Friday, February 04, 2005

A brief look at the merchandise

In 1154, the Arab geographer Idrisi states: "The residents of Zabag go to the land of Sofala (near Beira, Mozambique) and export the iron from there supplying it to all the lands of India. No iron is comparable to theirs in quality and sharpness."

So in addition to tortoise shell mentioned by the Periplus, the Zabag traders were trading iron from Africa in "all the lands of India," which would include India proper and the "East Indies." As mentioned earlier, the tin mentioned in the Periplus in South Indian ports also likely came from Southeast Asia.

The Muslim texts mention among the other products traded by Zabag, at least within its own territories, were: camphor, aloeswood, sandalwood, ivory, a type of lead known as "Cabahi, "ebony," red-wood, nutmeg, mace, aloeswood, cardamom and cubeb.

The Chinese texts mention additionally as the products of Sanfotsi, which we have connected with Zabag: four varieties of gharu-wood, tortoise shell, laka-wood. cardamon and also, although not necessarily native, gold, silver, porcelain, silk, brocades, sugar, iron, samshu, rice, dried galangal and rhubarb.

Idrisi writes that in the 12th century, the Chinese often directed their trade toward Zabag especially during times of trouble (translated by Georges Coedes):

It is said that when the states of affairs of China became troubled by rebellions and when tyranny and confusion became excessive in India, the inhabitants of China transferred their trade to Zabag and the other islands dependent on it, entered into relations with it, and familiarized themselves with its inhabitants bcause of their justice, the goodness of their conduct, the pleasantness fo their customs, and their facility in business. It is because of this that this island is so heavily populated and so often frequented by strangers.

The islands of Wakwak, or Toupo as the Chinese knew them, competed fiercely with Zabag, it's close neighbor. The two were in fact described as continuous with each other with Wakwak situated to the south of Zabag.

Although the Arabic accounts vary somewhat, the reliable traditions agree in placing both Zabag and Wakwak in the "Sea of Champa" or the "Sea of China." That is in the seas directly off the east coast of Champa (southern and central Vietnam) and/or China. Here are some geographical notes on Wakwak from the Muslim texts:

One goes from the sea of Champa to the land of Wakwak
-- Shahriyar

The sea of Champa which is before the China Sea, joins Wakwak
-- Shahriyar

Wakwak lies to the east of China...
-- Ibn Khurdadhbih

It is a land situated south of China
-- Yakut

The islands of Wakwak situated in the China Sea are near Zabag
-- Kazwini

They are in the extreme East
-- Ibn Sa`id

Interestingly, Wakwak is often said to be ruled by a queen known as Damhara. The Chinese texts also mention a queen at one time ruling Toupo.

The ruler of the islands of Wakwak is a woman. She sits nude on a throne, a crown of gold on her head, surrounded by four thousand young slaves also nude.
-- Kazwini and Ibn al-Wardi

The queen is called Damhara, wears a robe woven of gold and shoes of gold.
-- Ibn al-Wardi, Idrisi

The queen sits on a throne with a crown of gold on her head, surrounded by 400 young virgins.
-- Abshihi

(translated by Gabriel Ferrand)

The Chinese chronicles mention Queen Sima of Toupo who struck fear in the heart of the "King of the Arabs."

It seems also women played a major role in Zabag as the tales of Sinbad in the One Thousand and One Nights mention a princess of Zabag who greatly assists her father in ruling over the kingdom.

Like Zabag, Wakwak was also famed for its gold and probably even more so.

The horse bits, and the chains and collars of dogs are of gold
-- Shahriyar

The people make shirts woven of gold
-- Shahriyar

The chiefs have bricks made of gold with which they build fortresses and houses
-- Ibn al-Wardi, Abu Zaid Hasan

The gold is exported in ingots and as dust
-- Idrisi

When the Spanish reached the Philippines, they were surprised at the quantity of gold to be found:

"... the natives proceed more slowly in this ,and content themselves with what they already possess in jewels and gold ingots handed down from antiquity and inherited from their ancestors. This is considerable, for he must be poor and wretched who has no gold chains, calombigas, and earrings."
-- Antonio de Morga

"On the island [Butuan] where the king came to the ship, pieces of gold as large as walnuts or eggs are to be found, by sifting the earth. All the dishes of the king are of gold, and his whole house is very well set up."
-- Pigafetta

"...they possess great skill in mixing it [gold] with other metals. They give it an outside appearance so natural and perfect, and so fine a ring, that unless it is melted they can deceive all men, even the best of silversmiths."
-- Pigafetta

"According to their customs, he [Raja Siaua] was very grandly decked out, and the finest looking man we saw among those people. He wore two large golden earrings fastened in his ears. At his side hung a dagger the shaft of which was somewhat long and all in gold. He had three spots of gold on every tooth , and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold. That island of his was called Butuan and Calagan."
-- Pigafetta

The other products mentioned as coming from Wakwak/Toupo are very similar to those mentioned as coming from Zabag. Pigafetta states that at Butuan and Calagan was found the finest cinnamon in the world known as caumana. The latter word itself looks like a possible ultimate etymological source for "cinnamon" which is derived directly from the Hebrew kinamon.

In the earliest mention of Toupo in the Funan tu su luan of Kang-Tai the pronunciation is Toubak which happens to be same as the old name for the kingdom of Cotabato in the southern Philippines.

Although medieval writings up to Pigafetta describe homes and buildings decorated with gold, great cities seem to be lacking. I Ching describes Foshi, which may be the same as Sanfotsi, as a "fortified town." Muslim writers also describe the location of the Zabag king's palace as a "town." This palace though seems to have been imposing and its legend may have survived to the time of the Age of Exploration.

The king of Zabag was said to have a very heavy crown of gold and jewels, and also to have a golden image of himself for posterity. Offerings of gold vessels were made by the people to this image. This collection of gold was in the form of a shrine known as the "Mountain of Gold and Silver."

The description of the homes in Toupo given by the Chinese is positive:

The dwellings are of imposing appearance and painted in greenish tints. Traders going there are put up in visitor's lodges, where food and drink both plentiful and good (are supplied).

-- Chau Ju-Kua

When Pigafetta arrived, he found that the natives of the Philippines were still conducting long-distance trade and that Magellan's crew was conducted to "their boats where they had their merchandise, which consisted of cloves, cinnamon, pepper, nutmegs, mace, gold, and other things: and they made us understand by gestures that such articles were to be found in the islands to which they were going."

The Pandanan wreck also gives us an idea of the types of things brought back from these trade journeys. Dated at about 1410, the wreck consisted of 4,722 items stored in seven hull compartments. These were not water-tight compartments and large holes at the bottom of each bulkhead drained bilge water into the bottom of the hull.

More than 70 percent of the cargo consisted of Vietnamese ceramics. Other items included blue and white porcelain wares, celadons and iron cauldrons and gongs.

Paul Kekai Manansala