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0568 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 568 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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552   184. COWRIES

form sa of the Lolo, and this Lolo sa may well itself have been borrowed from the Chinese so (*sâk > *sâ) c. A. D. 1000-1100. Such a case, added to that of Lolo sa-la, «cotton », will have to be remembered in future attempts to determine the part played by Thai and Lolo elements, respectively, in the culture of the mediaeval Nan-chao and Ta-li kingdoms of Yün-nan.

At whatever date we should place the beginning of the cowry currency in Yün-nan, the origin of this currency is perfectly clear. We are always too prone to attribute to China the various elements of Yunnanese culture. As a matter of fact, much of it comes from the south (see CorroN), and the southern origin of the cowry currency is amply proved by the mere fact that the « string » was of 80 cowries. This leads us to examine the problem of the cowry currency in India and in the regions which have long been under Indian influence.

Apart from Yün-nan, Polo speaks of a cowry currency in «Toloman», Bengal, «Caugigu », and «Amu» (cf. Vol. i, 298); and in the description of « Lochac » (cf. Vol. r, 370) he says that from this kingdom go all the cowries used in the above-named provinces. «Toioman» was in the northeastern part of Yün-nan, and may have shared in its cowry currency. Of Bengal, where cowries remained in use almost to our day, Polo speaks only from hearsay, repeating what he was told in Yün-nan. «Caugigu» (< Ch. Chiao-chih-kuo) and «Amu» (< *Annam) are both Tongking, which he does not seem to have even visited; but he heard of Tongking as Chiao-chih-kuo in Yün-nan, and of Annam probably when travelling by sea from China to Champa. There is no indication that a cowry currency ever existed in Tongking itself, but it may have been used more or less on its north-western borders. As to « Lochac », this is certainly Siam, where a cowry currency obtained down to the middle of the last century (the identification of « Lochac » with the Pub Condore islands in JACKSON, 183, and ANDERSSON, Children of the Yellow Earth, 296, is untenable). Siam, however, imported her cowries from the Maldives and later also from the Philippines. Polo never went to «Lochac », and what he really meant, and what, in my opinion, was probably quite true in his time was that the cowries used in Yün-nan mainly came from « Lochac », i. e. Siam. But they were not produced in Siam.

Polo's chapter on «Lochac» is the most ancient source which refers to cowries in Siam. Next

come Chinese texts. Wang Ta-ytian's Tao-i chih-lio, dated 1350, says of   Lo-hu (Polo's
«Lochac», Siam; FUJnTA's ed., in Hsüeh-yang ts'ung-k'o, 32 b; cf. ROCKHILL in TP, 1915, 110) : « It is the rule to conduct their trade with cowries (pa-tel.) instead of coins. Ten thousand of them are equal in value to twenty-four taels (liang) in Chung-t'ung paper money. It is extremely convenient for the people. » In 1416 (?, or shortly after 1433) Ma Huan is content with stating that the people of Hsien-lo (=Siam) « in trading use cowries just as [we do] copper cash» ( TP, 1915, 102). Fei Hsin, writting in 1436, copies into his paragraph on Hsien-lo what the Tao-i chip-lio said of the use of cowries in Lo-hu, but gives the value of ten thousand cowries as « twenty » taels instead of «twenty-four» (TP, 1915, 105); but this seems to be a slip or a corrupt reading. With the same reading « twenty » (and with an additional change, kuan, «string» instead of Jiang, «tael »), Fei Hsin's text has passed into Shu yü chou-tzil lu, 8, 12 a. It is difficult to determine the real value of the equivalence proffered by Wang Ta-yuan. In principle, «chungt'ung paper money (ch'ao)» is the name of the banknotes issued by Qubilai in the chung-t'ung period (1260-1263), although they had been replaced in the course of Qubilai's reign by others,