Volume 1, Chapter 12, Sections 6-10 -- Travels of Oderic of Portenau, into China and the East, in 1318: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 6 -- Of a Strange Idol, and of certain Customs and Ceremonies.

In the kingdom of Moabar there is a wonderful idol in the shape of a man, all of pure and polished gold, as large as our image of St. Christopher; and there hangs about its neck a string of most rich and precious stones, some of which are singly more valuable than the riches of an entire kingdom. The whole house, in which this idol is preserved, is all of beaten gold, even the roof, the pavement, and the lining of the walls, both within and without.[1] The Indians go on pilgrimages to this idol, just as we do to the image of St. Peter; some having halters round their necks, some with their hands bound behind their backs, and others with knives sticking in various parts of their legs and arms; and if the flesh of their wounded limbs should corrupt, owing to these wounds, they believe that their god is well pleased with them, and ever after esteem the diseased limbs as sacred. Near this great idol temple, there is an artificial lake of water in an open place, into which the pilgrims and devotees cast gold and silver, and precious stones, in honour of the idol, and as a fund for repairing the temple; and when any new ornament is to be made, or any repairs are required, the priests take what is wanted from the oblations that are thrown into this lake.

At each annual festival of this idol, the king and queen of the country, with all the pilgrims, and the whole multitude of the people assemble at the temple; and placing the idol on a rich and splendid chariot, they carry it from the temple with songs and all kinds of musical instruments, having a great company of young women, who walk in procession, two and two, singing before the idol. Many of the pilgrims throw themselves under the chariot wheels, that they may be crushed to death in honour of their god, and the bodies of these devotees are afterwards burned, and their ashes collected as of holy martyrs. In this manner, above 500 persons annually devote themselves to death. Sometimes a man devotes himself to die in honour of this abominable idol. On which occasion, accompanied by his relations and friends, and by a great company of musicians, he makes a solemn feast; after which, he hangs five sharp knives around his neck, and goes in solemn procession before the idol; where he takes four of the knives successively, with each of which he cuts off a piece of his own flesh, which he throws to the idol, saying, that for the worship of his god he thus cuts himself. Then taking the last of the knives, he declares aloud that he is going to put himself to death in honour of the god; on uttering which, he executes his vile purpose. His body is then burned with great solemnity, and he is ever after esteemed as a holy person.

The king of this country has vast treasures in gold and silver, and precious stones, and possesses the largest and fairest pearls that are to be seen in the whole world. Leaving this country, I travelled fifty days journey to the southward, along the shore of the ocean, when I came to a country called Lamouri,[2] in which, owing to the extreme heat, the whole inhabitants go stark naked, both men and women, and they derided me for wearing clothes, saying, that Adam and Eve were created naked. In this country the women are all common, so that no one has a wife; and when a child is born, the mother gives it to any of the men she pleases, who may have been connected with her. The whole of the land, likewise, is possessed in common, but everyone has his own house. Human flesh, if fat, is used as commonly in that country as beef with us; and though the manners and customs of the people are most abominable, the country is excellent, and abounds in flesh and corn, gold and silver, aloes-wood, and camphor, and many other precious commodities. Merchants who trade to this country, usually bring with them fat men, among their other commodities, which they sell to the natives as we do hogs, and these are immediately slain and devoured.

In this region, toward the south, there is an island or kingdom called Symolora,[3] where both the men and women mark themselves with a hot iron in twelve different parts of their faces;[4] and this nation is continually at war with a certain naked people in another region. I then went to another island named Java, the coast of which is 3000 miles in circuit; and the king of Java has seven other kings under his supreme dominion. This is thought to be one of the largest islands in the world, and is thoroughly inhabited; having great plenty of cloves, cubebs, and nutmegs, and all other kinds of spices, and great abundance of provisions of all kinds, except wine. The king of Java has a large and sumptuous palace, the most lofty of any that I have seen, with broad and lofty stairs to ascend to the upper apartments, all the steps being alternately of gold and silver.

The whole interior walls are lined with plates of beaten gold, on which the images of warriors are placed sculptured in gold, having each a golden coronet richly ornamented with precious stones. The roof of this palace is of pure gold, and all the lower rooms are paved with alternate square plates of gold and silver. The great khan, or emperor of Cathay, has had many wars with the king of Java, but has always been vanquished and beaten back.

[1] More recent and more accurate travellers have informed us, that this profusion of gold, on the idols and temples of the Buddists, especially, is only rich gilding.--E.
[2] This seems properly enough corrected on the margin by Hakluyt, by the word Comori, or the country about Cape Comorin.--E.
[3] Simoltra or Sumatra.--Hakluyt.
[4] Probably alluding to tatooing, which will be explained in the voyages to the islands of the Pacific ocean.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 7 -- Of certain Trees which produce Meal, Honey, Wine, and Poison.

Near to Java is another country called Panten, or Tathalmasin,[1] the king of which has many islands under his dominion. In this country there are trees which produce meal, honey, and wine, and likewise the most deadly poison in the world; the only remedy for which is human ordure dissolved in water, which, drank in considerable quantify, acts as a cathartic, and expels the poison. These trees are very large; and, when cut down, a quantity of liquor exudes from the trunk, which is received into bags made of leaves, and after exposure for fifteen days to the sun, it hardens into meal. This is first steeped in sea water, and is afterwards washed in fresh water, when it becomes a savoury paste, which may either be eaten as bread, or cooked in various ways.[2] I have eaten of this bread, which is fair on the outside, and somewhat brown within.

Beyond this country, the Mare Mortuum, or Dead Sea,[3] stretches with a continual current far to the south, and whatever falls into it is seen no more. In this country there grow canes of an incredible length, as large as trees, even sixty paces or more in height. There are other canes, called cassan, which spread over the earth like grass, even to the extent of a mile, sending up branches from every knot; and in these canes they find certain stones of wonderful virtue, insomuch, that whoever carries one of these about him, cannot be wounded by an iron weapon; on which account, most of the men in that country carry such stones always about them. Many of the people of this country cause one of the arms of their children to be cut open when young, putting one of these stones into the wound, which they heal up by means of the powder of a certain fish, with the name of which I am unacquainted. And through the virtue of these wonderful stones, the natives are generally victorious in their wars, both by sea and land.

There is a stratagem, however, which their enemies often successfully use against them, to counteract the power of these stones. Providing themselves with iron or steel armour, to defend them from the arrows of these people, they use wooden stakes, pointed like weapons of iron, and arrows not having iron heads, but infused with poison which they extract from certain trees, and they thus slay some of their foes, who, trusting to the virtue of these stones, wear no defensive armour. From the canes formerly mentioned, named cassan, they build themselves small houses, and manufacture sails for their ships, and many other things are made from them. From thence, after many days travel, I came to another kingdom, called Campa,[4] which is a very rich and beautiful kingdom, abounding in all kinds of provisions. The king who reigned at the time of my being there, had so many wives and concubines, that he had three hundred sons and daughters. He had likewise 10,004[5] tame elephants, which were pastured in droves as we feed flocks and herds.

[1] Hakluyt endeavours to explain this on the margin by Malasmi. It is possible the river Banjar, and the port of Masseen, otherwise called Bendermassin, or Banjar-massin, in the great island of Borneo, may be here indicated. Panten, Petan, or perhaps Bentam, is perhaps a small woody island mentioned by Marco Polo, near great Java or Borneo. The names of places, however, in these early travellers, have been so confounded by ignorant transcribers as often to defy all criticism.--E.
[2] This seems an ill-collected account of Sago.--E.
[3] The Pacific Ocean, the navigation of which was then so much unknown, that those who ventured to navigate it never returned.--E
[4] Probably Siampa, called likewise Ciampa, and Tsiompa.--E.
[5] In the Latin, this number is decies millesies et quatuor, which may even be read 14,000; certainly a vast exaggeration either way.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 8 -- Of vast multitudes of Fish, which throw themselves on the dry Land.

The following most wonderful circumstance is to be observed in this country of Siampa. All the kinds of fishes which frequent those seas, swim towards the shore at certain times in such abundance, that nothing can be seen for a great way but the backs of fishes. The fish throw themselves upon the shore, and for the space of three days allow the people to take up as many of them as they please. At the end of these three days this shoal returns again to sea, and a different kind comes to the shore in the same manner, and remains for a similar period. And in the same way, all other kinds of fish in these seas come to the shore in succession, each kind by itself. This strange phenomenon happens once every year, and the natives pretend that the fishes are taught by nature to do this, in token of homage to their emperor. I saw many other strange things in this country, which would be incredible to any one who had not seen them; and among these, I may mention that they have tortoises as large as ovens. In this country, the bodies of their dead are burned, and the living wives are burned along with their dead husbands, as has been already mentioned when describing the customs of the city of Polumbrum; and they are believed by this means to accompany their husbands into the other world.

Travelling from this country to the southward, along the coast of the ocean, I passed through many countries and islands, one of which is called Moumoran,[1] and is 2000 miles in circumference. The people of this country, both men and women, go naked, except a small cloth before the middle of their bodies. They have dog's faces, and worship an ox as their god, and all of them wear the image of an ox in gold or silver on their foreheads. The men are very tall and strong, and when they go to battle, they carry targets of iron or steel, large enough to cover and protect their whole bodies. All the prisoners whom they take in war, unless they can ransom themselves with money, are eaten; but those who are able to pay ransom are set free. The king of this country wears a string of 300 large and fair pearls about his neck, which he employs as a rosary for counting his prayers; and says every day as many prayers to his god. He wears also on his finger a marvellously large and brilliant stone, of a span long, which resembles a flame of fire, so that no one dare approach him, and it is said to be the most valuable precious stone in all the world. The great Tartar emperor of Cathay, has often used every endeavour to procure this wonderful jewel, but has never been able to prevail, either by force, policy, or money.

[1] It is impossible even to conjecture what island is here meant; but as Ceylon follows next in succession, it may possibly refer to Sumatra, though that island appears to have been mentioned already, under the name of Symolora--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 9 -- Of the Island of Ceylon, and of the Mountain where Adam mourned the Death of Abel.

From thence I passed another island named Sylan, or Ceylon, which is 2000 miles in circuit, in which there are infinite multitudes of serpents, great numbers of lions, bears, and all kinds of ravenous beasts, and a great many of elephants. In this island there is a great mountain, on which the inhabitants pretend that Adam mourned for the death of his son Abel, during 500 years. On the top of this mountain there is a most beautiful plain, in which is a small lake always full of water, which the inhabitants allege to have proceeded from the tears of Adam and Eve; but this I proved to be false, as I saw the water to flow out of the lake. This lake is full of horse-leeches, and numbers of precious stones are to be found on its bottom, which the king of the island, instead of appropriating to his own use, allows certain poor people to dive for once or twice a year, for their own profit, that they may pray for blessings upon his soul. On this occasion they smear their bodies with lemon juice, which prevents the leeches from hurting them while they are in the water. The water from this lake runs into the sea, at which place the inhabitants dig on the shore, at low water, for rubies, diamonds, pearls, and other precious stones, which are found in such abundance, that the king of this island is believed to possess more precious stones than any other monarch in the world. There are wild beasts and birds of all kinds in this island in great numbers; and I was informed by the natives, that these beasts never attack or do harm to strangers, but only kill the indigenous inhabitants. I saw in this island certain birds, as large as our geese, having two heads, and other wonderful things I do not here write of.

Still farther to the south, I came to a certain island, called Bodin,[1, which name signifies unclean; and this island is inhabited by a most wicked people, who devour raw flesh, and commit all manner of wickedness and abominable uncleanness to an incredible extent; insomuch, that they kill and eat each other, the father eating his son, the son his father, the husband his wife, and the wife her husband. If any man be sick, the son goes to the soothsayer, or prognosticating priest, requesting him to inquire of his god, whether or not his father is to recover. Then both go to an idol of gold or silver, which they thus address: "We adore thee as our lord and god, and we beseech thee to inform us, whether such a man is to die or to recover from his present infirmity." Then the devil returns an answer from the idol, and if he says the man is to recover, the son returns to the house of his father, and ministers to him in all things necessary, until he regain his former health; but if the response is that the man is to die, the priest then goes to him, and putting a cloth into his mouth, immediately strangles him. After this the dead body is cut in pieces, and all the friends and relations are invited to feast upon this horrible banquet, which is accompanied with music and all manner of mirth; but the bones are solemnly buried. On my blaming this abominable practice, they alleged, as its reason and excuse, that it was done to prevent the worms from devouring the flesh, which would occasion great torments to his soul; and all I could say was quite insufficient to convince them of their error. There are many other novel and strange things in this country, to which no one would give credit, who had not seen them with his own eyes; yet, I declare before God, that I assert nothing of which I am not as sure as a man may be of any thing. I have been informed by several credible persons, that this India contains 4400 islands, most of which are well inhabited, among which there are sixty-four crowned kings.

[1] Explained on the margin by Hakluyt, "or Dadin," which is equally inexplicable.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 10 -- Of Upper India, and the Province of Mancy.[1]

After sailing for many days on the ocean towards the east, I arrived at the great province of Mancy, or Mangi, which is called India by the Latins; and I was informed by Christians, Saracens, and idolaters, and by many persons in office under the great khan, that this country contains more than 2000 great cities, and that it abounds in all manner of provisions, as bread, wine, rice, flesh, and fish. All the men of this country are artificers or merchants, and so long as they are able to help themselves by the labour of their hands, they never think to beg alms, however great may be their poverty. The men of this country are fair and of a comely appearance, yet somewhat pale, having a small part of their heads shaven; but their women are the most beautiful of any under the sun. The first city that I came to belonging to this country is called Ceuskalon,[2] which is a day's journey from the sea, standing on a river, which at its mouth overflows the land, to the extent of twelve days' journey. This city has so prodigious a number of ships and vessels, as would be quite incredible by any person who had not been an eye-witness. In this city I saw 300 pounds of good and new ginger sold for less than a groat. They have the largest and finest geese, and the greatest plenty of them is to be sold, more than in any other part of the world. They are as white as milk, having a bone the size of an egg on the crown of the head, of a blood-red colour, and a skin or bag under their throat, which hangs down half a foot or more.[3] These birds are exceedingly fat, and are sold at reasonable rates. The ducks and hens of this country are twice the size of ours. There are likewise large and monstrous serpents, which are caught and eaten by the natives, and are held in such estimation as to be produced at all their feasts. In short, this city abounds in all kind of provisions.

Travelling from thence through many cities, I came at length to a city called Caitan or Zaiton,[4] in which the minorite friars have two places of abode, unto which I transported the bones of the dead friars formerly mentioned, who suffered martyrdom for the faith of Christ. In this city, which is twice as long as Bologna, there are abundance of provisions, and it contains many monasteries of religious persons, who are devoted to the worship of idols. I was in one of these monasteries, which was said to contain 3000 religious men, and 11,000 idols, one of the smallest of which was as large as our St. Christopher. These religious men feed their idols daily, serving up a banquet of good things before them, smoking hot, and they affirm that their gods are refreshed and fed by the steam of the victuals, which are afterwards carried away, and eaten up by the priests.

[1] Otherwise Mangi, or Southern China.--E.
[2] This place, which on the margin is corrected by the equally unknown name of Ceuskala, was probably Canton; but having endeavoured to explain the distorted names of places in China, in the travels of Marco Polo, it is unnecessary to resume the almost impossible task in these much less interesting, and perhaps fabricated, travels of Oderic.--E.
[3] Oderic here means pelicans, called alca-trarzi by the Spaniards.--Hakluyt.
[4] Called in p. 404, Carchan.--E.


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