When they left, Kublai Khan lavished gifts upon them. Not only did he give them jewels but also paitzu, these were gold tablets the size of a man's hand that some have called superpassports. These paitzu required officials in Mongol domains to give the Polos whatever they needed for travel and comfort. I wish I had a passport like that!
We have studied over 6,000 miles of the Polos great journey - through the ports of Iran to the lost city in Afghanistan, through the shrieking sands of the Gobi desert to the shining city of Xanadu. But the hardest journey was still ahead of them.
The 600 person entourage left Quanzhou and sailed for the Persian Gulf. They made it as far as Sumatra before the winds gave out. In that part of the world the winds change with the seasons. Sometimes the winds constantly shift, making it impossible to sail at all. That's what happened to the Polos. They were stranded for five months, waiting for the wind to change directions.
While on board ship and stranded on sumatra, Marco gathered tales from the sailors. He wrote in his book of a "great island" East of China where there is "gold in abundance" and the people harvest large, red pearls. Marco was the first European to describe Cipangu - that is, Japan! His description was well known to Columbus who wondered if a distant island he saw in the Caribbean was Cipangu.
While stranded on Sumatra, the Polos stayed as close to the beach as possible because beyond the coast lived "beast-like men". Marco recorded, "For I tell you truly that they eat the flesh of men." These were the the Bataks. The Batak people were advanced in some ways, they had their own alphabet and calendar, but they devoured their enemies - to capture their spirits. Can you imagine how scary it would be to have to camp near them for 5 months?!?
In 1834, two missionaries from the United States came to the Batak people. They were attacked and eaten. You would think people would be to afraid to come back, but in 1862, a German missionary came. He had learned some Batak language and had translated several German hymns. He came to the island cannibals singing songs about Jesus in their own language. Today, the Batak are no longer cannibals. They can be found every Sunday in church singing hymn after hymn. How amazing is that?
Take a few minutes to write down a prayer for the Batak people and their preachers. Be prepare to read it in class this week.
Sumatra receives over 8 FEET of rain every year. This means storms called monsoons and lots of insects. Marco wrote of an illness that would kill someone within three days of the onset of symptoms. Many of their company died while they were here.
Finally, after five months, favorable winds began to blow and they set course, stopping at "Seilan" - what is now Sri Lanka before sailing on to India.
Find Sri Lanka on your map.
In India, Marco wrote of the beauty of the people, the animals and the art. He wrote of the "Biggest Temple of Siva", which was more than likely the Hindu Brihadishwara Temple in Thanjavur. It was already 300 years old in Marco's time. The temple is covered with carvings of elephants, lions, and other animals. Go to this link, click on it to enlarge it and spend several minutes looking at it. How many buildings do you see? What would you have thought if you were Marco seeing it for the first time? Also at this temple is a 13 foot tall stone statue of the bull called Nandi, whose strong back supports the god Siva. Hindus in India believe Nandi makes the rain come and the crops grow. In the picture below, priests pour an offering of milk, coconut milk, vegetable oil, sugarcane juice, tumeric, and honey over the idol.
Marco called India the land of "Spicery", meaning not only flavorings for food but also spices used for medicines. Use the internet and ask your mother about the medicinal properties of the following plants: tumeric, cinnamon, willow bark, honey, and chamomile. Do you know of any others?
When the Polos left India, they encountered a great number of pirates on the west coast of India. Marco wrote that there were more than 100 pirate ships, sitting a few miles apart from each other, waiting for a victim.
In 1293, the Polos at last reached Hormuz in Persia, which Marco had seen as a teenager in the way to CHina. They had left China with 600 people and made it to Persia with only 18 left. They had saved and protected the princess, while nearly all her attendants died. But in Hormuz, they learned that Arghun, the ruler the princess was promised to, had died. She was given to his son, but the sad ending is that she died less than 3 years later.
Marco says the lords of Persia honored the Polos lavishly, weighting them down with more hefty gold paitzu. With a cavalry escort they rode morthward through Turkey. Not long after they were left on their own, near the Black Sea, they were robbed of some of their wealth.
By the time they got back to Venice, their families had given them up for dead. They finally arrived, but they weren't recognized at first. They smelled funny; their accents were different; and they were filthy and dressed in rags. Once they had convinced their family members that they were, indeed, alive, they shocked them all by ripping open their cloaks and shirts. Inside were jewels and treasures sewn into them!
Less than a year later Marco was captured by Geneo while on board a Venetian ship. He was imprisoned with a writer name Rustichello who, with the help of Marco's journals, helped him write the book of his journey. When he was released from prison after a few years, he married and eventually had three daughters. He lived to be 70 years old. On his deathbed, someone begged him to recant, or take back, the stories he told before he went to meet God. Marco replied, "I have not written of even half of what I saw."
After he died, his family found one of the golden paitzu and a princess' headpiece.
A historian from the University of Glasgow has said, "Never before or since has one man given such an immense body of new geographic knowledge to the West." Marco Polo's adventures and journals opened up Asia to the West and changed the lives of all of us.
This is a copy of The Description of the World that belonged to
Christopher Columbus. He made notes in the margin. Cool, huh?
*most of this information was gathered from National Geographic, July 2001 issue