Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Book excerpt - A description of the Kingdom of Siam 1690

In 1690 the German physicist Engelbert Kaempfer made a visit to Ayutthaya on his way to Japan. About his travel he wrote a book, which however wasn't published during his lifetime. After his death in 1716 the Latin text was translated into English and published in 1727. The first part of this book covering the time in Siam is published separately under the title A description of the Kingdom of Siam, 1690. The section fitting to the topic of the blog from chapter II is as follows.
The Kingdom of Siam is by the Natives called Muan Thai, which is as much as to say, the Land Thai. In their books it is sounded with this Epithet, Krom Thep Pramma haa Ikoon, (Circuitus visitationis Deorum) the Cirtcuit of the Visitations of the Gods. The Malagans and Peguans call it Tziam, from whence comes the European name Siam. Its Northern Latitude about the middle of it, or where the Capital City is situated, is fourteen degrees eighteen minutes, and its Longitude according to the common Maps 138, but according to the late Observations of the Jesuits 120 degrees. Eastward it borders upon the Kingdoms Tunkin, Cosynsina and Cambodia; on the South it is limited by the Sea, and the Counrties of Malacca, of which the King of Siam possesses Ligoor, Tanasseri, and some other small Provinces. On the West if the Kingdom of Pegu, and on the North that of Laos. Considering its extend it is but indifferently peopled being best inhabited only along the banks of the Rivers. [...] This Kingdom contains twelve large provinces, each of which is govern'd by an Oja, or Prince, as the King's Lieutenant, who hath several Opera's, or subaltern Officers under him. Besides there is an Oja at Court for every Province, who manages its Concerns, and keeps a watchful Eye over the Lieutenant's conduct. The late King had added a thirteenth Province to the aforesaid twelve, which he conquer'd from the Kingdom of Laos, and in all probability he would have conquer'd more, if the swelling of a large River had not put a stop to his progress. But a few years after that Province was taken from him again, so that all the benefit of an expedition undertaken in so remoate a Country, and with so much expence, was only the creating of Jealousy between the two Nations, which ruin'd the former trade between them, and remov'd it to Cambodia.
I did not know before that the name Thailand (Mueang Thai) is in fact much older, and wasn't just created in the 1930s when the name of the country was officially changed from Siam to Thailand. Its a bit sad that the author did not name the 12 or 13 provinces, or those of the Malay kingdoms and provinces under Siam.

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