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0574 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 574 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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558   184. COWRIES

in exchanging what they have for what they do not have, gold coins, silver coins, cowries ( pei-chu ; cf. supra, p. 543), and small pearls. » But, in the notices of the various kingdoms, it is only in the one devoted to Kongoda, a small country between Orissa and Kalinga on the eastern coast of India, that Hsüan-tsang makes the following remark (Mémoires, II, 91) : « Its currency consists of shells (lo-pei) and various pearls (chu-chi). » Drawing perhaps, as often, from Hsüantsang, but with a different wording, the Chiu T'ang shu (198, 8 b) says of India that « it employs

cowries (ch'ih-pei ; it may be a corrupt reading instead of the more usual pei-ch'ih, but it must have already been given in Sung editions) as currency ». This passage of the Chiu T'ang shu has been copied by Chao Ju-kua (HR, 111). The Hsin T'ang shu too (221 A, 10 b) copies the Chiu T'ang shu, but gives the usual form pei-ch'ih.

Although Chao Ju-kua's « P'êng-ch'ieh-lo of India » (14" X Hsi-t'ien; the bare translation « the West » in HR, 93, 97, 98, is inadequate) has been believed not to be Bengal (see BANGALA), two products mentioned there are less unindicative than was thought by HIRTH and ROCKHILL. One is tou-lo-mien, « tûla floss »; in the Middle Ages this term was really applied to Bengal cotton velvets (see COTTON). The other is the shell currency. The text says : jr.„1 fp p

A . In HR, 97, the translation runs : « They use (pieces of) white conch shells ground into shape as money. » This is almost unimpeachable, and yet I wonder whether it be the true rendering. In principle, the ya-lo, « polishing gastropod », ought to be the tzil pei or « purple shell » (cf. supra, p. 542); but the text expressly says it was white, as Polo does for the cowries used in Yün-nan. In view of the very small value of the shell currency, I doubt whether the people in India would have taken the trouble to « grind them into shape ». We might perhaps think of grinding a hole to string the shells, a practice which did not obtain in ancient China alone, but which I have never found reported for India proper (cf. SCHILDER, 320). On the whole I am inclined to believe that Chao Ju-kua did not exactly understand what his informants told him at Ch'üan-chou, and that the sentence actually describes the usual cowry currency which was extensively employed in Bengal.

On the other hand it is certainly Bengal which Wang Ta-yiian, writing in 1349-1350, described in his Tao-i chih-lio under the name of P'êng-chia-la (cf. ROCKHILL, in TP, 1915, 435436). ROCKHILL retained the often corrupt text of the current edition, and so did FERRAND (in JA,

1920, 83); but, as was already suspected by FUJITA, 98 a, the translation should read : « The

government casts a silver coin called t'ang-chia   taiaga, ' tanga ' ; on this word, which
I shall not discuss here, cf. YULE, Hobson-Jobson2, 896-898 [but suppressing « tangah, ' ferbianc' », which in fact should be read tcinaka]; Y1, 54, 59, 63, 138; JA, 1920, II, 293; 1935, I, 239; MOOKERJI, Harsha, 68 [taikaka]; Bl, II, 526 is absurd), every one of which weighs 2 mace (ch'ien) 8 candareens (fên ); they are regularly used in trade. They are exchanged for 11, 520 odd cowries (pa-tzil), which are a substitute for small cash; this is convenient for the people and truly advantageous. » This text has passed into the Ming i-t'ung chih, 90, 9 b, and the Shu-yii chou-tzii lu, 11, 3 a, but curtailed and so corruptly divided that it is the « tanga » which is said to be used as «a substitute for small cash »; they still give to the taiga, however, the correct weight of « 2 mace 8 candareens », which has become simply «8 candareens » in the current text of the Tao-i chih-lio.