Élisée Reclus’s 1884 Report on Riu-kiu (Lu-chu)

Note: The electronic version of this book is available free at play.google.com. The following excerpts are from pages 381-385 and 409. -js

Élisée Reclus, edited by A. H. Keane, The Earth and Its inhabitants, Asia: Vol. II, East Asia: Chinese Empire. Corea, and Japan. N.Y., D. Appleton & Co., 1884.

Click image to enlarge.

The Riu-kiu (Lu-chu) and Goto Archipelagos.

Siunanguto and the small Linshoten group adjacent to Kiu-siu, belong geographically to the Riu-kiu Archipelago, which is better known by its Fokien name of Lu-chu, and which the natives themselves call Du-kiu,* that is, ” Land of the Precious Stone,” or of the ” Transparent Coral,” as the term may be variously interpreted. The geometrical curve described by all these islands between Kiu-siu and Formosa, the radius of which corresponds to that of Nip-pon itself, probably represents the remains of a highland region by which Japan was formerly connected with the mainland. Lu-chu comprises a number of secondary groups, the two most important of which stretch about half-way from Kiu-siu to Formosa, and form the so-called “Kingdom” of Lu-chu. Politically, this “kingdom” is at present a simple Japanese department, while the southern group of the ” Three San ” (Nan-san or Sak-sima) is still a subject of dispute betwen China and Japan. The Mikado’s government, however, seems now disposed to surrender these islands to its powerful neighbour. 

Like Korea, Lu-chu was long a vassal state of the neighbouring Empires of China and Japan. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the Chinese, after various incursions into the archipelago, compelled the King to declare himself tributary of the ” Son of Heaven,” and accept the investiture from him. Within fifty years of that event the Japanese presented themselves in their turn, and enforced ” presents,” which were gradually changed to a regular tribute. In 1609 an expedition, undertaken by the Prince of Satsma, ended with the formal recognition of the suzerainty of Japan over the archipelago. Akin in race and speech to the Japanese, the islanders nevertheless preferred the Chinese, and even boasted of their vassalage to Peking. The distant master, of whom they knew little except through his presents, seemed a more agreeable potentate to serve than the Emperor of Japan, represented on the spot by their troublesome neighbour the Prince of Satsma. But after the revolution of 1868, which restored the Mikado to power, some Japanese officials were sent as direct adminis trators of the islands, and the King was called upon to break all his relations with Peking. In vain the unhappy monarch pleaded : ” For five hundred years we have enjoyed the protection of the Emperor of China ; him we regard as our

[* All these forms are merely phonetic varieties of the same word, the Japanese r changing to / in Chinese, and to d in the local Lu-chu dialect. Compare the Latin and French ulmus and orme, and the Greek and Latin Wrpir and lacryna. —Editor.]

father, and to Japan we turn as to a mother. . . . Has not Confucius said that fealty is better than life ? Ask us not to be disloyal, and forfeit our honour.” He was fain to yield, and in 1874, after the victorious expedition of the Japanese to Formosa, the kingling was dethroned and Lu-chu definitely proclaimed a simple ken, or integral part of Nip-pon.

The reports of the learned Chinese Supao-kwang, sent by the Emperor Kang-hi to the archipelago in 1719, were the only important documents we possessed

Click image to enlarge.

regarding these islands down to the beginning of this century. But since the expeditions of Broughton in 1797, and of Maxwell and Basil Hall in 1816, numerous navigators of all nations, such as Jurien de la Graviere, Beechey, Belcher, and Bern-, have visited the port of Nafa, in the main island, and pub lished the accounts of their voyages. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries have also resided in Lu-chu, while the Japanese and Europeans of Yokohama have even passed the winter season in the ” Three San,” in order to enjoy a milder climate than that of Central Nip-pon. But the result of these visits has so far been to render the local nomenclature more perplexing than it was in the time of

Kang-hi. To the Chinese, Japanese, and native names of places have been added those of the various Western nations, so that some of the islands have now no less than five distinct appellations. Amid all this confusion, the smaller islets and reefs have in vain been sought for by skippers navigating these waters, and a thorough survey of the archipelago by the Japanese navy is now urgently needed.

Click image to enlarge.

The two chief groups run north-east and south-west, that is to say, parallel with the other mountain systems in China and Japan. The various islands of these groups consist themselves of little granite, schist, sandstone, or limestone ridges, scarcely exceeding 1,600 feet in height, and sending down sparkling torrents, which are used up to the last drop in the rice grounds of the lowlands. The chief member of the northern group bears the name of Oho-sima, or ” Great Island,” although smaller in extent than Okinava, which takes the title of ” Great Lu-chu,” in which are concentrated nearly two-thirds of the population of the whole ken. It seems to have no igneous rocks, but the lime stone crests of several hills have frequently been taken for lavas, owing to their peculiar vesicular structure.

Thanks to the high tempera ture of the surrounding waters, all the islands are encircled by coral reefs resembling those of the South Sea Islands, and like them with openings opposite the river mouths, the polypes being unable to live in fresh water. Thus have been formed on the Okinava coast the ports of !Nafa and Melville, the Unting of the natives, discovered by Basil Hall. In several places the reefs rise considerably above sea-level, a circumstance doubtless due to upheaval, and off Nafa the water is so deep that the sounding-line gives no warning to shipping of the dangerous proximity of these rocks.

Buddhism was introduced into Lu-chu about 1,000 years ago ; but the natives seem to trouble themselves very little with religious matters. The priests (bodzes) are not respected or esteemed in society ; they are not allowed to marry or to eat meat ; few people associate with them, and even the children turn from them in ridicule. Captain Basil Hall remarks on the total absence of anything in the least degree resembling a religious ceremony : — ” The bodzes kept the temple clean swept and took care of the walks and hedges, and this appeared to be their only employment.

” Polygamy is not allowed in Lu-chu, and the King is the only person permitted by law to have concubines. They invariably spoke with horror of the Chinese practice, and were much gratified on learning that the English customs in this respect were similar to those of Lu-chu. The women are not treated so well as we were led to expect from the mildness of character in the men. The upper classes of women are confined a good deal to. their houses, and the lower orders perform much of the hard work of husbandry. When they are met out of doors by the men they take no notice of one another, whatever may be the degree of relationship subsisting between them.

” They appear to have no money, and from all we could see or hear, they are even ignorant of its use. Though we were incessantly trying to make out what their medium of exchange was, we could never learn anything distinct upon the subject, nor could they be made to comprehend our questions about money. We saw no arms of any kind, and the natives always declared they had none. Their behaviour on seeing a musket fired certainly implied an ignorance of fire-arms. In one place we saw a spear which looked like a warlike weapon ; but we had every reason to believe that it was used for the sole purpose of catching fish. They looked at our swords and cutlasses and at the Malay creeses and spears with great surprise. But the chiefs carried little case-knives in the folds of their robes, and the lower orders had a larger knife, but these were always of some immediate practical utility, and were not worn for defence nor as ornaments. They denied having any know ledge of war either by experience or by tradition.

” We never saw any punishment inflicted at Lu-chu. A tap with a fan or an angry look was the severest chastisement ever resorted to, as far as we could discover. In giving orders the chiefs were mild though firm, and the people always obeyed with cheerfulness. There seemed to be great respect and confidence on the one hand, and much consideration and kind feeling on the other. During our intercourse with these people there did not occur one instance of theft. They were all permitted to come on board indiscriminately ; to go into the cabins, store-rooms, and wherever they liked, unattended. Yet there was not a single article taken away, though many hundreds of people were daily admitted, and allowed to examine whatever they pleased.

” The loose native robe was generally made of cotton in a great variety of colours. It opened in front, but the edges overlapped and were concealed by the folds so as to make it difficult to say whether or not the robe was continued all round. The sleeves were about three feet wide, and round the middle was a belt about four or

five inches wide, always of a different colour from the dress, and in general richly ornamented with wrought silk and gold flowers. The whole of the dress folds easily, and has a graceful and picturesque appearance. ”

Their hair is of jet black, and is kept glossy by juice expressed from a leaf. It is pulled tight up all round and formed at the top into a compact knot, so as to conceal the crown of the head, which is shaved. Through the knot are thrust two metal pins, from four to six inches in length. The higher orders wear on state occasions what they called a ‘ hatchee-matchee’, a kind of turban made by winding a broad band round a cylinder in such a way that a small segment of each fold is shown at every turn, in front above, and behind below.

” The cattle, which are of a small black breed, are used exclusively for agricul tural purposes. Hogs, goats, and poultry, with rice and a great variety of vegetables, form the food of the inhabitants. Milk is never used. There are no sheep nor asses, and the horses are of a small slight make, and the natives are very fond of riding. The mode of dressing the ground is neat, and resembles the Chinese, particularly in manuring and irrigating it. Besides the sugar-cane, they grow tobacco, wheat, rice, Indian corn, millet, sweet potatoes and many other vegetables. ”

The bamboo and rattan grow to a considerable size, but the pine is the most conspicuous tree on the island, growing to a great height and size. The banian- tree of India was seen at several places, the finest one overhanging the small temple at Napa-kiang.” *

The Goto Islands, chosen by the Japanese Government as a place of banishment, are barely separated from Kiu-siu by a narrow channel studded with rocks and reefs. They form, with Hirado, a section of the orographic system, of which Pumpelly regards Chusan and the Ningpo Highlands as a continuation. Iki, lying to the north-west of Kiu-siu, is also a geographical dependence of this island. But Tsu-sima, standing in the very centre of Korea Strait, between the Broughton and Krusenstern Channels, seems to belong rather to the mainland than to Nip-pon. Some of its animal and vegetable species show an affinity to those of Manchuria. It long served as the commercial entrepot between Korea and Japan, and the almost independent Prince of Tsu-sima enjoyed a monopoly of the exchanges through Fusan, before that port was thrown open to Japanese shipping. In 1861 some Russian officers made a settlement in the island, with the ostensible purpose of building dockyards for the repair of their vessels, but in consequence of a diplomatic conflict with England, they abandoned the station. It was situated near Fachu, the capital, on a broad inlet, which at high water divides Tsu-sima into two parts.

Japan and its dependent islands, occupying an essentially volcanic area, are subject to frequent earthquakes, due probably to the pressure of the vapours pent up near the surface of the ground. During the historic period the most violent shocks have occurred in the neighbourhood of the large volcanoes, and more espe cially in the plains of Tokio, which lie near Fusi-san, and which are watered by streams descending from Asama-yama. As many as 100,000 souls are said to have perished in 1854, when the greater part of Yedo was destroyed.

[* ” Voyage to Korea and Lu-chu,” p. 203, et teg.]

Teutonic and Latin elements have been thoroughly fused, whereas in Sinico-Japa- nese the Yamato and Chinese lie, so to say, in juxtaposition. The Lu-chu dialect is regarded as a distinct language, although nearly related to Japanese and written with the same syllabaries. It also contains many Chinese words introduced by the lettered classes. A portion of the Bible has been translated into this dialect by the missionary Bettelheim.


Élisée Reclus by Nadar 1830-1905

Élisée Reclus, by Nadar, 1830-1905

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s