(55) Bamboos, mode of fitting-out trading-boats, taul or toddy tree, coir rigging, cocoa-nuts, oil from them, momiye-ka-tel, writing on cocoa-tree leaves, hot winds [[285-300]]
[] Although mango-topes abound in every part of the lower provinces, their wood, except in bungalows, is rarely employed in European architecture; nor do the natives make much use of it as a timber; large quantities are every year cut up for planks intended chiefly for very ordinary purposes, where great strength and durability are not essentials. The immense quantities of fine bamboos, which ordinarily grow very straight to the height of sixty feet or more, though rarely measuring more than five inches diameter near the root, and gradually tapering off as they ascend, supply the contented native with rafters, joists, posts, pillars, laths, and a great variety of et ceteras, all tending either to his shelter, or to his convenience.
The ordinary price of these invaluable reeds (for they are of the arundo tribe) may be from three-pence to five-pence each; that is, generally from seven to twelve for a rupee, according to size and demand. Millions of them are annually brought to Calcutta, both by water and on hackeries; in the former instance, they being remarkably buoyant, [] they are floated in clumps, or perhaps are made into rafts, on which boossah (or chaff) and even corn are laden; or they are tied to the sides of very large boats, which also carry from five hundred to as many thousands, as a cargo.
The buoyancy of the bamboo is occasioned as much by its various cells, as by the lightness of the wood. These cells, in a common-sized bamboo, are about three quarters of an inch in diameter in those joints that are near the roots, where the wood is far more solid and compact than in the upper parts, towards which the cells become gradually wider, and the joints longer; thus reducing very considerably the substance of the bamboo, as is the case with reeds in general. This variety in the several parts is very convenient, their appropriation being made as the work requires more or less substance. As the whole bamboo may be split like whalebone from top to bottom, without much exertion, it can be readily applied to a great variety of purposes.
In their whole state, bamboos are used not only for rafters in the construction of bungalows, but as yards for the sails of the common country craft. Those of extraordinary size are selected for top-gallant studding-sail booms, in vessels not exceeding four or five hundred tons; their immense strength exactly fitting them for that situation. The smaller open boats throughout the East are generally fitted with bamboo masts selected from the lower part of the reed, the upper by its lightness being more suited for yards. Thus, for three-pence, a boat of about four or five tons may be furnished with both mast and yard from the same bamboo.
In vessels of greater burden, two or more bamboos, even up to a dozen, are lashed together round a stout piece of wood which, passing through the thatch, fits into a step on the vessel's bottom, and is well secured by chocks and lashings in various [] places. This stick, which serves as the base of the mast, is about fifteen feet long, and nine or ten inches in diameter. It is commonly left in a very rough state, that the bamboos which surround it may be more firmly held in their places. Thus the mast is run up, probably to the height of forty or fifty feet, according to the vessel's burden, and at every two or three feet is bound by cords made of white hemp.
The position of this awkward-looking pile is maintained by numerous stays, many of which, being allowed to point forward before the line of the mast's perpendicular, very considerably obstruct the bracing of the yard, the strength of which must be proportioned to the sail. Sometimes one well-selected bamboo may suffice; but in vessels of great bulk, say from sixty to ninety tons, two or even three stout bamboos are required.
The sail is usually made of a very coarse canvas, constructed of that very indifferent kind of hemp generally used for rice bags, &c., and known by the name of gunny. Each piece measures six or seven feet by thirty inches; consequently, the innumerable joinings made in a large sail offer a very ready means for the wind's escape. The Hindoo is not very particular in this respect: with him a sail is a sail, so long as a bit remains adequate to giving the vessel way through still waters.
It will naturally be asked, Why is such miserable tackling in use? The reasons are: 1.) Because the native owner of a vessel will go to no expense beyond what may be indispensably necessary to set her afloat, however clumsy or subject to mishap; and to have her, as he thinks, ready for departure. 2.) The materials are probably of his own growth, or he deals in them; or, which is often the sole motive, he finds them, in the first instance, far cheaper than those more substantial; and, 3.) Even [] if other materials of a better quality, and in every instance more appropriate, were to be had for the same money, he would not very readily deviate from the customs of his ancestors.
Were a vessel fitted up on European principles to be wrecked,
family would impute the accident to the sin of adopting the customs of
a race held in abomination by even the lowest casts (or sects)
the country. Nevertheless, the manjy and dandies are
grievously put out of their way by some shrewd native who resolutely
through the general prejudices, and imitates that which his faculties
him is found upon science. Not that he will understand how the
operates; no, he sees the practice is good, and he adopts it: whereas,
if any regulation were to be framed to enforce his compliance with our
system, in that, or in any other particular, we should assuredly
his receding, if possible, from every idea of improvement; or, if under
the necessity of conforming, that his whole deportment would betray the
reluctance and antipathy he felt on the occasion.
Exclusive of the bamboo, the natives have an ample resource for rafters, as well as for posts and pillars, in the cocoa-nut tree, which grows wild throughout the parts within reach either of sea-water, or sea air. It is not indeed confined to such situations; but in proportion as it is distant from them, so the natural growth of this tree gradually diminishes, giving way to the taul (or fan-leafed palm), which, though less umbrageous, and in many instances less useful, attains a great height and furnishes a much larger quantity of wood. In general, few Bengallees will cut down nereaul (or cocoa-nut tree), which supplies so many requisites.
Thus the outer coating, often weighing from one to two pounds, when stripped off longitudinally, furnishes those fibres called coir, [] used for small rigging and cables. This kind of rope is particularly elastic and buoyant; floating on the surface of the sea to any extent. Therefore when, owing to the strength of the current, a boat misses a ship, it is usual to veer out a quantity of coir, having previously fastened an oar, or a small cask, &c. to its end. Thus the boat may be easily enabled to haul up to the ship's stern. Were a coir hawser kept on board every ship in the British marine, how many lives would probably be saved!
It is remarkable, that fresh water rots coir in a very short time, corroding it in a most unaccountable manner; whereas salt water absolutely strengthens it, seeming to increase the elasticity. This shows that coir is by no means fit to be used in running rigging, nor as shroud-hawsers, &c., especially for vessels subject to approach low latitudes; it being easily snapped in frosty weather.
Nothing can equal the ease with which a ship rides at anchor when her cables are of coir. As the surges approach the bows, the vessel gradually recedes, in consequence of the cable yielding to their force; but soon as they have passed it contracts again, drawing the vessel gently back to her first position. The lightness of the material doubtless adds to this effect; for the cable would float, were not the anchor sufficiently heavy to keep it perfectly down. A hempen cable always makes a curve downwards, between the vessel and the anchor, but a coir cable makes a curve upwards. Therefore, if a right line were drawn from the hawse-hole to the ring of the anchor, it would be something like the axis of a parabolic spindle, of which the cables would form, or nearly so, the two elliptic segments.
A considerable trade is carried on, from all parts of India, with the Maldives and Sechelles (numerous [] clusters of islands near the west coast of the peninsula), for coir and cowries: the latter being used for inferior currency, while the coir is greatly valued, on account of the fibres being much larger and firmer than those grown upon the continent. Not only these islands, but all within the Indian seas, abound with cocoa-nut trees; which in many of them stand absolutely in the water. These owe their origin to the growth of nuts blown down or dropped when ripe, and buried in the sands; above which their acrospires soon appear, when the tree shoots up with greater vigour than its inland competitors.
It is said that about a hundred and fifty years ago, the Sechelles and Maldives were known only as concealed sands, highly dangerous to the navigator; and that after they had, by the action of the sea, accumulated so as to become superficial [=on the surface], a vessel laden with cocoa-nuts was wrecked upon one of these banks, which in consequence of the seed thus furnished, speedily threw up whole forests of the tree. Others attribute the first supply to the adventitious floating of nuts from the Malabar coast.
Nothing appears to discredit either of the accounts; but the former appears by far the most probable. Whatever be the fact, the islands in question not only produce immense forests of cocoas, but are inhabited by a people governed much in the same way as the other Arabian islands (for such we may call these, as well as Johanna, Comora, Succotra, &c.), whose commercial relations may be said to consist of coir and cowries, bartered with their neighbours of the peninsula, and the Arabs of Muscat, &c., for cotton cloths, rice, sugar, &c.
To whatever chance it may have been owing, the navigator now feels less anxiety when near these isles. Though so little elevated as to remain nearly in their former state of immersion, their cocoa forests, which generally tower to the [] height of thirty or forty feet, being visible at the distance of many miles, enable him to ascertain his locality with correctness, and to avoid the numerous shoals, by a due attention to the bearings and soundings. The natives are said to be extremely well acquainted with their archipelago, and to pilot vessels of great burden with perfect precision and security.
The native further values the cocoa-nut for its water, by us called cocoa-nut milk. This pleasant beverage, generally amounting to three quarters of a pint, is contained within the shell. It is purest when the nut is young and tender, so as to allow the husk and shell to be cut like a stringy turnip. At this time, very little coagulum adheres to the interior of the shell, and that little is soft, like milk barely turned by rennet.
Gradually, the water becomes turbid, and acquires a stronger taste; while the coagulum increases to about a third, or even half, of an inch in thickness; hardening and becoming tough, but easily snapped into pieces. When in this state, it abounds in oil, at first remarkably sweet, though of a peculiar flavour, and much used in their culinary operations by the native Portuguese, in lieu of ghee.
The mode of extracting the oil is very simple. A piece of wood, say two feet long, six inches broad, and two or three thick, bears at one extremity a stem of iron, driven in by means of a spike. This stem must be stout, and should measure about ten inches; but, towards its summit, spreading into the form of an inverted crescent, somewhat concave, and deeply jagged at its circumference. Sitting, as usual, on the ground, the operator keeps the baton from tilting, by placing one of his feet firmly upon it.
In that position he takes the nuts, commonly broken into two or more pieces by a forcible stroke of some heavy implement, or by dashing them on [] the floor. Then, by rasping the interior of each piece against the jagged edges of the iron, he causes the coagulum to fall, in the form of a coarse powder, into a vessel placed below to receive it. To effect this with more facility, the stem slants obliquely from the baton, allowing room for the receiver to be put immediately under the crescent. The raspings are now put into hot water, in which they are well stirred and pressed with a large wooden spoon.
When by this means the oil is separated, it is drawn off by opening a little hole near its surface, as it floats upon the water. It is inconceivable how much oil is thus obtained in a few minutes; but both from its own nature, and the mode of extraction, it soon becomes offensively rancid. Yet in this state it is by no means objectionable to the Portuguese, who, as well as the Hindoos, are partial to it as an unguent for the hair. To a fresh European, the scent of this powerful finish to the charms of an Indian Venus is highly objectionable: of all the offensive smells in India, it certainly is the worst. But, as before observed, if used immediately after extraction, nothing can be sweeter.
It also burns remarkably well, and is therefore in general use for lamps, among all the European inhabitants. The residuum, after separating the oil, fattens poultry better than grain. The pork of swine fed upon cocoa-nuts is delicious, as must be confessed by all who have visited the Andamans and Nicobars. The coagulum, as a food for man, cannot be recommended, for though the natives eat of it freely, experience shows that it is extremely difficult of digestion; so that, when eaten as a meal, much inconvenience, if not indisposition, will generally follow.
Nor is the water of the young nut fit for persons whose bowels are not of the strongest; it being aperient and, when used beyond a certain quantity, extremely apt to induce dysentery. [] The amount of a nutful may, perhaps, be drunk with perfect safety. During very hot weather, if the nuts are fresh gathered, or suffered to remain a while in cold water, it is not very easy to withstand the temptation.
The shell of the cocoa-nut is most valuable when suffered to ripen upon the tree. It then acquires great hardness, and a fine dark chocolate colour, interveined by fine lines of a rich dun, or clay, or perhaps striated with those tints. The shells will then take a good polish, and when tastefully mounted are ornamental to the sideboard. Yet they are brittle, compared with their solid appearance; and it requires a great length of time to divest them wholly of a strong scent, reminding those accustomed to the oil, of that peculiar and powerful rancidity it invariably acquires by long keeping, and especially by exposure to the air.
Previous to the introduction of lamps in the halls, passages, &c., in the houses of Europeans, cocoa-nut oil was to be had for about three-pence or four-pence per seer (the measurement of a seer coming very nearly to the English quart, in some places exceeding it, but in others falling short). Since that practice has obtained, the price of candles being doubled, the oil has been proportionably enhanced.
No kind of animal oil is in use among the natives of India, either as food, or in manufactories; except indeed, that most curious production, the momiye-ka-tel, or oil extracted from the bodies of malefactors. Being well fed for a month or more previous to their execution, for the purpose of encreasing their fat, large fires are said to be lighted under them while on the gibbet, and metal vessels placed to receive the drippings. That this practice heretofore obtained, under the government of the native princes, appears undoubted; but that it is now [] obsolete, is equally certain.
Still momiya-ka-tel (human oil) may be had at many places; though not genuine, but composed of whatever materials may form a mass resembling the original. Several of these masses have been seen of a dark, opaque brown, appearing something like coagulated blood mixed with dirty jelly, and become hard by exposure to the sun, or by inspissation: its smell was intolerably offensive.
On the whole, this celebrated extract, which is supposed to cure all contractions and stiffness of the joints, is a subject of astonishment, when considered as in use among a people so very peculiar in their tenets, and professing so much humanity, not only towards their brethren, but towards all animated nature. Had Shakspeare been acquainted with the existence of the momiye-ka-tel, he certainly would have given it a place in Hecate's cauldron.
Were the natives intent on obtaining animal oils, they might procure the greatest abundance. Porpoises, turtles, alligators, dog-fishes, and sharks, all of which contain large quantities, exist in every part where the water is brackish; some of them, indeed, become even more numerous as their distance from the sea increases. Whales are occasionally seen in the Indian Sea, and in the Mozambique Channel are extremely common. But to persons habituated from their infancy to the use of high-savoured viands, any sweet oil would be insipid.
They require a haut-gout in their sauces, though they contrive to render even their strongest preparations extremely palatable; but, to relish them properly, the culinary operations must not be always witnessed. Bawur-chees, or cooks, when employed for Europeans, are sometimes extremely filthy; far more so than when dressing their own victuals. Few of the natives are sparing in the use of water on such occasions, even though it should be brought [] from some distance; yet it is equally true, that whole villages are sometimes content to use water from a pool comparable only with that into which Ariel ushered the surly Caliban.
The trunk of the cocoa-nut tree not only answers for canoes, when the central pith is scooped out; but when split, as it may easily be, into slips of any width, forms excellent rafters. When so applied, the soft part is taken away, leaving only the exterior case, which is hard, tough, and elastic, and about three inches in thickness. A trunk of about a foot in diameter commonly rives into five staves, each about seven inches wide. These should be placed edgeways on the walls, that their scantlings may be in a proper direction. Rafters thus made, if not more than twenty feet long or thereabouts, not too heavily laden, and under cover, will stand for generations, without shewing the smallest symptom of decay.
Cocoa-nuts are often sawed into two equal parts, for the purpose of being made into ladles. A hole is made on each side, about half an inch from the edge, and a stick is passed through, serving as a handle; as we see in the jets used by brewers for taking liquor out of their vats. When sawed into two equal parts, across the grain of the coir coating, cocoa-nuts make excellent table brushes, causing the planks to assume a very high polish from their friction. As this operation requires some strength, the edges of the shell, if left in (as is sometimes, though improperly, done), should be perfectly smooth; being once rendered so, they will never scratch, however forcibly the brush may be applied.
It is a good mode to strip off the coir and, after soaking it in water, to beat it with a heavy wooden mall until the pieces become a little pliant, when they should be firmly bound together with an iron ring. Their ends being then levelled, the implement is fit for use. [] A little bees-wax rubbed occasionally upon them, adds greatly to the lustre of the furniture.
The stem of the toddy-tree is similar to that of the cocoa, but grows to a greater height, and serves the same purposes. On first seeing a grove of toddy-palms, one would suppose that a strong wind must inevitably tear up the whole by their roots, which consist of innumerable small fibres that penetrate but a very little way, comparatively, into the soil. When one of these trees is blown down, a small cavity is made, rarely so much as a cubic yard. The leaves differ widely form those of the cocoa, which are rather spear-shaped, a foot or more long by perhaps two inches at their broadest part, and attached to each side of the rib, which may be from ten to fourteen feet in length. They hang gracefully on every side of the trunk, covering the nuts, which grow on very short, stiff stems, close under the place where the leaves start from it in all directions. A tuft of similar but smaller branches grow with rather a vertical tendency.
The toddy-palm, on the contrary, has about ten or a dozen large leaves, radiated from their stems, arranged in folds like a lady's fan half spread; but the outer edges are indented considerably. The leaves form each about three-fourths of a circle, but their sizes vary considerably. These leaves are made into punkahs, or fans, of various sizes. When torn into strips of about two inches wide; the medium breadth of each fold, they serve the natives instead of paper.
The greater part of accounts kept by Bengallees are written on such leaves, by means of any sharp-pointed instrument. Thus perforating the glossy rind, or coating, on either side of the leaf, the marks remain ever after distinct and legible; especially if the written leaves are rubbed with kaujool, or lamp-black, which sinks into the porous parts laid open by the instrument, but is easily [] wiped off from the rest of the surface. Some hundreds of these leaves may be seen, secured together at one end by a twine passed through each, like waste paper in a grocer's shop; thus forming a voluminous collection.
The fruit of the taul consists of two or three lobes, or pods, similar to those in a horse-chesnut, and like them, concealed in a pithy, spherical coating, but with a smooth exterior. Each lobe is hollow, and contains a small quantity of very clear liquor, partaking in very slight degree of the flavour of rose water. The lobes themselves, which are about the size of a small bun, are rather of a crisp but gelatinous substance, and pleasant to the palate. Their exterior is covered with a very thin brown rind, like that of an almond; rather astringent, but by no means acrid.
The liquor, called toddy, is obtained by making an incision under the head of the tree; when, a thin wedge being introduced, the toddy gradually exudes into a vessel suspended to receive it. This liquor is very pleasing when fresh drawn, but in a few hours acquires a harsh flavour, ferments, and becomes highly intoxicating. It answers admirably as leaven, making very light dough; but if kept, as is too commonly done, till rather sub-acid, it communicates to the bread a most unpleasant tartness.
Groves of toddy-trees, in some parts of the country, yield a handsome revenue, with great profit to the renters. Like the cocoa-nut tree, they have within their summits a substance in flavour very like a cabbage, for which mariners fell them, with the view of carrying that part to sea, where, left within its rind, it will keep for many months, and for use requires much boiling.
The stem of the toddy-palm is annulated, but not very deeply. Of this the toddy-men take advantage, ascending to the summit, and descending again to the plain, with wondrous agility. They use a strong twine, about a yard [] long or more, doubled into a loop of half that length, into the ends of which the great toes are put, so as to keep it perfectly extended. The man first embraces the tree as high as he can reach, to raise himself from the ground; his feet being instantly carried on opposite sides of the trunk, as far asunder as the loop will admit. Then sustaining himself by means of the loop, he slides his arms upwards to take a second spring, following, in due time, by the removal of his feet, as much higher as he has been able to reach.
In this manner, successively stretching up his arms, and swarming with his feet, he reaches the summit, where, while he either suspends the pot, or releases it, his weight generally rests on the loop. The great art, both in ascending and descending, is to keep the loop always stretched. Should it be allowed to slacken, in all probability it would fall off. Few persons following this profession require more than half a minute to mount the highest palmira, by which name the toddy-palm is most generally known to Europeans. The natives designate it the taul (or taul-gautch).
Very few kinds of wood, except those mentioned, are ever used for domestic architecture; though in some few situations, the soondry and jarrool are employed for the minor purposes. The natives, however, consider them to be more applicable to the construction of small craft, and to the formation of carriages of various descriptions. The soondry is a remarkably tough, heavy, and elastic wood; while the jarrool, though rather harder, more resembles the beech than any other: English timber trees. For boatbuilding, it ranks next to the teak, many of the donies (or coasting vessels) measuring from fifty to a hundred and fifty tons, being principally built with it. When teak is scarce, the shipwrights use jarrool to repair the upper works of large vessels.
[] In the construction of houses and bungalows, the European architects have been rather prone of late years to sacrifice comfort to appearance. The old houses built before punkahs, tatties, glass-sashes, &c., were in use, evince an attention to coolness, without disregarding convenience. Though building is now much cheaper than forty years ago, the walls are much less substantial, and there is a want of local fitness in the arrangement of the apartments.
It should be considered that a plan excellently suited to the climate of England would be totally inconsistent with the temperatures attendant upon the changes of season in India, and with the several practices and operations necessary to meet those changes. It must never be forgotten that at some seasons, and at some hours in all seasons, every door and window is usually thrown open; and that during the continuance of the hot winds, such apartments as cannot be kept moderately cool by tatties applied to some apertures on that floor, whence the current of refrigerated air may find admission, will be scarcely habitable, and, at night in particular, will glow like ovens.
The hot wind commonly rises with the sun, blowing very gently at first, and increasing gradually till about one or two o'clock; after which it subsides into a perfect calm. This is its ordinary course, but some whole days remain calm, while at other times the wind blows a hurricane through the whole night. It has indeed been known to continue, with very little change of temperature or variation of force, for full ten days; while the nights were rather hotter than the days; so that extra b'heesties were retained to water the tatties during the night. That was, to he sure, a very singular season, attended with a prodigious mortality, great numbers dying suddenly. The fit, which resembled apoplexy, attacked all ages alike, and [] was equally fatal to the abstemious and temperate, as to the licentious and the gormandizing.
In describing the habitations of the lower orders of natives, it was shown that their chief attention was paid to privacy, and to the exclusion of the glare. The superior ranks are not less intent upon the same objects; though from many of their state apartments it does not appear that either the one or the other were objects of the smallest consideration. Some of the Durbars are uncommonly exposed; and from the crowd, the observation of fastidious ceremony, and the constant succession of entrances and exits, form a most uncomfortable tout ensemble.
Yet it appears that the natives have made little or no
their system, not only within the time that Europeans have been
with them, but, if we examine their ancient structures, not for
before a Briton trod their soil. Nearly the same aspect is given to all
their buildings, especially to their places of worship. Nimauzes
(or open temples) where the Moossulmans are in the habit of offering up
their prayers, invariably front the west, under the notion of facing
shrine of Mahomed.