A Siamese Hair Cutting
ALL the little Siamese children, both boys and
girls, have the entire head, except a place
on the very top, closely shaved. There a long
lock of hair is allowed to grow, and this they wear
twisted into a knot and fastened with a jeweled
The cutting of this top-knot, as it is called, is an
occasion of great ceremony. All the friends and
relatives are invited to attend, and the festivities
continue three days. On the third day the hair is
cut by a priest, and a lock is preserved in the
family. The cutting of the top-knot is equivalent
to our coming of age, though the children are generally
between eleven and fourteen, and sometimes
even younger than that.
The hair-cutting of the King's eldest daughter,
Princess Civili, was a most magnificent affair. We
went to the palace at ten in the morning for the
purpose of seeing the procession. After passing
through the outer and inner courts which were
thronged with people of almost every Eastern nationality,
we were shown into a building reserved
for Europeans. Soon we heard the band playing
the National Anthem, and then, preceded by the
royal body-guard, His Majesty appeared and took
his seat near the private entrance to the Temple.
Then the procession commenced to file past us.
It was headed by a number of men with hatchets,
and attired in odd-looking garments. Some of
these men wore horrible masks and wigs of long,
tangled hair. They looked much like apes, and
represented wild men. Next followed two rows of
"angels" as they are called, these being men
dressed in long loose robes of thin white muslin
bordered with gold-embroidered bands. On their
heads were tall conical hats of white and gold.
These "angels" carried a cord which was attached
to the Princess' chair. Between these two rows of
angels walked a dozen men in loose red jackets,
and short red trousers, with flat caps to match.
They held in their hands long reed instruments on
which they blew, making a shrill, strange sound.
This was the signal of the approach of the Princess
who soon appeared, carried in a high chair,
and surrounded by nobles and relatives. She sat
as immovable as an image, and looked neither to the
right nor the left. With a little more expression,
she would have been a very pretty child.
Behind Her Royal Highness' chair were her
favorite slaves carrying all the beautiful presents
that had been given her.
Apropos of presents, here is a short account of
one of them. The United States ship Ashuelot
was at that time anchored in the river Chow
Phya Miniam, on which river Bangkok is situated.
There is a custom in Siam of giving a present in
return for one received, though the present given
in return is always one of less value. The paymaster
of the Ashuelot, hearing of this custom,
presented Her Royal Highness with a diamond
ring, and received in return a handsome gold betel-box
of native workmanship. The captain of the
Ashuelot who was much annoyed that a subordinate
should receive so handsome a gift while he
himself received nothing, had the paymaster court-martialed
on the ground that an officer in the
United States employ had no right to receive a
gift from a foreign nation.
But to return to the procession. Following the
slaves, came a number of little Siamese girls dressed
in white, and wearing a profusion of jewelry. After
them, came girls from the provinces all decked in
their gayest attire; then two rows of little Chinese
girls with painted cheeks and lips, and having artificial
flowers in their hair. Closely following
came rows upon rows of native women (slaves of
the Princess) who walked sedately on with their
bright fluttering scarves of red, yellow and green,
their hands folded as if in prayer.
Then came a great many little native boys;
after these, Chinese boys, and, finally the procession
was ended by a company of Hindoostani
children followed by a detachment of men servants.
The next two days the procession was exactly
the same, except that on the third day the "angels"
and the little Siamese girls wore pink robes
instead of white.
The cutting of the hair, the praying of the
priests, and the bathing of the Princess in various
waters, all took place in a large artificial mountain
built for the occasion opposite the Temple.
None but the King, the ex-Regent and a few other
favored individuals were allowed to be present.
On the green, in front of the mountain, we saw
a large company of actors. On inquiry we found
they were members of His Majesty's loken or theatre,
and formed part of the religious ceremony.
After the cutting of the top-knot all Siamese
girls of high rank are kept in the greatest seclusion.
Some are sent into the palace and placed
under His Majesty's protection. There they remain
until married or until Death claims them.