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Manrique, Sebastien


Manrique, Sebastien Portuguese missionary and traveller. Fray Sebastien Manrique travelled around various countries of the East for about sixteen years from 1628 to 1643. His travel accounts were first published from Rome in 1653 under the title Itinerate Rio Dila Missionery Del India Oriental in Spanish. The Hakluyt Society of London published the English version of his book titled Travels of Fray Sebastien Manrique in two volumes under the joint editorship of Luard and Hesten in 1926-27.

The main purpose of Manrique's travel to the East was to preach Christianity and inspect the Missions abroad. The Augustan Church entrusted the task to him. During the course of his travel to India he came to Bengal and reached Dhaka in September 1640 to inspect the Portuguese Catholic Church. He spent about 27 days in Dhaka and its neighbourhood. The accounts that he left of Dhaka and that of Bengal suba are interesting and throw light upon the life and condition of the country and its capital. In his travel's account, Manrique made interesting remarks on the city of Dhaka which was then only about thirty years old as a provincial Mughal capital city. It may, however, be mentioned that when Manrique visited Dhaka it was not the capital of the province as a year ago shah shuja, the viceroy shifted the capital to Rajmahal in Bihar for both personal and political reasons. Rajmahal remained capital from 1639-1659 and then again Dhaka became the capital. However, for all practical purposes of administration Dhaka remained the principal centre and the city also expanded even during this interval which is also evident in the writings of Manrique. He wrote about Dhaka-

'This is the chief city in Bengala and the seat of the principal Nababo or viceroy, appointed by the emperor, who bestowed this viceroyalty, on several occasions, on one of his sons. It stands in a wide and beautiful plain on the banks of the famous and here fructifying Ganges river, beside which the City stretches for over a league and a half.'

Manrique provides a graphic description of the population, wealth and political importance of Dhaka. Indeed his is the most important early accounts about the growth and development of the Mughal city of Dhaka. He remarks that the city extended along the river Buriganga for over four and a half miles from Manaxor (Maneswar) at one end to Narandiu (Narinda) and Pulgari (Fulbaria) at the other which 'serve to round off the city suitably'. These were its suburbs in the west, east and north where many Christians lived. He further mentions that Dhaka had a small but beautiful church with a convent.

Manrique's accounts also provide a glimpse into the political, economic and social life of Bengal and above all about the famous muslin products of Bangladesh. He remarks about muslin that the finest and richest muslins are produced in this country, from fifty to sixty yards long and seven to eight hand-breadths wide, with borders of gold and silver of coloured silks. So fine, indeed, are these muslins that the merchants place them in hollow bambus, about two spans long, and thus secured, carry them throughout Corazene, Persia, Turkey, and many other countries.

The glimpses of Bengal that we get from Manrique's accounts are undoubtedly varied and interesting. He provides an account of how the Portuguese obtained various trade facilities in Bengal from the days of Emperor akbar and how they had developed Hughli as their principal centre of trade and an important Portuguese colony. He has also mentioned about the depredations of the Magh pirates in and around Dhaka and how the government in Dhaka had to continuously fight against them. He also narrates the principalities and activities of the bara-bhuyians of Bengal whose rule had just ended before his arrival.

Manrique provides an excellent account of the domestic and foreign trades of Bengal narrating the involvement of the Hindu, Muslim and Portuguese traders and merchants. The main articles of trade were rice, silk, sugar, indigo, lac, butter and various kinds of cotton goods. The principal items of imports were spices, conch, silver and gold.

Manrique also gives a price list of essential items like rice, which was sold at five annas per maund. He provides a vivid account of the habits, manners, dresses, diets etc of the people narrating that women were more amorous than men. He observes that the people of Bengal were very superstitious.

After Dhaka Manrique went to Diang and Chittagong to see the Portuguese establishments there. He left India in 1641 and reached home in July 1643. [Sharif Uddin Ahmed]