« PreviousContinue »
sapphires of that price are allowed to come before the eye of the officials, it being decidedly to the profit of the finder to break a large one into two or three pieces, and thus be able to keep it for himself. It is said that no stranger is ever permitted to approach the place where these mines are situated. The Yu or jade mines are worked by private individuals, each of whom pays a licence for this privilege, and is entitled to all he unearths. Momien, in the Chinese province of Yun-nan, used at one time to have almost a monopoly of the jade manufacture, and to this day many of the smaller articles are produced in that city.
Roaming through the Burmese forests are the elephant and the one and two-horne:) species of rhinoceros. The tiger, the leopard, the wild hog, several species of deer, and many of the more familiar animals of India, are also often met with; and in the Irrawaddy lives a species of dolphin (Orcella) corresponding to, but different from, the “Soosoo (Platanista) of the Ganges. The birds are very numerous, and comprise, among others, the peacock and various species of ibis, pheasant, partridge, and quail. In the waters numerous forms of fish abound.* The buffalo, ox, and horse are used as beasts of burden. Elephants are reserved for the use of the king; while it is a piece of familiar knowledge to all the world that in Burmalı, as in Siam, an albino form of that pachyderm is so highly valued that it is kept at court in state befitting a prince of the blood royal. Dogs, cats, goats, and sheep are seen, but they are neglected, and are of a poor description. The camel is unknown, and the only asses in the country are those brought from China.
GOVERNMENT, TRADE, AND INDUSTRY. The king rules as an absolute monarch, but justice is, on the whole, fairly administered (for the East) ; and, contrary to the wont in such countries, women, though occupying a degraded position in Burmah, are permitted access to the courts of law in their own names. Bribery and extortion, however, prevail, as might be expected from the system adopted, for few Burmese officials receive fixed salaries. The higher dig. nitaries are paid by the assignment of land or forced labour, and the lower by what they can make in the way of bribes, perquisites, and other pickings, which make the administration of the law and the sale of “justice” so lucrative a trade in Burmah. This system is, however, not peculiar to King Theebaw's domain, but prevails to even a worse extent in nearly all the neighbouring countries. The police are exceedingly incompetent, the punishments cruel in the extreme, and, as many prisoners in our wars could testify, torture is a common accompaniment of prison life, and is resorted to by the gaolers, who are generally condemned criminals, and rank among the outcasts of society, in order to force their victims to pay fines to procure milder treatment.
The revenue is collected mainly by extortion; and though the mode of assessment is vexatious in the extreme, the result is in no corresponding degree lucrative to the Court. Poll-taxes, taxes on agriculture, on fruit-trees, tobacco-land, on teak-forests, on
Day: Proceedings of the Zoological Society (1869-70), and “ Fishes of India” (1875-78); Blyth : Journal off the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1875); Anderson : “Scientific Results of the Yun-nan Expedition " (1880), &c.
+ For a fuller account of the habits of the Burmese see “Races of Jankind," Vol. IV., pp. 138-147.
petroleum-springs, on the fisheries, on salt-manufactories, on the eggs of the green turtle, and on edible swallows'-nests are among those commonly exacted. But, in addition, extraordinary imposts for the enrichment of favourites or to supply the exhausted exchequer of the king are frequently resorted to, and cannot be detailed in any systematic schedule of Burmese taxation. The civilisation of the country is really stationary, if not retrograding, and little money is spent on public works, the main extravagance in that direction being for the repair of the Buddhist temples, on one of which more than £10,000 was lavished in the way of gilding and general decoration. The Burmese commerce finds its way through British Burmah to the sea, and consists of the articles mentioned; but a considerable amount of goods pass overland to China, the Ava cotton being in special demand among the Celestials, while, on the other hand, the Chinese silk is valued in Burmah.* But in the northern part of Burmah most of the trade is carried on at fairs in connection with the religious festivals. All commerce in Burmah is, however, much impeded by the want of a proper circulating medium. There is no coined money, and the pieces of silver which are used in lieu thereof are so frequently alloyed, and in all cases of such indeterminate weight, that much trouble and expense are continually incurred in getting them weighed and assayed. For small payments lead is einployed. Money brings from 25 to 60 per cent. interest, according to the character of the security for its repayment; and altogether the commercial state of the kingdom is very low. The people excel in several arts. Their architecture bears the impress of India, and is chiefly practised in wood, though the elaborate carving and the rich gilding, which are carried to an extraordinary extent, give the houses an appearance of splendour out of all proportion to their rather flimsy character. The finest buildings are those devoted to religious purposes, and of these there is a prodigious number; but the private erections are usually not very imposing, owing to the people's prejudices against any one walking over their heads preventing the architect from rearing his bandiwork higher than one storey. Cotton is woven on a rude loom; and though the fabric is durable, the Burmese women have never yet attained to the skill of their Indian sisters in the textile arts. Silk cloth is manufactured from raw material, either raised within their own borders or imported from China, t from which country most of the porcelain used in Burmah comes. They smelt iron, but not being able themselves to prepare steel, the few common articles of cutlery—such as swords, spears, knives, carpenters' tools, &c.—made by them are of metal brought from Bengal. The late king, conceiving that the Burmese defeats during the two wars with the British were owing to the want of cannon on his part, brought all manner of European and other adventurers to his capital to cast these lethal weapons for him; and it is said that the number and variety of inefficient artillery possessed by his successor are remarkable. But it is in the jewellery art that Burmese skill is chiefly displayed. Many of their ornaments of repoussé gold and silver are very tasteful, and their cups and similar vessels are often executed with much power. Yet the tools employed are few and rough. The bellows used by jewellers and workers in metals other than gold and silver General Fytche describes as consisting of a couple of wooden cylinders, their diameter being proportioned to the force required. These cylinders are fitted with pistons, alternately “raised and depressed by one or two men, and the air, forced out at an aperture in the lower end of the apparatus, is conducted into the fire by an iron tube.” By means of these simple bellows they are
* For trade routes to China, see Coryton : Journal of the Royal Geographical Socity, Vol. XLV. (1875), pp. 229-249.
† Orthodox Buddhists, from their horror of destroying life, look upon sericulture with abhorrence. Hence from time immemorial those practising it have resided in villages by themselves-outcasts, holding little intercourse with their neighbours.
” enabled to melt the hardest metals.
Ivory and wood-carving is also executed in clear and bold alto relievo, and in most artistic designs; yet the sister art of painting is in Burmah at a very low ebb. Bell-casting is an art which the Burmese take a great pride in, and in which they have accordingly attained a considerable degree of perfection. In 1796 the largest bell in the world, with the exception of the one presented by the Empress Anne to the Moscow Cathedral, was cast at Mengoon. Their gongs are also excellent, and possess a much finer and deeper tone than those made by the Chinese. The Burmese, though not artists in the proper sense of the term, have a keener sense of the harmonies of colour and design than most of the neighbouring natives, and on their best lacquered ware—made of fine cane and bamboo-work, covered with a red and yellow and black or yellow lacquer—fanciful and sometimes elegant designs are traced.
Mandalay, the present capital of Burmah, is a city only twenty years old, and is laid out in a square, each side of which is a little over a mile in length, and is entirely enclosed by a crenelated brick wall 26 feet high and 3 feet thick, as well as by strong earthworks, and by buttresses protruding from the wall, at intervals of about 200 feet. The walls are pierced by twelve gates, each surmounted by a pavilion, or notch, with double or triple roofs, and 60 feet from the wall a deep moat, 100 feet in width, has been dug, and is always kept full of water. The moat is crossed by four bridges, but being made of wood, and easily raised at the approach of an enemy, there is no provision made for their protection except from the wall.
In round numbers the houses inside and outside the walls will be about 12,000, and the inhabitants about 65,000. The king's palace is the centre of the city, and is strongly protected by brick walls and a teak stockade. In the city there is always a considerable garrison. But the Burmese army, though much improved as a fighting machine since the time we last encountered it, is still very contemptible. There is—as among the Easterns, and especially among the Mongols-no distinction between the civil and military services. « Treasurers and judges are expected to take the command of armies. The Burmese army comprises the whole population of adult males, or rather, as much of the population as can be brought together by a forced conscription. Sometimes they are collected from particular provinces, townships, or districts, but on great occasions levies are made of the whole population. The officials then become generals. Such an army is a mere rabble. It is without any discipline or military virtue. It is formidable only to the petty tribes and natives in the neighbourhood. The present [late] king has occasionally employed Europeans to drill his army, but a very small amount of success has hitherto attended his efforts in this direction.” Ava was for a long time the capital of the Empire, and gave its name to the country, Ava being formerly much more familar as the designation of the region we are now describing than Burmah.
But for many years past it has been almost deserted. Pagan must in earlier times also have been a fine city, but at present consists almost solely of a vast area of ruined temples, chiefly of the cruciform vaulted type.* There are several other cities, but none of them —with the exception of Bhamo—are of much importance, the chief towns having always, in modern times, at least, been on the sea-coast, and therefore now under British rule. The Burmese capital has been often changed. The first mentioned in Burmese history is
Tagoung, founded 500 years B.C. Afterwards the seat of government was at Prome, two towns of the name of Pagan, Panya, Tsagain, Ava, Toungoo, Pegu, Amarapura, and other cities, and once it even threatened to be in at Arakan.t
CLIMATE AND DISEASES.
As these two questions more nearly concern the European temporarily or for a length of time requiring to reside in Burmah, we may devote the last of our notes on the
* Yule : “ Narrative of the Mission to Ava under Sir Arthur Phayre” (1859).
+ Fytche: “Burmah, Past and Present,” Vol. I., p. 30.
country to them.
On the coast there are only two seasons, the wet and the dry. The former depends on the prevalence of the north-east and the latter on the south-west monsoon. In Burmah proper—this is, in the upper or independent country-10 rain falls, and there are three seasons, the hot, cold, and rainy. In May or June there are showers, but it is not until the autumn that the heavy rains come. Then from the middle of October till early in April the weather is cool. The interval, however, between April and August is hot—the thermometer often rises to 85°, and even 100°—rarely above the latter limit, but just as rarely falling below the former. Even the coast region (British Burmah) General Fytehe considers, taking it all the year round, to be much cooler than Bengal. The south-west monsoon sets in earlier, and hence the intense heat which immediately precedes the commencement of the rains is shorter. A sultry night is a rarity, and in the lower portion of the provinces, owing to their proximity to the sea, there is generally a breeze. Even further inland the natural formation of the country in valleys enables the residents to benefit by these winds. When the rain does fall it pours with no niggard downfall. In 1870, at the sea-coast town of Maulmain, 1816 inches fell—59-2 inches in the month of August. On the 27th May, 1857, 12.97 inches were recorded. “The rain descends from the land skies," writes the late Chief Commissioner of Burmah, “in dense sheets, accompanied with vivid lightning and crashing peals of thunder, and during the paroxysm of the monsoon has an appearance as if Heaven in its justice bad deemed fit to immerse in a second cataclysm an impenitent world.” In Upper Burmah drought is sometimes experienced, but happily famines, such as
are too familiar to many parts of India, are unknown. Those which have occurred are ascribed more to devastating wars and political causes than to soil and climate. Snow, it is almost needless to say, is unknown, but at the commencement of the south-west monsoon storms of hail are not unfrequent. On the higher ranges of mountains frost is, however, experienced during the middle of the north-east monsoon. The climate, though trying, like all parts of the tropics, is not particularly dangerous. The regiments stationed both on the coast and on the frontier enjoy excellent health. The complaints most prevalent are fever, dysentery, and liver diseases, maladies from which the natives themselves are not free, though their sturdy and vigorous appearance proves that Burmah is not a land of pestilence. From a sanitary point of view, the soldiers' worst enemy in this, as in other parts of the East, is the fatal facility for indulging in insobriety. “It's a fine country; lots to drink, and you are always dry,” was the encomium passed on it by Private Thomas Atkins. *
THE SHAN STATES.
Between Munnipoor on the east and Yun-nan on the west, south of lat. 24°, to the borders of Siam and Cambodia, are a number of wild tribes, who, though owing allegiance
* Laurie: “Our Burmese Wars and Relations with Burma (1880); Gouger: “Two Years' Imprisonment in Burmah” (1862); Winter: “Six Months in Burmah ” (1858); Forbes: “Burmah” (1879); Anderson : "Expedition to East Yunnan via Bhamo” (1871); “Mandalay and Momien " (1876); Trant: “Two Years in Ava” (1827); Vincent: “The Land of the White Elephant” (1873); M‘Mahon: “The Karens and the Golden Chersonese" (1876); Bastian: “Reisen in Birma" (1866); Ligandet : "Life and Legend of Gaudama” (1879); as well as the works of Sangermano, Cox, Symes, Snodgrass, Wayland, Canning, Crawfurd, Burney, and others.