Unknown Seas: The Portuguese Captains and the Passage to India, page 35
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Ronald Watkins is the author of more than 30 books. He holds a BA in history and an MS in justice studies. He is a member of The Hakluyt Society and The Society for the History of Discoveries. He lived in Portugal where he was inspired to write this book. He now lives in South America. For more information please visit him at www.RonaldJWatkins.com.
Under the terms of his title from the Spanish sovereigns Columbus had been made admiral, viceroy and governor upon discovering lands to the west. The ceremony had been performed on his first landfall. The Santa María, a sluggish deep-drafted vessel that had served as flagship, had been run aground off Hispaniola and lost.
The earliest Portuguese writings use ‘Gama’ as the family name of Vasco da Gama. Despite that, English-language writers usually use the incorrect ‘da Gama’.
The sail would more accurately be described as Arab. The Arabs exploited its use to the point of perfection and introduced it into the Mediterranean, but they too did not invent it. It is all but certain the so-called lateen sail came to them from western India.
In 1951, when the city wall of Yangchow, China, was demolished, the tomb of Catherine Vilioni, who died in June 1342, was discovered. The daughter of Domenico Vilioni, her prominent Venetian family had a dominant trade presence in the Chinese city for more than 100 years.
Generally overlooked is the bequest in his will to his daughter, though Henry was never married.
The western Sudan had been the centre of three great nominally Islamic empires, wealth made possible primarily by the control of trade routes across the Sahara. The first of these, Ghana, was supplanted by Mali, which flourished from 1203 to 1260. At its peak it stretched to the Atlantic coast east of Gao. Though Mali continued as a separate, albeit greatly reduced, state until 1645, its place as the dominant power was largely supplanted by the Songhai empire, which extended from the Atlantic to Kano, centred on the big bend of the Niger river. In 1471 Songhai subjugated western Mali. In 1591 Moroccan forces crushed the Songhai empire.
Estimates of actual slaves transported are: 3.6 million from south-western Africa to Brazil; 4 million from west Africa to the Caribbean islands; 200,000 to Mexico; 400,000 to what became the United States; 550,000 by Arab slavers from central Africa to the Middle East; and another 700,000 from south-east Africa to the Middle East and Indus region.
Cloth was the single most expensive item for European households and was highly desired there as well as by those living in less developed societies. Kings commonly made a gift of their used clothes to royal favourites.
Among these were Christopher Columbus and Bartholomeu Dias.
Opposition to the explorations among the king’s advisers became routine, although a number of the objections had nothing to do with the expeditions themselves. Disputes over other political issues were often manifest by opposing something the young king wanted. On the practical side, the Portuguese were enjoying an excellent return on their investment from the gold in Guinea as well as from the slave trade and more mundane forms of commerce. But the route to India remained as illusive as ever and costs to discover it could only mount with each effort.
Table Mountain was always impressive. Sir Francis Drake wrote, ‘this cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest Cape we sawe in the whole circumference of the earth.’ Drake’s pilot was Portuguese.
An earlier papal bull, drafted at the direction of Spain, had set such a demarcation line at just 100 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. The new line allowed Portugal later to claim Brazil, allowing for speculation it had been discovered earlier.
There is no record of John II honouring this commitment.
Although ostensibly rivals, since it was the Italian monopoly in the spice trade the Portuguese were seeking to destroy, the Portuguese actually maintained an active trade and friendly relations with certain trading and banking families in Italy. The Florentines had the best representation in Portugal. Their business relations increased significantly after 1494, when their merchant fleet was destroyed by the Pisans. Trade goods from Italy included fine woollen cloth, leather goods and silk. In exchange the Portuguese provided preserved fish and imports from Africa, including ivory and cork.
Not to be confused with Calcutta, a city established much later by the British in north-east India in the delta of the Ganges river.
Pedro Alvares Cabral sailed in March 1500 with 1,200 men and thirteen ships. Nicolau Coelho, just returned from India, was captain of one of the ships. Tragically, Bartholomeu Dias, who captained another vessel, was lost during a violent storm in the South Atlantic, reportedly within sight of his furthest pillar.
As with many details of this voyage, there is disagreement as to the details. The precise numer varies from 148 to 180, depending on who is doing the writing; the higher figure now appears the most likely.
The formal title of the local Hindu king. The origin of the title is unresolved. According to one account it is a corrupted version of words that mean ‘King of the Coast’. Another says it means ‘Sea Raja’.
‘Moor’ was the universal term used by the Portuguese whenever they came into contact with a Muslim, just as ‘Frank’ was the common term used by the Arabs to identify any European.
A sharif is a descendant of the Prophet.
He is believed to have been Sheikh Wagerage, who later communicated directly with King Manuel in Portugal.
The Zamorin lost his gamble. From this time on Calicut diminished in wealth and prosperity. The Portuguese were here to stay and, because of the ever more hostile response at Calicut, established alliances with other cities and located their permanent presence north at Gôa.
The matter of the padrõe had obviously been raised at some poi
For all the insecurity and vulnerability the Portuguese felt so far from home, it should not be forgotten that their three vessels, massive by local standards and armed with heavy cannon, were a source of intimidation to both the Hindus and Muslims.
The prisoners were all returned unharmed the following year. Being of lower caste, they were largely ignored by the new Zamorin, which makes the account of the letter-reading suspect.
The carved wooden figurehead remained with the Gama family as an heirloom and token of good luck. It was carried by family members on many of their subsequent expeditions. It can be seen today at the church in Belém, where the author viewed it.
Letters were sent to the Pope and to the Portuguese Cardinal Protector at the Vatican, to assert Manuel’s claim to the newly discovered region under the terms of the previous papal bulls.
Vasco da Gama’s remains were moved from India by his son and interred at the family estate in Vidigueira. In 1880 his bones were putatively removed and with great fanfare installed at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Later, it was determined that the skeleton of a Gama relative had been moved in error. In 1898, on the 400th anniversary of his first voyage to India, Gama’s remains were quietly relocated. There is, however, a persistent story that the Gama family did not wish to have his remains moved and misdirected officials. According to this account, Gama is still interred at the family estate.
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Ronald Watkins, Unknown Seas: The Portuguese Captains and the Passage to India