On This Day: 29 November 1700

After yesterday’s post about the range of subject matter included in Thomas Bowrey’s papers, I selected today’s letter as a further illustration. On this day in 1700, Thomas Hyde wrote to his honoured friend Captain Bowrey. Much of the letter expounded on a single Malay letter and the various forms of the language but, for Hyde, the pressing subject was the Saga tree. He started by asking about it and concluded with a further question  about the tree.

Before being introduced to the Americas, the Saga tree grew in Singapore and other places in the East Indies. Hyde was aware the pith of the Saga being a white crumbly thing but wanted a detailed description of the tree including the leaves, flowers and fruit. Such exchange of information was the payment Hyde expected for helping Bowrey with his dictionary.

Modern sources give the derivation of the name, Saga, as from the Arabic for goldsmith because its seeds were used as the unit of weight for gold. In view of Hyde’s expertise in oriental languages and his assertion that the Malay language had adopted a number of Arabic words, it is surprising that he does not appear to know this. If he had, he was sure to have mentioned it to someone who had been a merchant in the region.


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