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Portuguese, The


Portuguese, The were first among the Europeans to come to Bengal. Since the early 15th century they had embarked upon seafaring enterprises. The arrival of Vasco da Gama at Calicut in August 1498 was followed (a couple of decades later) by the arrival of the Portuguese in Bengal. From the end of the fifteenth century, the quest for spices from Asia led to the Portuguese explorations in an attempt to bypass the Venetians and the Arab merchants. The development of the caravel ship around 1445 and the capacity of the Portuguese to use the quadrant to determine onwards latitude from 1456 helped the process that was patronised by Prince Henry and later by King Joao II.

It was after the conquest of Malacca (1511) that the Portuguese effort to move inside the Bay of Bengal succeeded from where the supply of rice and textiles could be assured. The first indirect contact with Bengal was made in 1512-13. The map of Asia, drawn in 1516 by Diego Reinel, gives an outline of the Bengal coast but not the islands and the ports, which possibly were not yet known to the Portuguese. The appointment of Lopo Soares as governor after the death of Albuquerque marked the end of state controlled commercial activities and the liberal policy that followed saw the arrival of the Portuguese in Bengal.

While a private Portuguese trader, Martin Lucena, was living at gaur, capital of Bengal, the first Portuguese merchant to have reached the Ganges was Joao Coelho, who was sent by Giovanni de Empoli, a Florentine merchant, around 1516. Soares sent a fleet of four ships commanded by Joao de Silveria, who after plundering ships from Bengal, anchored at chittagong on 9 May 1518. Intermittent war and peace with the governor's men followed. This was complicated by the help demanded by the King of Arakan from Silveira to recover Chittagong from the Bengal sultan. But Silveira preferred to leave for Ceylon and thus ended the first official Portuguese contact with Bengal.

Diego Lopes, who succeeded Soares, was far more interested in the Coromandel and Pegu. However he sent three ships to Bengal commanded by Antonio de Britto, whose unnamed interpreter has left an invaluable account of Britto's visit to Gaur from Chittagong (October 1521). Britto carried a letter from the Portuguese governor of India to the sultan of Bengal along with presents and goods for sale. His job was made difficult by the arrival of another Portuguese mission led by Rafael Prestelo a few days befor. Rafael's representative, Christovao Jusarte, an old Bengal hand, had gone to Gaur to obtain permission to reduce the customs duty to 10%. Britto sent Gonsalves Travers to the sultan with the proposal to exempt the payment of custom duties for the Portuguese in Bengal. The arrival of two embassies, both claiming official status, created confusion and finally led to an actual fight between them at Chittagong, in which the Turkish merchant Agha Khan took the side of Rafaelo.

At the court of Gaur, Jusarte had managed to persuade the officials to declare Britto's interpreter as a spy, who was finally allowed to leave Bengal with the promise that the Portuguese would be exempted from paying customs duties. This perhaps led the Portuguese to send ships regularly to Bengal. In 1526, Ruy Vaz Perceira came to Chittagong and plundered the ship of a Persian merchant, Khwaja Sahabuddin, whose friendship with the governor of Chittagong led to reprisals.

Thus from the early sixteenth century, both private Portuguese merchants as well the official Portuguese representatives had begun to come to Bengal regularly, which often led to violent conflicts between them, a hangover of the contradiction prevailing at Lisbon for sometime. The involvement of the Portuguese in local politics created further complications. In 1528, Khuda Baksh Khan imprisoned the Portuguese stranded at Chakaria district of Chittagong after a storm. The negotiations for their release by Martin Alphonso Jusart de Mello having failed, the prisoners tried to escape but were caught. After the young nephew of de Mello was put to death, the prisoners were ransomed by the merchant Sahabuddin, on condition of getting help from Goa for Sahabuddin's enterprise against the Bengal sultan nusrat shah.

The expedition from Goa of five ships led by Jusart came to Chittagong after the death of Nusrat Shah. Jusart sent a mission to Sultan ghiyasuddin mahmud shah at Gaur to obtain a treaty. But the sultan imprisoned the Portuguese members of the mission for plundering a Muslim ship while Jusart along with the other Portuguese was arrested at Chittagong. Five of them were killed and the rest were imprisoned at Gaur. Goa sent a strong expedition to obtain the release of prisoners. The negotiations at Gaur failed and Jorge Alcocorado, who was leading the Portuguse delegation, barely escaped after putting fire to the city. The appearance of sher shah in Bengal however changed the situation.

Facing the new danger, Ghiyasuddin Mahmud held talks with Diego Rabello, perhaps the first Portuguese who had advanced to Gaur by the Ganges. Mahmud released the prisoners in lieu of assured Portuguese help against Sher Shah. The encounter with Sher Shah went against Mahmud Shah despite Portuguese help. Sher Shah left Gaur soon after getting 13 lakh gold coins paid by Mahmud against the advice of the Portuguese. The sultan now permitted the Portuguese to build factories with custom houses in Bengal. Nuno Fernandez Freire was appointed to Chittagong with special power to collect rent from houses. Joao Correa took charge of the custom house of satgaon. The Portuguese prisoners were released. Sher Shah's return to Gaur saw some resistance by Mahmud, but the expected help from Goa arrived too late to save the dying sultan, whose death ended the Hussain Shahi dynasty. The custom houses of Satgaon and Chittagong remained under Portuguese control.

The Portuguese control of Chittagong port was ephemeral, as it had become the bone of contention between Arakan, Tripura, Bengal and Burma since the mid-fifteenth century. In 1559, the Portuguese viceroy of Goa concluded a commercial treaty with Parmanand Ray of Bakla, in which the Portuguese would be able to buy goods on payment of duties. They offered military help in lieu of Bakla supplying provisions to visiting Portuguese ships. Perhaps the Portuguese wanted to direct the Chittagong traffic to Bakla with monopoly concessions. Chittagong continued to be under Portuguese control. In 1569 caesar frederick saw eighteen Portuguese ships anchored at Chittagong.

While the official Portuguese efforts aimed at consolidating their foothold in Bengal with bullion and gunpowder, the Portuguese mercenaries were indulging in piracy off the Bengal and Arakan coasts. The pirates found a convenient base on the island of Sandwip, famous for its salt, where private Portuguese merchants had also begun to operate. The Afghan families living there did not look with favour either on the piracy or the Portuguese attempt to control the island, with whose chequered history the Arakanese ambition to develop it as a springboard to attack the mainland was increasingly linked up.

Thus Portuguese society in Bengal was gradually segmented into official and private merchants, adventurers and pirates, though the distinction often became blurred. The gradual disintegration of the Hussain Shahi dynasty saw the emergence of the Arakan and Orissan powers in coastal Bengal, often penetrating inland; the segmented Portuguese groups, without any central control, began to establish their individual sway based on slave trading.

The first Portuguese settlement on the Bhagirathi was at Satgaon, and not at Bandel, founded by Affonso de Mello. It seems that the Portuguese were not permitted to establish a factory at Satgaon, which was, in reality, a customs shed. By 1554, the Portuguese called Satgaon Porto Pecquono (small port) in contrast to Chittagong, which was called Porto Grandoi (grand port). In the seventeenth century, Abdul Hamid Lahori suggested that some Portuguese from Sandwip had come to Satgaon where they had erected some buildings with fortifications. After the decline of Satgaon, they got some land around hughli at low rent. Their settlement at Triveni or perhaps at Bansberia, whose eighteenth century temple still bears the memory of the Portuguese in their wall sculptures, would thus pre-date Akbar's farman of 1579. The narrative of Frederick showed that the Portuguese settlement was not at Satgaon proper and was located between Adi Saptagram station and the now dry bed of the settled Saraswti River. There was no Portuguese settlement at Hughli ie on the Bhagirathi, prior to 1565, since the Portuguese used to transfer the goods from Bettore (opposite Howrah) by smaller boats to Satgaon. One of the reasons of the Portuguese use of Bettore instead of Triveni on the Bhagirathi was perhaps the occupation of Triveni by the Orissa King between 1560 and 1567.

After 1579, the Portuguese settlement at Hughli began to take definite shape in contrast to their seasonal settlement at Bettore. Abul Fazl's description of the visit of Pratab Bar Feringhi to the court of akbar would suggest that Satgaon had remained under the control of the Mughals, although Abul Fazl had stated categorically that both Satgaon and Hughli ports had remained under the Portuguese. The building at Satgaon mentioned by Abdul Hamid Lahori, seen by the contemporary French traveller Vincent Le blance, must have been demolished sometime after. It is plausible that more water was flowing through the Hughli once the silting of the Saraswati had begun. Despite the growth of the Hughli, Van Linschoten (end of 16th century) had found the Portuguese living 'like wild men and untamed horses', where 'every man is Lord'.

On the eastern coast, the Portuguese buccaneers often helped their supporter to victory. In 1586, Tripura wrested Chittagong from the Arakanese with Portuguese help, but soon they shifted their support towards Arakan, whose king Sikandar Shah finally wrested it in 1588. Chittagong continued for nearly a century in the possession of Arakan.

The Portuguese, who captured Sandwip under Antonio de Sousa Godinho in 1590, did not like the growing power of the Arakanese. Their hold over Sandwip was temporary. Pierre Du Jarric, who compiled the history of this region in the seventeenth century, tells us that kedar rai of vikramapura wrested it from Godinho, possibly with the help of another set of Portuguese mercenaries. After the defeat and untimely death of Kedar Rai, the island passed to Domingo Carvalho, who has been made immortal in later Bengali literature. The rising of the non-Portuguese population of Sandwip was brutally suppressed and Carvalho, sharing power with another Portuguese, was ennobled by the king of Portugal for reasons not clear.

Once again the Portuguese ascendancy was temporary. Although Carvalho could defeat an Arakan invasion, he and his like-minded Portuguese had to leave the island. They found employment, with jaigirs and lucrative trading opportunities, as artillerymen and naval crew in the semi-autonomous coastal kingdoms of Sripur, Bakla and Jessore. Carvalho was however wounded in an encounter with the Mughals and had to leave for Hughli, where he recuperated from his wounds.

Reverend james long had stated that the Portuguese had built a fort at Hughli with four bastions and a ditch. Father Hosten denied the existence of any such fort. Khafi Khan however mentioned a fort although the contemporary travellers remained silent. According to Pierre Du Jarric, Carvalho had seized a fort constructed by the Mughals on the opposite side of the river. At Chittagong, the Arakanese had constructed a fort and had allowed the Portuguese to settle around.

The Portuguese had also settled in the inland areas of western Bengal. The letters of the visiting Jesuit Fathers at the end of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries spoke of such settlements on the mouth of the Hughli River. Reverend Long had referred to a Portuguese settlement at Diamond Harbour on the basis of a map no longer extant. Portuguese settlements in eastern Bengal at the turn of the century were referred to by the Jesuit Fathers, particularly at Sripur and Jessore, where Carvalho along with other Portuguese were imprisoned by the zamindar of Jessore, pratapaditya. It seems that the Portuguese settled between Ishwaripur and Dhumghat, which had created tension within Jessore society, leading to the murder of the Portuguese police chief. The Jesuits later ransomed some of the imprisoned Portuguese.

One of the reason of the hatred of the local people towards the Portuguese, apart from their unrestrained style of living, was the enslavement of coastal people by some Portuguese pirates operating jointly with Arakanese moving in fast boats. The account of Shihabuddin Talish contains such information. Francois bernier had referred to one Bastian Gonsalves (Sebastian Gonslaves Tibeau) as chief of the pirates. The attitude of sheer hostility of the coastal zamindars towards the Portuguese as well as towards the Jesuits developed particularly after 1605 from an earlier attitude of warm reception with permission to build churches and to convert, could only be explained against the background of such piracy and slave-trading.

After the departure of Carvalho, Manoel de Mattoo controlled Sandwip. With his death, Fateh Khan took over after killing the Portuguese. Gonsalves Tibeau who also killed the entire male Muslim population there killed him in turn. But Tibeau, being a trader earlier, developed Sandwip as a commercial mart, particularly for salt, which attracted merchants from Bengal and the Coromandel. Tibeau then seized Dakshin Shabazpur (south Shabazpur) to be free from Bakla under which he was operating till then.

While the Mughals were advancing towards the cost, Tibeau married the daughter of the fugitive king of Arakan, Anuporam (sister according to some version) and allying with the king of Arakan seized Bhulua. But the Mughals managed to get Tibeau out of the alliance and routed the Arakanese, whose ships were seized by Tibeau. In 1615, Tibeau, who had left Arakan, proposed to Goa to seize Arakan. Goa's fleet of sixteen ships was defeated by the Dutch squadron supporting Arakan and Tibeau had to fall back to Sandwip to be defeated by Arakan in 1616.

The reason of the anarchical nature of the Portuguese settlements on the eastern coast, in contrast to that of the western, perhaps lies in the fact that the Portuguese colonies on the eastern coast did not legally form part of the dominion of the Portuguese King. These were the settlements of the Portuguese private merchants and adventures, often with blurred distinctions, paying taxes to local authorities and enjoying certain privileges. These were different from other European factories established in Bengal since the mid-seventeenth century.

By 1580, some Portuguese traders had settled at Dhaka and Sripur, from where they had begun to export muslin, cotton and silk goods to Europe and Southeast Asia. The establishments in the inland areas did not have forts and from evangelical documents one finds the Portuguese settlements doing well till the early eighteenth century, often with Churches set up by the Portuguese Augustine Fathers. These could be seen in the districts of Dhaka, Barisal, Noakhali and particularly at Lorical, 28 miles south of Dhaka, where the Augustinians had built a church at the end of the sixteenth century.

There were rich Portuguese merchants like Nicolo de Paiva at the end of the seventeenth century. At Bhulua there were many converts made by the Portuguese. In Tamluk, the Portuguese settlement had a church built in 1635. The flourishing slave market at Tamluk in the seventeenth century was mentioned by Shihabuddin Talish. In 1724, Valintine had mentioned the wax trade at Tamluk, while Carreri in 1695 had found Tamluk under Portuguese control.

With Chittagong passing into Arakanese hands, the principal Portuguese settlement was at Hughli, to which the Portuguese historian Cabral paid rich tribute. He referred to the payment of one lakh rupees annually as customs duty to the Mughals by the Portuguese for the salt trade, but the figure seems to be exaggerated. Despite the flourishing trade at Hughli, the Portuguese Empire, annexed to Spain by the third decade of the seventeenth century, was on the road to decline. The Portuguese governor of Ceylon, who was losing one possession after another to the Dutch, governed the Portuguese east. The Portuguese did not have either any funds or any systematic policy.

The King of Portugal nominated the captain of the Portuguese settlement of Hughli. There were four administrative assistants to the captain annually elected by the Portuguese inhabitants - all of them nominally under the governor of Ceylon. Inside Hughli town, the rich Portuguese, as in Goa, usually led the life of a rich Muslim with a harem. Below them, the numerous half-breeds (mesticos) supervised the menial work of the slaves and the Indian peasants. The Portuguese priests formed the top layer of the social order, although there is no evidence of any inquisition as seen at Goa in the seventeenth century. The Bengali artisans and labourers (Garibos in Portuguese) stood apart and had no interest in sustaining Portuguese rule.

In 1632, the Mughals appeared before Hughli to drive the Portuguese away from the Hughli River. The accounts of Mirza Nathan and Shihabuddin Talish describe the piratical activities of the Portuguese and Magh raiders, which resulted in Hughli turning into a flourishing slave market. Cabral, however, opined that it was because the Portuguese fleet had deserted shahjahan in his hour of need that the Mughals were provoked to attack.

The Mughals captured Hughli on 13 September 1632, thanks to the total desertion of the Bengali families living in the suburbs and to the support given to the Mughals by Martin Alfonso de Mello. Some Portuguese escaped to Sagar Island. Cabral mentions that one hundred Portuguese were killed in the Mughal cannonade, which seems to be accurate. Later English and Dutch documents speak of the return of the Portuguese to Hughli. European documents of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century refer to a farman of Shahjahan, now not extant, giving 777 bighas of land to the Portuguese at Hughli. The charge of the settlement, particularly at Bandel, was given to a Father of the Bandel church, which seems to be confirmed by a parwana of the subahdar shah shuja in 1641. The Augustine priests, who had built a church at Bandel in 1600, almost at the same time as the church at Jessore was built, had worked out a peace formula with the Jesuits of Goa in 1632.

In 1660 Nicolao manucci had found many rich Portuguese merchants at Hughli enjoying a monopoly in the salt trade. A few years later, Bernier was not so enthusiastic and mentioned nine thousand Portuguese and mesticos living in poverty in Bengal. In 1670, Thomas Bowrey found ten thousand Portuguese mainly working in the ships at Hughli, out of twenty thousand in the whole of Bengal. Some of these rich Portuguese paid handsome donations to the Church as could be seen in the rebuilding of Bandel church in 1761 by a rich Portuguese.

Even after the departure of Gonsalves Tibeau, the coastal area of Chittagong had remained open to the piratical activities of the Portuguese, often in alliance with Arakanese, with the base at Sandwip. As usual the Portuguese-Arakanese alliance was a temporary one and the Mughals could capture Chittagong the 26 January 1666, largely due to the help of other Portuguese. They also supported the Mughals in 1681 when the Arakanese were driven away from Sandwip, which reduced coastal piracy to a great extent. Manucci's statement that, after the conquest, shaista khan killed many of the Portuguese and sent many of them to be settled around Dhaka cannot be confirmed. By the end of the eighteenth century some of the Portuguese had become important traders, as we can gauge from references to one Cosmo Gomes flourished from the end of the seventeenth century to the third decade of the 18th century. The Portuguese inhabitants of Bandel had also earned the gratitude of the Mughal authorities when they successfully resisted the passage of the rebels, sHobha sing and rahim khan, on their way to Hughli through Bandel. By the early eighteenth century, the Potuguese settlements on the southeastern coast were located at Dianga, Feringhee Bazar in Chittagong district and in the municipal ward of Jamal Khan in Chittagong.

With the growth of French commerce, the Portuguese merchants had moved from Hughli to Chandernagore (chandannagar) under the French. Chandernagore municipal records of the eighteenth century show a large number of rich Portuguese merchants living in their own houses with slaves. Although some of the Portuguese had settled at Calcutta, the English in 1733 ordered their servants not to deal with the Portuguese. Yet Hughli was not abandoned, as we find the arrival of a Portuguese ship there in 1740. By then the Portuguese had lost their ambition and resources to dabble in politics. Some of the mesticos were employed in the army of the nawabs at a small salary. However, it was in the field of culture that the Portuguese left a lasting impression.

The Portuguese brought exotic fruits, flowers and plants, which became part of Bengali civilization and culture. The potato, cashew nut, papaya, pineapple, kamranga (Averrhoa carambola), guava and the Alfonso mango, among others were brought by them, showing their zeal for agri-horticulture and became part of Bengali life. Even the Krishnakali (Mirabilis jalapa) plant, with its varied colours, is a gift of the Portuguese.

From the early days of their arrival, the Portuguese did not object to marrying local women, although the top jobs were reserved for white Portuguese men from Portugal. As a result, many Portuguese words like chabi, balti, perek, alpin, toalia have come into the Bengali vocabulary. This process was perhaps facilitated by the Portuguese interest in the Bengali language. The first printed book in prose in Bengali was by a Portuguese, as was the first Bengali grammar and dictionary. In 1599, Father Sosa translated a religious tract into Bengali, which is not extant now. But another religious work in Bengali was written by a Bengali Prince of Jessore, who was enslaved and then converted into Christianity with a new name, dom antonio. His superior, Mansel de Rozario, wrote a dialogue in Bengali along with a Bengali grammar and a dictionary, which was printed in Lisbon in 1743. Although the Portuguese set up the first printing Press at Goa in 1556, they could not follow it up in Bengal due to the unstable nature of their establishments in Bengal. [Aniruddha Ray]