Introduction to the Source
Vasco da Gama was born about 1460 at Sines, Portugal. Both Prince John and Prince Manuel continued the efforts of Prince Henry to find a sea route to India, and in 1497 Manuel placed Vasco da Gama, who already had some reputation as a warrior and navigator, in charge of four vessels built especially for the expedition. They set sail July 8, 1497, rounded the Cape of Good Hope four months later, and reached Calicut May 20, 1498. The Moors in Calicut instigated the Zamorin of Calicut against him, and he was compelled to return with the bare discovery and the few spices he had bought there at inflated prices [but still he made a 3000% profit!]. A force left by a second expedition under Cabral (who discovered Brazil by sailing too far west), left behind some men in a “factory” or trading station, but these were killed by the Moors in revenge for Cabral’s attacks on Arab shipping in the Indian Ocean. Vasco da Gama was sent on a mission of vengeance in 1502, he bombarded Calicut (virtually destroying the port), and returned with great spoil. His expedition turned the commerce of Europe from the Mediterranean cities to the Atlantic Coast, and opened up the east to European enterprise.
Vasco da Gama was born about 1460 at Sines, Portugal. Both Prince John and Prince Manuel continued the efforts of Prince Henry to find a sea route to India, and in 1497 Manuel placed Vasco da Gama, who already had some reputation as a warrior and navigator, in charge of four vessels built especially for the expedition. They set sail July 8, 1497, rounded the Cape of Good Hope four months later, and reached Calicut May 20, 1498. The Moors in Calicut instigated the Zamorin of Calicut against him, and he was compelled to return with the bare discovery and the few spices he had bought there at inflated prices [but still he made a 3000% profit!]. A force left by a second expedition under Cabral (who discovered Brazil by sailing too far west), left behind some men in a “factory” or trading station, but these were killed by the Moors in revenge for Cabral’s attacks on Arab shipping in the Indian Ocean. Vasco da Gama was sent on a mission of vengeance in 1502, he bombarded Calicut (virtually destroying the port), and returned with great spoil. His expedition turned the commerce of Europe from the Mediterranean cities to the
The city of Calicut is inhabited by Christians. [The first voyagers to India mistook the Hindus for Christians.] They are of tawny complexion. Some of them have big beards and long hair, whilst others clip their hair short or shave the head, merely allowing a tuft to remain on the crown as a sign that they are Christians. They also wear moustaches. They pierce the ears and wear much gold in them. They go naked down to the waist, covering their lower extremities with very fine cotton stuffs. But it is only the most respectable who do this, for the others manage as best they are able. The women of this country, as a rule, are ugly and of small stature. They wear many jewels of gold round the neck, numerous bracelets on their arms, and rings set with precious stones on their toes. All these people are well-disposed and apparently of mild temper. At first sight they seem covetous and ignorant.
When we arrived at Calicut the king was fifteen leagues away. The captain-major sent two men to him with a message, informing him that an ambassador had arrived from the King of Portugal with letters, and that if he desired it he would take them to where the king then was. The king presented the bearers of this message with much fine cloth. He sent word to the captain-major bidding him welcome, saying that he was about to proceed to Calicut. As a matter of fact, he started at once with a large retinue. A pilot accompanied our two men, with orders to take us to a place called Pandarani, below the place (Capna) where we anchored at first. At this time we were actually in front of the city of Calicut. We were told that the anchorage at the place to which we were to go was good, whilst at the place we were then it was bad, with a stony bottom, which was quite true; and, moreover, that it was customary for the ships which came to this country to anchor there for the sake of safety. We ourselves did not feel comfortable, and the captain-major had no sooner received this royal message than he ordered the sails to be set, and we departed. We did not, however, anchor as near the shore as the king’s pilot desired.
When we were at anchor, a message arrived informing the captain-major that the king was already in the city. At the same time the king sent a bale, with other men of distinction, to Pandarani, to conduct the captain-major to where the king awaited him. This bale is like an alcaide, and is always attended by two hundred men armed with swords and bucklers. As it was late when this message arrived, the captain-major deferred going.
On the following morning, which was Monday, May 28th, the captain-major set out to speak to the king, and took with him thirteen men. On landing, the captain-major was received by the alcaide, with whom were many men, armed and unarmed. The reception was friendly, as if the people were pleased to see us, though at first appearances looked threatening, for they carried naked swords in their hands. A palanquin was provided for the captain-major, such as is used by men of distinction in that country, as also by some of the merchants, who pay something to the king for this privilege. The captain-major entered the palanquin, which was carried by six men by turns. Attended by all these people we took the road of Calicut, and came first to another town, called Capna. The captain-major was there deposited at the house of a man of rank, whilst we others were provided with food, consisting of rice, with much butter, and excellent boiled fish. The captain-major did not wish to eat, and as we had done so, we embarked on a river close by, which flows between the sea end the mainland, close to the coast. The two boats in which we embarked were lashed together, so that we were not separated. There were numerous other boats, all crowded with people. As to those who were on the banks I say nothing; their number was infinite, and they had all come to see us. We went up that river for about a league, and saw many large ships drawn up high and dry on its banks, for there is no port here.
When we disembarked, the captain-major once more entered his palanquin. The road was crowded with a countless multitude anxious to see us. Even the women came out of their houses with children in their arms and followed us. When we arrived (at Calicut) they took us to a large church, and this is what we saw: The body of the church is as large as a monastery, all built of hewn stone and covered with tiles. At the main entrance rises a pillar of bronze as high as a mast, on the top of which was perched a bird, apparently a cock. In addition to this, there was another pillar as high as a man, and very stout. In the center of the body of the church rose a chapel, all built of hewn stone, with a bronze door sufficiently wide for a man to pass, and stone steps leading up to it. Within this sanctuary stood a small image which they said represented Our Lady. Along the walls, by the main entrance, hung seven small bells. In this church the captain-major said his prayers, and we with him.
We did not go within the chapel, for it is the custom that only certain servants of the church, called quafees, should enter. These quafees wore some threads passing over the left shoulder and under the right arm, in the same manner as our deacons wear the stole. They threw holy water over us, and gave us some white earth, which the Christians of this country are in the habit of putting on their foreheads, breasts, around the neck, and on the forearms. They threw holy water upon the captain-major and gave him some of the earth, which he gave in charge of someone, giving them to understand that he would put it on later. Many other saints were painted on the walls of the church, wearing crowns. They were painted variously, with teeth protruding an inch from the mouth, and four or five arms. Below this church there was a large masonry tank, similar to many others which we had seen along the road.
After we had left that place, and had arrived at the entrance to the city (of Calicut) we were shown another church, where we saw things like those described above. Here the crowd grew so dense that progress along the street became next to impossible, and for this reason they put the captain-major into a house, and us with him. The king sent a brother of the bale, who was a lord of this country, to accompany the captain-major, and he was attended by men beating drums, blowing arafils and bagpipes, and firing off matchlocks. In conducting the captain-major they showed us much respect, more than is shown in Spain to a king. The number of people was countless, for in addition to those who surrounded us, and among whom there were two thousand armed men, they crowded the roofs and houses.
The further we advanced in the direction of the king’s palace, the more did they increase in number. And when we arrived there, men of much distinction and great lords came out to meet the captain-major, and joined those who were already in attendance upon him. It was then an hour before sunset. When we reached the palace we passed through a gate into a courtyard of great size, and before we arrived at where the king was, we passed four doors, through which we had to force our way, giving many blows to the people. When, at last, we reached the door where the king was, there came forth from it a little old man, who holds a position resembling that of a bishop, and whose advice the king acts upon in all affairs of the church. This man embraced the captain-major when he entered the door. Several men were wounded at this door, and we only got in by the use of much force.
- Authored by: Oliver J. Thatcher. Provided by: The Library of Original Sources. Located at: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1497degama.asp. Project: The Modern Internet History Sourcebook. License: Public Domain: No Known Copyright