Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Subrahmanyam is Wrong Vasco da Gama did meet Ahmad ibn Majid

Sanjay Subrahmanyam , in the The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama , does not destroy the idea that Vasco da Gama met Ahmad ibn Majid. Subrahmanyam argues that Majid could not have met da Gama because 1) the pilot who guided da Gama to India was a Gujurati; and 2) the Moorish pilot who da Gama took back to Lisbon spoke “Italian”. Subrahmanyam believes that Qutb made up the story about da Gama meeting ibn Majid to make it appear that the Ottomans were in the “forefront of the anti-Portuguese struggle”.

In A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama 1497-1499 it is made clear that the pilot from Malindi was a Gujarati. It says “ Malemo Canaqua, or Cana, the pilot who guided Vasco da Gama from Melinde to Calecut. He was a native of Gujarat (Barros, I, pt. 1, pp. 319, 328, 330; Goes, I, c. 38; Castanheda, I, p. 41). Malemo stands for “muallim” or “mallim”, “master” or “teacher”, the usual native designation of the skipper of a vessel, whilst “Kanaka” designates the pilot’s caste”

There is no evidence that Malemo Canaquo , the Gujarati pilot, left India with da Gama on his return trip to Malindi. It appears that once they reached Calicut, Canaquo left the Portuguese.This is probably the reason why da Gama was lost and made an erratic return to East Africa from India.


The Portuguese were lost, as a result it is clear the pilot they had got from Malindi was not with them. Thus we read, that the pirate captured by da Gama declared that they were sent to find him and take his boat because they were lost.


When we were about two hundred leagues out at sea, the Moor whom we had taken with us declared that the time for dissembling was now past. It was true that he had heard at the house of his master that we had lost ourselves along the coast, and were unable to find our way home; that for this reason many vessels had been despatched to capture us; and that his master had sent him to find out what we were doing and to entice us to his country, for if a privateer had taken us he would not have received a share of the booty, whilst if we had landed within his territory we should have been completely in his power, and being valiant men, he could have employed us in his wars with the neighbouring kings. This reckoning, however, was made without the host.

This pirate was a Moor. He knew much about navigating in the Indian Ocean.
This pirate after being captured by da Gama was taken back to Lisbon. His name was Gaspar da Gama or Gaspar da India. In A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama 1497-1499,Author: Unknown , we read:


* Gaspar da Gama. This is the “Moor”, or renegade, who joined Vasco da Gama at Anjediva Island. Our anonymous author describes him as about forty years of age, and as being able to speak “Venetian” well. He claimed to have come to India in early youth, and was at the time in the service of the Governor of Goa. Vasco da Gama carried him to Portugal, where he was baptized and received the name of Gaspar da Gama. In the Commentaries of Afonso Dalboquerque (Hakluyt Society, 1884) he is frequently referred to as Gaspar da India. Correa (Lendas da India) usually refers to him as Gaspar da Gama, but also calls him Gaspar de las Indias, or Gaspar d’Almeida. King Manuel, in his letter to the Cardinal Protector, calls him a “Jew, who turned Christian, a merchant and lapidary”. Sernigi (see p. 136) held a conversation with him at Lisbon. He speaks of him as a Sclavonian Jew, born at Alexandria.

This is an important passage because we learn that Gaspar da Gama, was a pirate, who probably knew much about Indian navigation, so he had the ability to be a pilot. Plus we learn that Gaspar da Gama, spoke ” Venetian”, which was the same as saying that he spoke Italian.

The King of Portugal was fond of Gaspar da Gama, he even wrote a letter to the Cardinal Protector in 1499, about this Jew who was “a merchant and lapidary”. He wrote:


II.—King Manuel to the Cardinal Protector, August 28th, 1499.

Most Reverend Father in Christ, whom we love much as a brother!
We, Dom Manuel, by the Grace of God King of Portugal and of the Algarves on this side of and beyond the sea, in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of the Conquest the Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India, We send to recommend to your Reverence ... very great news ... Our Lord having ended our labours in the exploration of Ethiopia and India, of other countries, and eastern islands ... we inform you with pleasure ... and in order that you may know the progress of events we enclose the draught of a letter which we wrote to the Holy Father ... Beyond what we wrote to his Holiness, your Reverence must know that those who have just returned from this investigation and discovery visited, among other ports of India, a city called Qualicut, whence they brought us cinnamon, cloves ... the King looks upon himself and the major part of his people as Christian ... throughout the year there are found there cucumbers, oranges, lemons and citrons ... there are great fleets ... The island of Taprobane, which is called Ceilam,274 is 150 leagues from Qualicut ... Our people brought five or six Indians from Qualicut ... moreover a Moor of Tunes ... and a Jew, who turned Christian, and who is a merchant and lapidary, and well acquainted with the coasts from Alexandria to India, and beyond with the interior (sertão) and Tartary as far as the major sea.... As soon as we had these news we ordered general processions to be made throughout our kingdom, returning many thanks to Our Lord ... His Holiness and your Reverence must (deve) publicly rejoice no less and give many praises to God. Also, whereas by Apostolical grants we enjoy very fully the sovereignty and dominion of all we have discovered, in such manner that little or nothing else seems needed, yet would it please us, and we affectionately beg that after you shall have handed our letters to the Holy Father and the College of Cardinals, it may please you, speaking in this as if from yourself, to ask for a fresh expression of satisfaction with reference to a matter of such novelty and great and recent merit, so as to obtain His Holiness’s renewed approval and declaration, in such form as may appear best to you, most Reverend Father, whom Our Lord hold in his keeping.

Written at Lisbon, August 28, 1499.The King.

A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama 1497-1499,Author: Unknown 

The letter of King Manuel and Journal of the First Voyage make it clear that the “pilot” mentioned in the letter from Lisbon to Florence about a Moorish pilot who could speak Italian, was neither Malemo canaquo or Ahmad ibn Majid.

This pilot mentioned in the letter was Gaspar da Gama, not Majid. As a result, it does not dispute the possibility that Vasco da Gama met Majid before his voyage to India.

The Turks claim Da Gama may have met Majid at Malindi, while Bazan and T.A. CHUMOVSKY claim they met in West Africa. The successful voyage of Da Gama from Portugal to Malindi suggest, that, the only way Da Gama got to India was probably through the knowledge he learned from Majid in West African , not Malindi.

The Ottoman story about Ahmad ibn Majid life is probably fiction.The Ottomans probably placed Majid's home in Oman because other West Africans may have lived there at this time.

According to the Turks, Majid published his Kitab al-Fawa’id fi Usul ‘Ilm al-Bahr wa ’l-Qawa’id (Book of Useful Information on the Principles and Rules of Navigation) in 1489 or 1490, while at the same time claiming that Vasco da Gama made Majid drunk to trick him into leading him to India. Are we to believe that if Majid was an Omani he would have betrayed his fellow Muslim brothers, when alledgely he knew the importance of the Indian Ocean trade to the Omanis. The answer would be a resounding: NO.

The Arabs probably learned about the work of Majid after Da Gama made his voyage to India. This is the only way the Ottoman probably began the myth that Majid piloted Da Gama’s ship to India, when the actual guide or pilot was a Gujurati sailor.

What probably really happened was this. Da Gama reached India. In India the merchants asked Vasco da Gama how did he find his way to Malindi and India. It was probably then that Da Gama told them about Majid. After further investigation the Arabs and Turks probably sent people to West Africa to get Majid’s Kitab al-Fawa’id fi Usul ‘Ilm al-Bahr wa ’l-Qawa’id .

If Da Gama met Ahmad ibn Majid in West Africa, he was a West African navigator. Although Majid himself lived in West Africa, there were probably communities of West Africanss throughout the Indian Ocean and Pacific. This is supported by shared toponyms (place-names) in West Africa and the Pacific-India region, and the Niger-Congo substratum in Austronesian languages.

The Turks claim that Ahmad ibn Majid was an Omani. Other researchers claim Vasco Da Gama met Majid in West Africa. The information about Ahmad ibn Majid of West Africa , comes from R.A.G. Bazan, Latin America the Arabs and Islam,,Muslim World, (1967) pp.284-292.

The Turk account of Majid , comes from The Ottoman conquest of the Yemen , this book discusses the Portuguese entry into the Indian Ocean . It was written 50 years after the Da Gama voyage, and the death of Majid. This authors claim that Majid was drinking with a Frank merchant and Da Gama, and gave him the secrets to navigation in the Indian Ocean this seems highly unlikely for two reasons. First, where did this drinking take place, between Da Gama, the German and Majid; was it in Oman or East Africa. This sounds illogical because how did Da Gama, get to Oman, if he didn’t know the way until he was instructed by Majid in navigation of the Indian Ocean.

Secondly, Da Gama made it clear he got an Indian pilot at Malindi to guide him to India. Ask yourself, how would Da Gama have known he would need an Indian pilot to reach India, because they used the Monsoons. It was knowledge of the monsoons that made Da Gama's voyage to India smooth, but his return to Africa without a guide horrendous.

This makes the Turk story about Majid unlikely. Since it was written 50 years after the voyage of Da Gama,the Turks could have gotten a copy of Majid’s book by this time, and made up the story about the Omani origins of ibn Majid.

T.A. CHUMOVSKY , in Tres Roteiros Desconhecidos de Ahmad Ibn-Madjid o Piloto Arabe de Vasco da Gama ( THREE RUTTERS (SAILING MANUALS) OF IBN MAJID THE ARAB PILOT OF VASCO DA GAMA ), published an important rutter (poem) that indicates that Majid had met da Gama and told him how to reach India. This rutter is the Sofala arjûza. In the Sofala arjûza Majid makes an admission of guilt and regret on telling da Gama how to reach India.

An Arab researcher Khoury claims that the arjûza written by Majid in the 1470’s, and therefore he could not have known about the Portuguese havoc in the Indian Ocean, and that the part about the Portugusese in the Indian Ocean was added later to the text. I fail to see any conflict in Majid writing the Sofala arjûza in 1470, and adding the part about the Portuguese later, because Majid did not die until around 1500 AD.

Subrahmayan , believes that the Sofala arjûza was probably not written by Majid, because of King Manuel’s letter about the Moor/Muslim pilot who spoke Italian. But as noted above this pilot was Gaspar da Gama, not Majid.

I believe that Da Gama learned about the West Indies and Indian Ocean trade from a West African named Ahmad ibn Majid, because of 1)the Treaty of Tordesillas, and 2) Da Gama being chosen to lead the expedition to India.
The center of Portuguese naval power was along the West African coast.Vasco Da Gama had extensive experience sailing along the West African coast. As a result, da Gama could have met Majid anywhere along the coast of West Africa.


Da Gama had considerable navigation experience and was an effective diplomat and warrior. In 1478 Da Gama was stationed in Tangiers.
Tangiers, Morocco is on the West coast of Africa.

In the 1480’s he may have served in Campaigns in North Africa. In addition, after the French took Portugese sailing vessels, da Gama fought the French at Setúbal and Algarve. As a result, da Gama could have met ibn Majid anywhere along the West African coast from Morocco to Lagos.
This would have given da Gama enough time to have met Ahmad ibn Majid.

It is obvious that the Portuguese probably knew more about the New World than they let on. Their desire to draw the Tordesillas Line which gave Portugal Brazil is quite interesting because, Brazil was a strong center of African colonization since the expedition of Abubakari, and because there was frequent trade between West Africa and the Americas when Columbus reached America, Da Gama due to his relationship with Majid would have already known how valuable Brazil was to any future power in the Americas. Da Gama probably passed this on to the Portuguese King, who pushed for the Tordesillas line.

Secondly Da Gama was a junior naval officer, but he was given Command of the expedition to India. This was strange because they already had an experienced officer who had sailed around the South Africa.

Bartolome Dias was already a veteran navigator he had rounded the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa 10 years earlier. But he was not given the Command of the expedition to India, the Command of this expedition was given to Da Gama . We must assume that King Manuel I , felt Da Gama had nautical knowledge.that would help him to be successful in this expedition. Da Gama must of had some special knowledge about trade in the Indian Ocean region that would make him more successful than Dias. This information may have been what he learned about the trade from ibn Majid.

In summary I believe that Da Gama learned about trade in the West indies and Indian Ocean from a navigator living in West African named Ahmad ibn Majid. Subrahmanyan claims Majid never met da Gama because of the myth Majid was the pilot taken to Lisbon by da Gama. But we know that this pilot was not Majid, it was Gaspar da Gama.

Khoury’s dating of the Sofala arjûza to 1470, and the possible addition of Majid’s regret later, of telling da Gama how to make it to India, does not mean that Majid never met da Gama. Since Majid lived until 1500, he could have made the additions to the Sofala arjûza himself, before he died.

Knowing Majid prior to 1497, would explain the Knowledge the Portuguese had about Brazil, and why Da Gama was given Command of the expedition to India. Vasco da Gama was given command of the India expedition due to the knowledge he obtained from Majid who lived somewhere along the West African coast.


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