Vasco da Gama of Portugal - Page 2

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Arab-controlled territory on the East African coast was an integral part of the network of trade in the Indian Ocean. Fearing the local population would be hostile to Christians; Gama impersonated a Muslim and gained audience with the Sultan of Mozambique. With the paltry trade goods he had to offer, Gama was unable to provide a suitable gift to the ruler and soon the local populace became suspicious of Gama and his men. Forced by a hostile crowd to flee Mozambique, Gama departed the harbour, firing his cannons into the city in retaliation.

In the vicinity of Kenya, the expedition resorted to piracy, looting Arab merchant ships - generally unarmed trading vessels without heavy cannons. The Portuguese became the first known Europeans to visit the port of Mombasa but were met with hostility as stories of their piracy reached the shores. The departure from the city was not graceful and required the expeditions heavy cannons subdued the natives.

In February 1498, Vasco da Gama continued north, landing at Mombasa’s bitter rival Malindi (north Kenya) Malindi considered a foe Mombasa was a friend of Malindi and Vasco da Gama was made welcome. The African city had trading connections with India and Vasco da Gama was able to contracted the services of Ibn Majid, a skilled trading sailor to cross the Indian ocean. His knowledge of the monsoon winds completed the crossing in 23 days and landed the expedition in Calicut southwest coast of India. The fleet arrived in Calicut on 20 May 1498 and had completed the voyage in less than 10 months.


The King of Calicut was not impressed by this magnificent voyage and after their pitiful offering of gifts assumed that they were pirates. The king refused gifts and offerings to be taken back to Portugal without the traders fee paid and in gold. The retaliation form Vasco da Gama was an indication of the brutality he would use in later life to enforce the imperialism of Portugal, he carried a few Nairs and sixteen Mukkuva fishermen off with him by force. Eager to leave he ignored the local knowledge of monsoon wind patterns, which was still blowing onshore.

The return trip across the ocean, sailing against the wind, took 132 days, and Vasco da Gama arrived in Malinda on 7 January 1499. During this trip, approximately half of the crew died, and many of the rest were afflicted with scurvy. By the time the voyage had finally returned back to Lisbon in September 1499 only 2 of his boats remained and his crew was down from 170 to 55.

The return of the voyage won the admiration of the entire country and significantly boasted Portugal’s position within the volatile power struggle of 16 century Europe. Vasco da Gama was richly rewarded for his adventures he was knighted and the feudal rights to his home town of Sines passed to him and his family.

The spice trade proved to be a major asset to the Portuguese economy, Vasco da Gama voyage had made it clear that the east coast of Africa was essential to Portuguese interests; its ports could provided fresh water, provisions, timber and ships could wait out unfavourable weather. This requirement for a staging ground for the spice trade lead to the colonization of Mozambique by the Portuguese Crown.

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