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THE GOLDEN CHERSONESE AND THE WAY THITHER
BY ISABELLA L. BIRD (Mrs. Bishop)
In presenting to the public the last installment of my travels in the Far East, in 1879, I desire to offer, both to my readers and critics, my grateful acknowledgments for the kindness with which my letters from Japan were received, and to ask for an equally kind and lenient estimate of my present volume, which has been prepared for publication under the heavy shadow of the loss of the beloved and only sister to whom the letters of which it consists were written, and whose able and careful criticism, as well as loving interest, accompanied my former volumes through the press.
It is by her wish that this book has received the title of the "Golden Chersonese," a slightly ambitious one; and I must at once explain that my letters treat of only its western portion, for the very sufficient reason that the interior is unexplored by Europeans, half of it being actually so little known that the latest map gives only the position of its coast-line. I hope, however, that my book will be accepted as an honest attempt to make a popular contribution to the sum of knowledge of a beautiful and little-traveled region, with which the majority of educated people are so little acquainted that it is constantly confounded with the Malay Archipelago, but which is practically under British rule, and is probable destined to afford increasing employment to British capital and enterprise.
The introductory chapter, and the explanatory chapters on Sungei Ujong, Selangor and Perak, contain information of a rather more solid character than is given in my sketches of travel, and are intended to make the letters more intelligible and useful.* The map by Mr. Daly is the result of the most recent surveys, and is published here by permission of the Royal Geographical Society. [*These chapters are based upon sundry reports and other official papers, and I have largely drawn upon those storehouses of accurate and valuable information, Newbold's "British Settlements in Malacca," and Crawfurd's "Dictionary of the Indian Islands."]
As I traveled under official auspices, and was entertained at the houses of officials everywhere, I feel it to be due to my entertainers to say that I have carefully abstained from giving their views on any subjects on which they may have uttered them in the ease of friendly intercourse, except in two or three trivial instances, in which I have quoted them as my authorities. The opinions expressed are wholly my own, whether right or wrong, and I accept the fullest responsibility for them.
For the sketchy personal descriptions which are here and there given, I am sure of genial forgiveness from my friends in the Malay Peninsula, and from them also I doubt not that I shall receive the most kindly allowance, if, in spite of carefulness, I have fallen into mistakes.
In writing to my sister my first aim was accuracy, and my next to make her see what I saw; but beside the remarkably contradictory statements of the few resident Europeans and my own observations, I had little to help me, and realized every day how much truth there is in the dictum of Socrates--"The body is a hindrance to acquiring knowledge, and sight and hearing are not to be trusted."* [*Phaedo of Plato. Chapter x.]
This volume is mainly composed of my actual letters, unaltered, except by various omissions and some corrections as to matters of fact. The interest of my visits to the prison and execution ground of Canton, and of my glimpses of Anamese villages, may, I hope, be in some degree communicated to my readers, even though Canton and Saigon are on the beaten track of travelers.
I am quite aware that "Letters" which have not received any literary dress are not altogether satisfactory either to author or reader, for the author sacrifices artistic arrangement and literary merit, and the reader is apt to find himself involved among repetitions, and a multiplicity of minor details, treated in a fashion which he is inclined to term "slipshod;" but, on the whole, I think that descriptions written on the spot, even with their disadvantages, are the best mode of making the reader travel with the traveler, and share his first impressions in their original vividness. With these explanatory remarks I add my little volume to the ever-growing library of the literature of travel.
I. L. B. FEBRUARY, 1883
The Aurea Chersonesus--The Conquest of Malacca--The Straits Settlements--The Configuration of the Peninsula--A Terra Incognita-- The Monsoons--Products of the Peninsula--The Great Vampire--Beasts and Reptiles--Malignant and Harmless Insects--Land and Water Birds-- Traditions of Malay Immigration--Wild and Civilized Races--Kafirs-- The Samangs and Orang-outang--Characteristics of the Jakuns-- Babas and Sinkehs--The Malay Physiognomy--Language andLiterature-- Malay Poetry and Music--Malay Astronomy--Education and Law--Malay Sports--Domestic Habits--Weapons--Slavery and Debt Bondage-- Government--"No Information"
Canton and Saigon, and whatever else is comprised in the second half of my title, are on one of the best beaten tracks of travelers, and need no introductory remarks.
But the Golden Chersonese is still somewhat of a terra incognita; there is no point on its mainland at which European steamers call, and the usual conception of it is as a vast and malarious equatorial jungle, sparsely peopled by a race of semi-civilized and treacherous Mohammedans. In fact, it is as little known to most people as it was to myself before I visited it; and as reliable information concerning it exists mainly in valuable volumes now out of print, or scattered through blue books and the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Singapore, I make no apology for prefacing my letters from the Malay Peninsula with as many brief preliminary statements as shall serve to make them intelligible, requesting those of my readers who are familiar with the subject to skip this chapter altogether.
The Aurea Chersonesus of Ptolemy, the "Golden Chersonese" of Milton, the Malay Peninsula of our day, has no legitimate claim to an ancient history. The controversy respecting the identity of its Mount Ophir with the Ophir of Solomon has been "threshed out" without much result, and the supposed allusion to the Malacca Straits by Pliny is too vague to be interesting.
The region may be said to have been rediscovered in 1513 by the Portuguese, and the first definite statement concerning it appears to be in a letter from Emanuel, King of Portugal, to the Pope. In the antique and exaggerated language of the day, he relates that his general, the famous Albuquerque, after surprising conquests in India, had sailed to the Aurea Chersonesus, called by its inhabitants Malacca. He had captured the city of Malacca, sacked it, slaughtered the Moors (Mohammedans) who defended it, destroyed its twenty-five thousand houses abounding in gold, pearls, precious stones, and spices, and on its site had built a fortress with walls fifteen feet thick, out of the ruins of its mosques. The king, who fought upon an elephant, was badly wounded and fled. Further, on hearing of the victory, the King of Siam, from whom Malacca had been "usurped by the Moors," sent to the conqueror a cup of gold, a carbuncle, and a sword inlaid with gold. This conquest was vaunted of as a great triumph of the Cross over the Crescent, and as its result, by the year 1600 nearly the whole commerce of the Straits had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese.
Of the remaining "Moorish", or Malay kingdoms, Acheen, in Sumatra, was the most powerful, so powerful, indeed, that its king was able to besiege the great stronghold of Malacca more than once with a fleet, according to the annalist, of "more than five hundred sail, one hundred of which were of greater size than any then constructed in Europe, and the warriors or mariners that it bore amounted to sixty thousand, commanded by the king in person." The first mention of Johore, or Jhor, and Perak occurs about the same time, Perak being represented as a very powerful and wealthy State.
The Portuguese, by their persevering and relentless religious crusade against the Mohammedans, converted all the States which were adjacent to their conquests into enemies, and by 1641 their empire in the Straits was seized upon by the Dutch, who, not being troubled by much religious earnestness, got on very well with the Malay Princes, and succeeded in making advantageous commercial treaties with them.
A curious but fairly accurate map of the coasts of the Peninsula was prepared in Paris in 1668 to accompany the narrative of the French envoy to the Court of Siam, but neither the mainland nor the adjacent islands attracted any interest in this country till the East India Company acquired Pinang in 1775, Province Wellesley in 1798, Singapore in 1823, and Malacca in 1824. These small but important colonies were consolidated in 1867 into one Government under the Crown, and are now known as the Straits Settlements, and prized as among the most valuable of our possessions in the Far East. Though these settlements are merely small islands or narrow strips of territory on the coast, their population, by the census of 1881, exceeded four hundred and twenty-two thousand souls, and in 1880 their exports and imports amounted to 32,353,000 pounds!
Besides these little bits of British territory scattered along a coast-line nearly four hundred miles in length, there are, on the west side of the Peninsula, the native States of Kedah, Perak, Selangor, and Sungei Ujong, the last three of which are under British "protection;" and on the east are Patani, Kelantan, Tringganu, and Pahang; the southern extremity being occupied by the State of Johore. The interior, which is scarcely at all known, contains toward its centre the Negri Sembilan, a confederation of eight (formerly nine) small States. The population of the native States of the Peninsula is not accurately known, but, inclusive of a few wild tribes and the Chinese immigrants, it is estimated at three hundred and ten thousand; which gives under nine inhabitants to the square mile, the population of the British settlements being about four hundred and twenty to the square mile.
The total length of the Peninsula is eight hundred miles, and its breadth varies from sixty to one hundred and fifty miles. It runs down from lat. 13 degrees 50' N. to 1 degree 41' N. The northern part, forming the Isthmus of Kraw, which it is proposed to pierce for a ship canal, runs nearly due north and south for one hundred and forty miles, and is inhabited by a mixed race, mainly Siamese, called by the Malays Sansam. This Isthmus is under the rule of Siam, which is its northern boundary; and the northern and eastern States of Kedah, Patani, Kelantan, Pahang, and Tringganu, are more or less tributary to this
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