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Real-Life Shakespearean Tragedy in Colonial Goa! Philomena & Gilbert Lawrence
Monday - Jun 5, 2023
Part I
Meteoric Rise - Goa 1510
This is the last chapter in the life of Lusitania’s greatest hero Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque (AAA: 1453-1515), viceroy of the eastern colonies (1509-1515), and the first duke of Goa. His story was too recent and not widely known to be featured in the literary works of the famed English playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616). AAA’s true-life story outshines the dramas created by the world’s famous bard. Yet, only a few people outside the Lusosphere know about this illustrious admiral.
Iberian history books and other accounts, including our own, document AAA’s military successes in Tiswadi, Goa in 1510 and later in SE Asia. The Isle of Tiswadi is where the 500-year story of European colonization of Asia begins. Goa, the capital of the Estado da India Portuguesa, became the link between India and Europe as well as established a direct connection between the two that lasted for 451 years and 23 days. The reason AAA landed in Goa is itself intriguing and vastly different from what is publicly announced. In his letter to King Don Manuel I (1469-1521; r1495-1521), AAA claimed that two representatives of the Holy Spirit (Timoja Nayak and Mahalu Pai) encouraged him to embark on Goa. Regardless of the motives behind his efforts in India, AAA and his navy did an excellent job in acquiring several toeholds -- fortalezas and feitorias -- along India’s west coast, from Surat to Cochin, and in Southeast Asia.
Vasco da Gama arrived on India’s west coast in 1498. Gov. Francisco de Almeida, however, expressly avoided going further east in 1505 for fear of over-extending his armada. The explorers also had to contend with the clashes that erupted between the European and Asian cultures. The social conditions were understandably tense, and the leaders realized the enormous challenges they faced: Asia’s fate was inextricably tied to Europe’s and vice versa. Consequently, people who lived on both the continents would be affected by events that took place in distant lands or at sea. Would all the parties concerned (near and far) seize the opportunities for their mutual betterment or would they be belligerent? In 1510, AAA consolidated the achievements of the greatest nautical feat undertaken – Vasco da Gama’s historic crossing of the India Ocean. But the admiral’s skills lay not merely in maneuvers but also in geopolitical and economic strategies designed to enhance the factors at play. AAA was a person of action in conducting military campaigns which had to be followed by administrative success. Thanks to Timoja, the Hampi Rayas and other Hindu kings of South India gained access to a wide choice of Arabian horses for the military and cavalcade.
Portugal’s rise to power in the Indian subcontinent was not easily achieved nor did it remain unchallenged. Rather, its political and physical toeholds in India were insecure with fierce rivals at the borders, forcing the Iberians to endure and at times struggle to hold on to their widespread territorial assets. According to Valmiki Faleiro – Goa’s resident history buff -- in 1511, Pulad Khan, the Bijapur Sultan’s general, attacked Goa and reacquired all the territories except for Tiswadi. The general was later replaced by Rasul Khan. Pepper that sold in Calicut for three ducats was being sold in Venice for 80 ducats or more in other parts of Europe. Similarly, there were comparable markups on the prices of all other spices, silk, gold, diamonds, and semiprecious stones from Asia, which was the only source of the merchandise. In the admiral’s view, the only guaranteed way to make in-roads into the Pan-Islamic-Italian trade was to block the Southeast Asian spice trade at its source – the Malacca straits. AAA had no qualms sailing east; as India delivered only 30 percent of the spice trade in Europe. In his quest for fame, military glory, and wealth AAA after seizing control of Mid-eastern and Indian trade routes, moved to Malacca and Moluccas to secure ports in Indonesia and Malaysia. As a strategist and a pioneer, he recognized the choke points of the Indian Ocean both from the military perspective and commercial advantage.
South-East Asia 1511-3
After acquiring Goa, AAA’s juggernaut rolled east to areas unexplored by his predecessor Almeida. In 1511, after crossing the equator, AAA arrived in Malacca, where mangrove thickets clogged banks of the Straits but included prosperous commercial cities dependent on guaranteed supplies of spices for their prosperity. He pressed forward, gripped by some vision that he alone could see and a compulsion to attain the unreachable, even explore the unknowable. None of the city states in the region expected to be on the receiving end of ocean-based cannon attacks. AAA’s caravels and naus were no pleasure boats. The sailors were tired, but the inspiring admiral assured his deputies that suffering brings its rewards. If the riverbanks could talk, they would tell us an amazing story. The strait was a choke point for sea traffic in the region and had served as a major artery for commerce since time immemorial. It was to become the heart of Iberia’s Maritime Silk Road for south-east Asia. AAA was impatient with laggards. His disciplined approach and his military-naval skills earned him widespread respect and support across the widely scattered colonies. AAA, his deckhand Ferdinand Magellan, and others had fixed their eyes on the prize – trading in cloves and other ingredients from the Spice Islands, where a 100- pound sack of cloves cost a little over half a ducat in the Moluccas and sold for forty-two ducats in Iberia.
AAA displayed his martial prowess and ambitious spirit in a rapid succession of triumphs. He conquered Malacca on August 11, 1511, having subdued it on the third attempt. That victory was followed by the conquests of other coastal cities. It was a replay of Veni, Vidi, Vici – Came, Saw, Conquered. (Julius Caesar, 47 BCE) Like other conquerors, AAA’s modus operandi can best be described as “grab-it-and-growl.” To his credit, he considered waging war as an option of last resort and was just as good at negotiations during which he used shrewdness, charm, and bribery as the tried-and-tested tools of his diplomacy. After victorious battles, the sailors rewarded themselves by looting centuries-old palaces, temples, and local aristocratic homes; many historic sites were desecrated as part of the sacking of conquered territory. After success in SE Asia, the map of Lusitania’s colonies resembled a tapestry comprising kingdoms of varied sizes which were ruled by chieftains who deemed themselves kings. With a tactical vision for trade, AAA imposed cartazes/ tolls, which had to be paid in Aden, Ormuz, Malacca, and at the central base of operations in Goa on the west coast of India – 400 km (250 miles) south of Bombay/ Mumbai.
In short, the trifecta benefit was the result of the importing of aromatic Asian spices, the military acumen of the admiral, and control over the straits. Shipping spices proved to be a financial boon for European traders and local farmers under the protection of a Pax Lusitania that he established in 1512. The admiral’s astute evaluation of the conditions and judging his military’s appropriate response to them allowed Lisbon to connect and develop relations with several city-states in Southeast Asia, Burma, Thailand/Siam, Vietnam, China, and Molucca (Spice) Islands. This was an astounding feat, which set AAA far ahead in stature of any general of antiquity. These alliances allowed the Iberians to establish intra-Asian shipping and trade. AAA’s spectacular career of conquest made him an enduring figure of Lusitanian history as he built a sea-based, intercontinental empire different from the land-based empires of Alexander the Great and the Mongols. The Mideast was more important for the equine trade to India than for the spice trade. In 1513, after achieving his victories, AAA established himself as the sole ruler, founder of Europe’s first colonies in Asia, and the person responsible for the consolidation of Lisbon’s hegemony over sailing the Indian Ocean. Such an extensive and widespread kingdom required effective governance and an efficient administration.
Up to this point, the success-gods seemed to smile on Lusitania. Human efforts were no match for the sea-gods who deemed that the Iberians would get lost, and a storm would thrust them in the direction that would lead them to discover important islands and set up links with Brazil, Ceylon (Celiao / Sri Lanka), Japan, and Seychelles. Within the Asian subcontinent, and from temporary headquarters at Quilon, Lusitanos established embassies at the Vijayanagar palace as well as trading forts at Cochin, Cannanore, Bhatkal, Honavar, Cambay, Thana, Tarapur, Bandra, Mahim, Bombay, Diu, and Hooghly in Bengal. The series of victories at sea qualified Portugal’s empire to be considered the Lusitanian Realm on which the sun never set. Lusitania’s goal and model were to access the rich Asian markets, not to gain fresh territory as was the case with Spain and later, England. Dom Manuel, believing that the Lusitanians had the Midas touch, erected a chain of warehouses with defensive forts around them, and made no attempt to conquer land. Factories were strung along the coast of the Indian Ocean like pearls threaded along a necklace. Asian powers vied to outdo each other in terms of the quality and quantity of spices their city-states produced. Unfortunately for all concerned, the commercial enterprise soon evolved into the business of conquest. Fortalezas were equipped with massive state-of-the-art ammunition, and armies supplanted traders. The peace and stability Iberians brought provided better trading opportunities for all, and Goa became a great seat of learning, with Asia’s first printing press, the European priests developing dictionaries between Indian and European tongues and translating literary works between European and Indian languages. All who came to Goa adapted themselves to the cosmopolitan character of the city.
The Height of Power – 1513-5
In 1513, while AAA was stationed in Malacca, he directed his ships to sail into Chinese waters. He surveyed the landscape and seascape, then set his sights on seeking trade relations with the Ming dynasty, which in later years led to the establishment of a Lusitanian base in Macau (the OT was ceded to China in 1999 after 442-year Iberian rule). After establishing the world’s largest maritime empire, AAA sent envoys to Thailand, Burma, and New Guinea. In 1513, Calicut agreed to have an Iberian fort and pay maritime tolls. AAA’s successes were a landmark triumph on top of a landmark triumph. He can be compared to Horatio Nelson, who fought Napoleon and the Spanish armada in 1805. AAA also outperformed the English generals Robert Clive and William Hastings by securing ports for Portugal and city-states all along the Indian Ocean. AAA’s path to victory lay in his tenacity, tactics, and faith in his men. AAA converted personal hopes and dreams of a new society and economic order into state policy. His conceptualization of miscegenation, cartazes (shipping tolls), cartel formation; and geopolitical triangulation of trade and statecraft included the design of a Pax Lusitania which for the first time in world history established a Maritime Silk Lane and streamlined trade between Asia and Europe under a unified orderly system. His successes laid the cornerstone for Iberia's Eastern Empire, which would last for 451 years during which Lisbon rapidly gained military, maritime, and commercial supremacy in Asia. In addition to imposing shipping tolls, states along the Indian Ocean -- from Persia to Southeast Asia -- were forced to pay an annual tribute and present other gifts to Lisbon, which also dictated the terms of their trade.
The earlier invasions of India were all conducted via the Hindu Kush Mountain passes, but the Iberian discovery of the sea route altered that route and revealed that the vast coastline of Asia was its weak underbelly. A Pax-Lusitania was imposed in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and sea lanes at al-Mandab (entry to the Red Sea) and Ormuz (Persian Gulf); and establishing the Eras of European colonialism in Asia, Capitalism, Mercantilism and Globalization, which continue to date. The Maritime Silk Lane extended from the Spice Islands to around the Cape of Good Hope to the west coast of Africa, Brazil, and Lisbon. Each victory was marked by the establishment of a new town, protected by a fort and settled by a Luso-Indian community. Annually, the Carreira da India, a convoy of about 25 caravels and galleons with 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers and sailors aboard sailed eastwards and returned laden with Asian spices and other items, all paid for by revenues earned through equine and other intra-Asian trade.
Iberians wrote the playbook on using local resources to pay for native exports to Europe. AAA triangulated the equine shipping as an income- generator to pay for the spices shipped to Lisbon and as a political-strategic instrument between the various rulers in the Indian Deccan. In today’s jargon, the move is termed playing three-dimensional chess. Exploiting the Mideast equine trade to pay for colonial exports was a stroke of genius as Indians were now paying for the spices they were selling. The English improved on the strategy by artificially creating a need for a commodity. The English grew opium in India and shipped it to China to pay for the Chinese tea being shipped to England (and addicting a segment of the population in two countries in the process). Using the opium trade to pay for Chinese colonial exports was a further application of the equine trade. When the Chinese rebelled against the nefarious practice, the Europeans used their superior ships and canons to suppress the protests in what has been termed the “Boxer Rebellion” or “The Opium War” (1839-1842). China was forced to grant commercial concessions which opened China to foreign trade.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the Arabs gained control over trade conducted in the Indian Ocean because they oversaw the ports in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, as well as over the Equine trade. AAA and his successors made Ela (the port at Tiswadi) an entrepôt for horses and an exit-port for spices, textiles, and various other products to Europe. The equine trade paid for the importing of rice and exports to Europe. In 1514, it is reported that about 10,000 horses were shipped from Arabia to India annually. A conveyor belt specifically designed for the transportation of high value horses existed between Hormuz, Goa, and Hampi, a feature which cemented the political-military relationship of the Iberian-Hampi alliance against the Deccan sultans. Since the vast amount of goods destined for Europe left via Goa’s ports, export-based businesses found it beneficial to establish their offices in the city, which became a center of world commerce exemplified a coming together of two great cultures (Indian and European), and many minor ones (Mideast, Jewish, Syrian-orthodox, African, etc.).
Similarly, AAA was an early and strong sponsor of altering native society and creating Mestizos (mixed breed). That was his solution to solving the challenge Iberia faced in recruiting sailors and soldiers to serve in the colonies. AAA hoped to create a work force that was native to the empire, accustomed to the weather, lifestyle, and diet, yet would defend their patrimony, and if necessary, die for the land, flag, and king. Miscegenation began when about two hundred Muslim women were given into marriage to his soldiers. The admiral encouraged his soldiers to marry native women and even gave the couples an allowance to help them settle on the land, as well as provided them with property and housing. In summary, Iberians wrote the playbook on using local resources to pay for native exports to Europe; as exploiting the Mideast equine trade to pay for colonial exports (unlike Spain, Portugal had no access to silver) was a stroke of genius!
We hope this essay provides the readers with a vital framework of the GEM diaspora’s historical journey. As Shashi Tharoor wisely stated, “If you do not know where you have been, how do you know where you seek to go? History belongs in the past, but understanding it is the duty of the present.” The fourth Edition of the book is just released with a third of the book focused on GEM Diasporas.
We hope you enjoyed reading this aspect of history, which includes a lot of “food for thought.” Please forward these articles to your relatives, friends, peers, as well as include the essays on Indian and Iberian chat sites. Sharing history is sharing our cultural heritage. Thank you for allowing us to share this with you.

Comments (1)
Tuesday - Jun 6, 2023
Shashi Tharoor will never know where his people have been for the simple reason of his Malayali Nair background:
His Y-chromosome biological paternal lineage could be from anywhere. He also has no business badmouthing Europeans when everyone now knows what his "superior" Kerala society is really like without European interference:

This Lawrence (odd British surname, shouldn't it be Lourenço?) couple needs to stop using the word "Iberian" when they mean "Portuguese", those two words denote two different land areas. Albuquerque did not send anyone to New Guinea, what's the source of this information? The choke points (except Goa, that was Albuquerque's own decision) to be captured by the Portuguese had already been decided in Lisbon by King Manuel I of Portugal even before Albuquerque sailed to Goa for the first time. In addition, this sentence is BS: "After victorious battles, the sailors rewarded themselves by looting centuries-old palaces, temples, and local aristocratic homes; many historic sites were desecrated". All of Albuquerque's military campaigns were in Muslim-ruled territories, replace the word "temples" with "mosques". Also, Portuguese Goa wasn't as cosmopolitan as this couple likes to fantasise (the local Inquisition tribunal wouldn't have allowed it).

This book by the Lawrence couple is badly researched, and appears to be another pathetic attempt to make ghanttis and Goans appear to have a common trajectory. Please read the various volumes of the English translation of Afonso de Albuquerque's Commentaries, available for free online at the Internet Archive. Also read Alan Machado's book on the Goa Inquisition, Goan society was all about conformity (note point 8 in the O Heraldo article):
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