Passage of the day.

I’m nearing the end of my first day at the Newberry, where I’ve been reading Johannes Neiuhoff’s Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham, Emperour of China (1669). I don’t really have anything to report; I just came across this awesome passage on the natives of Java and had to share:

The Natives of this Island, who call themselves Javaners, are generally of a middle stature, and round visaged; most of them go naked, having a cloth only about their middle to cover their secrets. They are counted the most civilized people of all the Indians, but yet they are great Gluttons, Proud, Deceitful, Impudent, and not to be trusted when they have passed their words. For when a King of Java had falsifyed his word and his promise, and was handsomely rebuked for it, he gave for answer, that the Tongue of a Man was not made of Bone; as if he had said, it ought to be more plyant to the flexibilities of the mind and various resolutions. They are also represented to be Cruel, Blood thirsty, and hardly appeased when once offended: As also that they were wont to eat the dead bodies of their Friends.

I love “to cover their secrets,” and “passed their words,” as if they were gas. God, ethnography is weird.

ETA: This digression on the history of Holland’s settlement in Java only gets better. Check out this account of the Hollanders’ scatological defense strategy against a native siege on one of the forts of Batavia (Jakarta):

The greatest attempt which the Enemy made, was upon the 20. of September in this night, but they were likewise forced to Retreat with a great Slaughter, whose dead bodies was no small annoyance unto the Besieged: Against this inconvenience they burnt several odoriferous Gums, to prevent Contagion which might proceed from thence. Amongst the remarkable passages which happened during this Siege, is that Storm most to be admired, which this Enemy made upon a Fort situated at the furthest corner of the City, which was only guarded by sixteen Souldiers, who shewed far greater Courage in making their Defence, than the Assaulters in the Attempt with their whole Army; for after that they had spent all their Powder and Shot, they untiled the very Fort, and with the shards thereof did the very great execution upon the Enemy; which Ammunition being likewise spent, and having nothing offensive, they at last emptied the House of Office with Chamber-pots, and flung the Excrements, and so at once perfumed and painted the naked bodies of the Enemy; who at last perceiving that those of the City intended to Sally out, and relieve their Fellow-Souldiers, they raised the Siege, and cryed out in their Language, O you stinking Holland Devils, You fight with your Tantoblins, and your Arms are Turdy Pistical.

(According to the OED, “tantoblin” is a 17th-century word for turd, and “pistical” refers to “pistick nard,” or “spikenard,” “An aromatic substance (employed in ancient times in the preparation of a costly ointment or oil) obtained from an Eastern plant, now identified as the Nardostachys Jatamansi of Northern India.” We are doing so much learning, people! Now go use “turdy pistical” in a sentence of your own devising.)

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