« السابقةمتابعة »
coolest situations. Of their grades of rank I can say nothing, but much importance seems to depend upon due agedness. The highest were usually admitted to the interviews, and of course expected to be recompensed for the honour they did us; but as they were well contented with two or three rupees, their ideas cannot be said to be extravagant. They are perhaps rather more cleanly than other Booteas, and are reported to bathe publicly every week; but although we frequently saw processions in single files, in all cases headed by a small drum, a sort of gong, a clarionet, and an incense bearer, the priests following according to their seniority, the youngest noviciate ending the tail, I am not convinced but that the bathing part may be more nominal than actual; one thing at least is certain, that the duty, whatever it was, was agreeable, otherwise we should not have seen the processions so often.
They are kept in order in the castles by hide whips, in the use of which some of the brethren are neither sparing nor discriminating. The dress is becoming, consisting of a sleeveless tunic, generally of a chocolate colour, and edged with black or yellow. They are certainly better off than any other class: their chief duty is to be idle, to feast at the expense of the country, and at most, to tell their beads and recite mutterings.
The idle retainers form also a large portion, though by no means equal to that of the priests. As little can be said in the favour of these as in that of those, but they have one disadvantage in not being able to make use of their religion as a cloak for evil deeds. In these two classes all the most able-bodied men in the country are absorbed: they are taught to be idle and to become oppressors, and what is very bad in such a thinly populated country, they learn to look upon the ordinance of marriage, and its usual consequences, as a bar to their own interest. Of the great men I can only say that their influence is undeviatingly directed to the furtherance of their interests; they become governors to oppress, not to protect the governed-they rule by misrule; and as being the sources of the two great evils I have just mentioned-priests and retainers-they are themselves the greatest curse that ever was inflicted upon a poor country.
Of the moral qualities of the Booteas it is not in my power to give a pleasing account. To the lower orders I am disposed to give credit for much cheerfulness, even under their most depressed circumstances, and generally for considerable honesty. The only instances of theft that occurred did so on our approach to the Capital. How strange, that where all that should be good, and all that is great is congregated, there is little to be found but sheer vice; and how strange, that
where good examples alone should be led, bad examples alone are followed.
To the higher orders I cannot attribute the possession of a single good quality. They are utter strangers to truth, they are greedy beggars, they are wholly familiar with rapacity and craftiness, and the will of working evil. This censure applies only to those with whom we had personal intercourse; it would be perhaps unfair to include the Soobahs, whom we only saw once, in such a flattering picture, but it certainly would not be unreasonable; and I must make one exception in favour of Bullumboo, the Soobah of Dewangiri, and he was the only man of any rank that we had reason to be friendly towards and to respect. In morale they appeared to me to be inferior to all ordinary Hill tribes, on whom a Bootea would look with ineffable contempt; and although their houses are generally better, and although they actually have castles and places called palaces, and although the elders of the land dress in fine cloths and gaudy silks, and possess money, ponies, mules, and slaves, I am disposed to consider them as inferior even to the naked Naga.
They are not even courageous. I am inclined to rank courage among physical rather than moral qualities, yet it could not so be classified in the consideration of a Bootea, in whom other physical qualities are well developed. I therefore consider it among those other qualities which, as I have said, are absent in Bootan. A Bootea is a great boaster, but a small performer. All the accounts I heard of their reputed courage were ludicrous. Turner mentions seriously that one desperate revolution superinduced the death of one man in battle; and we were told that in the late protracted one, the only sufferers were two sick people who were unable to escape from a burning house. In a military point of view they could only make up for their deficiency in numbers by an excess of courage and of perseverance under difficulties. They are not even well versed in the use of their national weapons. The Gourkha Soubahdar who accompanied the Mission looked on them with the utmost contempt, and this knowledge he had gained by long experience. In Mr. Scott's time a handful of Assamese sebundies would take stronghold after stronghold, and lead off all the tenants, excepting the defenders who had run away, as captives; and very lately 700 Booteas, with every advantage of ground, were totally routed by seventy of the same sebundies. Their courage may therefore be written down as entirely imaginary.
Their ideas of religion appear to be very confused; religion with them consisting, as indeed it may do among other more civilised people, of certain external forms, such as counting beads, and mutter
ing sacred sentences. The people throughout are remarkably superstitious, believing in an innumerable host of spirits, whose residences they dare not pass on horseback; and while they are near these abodes they keep the tenant at bay with vollies of incantations. The offerings to these spirits are usually flowers, or bits of rag; this practice they have in common with most of the tribes to the extreme east of Assam.
Of any marriage ceremonies I could not hear; but as chastity would appear to be unknown, no particular forms are probably required; nor do I think that there is a particular class of prostitutes. We all had opportunities of remarking the gross indelicacy of Bootea women; of this and of their extreme amiableness, the custom of polyandry is a very sufficient cause. So far as I could see, there is no distinction of rank among Bootea women, and those only are saved from the performance of menial duties who are incapacitated by sickness or age.
If the account given by Mr. Scott's Persian of the ceremonies attendant on birth be true, another sufficient cause exists for scantiness of population, as well as for a disproportion of women. He asserts that the second day after birth both child and mother are plunged into the nearest river; but so great is the dislike of a Bootea for this element, that I am inclined to discredit the account, and more especially as regards the mother.
The disposal of corpses is much the same as among the Hindoos: the ashes of the body are collected, and are, I believe, thrown into the nearest river. The ceremonies, of course, begin and end with a donation to the officiating priest. The only part of them I witnessed was the burning, and this only in one instance; it was done in a slovenly and disgusting manner.
Of the social habits, little favourable could be said in any place where the women are looked on as inferior beings, and used as slaves. The men generally are excessively idle, and spend most of their time in drinking chong, for the preparation of which, as well as that of arrack, there are provisions in most houses. I do not think I ever saw a male Bootea employed, except indeed those who acted as coolies. All the work in doors and out of doors is done by women, to whom about Punukka Assamese slaves are added. The men are great admirers of basking in the sun, and even prefer sitting shivering in the cold to active employment.
I need scarcely add that both sexes are in all their habits inexpressibly filthy. The women in their extreme indelicacy form a marked contrast with such other Hill tribes as I am acquainted with.
The only use either sex make of water is in the preparation of food
or of spirits-no water ever comes into contact with any part of their person; they scarcely ever change their clothes, especially the woollen ones. The people about Bhoomlungtung are far the dirtiest, and as they wear dark woollen cloths, rendered still darker by long accumulation of smoke and dirt, they look more like representations of natives of Pandemonium, than of any place on the earth's surface.
As they, at least the official part, are very assuming, so does state enter largely into all their proceedings. All our interviews with them were conducted with all possible state on their part; and that exhibited to us at Tongsa and Punukka, was striking enough, and will ever after form in my mind as bitter a satire upon state as one could well wish. The effect was much lowered by the usual Asiatic want of arrangement, by an assumption of superiority among the inferiors (probably enough at the instance of their superiors), and by the admixture of the profanum vulgus, who had no opportunity of hiding inherent dirt under fine robes. On these occasions the behaviour of the chief was certainly gentlemanly, but the impression was soon obliterated by a messenger overtaking us, probably on our return, for another watch, or another telescope, or any other thing. In personal appearance I did not observe much difference between the higher and the lower orders, with the exception of the ex-Pillo of Tongsa, who seemed to have the best blood in the country concentrated in him. The presents given as returns of the magnificent gifts of the Governor General were beggarly; and yet there was a good deal of parade in their exhibition. To us narrow silk scarfs were always given, occasionally varied with a foot and a half of blanket. The scarfs are habitual gifts among all the upper classes, and very generally form the inner envelope of letters.
Fine woollens and embroidered China silks form the dress of the nobles; thick cotton or woollen doublets or tunics are common to every body else, but the chiefs probably have similar dresses in private, at least their principal officers certainly have; and the only difference in such cases is the belt, from which the dha is on occasions suspended these are embroidered, and have a rich appearance. The dress of all is certainly cumbrous, especially when the peculiarly Chinese boots are donned. The boots of the higher orders are certainly not made in Bootan; those of the lower orders consisted of a foot of some skin, with party-coloured woollen leggins, which lie above the calf. They are worn by both sexes.
The general receptacle for odds and ends, and a most capacious one it is, is between the skin and the doublet. Into this, which (consequent to one side being formed by the body) is not of the cleanest description,
every thing is thrust, from a handful of rice to a walnut, from a live fish to a bit of half putrid dried meat. Tobacco is carried in a small pouch suspended from one side.
A dha, or straight sword of a heavy description, is worn by all who can afford it, and the belt of this secures the loose doublet about the waist, and prevents the innumerable deposits therein from falling down. Those who cannot wear dhas from poverty, wear ridiculous looking knives, which dangling from the belt have a very absurd appearance. It is lucky that the people are not quarrelsome, and not inclined to resist the followers of chiefs, otherwise from the men being so generally armed, and so generally addicted to drinking, assaults might be expected to be of common occurrence; I only saw however one instance in which a man had been wounded. I certainly shuddered at times, expecting every moment to see adverse parties multiply each other by division; but latterly I was persuaded that cutting blows were rarely resorted to. The end of these disputes, which barring the blows were very fierce, was always brought about by the arrival of some third person, who by espousing one, espoused the stronger cause, and when this was done the weaker withdrew, or was made to withdraw by blows with the flat side of the weapon.
The accoutrements of a man of war differ, so far as his mere dress goes, in nothing. His defences consist of a well quilted iron skull-cap, which, when out of danger, is worn slung on the back; lappets are attached to it which defend the face-perhaps from cold. They also carry circular leathern shields, apparently of rather good manufacture. Their weapons of defence are first the dha, which is a heavy unwieldy weapon, without any guard. They are worn on the right side, but this to us awkward mode of wearing does not hinder a Bootea from disengaging his weapon readily, the sheath being first seized by the left hand. A blow from this weapon must cause a desperate wound, and judging from their quarrels, in which not a vestige of any skill in self-defence was shewn, the first blow, when actually struck, must decide the matter. Their fire arms, which are all matchlocks, and which vary in size from musketoons to huge wall pieces, are contemptible: they are of Chinese manufacture. Their powder, which they manufacture themselves, is powerless; indeed in one sense it may be considered as positively lessening power, for Captain Pemberton and Lieut. Blake ascertained that in ordinary charges it could not cause the discharge of the wad, and hence it actually weakened the cap. To remedy this badness they put in very large charges, but after all they seem to depend more on the effect of the noise than on that of the missile, for so little reliance is placed on this, that the marksman is