Saturday, 13 January 2018

Vasco Da Gama's spine-chiling atrocities against natives of Malabar

Gruesome explorer Vasco Da Gama, Times of India
Coastal Kerala, SW India. Wikiwand
Vasco Da Gama is no doubt a great explorer and had the distinction of being the first European who discovered the direct sea route to India in 1498. It was upon  Vasco da Gama's return to Lisbon after his successful voyage to India,  the King of Portugal, Dom Manuel, adopted a new and pompous title of "The Lord of the conquest navigation and commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India". Critics point out De gama came up with the false news of  the discovery of the "spices and Christians" of India and  this wrong information  was conveyed  to the royal rivals of Castille and to The Holy See in Rome in order to  safeguard this lordship. That India is a land of Christians, as informed by Vasco, was a big lie. In many school text books in India (perhaps in other countries) it is focused on one aspect of Vaco  - his amazing discovery of first sea route to India.Unfortunately, there is no mention of his inhuman and barbaric approach to the Indians.  

Behind  this great explorer's success story  there lurks  a disparaging and murderous aspect of his personality that casts a shadow on  his glittering  discovery. His subsequent voyages, in particular, the 4th Armada in 1502 were replete with stories of massacre, murder, intimidation and torture of native Indians  who refused  to be cowed down by his pressure tactics to make a trade treaty with him. 

However,  his trail-blazing discovery of direct access to India via  the Indian Ocean  led to  the invasion of European countries to India to seek their fortune and improve the economy of their mother land. The first to establish their hegemony on the west coast, in particular, were the Portuguese. Unlike the British and the French who systematically made inroads into the  Indian territories with skill and tactics  and successfully established their trade, the Portuguese, on the other hand, used the barbaric tactics such as violence, coercion under threats  and murder  against the natives to get concession from Indian rulers, not to speak of imposing their religion - Christianity in an altogether different land with varied Culture. It back fired. 

In this respect Gama's approach to  the Indian natives viewed with suspicion. Infuriated were the people of Malabar when they heard about Gama's horrible and merciless massacre on the high seas in the Indian waters in September 1502.  His  most violent and horrible attack on the ships off the Malabar coast was taken seriously  and they avoided  the area where the devilish Portuguese were operating.  At this juncture, Don Gama, having perpetrated the most heinous crime, on  October 18, 1502 - finally reached Cannanore (Canonor, Kannur) with his 4th Armada. This time his mission was to take revenge on the Arabs involved in the purported massacre of Portuguese  in the Calicut factory. That squadron was led by Alverez Cabral from Lisbon in 1500.  

After the necessary formal protocols, Gama met with
Kolathiri Raja of Cannanore  to make a business 
deal After  some deliberation the local ruler allowed 
Gama to establish  a Portuguese crown factory in
Cannanore, and agreed to arrange a fixed-price schedule  for the sale of spices to the Portuguese. But, the commercial treaty ended in failure over a fixed price and the ruler impressed on Gama that he had no rights over market prices.  Gama threatened the ruler and finally sailed out of Cannanore after leaving some of his men there. It was  Paio Rodrigues who mediated between the Kolathiri Raja and  successfully finalized the treaty. Included in the treaty was a Portuguese Factor that means  every merchant ship along the Malabar coast had to present a certificate signed by a Portuguese factor (in Cannanore, Cochin, etc.) or else be subject to attack and seizure by a Portuguese patrol. Thus, Portuguese cartaz system was first introduced here. They followed this system in South America, East Africa and Malacca until the 18th century. 

Now. time had come for Gama to take on the Zamorin ruler and dispense of vigilante justice. Responding to his early warning, Zamarin ruler informed Gama that he was ready for negotiation regarding compensation for the  1500 incident at Calicut. At the same time  Da Gama got a  message from Gonçalo Gil Barbosa, the Portuguese crown factor in Cochin that the ruler Zamorin had set up a roadblock tactically by informing the merchants of Malabar to close the market and the port to the Portuguese. Being unlettered, crude, intolerant and prone to bouts of intolerable violence, obviously  Gama was in rage.

Upon the arrival of Gama's  fleet on October 29, 1502  before the harbor of Calicut (Calecute, Kozhikode). the Zamorin  had sent an emissary, a Brahmin (dressed as a Christian friar) on a boat to Gama. He reported that the ruler would like to make a peace and friendship treaty with the king of Portugal and to facilitate it he would discuss on the restoration of the merchandise seized from the Portuguese factory besides, he had already arrested twelve of those responsible for the 1500 riot.The emissary also reported that the Zamorin ruler would deduct and arrive at a final amount for the property damages the ruler and his subjects suffered from Portuguese. 

Gama was furious and wanted the goods taken from the factory  to be delivered on the ship and all the 
Muslim merchants to be expelled from the Calicut, before any discussion on trade. Being impatient, before getting the ruler's reply Gama  seized the near-by  idling fishing boats and captured 50 innocent fishermen alive. Angered Zamorian ruler warned Gama firmly that he had caused more damages to his properties, destroyed more boats 
and ships, and  killed several of his men than those killed in 1500. Despite the setback, Zamarian ruler wanted to initiate the negotiation with Gama and categorically informed him that he had no intention of expelling the Moors and asked him to release the hostages  immediately. If disagreed to his conditions, the ruler asked  Don Gama to leave his harbor at once.

Gama  got wild and  on 31 October 1502 sent a strongly worded  threatening ultimatum, saying the factory goods must be  delivered to his ship soon. In the available time he had his men choose the  vantage points in the harbor of Calicut for optimal firing positions. The ruler on his part, in the dead of night, prepared trenches with protective palisade and laying cannon along the harbor shore.

Upon  confirming non-compliance of his ultimatum, Gama' s   temper went sky-high. Following day 
(1 November)  at noon he had the hostages  strung up by their necks from the ship masts of his various ships. The native crowds on the beach were angry and aghast at the  gruesome sight of innocent men dangling from the ship mast. This was followed by firing from the Ship  to clear the beaches and trenches. The Indian ruler's cannons had poor firing range and were no match for theirs.  Bombing of the habor continued the whole night.  In the following morning (2 November) the  Portuguese transported the dead  hostages tied to  the ship mast with their feet and hands severed off. Vasco da gama, with no remorse, presided over this brutality and butchery on the soil of Malabar .

Author Richard Hall mentioned: "With Calicut at his mercy  Vasco Da Gama told his men to parade the prisoners then hack off their hands, ears and noses. As the work progressed, all the amputated pieces were piled in a small boat. The Brahmin who had been sent out by the Zamorin as an emissary was put into the boat amid its new gruesome cargo. He had also been mutilated in the ordained manner".

Author Hall gives a vivid description of what Vasco da Gama did next which is too sickening  and gut-churning even to imagine. When the Zamorin ruler sent another Brahmin to Vasco to plead for peace, the great explorer  had  "his lips cut off and his ears cut off". The ears of a dog were sewn on him instead and the Brahmin was sent back to Zamorin in that state. The Brahmin --  a Namboodiri took along with him three young boys, two of them his sons and the other being his nephew. They were hanged from the yardarm and their bodies sent ashore.

As for the bombing of the city,  a total of 400 rounds from the small caliper gun had been fired. In the aftermath, countless poor dwellings, huts and rich houses were razed to the ground. Everywhere, near the harbor there were heaps of debris  and broken stones. 

Having made a futile attempt to make a treaty with the Indian ruler, by showing his firing power of  his Navy, at last, De Gama  decided to leave the smoldering city of Calicut  quite satisfied that he  had fulfilled his vengeance on the Indian ruler. Gama tried to create a rift between benign Hindu ruler and quiet trading community, mostly made of Muslims. Don Gama's trick failed miserably. 

 Gama's rage and vengeance did not come down. His fleet later seized two large ships and 27 small boats, and transferred  the cargo to his ships. His men tied the crew, broke their teeth  and cut off their nose and hands. Finally, they set the ship alight. 

Thus, Don Gama's voyages to India in the early part of the 16th century left behind a trail of murder, destruction and blood and his glory is built on the gory piles of  mutilated corpses of unharmed native Indians and plunder of rich Indians. 

...........According to historian J B P More, who is currently working on a book on the Dravidian movement as well as the Marakkars of Kerala in the 16th and 17th centuries, Vasco da Gama's arrival in India was not a great exploit from the navigational point of view,

"He simply followed the route traced by Diogo d' Azambuja, Diogo Cao and Bartholomeu Diaz up to the Eastern Cape Province, where the Indian Ocean lay wide open to him. This is definitely not an exploit," Dr More told Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier in an e-mail interview. .......(vide: http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-interview-vasco-da-gama-needs-to-be-tried-for-crimes-against-humanity/20130813.html)

For further reading:
A general history of voyages and travels to the end of the 18th century - By Robert Kerr
History of the Discovery and Conquest of India - Herman Lopez de Castaneda
The three voyages of Vasco de Gama - Gaspar Corrêa
The career & legend of Vasco Da Gama – Sanjay Subrahmanyam.

Ref:
Vasco Da Gama and His Successors - K. G. Jayne

 http://historicalleys.blogspot.in/2011/04/plunder-and-massacre-of-meri.html

 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/portugals-violent-naval-hero/162720.article

 http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/Excesses-by-Vasco-Da-Gama-Columbus-decried/article16443602.ece