Page images
PDF
EPUB

cessfully worked: but the government, afraid of invasion from European avarice, prohibits all attempts of that kind. By a singular departure from the common course, a residence in a hilly part of this empire is in general less healthy than in the plain. This is owing to the bad quality of the water; which is caused, in the opinion of the inhabitants, by the fall of leaves from the trees, but more probably by the taint of copper mines.

The Tonquinese still retain, in their personal appearance, a considerable resemblance to their Chinese progenitors, though in some respects a difference may be remarked; their noses are less flat, and they are addicted to the rude custom of blackening their teeth, and deepening the red of their lips. This operation takes place at the age of sixteen or seventeen, and gives an ungracious and often a harsh cast to their features, though they are delighted to escape at any hazard from the colour of white; which, even in the case of teeth, is obnoxious to their taste. Notwithstanding this disfiguration, beauty may be found among the women, whose eyes are large, black, and expressive. The women of the kingdom of Tonquin are accounted superior in personal attractions to their fellow-subjects in Cochin-China; at least, if we may draw an inference from the choice of the mandarines, who prefer females from the former quarter. The national antipathy to white operated as a prejudice against the English, who appeared some years ago in Tonquin, and who were the fairest Europeans, who had hitherto visited the coast, The Tonquinese, although not a tall race, are well made and healthy in appearance--it

being a very rare thing to observe among them the existence of any bodily defects, except in the eye-sight. Their skins are soft, and their senses of smell and touch very delicate: their sight is weak, while there is nothing remarkable about their hearing. Their physical powers are inferior to those of an European, owing, evidently, to the lightness of their food; and in some degree, perhaps, to the effects of their climate, which,

on strangers at least, has a relaxing and an enervating influence. The females are marriageable at the ages of twelve and thirteen, and generally become the mothers of numerous families. Every mother, whatever be her station, very properly suckles her own child, and a hired nurse is a character wholly unknown in these regions. Twins at a birth are more common here, than in Europe; and, provisions being abundant, a numerous family is accounted no burthen. The diseases in Tonquin differ materially from those in Europe. Pleurisy, gout, and gravel are rare; but fever, dysentery, and outaneous complaints—especially leprosy—are frequent: the small-pox also, makes dreadful ravages, as innoculation and vaccination are both unknown; and, perhaps, if they were known, their use might not be permitted. A singular disorder consists in having the hair and skin of an enveined white colour ; the lapse of a year produces no change in the malady, which, however, is not attended with any pain, and seems to engender no other disa order,

In regard to the population of the empire of Tonquin, considerable difficulty opposes the formation of any thing like a correct estimate ; since the returns, which are made, being connected with the imposition of taxes, are often defective, and are; moreover, considered as secrets of state. The most probable computation is, that the whole population of the empire amounts to about 23 millions; of which Tonquin alone contains 18, and Cochin-China 15. The countries of Tsiam-pa and Lac-tho may be supposed to contain each between 6 and 700,000; Cambodia and Laos about 1 million each. The ratio of increase has, during the present age, been much retarded by the ravages of civil war.

Of the ten provinces of which Tonquini consists, the most populous is that of Xunam, situated in the centre of the country, and forming a vast plain, watered by many rivers, navigable for small craft. Backinh, the capital, contains about 40,000 inhabitants; Han-vints between 15 and 20,000; Tran-hac, from 10 to 15,000; Cau-sang, between - 7 and 8,000; Vi-hoang, 6,000; Hun-nam, 5,000. The last two are situated on the great Tonquin river, and Hun-nam was the seat of the Dutch factory. Phu-xuan, the capital of Upper Cochin-China, has from 20 to 30,000. Qui-phu, Sai-gou, and Quiwhou, in all Cochin-China, may be set down at nearly 8,000 each. A dreadful famine, which took place twenty years ago, in consequence of a drought, made sad havoc in the population; which otherwise appears to encrease very rapidly. Few persons of either sex remain unmarried: a family of children is accounted an honour, and very soon proves to be an advantage, their labour yielding more than their cost; while in China, as it is well known, infants are exposed to perish, it is here common to purchase them; and in many cases in which polygamy exists, the object is not the gratification of voluptuousness, but the multiplication of progeny.

Animals.-It is generally agreed that the country of Laos is the most favourable region to the elephant; that animal being larger, stronger, and more docile here than in any other part of the world. At the age of thirty, when he has attained his full growth, he has been sometimes known of the height of sixteen feet, and of the . length of thirteen. His pace is steady, and he never falls; his ordinary walk is equal in swiftness to the trot of a horse: but, on quickening it, he approaches to the rapidity of a horse's gallop; and though he may be out-run for a short distance by a fleet courser, none can keep up with him in a race of length. He marches with ease fifty miles in a day, and can be made to march one hundred. Balls enter his skin without proving fatal to him, unless they strike his forehead between the eyes. In regard to labouring cattle, a preference is given in Tonquin to buffaloes; which, from their superior strength and longer legs, are fitted to labour in marshy ground. They are likewise easily managed, being exempt from the character of ferocity which is attributable to them in their wild state. The Tonquinese horses are small, something like hussar horses in Europe ; and little pains are bestowed on fitting them either for war or for domestic purposes. They are never used for draught, and seldom for riding; the great people preferring to travel in palanquins or on elephants, and the middling ranks being apprehensive of exciting, by the display of property, the cupidity of their ru. lers. Hogs and poultry abound as in Europe, and goats and wild ducks are in immense quantities.

The elephants in their native state are apt to ravage the rice-fields, the fruit-trees, and sugar-canes, so that the inhabitants are obliged to keep watch, and to frighten them off by torches. The tigers are numerous, and show great agility in leaping, but unable to overtake a man in running, if the ground be level. The largest in Tonquin do not exceed three feet and a half in height, a size much below that of the royal tiger. Inferior as they are in magnitude, they possess in Tonquin the characteristic audacity and cunnirg of their species; attacking, wherever they can, the young of the buffaloes, and venturing even into the dwellings of men. The inhabitants hunt the tiger with dogs, pikes, and fire-arms, when they are allowed to carry them: but they seldom attempt this dangerous sport without going forth in considerable numbers. The boar is a frequent and innoxious inhabitant of the forests; but the wild dogs are larger than those of Europe, and marching in bodies, are very formidable. The mountain-rats, likewise large and voracious, devour the product of the earth, and are hunted with arrows by the savages in the north of Cochin-China, who feed on their flesh, and account it delicious. This country is infested also with the reptile tribe, some of which are venomous, and others are not ; the largest is a serpent of the thickness of a man's thigh, which, taking its station, like the Boa in India,) on the branch of a tree, and falling down on the passing animal, rolls itself around it, compresses it with irresistible force, and, after having broken its bones, and extinguished life, proceeds to devour the carcase. Birds abound in the forests of Tonquin, and have often a beautiful plumage. Of birds of prey the largest and most voracious is the vulture, who ventures even to attack a man when he is alone,

Vegetable Productions.-The great article of growth in Tonquin, and that which forms the food for three-fourths of the inhabitants, is rice. It is here of the very best quality, and is computed to return, in good land, forty or fifty times the value of the seed. The soil requires no rest, and yields two crops in a year; one in July, the other in November, the rice being generally four months in the ground. Maize is also cultivated here, and a most convenient plant it is in any country, being highly nutritive, of abundant produce, and fitted to a variety of soils. Of the fruit-trees, the orange is the most distinguished, being better than in Europe, or in any other part of the world. Here are not fewer than twenty kinds of it, varying in colour, taste, and size; some being as small as walnuts and others larger than citrons, but all pleasant and wholesome. Almost all the fruits of India are found here. The sugar-cane is common, but in a veay imperfect state of culture,

The same may be remarked of the coffee-tree, the natives discovering no partiality to the drink which we extract from its fruit. In the province of Xu-than, are two mountains which produce cinnamon-trees superior to those of Ceylor, but the trees of that description in the low country are very defective. Cotton-trees are abundant, and extremely useful for the purpose of clothing; mulberry-trees are also plentiful, and afford excellent foliage for the food of silk-worms. Of odiferous wood, the most remarkable is a kind of aloe called calembac; the smallest particle of which, on being burned, perfumes a whole apartment. It is used in temples and palaces, and is sold for its weight in gold, Cochin-China being the country in which it is considered to be found in the highest perfection. Palm-trees are of great utility, partly for their fruit, partly for the durability of the timber of certain sorts of this tree wh placed in the water; and also for the shelter afforded against the sun by their leaves when manufactured into hats. The fruit of the cocoa-tree is likewise of great service, not only for food, but for the cordage which is manufactured from its fibery covering, and finally for the cups which are made from the nut. The leaves, when at maturity, are ten or twelve feet in length, and serve for parasols against the sun, and in some measure for the purpose

of writing-paper. The bamboo-tree is very common, and highly useful in Tonquin; its growth is of such rapidity, that it has been known to rise thirty feet in the space of six months. Ploughs, harrows, pickaxes, and all instruments of labour, are made of bamboo and iron; and fishing-implements, the timber-work, and the roofs of houses, are manufactured from this valuable tree.

However, as no good is without qualification, this abundance of the gifts of nature in Tonquin is accompanied by circumstances of an opposite character. Many trees have fruit and even leaves of a poisonous nature; which falling into the water in autumn make it dangerous to drink. This is particularly the effect of the leaves of the iron-wood. Some savages in the forest make use of the juice of noxious plants for the purpose of poisoning their arrows.

Agriculture and Fisheries.—The Tonquinese government, aware of the vast importance of agriculture, is actuated by the desire of rendering the occupation honourable and advantageous. The sovereign, like the Emperor of China, observes the annual custom of ploughing a field in the presence of an assembled multitude, who deposit on the favoured ground some of the soil of every province in his empire; under the belief that fertility emanates from the labour of the sovereign, and is communicated by a kind of sympathy to the kindred element at a distance. Notwithstanding this imperial patronage, agriculture is at a very low eble among the inhabitants of Tonquin. Their harrows are of wood, of the same shape as in Europe; their ploughs are lighter; they make no use of manure; and they cultivate the soil to very little depth. The management of plants and trees is rather better understood, and considerable knowledge is discovered in recovering the trees VOL. II. NO. XI.

2 N

from injuries which would otherwise bring them to decay. Taken, however, in a comprehensive view, the productive powers of the rich and extensive territory of Tonquin are as yet very inadequately called forth; and a population, greater by many millions than the present, might be easily supported from its soil. The waters also afford a rich supply of food, and exercise the industry of the fisherman on the coast, the rivers, and inland lakes. In the maratime provinces, it is computed that the number of fishermen is equal to that of husbandmen; and in this respect, as in the management of trees, the Tonquinese are farther advanced than we might imagine from their general rudeness and ignorance. They have marked with attention the changes produced in the situation of fish by the seasons, the weather, the time of the day or night, as well as by local position; and they are indefatigable in turning all this knowledge to account in their various methods of catching them.

• No where,' says the author, is the management of nets and lines better understood. One of the modes of nocturnal fishing is to frighten the fish by fires carried along the surface of the water, and to attract them into boats by a painted board, sloping downwards, on which they leap in terror and fall into the vessel. Sprats are caught in quantities, by sinking a bed of large and tough tree. leaves, and pulling it up after a multitude of these small fish have settled on it. Or when a fish, which, from its size may be called the whale of the Tonquinese seas, has discovered and begun to devour a bank of sprats, the spouting of the water from the sides of his mouth is a signal to the fishermen, that they are in time to make a rich capture from among those whom their voracious pursuer has not yet destroyed. This large animal is not dangerous to fishermen, and is reverenced by the Tonquinese as a kind of divinity. One of the most singular fish in these seas is a kind of lobster, of a light grey colour, having inside a black liquid, which he throws on the small fish and obscures their sight; after which he finds it is easy to push or drag them with his fins into shallow water, where, in a kind of bed formed by rocks which admit the sea only at high water, thousands of small fish are often found. The discovery of one of these nests affords a rich prize for the fishermen.-Another of the singularities of Tonquin fishing is found to take place on the muddy levels at the side of the great river, where the soil is too loose to tread with the feet, and too deficient in water to admit the smallest boat. The Tonquinese, placing himself in a low seat fixed to a plank, and crossing one leg under him, uses the other as an oar, plunging it into the mud, and pushing hinself forwards with a rapidity which, strange as it may seem, surpasses (in the case of a practised person) the pace of a stout walker on level ground. After having advanced two or three miles, he fixes reeds firmly in the earth, which entangle the fish at low water. This fishery constitutes the sole occupation of the natives of several villages; and each inhabitant has his particular lot of ground, seperated from the others by public authority.'

« PreviousContinue »