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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The lengthiest oath required of witnesses in a legal trial is 374 words

In the judicial courts of Burma, until at least the middle of the 19th century.  Read the whole thing.

An English translation appears in Kenneth RH Mackenzie's 1853 book Burmah and the Burmese, published in London. Mackenzie writes: "The oath is written in a small book of palm leaves, and is held over the head of the witness."

Called The Book of Imprecations or The Book of the Oath, the slim volume also expresses the court's sentiments about any witnesses who would fudge facts. The court is fairly thorough in its wishes, touching on the most likely eventualities.

"May false witnesses die of bad diseases, be bitten by crocodiles, be drowned. May they become poor, hated of the king. May they have calumniating enemies, may they be driven away, may they become utterly wretched, may every one ill-treat them, and raise lawsuits against them. May they be killed with swords, lances, and every sort of weapon. May they be precipitated into the eight great hells and the 120 smaller ones. May they be tormented. May they be changed into dogs. And, if finally they become men, may they be slaves a thousand and ten thousand times. May all their undertakings, thoughts and desires ever remain as worthless as a heap of cotton burnt by the fire."

And so on.

The oath itself is all business. The deponent must say: "If I speak not the truth ... when I and my relations are on land, land animals, as tigers, elephants, buffaloes, poisonous serpents, scorpions, &c, shall seize, crush, and bite us, so that we shall certainly die. Let the calamities occasioned by fire, water, rulers, thieves, and enemies oppress and destroy us, till we perish and come to utter destruction. Let us be subject to all the calamities that are within the body, and all that are without the body. May we be seized with madness, dumbness, blindness, deafness, leprosy and hydrophobia. May we be struck with thunderbolts and lightning, and come to sudden death. In the midst of not speaking truth, may I be taken with vomiting clotted black blood, and suddenly die before the assembled people.

"When I am going by water, may the water nats [spirits] assault me, the boat be upset, and the property lost; and may alligators, porpoises, sharks, or other sea monsters, seize and crush me to death; and when I change worlds, may I not arrive among men or nats, but suffer unmixed punishment and regret, in the utmost wretchedness, among the four states of punishment, Hell, Prita, Beasts and Athurakai."

After that and a lot more, the oath concludes with a few thoughts of hope and cheer.

If I speak the truth, may I and my relations, through the influence of the ten laws of merit, and on account of the efficacy of truth, be freed from all calamities within and without the body; and may evils which have not yet come, be warded far away. May the ten calamities and five enemies also be kept faraway. May the thunderbolts and lightning, the Nat of the waters, and all sea animals, love me, that I may be safe from them. May my prosperity increase like the rising sun and the waxing moon; and may the seven possessions, the seven laws, and the seven [merits of the virtuous, be permanent in my person; and when I change worlds, may I not go to the four states of punishment, but attain the happiness of men and Nats, and realize merit, reward, and perfect calm.

Then the witness, if he is still alive and not seized with madness, dumbness, blindness, deafness, leprosy or hydrophobia, testifies.

The whole thing is here.

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