Saturday, August 28, 2010

Malay Peninsula: Part II

The above sources for the location and political history of Langkasuka also supply some information regarding the social and economic life of ancient Langkasuka. One source tells us that the men and women of the country usually did not cover the upper part of their body, their hair hung loose on their backs and they wore cotton sarongs. The King and high officials covered their shoulders with cloth, wore golden cords as girdles and golden ear-rings. The women wrapped themselves in cotton cloth and wore jeweled belts. Another writing in 1226 states that the ruler wore silk and used no footwear. The inhabitants of the country trimmed their hair and wore silk. A fourteenth-century Chinese trader records that the people were honest; men and women braided their hair into chignons and wore cotton cloth. They had white teeth. They maintained strong family ties and showed much respect and consideration to their elders. They boiled sea-water to make salt and fermented rice to make wine. Quoting the seventh-century records, the kingdom was surrounded by walls with double gates, towers and pavilions. The King, shaded by a white parasol, rode on an elephant and was accompanied by banners, fly whisks, flags and drums. He was guarded by soldiers. I-tsing informs us that the King of the country received the foreign guests with courtesy and respect.

The various commercial products of Langkasuka are enumerated as follows in the various works: aromatic woods—aloes wood (eagle wood or gharu wood), laka wood, barus champor—ivory, and rhinoceros horns. The Chinese exchanged them for textiles and porcelain. Chau Ju-kua records:

Foreign merchants trade here in wine, rice, skeins of Ho-ch’ih (after the name of the district) silk, porcelain vessels, and such-like goods. Each of them first weighs his goods against gold and silver and afterwards engages in barter…

There was easy access from Patani (which no doubt was Langkasuka’s main town and port throughout her history) to the gold mines of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang. Gold could also be panned out from the Patani River. With plenty to offer in the way of commercial products, and being itself situated strategically and with a harbor safe in most seasons and available for both monsoons, Patani was a favourite stopping place for the early traders.

Kedah was by far the most important Kingdom and port of ancient Malaya from the third century A.D. It continued to enjoy that position until the rise of Malacca in the fifteenth century A.D. The Ptolemaic geography of the second century A.D. makes no mention of Kedah, although it gives us the names of two ports in the Golden Chersonese, Takkola (Trang) in the north and Sabana (Klang) in the south. It appears, however, that soon after this the traders realized the greater advantages of the hitherto insignificant harbor of Kedah, for from the third century onwards it figures prominently first in Indian and then in Chinese and Arab sources.

The famous Tamil poem of the second and third century A.D. speaks of regular trade between Kalagam (Kedah ?) and the ancient southern port of India.

Kedah appears again as Kidaram, Kadaram, and Kataha in the Chola inscriptions of the eleventh century. The importance of Kedah at this time could not be better highlighted:

First an attack on the capital of Sri Vijaya in which the King was taken prisoner, followed by the occupation of two important ports of the East Coast of Sumatra; then the conquest of the Malay Peninsula, and finally Atjeh (Lamuri) and the Nicobars on the way home; and all this summed up in the fall of Kataha.

In the Chinese works, Kedah first figures in the writings of the Buddhist pilgrim I-tsing who refers to it as Chieh-ch’a. He visited the Kingdom himself in A.D. 671:

Tamralipti was the place where we embark when returning to China and sailing from there two months in the south-east direction we come to Chieh-ch’a, by which time a ship from Sri Vijaya will have arrived, generally in the 1st or 2nd moon; we stay in Chieh-ch’a till winter, then start on board ship for the south and come after a month to Mo-lo-yu, which has now become Sri Vijaya, arriving generally in the 1st or 2nd moon; we stay there till the middle of summer and sail to the north reaching Kwangtung in about a month, by which time the first half of the year will have passed.

The course of the voyage described by I-tsing makes it clear that by Chieh-ch’a he meant the entrepot of Kedah on the west coast of Malaya.

The consensus of opinion also identifies Ko-lo with Kedah, the Chieh-ch’a of I-tsing (which, however, he mentions as a separate island) and Kalah of the Arabs. Chia-tan clearly places it on the west coast of Malaya.

As for Arab evidence, the Muslim geographers place Kalah between India and China. According to Ya’qubi (9th century A.D.), after the sea of Harkand, which contained Sirandib (Ceylon), lay the sea of Kalah-bar, then the sea of Salahit (Selat, seas south of Singapore). Sulayman (9th century A.D.) explains that bar designates both a kingdom and a coast. Kalah-bar, he says, is a dependency of Zabaj, i.e. Sri Vijaya. At Kalah-bar the ships got well-water which is preferable to spring- or rain-water. The distance between Kulam (Quilon on the Malabar coast) and Kalah-bar was one month’s sail.

Mas’udi (10th century A.D.) records that there were mines of gold and silver in the neigbourhood of Kalah and Sribuza. Several authors state that Kalah had aromatic woods, tin mines, ivory and bamboo.

The cumulative result of all evidence places Kedah on the west coast of Malaya. It does not, however, help us to fix its exact limits, which in any case must have varied to some extent during the course of its long history. From the archaeological finds, it is clear that the earliest settlement was along the River Bujang, a tributary of the River Merbok, which provided excellent anchorage for the ships. The Kedah River then, as now, was a shallow-mouthed estuary exposed to the south-west monsoon. The Kedah Peak (Gunung Jerai) which “could be seen thirty miles out at sea” served as a landmark for sailors.

In addition to having a good harbor, Kedah had a fertile land that provided food for its vast population. There was also access to Ligor on the east coast, although this short cut to avoid a sea journey was not the greatest attraction for traders, who could have used an even shorter route by landing at Takua Pa farther north. Kedah’s River Muda, connected with the Merbok, provided a most valuable means of communication down which were carried most of the Kingdom’s exports. Kedah was famous for its tin, if we identify the Kalah of the Arabs with Kedah, “… a tin-mine there was such as existed nowhere else in the world…from which Kala’I swords were forged and they were true Indian swords”. “No other kind (of swords) in the whole world are better than those of this Kala’i”. Many Arab writers all speak of the good tin that Kedah produced. Bamboo “exported all over the world” is also often mentioned as growing in Kalah. Kedah was also the centre of the trade in aloes, champor, sandal, ebony, brazil-wood, logwood, ivory and spices of all kinds.

Some description of the city and its people is obtained from Chinese and Arab sources. The New T’ang History tells us that the city walls were built of stone, while pavilions, the palace and other buildings were thatched with straw. The Kingdom was divided into twenty-four districts. It supplied a large army consisting of infantry and an elephant corps. The weapons of war were bows, arrows, swords and lances; an armour of leather was used. Silver was in circulation and was the mode of paying taxes. Cows were the favourite domestic animal, while ponies were also reared. Cotton was used for garments. Only high officials were allowed to tie up their hair and wrap scarves round their heads. The King’s name was Mi-si-po-ra, his family name Sri-po-ra. The Arab chroniclers described Kalah as:

very large, surrounded by big walls with numerous gardens and abundant streams of water….Around Kalah there was a succession of towns, small market towns and gatherings of houses. It is a rendezvous for the Brahmana, who are the sages of India.

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