1830’s – Missionary Herald at Home and Abroad

The Missionary herald at home and abroad (1831)
by American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches of the United States. Missions Council, General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches of the United States. Board of Home Missions

On Thursday, 30th of June, we arrived at the bar, off the mouth of the Meinam river, and anchored. English vessels and all under English colors are obliged by the treaty with that government to wait here for a pilot. It is said to be impossible for large vessels to cross the bar, except at spring tides. Understanding that the pilot would not be on board within a week, we left the ship on Saturday, and proceeded in the jolly boat to Bankok. In about two hours we entered the Meinam. The coast is so low and the river enters so obliquely that it was impossible to determine our precise course until the ship was left quite in the distance. About five o’clock in the afternoon we reached Paknam, a considerable village some three or four miles from the mouth of the river. Here we were obliged to atop until the captain gave a satisfactory reply to whatever questions the curiosity and avarice of the governor dictated. A present is indispensable to obtain the favor of the old man. A barrier of large piles, a number of yards in width, runs completely across the river, and leaves but one narrow passage way for the vessels. On each shore a battery has been planted, and a large fortification or castle erected in the river, about one third of its width from the shore.

The natives, whom we saw in numbers at this place, have the custom of shaving the head, except on the crown, where they allow it to grow one or two inches, sufficiently long to give it the rigidity and uprightness of bristles. Their dress is intended merely for the purposes of the figleaf. The upper part of the body and almost all the limbs are naked. Among the males, from the king to his meanest subject, there is said to be no additional garment. Rank is distinguished only by the texture and color of this simple attire, though frequently it is not distinguishable at all by dress. The women are almost as denuded as the men. The more decent wear a kerchief over the shoulders, though very frequently it answers no purposes of delicacy.

From Paknam to Bankok the distance is generally estimated at forty miles. We left the former place about six in the evening, and arrived at half past twelve, much within our expectations. On the way we found many objects of interest and novelty. The Meinam is a noble river, probably three quarters of a mile in average width, and sufficiently deep to admit ships of any size to Bankok. Its banks are low and principally covered with jungles. As the darkness closed around us the lights on shore became numerous in places, and the reflection from the waters showed us that they were surrounded by this element, while the houses arc built upon rafts or piles. The objects which attracted most attention, were swarms of fire-flies, on either shore, and passing from one side of the river to the other. I had seen a few in Java, but nothing to compare with these. It was difficult to distinguish between the light emitted from one of these small insects and that of a dim taper alternately exposed and concealed. Thousands of them would settle on one tree, and give it a most delicate and vivid illumination. There appeared to be such a uniformity in the motions of them all that the glare would break forth and close in, as though they inhaled a common breath, or raised the wings by some other simultaneous impulse.