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0579 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 579 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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184. COWRIES   563

Pana is the fa-nan (=fanam) and pa-nan (= panam) of Chinese texts of the early fifteenth century (cf. TP, 1933, 409), the pun (of 80 cowries) and the fanam of Anglo-Indian, the fanon of the French settlements in India (cf. Hobson-Jbson°-, 348, 737). As to the karsa, it was originally a weight, which was mainly used in ancient times in connection with gold and silver, but became the designation also of a copper coin; and it is in this capacity that it has survived. Sanskrit karsa > Tamil kâsu, Singh. kâsi, is the etymology of the Portuguese caixa, our « cash ». But it is a mistake to state (Hobson-Dobson`', 167) that the Portuguese are responsible for the use of this term as a designation of the small money of Indonesia and of the Chinese copper coins. Long before the arrival of Europeans, chia-ship, *kW', is given by a Chinese traveller of the first quarter of the fifteenth century as the native designation of the tin coins of Pasè in Sumatra (cf. TP, 1936, 220), and kas is the name of the Chinese copper « cash » in Cambodian. This would tend to support the view expressed above (p. 561) that the use of « mace » (< Skr. mâsa), as a designation of the Chinese ch'ien (in the sense of 0.1 of an ounce), may not have originated with European traders as is generally believed, but have begun much earlier among the natives of Indonesia.

The main purpose of these notes on Indian weights has been to show that the whole scale of value of the cowries in Yün-nan during the Middle Ages, based on 4, 16 (4 x 4), and 80 (16 X 5), connected this cowry currency with the Indian Ocean, more precisely with India, an" not with the decimal scale of the usual Chinese practice. To this Chinese decimal practice then, is now only one exception. The Chinese « pound » or chin (lit. « axe », a significant indication that bronze axes once served as a unit of weight) is divided into sixteen « ounces » or Jiang. But it would take us too far from our subject if I should attempt to trace the history of this apparent exception. It has to be studied in connection with the ancient measures hsün of 8 feet and ch'ang of 16 feet, with the ilk sou of 16 pecks (tou), with the shu, which was 1/24 of a Jiang, and also with the shih, « stone », of 120 pounds (gradually replaced by the tan, « picul », of 100 pounds) and its fourth part, the 4j chün of 30 pounds, as well as its multiples, the

ping of two shih (or of 16 ) hu; cf. K'ang-hsi tzü-tien, and Ch'ien-Han shu, 89 B, 13 b), etc. All of these were out of use or were becoming obsolete when a cowry currency made its appearance in Yün-nan, and moreover they would not account for the details of a system which, like the product to which it was applied and the tribes who adopted it, is decidedly non-Chinese.

Although I shall not discuss the cowry trade in Africa, going back as it does to the Middle Ages, I cannot refrain from quoting a passage from Aluise da Ca' da Mosto, the Venetian who

travelled along the coasts of western Africa from 1455 to 1463 and discovered the Cape Verde in 1460. Speaking of tribes of the interior of the continent (somewhat north of Senegal), he

says (RAMuslo, I, 100 EF; cf. SCHNEIDER, 119-120) : « In that land of the Berrettini no coins are

made... I have heard, however, that inland these Azanaghi (= Berrettini) and also the Arabs are accustomed, in some places, to use white cowries (porcellette bianche), of those small ones

which are brought to Venice from the Levant; and they give a certain amount of them according to the nature of the goods which they have to buy. » I shall make use of this text in my note on «Porcelain ».