Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vasco da Gama in India

In February, 1498, Vasco da Gama continued north , landing at the frienlier port of Malindi - whose leaders were then in conflict with those of Mombasa - and there the expedition first noted evidence of Indian traders . Gama and his crew contracted the services of a pilot whose knowledge of the monsoon winds allowed him  to bring the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut(Kozhikode), located on the south west coast of India.Sources differ over the identity of the pilot, calling him variously a Christian, a Muslim, and a Gujarati. One traditional story describes the pilot as the famous Arab navigator Ibn Majid, but other contemporaneous accounts place Majid elsewhere, and he could not have been near the vicinty at the time. Also, none of the Portuguese historians of the time mention Ibn Majid.
Calicut, India
The fleet arrived in Kappad near Calicut, India on 20 May 1498. The king of Calicut, the Samoothiri (Zamorin), who was at that time staying in his second capital at Ponnani, returned to Calicut on hearing the news of the European fleets's arrival. The king ordered the visitors to move to the then famous port of Panthalayani. de Gama landed at panthalayani ( not kapped as some say) that is 6 km away from kappad.The navigator was received with traditional hospitality, including a grand procession of at least 3,000 armed Nairs, but an interview with the Zamorin failed to produce any concrete results. The presents that da Gama sent  to the Zamorin as gifts from Dom Manuel - four cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats , four branches of corals, twelve almosares, a box with seven  vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey - were trivial , and failed to cut any ice. While Zamorin's officials wondered at why there was no gold  or silver, the Muslim merchants who considered da gama their rival suggested that the latter was only an ordinary pirate and not a royal ambassador. Vasco da gama's request for permission to leave a behind him in charge of the merchandise he could not sell was turned down by the king, who insisted that da Gama pay customs duty  - preferably in gold - like any other trader, which strained the relation between the two . Annoyed by this, da Gama carried a few Nairs and sixteen Mukkuva fishermen off with him by force. Neverthless, da Gama's expedition was successful beyond all reasonable expedition, bringing in cargo that was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition.