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Chiang Mai Thailand - All About Chiangmai Thailand


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Chiang Mai (Zimme) 100 years ago - by Archibald Ross Colquhoun

Penned in 1885, this interesting article describes one of the first visits to Chiang Mai by a westerner. A Chapter from 'Amongst the Shans' by Archibald Ross Colquhoun printed in 1885, describing a visit to Chiang Mai  

After an interesting journey of seventeen days from Pahpoon, we arrived within one day's distance of the town of Zimme. We were met by a chao, called Myintha, or Prince, by our Burmese followers---one of the thousand chaos with whom the place abounds.  

Four ponies decorated with glaring and cumbrous trappings were waiting our use. The chao insisted on shaking hands, which was not altogether pleasing, as his were not of the cleanest. Hand-shaking, it may be noted, is a custom imported from Bangkok, and all the chaos we conversed with insisted on our complying with it, more to show that they were conversant with the convenances of society than for any other reason.  

The following day we made our entry into Zimme, looking a somewhat sorry lot-dirty, unkempt, and travel-stained. Our procession, however, was imposing consisting as it did of such a variety of people and animals. The inhabitants thronged out in great numbers to see the strangers, but were quiet in their demeanor, and formed a great contrast to the often turbulent and rude crowds of the Chinese cities. Their manner was fully as courteous as that of Burmese, who behave well, under similar circumstances. We entered the town by the north-eastern gateway, and were conducted to---what was a great surprise to us -a charming little residence, in the shape of a cottage orne, which had been built for our reception. Here we were cordially welcomed by a dapper, wizened, little old gentleman, who was evidently used to holding intercourse with Europeans. He informed us that he had come from Bangkok, and was holding office in Zimme as resident commissioner of the King of Siam. Having served us with wine, coffee, and other refreshments, he grew more communicative, and we learned that we were the guests of one who had visited London, knew Paris by heart, and loved it, especially, I fear, the not altogether too proper quarters of that city. His opinions were expressed in brief but graphic language: " too much plenty work in London ; plenty pleasure Paris." Although he had quite forgotten his knowledge of the French tongue, he still retained his love and admiration of France and French things.  

The cottage, which had been prepared for us by the express command of the King of Siam, was furnished with all sorts of Parisian knick-knacks, a practice much affected by the court officials at Bangkok. The cookery was a strange travesty of the European art, in the French style. When we learnt who the cooks were, our astonishment ceased; the chefs were Yunnanese. Notwithstanding our wish not to hurt the old gentleman's feelings. we were compelled to fall back on the bread and excellent Chinese tea which were provided.  

Our host did all he could to make us comfortable, and the transformation in our surroundings which had taken place within a few hours was great. A day or two before we had been dwellers in tents in the primeval forest, seemingly hundreds of miles away from all civilization, while here we found ourselves in an excellently built little house, adorned like some Parisian caf?, and with every appliance of home-life surrounding us. A large supply of European tinned provisions, and wines, which had been ordered by the king to be sent for our use to Zimme, did not arrive in time, owing to the delays on the river in the upward journey. The consideration shown by His Majesty the King of Siam in the arrangements ordered for supplying our wants made both our journey and our stay at Zimme pleasant.  

The town of Zimme, Kiang Mai, Tsching Mai, or Zama-pada-pur-there-nagara-nawara-raza (its name according to the Labong Chronicle), is situated on the right bank of the Meping, at a height of about eight hundred feet above sea-level. It is the largest place in the Meping plain. There are fields between the river, which lies on its eastern side, and the town, which is said to have been built in 1294 A.D. Northward and eastward is a large swamp or tank ; to the north-west broken ground and garden land; to the westward the old Burmese fort and cultivated fields; and southward one large sheet of cultivation, mainly rice. In the dry season the river is fordable in several places near the town, the depth at the crossings being some three and a half feet. A wooden bridge, built substantially of good teak, some two hundred yards in length, spans the river near the north-east corner of the town, over which large droves of cattle and crowds of foot-passengers pass. Carts are mentioned by McLeod and Richardson as existing at Zimme and Labong, but during our visit we did not observe any. Some of the chaos, when visiting Maulmain, have, however, purchased carriages and I have little doubt that on my next visit this will have led to a great improvement in the roads about the town.  

There is what is called an inner and outer town, each surrounded by fortifications. The inner town, where the tsobua, or chief, ad other chaos reside, is an oblong, six thousand feet from north to south and four thousand eight hundred from east to west. Each face has a gateway in the centre, except on the southern side, where there are two, placed five hundred yards from the angles; the gates are defended in the same way, with a small bastion at the sides. These, as well as the walls, have embrasures for guns, at varying heights, but we nowhere saw any trace of guns, except in the centre of the town, in an open space near the chief's palace, where they lie half buried in the ground and surrounded by heaps of rubbish. The walls are enclosed by a ditch, some fifty feet in width, which is filled at the north-west angle by means of a canal leading water from springs in the hills. The depth o the ditch, originally some fifteen feet, is hardly anywhere now more than six or seven feet. At first strongly built, the walls are, from continued neglect, fast falling into ruin, and great portions are to be seen lying toppled over and half buried, while only here and there has any attempt been made to patch up the fast crumbling structure. Although at one time, no doubt, a formidable place to the undisciplined forces of the Burmese and Siamese, it would present no resistance to European artillery of the present day. The outer fortifications, which reach from the north-east to the south-west, are curved, and about two miles in length. They are built partly of brick, the remainder being merely a wooden stockade, with a ditch outside, which is nearly dry.  

The town has some nine hundred houses inside the inner fort, but there are many more than that number in the portion of the town enclosed by the outer fortifications and in what may be termed the suburbs, which are built along the banks of the Meping River. The population must not be judged from European examples of the average number of the household, or even from that found in neighbouring countries, such as Burmah. In Zimme the household often contains thirty, or even fifty, people under one roof at night.  

The inner fort is supplied with water by small channels intersecting it in different directions, and the roads are kept clean and neat. The houses, as a rule, are built of teak-wood, and have a substantial look. The palisading, about ten feet high, surrounding the compounds, gives the place the aspect of a prison. The extent of a compound varies with the wealth and position of the owner; a big chao has a big garden, an ordinary freeman a more limited space. All the gardens are well stocked with a variety of fruit-trees. The morning after our arrival, we got up early and strolled down to the bazaar, which consists of long rows of booths lining one of the main streets. It was a pleasant sight to watch the market-women, carrying their loads on their heads, quietly filing through the town. Many of them must have been up long before dawn, as some of the villages from which they came are situated at a very long distance from Zimme. The market for edibles opens at 6 a.m. and continues for about three hours, when the sellers, who number about fifteen hundred, return home. The stalls in the vegetable, fish, and meat markets are occupied solely by women; whilst those where miscellaneous articles and piece-goods are sold are tended by either sex. The dress of the women is, as is usually the case, far more picturesque than that of the men ; besides which the ladies at Zimme are more conservative than their men folk, and still adhere to the costumes worn by their race previously to leaving the Burmese Shan States for these parts. Unlike the Siamese, they wear their hair long, tie it in a tasty knot on the crown of their head, fasten it with a handsome gold pin, and twine a gold chain around it. The only other ornaments worn by them are gold bracelets, and sometimes gold ear-rings. Their petticoat is either of coarse silk or of a parti-colored cotton fabric; it is fastened below the breasts by twirling and tucking one of the ends in. The lower portion of their dress is decorated with a border worked in silk or gold thread. The young women wear pink kerchiefs, and the older ones have a dark-blue cotton scarf, thrown over their shoulders, which is generally drawn across their bosom. The men wear a putsoe tied round the loins, a sash of red cotton material round the waist, and sometimes a huge turban of the same material and colour as the sash. Their hair is dressed in the usual Siamese style, " a la cock's comb," well greased, and cut close at the sides. The holes in the lobes of their ears are decked with flowers, of which both men and women seem to be very fond. Their jackets, which are generally of a dark blue, are often bordered with tinsel, a large quantity of which is imported from China. The garments worn by both sexes are generally the manufacture of their own looms-the silk worms are bred in the villages, and the cotton is grown in their fields. English piece-goods are gradually entering the field, notwithstanding the present cost of carriage. They are brought up from Bangkok, taking forty-five days on the journey of about five hundred miles, and from Maulmain in British Burmah.  

Their dyes are of local manufacture, similar to those in use amongst the Burmese. Saffron is generally used for yellow; green is produced by dipping threads that have been dyed yellow in a boiling decoction of the leaves and twigs of the creeping Marsdenia tinctoria. Indigo, which grows wild as well as in a cultivated state, is used for blue, the mordant being the bark of a kind of Eugenia. Stick-lac, the fruit of the tamarind, and various woods, give red. The safflower yields yellow, and, when mixed with other ingredients, red. Jack, the root of a species of Garcinia, the flowers of the Butea, and the leaves of the Memeclyon, give different tints of yellow. Black is produced from the Diospyros mollis, Terminalia chebula, and the Jatropha curcas. Orange from the seeds of the Bixa orrellana.  

The people struck us as fair for Easterners, and some of the women even had rosy cheeks. It was quite pleasant to see a people who could blush, or rather whose blushes could be discerned. Their countenances, on which good-natured frankness was stamped, were of an even more Tartar cast than those of the Burmese, at least so it seemed to us. The nearly dead silence which reigned in the bazaar was only broken by an occasional half-suppressed but genial laugh. This was a great surprise to us who had so lately left Burmah, where the haggling, chatting, and vociferation in the markets is nearly deafening. Here the people were as quiet as Quakers; business was carried on without people being importuned to buy, and even the necessary chaffering was done in undertones, which only made more noticeable the strange quietude of the scene.  

The principal meat sold in the market is pork, which is plentiful and good; no pig is allowed to be killed until it is brought before a dine, the Burmese name for a superintendent, who is appointed by the chief. Pork being a monopoly, a tax of about three shillings is levied from the Chinese butchers on each animal before it is allowed to be slaughtered. Pig's fat, when properly reduced, is the cosmetic generally in use at Zimme, and, being unscented, gives anything but an agreeable aroma to the hair of the people. Very little gingelly, castor, or cocoa-nut oil is found in the town. Owing to the frequent cattle thefts which used to occur, special inquiries are made before cattle are allowed to be killed ; this accounts for the scarcity of beef in the market. Fish, although plentiful in all the streams, particularly to the north, is rather scarce in the town, most likely because the principle part of the people, being Buddhist, are therefore adverse to taking life. All fishermen are looked upon here, as in Burmah, as outcasts.  

Vegetables, such as karen-potatoes, onions, and chillies, were abundant, as well as cocoa-nuts, plantains, mangoes, and other fruit in considerable variety. A great number of frogs are seen tied up on strings in the food bazaar, and are esteemed a great delicacy by the Shans. Most cases of snake-bite which occur here and in Burmah happen during the torchlight hunts after the frogs. The snakes naturally object to men poaching upon their preserves, frogs forming the chief article of their food.  

As is the case amongst all Indo-Chinese races, the servants of the chiefs and high officials have the privilege of providing for their masters' requirements without payment to the stall-holders. This custom might be made a source of great oppression were it not for the force of public opinion. The prisoners, who are allowed to roam in their chains abut the town, their relations and friends being responsible that they do not escape, seem to be allowed the same privilege, but this may arise from the kind-heartedness of the people, which is undoubtedly great. These prisoners have an iron collar riveted round their necks, from which are fastened the heavy irons which keep the arms and legs in bond so far as rapid exercise is concerned. There is no Government allowance for their food, so they are entirely dependent upon the stall-holders and their relations for their diet. The term of their imprisonment seems to depend very much upon the ability of their friends to pay the fines which are imposed for all crimes but murder.

In cases of debt, the debtor is imprisoned, or rather put in chains; and if unable to satisfy his creditor, he and his family are sold for the creditor's benefit. For crimes, the principal part of the fine goes to the aggrieved person, the remainder to the chief and court officers. If a theft is proved, three times the value of the article is decreed to the owner; and if not paid, the offender, after suffering imprisonment in irons, is made over with his family, to be dealt with as in cases of debt. No inquiry is made until the prosecutor lodges, or gives security for, the amount of the value of the property stolen; and if he fails in proving his charges, he forfeits the amount, which is given to the accused. The fines for assaults and abuses vary greatly, according to the rank of the party complaining. The cases are decided according to the judgment of the officers who try them, and not from any fixed code of laws. The litigants are obliged to provide the officer with refreshment whilst the case is pending. Palm-oil is said to be very efficacious in some cases; for example, one poor wretch, on the occasion of our visit, had been tied up for some hours in a broiling sun preparatory to being flogged. We were informed by a bystander that he could easily have escaped the punishment had a little blandishment in the shape of hard cash been bestowed on the jailer in charge.

This latter individual was a fat, cheery fellow, quite a wag in his way. He chuckled hugely at the good joke he was about to enjoy in thrashing the miserable wretch who was tied up ready for the lash. The reason for the flogging was that the culprit had the previous night attempted to commit suicide by drowning himself in the river. When I suggested the cruelty of tying him up in the sun, as he was evidently suffering from fever, the jailer laughed immensely, and remarked merrily, "The heat of the sun will take last night's damp out of him."

One of the prisoners was the son of the chief of Labong. The young scapegrace had run wild, and one evening consumed a large quantity of country spirit, a sort of sam-shu, and when in his cups had insulted some ladies, who reported the matter to the chief of Zimme by whose order he was detained in chains as a punishment for his disorderly conduct.

The law is not always equally applied to the nobility and peasantry in these parts, however. A part of the prison-a dirt-begrimed den-was set apart for chaos, or nobles. It is only in recent years that the chaos have thus had justice meted out to them; this is owing to the more just administration of the law, enforced by the Siamese officers deputed by the Government to be resident at Zimme. The floggings are severe, and consist of thirty stripes laid on with all their might by three strong men, each giving ten lashes to the writhing wretch, who is tied up to a framework of bamboo in a public place. The punishment for theft in the Shan States lying west of the Salween, when they were under Burmese rule, used invariably to be death, a great contrast to the clement rule of Zimme and independent Shans.
At a trial for adultery, witnessed by the French expedition in one of the Shan States on the Me'kong, the two offenders were tied one at each end of the same bar, and forced to look each other in the face, meanwhile striking two sonorous bamboos together to attract public attention. The woman was fined some fifty shillings, and her paramour four pounds. Husbands in such cases are allowed to divorce their wives, but, if they do so, are not allowed to take them again for ten years. The fine levied on the women is paid to the husband, that inflicted on the man is pocketed by the judges. Formerly the punishment was more severe. A woman convicted of adultery became her husband's slave, and could not be redeemed. In Tonquin at one time it was still more rigorous. A husband was then authorized to cut off his wife's hair, and lead her in that state before the mandarin, who caused her to be thrown to an elephant which was trained to be the public executioner. A still more barbarous punishment is said to have been in force formerly in Burmah. The peccadilloes of the husband are never interfered with by the law in the Shan country.


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