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Siam -

Missing picture

The King of Siam, His Majesty Somdet-phra-Paraminda-maka-Koulaloukoru, is also, like Nasr-Eddin, the only exhibitor.

The educational group is no more represented in Siam than it was in Persia, but stationery, for example, figures; we see, indeed, white paper, black paper, black and white pencils.

The music class, too, is amply provided for. Do you like cymbals, gongs, hammers to make instruments sound?

Let's give the floor to Mr. J. Weber again:
"In the Siamese exhibition, he says, there are many instruments, a certain number of which are arranged as trophies; this does not always make it possible to distinguish their character. There is a tambourine and a dozen drums, some of them cylindrical in shape, more or less large, others of small size, having the shape of a ciborium with a truncated foot, or even a shape similar to that of a clepsydra. There are also some long-necked plucked instruments, a small oboe, a small flute and another wind instrument; then four large wooden harmoniums, with seventeen, twenty or twenty-one notes; two harmonicas with metal basins arranged not in two straight rows, as in the Indian instruments, but in a circle open on one side; the number of basins for each harmonium is sixteen. Finally, there are two series of bamboo organ pipes, each comprising fourteen pipes and shaped like long panpipes. Incidentally, we had already seen these and other instruments at the 1867 World Exhibition."


Goldsmithing, clothing, weapons.

The furniture, the tapestry and decorative works, and the ceramics are not of great interest; we will therefore pass quickly and arrive at the goldsmith's trade, which is remarkable.

The silver basins on trays, the tobacco boxes with gold lids, the betel nut cups, the shells with gold lids for the sacred water, the toilet articles are good goldsmith's work; moreover Siam is renowned in the East for the manufacture of these objects.

The silks find us a little indifferent; the clothes exhibited interest us by their picturesque aspect, we will quote among others a silk suit embroidered from one end to the other with silk and gold.

The weapons are represented in an absolutely primitive way; one sees only bows, shields, sabres and clubs.

The King of Siam has hardly any army except a few regiments for the service of his capital and the forts; but the Siamese navy is more important, with no less than twenty warships and twenty gunboats. The exhibition also offers a fine specimen of maritime construction, which is a model of a royal ship richly decorated with carvings and gilding, the original of which is thirty-four metres long and contains one hundred oarsmen.


Dramatic art, the products of the country.

The dramatic art exists, it seems, in Siam, and the royal exhibitor will have wanted, no doubt, to give the barbarians of the West a high idea of the civilisation of his country by sending us the theatrical crowns, the masks and the actress's headband which appear in class 42.

Now we come to the most serious part of the country.

We leave aside the pots, the cake grills, the copper lamps, the strips of matting, the betel baskets, the rhinoceros horns, the elephant tusks, the tiger teeth and the fishing implements, and we stop in front of the rural and forestry equipment.

Here we find what we lacked in other countries, ploughs, harrows, hoes, instruments for irrigating the fields, millstones, iron mills, winnowing mills.

So here is a people who are involved in agriculture.

For example, what a strange idea to have included a pair of tweezers and a bellows among the machine tools!

In class 57, there is a weaver's loom; a little further on, we find a number of small tools.

The foodstuffs consist of wheat, seeds, white rice, black rice and sago.


A Siamese funeral.

Let us not leave the domains of H.M. Somdet-phra-Paraminda-maka-Koulaloukorti, without giving you some curious details about the Siamese burials which we borrow from the very interesting book of Mgr Pallegoix on the kingdom of Siam.

"When a Thai is about to die, his parents go to call the talapoins; they pour lustrous water over the patient, recite verses from their sacred books on the vanity of human things, and utter loud moans interspersed at intervals with the exclamation arahong! arahong! a mystical word which applies to Buddha's chastity and his exemption from concupiscence. As soon as the patient has breathed his last, the family bursts into loud cries and lamentations.
Why do you leave us?" they cry, "and what have we done to offend you? Why did you not rather follow our advice and refrain from eating those fruits which give dyssentery and cause death? .... O desolation, O misery, O inconstancy of human things!

Then everyone rushes to the feet of the dead man, shouting, crying, kissing him, and showering him with tender reproaches. The body is then washed and wrapped in a white cloth; it is placed in a coffin lined with gold paper and decorated with metallic flowers. A canopy decorated in the same way as the beer, with additional garlands of natural flowers, is then prepared and the corpse is placed underneath.

"After two days, the coffin is taken out of the house, not through the door, but through an opening made in the wall, and it is made to run three times around the house at full speed, so that the deceased will lose the memory of the path he has taken and will not come to torment the living. The coffin is then transported to the sound of melancholic music in a large boat, and relatives and friends accompany it in small boats to the place where the body is to be burned. On arrival, the coffin is opened, and the corpse handed over to the priests, with a silver tical (about 3 francs) in its mouth, intended to pay for the funeral expenses. The officiant washes its face with coconut milk and cuts it into pieces, if the deceased had declared before his death that his last wish was to abandon his body to the vultures and birds of prey. Otherwise, the body is placed on the pyre, which the priest lights and which the relatives come to search, once it has been extinguished, to collect the large bones of the dead person and take them home in an urn."

©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878