, but it must be a fairly unhealthy one for the nurse, who has always to walk at an angle with the ground, suggesting the appearance of the Tower of Pisa, while the baby is wedged, cross-legged, between the firm pressure of the supporting arm and the bended body.

Passing over the period which elapses between lying in the cradle and learning to walk, we next find these little Eastern street-arabs following their own sweet wills in the roads and alleys or on the canals of their native town or village. They are perfectly free and independent, and are given up to the educative influence of Nature in a way that would have satisfied Rousseau himself. The boys still remain unclothed; they scamper along the roads, driving young bullocks; sit on the backs of tame buffaloes as they plough the rice fields; steal bananas; climb trees for cocoa-nuts; smoke enormous cigarettes; paddle their own canoes; never bother their heads about getting home in time for meals; lie down in shady places to rest; never read books; do not know the inside of a school, and spend the whole day according to their own ideas of amusement. If they want to play, they play; if they desire to sleep, they have but to lie down in the first convenient spot, when they attain the desired condition with a rapidity that is to be greatly envied. Gloves, ties, collars, neat pockets, untorn coats, unsplit boots and other abominations never cause the Siamese boy a moment's anxiety. If he wears any hat at all, it is a nice light roomy sort of structure discarded by its original owner several years before, and in such a condition of decay, that an occasional fall into the water or mud does not affect either its value or its usefulness.

At a later date he begins to wear clothes. He dresses like his sister, wearing a cool airy garment consisting of a single long strip of cloth of some bright colour, fastened round the waist and draped about the legs. It hangs loosely about the knees and resembles a pair of knickerbockers. There are no buttons, tapes, pins, or suspenders, and he requires little training in the art of fixing his single garment so that it will remain permanently in the required position. He wears no shoes or stockings, the use of such luxuries being restricted to the upper classes. The upper half of the body is left bare, except when, in accordance with a fashion of very recent date, a white linen jacket is worn. All girls wear either this jacket or else a coloured scarf wrapped tightly round the breast. The smarter ones wear both scarf and jacket, but amongst the lower classes, the majority of the women leave their bodies uncovered above the waist after the birth of the first child. All ranks of society are passionately fond of finery, and adorn themselves as well as they can possibly afford. The native rings are set with native stones, but the workmanship is very rude. When money is not available for the purchase of jewellery, flowers are obtained. As their clothes possess no collars with button-holes in which the floral decorations can be placed, they stick them behind the ear.

A day's life with one of these children is spent after the following fashion. He rises at early dawn and goes at once to the nearest water to bathe. He has no acquaintance with soap, but pours abundant water over himself with basin or bucket. The refreshing operation finishes with a plunge in the stream, after which he either lies down, or runs about till he is dry. A breakfast of rice, salt fish, and fruit, eaten from brass or earthenware dishes, with his fingers, is the prelude to the day's enjoyment. He next devotes all his energies to getting through the day. He accomplishes the task set before him by alternate intervals of sleep or play. He is a faithful disciple of Isaac Walton. A bit of stick and a fibre of rattan are sufficient tackle with which to capture a few fish out of the thousands that swarm in the waters. At low tide, when many of the canals are mere valleys of mud, a whole tribe of children descend into the slimy deposit, and push coarse sieves into the mud in the attempt to catch prawns. The captured creatures are placed in stone jars. When weary of the sport, or when the jar is filled with prawns, they vary the nature of their amusement by pelting each other with mud. It is simply snow-balling transformed. They stand about in the slippery mess, and make little pellets of soft mud. These they fling at each other with an aim remarkable for its invariable accuracy. When sufficiently tired and dirty they get away to the nearest water, take a turn or two, and then come up to dry.

They delight in witnessing extreme activity in other creatures. A cock fight or a general battle amongst the pariah dogs is a source of great amusement. At night they search for crickets. When they have collected a large number they place them, two at a time, in small jars made of mud and baked hard in the sun; the two crickets are urged to engage in warfare by the skilful application of small pointed pieces of wood. The battle which ensues evokes their hearty appreciation. They catch fighting fish, feed them with mosquito larvæ, and then train them to fight. After a proper course of training the fish become extremely pugnacious, and will even make fierce attacks upon their own images as seen in a looking-glass placed by the side of the bottle in which they are imprisoned. As a general rule, Siamese youths are keen spectators of anything of a combative character. And yet amongst themselves they are extremely peaceful and unquarrelsome. Supposing them all to be sent to school, it may be safely predicted that there would be fewer fights in a whole generation of scholars than an English school knows in a year.

Uncoloured pictures have no charm for them, for an ordinary drawing in black and white is utterly incomprehensible to them. All native drawings, with their strange disregard of the laws of perspective, are executed in colours. They do not instantly recognise photographs of the streets and buildings with whose appearance they are perfectly familiar, and they will as often as not view them upside down. The power to appreciate black and white is, however, merely dormant, as is shown by the fact that the few children who attend the Anglo-Vernacular schools speedily learn to take an intelligent interest in the drawings and reproductions of photographs published in the English illustrated papers.

They are very clever in the art of making bouquets and weaving garlands of flowers. On festive occasions, the houses are festooned from end to end with long rope-like strands of small blossoms fastened together with wonderful skill.

On every head a little tuft of hair is allowed to grow in the centre of a shaven crown. This is removed at a certain period, with an imposing and important ritual.

They make excellent scholars, for they are very bright and intelligent. Only a mere handful of the population attend any school regularly, but all those who hope to obtain any Government employment must at least learn to read and write. Those that do attend the schools learn to draw accurately and neatly after very little practice. They need no teaching with regard to modelling in clay, their representations of elephants in particular being beyond criticism. All ordinary school subjects are rapidly acquired by them, and they are adepts in the acquisition of a foreign language. They learn to read, write, and speak English in the Anglo-Vernacular schools in about three years, with great ease and fluency. Many boys will speak in English concerning the common events of their daily lives after a few months' tuition. They are helped in this matter by their wonderfully retentive memories which enable them to remember a large number of words and idioms.

There is no "esprit de corps" in any school, unless it is cultivated by the master in charge. It can be easily developed up to a certain point for just the same reason that the adoption can be ensured of certain rules and maxims in the schoolboy's code of honour, not so much on account of the intrinsic value of the maxim or the rule itself, as because it has been put before them as a European custom. It is therefore to be imitated if they wish to appear "up to date." In speaking to their teachers, no matter what their relative ranks in life may be, they invariably use that form of the pronoun "I" which signifies that they consider themselves as occupying a lower position than the person spoken to. They abhor long holidays, but like to take odd days by fits and starts whenever they feel so inclined. Unpunctuality is a common fault unless firmly opposed. Cricket and football have been introduced at one of the schools and have become fairly popular, but the climate is really too hot for such vigorous forms of athletic activity ever to flourish except amongst a few enthusiasts.

Inquisitiveness is politeness, and it is rather bewildering to the English teacher new to his work, especially when he is constantly questioned as to his age, the price of his watch, the amount of his salary, or the date when he last had his hair cut. The school satchel does not seem to have become popular, most scholars carrying their belongings tied up in a Manchester-made handkerchief. Boys of the higher classes are attended by their servants, who carry these articles for them, and at times, even carry the owners also. In the intervals of playtime they smoke. Each boy carries his own tobacco-pouch, matches, and tobacco, and is an adept at rolling cigarettes. They are thoroughly unselfish as regards the disposal of their smoking material, and a cigarette will be circulated amongst a group of friends, each one taking a whiff or two and then handing it on to his neighbour. If the weed is unfinished when the school bell rings, they calmly extinguish it, stick it behind the ear, penholder fashion, and return to class.

They are affectionate, cheerful, respectful, delightful fellows to play with or work with, and offering to the observant master many interesting examples of the gradual development of mind and character under a rational system of teaching.


In a land where superstitious practices abound, the children are sure to have more than an ordinary belief in goblins and ghosts. The belief in divers supernatural beings of evil or good intent is powerfully implanted in every adult mind. In the case of the children every natural phenomenon, every event of their lives is to them under the control of some invisible spirit. They have a profound belief in their marvellous fairy tales, and many of them never grow out of this extreme condition of credibility during the whole of their existence. They cling to their mystic interpretations of natural phenomena, with such force, that in the schools that have been recently founded, the attempts to teach the elements of natural science have been made under rather disheartening circumstances. The children are perfectly certain that thunder is exactly what their name for it denotes, "the sky crying." There is a horrible giant of great strength and furious temper who leads a very quarrelsome life with a cantankerous wife, and when he grumbles and growls at her various iniquities, the echo of his voice comes in cries from the sky. When in fits of violent anger he hurls his ponderous hatchet at his spouse, it strikes the floor of heaven, and a thunderbolt falls. When the broad flashes of lightning play at hide-and-seek amongst the dense black masses of cloud during the wet months of the rainy season, they say a woman is flashing a mirror in the air, or according to another interpretation, the angels are amusing themselves by striking fire with bricks. The falling stars are produced when frolicsome spirits in their sportive moods pitch torches at each other. When the giant crab comes up out of his hole in the deep parts of the sea, he bears up the waters on his back, and the tide flows; when he retires again, it ebbs. Sometimes the angels in heaven all take it into their heads to have a bath at the same time, and as a consequence they splash the water over the sides of the bath, and the rain falls. Another theory states, however, that the rain is caused by a huge fish a thousand miles long, who with his mighty tail furiously lashes the waters of the deep. The most poetical of all these superstitions is that which ascribes the origin of the winds to the voices of the babies who have departed this life.

Not only children, but thousands of the grown-up men and women hold firmly to these beliefs in spite of all the scientific explanations that are given to them. Quite recently a debate was held at the Bangkok Literary Institute on "What is the shape of the world?" The ecclesiastical portion of the audience, who were mostly natives, fought tooth and nail for the flatness of our planet, and though one or two of their own countrymen argued very forcibly against their notions, when the final vote was taken there was quite a large majority opposed to the theory of "round like an orange." One of the teachers was giving a lesson to his class one day on this very subject. His scholars promptly informed him that the world was flat. He further learned that it would take two hundred years to travel round it at the rate of two hundred miles a day, and that somewhere within the circumference of this pancake-shaped planet there is a mountain called Mount Meru, which is eight hundred and forty thousand miles high, bearing upon its summit the realms of heaven. He explained that the world was round, and was greeted by the remark, "Why, that can't possibly be, for if the world were round the water would all roll off." As there are no scientific terms in the language, and as all attempts to explain why the water did not roll off would have been utterly beyond the comprehension of the young minds of his scholars, he was rather non-plussed. He did his best, however, and believed that, by his earnestness in pressing home his point, he had at last made them accept, even if they did not understand, the fact. By way of recapitulation at the close of his lesson he asked one who had shown intense incredulity, "What shape is the world?" The boy stolidly replied, "The teacher says it is round."

In their fairy tales they demand episodes of the most marvellous character. An Englishman once read to some Siamese boys the story of "Jack the Giant Killer," thinking it might interest them. To his great surprise they listened with the greatest indifference to his narrative. On being questioned as to whether they liked the story or not, one boy replied, "It isn't fierce enough;" and further, by way of illustrating what he considered satisfactory in this class of fiction, he related how a Siamese hero met the whole of his enemies banded together against him in a deep ravine. The hero went towards them single-handed, and just when the assembled foes were calculating upon a triumphant victory, he quietly took up the mountains to the right and left of him, in the hollows of his hands, brought them rapidly together, annihilated the multitude with one stroke, and then unfatigued, replaced the mountains upon their bases once more.

In some cases their superstitions exert a very real influence upon their actions. There are many people who would never dare to utter the words "tiger" or "crocodile" in a spot where these terrible creatures might possibly be in hiding, for fear of directing the attention of the beasts towards themselves. Another illustration may also here be given. One of the students in training at the Normal College for teachers, was absent for some time. On his return, the principal spoke to him, calling him by the name he had previously been known by. He at once requested that his old name should not again be used, and gave a new one. On enquiring the reason, it was found he had been absent through illness. While lying sick at home, an angel had appeared to his mother in a dream and had warned her that if her son's name were not changed, he would die, as the name he then possessed was an unlucky one for him. His name was immediately changed, and he recovered. At the same time, his cousin lay ill in the same house, and the angel gave a similar warning with regard to this boy's name, but the prophetic voice was in this case unheeded, and the child died. As there is no registry of births or deaths there is practically no trouble in altering a name, and in fact, such alterations are of frequent occurrence.

A few years ago the Siamese Government organised an Education Department, with the intention of establishing an adequate system of Primary Education, which was to be followed in due time by a system of Secondary Education. Up to that time the only schools were those in connection with the monasteries. In these schools reading and writing were taught by the priests. Though their methods were illogical and their curriculum narrow, it must never be forgotten that most Siamese men can read and write their own language, and that the country owes a deep debt of gratitude to these monks who did their best according to their own theories. These schools must in the future be the starting-points for any system of education that would pretend to exercise any influence throughout the country. The work of the Education Department, as far as progress or reform is concerned, has been, so far, in connection with the establishment of a Training College for Teachers, the founding of four Anglo-Vernacular Schools for boys, one of which is a boarding-school, and a boarding-school for girls. These have been organised and controlled by Europeans and are fairly satisfactory. Attached to the Training College is a Practising School, which is the only good Vernacular school in Siam. It owes its present excellent condition to the three Englishmen who have had it successively under their charge. But undoubtedly the most successful educational institution is the school for girls. It has been more than usually fortunate in possessing a staff of teachers possessing brilliant intellectual attainments, great professional skill, and a deep living interest in everything that tends towards social progress. Unfortunately, the Vernacular schools have not yet come under European influence, and they still preserve their antiquated methods. Only about seven or eight of them are directly under the control of the Education Department. They possess no furniture, and the children sit on the floor. In one school, the head master has provided a number of old soap and biscuit boxes to act as desks. There are no registers or other records. There is a "code" which contains two standards. It takes a boy from three to four years to pass the first, and comparatively few ever attempt to pass the second. The teachers in these Government Vernacular Schools are not priests, though the schools themselves are usually in some part of the temple grounds.

It is to be hoped that in the near future the Government will decide upon a thorough re-organisation of these schools, for, when they are properly taught and controlled, they will be very powerful for good, the bright and intelligent character of the scholars rendering all school work eminently successful.

Popular Amusements

The Siamese are fond of being amused and of amusing themselves, but they do not usually indulge in active sports with the exception of rowing and a species of football. Games that involve any great physical exertion are played chiefly by persons who make a business of the performance. The professional acrobats that are met with on festive occasions are fearless and skilful. Amongst the many feats they perform for the amusement of their fellow-countrymen, there are few that do not require both strength of nerve as well as agility of limb. The "acrobat poles" are stout bamboo rods fastened firmly to the ground. Each pole terminates, about twenty feet from the ground, in a lotus-shaped capital. The acrobats climb to the top and perform various feats on the small space afforded them by the flattened surface of this small platform. No nets or mattresses are provided to break their fall in case of accident. There are other men who fix pikes and sword-blades in a row and then lie with their bare backs upon the sharpened points. Juggling with keen-edged daggers is certainly a less dangerous amusement. "Throwing the hammer" here takes a new form as "swinging the hammer". A heavy sledge-hammer is lifted by a rope held between the teeth, and then swung deftly over the shoulder so as to fall well to the rear of the athlete. These dangerous acrobatic exhibitions are not at all frequent, probably owing to the fact that there are only a few men in the whole country who are able to take part in them.

On national holidays an open air play known as "Kra, ooa," or "spearing the buffalo," is enacted. It is a mixture of dumb show and grotesque dancing, and is based on an old Burmese story. The legend relates that once upon a time there was an old woman who had a husband named Ta So. One night she dreamt that she was enjoying a dish of buffalo's liver. Her enjoyment of the luxury was so great that she presently awoke. She was unable to sleep, so she awakened her husband and told him of her dream, and of the wonderful flavour of the meat. The more she dwelt upon the delicious character of her phantom repast, the stronger grew her desire to taste the real article. She urged Ta So to go out into the jungle and spear a buffalo. He for some time declined to rise from his couch, alleging that he was a bad hunter and dared not track so formidable a creature. He attempted to seek repose once more, but the hungry lady grew more and more importunate, and he was forced at last to set out on a hunting excursion. His wife accompanied him to see that he did not shirk the task she had set him. After a long time they managed to track a wild buffalo. They skirmished and scouted, and finally succeeded in killing it. They opened the animal, extracted the desired delicacy, and then returned home to enjoy it.—The representation of this story has been repeated times without number, but it never fails to meet with popular approval. An actor first appears dressed as a Burmese woman. She next proceeds in very colloquial vernacular to bully her husband in accordance with the tradition. The buffalo used is a sham one. Four or five people throw a dark-coloured cloth over themselves, and the foremost of these holds in his hands a huge mask, supposed to be a buffalo's head. It would serve equally well for the head of any other creature known to natural history, for it is unlike anything but the fabulous creation of some man's mad imaginings. As the husband and wife chase the ungainly brute, it gambols to the music of a native band, in a circle about twenty feet in diameter. The dodging and running, the pretended attack, the sham wounds, and the awful groans are always received with the same loud bursts of hearty appreciative laughter.

The game of "takraw" is popular with boys and youths, and is similar to the game of football as exhibited by the Burmese in recent years in London. The players, who may be of any number, stand in a ring. One of them tosses into the ring a light wicker ball. As it falls another player catches it on his foot, head, or shoulder. He at once passes it to someone else, without touching it with his hands. The ball passes swiftly from one spot to another, and it is often kept up for quite a long time. If it falls to the earth, it is picked up and again tossed to the skilful players. And so the game proceeds until every one is tired. There is no scoring of points or winning of games. New-comers join in the fun and weary ones leave without in any way interfering with the amusement of the rest. The "fancy kicking" that is exhibited by expert players excites great admiration in natives and foreigners.


Games in which the element of chance enters are the greatest favourites. The people are born gamblers, and to make a bet is the delight of everyone, from prince to peasant. They bet on the results of a cock-fight, a boxing match, a fight between crickets, or a combat between their pugilistic fishes. Even kite-flying is accompanied by unlimited "book-making." The Siamese are not to be compared with the Japanese in the art of constructing curious or beautiful kites, but they are certainly their equals in flying them. The most common form of kite is a five-pointed one—a pentagonal star. On none of the kites, whatever may be their shape or size, is "tailing" ever used, and rarely does a native run in order to get the kite to rise. By a peculiar rapid jerking of the string, the kite is made to create its own wind when a natural one is not blowing. Men may often be seen on calm still days flying their kites from boats as they pass up and down the river. Kite contests are of frequent occurrence during the windy months. One kite is called the male and the other the female. The object of the contest is the capturing of the female by the male. When they are both at a considerable height from the ground, one flyer so jerks the string of the male kite as to cause it to swoop downwards with great velocity. If the apex of the falling star strikes the body of the soaring female, it effectually wounds her and brings her to earth. But it is perhaps oftener luck than skill that ends the contest so suddenly. As a rule the string of the descending kite passes over the string of the steady one. Then the owner of the male toy checks its downward motion, and with a rapid pull of the string towards him, causes it to pass under the string that is attached to the female, and then to rise again. In this way one string is wound round the other. The operation is repeated a second and even a third time, after which the players each pull their kites towards them, let them go again, pull in again and so on, so that each string is sawing the other one. Excitement takes possession of the spectators and they begin to speculate as to which string will first break. They frequently stake large sums of money on the result of the aerial combat. In many instances the owner of the entangled female, manages by a skilful manipulation of the string to free her from the toils of her antagonist, who then once more pursues her, and manoeuvres to compass her destruction.


In every street there will always be found a Chinaman, wearing big goggles, sitting at a table in the front of an open house or shop, wearing upon his wooden countenance a quiet and meditative smile. By his side is a small pile of thin sheets of yellow paper, and a quantity of writing material. He is an agent of the gambling farmer and deals in lottery tickets. The Government farms out the monopoly and derives a considerable revenue from it, as in some years as much as thirty thousand pounds sterling has been paid for the privilege of being allowed to gently ease other people of their superfluous cash. The lottery farmer chooses, every day, one out of thirty-four characters of the alphabet as the lucky one for that day. He keeps the secret of his choice to himself, and leaves those people who are of a speculative turn of mind to guess the particular letter he has chosen. Everyone is at liberty to try his luck. The gambler goes to one of the numerous writers of lottery tickets and names a letter. The writer slowly inscribes the letter upon one of the sheets of paper. He then folds it up, and on the back states his own name and address, the name and address of the purchaser of the ticket, and the amount paid for the same. He keeps possession of the paper till the close of the day. The city is divided into districts, over each of which the lottery farmer places a trustworthy overseer. Towards evening the overseer visits every ticket writer in his locality, collects all the papers, and the money paid for them. These he afterwards takes to the office of his chief. At a given hour the farmer declares the winning letter and the papers are opened. All those papers that do not bear the chosen character are thrown away and the money appropriated. Those who have been fortunate enough to guess correctly the letter for the day, receive back twenty-nine times their stake, so that the man who staked one pound receives twenty-nine as his reward. The chances in favour of the proprietor of the lottery are so great, and so many thousands of people patronise him every day that he can easily afford to award a prize of high value to the few winners. Some people endeavour to calculate their chances beforehand. In every writer's house is placed a board divided into squares. Every day from the beginning to the end of the month, the letter chosen is written in one of these squares. The board is consulted by those about to try their luck, and they try to work out a system which shall guide them in their choice. Many gamblers, especially if they are Chinese, consult their gods about the matter. They go to the temples and stand in front of the altar. There they find a bamboo box containing thirty-four strips of bamboo, on each of which is printed one of the letters used by the lottery farmers. They address the presiding deity of the place and promise him abundance of fat pork and chickens if only he will be so kind as to help them in their venture. After having made this tempting offer, one stick is chosen from the bundle. The gambler looks at it, and then wonders if the gods are going to make sport of him. He proceeds to test the sincerity of the deity. He takes two pieces of bamboo root, which have been flattened on the one side and rounded on the other. He throws them into the air, exclaiming as he does so, "If I have chosen the right letter, let these two roots fall with the flat sides up." Suppose they fall as he desires, he repeats the experiment, saying, "If I have chosen the right letter, let these two roots fall with the round side up." Even if success again crowns his experiment, he still feels inclined to doubt the playful deity to whom he is appealing for counsel. So he throws the roots yet once again—"If I have chosen the right letter let these two roots fall, one with the flat side up, and one with the round side up." If they should fall in this way, he is practically certain the gods are with him. He pawns everything he possesses and stakes every farthing he can obtain on the letter of his choice. Thirty-three chances to one that he loses, and he may spend the rest of his life in extreme poverty, bewailing the fickleness of the god he supplicated.

Anyone who can write can set up a stand, for it is the policy of the farmer to have his agents scattered all over the city. The overseers are not directly paid for their services, but on the contrary, actually pay to be allowed to hold the office. The writers of the tickets receive a commission of one shilling for every forty-four shillings they hand to the overseers. The overseer receives from the farmer the same proportion of the total amount he collects each day. Thirty times the sum actually staked is handed to the writer of a correct letter. He then hands over to the winner twenty-nine times the sum, so that he gets a further profit of one-thirtieth of all the winning money that passes through his hands.

A few years ago, the gambling farmer lost a considerable sum of money through his own indiscretion. He had obtained a new wife of great beauty, of whom he was passionately fond. One day she asked him what letter he had chosen for the winning one. "Why do you wish to know?" said he. Woman-like, she replied, "Oh, I merely asked you out of curiosity." "Well," said the infatuated adorer, "promise me that you will on no account reveal it to any single person you may meet. Remember, if people were to know what letter I had chosen, I should lose a tremendous sum of money." The new favourite answered, "I promise not to tell." He gave her the letter, and faithful to her promise, she kept the secret. But she went to one of the writers and staked all the money she had on what she knew was to be the lucky character. The writer knew who she was, and jokingly asked her why she had chosen that particular letter. She answered that she had simply selected it as any one else might have done in order try her luck. Several people standing by heard the conversation, and learning that the chief had been to see her the day before in her own quarters, they thought it extremely probable that she was in possession of that days winning number. They promptly followed her example, with the result that her confiding spouse lost several thousand dollars on the day's transactions. He at once accused her of betraying his trust, and although she pleaded her innocence, he sold her within a few days to gratify his want of revenge, or perhaps, to recoup himself in part for the losses he had sustained as the result of his own folly.

In the small gambling houses that abound, various games of chance are played all day. They are open to the road, and are always fairly well filled. Idlers strolling by with an odd cent in their waistband, step in and lose it, and then pass on their way to give place to others who seek easily-made fortunes. The games played require no skill on the part of those who play. It is all pure chance, as the following descriptions will show.

(the mat game)

The Mat Game. On the floor is spread a mat with two lines drawn across it at right angles to each other, as shown in the diagram. The banker sits in the position marked A, and the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 are placed as here indicated. In front of the banker is a big pile of cowrie shells. He takes up as many as he can hold in his two hands and places them in front of him. The crowd then place any amount they like on any one of the four numbers. Suppose, for example, that there are four playing and that each places a shilling on a different number. When all those who wish to play have put down their money, the proprietor begins to count out the shells he has taken from a large heap, and to place them in small piles of four each, and notes the remainder when all the shells have been disposed of. If there is a remainder of two, then the man whose money is on two gets his stake doubled. Number four loses, and numbers one and three neither lose nor gain. If there is a remainder of three, the money on three is doubled, number one loses, and numbers two and four remain unaltered. If there are twenty or thirty people playing, the principle is the same. All those who have guessed the right remainder get their money doubled, the opposite numbers lose, and the others neither win nor lose. If there is no remainder then the winning number is four. One variation in the method of staking is allowed. The money may be placed on any one of the four diagonal lines. Suppose the stake is laid on the line between three and two, then if either three or two be the remainder the money is doubled, but if one or four wins, then the money is lost. Porcelain counters of very small value are used at these places, and so common is the gambling habit, that these counters are used in the markets for the purchase of goods, for both buyers and sellers know that the gambler's coins can easily be disposed of again. If a banker fails, he is unable to redeem his porcelain coinage and the holders are then liable to lose the value of the counters in their possession.

Brass Cup Game. The necessary apparatus for this form of speculation is a small brass cup and a wooden cube. The upper face of the cube is divided by a line into two halves, one of which is painted red and the other white. The banker puts the cube on the table in any position he chooses, without letting the people see how it is placed. He covers it with the brass cup. The players put down their stakes in various positions round the cup. The banker raises the cup. All money opposite the white edge is returned at the rate of three to one, while all opposite the other three sides passes into the banker's pocket.

The Animal Game. This is a very favourite amusement at fairs. A board is provided which measures about eighteen inches by twenty. It is divided by lines into a number of equal oblongs. In each space is painted some animal. The owner has three large wooden dice with figures painted on the sides corresponding to those in the squares on the board. Those who wish to try their luck choose a picture and place their money thereon. The three dice are placed in a cocoa-nut shell, and rattled about, and then thrown on a table. The winning pictures are those that appear on the topmost faces of the three cubes.

Gambling with cards is very common. The cards are all of Chinese pattern, and measure three inches by one. On them are printed kings, governors, soldiers, officials, and other important personages. There are one hundred and sixteen cards in a pack, but what are the rules that govern their complicated manipulation the writer has failed to fathom, even as he has also failed to find any other European who could furnish the requisite explanation.

Chess is one of the few pastimes that is not used for betting purposes. The game is substantially the same as that played in England, but a boat replaces the castle, the bishop is represented by a nobleman, and the knight's moves are made by a horse. There are many skilful players, and the present Minister for Foreign Affairs, Prince Devawongse, can checkmate most of the foreigners who have had the opportunity of playing with him. The real Siamese chessmen are difficult to obtain as they are made only for private use and not for sale. The poorer classes readily make up a full set when they want a game, by using buttons or cowries for the pawns and modelling the rest of the pieces out of bits of soft clay.

But the most popular of all amusements is the theatre. It is the delight of old and young alike, and is intensely interesting to the foreigner, as probably representing to a very large degree, the primitive way in which the dramas that were presented to his forefathers, were staged and enacted. It possesses an additional attraction inasmuch as it is yet a purely native institution, unaffected by those Western influences that are so rapidly destroying in the East the many Oriental manners and customs that were once the delight of the traveller. Yokohama is a European seaport. There are English policemen in Shanghai, and cafés in Saigon. In Bangkok itself electric lights and tram-cars have appeared, and one of the latest orders of the Court requires that at all future state ceremonies the native shall discard his own picturesque costume for frock-coat, European trousers, and top-hat. So far, however, the Siamese theatre has remained unaffected by these modern fashions.

The theatre of the capital may differ from that of the province, but the differences are those demanded by native taste alone. It is in all cases admirably suited to a people of fertile imagination and simple habits. Spectacular displays and gorgeous transformation scenes are neither expected nor given. Realism is not demanded in any form. Except in the matter of dress, simplicity characterises the whole performance. Great attention is paid to the pattern and the material of the costumes. They are of a regulation type—heroes, angels, soldiers, and monarchs being arrayed according to fashions that have descended from generation to generation. Cloth of gold, richly embroidered cloaks, and expensive jewels, make up the wardrobe of the richer companies.

There is only one theatre in the capital to which any admission fee is charged and where regular performances are held. On dark nights when the moon is hidden the theatre is closed, for there would be no light to go home by, but as soon as the new moon appears again, the doors are opened and the people flock to the only place of amusement that can successfully compete with the rival attractions of the gambling hells and opium dens. All other theatrical performances take place as a rule at private houses on the occasion of a wedding, a cremation, or any other public or private ceremony at which large crowds of people congregate.

The various troupes of performers are the private property of certain noblemen, who greatly pride themselves on the skill and beauty of their "prima-donnas". There are also bands of players who stroll from place to place and depend for their living on the voluntary offerings of the spectators. Occasionally they find their services required for some domestic celebration. At other times they perform in the open air, or in any odd empty shed they may happen to discover in the course of their wanderings.

There are two kinds of theatre—the "lakhon" and the "yeegai". The former, which stands highest in public estimation is probably derived from the Nautch dances of India. At one time there was a large Brahmin settlement in the town of Ligore, which is situated to the north-east of the Malay Peninsula. These emigrants from India brought with them a number of nautch girls whose dances were highly appreciated by the people of the land in which they had newly settled. The native name for Ligore is Lakhon, and when the dancers went from place to place, they were known as "The actors from Lakhon," and later on simply as the "lakhons". The word passed into the common speech and is now used as the name for "theatre". The members of the "lakhon" companies are all women with the exception of a few clowns. They seldom produce any new or original plays. Those that they act over and over again are chiefly translations of Hindoo myths, and are intolerably long. Several hours a night for a fortnight would be required for the complete performance of some of these lengthy dramas. This is no barrier to the enjoyment of the audience, for the stories of the plays are the only literature that they constantly read. They are therefore thoroughly familiar with the plot, the characters, and all the incidents of the dramas performed before them. It follows that they never need to attend the theatre from night to night in order to follow the development of the story. In fact, the better they know the play, and the oftener they see it performed, the more they enjoy it.


There is no acting in our sense of the word. The words of the play are dolefully chanted by a chorus of women, whose screeching voices produce sounds that are painfully unmusical when judged from the European standpoint. The only words uttered by the actresses themselves are similarly chanted at times when they feel that the situation has reached a climax, and consequently needs an extra amount of noise to make it thoroughly effective. The orchestra employed is called the "Mahoree", and contains twenty-one instruments when complete. The instruments used are chiefly of the percussion type and are powerful sound producers. Amongst them are drums, cymbals, tom-toms, gongs and bamboo dulcimers. Stringed instruments are represented by a few squeaky one-stringed fiddles and an instrument that resembles a zither. A terrible wind instrument is sometimes employed when it is desirable to produce a sound that can be calculated to rival that of the bagpipes when played by a zealous but unmusical amateur. The use of the band is chiefly to mark the rhythm of the chorus and to produce effective noisy bursts of sound in important scenes. Any embrace between a pair of lovers is emphasised by a forcible hammering of drums and clashing of cymbals. They know nothing of harmony, but musical experts with well-trained ears, say that they play in unison.

There is nothing natural in the actions of the performers except as regards those of the clowns. The funny men are the only ones who ever say anything in their natural voices or who ever move their limbs in a common everyday manner. The ladies go through a series of posturing evolutions euphemistically called dances. They are nothing more than extraordinary contortions of the body accompanied by equally strange motions of the limbs. The fingers are bent backwards from the joints, and the arms backwards from the elbows in a way no untrained person could ever possibly imitate. From early childhood the fingers and arms are daily bent out of place until finally they become, as it were, double jointed. The actresses whiten their faces with powder and do not relieve their ghostly appearance with any touch of colour. They fasten on the finger-tips artificial gold finger-nails of abnormal length. The audience either stands or sits on the floor, and smokes incessantly. The stage is simply a portion of the floor marked out by mats, round the sides of which sit those members of the audience who are nearest the performers. There is a raised seat or small platform at the back of the stage for the use of those who represent kings and queens in the different scenes. At the back of the seat is the common dressing-room of the whole company. It is partially or completely open to the public gaze, and a small crowd always gathers there to see the fair ones powder and adorn themselves. The strolling troupes dispense with even this imitation of a dressing-room, and prepare themselves for their parts in full view of the audience. They carry their belongings in old kerosine tins, which they arrange along one side of the shed in which they are performing.

If a horse is required, an actress comes on the stage, wearing a piece of head-gear shaped like a horse's head. It is not worn as a mask to cover the face, but as a hat on the top of the head. The rider does not mount her steed, but places her hand on its shoulder and walks by its side. Monkeys and elephants play important parts in the old legends, and they are represented in the same simple fashion; though one private company in Bangkok boasts a real elephant that has been trained for theatrical performances.

A voyage at sea is undertaken without ships. One of the players crosses the stage, having a pole in imitation of a mast fastened to his chest. From the top floats the national flag, while pieces of thin cord are fastened from the same point to the neck and shoulders of the player to represent rigging. The passengers then embark by arranging themselves in two long lines behind the man with the pole. When they are all safely aboard, the stern of the vessel arrives and forms the tail end of the procession. He also bears a pole, a flag, and a quantity of string rigging, and attached to his back is a wooden rudder, the cords of which are held by the passenger immediately in front of him. They then sail away, rolling their supple bodies in time to the music, in imitation of the rolling motion of a vessel at sea. They cross the stage, pass out at one side, and re-enter at the other, time after time, as though they were trying to impress the audience with the tedious and protracted nature of their journey.

The possession of a tin sword is a sufficient indication of a warrior; while a tall tapering crown is the symbol of monarchial authority.

Occasionally there is a villain in the piece, who after some wicked deed, finds it necessary to conceal his whereabouts. This appears at first sight to be a very difficult matter, for the stage is absolutely bare of everything that could possibly afford the slightest concealment. The difficulty is soon surmounted. If he needs a wall behind which to hide himself, a bamboo screen with a hole in the middle is at once pushed on the stage in full view of the audience. He retires behind it, and the spectators then enjoy the comical sight of a hero seeking and finding not, while the villain amuses himself by watching through the hole in the screen the fruitless efforts made to discover his hiding-place. If he is supposed to be concealed in a wood, a banana leaf or a branch of a tree is handed to him, and he holds it with his hands in front of his face. Again the hero is disappointed in his search, and when tired out with his long and unrewarded exertions, he plucks fruit from off the branch behind which the villain is in safe retirement, the audience roars with delight.

The eagerness and keen enthusiasm with which the spectators receive all these primitive methods of dramatic representation, are conclusive proof that they are endowed with strong imaginations.

The "yeegai" is of a different character entirely. It is Malay in origin. The performers are all men or boys, and belong generally to the lower classes. Chorus and orchestra are not considered indispensable, the former being always absent, and the latter generally consisting of seven large drums. There is no posturing and fantastic dancing, but genuine acting. The old legends give way to more modern and original works of a strictly farcical character. The buffoonery is excellent, but the language is nearly always coarse. Current events are burlesqued, and foreign residents with pronounced mannerisms get caricatured.

Whatever be the play or wherever it be performed, luxuriously upholstered boxes and special incidental music are not required, for the story itself is of sufficient interest to the people to capture their hearts and minds without the assistance of any expensive and elaborate furniture.