A Siamese Hair Cutting

by Unknown

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 pin.

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.