The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. — Marcus Aurelius

Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle




Vasco da Gama Visits the Zamorin

Besides his palace at Calicut, the Zamorin had a country-seat several miles out of the city. Instigated by the Gozil, who, in his turn, had been prompted by the Arab merchants, he resolved that he would resort to this country-seat, and receive Vasco da Gama there. His object was to get Vasco completely in his power, and if he thought best, after seeing him, to hold him prisoner.

Meanwhile he sent a Nair out to the San Raphael to apprise Vasco that the Zamorin expected him on the following day.

The faithful Spaniard, Monsayde, who had devoted himself heart and soul to the Portuguese, and had learned the Zamorin's design, made haste to warn the captain of it. The device he used to send him word, and at the same time not arouse the suspicions of the native officers, was a curious one.

Dressing himself up in tatters and rags, as soon as night came on he went along the quay, begging in piteous voice, and soon reached the warehouse. Diaz was standing at the door. Monsayde made him a rapid and significant sign: whereupon the factor took him inside. Monsayde then told him to be sure and warn Vasco da Gama to insist on having hostages before he came ashore; and, having given this warning, the worthy fellow went out and proceeded on his way, begging as before.

Diaz found means to get word to Vasco; and the next day he demanded hostages of the Zamorin. Three Nairs were at once sent out to the San Raphael, one of whom was a nephew of the Gozil. These were to be hostages for Vasco's safety; and the Gozil, who did not know what might happen, was somewhat fearful lest his nephew should come to harm. The three hostages went on board, dressed in handsome cloths, and wearing bracelets, ear-rings, and large shields and swords.

Vasco da Gama now made his preparations to go on shore, and pay his long-promised visit to the swarthy sovereign of Calicut. He ordered the presents to be got ready, and twelve picked men to put on their best apparel so as to accompany him to the court in due state. The presents intended for the Zamorin were rich and curious. Among them were red cloths and velvets, a piece of yellow satin; a chair covered with rich brocade and ornamented with shining silver nails, two cushions of red satin with gold-thread tassels dangling at the ends, a chased and gilded hand-basin and ewer, a large and richly gilded mirror, fifty scarlet caps with crimson twisted silk buttons and tassels, and fifty sheaths of Flemish knives with ivory handles. These things were all carefully wrapped in fine napkins, and stowed in the boats which were to attend Vasco to the shore. Surely such presents were handsome enough to satisfy the greed of the most covetous of kings.

Just as Vasco was about to embark, he received a warning from Monsayde that the Zamorin had indeed gone off to his country-seat. This made Vasco angry, and he at once sent Word to the Gozil, that he would not come ashore until the Zamorin had returned to his palace again.

The Zamorin then reluctantly returned to Calicut, and now at last avowed his readiness to receive Vasco at the palace.

As the boat bearing Vasco da Gama, his twelve guards, and the presents, pushed out from the San Gabriel, it presented a gay and novel sight to the concourse of natives who crowded the quays. Flags and streamers fluttered at the bow and stem; cannon peeped over the sides; trumpets were blown; and the rich apparel of the captain and his companions shone brilliantly in the sunlight.

On landing, Vasco da Gama repaired to the warehouse; and there, shut out from the gaze of the immense throng, he dressed himself so as to appear worthily before the Zamorin. He put on a short tunic of blue satin and a handsome enamel collar. Around his waist he tied a rich sash, in which was a gold-handled dagger. Over all he wore a cloak of yellow satin lined with brocade, which reached to the earth. On his head he placed a blue velvet cap, adorned with a long white feather; and his feet were covered with white buskins.

Thus arrayed, Vasco da Gama went out of the warehouse, in front of which a procession was formed to go to the palace. By the captain's side walked a handsome young page dressed in red satin. In front of him marched his twelve guards, one behind the other, bearing the various presents; the one who carried the chair going first. On either side of the Portuguese proceeded a body of two hundred Nairs in military costume, commanded by the Catual, or captain of the Zamorin's guard.

This Catual was destined to play a prominent part in the events which followed. In advance of the procession marched several Portuguese trumpeters, blowing their trumpets with all their might; while from the Portuguese boats moored off the quay, cannon were fired as the company set out. The crowd was so great along the route, that it was with difficulty that the Nairs could keep it from pressing upon Vasco da Gama and his men.

The Catual first conducted them to the principal pagoda, or temple, of the city. Vasco found this to be a large building of freestone, vaulted with brick. Entering, he was met by the priests, who took a sprinkler, and showered some holy water over the visitors. Then they handed them some powdered sandal-wood to throw upon their heads. About the temple Vasco observed many strange and hideous images; and in a niche he saw a figure, which seemed so much like the figures of the Virgin often seen in European churches, that Vasco imagined that the temple might be a Christian one. One of his companions, pointing to the hideous images on the walls, exclaimed, "If this be the devil, I worship God;" which made Vasco smile.

The procession setting out again, the crowd soon became so dense, that they had to take refuge for a while in a house on the way till the streets were cleared. A large body of native troops now joined them, and the cortege  set forth again. As Vasco walked along, and saw not only the streets, but the doors, windows, and roofs, occupied by a closely-packed mass of swarthy spectators, he exclaimed, "They little think, in Portugal, with what honor we are received here!"

It was late in the afternoon when the procession reached the royal palace. Vasco found this to be a large and really handsome edifice, surrounded by pleasant copses of trees, and gardens brilliant with flowers and odoriferous plants, and adorned with fountains.

At the palace-gate a group of noblemen, richly attired, waited to receive the Portuguese captain, and to conduct him to the Zamorin's presence. At their head was a little old man, who proved to be the chief priest, and who warmly embraced Vasco da Gama. This priest then led them, first, into a large square in front of the palace; and then, under arches, through four spacious courts, each court being guarded by companies of Nairs.

At last they came to a large hall, around which were ranged rows of benches in a semicircle. A green carpet covered the floor, and the walls were hung with rich silks.

The Zamorin sat in a kind of balcony, on a sofa covered with white silk and gold-cloth: a heavy canopy hung above him. On his head he wore a sort of crown, on which glittered diamonds and rubies; and the rest of his dress was the same as that in which Coello had seen him.

Just by the Zamorin was a table or stand, upon which was a gold basin. This contained betel,—a curious compound composed of the juice of a certain leaf, quick-lime, salt, and other substances. This betel, as we have seen, was chewed by the Indians, and had the effect or making the gums and mouth very red, and the breath sweet.

A page, holding a broad red shield ornamented with jewels, stood on the right of the Zamorin: on the left was another page, who held a large gold cup. A priest just behind the monarch ever and anon handed him some betel: this he would chew leisurely, and then spit it into the cup which the page held out to him. As he did this, his courtiers held their hands to their mouths, that their breaths might not reach the Zamorin.

Vasco advanced up the hall; and when he came in front of the Zamorin he bowed low three times, and lifted his arms towards the ceiling. The Zamorin pointed to a seat by his side, and made signs that Vasco should sit there: at the same time the Nairs conducted the other Portuguese to the benches on either side.

When the company were all seated the Zamorin's servants brought some water in basins, and offered them to the Portuguese for washing their hands. Then figs and other fruit were brought to them. As they ate, the Zamorin watched them, and seemed very much amused at their manner of taking food The fruit made the Portuguese thirsty, and they asked for some water to drink: this was brought in ewers. They were told that they must not touch the ewers with their lips, but pour the water into their mouths, holding the ewers above. As they did so, some of the Portuguese choked and sputtered with the water, and others spilt it over their clothes and faces: this made the Zamorin roar with laughter, and slap his knees in great delight. Then the presents which Vasco had brought were laid at the feet of the dusky monarch, who—as each rich cloth made its appearance, the ewers and basins, the mirror, and the chair—gazed at them with greedy pleasure. Vasco, through the interpreters, begged him to sit in the chair, which the Zamorin did with great good nature.

Turning to Vasco, he asked him to tell the courtiers what his purpose was in coming to Calicut; but this Vasco refused to do, saying that he was ordered to speak only to the sovereign himself. The Zamorin accordingly led the way to an inner chamber, followed by Vasco, one or two of the highest nobles, and Nunez, Davane, and the old priest, who were to act as interpreters.

Vasco da Gama, when they were seated, addressed the Zamorin in these words:—

"Sire," he began, "you are great and powerful among the rulers of India, and all of them are under your feet. The King of Portugal has heard of your grandeur, and has longed to obtain your friendship and good will. He desires to send his ships hither with merchandise, to trade with your people, and buy pepper and drugs. He therefore despatched me with the presents which you see before you, and by God's mercy I have come safely hither; and if you, sire, give us welcome, other ships will come, when we return with our story of your goodness, and Calicut will flourish more than ever before with the trade which will spring up between us."

So saying, Vasco da Gama produced a letter which he said came from King Manuel, kissed it, and placed it on his eyes, and, kneeling before the Zamorin, gave it to him.

The Zamorin received it graciously, put it against his breast as a token of respect, opened and looked at it, and handed it to his treasurer to be translated.

Then, addressing Vasco da Gama, he said,—

"You shall have whatever goods you wish to put on board, and may send your people into the town to amuse themselves, and they shall not be molested. I will read the letter, and answer it."

The Zamorin then questioned Vasco da Gama about his voyage, and the mishaps he had had, and asked him many things about Portugal How far was it from India? Over what possessions did King Manuel rule? What were the products of the country? How many ships were there? and how large was the army?

Vasco replied to all his questions, and said to the Zamorin,—

"King Manuel has sent me out with the ships to discover the way to India, and to make peace with your Majesty. He commanded me not to return until I had done so. I fear, that, if I should return without having obeyed his commands, he would surely order my head to be cut off."

It was now almost dark; and the Zamorin dismissed the Portuguese, ordering that an escort should be provided for them. When Vasco da Gama and his companions emerged into the street, they found that it was raining hard, and all their fine dresses were likely to be spoiled. Nunez told some of the men to take the captain on their backs, and so carry him across the city; but Vasco would not listen to this. Then the Catual (captain of the Zamorin's guard) procured a horse; but, as there was no saddle, Vasco refused to mount him, and continued to go on foot through the rain.

When he got to the warehouse he was dripping wet, and he hastened to change his rich apparel (which was nearly spoilt by the rain) for a suit of plainer clothing. He then sat down and wrote and sent off a letter to his brother Paulo, giving him an account of his interview with the Zamorin, and his adventures in Calicut.

He slept that night at the warehouse; for he expected to be summoned soon again to the Zamorin to hear his response to the letter.

The next day he received a gratifying token of the potentate's good will. The treasurer came to the warehouse with some fine stuffs embroidered with gold, a large porcelain jar tilled with musk, and a number of other curious articles, which he presented to Vasco in the Zamorin's name.

Meanwhile he announced that he had orders to make the warehouse more convenient for the Portuguese, and at once set some laborers to work building a spacious shed near by. When the shed-which was a rude affair, and took but a short time to put up-was finished, the treasurer had benches placed within it, where the native merchants might come and sit, and barter with the Portuguese.

The trading between the strangers and natives now went on more actively than ever, and Vasco da Gama watched the exchange of merchandise with much curiosity and satisfaction. The goods were weighed and bartered during the day, and the payments were made at nightfall. In the evening the spices and drugs were conveyed by the boats to the ships. Finding how much influence the Gozil and the treasurer had at court, and knowing the efforts of the Arabs to make these officers hostile to him, Vasco da Gama sent each of them some presents of satin cloth, knives, caps, and strings and: branches of coral. Unfortunately, he gave more to the treasurer than to the Gozil: this made the latter jealous and angry, and all the more disposed to listen to the Arabs.

The Arabs were very much alarmed when they saw with what favor, in spite of all their efforts, the Zamorin received the Portuguese, and the liberty which he gave hem to trade in the city. They feared lest they should lose their own business altogether, and they redoubled their exertions to create enmity against the new-comers.

They lavished more presents on the Gozil; and, finding that the captain of the guard was intrusted by the Zamorin with the duty of attending and protecting Vasco da Gama and his retinue, they secretly went to him also, and gave him a large sum of money. They urged him to provoke the Portuguese in some way, so that they should get angry, and do something for which the Zamorin would order them all to be killed, and the ships to be seized.

The captain of the guard happened to be poorer, and therefore more greedy of money, than the other officers; and so he lent a very favorable ear to the promptings of the Arab merchants. He at last gave his consent to join in their plots, and prepared to put into execution a design which he formed. He was afraid to use any open violence towards the Portuguese, lest the Zamorin should punish him with the loss of his head; but he craftily devised a plan by which he hoped to entrap Vasco da Gama into some imprudent act which would give an excuse for doing him an ill turn.

A day or two after Vasco's visit to the palace the captain of the guard came to the warehouse borne in a litter, and told him that the Zamorin was about to go to his country palace, and that he desired Vasco to come and see him before he went. The Zamorin had really sent no such message, but was ignorant of what was going on.

Vasco da Gama, though cautious and on his guard, did not suspect any foul play. Believing that the Zamorin had sent for him, he told the captain of the guard that he would soon be ready to go with him.

Meanwhile the captain of the guard had taken good care that no one should tell the Zamorin what was taking place. He placed some of his guards at the palace gates to watch all who went in and came out; and would not even allow the Gozil and the treasurer, whom he suspected of treachery, to go into the Zamorin.

Before repairing, as he supposed, to the palace, Vasco da Gama gave instructions to Nunez about the trading, and told him to take whatever merchandise was brought to him, whether good or bad, and to pay what the natives asked for it, without question. Then he put on a red satin tunic, with a scarlet gown over it, and a red cloth cap upon his head. He chose eight Portuguese to i attend him: these were dressed in woollen jackets, and had stout sticks, instead of swords, for arms.

The captain of the guard ordered a very handsome litter, made of silk ornamented with a good deal of fringe and embroidery, and supplied with a soft mattress, to be brought. When all was ready, Vasco da Gama got into the litter, and reclined on the mattress, and in this manner was borne away from the warehouse.