EAST OF SUEZ
By Frederic Courtland Penfield, Former American Diplomatic Agent and Consul-General to Egypt.
* * * * *
Secretariat du Khedive
RAS-EL-TEEN PALACE, ALEXANDRIA, 4th November, 1899
FREDERIC C. PENFIELD, ESQUIRE, Manhattan Club, New York.
My dear Sir:
I am commanded by H. H. The Khedive to acknowledge the receipt of the copy of your book "Present-Day Egypt," which you have so kindly forwarded for his acceptance.
I am to say that His Highness has read it with much pleasure and interest, as it is the only book published on Egypt of to-day by an author thoroughly acquainted with the subject through long residence and official position in the country.
I have the honor to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, (Signed) ALFRED B. BREWSTER, Private Secretary to H. H. the Khedive.
* * * * *
Revised and Enlarged Edition. Fully illustrated. Uniform with "East of Suez." 8vo. 396 pages. $2.50
The Century Co., Union Square New York
EAST OF SUEZ CEYLON, INDIA, CHINA AND JAPAN
By Frederic Courtland Penfield Author of "Present-Day Egypt," etc.
Illustrated from Drawings and Photographs
"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat." Kipling.
NEW YORK THE CENTURY CO. 1907
Copyright, 1906, 1907, by THE CENTURY CO.
Published, February, 1907
THE DE VINNE PRESS
TO THE MEMORY OF KATHARINE
If books of travel were not written the stay-at-home millions would know little of the strange or interesting sights of this beautiful world of ours; and it surely is better to have a vicarious knowledge of what is beyond the vision than dwell in ignorance of the ways and places of men and women included in the universal human family.
The Great East is a fascinating theme to most readers, and every traveler, from Marco Polo to the tourist of the present time, taking the trouble to record what he saw, has placed every fireside reader under distinct obligation.
So thorough was my mental acquaintance with India through years of sympathetic study of Kipling that a leisurely survey of Hind simply confirmed my impressions. Other generous writers had as faithfully taught what China in reality was, and Mortimer Menpes, Basil Hall Chamberlain, and Miss Scidmore had as conscientiously depicted to my understanding the ante-war Japan. Grateful am I, as well, to the legion of tireless writers attracted to the East by recent strife and conquest, who have made Fuji more familiar to average readers than any mountain peak in the United States; who have made the biographies of favorite geishas known even in our hamlets and mining camps, and whose agreeable iteration of scenes on Manila's lunetta compel our Malaysian capital to be known as well as Coney Island and Atlantic City—they have so graphically portrayed and described interesting features that of them nothing remains to be told. But to know Eastern lands and peoples without an intermediary is keenly delightful and compensating.
The travel impulse and longing for first-hand knowledge, native with most mortals, is yearly finding readier expression. Our grandparents earned a renown more than local by crossing the Atlantic to view England and the Continent, while our fathers and mothers exploring distant Russia and the Nile were accorded marked consideration. The wandering habit is as progressive as catching, and what sufficed our ancestors satisfies only in minor degree the longing of the present generation for roving. Hence the grand tour, the circuit of the earth, is becoming an ordinary achievement. And while hundreds of Americans are compassing the earth this year, thousands will place the globe under tribute in seasons not remote.
For many years to come India and Ceylon will practically be what they are to-day, and sluggish China will require much rousing before her national characteristics differ from what they are now; but of Japan it is different, for, having made up their minds to remodel the empire, the sons of Nippon are not doing things by halves, and the old is being supplanted by the new with amazing rapidity.
Possibly it is a misfortune to find oneself incapable of preparing a volume of travel without inflicting a sermon upon kindly disposed persons, but a book of journeyings loaded with gentle preachment must at least be a novelty. Travel books imparting no patriotic lesson may well be left to authors and readers of older and self-sufficient nations. A work appealing on common lines to a New World audience would be worse than banal, and a conscientious American writer is compelled to describe not alone what he saw, but in clarion notes tell of some things he failed of seeing for our country, emerging but now from the formative period, and destined to permanently lead the universe in material affairs, is entitled to be better known in the East by its manufactures.
Every piece of money expended in travel is but the concrete form of somebody's toil, or the equivalent of a marketed product: and consequently it is almost unnecessary to remind that industry and thrift must precede expenditure, or to assert that toil and travel bear inseparable relationship. What the American, zigzagging up and down and across that boundless region spoken of as East of Suez, fails to see is the product of Uncle Sam's mills, workshops, mines and farms. From the moment he passes the Suez Canal to his arrival at Hong Kong or Yokohama, the Stars and Stripes are discovered in no harbor nor upon any sea; and maybe he sees the emblem of the great republic not once in the transit of the Pacific. And the products of our marvelous country are met but seldom, if at all, where the American wanders in the East. He is rewarded by finding that the Light of Asia is American petroleum, but that is about the only Western commodity he is sure of encountering in months of travel.
This state of things is grievously wrong, for it should be as easy for us to secure trade in the Orient as for any European nation, and assuredly easier than for Germany. We have had such years of material prosperity and progress as were never known in the history of any people, it is true; but every cycle of prosperity has been succeeded by lean years, and ever will be. When the inevitable over-production and lessened home consumption come, Eastern markets, though supplied at moderate profit, will be invaluable. We are building the Panama Canal, whose corollary must be a mercantile fleet of our own upon the seas, distributing the products of our soil and manufactories throughout the world, and Secretary of State Root has made it easy for a better understanding and augmented trade with the republics to the south of us. But America's real opportunity is in Asia, where dwell more than half the people of the earth, for the possibilities of commerce with the rich East exceed those of South America tenfold. Uncle Sam merits a goodly share of the trade of both these divisions of the globe.
The people of the United States must cut loose from the idea that has lost its logic in recent years, that the Pacific Ocean separates America from the lands and islands of Asia, and look upon it as a body of water connecting us with the bountiful East. The old theory was good enough for our home-building fathers, but is blighting to a generation aspiring to Americanize the globe. The genius of our nation should cause our ploughs and harrows to prepare the valley and delta of the Nile for tillage; be responsible for the whir of more of our agricultural machinery in the fields of India; locate our lathes and planers and drilling machines in Eastern shops, in substitution for those made in England or Germany; be responsible for American locomotives drawing American cars in Manchuria and Korea over rails rolled in Pittsburgh, and induce half the inhabitants of southern Asia to dress in fabrics woven in the United States, millions of the people of Cathay to tread the earth in shoes produced in New England, and all swayed to an appreciation of our flour as a substitute for rice—yes, make it easy to obtain pure canned foods everywhere in China and Japan, even to hear the merry click of the typewriter in Delhi, Bangkok and Pekin.
Do we not already lead in foreign trade? We do, I gratefully admit; but it is because we sell to less favored peoples our grains and fiber in a raw state. Confessedly, these are self-sellers, for not a bushel of wheat or ounce of cotton is sold because of any enterprise on our part—the buyer must have them, and the initiative of the transaction is his.
What economists regard as 'trade' in its most advantageous form, is the selling to foreigners of something combining the natural products and the handiwork of a nation—this is the trade that America should look for in the East, and seek it now. It is not wild prophecy that within five years a considerable number of the sovereign people of the country controlling its growth will feel that it is carrying international comity to the point of philanthropy to export cotton to England and Japan to be there fabricated for the wear of every race of Asia, and sold in successful competition with American textiles. In the pending battle for the world's markets Uncle Sam should win trade by every proper means, and not by methods most easily invoked; and let it ever be remembered that shortsightedness is plainly distinct from altruism.
FREDERIC C. PENFIELD.
AUTHORS CLUB, NEW YORK CITY, January 26, 1907.
I THE WORLD'S TURNSTILE AT SUEZ 3
II COLOMBO, CEYLON'S COSMOPOLITAN SEA-PORT 30
III THE LURE OF THE PEARL 50
IV UPWARD TO THE SHRINE OF BUDDHA 92
V IN CEYLON'S HILL COUNTRY 108
VI BOMBAY AND ITS PARSEE "JEES" AND "BHOYS" 126
VII THE VICARIOUS MAHARAJAH OF JEYPORE. 149
VIII THE WORLD'S MOST EXQUISITE BUILDING 168
IX BENARES, SACRED CITY OF THE HINDUS 185
X INDIA'S MODERN CAPITAL 205
XI ISLAND LINKS IN BRITAIN'S CHAIN OF EMPIRE 226
XII CANTON, UNIQUE CITY OF CHINA 244
XIII MACAO, THE MONTE CARLO OF THE FAR EAST 267
XIV THE KAISER'S PLAY FOR CHINESE TRADE 290
XV JAPAN'S COMMERCIAL FUTURE 315
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
GULF OF MANAR PEARLING BOAT, AND DIVERS RESTING IN THE WATER Frontispiece From drawing by Corwin K. Linson.
PORT SAID ENTRANCE TO SUEZ CANAL, SHOWING DE LESSEPS'S STATUE 8 From photograph by Georgilada Kip.
ITALIAN WARSHIP STEAMING THROUGH CANAL 13
CARGO STEAMER IN THE CANAL AT KILOMETER 133 25 From photograph by Georgilada Kip.
THE JETTY AT COLOMBO 32
HINDU SILVERSMITHS, COLOMBO 38 From photograph by Skeen & Co.
A HIGH PRIEST OF BUDDHA 42 From photograph by Colombo Apothecaries Co., Ltd.
REPRESENTATION OF BUDDHA'S TOOTH, COLOMBO MUSEUM 46
MAP OF THE GULF OF MANAR, "THE SEA ABOUNDING IN PEARLS" 53
COOLIES CARRYING PEARL OYSTERS FROM THE BOATS TO THE GOVERNMENT "KOTTU" 60 From drawing by Corwin K. Linson.
THE LATE RANA OF DHOLPUR IN HIS PEARL REGALIA 67 From photograph by Johnston & Hoffmann.
INDIAN PEARL MERCHANTS READY FOR BUSINESS, MARICHCHIKKADDI 74 From drawing by Corwin K. Linson.
THE LATE MAHARAJAH OF PATIALA IN HIS PEARL REGALIA 83 From photograph by Johnston & Hoffmann.
A LADY OF KANDY 94 From photograph by Skeen & Co.
TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH, KANDY 99 From photograph by Colombo Apothecaries Co., Ltd.
CREMATION OF A BUDDHIST PRIEST 105 From photograph by Plate & Co.
TREES IN PERADENIYA GARDEN, KANDY 111 From photographs by Frederic C. Penfield.
TAMIL COOLIE SETTING OUT TEA PLANTS 115
TAMIL GIRL PLUCKING TEA 119
A KANDYAN CHIEFTAIN 124
PARSEE TOWER OF SILENCE, BOMBAY 129
A BOMBAY RAILWAY STATION 136
A BOMBAY POLICEMAN 141
HIS HIGHNESS THE MAHARAJAH OF JEYPORE 148
A MATCHED PAIR OF BULLOCKS, JEYPORE 153
STREET SCENE, JEYPORE, SHOWING PALACE OF THE WINDS 157
COURT DANCERS AND MUSICIANS, JEYPORE 162
THE TAJ MAHAL, AGRA 169
ALABASTER SCREEN ENCLOSING ARJAMAND'S TOMB, TAJ MAHAL 175
INLAID WORK IN MAUSOLEUM OP ITIMAD-UD-DAULAH, AGRA 182
SCENE ON THE GANGES, BENARES 188
BENARES BURNING GHAT, WITH CORPSES BEING PURIFIED IN THE GANGES 191
BENARES HOLY' MEN 198
A BRAHMIN PRIEST 203
A CALCUTTA NAUTCH DANCER 207
GENERAL POST-OFFICE, CALCUTTA 212
SHIPPING ON THE HOOGHLY, CALCUTTA 215
CALCUTTA COOLIES 222
HONG KONG HARBOR 229
HONG KONG'S MOUNTAINSIDE 233
A FORMER "HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR" OF HONG KONG 240
TEMPLE OF THE FIVE HUNDRED GENII, CANTON 247 From photograph by A-Chan.
CITY OF BOATS, CANTON, WHERE GENERATIONS ARE BORN AND DIE 254
EXAMINATION BOOTHS, CANTON 261 From photograph by A-Chan.
PRINCIPAL SECTION OF MACAO 270
FRONTIER GATE BETWEEN CHINA PROPER AND THE PORTUGUESE COLONY 275
MONUMENT AND BUST OF CAMOENS, MACAO 279
IN A FAN-TAN GAMBLING HOUSE, MACAO 288
TYPICAL BUSINESS STREET IN A CHINESE CITY 293 From photograph by A-Chan.
EXHIBITION OF BODIES OF CHINESE MALEFACTORS WHO HAVE BEEN STRANGLED 300
SIMPLE PUNISHMENT OF A CHINESE MENDICANT 305
CHINESE BUDDHIST PRIESTS 311
BRONZE DAIBUTSU AT KAMAKURA, JAPAN 319 From photograph by Frederic C. Penfield.
A GARDEN VIEW OF THE AMERICAN EMBASSY, TOKYO 328 From photograph by Frederic C. Penfield.
JAPANESE JUNK, OR CARGO BOAT 337
EAST OF SUEZ
THE WORLD'S TURNSTILE AT SUEZ
When historical novels and "purpose" books dealing with great industries and commodities cease to sell, the vagrant atoms and shadings of history ending with the opening of the two world-important canals might be employed by writers seeking incidents as entrancing as romances and which are capable of being woven into narrative sufficiently interesting to compel a host of readers. The person fortunate enough to blaze the trail in this literary departure will have a superabundance of material at command, if he know where and how to seek it.
The paramount fact-story of all utilitarian works of importance is unquestionably that surrounding the great portal connecting Europe with Asia. As romances are plants of slow growth in lands of the Eastern hemisphere, compared with the New World, the fascinating tale of Suez required two or three thousand years for its development, while that of Panama had its beginning less than four hundred years ago. In both cases the possession of a canal site demanded by commerce brought loss of territory and prestige to the government actually owning it. The Egyptians were shorn of the privilege of governing Egypt through the reckless pledging of credit to raise funds for the completion of the waterway connecting Port Said and Suez, and the South American republic of Colombia saw a goodly slice of territory pass forever from her rule, with the Panama site, when the republic on the isthmus came suddenly into being.
Vexatious and humiliating as the incidents must have been to the Egyptians and the Colombians, the world at large, broadly considering the situations, pretends to see no misfortune in the conversion of trifling areas to the control of abler administrators, comparing each action to the condemning of a piece of private property to the use of the universe. When the canal connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific shall be completed, no more waterways uniting oceans will be necessary or possible. But, did a weak people possess a site that might be utilized by the ebbing and flowing of the globe's shipping, when a canal had been made, they would obviously hesitate a long time before voluntarily parading its advantages.
The uniting of the Mediterranean and Red seas was considered long before the birth of Christ, and many wise men and potentates toyed with the project in the hoary ages. The Persian king, Necho, was dissuaded sixteen hundred years before the dawn of Christianity from embarking in the enterprise, through the warning of his favorite oracle, who insisted that the completion of the work would bring a foreign invasion, resulting in the loss of canal and country as well. The great Rameses was not the only ruler of the country of the Nile who coquetted with the project. In 1800 the engineers of Napoleon studied the scheme, but their error in estimating the Red Sea to be thirty feet below the Mediterranean kept the Corsican from undertaking the cutting of a canal. Mehemet Ali, whose energies for improving the welfare of his Egyptian people were almost boundless, never yielded to the blandishment of engineers scheming to pierce the isthmus; he may have known of the prognostication of Necho's oracle.
Greater than any royal actor in the Suez enterprise, however, was Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Frenchman whom history persists in calling an engineer. By training and occupation he was a diplomatist, probably knowing no more of engineering than of astronomy or therapeutics. Possessing limitless ambition, he longed to be conspicuously in the public gaze, to be great. He excelled as a negotiator, and knew this; and it came easy to him to organize and direct. In his day the designation "Captain of Industry" had not been devised. In the project of canalizing the Suez isthmus—perennial theme of Cairo bazaar and coffee-house—he recognized his opportunity, and severed his connection with the French Consulate-General in Egypt to promote the alluring scheme, under a concession readily procured from Viceroy Said. This was in 1856.
Egypt had no debt whatever when Said Pasha signed the document. But when the work was completed, in 1869, the government of the ancient land of the Pharaohs was fairly tottering under its avalanche of obligations to European creditors, for every wile of the plausible De Lesseps had been employed to get money from simple Said, and later from Ismail Pasha, who succeeded him in the khedivate. For fully a decade the raising of money for the project was the momentous work of the rulers of Egypt; but more than half the cash borrowed at usurious rates stuck to the hands of the money brokers in Europe, let it be known, while the obligation of Said or Ismail was in every instance for the full amount.
Incidentally, a condition of the concession was that Egypt need subscribe nothing, and as a consideration for the concession it was solemnly stipulated that for ninety-nine years—the period for which the concession was given—fifteen per cent, of the gross takings of the enterprise would be paid to the Egyptian treasury.
Learning the borrowing habit from his relations with plausible De Lesseps, the magnificent Ismail borrowed in such a wholesale manner, for the Egyptian people and himself, that in time both were hopelessly in default to stony-hearted European creditors. Egyptian bonds were then quoted in London at about half their face value, and Britons held a major part of them.
England had originally fought the canal project, opposing it in every way open to her power and influence at Continental capitals. The belief in time dawning upon the judgment of Britain that the canal would be finished and would succeed, her statesmen turned their energies to checkmating and minimizing the influence of De Lesseps and his dupe Ismail. The screws were consequently put on the Sultan of Turkey—whose vassal Ismail was—resulting in that Merry Monarch of the Nile being deposed and sent into exile, and the national cash-box at Cairo was at the same time turned over to a commission of European administrators—and is yet in their keeping.
But the miserable people of Egypt, the burdened fellaheen, resented the interference of Christian money-lenders, demanding more than their pound of flesh. The Arabi rebellion resulted, when British regiments and warships were sent to quell the uprising and restore the authority of the Khedive. That was nearly a quarter of a century ago; but since the revolution the soldiers and civil servants of England have remained in Egypt, and to all intents and purposes the country has become a colony of England. The defaulted debts of the canal-building period were responsible for these happenings, be it said.
Verily, the fulfilment of Necho's oracle came with terrible force, and generations of Nile husbandmen must toil early and late to pay the interest on the public debt incurred through Ismail's prodigality. This degraded man in his exile persistently maintained that he believed he was doing right when borrowing for the canal, for it was to elevate Egypt to a position of honor and prominence in the list of nations. And it is the irony of fate, surely, that Ismail's personal holding in the canal company was sacrificed to the British government for half its actual value, on the eve of his dethronement, and that every tittle of interest in the enterprise held by the Egyptian government—including the right to fifteen per cent, of the receipts—was lost or abrogated. Owning not a share of stock in the undertaking, and having no merchant shipping to be benefited, Egypt derives no more advantage from the great Suez Canal than an imaginary kingdom existing in an Anthony Hope novel.
The canal has prospered beyond the dreams of its author; but this means no more to the country through which it runs than the success of the canals of Mars. De Lesseps died in a madhouse and practically a pauper, while Ismail spent his last years a prisoner in a gilded palace on the Bosporus, and was permitted to return to his beloved country only after death. These are but some of the tragic side-lights of the great story of the Suez Canal.
A few years since there was a movement in France to perpetuate De Lesseps's name by officially calling the waterway the Canal de Lesseps. But England withheld its approval, while other interests having a right to be heard believed that the stigma of culpability over the Panama swindles was fastened upon De Lesseps too positively to merit the tribute desired by his relatives and friends. As a modified measure, however, the canal administration was willing to appropriate a modest sum to provide a statue of the once honored man to be placed at the Mediterranean entrance of the canal.
There stands to-day on the jetty at Port Said, consequently, a bronze effigy of the man for a few years known as "Le grand Francais," visage directed toward Constantinople (where once he had been potent in intrigue), the left hand holding a map of the canal, while the right is raised in graceful invitation to the maritime world to enter. This piece of sculpture is the only material evidence that such a person as Ferdinand de Lesseps ever lived. The legacy to his family was that of a man outliving his importance and fair name.
The name Port Said commemorates the viceroy granting the concession, while Ismail the Splendid has his name affixed to the midway station on the canal, Ismailia, where tourists scramble aboard the train bound for Cairo and the Nile. The actual terminus at the Suez end is called Port Tewfik, after Ismail's son and successor in the khedivate. This convenient mode of perpetuating the names of mighty actors in the Suez drama suggests a certain sentimentality, but the present generation cares as little for the subject as for a moldy play-bill hanging in a dark corner of a club-house.
As an engineering feat the construction of the canal was nothing remarkable. Any youth knowing the principles of running lines and following the course of least resistance might have planned it. In Cairo and Alexandria it is flippantly said that De Lesseps traced with his gold-headed walking-stick the course of the canal in the sand, while hundreds of thousands of unpaid natives scooped the soil out with their hands. The work was completed with dredges and labor-saving machinery, as a fact. The enterprise cost practically $100,000,000—a million dollars a mile; and half this was employed in greasing the wheels at Constantinople and Paris, Probably the work could to-day be duplicated, by using machinery similar to that employed on the Chicago Drainage Canal, for $25,000,000. The task would be a digging proposition, pure and simple.
A cardinal article of faith of the legal status of the canal is its absolute internationality. By its constitution no government can employ it in war time to the exclusion or disadvantage of another nation. By a convention becoming operative in 1888 the canal is exempt from blockade, and vessels of all nations, whether armed or not, are forever to be allowed to pass through it in peace or time of war.
Critics of Britain's paramount interest in India and her aspirations in the Far East, nevertheless, pretend to see a decided advantage accruing from England's control of things Egyptian. They claim that Britain's position is immensely strengthened by the presence in Cairo and Alexandria, within a few hours' journey of the canal, of a half-dozen regiments of redcoats ready for any emergency. Another proof of England's interest in the great universal artery of travel is the maintaining of guard-ships at either terminus, which incidentally keep watchful eyes on the coal-bins of Suez and Port Said, A vessel unofficially sunk in an awkward position in the canal might delay for weeks the arrival of an unfriendly fleet in Asiatic waters.
The British government and British trade have fattened tremendously from the canal. Being the short-cut to England's treasure-house in the East, it is more or less equitable that Britain's flag flies over sixty per cent, of the canal traffic; and, fully as important, is the tremendous increase in value of the shares in the company held by the British government. It was in 1875 that Disraeli secured to his countrymen the permanent control of the canal through the purchase from embarrassed Ismail of that potentate's personal holding in the undertaking. This midnight negotiation, conducted over the cable, was Disraeli's most material triumph as a statesman. For $20,000,000 he purchased shares having now a market value of $135,000,000. A few hours after the consummation of this negotiation a group of French bankers, then in Cairo, seeking to acquire the shares, were amazed to learn that they had been outwitted. A well-posted newspaper correspondent at the French capital had informed Britain's ambassador of the purpose of the bankers' visit to Egypt—and astute Disraeli did the rest.
This transferred from France to her rival across the channel the right to direct the policy of De Lesseps's creation. But French susceptibilities have always been considered in matters connected with the conduct of the enterprise—it is still "La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez," the tariff is based on French currency, the principal office is in Paris, and the official language of the company is French.
The world knows the Suez marine highway only in its utilitarian aspect, and America's interest therein is that attaching to it as an enterprise forerunning Uncle Sam's route at Panama. Before many years have passed the two canals will to some extent be rivals. The Suez cutting is practically ninety-nine miles in length, and at present 121 feet wide, with a depth accommodating craft drawing twenty-six feet and three inches. To handle modern battleships and the increasing size of cargo steamers, both depth and width are to be increased. Having no sharp curvatures, and excavated at a level from sea to sea, ships proceed by night assisted by electric lights with the same facility as by day. The time consumed in transit is from fourteen to eighteen hours. Not for a decade has a sailing vessel used the canal, and the widest craft ever traversing the canal was the dry-dock Dewey, sent under tow by the government from the United States to the Philippines. The tariff is now reduced to $1.70 per ton register, and $2 for every passenger. A ship's crew pay nothing. The toll for a steamer of average size, like a Peninsular and Orient liner, is about $10,000. I first passed the canal in a yacht of the New York Yacht Club, for which the tax was $400, and the last time I made the transit was in a German-Lloyd mail steamer which paid $7,000 for tonnage and passengers.
The canal's value to the commerce of the world is sufficiently proved by the saving of distance effected by it, as compared with the route around the Cape of Good Hope. By the latter the distance between England and Bombay is 10,860 miles, by the canal 4,620 miles, and from New York to the leading ports of India the Cape route is about 11,500 miles, while by the canal the journey is shortened to 7,900 miles. How rapidly the traffic attracted by the economy in distance thus effected has developed, is best illustrated by the following statement, taken quinquennially from the company's returns:
Year Steamers Net Tonnage Receipts in Francs
1871 765 761,467 7,595,385
1876 1,457 2,069,771 27,631,455
1881 2,727 4,136,779 47,193,880
1886 3,100 5,767,655 54,771,075
1891 4,206 8,699,020 83,421,500
1896 3,407 8,594,307 79,652,175
1901 3,699 10,823,840 100,386,397
1906 3,780 11,750,000 103,700,000
The Suez company pays enormously, and more than half the current earnings go to the possessors of the several grades of bonds and shares. Great Britain is the preponderating user of the canal, with Germany a poor second. Holland, due to proprietorship of Dutch India, is third in the list, and the nation of De Lesseps is fourth. The United States stands near the foot of the roll of patrons, being only represented by an occasional warship, transport going to or coming from the Philippines, or a touring yacht. It is a pathetic fact that our country, paramount producer of the world, has not been represented for nearly a decade by the Stars and Stripes over a commercial craft in the Suez canal. Cargoes go or come between American ports and those of the Orient, of course, but they are borne in British bottoms or those having register in other foreign nations. Fifteen or sixteen years ago England was represented in Suez statistics by seventy-five per cent. of the total traffic; but her proportion has decreased until it is now under sixty per cent. Kaiser William making a systematic fight for new markets in China and throughout Australasia, the statistics of Germany in canal traffic are slowly advancing.
At present, with the Suez enterprise in operation thirty-eight years, the average number of ships using the waterway is approximately ten each day. This is one vessel every two hours and thirty-five minutes during the twenty-four hours—meaning an eastbound craft every five hours and ten minutes, and a westbound every five hours and ten minutes.
The idea of wedding the Atlantic and the Pacific must have been original with the first observant and intelligent person viewing the two oceans from the hills of the Central-American isthmus. Presumably he was a Spanish adventurer, and the time practically four hundred years ago. A century before the landing on American soil of the Pilgrim Fathers, explorers were informing Charles V of Spain of the opportunity supplied by nature to connect the waters of the two oceans. In 1550, one Galvao, a Portuguese navigator, wrote a book to prove the feasibility of an artificial connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific; and in 1780 a scientific commission from Spain studied the three Central-American routes—Panama, San Blas, and Nicaragua. These are simple facts to be pondered over by busy people who may possibly be in doubt as to whether the "father" of the isthmian enterprise was De Lesseps, Theodore Roosevelt, or Admiral Walker.
But it required a knowledge of practical geography to learn that from Colon to Panama by sea is eight thousand miles, instead of forty-seven across country—and it took a dauntless American President to demand that his government construct a national water route across the isthmus at Panama, and to point the way to that end; and this was done against potent opposition to any canal, and expressed preference of powerful statesmen for the unfeasible Nicaraguan project.
It may be profitable for enthusiasts jumping at the conclusion that the American canal will pay from its opening, to study the returns of the Suez enterprise, the first full year of whose operation (1870) showed gross takings of only $1,031,365 from tolls levied upon 486 vessels. Speaking generally, a shipper sends his cargo by way of Suez only when 3,000 miles at least of ocean steaming may be saved—this is the approximate economy effected by the great turnstile between West and East, counting time, fuel, wages and other expenses. It may be accepted as a concrete fact that the employment of any canal by commerce must ever depend upon economic considerations.
Already acknowledging our commercial predominance, Europeans are not blind to the real purpose of the Panama Canal. But it should be borne in mind that whenever it is an open choice between the canal toll and the equivalent of time at sea, the Briton will be slow to decide in favor of contributing to the resources of a nation rising in brief time to commercial premiership; and Frenchmen, economists by nature, will take a similar view, as will Germans, and shippers of other nations. Expressed in the fewest words, the employment of the Panama route will be governed exclusively by self-interest, computed from the standpoint of material economy; sentimentality will bring not one ship to Uncle Sam as a patron—unless it be an American ship.
Suez will always be favored by European shipmasters determining routes for cargoes in which Panama and Suez present advantages practically equal; probably the expense of a few hundred miles additional travel would not cause them to break from the old route, by which there is no risk of accident or delay from canal-locks. A considerable percentage of the oversea carrying trade controlled by British bottoms is geographically independent of canals, and will always be. For example, the bulk of traffic to and from the west coast of South America—the rich nitrate trade of Iquique and Valparaiso—will not ordinarily be altered by the Panama Canal. The economy of distance from the latter port to England and the Continent by the canal being only about 1,500 miles, this traffic, except under unusual circumstances, will continue as long as it goes in British vessels to round the extremity of South America.
Singapore will be the Asiatic port differentiating the attracting power of the Panama and Suez canals, speaking from the basis of Atlantic and Gulf ports as points of origin or destination. Cargoes for places west of the 105th degree of east longitude will logically be sent through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. But the area east of the Singapore degree of longitude is teeming with opportunity for Panama cargoes. The isthmian short cut to Oceanica and Asia, comprising the coastal section of China's vast empire, enterprising Japan, the East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and our own Philippine archipelago, is the world's most potential area. The awakened Orient can use American products to practically limitless extent. One third of the trade of these lands would make America great as a world-provider, and could be secured if we embarked seriously in an effort to obtain it. Students of economics have never admitted the logic of America's sending cotton to England to be there converted into fabrics clothing half the people of the East.
Let the reader, content in belief that our manufactures have an extensive use in the outer world, because America heads the list of exporting nations, investigate the subject, and his reward will be to learn that we export only a trifle more than six per cent. of what we manufacture. Let him also study the statistics of our commerce with South America, natural products and manufactures of every sort—they are replete with astonishing facts. To discover that our exports to the southern continent do not equal $2 per capita of South America's population will surprise the investigator, doubtless; and that the volume of trade is overwhelmingly with England and Germany will likewise be disconcerting. South America has 40,000,000 people; but Mexico's 13,500,000 inhabitants buy nearly as much from Uncle Sam as the South Americans. We now sell Canadians products averaging $30 per capita annually.
The reason for the startling disparity in the statistics of trade intercourse with our adjoining neighbors, Canada and Mexico, and oversea South America, is obviously the lack of transportation facilities under the American flag; and the adage that "trade follows the flag" has earned more significance than attaches to a mere figure of speech. We pay South America yearly, let it be known, about $120,000,000 for coffee, wool, hides and other raw products; and the major share of this money is expended in Europe for the necessities and luxuries of life. This is inequitable, to say the least, and should be remedied. Uncle Sam must look to the Orient, as well, and seek to make China his best customer. Every nation in Europe whose foreign trade is worth considering exploits foreign countries in the thorough manner of a great commercial house—getting business by the most productive, not the easiest, methods. In frequent magazine articles I have insisted that the isthmian canal, "destined to make the United States the trade arbiter of the world," could never be expected to "pay" directly. The artificial waterway is to cost a vast deal of money; with the payments to the French company and to the republic of Panama, added to the sum necessary to the completion of the work. Uncle Sam's expenditure cannot be less than $225,000,000! It will probably be more. A private incorporation embarked in the enterprise would hold that the investment was entitled to five per cent. interest, say, and in time be funded. The money of the nation, embarked in a project distinctly commercial, merits a reasonable rate of income or benefit—four per cent. certainly. To operate the canal with the expensive up-keep essential to a region of torrential rains, cannot be less than $4,000,000 annually; if the Chagres River refuses to be confined in bounds, the cost will be greater. The items of yearly expense figured here total $13,000,000—a sum to be regarded as the very minimum of the cost of maintaining and operating the canal.
Optimistic students of ocean transportation statistics say the canal will draw 10,000,000 tons of shipping a year; others, conservative of opinion, say half this volume. Taking the mean of these estimates, I hazard the statement that six years after the canal is opened, the tonnage will be 7,500,000. The Suez Canal was operated more than thirty years before its business aggregated 10,000,000 tons; and to attract this volume, several reductions in tolls were necessary. The American government cannot properly levy a heavier tribute at Panama than is demanded at Suez, for the fact is, our canal will not be as essential as that uniting Europe and the East. A like tariff would produce for Uncle Sam, on the hypothesis of a business of 7,500,000 tons, only $12,750,000 a year; a higher tariff would probably produce less. And here is an unpalatable truthlet—Panama's earnings from passengers can never be considerable, compared with that constant ebbing and flowing of humanity between the home countries of Europe and their dependencies in Asia, Africa and Australasia. As a highway of travel, Panama can never have a quarter of the income from passengers as that yearly accruing to the Suez company. It may be unpopular to here record the opinion that the direct increment of the American canal cannot for many years yield what in a commercial enterprise could be called a profit.
The way to compel the canal to pay indirectly is to make it incidental to the development of a mighty commercial marine, that will carry American products to present foreign markets, and to new markets, under the Stars and Stripes. This accomplished, the United States will indisputably be the trade arbiter of the universe. With operations under way on the isthmus, is not the time propitious for popular discussion throughout the nation, and in official Washington, how best to create the commerce that will make the Panama Canal a success from its opening?
We have populated the country, developed resources of field, forest and mine, and devised matchless ways of translating natural products into finished articles appealing to all mankind. Now, let us cease sending these products of soil and workshop to market in British ships; let us forward them in vessels constructed in American shipyards, thereby making the transaction independently American. Already have we produced ocean carriers equal to the best; while American war-ships, native from keel to topmast truck, are the envy of the world.
Not for a decade has a commercial vessel under the American flag passed the Suez Canal, I have stated. But the time was when Uncle Sam's ensign was the emblem oftenest seen in foreign harbors.
In but one department of natural growth is the United States backward—shipping, in its broad and commercial acceptance. To promote it should now be the plan of both political parties.
Our canal can never pay until we enter as ship-owners into competition with Europe's trading nations, and these possess a material interest in the Suez undertaking, be it remembered. The commercial fleet at present under the American flag could not pay a tenth of Panama's operating expenses. When we seriously embark upon the work of creating a great merchant marine, we are going to rouse spirited opposition. Englishmen, Germans, and Frenchmen will not like it; and Europeans cannot be expected to take any interest in the welfare of our national canal, and all may object to fattening the treasury of a country that is their trade competitor. These facts, insignificant as they may seem, prove in reality the need for supplying hundreds of ocean carriers under the same flag as that flying over the canal zone.
By the time the canal is opened, the United States will have 100,000,000 inhabitants; and agriculture, assisted by ordinary methods and by irrigation, will have developed to an extent making our commodities dictators of supply and price. By that time, sea transportation cannot be regarded as a competitor of transcontinental railway systems that have done much toward making the country what it is: water transportation will be found a necessary adjunct to rail facilities, relieving the roads of a fraction of their through traffic.
To restore the Stars and Stripes to the seas will require years of earnest effort, much debating in the halls of Congress, a drastic liberalizing of marine laws, and much prodding of human energies by editorial writers.
Suez shareholders, when asked by Americans if they fear any rivalry from Panama, reply: "None at all; unless"—and here is the kernel of the matter—"your countrypeople find a way of creating a mercantile marine coincidently with the building of the canal."
With unlimited financial resources to promote the most gigantic of modern enterprises, with inexhaustible raw and cultivated products, with labor to produce any conceivable commodity, the humiliating fact confronted the people of the United States a few months since of seeing its official delegates to the Pan-American Congress at Rio de Janeiro set forth in a steamship flying the red flag of Great Britain.
The most remarkable accomplishment in the material history of the world is that the United States secured her commercial supremacy without possessing a merchant marine. It is one of the marvels of modern times, surely.
COLOMBO, CEYLON'S COSMOPOLITAN SEAPORT
A modern man of business might believe that Bishop Heber of Calcutta wove into irresistible verse a tremendous advertisement for Ceylon real estate, but repelled investors by a sweeping castigation of mankind, when he wrote:
What though the spicy breezes Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle; Though every prospect pleases, And only man is vile.
In tens of thousands of Christian churches the praises of Ceylon are thus sung every Sunday, and will be as long as the inhabitants of America and Great Britain speak the English language. Some of the divine's statements, to be acceptable as impartial testimony, require modification; for the natural charms of the island are not so sweepingly perfect, and there man is far above the Asian average. Hymnists, it may be inferred, write with some of the license of poets. No part of England's great realm, nevertheless, is more beautiful than the crown colony of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean.
An Eastbound traveler during the long run from Aden hears much of the incomparable island of palms, pearls, and elephants; and every waggish shipmate haunts smoke room and ladies' saloon waiting for the opportunity to point out the lighthouse on Minecoy Island in the Maldives as "the Light of Asia." Four hundred miles further and your good ship approaches Colombo. The great breakwater, whose first stone was laid by Albert Edward, is penetrated at last, and the polyglot and universal harbor of call unfolds like a fan.
There's music within; the breezes bring proof of this. Surely, it is Bishop Heber's trite stanzas repeated in unison by the forgiving populace—they are sung everywhere, and why not in Ceylon's great seaport? The ship churns forward to her moorings. It is singing; there is no mistaking it. But the air! Does it deal with "spicy breezes," and "pleasing prospects?" No; it is a sort of chant. Listen again. Ah, it is Lottie Collins's masterpiece, not Bishop Heber's: it is "Ta-ra-ra boom de-ay." And the chanters are dozens of Britain's loyal subjects, youths naked and black, lying in wait to induce passengers to shower coins into the sea in recompense of a display of diving from catamarans constructed from trunks of palm-trees.
If asked what place in all the world can in a day show the greatest medley of humanity, I should pronounce in favor of the landing-jetty at Colombo. Scurrying ashore from ocean steamers in launches, in jolly-boats pulled by oars fashioned like huge mustard-spoons, or in outrigger canoes that glide rapidly, are representatives of every nation of the West, of China, of Japan—in fact, of every division of God's footstool having place in the list of nations. Being the great port of call and coaling station linking Occident, Orient and Australasia, a traveler naturally wants to inspect the place and stretch his legs on shore, while his ship is stocking with fuel to carry it to Aden, Singapore or to an antipodean port. Tiffin or dinner on terra firma is likewise coveted by the traveler with appetite jaded by weeks of sea-cooking. Ceylon's capital teems consequently with people hungry for a table d'hote meal, a 'rickshaw ride, and the indiscriminate purchase of rubbishing cats-eye and sapphire jewelry.
The conglomeration of people on the promenade floor of the jetty, watching voyagers come and go, would tend to make a student of anthropology lose his mind. Every variety of man of Ceylon, practically of every creed and caste of India, even of all Asia, is there, and a liberal admixture of Europeans as well.
Leaning over the hand-rail all humanity appears equal—for sight-seeing purposes, certainly. There are gentle Cingalese men with hair twisted into a knot on the back of the head and large shell comb on the crown, Tamil coolies and Hindus in profusion, of course. There are fat Parsees from Bombay, and Buddhist priests and monks in yellow togas, each armed with palm-leaf fan and umbrella, precisely as Gautama Buddha left his father's mansion to sow the religion worshiped by nearly a third of the people of the earth. A group of lascars, on leave from a P. & O. liner, look depreciatingly on nautical brethren from colder climes. There are Malays, as well, obsequious Moormen merchants, and haughty Afghans from beyond the "Roof of the World," as scholars call the Himalayas. Here and there are broad-chested Arabs from Aden way and the Persian Gulf, taking chances on the announcement of a pearl "fishery" by the government—divers, who may secure a gem of price in an hour's work, or may return home empty-handed. Their neighbors on the platform are seafarers coming with the embassy from the Sultan of the Maldive Islands, bringing to the governor of Ceylon the annual tribute sanctioned by custom, and the renewed assurances of loyalty to Edward VII. Close by them, and taking a profound interest in a group of European ladies stepping from a launch below, are three black girls in the garb of Catholic Sisters of Charity, whose chains and crucifixes are of unusual size.
With a conscious air of proprietorship of the British Empire, khaki-clad Tommy Atkins comes down the pier, attended by the inevitable fox terrier. Following close on his heels is a towering man of ebon complexion, with three stripes of ashes and the wafer of humility on his forehead. He is barefooted, and his solitary garment is a piece of cotton with which he has girded his loins; he is abundantly lacquered with cocoanut oil, to protect him from contracting a cold from the too rigorous "spicy breezes" of Lanka's isle. A stranger would say he was a penitent wayfarer of God, not worth the smallest coin of the East. In one hand he carries an overfilled valise, and in the other a sunshade of immaculate white: the initiated recognize him to be a chettie, easily worth lakhs of rupees, who is presumably embarking for Rangoon, and there to purchase a cargo of rice.
Hark! There is commotion and much noise at the jetty entrance. Can it be an alarm of fire, or have the customs officials at the gates apprehended a flagrant smuggler? Oh, no; it is merely Great Britain arriving on the scene in the person of a smart-looking tea-planter who has honked down in his motor-car to see a comrade off on the mail steamer; incidentally, some of the noise proceeds from a group of sailors on leave from a battleship who are wrangling with 'rickshaw men as to proper payment for having been hauled about the city on a sight-seeing tour. And so it goes in Colombo. Each day presents a picture not to be adequately described by a less gifted writer than Kipling.
Colombo is the westermost town of that great division of Asia wherein subject races—black, brown and yellow—haul the white man in jinrickshaws. No institution of the East stamps the superiority of the European more than this menial office of the native. Probably every American when brought face to face with the matter says manfully that he will never descend to employing a fellow creature to run between shafts like an animal, that he (visitor from a land where rights of mankind are equal and constitutional) may be spared from footweariness under a tropic sun. It is a noble impulse—but weak man is easily tempted. Hence, you decide to try the 'rickshaw just once.
The sensation is found to be agreeable, surprisingly so. Your fellow mortal, you perceive, is dripping with perspiration under the awful heat of the sun, while beneath the hood of the vehicle you are cool and comfortable. Then you yield to the savage defects of your moral make-up—and decide never to walk another yard in the East, not when a 'rickshaw is to be had. The habit comes as easily as drinking, or anything that your conscience and bringing-up tell you is not quite right, although enjoyable.
The 'rickshaw in Colombo is a splendid convenience. The runner's rights are as loyally protected as those of his employer, and he readily covers six miles an hour at a swinging gait. If his vehicle has rubber tires and ball-bearings the labor is not severe. The man might have a harder vocation with smaller pay.
Colombo has hotels that would satisfy in Europe or America—one, the Grand Oriental, is spoken of as the most comfortable hostelry between Cairo and San Francisco. To refer to it by its full name stamps the newcomer and novice at traveling—throughout half the world it is known familiarly as the "G. O. H." Two miles from Colombo, gloriously situated on the sea-front, the Galle Face Hotel is fashionable, cool and quiet, but lacking in the characteristic of being an international casino—which assuredly the "G. O. H." is. Tiffin or dinner is an interesting function at a Colombo hotel, for one never knows who or what his table mates may be. In the East every man who travels is assumed to be somebody. Hence you suspect your vis-a-vis at dinner to be the governor of a colony somewhere in the immeasurable Orient, or a new commander for Saigon, or perhaps a Frankfort banker going to China to conclude the terms of a new loan. If your neighbor at table is specially reserved, and gives his orders like one accustomed to being obeyed, you fancy him to be an accomplished diplomatist, very likely having in his pocket the draft of a treaty affecting half the people of the Far East. No one seems ever to suspect his confreres of being mere business men. And the ladies—well, they may be duchesses or dressmakers no longer content with traveling "on the Continong"; nobody cares which. If they are very well gowned, probably they are the latter.
An army of waiters clad in spotless and snowy uniforms with red facings and shining buttons set before you dishes you never heard of. Some are satisfying in the extreme; but these waiters, can they be described as in uniform? True, their garments are alike, but the head-gear is of infinite variety. According to caste or nationality each proclaims himself. But look once more; there is uniformity, for all are barefooted.
Wonderful fellows these Easterns. The native hotel band, led by a wandering European, plays Sousa's marches and "Hiawatha," yes, even "Tammany," with accuracy; and the cooks prepare dishes with French names, make vin blanc and Hollandaise sauces worthy of Delmonico or Ritz, and this without permitting the palate to guide them. If they tasted food concocted for Christians a million kinds of perdition might be their punishment. Music may be mechanical, as it is claimed to be, but not cooking. How do the gastronomic experts of pagan Asia acquire their skill?
Considering that the Ceylon capital is only four hundred miles north of the equator, the heat is never extremely oppressive. One's energies there, nevertheless, are not what they are farther north or at higher elevations. Kandy, the ancient up-country capital, is cooler, and Nuwara Eliya, in the mountains, is actually cold at night. When white people do anything in Colombo—work, attend church, play bridge, or billiards—a native keeps them moderately comfortable with swinging punkahs. Some hotels and residential bungalows have discarded punkahs for mechanical fans; but the complaint is that the electricity costs more than the punkah-wallah—the fan-boy of the East. "Ah, yes; but your wallah frequently falls asleep at his work," you remark to the resident. "True, and your electricity frequently fails us," is the reply.
Pear-shaped Ceylon, separated from India by only fifty miles of water, is three fourths the size of Ireland, and its population 3,600,000. Seventy-five per cent. of the people are Cingalese, and their language a dialect harking back to Sanskrit. The Cingalese are mostly Buddhists, with a sprinkling of Roman Catholics, the latter religion having been left in the land by its one-time Portuguese rulers. The Tamils, numbering a million, are not native to the island, like the Cingalese, but have come from southern India as laborers on coffee and tea estates; they are chiefly Hindus, although thousands have been converted to the Christian faith. The Mohammedan Moormen, living on the coast, approximate a quarter of a million in number. Europeans of all nationalities, not including the British troops, total only 6,500, a percentage of the island's human family to be computed in fractions.
The Cingalese seen chiefly in the towns wear their long hair arranged like a woman's, and around their heads a large, semicircular comb of shell, as has been said. The comb has nothing to do with religion or caste—contrary to what a visitor is usually told; it merely announces the wearer to be not of the coolie class, who carry sacks of rice and cases of merchandise on their heads. Half the people of Ceylon wear no head-gear, and not two per cent. know what it is to wear shoes.
Colombo's population is about 160,000. The capital is a handsome city, with communities on seafront, on the shores of a sinuous lake, and ranging inland for miles through cinnamon gardens and groves of cocoanut-palms. Queen's House, where the governor resides, is a rambling pile. The general post-office is the best building in the capital, and the museum and Prince's club, close by, are entitled to notice. The hard red-soil roads of the city extend for miles into the palm forests, and are equal to any in the world. Government officials and European commercial people live in handsome suburban bungalows smothered amid superb foliage trees and flowering shrubs and vines.
What were called the maritime provinces of Ceylon were ruled by the Dutch until 1796. But in that year England supplanted Holland, and in 1815 she secured control of the entire island by overthrowing the Kandyan kingdom, for a long time confining European invasion to the island's seaboard. Ceylon costs Britain little worry and practically no expenditure. Strategically the island is valueless, save the benefit accruing to England in controlling if need be the enormous coal heaps of Colombo, and the maintenance there of a graving dock capable of handling the biggest battleship. Four hundred miles of government railways earn a tremendous profit, and moderate import and export duties on commodities keep the colonial cash-box well lined.
As in other Asiatic countries, the staple food is rice. Strange to say, Ceylon produces of this only half what is demanded by the people. Hence, it is necessary to import eight million bushels from India and Malay regions, costing approximately $5,000,000. On the other hand, the island sends to Europe and America annually $21,000,000 worth of tea, besides considerable quantities of rubber, cocoanut-oil, cacao, and plumbago. Ceylon's crude rubber commands the highest price, and is a crop growing by leaps and bounds. It is estimated that eight hundred million cocoanuts are grown yearly in Ceylon. An item in the list of exports is elephants. These go to India as beasts of burden and pleasure, and the government collects two hundred rupees for every elephant sent from the island.
There is a possibility of two great events any springtime in Ceylon, and the prospect of either occurring is a theme of endless small talk in the offices and bungalow homes of everybody connected with "Government." One is the elephant kraal, planned for the edification of His Excellency the Governor and a few officials and visitors of distinction, who, from cages in trees at elevated points insuring safety, look down upon the driving in of converging herds of elephants. When an earth-strewn flooring of bamboo gives way and the monarchs of the jungle are cast into a stockaded pit, the kraal is complete. Then, ordinarily, the Ceylon treasury undergoes drafts for forage, until an authorized functionary negotiates the sale of the animals to maharajahs and lesser worthies up in India.
A kraal occurs every four or five years, or when a British royalty happens in Ceylon. Each governor is entitled by custom to the semi-royal honor at least once during his incumbency. The kraal is an enterprise usually paying for itself, unless there be a glut in the elephant market. The last kraal failed dismally, nevertheless, but for a very different reason. The drive had been so successful that the stockade was full to overflowing with leviathan beasts trumpeting their displeasure and wrath. While the dicker for their sale in India was proceeding, they became boisterously unruly, and, breaking down their prison of palm-tree trunks, scampered away to forest and jungle, without so much as saying "thank you" for weeks of gorging on rations paid for out of the public cash-box. And this was the reason why the kraal arranged for last year was abandoned, after hundreds of natives had been busy for weeks in "driving in" from every up-country district—to jeopardize good money was deemed not in keeping with the principles of good finance by certain material Britons responsible for the insular exchequer.
The popular event, coming as often as twice every three years, is the pearl-fishery. It interests everybody not living in mountain fastnesses, and appeals irresistibly to the hearts of the proletariat. Tricking elephants into captivity may be the sport of grandees, but the chance to gamble over the contents of the humble oyster of the Eastern seas invites participation from the meekest plucker of tea-buds on Ceylon's hill-slopes to the lowliest coolie in Colombo. Verily, the pearl-fishery is the sensational event of that land sung of by Bishop Heber.
THE LURE OF THE PEARL
The bed of the Gulf of Manar, the arm of the Indian Ocean that separates Ceylon from India, has given the world more pearls than all other fisheries combined, for it has been prolific as a pearling-ground for thousands of years. Pearling in the gulf was an occupation hoary with age before the dawn of Christianity, for history tells us that Mardis, admiral of Alexander the Great, when returning from a voyage having to do with the Indian invasion, traversed the strait separating Ceylon from the continent, and was informed of the importance of the pearl-banks over which his fleet was passing. The great sailor was specially interested in the manner of drilling the holes in pearls for stringing, which was probably the same that it is to-day.
In the exuberant phraseology of the Orient, Ceylon is "the pearl-drop on India's brow," and the Gulf of Manar is "the sea abounding in pearls" and "the sea of gain." Ceylon appeals irresistibly to any possessor of the wandering foot, for it is an island paradise. It is well governed, of course, for its administration is that of a seasoned colony of Edward VII's realm, and the guidance of austere, dignified Britain countenances nothing like gambling in any of its lands—oh, dear, no! State lotteries are pretty well relegated in these times to Latin countries, everybody knows.
Yet the world's most gigantic gamble, pregnantly fruitful with chance in all variations and shadings, is unquestionably the Ceylon pearl-fishery; compared with it, any state lottery pales to insignificance. From the taking of the first oyster to the draining of the last vatful of "matter," every step is attended by fickle fortune; and never is the interest of the people of Portugal or of Mexico keener over a drawing of a lottery, the tickets of which may have been sold at the very thresholds of the cathedrals, than is that of the natives of Ceylon and southern India over the daily results of a Manar fishery.
Each bivalve is a lottery ticket; it may contain a gem worthy of place in a monarch's crown, or be a seed pearl with a mercantile value of only a few rupees. Perhaps one oyster in a hundred contains a pearl, and not more than one pearl in a hundred, be it known, has a value of importance. Nature furnishes the sea, pearling-banks, oysters, and all therein contained; the Ceylon administration conducts the undertaking, and for its trouble and trifling outlay exacts a "rake-off" of two thirds of all that may be won from the deep. And mere man, the brown or black diver, receives for his daring and enterprise one oyster in every three that he brings from the ocean's depths—and his earnings must be shared with boat-owner, sailors, attendants, and assistants almost without number.
For size of "rake-off," there is no game of hazard in the world offering a parallel. The Ceylon government used to exact three out of every four oysters brought in, the current tribute of two out of three having become operative only a few years since.
It should be known that the pearl-bearing oyster of the Indian Ocean is only remotely related to the edible variety of America and Europe. It is the Margaritifera vulgaris, claimed to belong to the animal kingdom, and not to the fish family, and is never eaten. The eminent marine biologist in the service of the Ceylon government, Professor Hornell, F. L. S., who intimately knows the habits of the pearl-oyster of the East, advances two interesting if not startling premises. One is that the pearl is produced as a consequence of the presence of dead bodies of a diminutive parasitical tapeworm which commonly affects the Ceylon bivalve. The living tapeworm does not induce pearl formation. The popular belief has been that the pearl was formed by secretions of nacre deposited upon a grain of sand or other foreign particle drawn within the oyster through its contact with the sea's bottom. The other Hornell assertion is that the oyster goeth and cometh at its pleasure; that it is mobile and competent to travel miles in a few weeks.
Scientists have long been aware that the pearl shell-fish possesses locomotive powers, which it uses when in quest of food or protection, and to escape impure localities. During the Dutch occupation of Ceylon, for example, there was a period of several years when the oysters' boycott of the Manar banks was virtually unanimous.
It is an accepted fact that pearls are excretions of superimposed concentric laminae of a peculiarly fine and dense substance, consisting in major part of carbonate of lime. Linnaeus, believing in the possibility of producing pearls by artifice, suggested the collecting of mussels, piercing holes in their shells to produce a wound, and bedding them for five or six years to give pearls time to grow. The Swedish government succeeded in producing pearls of a sort by this process; but as they were of trifling value, the experiments were discontinued.
Cunning Chinese and Japanese have sought of late years to assist or improve on nature's pearl-making methods by inserting tiny shot or grains of sand between the mantle and the shell, which in time become coated with nacre. Not long since there was a movement in Japan to embark in pearl production upon a basis wholly commercial, and its promoters discussed it as they might a project for supplying a city with vegetables. One of the claims of those exploiting the venture was that they could keep pace with fashion's changes by supplying pearls of any shape, pear, oval, or spherical. This has been accomplished in other countries, and European and American dealers have had years of acquaintance with the "assisted" pearl, a showy and inexpensive counterfeit, but one attaining to no position in the realm of true gems. The distinction between fine pearls and these intrusive nacre-coated baubles, alluringly advertised as "synthetic pearls," has been demonstrated by more than one devotee of science.
There are definite rules for determining when a Ceylon fishery will be held, for twice a year the banks are systematically examined by the marine biologist, and estimates made of the number of oysters present on each bank. Whenever their age and size appear to warrant the step, a sample catch of twenty thousand oysters is made by divers employed by the government, and a valuation is formed of the pearls they produce. If found to average ten or twelve rupees to a thousand oysters, the government is advised to proclaim a fishery. Advertisements are then published throughout the East, especially in vernacular papers reaching the Persian Gulf and the two coasts of southern India, at the instance of the colonial secretary's office at Colombo. These detail the valuation of the sample pearls, area of beds to be fished, and the estimated number of oysters likely to be available upon each. The advertisements are printed in Cingalese, Tamil, and English. As rapidly as information can spread, it becomes known from Karachi to Rangoon, and along the chain of seaports of the Malay states, that a fishery is to be held. Divers, gem-buyers, speculators, money-lenders, petty merchants, and persons of devious occupations, make speedy arrangements for attending. Indian and Ceylon coolies flock by the thousand to the coast of the Northern province, longing to play even humble roles in the great game of chance. The "tindals" and divers provide boats and all essential gear for the work afloat; while ashore the government supplies buildings and various forms of labor for dealing with the curious industry.
[Footnote 1: The rupee of India and Ceylon is equal to 32 cents U. S. A lakh is 100,000.]
It is during the calm period of the northeast monsoon,—February, March and April,—when the sea is flat and the sky is bright and unflecked, that the fishery is carried on. The line of banks—they are "paars," in the languages of Ceylon—cover an extensive submarine plateau off the island's northwest coast, from ancient Hippuros southward to Negombo. This is of flat-surface rock, irregularly carpeted with coarse sand, and dotted with colonies of millions of oysters. Dead coral and other products of the sea are scattered everywhere on this plateau, and it is a theory that these surface interruptions prevent overcrowding of the oysters, and consequently assist in the bivalve's reaching the pearl-producing stage. It is claimed that a crowded paar contributes to a stunting of growth, bringing disease and premature death to the oyster, and consequently no pearls of account.
The estimate of the experts upon which it was decided to announce a fishery last year was that there were on the Southwest Cheval paar 3,500,000 oysters which might be gathered, on the Mideast Cheval paar 13,750,000 oysters, on the North and South Moderagam 25,750,000, and on the South Cheval 40,220,000.
The announcement of this total of 83,000,000 bivalves produced an electrical effect, and an unprecedented attendance, for it was equal to announcing a lottery with that many tickets, and who knows how few prizes!
The student seeking to determine the eighth wonder of the world should not overlook the city of Marichchikkaddi. Stories of towns rising overnight wherever gold is found, or diamonds discovered, or oil struck, have become common to the point of triteness. Tales of the uprising of Klondike and South African cities, once amazing, fade to paltriness in the opinion of one who has seen the teeming city of Marichchikkaddi. In a sense it is a capital, yet it is found in no geography; no railway connects it with the world, yet a dozen languages are spoken in its streets. Marichchikkaddi's population numbers no young children, no persons too aged to toil, and the four or five hundred women sojourners merit the right of being present through serving as water-carriers to camp and fishing fleet.
This place with double-mouthful name, almost defying pronunciation, is the pearl metropolis of the universe. Probably there is not a stocked jewel-case that does not contain gems that have been filtered through this unique city by the sea. For a dozen reasons it is a wonderful town, and the foremost of these is that it is the only city of size that comes and goes like the tide's ebbing and flowing.
When a fishery is proclaimed, Marichchikkaddi is only a name—a sand-drifted waste lying between the jungle of the hinterland and the ocean. Yet nine months before forty thousand people dwelt here under shelter of roofs, and here the struggle for gain had been prosecuted with an earnestness that would have borne golden fruit in any city in the Western world. There, where lies the skeleton of a jackal half-buried in sand, an Indian banker had his habitat and office only a few months before, with a lakh of rupees stacked in a conspicuous place as glittering earnest of his ability to pay well for anything remarkable in the way of a pearl. And beyond, where occurs the rift in the sand, stood the shanty in which venturesome divers whiled away time and money in trying to pitch rings upon the ends of walking-sticks, as do farmers' boys at New England county fairs.
With the license permitting the calling of a pile of buildings formed of stucco a "White City," this metropolis might with propriety be named the "City of Brown," or, better, the "Cadjan City." For inaccessibility, it is in a class by itself.
Colombo is facetiously spoken of by Englishmen as the Clapham Junction of the East, for the reason that one can there change to a steamer carrying him virtually to any place on the globe.
But it is simpler for a white man to get to Melbourne, or Penang, or New York, from Colombo, than to obtain passage to Marichchikkaddi, only a hundred and fifteen miles up the coast. If he can wait long enough, passage may be found, of course; but otherwise all the official and editorial persuasion of Colombo—and the subsidized influence of the head porter of the "G. O. H.," availeth nothing. Now and then he may hear of a speculative Parsee's dhow that may be going to Manar for a cargo of shell-cased lottery tickets, or of a native-owned launch that will carry a limited number of passengers at an unlimited fare. A fast-sailing outrigger canoe may always be chartered. Another opportunity is to travel two days by post-cart to a village one never heard of, transferring there to a bullock hackery that may take him through jungle roads to the cadjan metropolis—provided he is able to give instructions in Tamil, or a college-bred coolie can be found who knows English. Still another way is to take the semi-weekly steamer from Colombo to Tuticorin, in southern India, then zigzag about the continent of Asia until he makes Paumben. Then it is a matter of only a few days when there will be a boat crossing to the pearl-camp. This is the surest way of getting to Marichchikkaddi; but it is like making the journey from New York to Boston by way of Bermuda.
Ceylon's substitute for virtually everything elsewhere used in the construction of buildings is the cadjan: it is at once board, clapboard, shingle, and lath. Cadjans are plaited from the leaf of the cocoanut- or date-palm, and are usually five or six feet long and about ten inches wide; the center rib of the leaf imparts reasonable rigidity and strength. Half the shelters for man and beast throughout the island are formed of cadjans, costing nothing but the making, and giving protection from the sun and a fair amount of security from the elements. The frame of a house is made of stakes planted in the ground, with rafters and beams resting in crotches conveniently left by the wood-cutter. This slender frame is covered with cadjans, arranged systematically, and sewn together with cocoanut-leaf strands or tender rattans. Not a nail is used, and cadjan flaps that may be raised or lowered from within the building take the place of glazed windows. A dwelling of this character, carpeted with palm-mats, and flanked with verandas, brings a flowing measure of comfort to the dweller in the tropics; but the gales of the annual southwest monsoon play havoc with cadjan roofs and walls.
It being known that a fishery will bring together at least forty thousand souls, a small army of coolies hastens to Marichchikkaddi a few weeks prior to the announced date for opening the fishery, to prepare the buildings necessary to house all and sundry, and to erect bungalows for the British functionaries having the enterprise in charge. Public buildings almost pretentious in size and design rise from the earth in a few days, including a residence for the governor of Ceylon, who is expected to grace the fishery by a visit; one for the government agent of the province in which the interesting industry is carried on; and another for the delegate of the Colonial Office. There rise, mushroom-like, as well, a court-house, treasury, hospital, prison, telegraph-office and post-office, and a fair example of that blessing of the East known as a rest-house, each reflecting surprising good taste, and being adequate to its purpose, and presumably completed at a cost well within the appropriation. Jerry-builders and grafters have yet to be discovered in Ceylon.
Marichchikkaddi parades structures dedicated neither to religion nor dissipation. But the bazaar-like alleys branching from the thoroughfares of the Cadjan City purvey many things not obtrusively obvious to the British official. Whatever his faith, the disciple of the pearl may solitarily prostrate himself beneath a convenient palm-tree, with face turned toward Mecca, or on the sea-front indulge the devotions stamping him a Hindu of merit.
In an administrative sense the important building is the "Kachcherie"—mayor's office and superintendent's headquarters in one; but the structure of material interest is the "kottu," wherein every sackful of oysters taken from the boats is counted and apportioned between the government and the divers. It is a parallelogram enclosure of two or three acres in area, fenced with bamboo palings, and roofed here and there to protect the coolies from the sun. For convenience, one end is as near the sea as prudence will admit; and the other, the official end, where accountants and armed guards are in command, is not far from the governmental offices. A system perfected by years of experience makes thieving within the kottu virtually impossible, and the clerks who record the count of oysters, and issue them upon official order, might safely conduct a bankers' clearinghouse. On occasions they handle without error more than three million oysters in a day.
A quarter of a mile from the official section of the city is the great human warren and business region, where black men and brown—Hindus, Mohammedans, Buddhists, and the East's flotsam of religions—dwell and traffic in peaceful communion. A broad thoroughfare, starting from the edge of the plateau overlooking the sea and extending inland until the settlement yields to the open country, is the "Main street"; and here, for ten or twelve weeks, is one of Asia's busiest marts. This part of Marichchikkaddi is planned with careful regard for sanitary needs and hygiene. Streets cross at right angles, and at every corner stands a lamp-post rudely made from jungle wood, from which suspends a lantern ingeniously fashioned from an American petroleum tin. Sites on the principal streets are leased for the period of the fishery to persons proving their purposes to be legitimate. For a good corner lot perhaps twenty feet square the government receives as much as a thousand rupees; and a few hours after the lease is signed up goes a cadjan structure—and a day later pearls worth a king's ransom may there be dealt in with an absence of concern astounding to a visitor.
Can these Easterners, squatting on mats like fakirs in open-front stalls, judge the merits of a pearl? Yes, decidedly. In the twinkling of an eye one of them estimates the worth of a gem with a precision that would take a Bond Street dealer hours to determine. The Indian or Cingalese capitalist who goes with his cash to Marichchikkaddi to buy pearls is not given to taking chances; usually he has learned by long experience every "point" that a pearl can possess, knows whether it be precisely spherical, has a good "skin," and a luster appealing to connoisseurs. A metal colander or simple scale enables him to know to the fraction of a grain the weight of a pearl, and experience and the trader's instinct tell him everything further that may possibly be known of a gem. It would be as profitless to assume to instruct an Egyptian desert sheikh upon the merits of a horse as to try to contribute information to the pearl-dealer of the East.
The calm period of the northeast monsoon is gentleness itself by the middle of February, and the Gulf of Manar is seldom more than rippled by its zephyrs. The fishery begins then. For weeks the divers have been arriving by craft of every conceivable type and rig. They are the aristocrats of the camp, and as they roam bazaars and streets or promenade the sea-front they are admired by coolies and peons as bull-fighters would be in Spain.
Sturdy fellows they are, lithe of limb and broad of chest. Each brings a tangle of pots and kettles, bags and bales, but wears nothing throughout the fishery save a loin-cloth and now and then a turban denoting nationality or caste. There were forty-five hundred of them in 1905, and those from the Madras Presidency were the backbone of the enterprise. Nearly half the divers were registered from Kilakari, and hundreds came from the tip end of India. The men from Tuticorin were of the Parawa caste, and those hailing from Paumben were Moormen. The only Ceylon city contributing divers was Jaffna, whose men were of the fisher caste, said to be descendants of Arabs who settled sixty years ago at Jaffna. The divers coming the greatest distance were the negroes and Arabs from Aden and the Persian Gulf, most of whom landed at Colombo from trading steamers, and made their way by small boat or bullock hackery to the Cadjan City. These fellows have few equals as divers, but the administrative officers of the camp always fear that they will come into conflict with the police or launch a war in the name of Mohammed against the Hindus or Cingalese. Consequently, only a limited number are allowed to take part in the fishery.
An amusing incident was furnished last season by the arrival of a diver of some renown in India, who had participated profitably in several fisheries. Accompanied by his "manduck," the fellow had crossed from Paumben as a deck passenger on a British India steamer. When the vessel was anchored, the diver summoned a rowboat to take himself and traps ashore. Wearing nothing but loin-cloth and turban, the man descended the side-steps an example of physical perfection, and so thoroughly smeared with cocoanut butter that he shone like a stove-polish advertisement. The boat grounding on the shelving bottom a hundred feet from shore, this precious Indian, who was to pass a good share of the ensuing ten weeks in the water, even at the bottom of the sea, deliberately seated himself astride the shoulders of his manduck, and was borne to dry land with the care of one whose religion might forbid contact with water. He carried beneath one arm throughout the trip from the small boat a gingham umbrella, and under the other an Indian railway guide.
There are neither wharves nor landing-stages at Marichchikkaddi. Even His Excellency the Governor must lay aside his dignity in going from his boat to the shore. The horde of people working about the pearling fleet, amphibious by nature, have little need for those accommodations and necessities which the commercial world call "landing facilities."
The world over, gambling and speculation are joined in many ways to superstition; and the Eastern diver is superstitious to the hour of his death. At Marichchikkaddi he devotedly resorts to the mystic ceremony of the shark-charmer, whose exorcism for generations has been an indispensable preliminary to the opening of a fishery. The shark-charmer's power is believed to be hereditary. If one of them can be enlisted on a diver's boat, success is assured to all connected with the craft. The common form of fortune-tempting nowadays is for a diver to break a cocoanut on his sinking-weight just before embarking. If it be a clean and perfect break, success is assured; if irregular and jagged, only ordinary luck may be anticipated; and if the shell be broken in without separating into halves, it spells disaster, and the alarmed fisher probably refuses to go with the boat.
Last year's fleet was the largest ever participating in a Ceylon fishery, three hundred and twenty boats being enrolled. The largest boats came from Tuticorin, and carried thirty-four divers each. The smallest boat had a complement of seven divers. Each diver was faithfully attended by a manduck, who ran his tackle and watched over his interests with jealous care both in and out of the water. Besides the manducks, every boat had numerous sailors, food- and water-servers, and a riffraff of hangers-on. It was estimated that divers and manducks aggregated nine thousand souls. A system of apportionment gives every man in a boat an interest in the take, the divers generally retaining two thirds of the bivalves granted them by the government rule controlling the fishery. The Kilakari divers observe a time-honored custom of giving to their home mosque the proceeds of one plunge each day.
Nature obligingly assists the workers on the banks by supplying a gentle off-shore breeze at daybreak, which sends the fleet to the fishing ground, six or eight miles from the shore. By two o'clock in the afternoon a gun from a government vessel directs the boats to set sail for the return. By this hour the breeze is accommodatingly from the sea, and the fleet runs home with flowing sheets. Navigation, it will be seen, plays a very subordinate part in Marichchikkaddi's marine enterprise.
With the exception of the divers from the Malabar coast, who plunge head foremost from a spring-board, the men go into the water in an upright position, and are hurried in their journey to the bottom by a stone weighing from forty to fifty pounds. Each diver's attendant has charge of two ropes slung over a railing above the side of the boat: one suspends the diving-stone, and the other a wide-mouthed basket of network. The nude diver, already in the sea, places the basket on the stone and inserts one foot in a loop attached to the stone. He draws a long breath, closes his nostrils with the fingers of one hand, raises his body as high as possible above water, to give force to his descent, and, loosening the rope supporting the weight, is carried quickly to the bottom. An Arab diver closes the nostrils with a tortoise-shell clip, and occasionally a diver is seen whose ears are stopped with oil-saturated cotton. The manduck hoists the weight from the bottom and adjusts it for the next descent. Meanwhile, the diver, working face downward, is filling the basket with oysters with speed. When the basket is filled or breath exhausted, the diver signals, and is drawn up as rapidly as possible by the rope attached to the basket, and a specially agile diver facilitates the ascent by climbing hand over hand on the line When a man has been in the water half an hour, and made perhaps seven or eight descents, he clambers aboard the boat for a rest and a sunbath, and in a few minutes is taking part in the interminable chatter of the Orient.
A diver coming up with basket filled wears a face of benign contentment; but when the oysters are few and far between, as they are oftentimes, and the man has prolonged his stay below to the limit of his air supply, his head is out of water not many seconds before he is volubly denouncing the official control forcing him to work on a "paar" where little but sand exists, and his confreres on the boat hurl savage invective at any government functionary within earshot.
The powerful Eastern sun illumines the bottom sufficiently for a diver to plan his operations before going down, and nine days out of ten the overhead sun renders the sea sufficiently transparent to guide a boat's crew to promising anchorages. Pearling economists insist that dredging by machinery or the use of diving-suits can never compete with the simple and inexpensive method in vogue on the Manar banks. At Marichchikkaddi one hears frequent discussion of the time a diver may stay under water, and many improbable accounts of what has been done are told a visitor. An average Tamil or Moorman stays down not longer than forty-five seconds, while the broad-chested Arab thinks nothing of being under water from sixty to eighty seconds.
Depth has much to do with the time, and it is admitted that divers do not suffer unduly from the trying nature of their calling except when forced to work in unusually deep water. Seven or eight fathoms—about the average on the Ceylon banks—produces no injurious effect, but nine fathoms tell on all but men of sturdy build. Occasionally a declivity perhaps ten fathoms below the surface has to be fished, and this demands the service of picked men, divers possessing the highest vitality. Several divers collapse every season through toiling at unusual depths, and two or three pay the penalty of death. Most divers, however, live to as full a span as men pursuing other humble callings.
When a fishery is at its height, the scene on the banks is one of extreme animation, and a picture full of strangeness to New World eyes. Each craft is a floating hive of competitive noise and activity, and the center of a cordon of disappearing and reappearing seal-like heads, with baskets splashing in the water or being hauled by excited hands. In the distance floats the majestic barque Rengasamy Puravey, an old-timer, with stately spars, a quarter-deck, and painted port-holes that might cause a landsman to believe her a war-ship. For half the year the barque is the home of the government's marine biologist, and his office and laboratory, wherein scientific investigation and experimentation are in constant progress, are in houses built on the quarter-deck. Small steamers, having an official cut, move here and there among the fishing boats, doing patrol duty and carrying instructions when necessary from the Rengasamy Puravey.