Vasco Da Gama's horrid massacre on the high seas off the coast of Malabar

Vasco Da gama's tomb in Lisbon. Shutterstock
Above image:  It is the image of Vasco da Gama, a celebrated Portuguese navigator who first discovered the direct sea route to India (1498) via the Cape of Good Hope. His heroism and daring voyage more dangerous than crossing of the Atlantic ocean would go down in history for ever. Unfortunately, he carries a blot on his character and, on account of it, his heroic exploits are overshadowed by his gruesome and treacherous massacre he committed on the high seas in the Indian waters when he led the 4th Armada to India in 1502.  Here, in Jerónimos Monastery. Lisbbon, Portugal  he is taking  an eternal sleep in the name of Christ by holding his hands in supplication. Is he appealing to God for atonement of his crime committed against humanity on his overseas expeditions?  Read the following ........

Jerónimos Monastery- houses tomb of Gama, Lisbon.-Live Portugal
Above image: : Jerónimos Monastery, Lisbon houses the tomb of Vasco da gama. It is a world heritage site by recognized by the UNESCO. Official name: Mosteiro da Santa Maria de Belém. Name origin: jerónimo Portuguese transliteration for 
Saint Jerome. Work began in 15o1 and completed in 1601.............................. 

The modern definition of massacre as "indiscriminate slaughter, carnage", and the subsequent verb of this form, derive from late 16th century Middle French, evolved from Middle French "macacre, macecle" meaning "slaughterhouse, butchery." (Wikipedia)

We all know that Portuguese navigator  Vasco Da Gama is one of the well-known daring explorers from the Discovery Ages; the first European to reach
 the shores of SW India.  His discovery of the first direct sea route to India, the fabled land of spices, gemstones and textiles was as significant as that of the discovery of the Americas by the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus. This new sea route to India was an open sesame to a slew  of European colonists. Among them, the English imperialists emerged victorious and stuck to the Indian subcontinent until August 1947, leaving united India divided into India and Pakistan. The latter has become a well-known rouge nation, a breeding ground for all sorts of Muslim terrorists nurtured by the Pakistani military, and in almost many continents, they have become an eye sore. The innocent Pakistani citizens themselves are not safe in their own land.

 A  little have we known about the other side of Vasco De Gama, who is often portrayed as a great Portuguese seafarer, leader  and diplomat. If you remove the dust off the old history books and delve deep into the faded pages, you will understand  the true color of Gama's persona - an obnoxious  man prone to bouts of violence and uncontrollable temper to murder his tough opponents  in trade dealings on his overseas explorations. Away from home, on many occasions, he exhibited his violent tantrums at gun point to cow down his opponents while doing business. The root cause of his inherent aberrations in his character is he lacked education, hence unlettered and cruel in dealing with new people. Ever suspicious and brutal in dealing with competitors, he used intimidation as a tool to make the people  come to his term.  Sanjay Subrahmanyam, a  historian is of the view:  "systematic use of violence at sea" was introduced after the arrival of the Portuguese.

 Gama's first mission to the Malabar coast of SW India was a failure as he could not make any trade treaty with the old Hindu ruler Zamorin. The second expedition led by Alvarez Cabral in 1500 and the third one later did not go in favor of the Portuguese. The Arab traders, who had been peacefully doing business with the Zamorin king for a long time  controlled the spice trade and did not like the Portuguese and their provocative and intimidating posture in their business deals.  Because of them the ruler of Cochin and the Zamorin ruler were  at loggerheads as the revelry  between them was being fueled  by the Portuguese led by Cabral.  Consequently, the Zamorin ruler, a young man (old ruler having passed away), became a hard nut to crack and did not like to deal with the Europeans. 

 The king of Portugal, Manuel I became obsessed with establishing a trading post on the Coastal Malabar, India and to monopolize the spice trade and commerce in the Calicut region.  In February 1502, the 4th Armada under the command of Vasco De Gama  departed with 20 vessels, divided into  three squadrons  from  Lisbon for Malabar. The amazing fact is because of some internal politics and the ongoing rivalry between Alvarez Cabral and Vincent Sodre (Gama’s uncle – who was responsible for naval support to Cabral) many of the ships in this expedition were led by Gama's seafaring relatives. So the 4th Armada's leadership was dominated by Gama's family men. When Gama and his men plundered Malabar, his relatives shared a cut in the loot.  On this trip to India Gama looted valuable jewels, pearls, etc worth about 40,000 ducats and his relatives amassed  enough ill-gotten fortune to live comfortably till they hit the grave. So, Vasco Da Gama, a well-known seafarer as we know was a hardcore pirate and a merciless greedy man. The only positive sreak in his character was he was quite loyal to the ruler of Portugal.

On Gama's second voyage, the disgusting incidence of merciless  massacre of some 300 pilgrims and  the destruction of an inbound (?) ship from Mecca to Malabar  on the high seas closer to the Indian  shore tainted his image to a greater extent. Because, despite protests by his fellow crew, the massacre and cruel violence was masterminded by Gama. It lasted for more than  5 days between 29th Sept and 3rd Oct 1502 till the ship went into the waters and much time had been spent on negotiations by the moors to stay the passengers alive. 

Gama's fleet, after a long journey in the perilous sea  reached the Indian waters in August / September. In early September 1502, after calling at  Batecala on  the west coast  Gama sailed toward Cannanore.  Anchored near Mount d'Eli, as planned before, Gama and his men  waited for the ships operating between Jeddah  and Calicut route to attack them, perhaps to loot them. After a long wait on September 29, 1502 - they captured only one minor ship, however, they were lucky as captain Gil Matoso (on the São Gabriel), spotted a large merchant ship carrying Muslim pilgrims.

Contradictions still prevail over that particular ship was sailing toward Jeddah or returning to Calicut.  Anyway, the pilgrim ship The Miri ( also called Meri) is believed to have been owned by  a certain al-Fanqi, a wealthy  man of Calicut or by another trader (ownership of the ship is a subject of debate).  Matoso made the ship surrender, thinking it was carrying valuable stuff to plunder. Vasco da Gama, merciless as he was, rejected the offers made by some of rich Muslims of Calicut to let them all off alive. He preferred a bigger loot from them and resorted to looting.  Upon plundering and looting the ship  without leaving any nook and corner including the galley, Gama's men  transferred its cargo (Loot) to their ship. It became apparent that Gama wanted the ship along with the passengers  to be set on fire. It was Gama's relative Stephen de Gama set fire to the Miri. Don Gama  did not care a fig for the panicked innocent  men, women and children on board. Nor did he turn his ears to their  painful wailing and crying, and persistent request not to kill them. Poker-faced (hiding his sympathy in the back of his mind), Gama stood on his ship unmoved,  watching with glee, when the pilgrim ship was going into flame.  It is said that Gama had the passengers locked in the hold before burning the ship. On top of it, he made the ship sink fast enough  by bombarding it with artillery fire. The most barbaric act of this massacre was that Portuguese soldiers rowed long boats  around the waters to see to it that there was no survivor from the plundered ship. If there were survivors ( who leapt into the sea),  popping up  their head above water, they would, with out any scruples, stab them with their sharp spear till they found the watery grave. 

Thus,  Vasco Da gama became the first ever European in world history  to have committed massacre of Indians near the SW Malabar coast.  It is believed that about 300  passengers on the Miri, including children were mercilessly killed at the instigation of Gama. It is said there were 30 women aboard the ship.  The doomed passengers valiantly fought to stay alive, but it was of no avail before the evil-minded, heavely armed  crew.  Under the Raj, what  Gen. Reginald  Dyer had done to the innocent people of Punjab on 13 April 1919  on the day of  annual Baisakhi celebrations at Jallianwalla Bagh, Amritsar, Vasco da Gama, did it on the  high seas to the innocent Muslim pilgrims from the coastal Malabar in September 1502. This one is one of the most gruesome incidents in the history of India and in school text books this dark side of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and his men was either ignored or left out. So, the Indians do not get the true picture of Gama and his murderous nature, besides his wanton  plundering  of commercial ships in the Indian waters.

In the wake of the sinking of the pilgrim ship and the massacre of Muslim passengers, Gama's  already battered name took a beating further. His name  became synonymous with cruelty, fearsome and cunning. Consequently, his treacherous act got a bad rap for the entire  Portuguese crew.
According to one critic Gaspar Correia, many of his crew   were in a state of shock at what Gama was doing in rage  and persuaded him  to act with restraints as he had to face a lot of  problems once they were on the shore. Portuguese's name went down to abysmal depth and the Indian natives hated them very much for their cowardly act on the unharmed, unprovoked pilgrims. 

Gama, to save his face, convinced his crew and the Portugal ruler  that the massacre on the high seas was inevitable and was  carried out in retaliation to the massacre of 53 to 70 Portuguese in the factory at Calicut committed by the Arab traders (the second squadron was led by Cabral in 1500)  Thus, he justified his act of  "vengeance" for the Calicut massacre of 1500, arguing that the ship's owner, an influential person in Calicut, was the culprit  and his sinister counsel to the Zamorin  led up to the killing and the ruler turned a blind eye to it. Earlier, in the same year Cabral and his men destroyed several Arab ships off the coast of Calicut and transferred the cargo from one of the ships to theirs. Arabs, being furious, attacked the Portuguese and destroyed their factory in Calicut and in the melee and mayhem that followed 53 to 70 Portuguese were killed. The Hindu ruler did not take action as they caused a heavy damage to the unproved Arab traders.\

According to  Portuguese chroniclers  20 children were spared this fate, and brought back by the 4th Armada to Lisbon where they were to be  baptized and raised as friars at the Nossa Senhora de Belém. However, one of the eyewitnesses Thomé Lopes and an anonymous Flemish sailor made  no reference to this small mercy, but, Matteo de Bergamo did point it out. Thomé Lopes openly condemned the act, claiming Gama acted "with great cruelty and without any mercy whatsoever".

The ownership of the ill-fated pilgrim ship The Miri boat has been a bone of contention as there are many interpretations. One source mentions the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt owned the ship and other sources say it was owned by a rich Gujarati trader.  K.M. Panikkar  points out it  belonged to one Khoja Kassim’of Calicut, but  KV Krishna Iyer mentions that it was owned by Sahabandar Koya’s (port commissioner of Calicut) brother and Koya who happened to be Gama's prime enemy and it could the root cause of the destruction of the ship and massacre on the high seas.  

After this gory incident unscrupulous Gama to pursue his fortunes on the coastal Malabar reached Cannanore in October 1502 to  call on the Kolathiri Raja of Cannanore to strike a trade treaty with him.