Sunday, 16 August 2015

First Sea route to India (May, 1498) - a Portuguese convict first landed on the Indian shore, not Gama - Vasco de Gama's maiden voyage to India

Vasco de Gama in the Zamorian king's court, May,
Malabar coast, Calicut
People , who are interested in world history, know very well that Vasco da Gama was the first Portuguese to establish contact with the Indian ruler upon his first sea voyage to India. The sea route established by him in 1498 was a major  discovery, as we all know. According to one of the latest entries  to UNESCO’s International Memory of World Register of the world’s most precious documents, a handwritten report without the author's name, the first Portuguese contact on the Malabar shores of Kerala was made by one  Joao Nunes, who happened to be a convict  ''degradado.'' The log book records the minutes of the pioneering journey from Portugal via Good Hope to the Kerala coast.  From the mysterious report that had lain undiscovered for over three centuries until Portuguese historian Alexandre Herculano stumbled upon a 16th century copy, we get the following interesting information:
01. At that point of time in 1490s Calicut was a major trading center on the  Malabar coast. It had  mercantile trade oriented society consisting of many nationals speaking different languages,

 02. Gama preferred to stay aboard the ship in the safety of his crewmen and was not willing to step on the coast of a new land  on the morning of May 21, 1498.

03. It was Joao Nunes who first stepped out into the monsoon showers off the western coast of Kappadu near Kozhikode to meet people. Joao Nunes was an ex-Portuguese convict. To his surprise the first pair of men he ran into were multi-lingual Tunisian  merchants.  Joao Nunes told them they came here looking for Christians and spices. Literally the man who first landed on the Kappad Beach was Joano and not Gama.

04.The journal on Gama's maiden voyage to India points out that Gama was frequently moody  and the frequent display of “melancholy''was due to his brother  Paulo da Gama, who was known for his antics.

 05. Gama remained aboard his ship ''Sao Gabriel'' for about a week.He was very suspicious about the new place and suspected that he might be trapped by the locals. Upon receiving the invitation from the Zamorian King, Gama stepped out. Gama was distrustful refused to eat on the way, whereas others relished boiled fish, rice and butter.

 06. Upon introduction as the representative of the King of Portugal, Gama expected immediate audience from  the king. The Zamorian ruler, who gave him audience after a long wait late in the evening, was neither impressed with Gama nor with his gifts that were far below his dignity to have received them. His gifts included:  A dozen coats, six hats, a bale of sugar, two barrels of butter and one of honey.
 07. The Portuguese guests stood in the Indian King's court with their eyes wide open and were taken aback by the magnitude of wealth surrounding  the ruler. Following days the relationship between the Portuguese and Indian ruler was very much hit the bottom. They went back to the ship and waited for the King's final say

 08. Zamorian King aptly pointed out in his message to the King of Portugal - Dom Manuel  that he wanted gold and silver and he had plenty of spices and precious stones in his land

Despite some misunderstanding, da Gama's expedition was successful, more than he expected. The fresh  cargo loaded with Indian stuff  was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition. Vasco da Gama left Kappadu Beach, Calicut on 29 August, 1498. It was a harrowing return  journey. It had taken Gama's fleet only 23 days to cross the Indian Ocean; now, on the return trip, sailing against the wind, it took 132 days. At last the ship  'Sao Gabriel' arrived in Lisbon on 10 July, 1499  Any way, the first sea route to India in May, 1498 is the most important milestone in the annals of world's maritime history.

The above presentation is based on the following reference.