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0571 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 571 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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184. COWRIES   555

word; in DUMONT D'URVILLE, Voyage de l'Astrolabe, Philologie, 1833, 8 vo, 2nd part, 162, «poure » is given as a word heard by GAIMARD at Tikopia, but is stated to mean « coquillage », i. e. « shell » in general. Now the Singhalese name of the cowry is bella, in Maldivian boli. I leave it to others to decide whether bier, Nör, and puré (?) can be connected with bella, boli, and whether a liquid has possibly been dropped in biâ, biya. On the other hand, the Portuguese buzio (Span. bucio, > French bouge, Dutch plur. boegies, bougies, and, erroneously, bongies), which SCHILDER (p. 324) has tempted to derive from the Siamese bid or Maldivian boli, can have nothing to do with either. The problem of the cowry is not touched in Ph. N. BOSE'S The Indian Colony of Siam, Lahore, 1927.

From the Indian Ocean, cowries could have reached Yün-nan not only through Siam, but also through Burma. Unfortunately, I find but little information on the use of cowries in Burma. SCHILDER, 316, mentions Burma among the countries which used the cowry for ornament, but says nothing of a cowry currency. In the Kuang chih (c. A. D. 400?; see COTTON, p. 462) « conch » (fpj k'o) and « cowries » (chu-pei; on this term, cf. supra, p. 543) are listed among the « products » of the kingdom of P'iao, i. e. Lower Burma (cf. T'ai p'ingyü-lan, 359, 15; the name of the country has been altered in our editions to P'iao-jên, but the original is not doubtful). A more precise statement occurs in Sulaymàn (Fe, 44); in his notice of Rahmà, i. e. Pegu, or Lower Burma, he states that « among the inhabitants barter is conducted by means of cowries; it is the currency of the country, i. e. its wealth ». So there must have been a cowry currency in Pegu by the middle of the ninth century. But HARVEY, who cites the above text in his History of Burma (p. 10), gives no confirmation from any other source. The Burmese name of the cowry is kriwé > kyiwé.

Of the « salt money » of southern Ssû-ch'uan (see « Gaindu ») Polo says that 80 « loaves » of it were worth one saggio of fine gold (cf. vol. I, 275, and Y, II, 54, 57-58), i. e. one ch'ien of gold, the very value assigned by the YS to 20 so of 80 cowries. As a consequence, 80 cowries ought to be worth 4 loaves of salt or, to express it otherwise, one loaf of salt was worth 20 cowries. I am too poorly informed on the subject of the history of the « salt money » in Ssû-ch'uan to be able to decide whether its value in multiples of 20 (i. e. 4 X 5), with a higher unit of 80 (i. e. 4 X 20), be accidental or may be connected with the system used in reckoning cowries. But, for the latter, there can be no doubt that the system is the one which obtained of old in the countries bordering on the Indian Ocean.

I lack all information on the ancient method of reckoning cowries in Indonesia, but more is available on the ancient practice in Siam. LA LOUBtRE, who in 1687-1688 found the cowry currency used throughout the country, says (Description du royaume de Siam, Amsterdam reprint, II, 222-223) that the cowries came from the Maldives, and occasionally from the Philippine Islands, and that 6,400 were worth one silver tical (but, contrary to SCHNEIDER, 107, and JACKSON, 171, he does not mention Borneo, nor does he say that the cowries were carried by ships as ballast) The same rate was indicated in 1688 by GERVAISE (loc. cit., 152), according to whom there were 800 cowries to one ficdng (i. e. 1/8 of a tical), and it still obtained in 1822 (cf. CRAWFURD, Journal of an Embassy ... to the Court of Siam ... 2, London, 1830, II, 34). If we take YULE'S figures (Hobson-Jobson2, 888, 918), the tical is 225.5 English grains, and the Chinese tael almost 580 grains;