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0576 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 576 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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560   184. COWRIES

10,000 inhabited », or « more than 12,000 inhabited and more than 8,000 uninhabited » (Jourdain Cathala, in CORDIER, Les Merveilles de l'Asie, 74, 95; this would almost suggest that we ought to read « 2,000 inhabited » instead of « 12,000 », and « 2,000 » would agree with the figures given by Arabic sources). Our main authority for the conditions anciently prevailing in the Maldives, François PYRARD of Lavai, who lived there from 1602 to 1607, states that the King of the Mai-dives called himself « Sultan Ibrahim doles assa ral tera atholon » : that is to say, « Ibrahim Sultan, King of 13 provinces and 12,000 toles » (GRAY, Pyrard of Laval, II, 95). It must be remarked, however, that the literal translation of the title would seem to be, « [King] of 12,000 countries (ral) and 13 islands (atholon, our « atoll ») ».

Without attempting to give a general sketch of the use of the cowry currency in India, I may state that this currency, restricted in modern times to states bordering on the sea or lying in the southern half of the peninsula, has been shown by STEIN (Râjatarangin i, II, 323-324) to have been extensively used in Kashmir at an early date, and the passages of the Mahâvyutpatti which will presently be adduced would almost suggest that it was familiar to the Tibetans in the ninth century. We must not forget, either, that in the eighth century pei-ch'ien, «shell money », is

expressly entered in the Fan-   tsa-ming of the Kuchean Li-yen, whose interests were mainly
Central-Asian . Yet there is no trace of a shell currency in Chinese Turkestan. In that country I have myself picked up a few cowries, which the natives called yilan-basi, « snake-heads » (cf. SCHILDER, 325; RADLOV's Dictionary, iv, 126, Kirghiz gilanbas), but there is nothing to suggest that they were ever used save as ornaments. I-ching had added to his translation of the Suvarnaprabhâsa, ch. 6, a note on the value of the kârsâpana in pei-ch'ih, i. e. in cowries (R, Ix, 23 b), and part of this note has been included in the Uighur translation (edited by RADLOV and MALOV, in Bibl. Buddhica, xVII, 44213-141 But the Uighur translators have merely rendered pei-ch'ih as yartmaq (> now yarmaq), the usual Turkish name of the Chinese copper cash, clearly because the Uighurs had no notion of a cowry currency. Nor do I know of any Mongol or Manchu tradition referring to the cowry; its names in Mongolian, ibau, iba'u, iba'un, and in Manchu, ubioo (cf. Ssic-t'i ho pi wên-chien; KOWALEWSKI, 281; ZAKHAROV, 149), may be artificial creations due to Ch'ien-lung's scholars, which, however, I cannot explain; and so far no text has yielded the name by which the Mongols referred to the cowry currency of Yün-nan during the Mongol dynasty. Outside the range of Indian culture, the only part of the world where the cowry currency met with any real success was Africa, where its use has been carefully investigated in the general works mentioned at the beginning of the present note (to which add DELAFOSSE'S remarks in JA, 1926, I, 177-184).

I have already alluded to the fact that the « string » of 80 cowries formerly used in Yün-nan betrayed a southern, probably Indian, origin. A glance at Hobson-Jobson's article on « cowry » is enough to show the importance in modern times of the pan (< Skr. papa) of 80 cowries, which could be divided into 20 gander (< Skr. gandaka) of 4 cowries each. PRZYLUSKI has devoted to this scale part of a very interesting paper on La numération vigésimale dans l'Inde (Roczn. Orjental., Iv [1926], 230-237), and has shown that it was closely related to the modes of reckoning of some pre-Aryan tribes of India, like the Santali. But, for my present purpose, it will be enough to draw attention to the Tibetan translations made from Sanskrit terms in the ninth