Barbosa, Duarte

Barbosa, Duarte (?-1521) was a portuguese factor at Cannanore and Cochin in between 1503 and (about) 1517 and had left behind an interesting account on trade and political events of the southeast including Bengal. His father Diogo Barbosa, was in the service of Duke of Braganca and sailed to India in 1501. Duarte Barbosa's uncle, Goncalo Gil Barbosa, came to India in 1503 with the fleet of Pedro Alvarez Cabral; and settled at Cochin as a factor. It is probable that Duarte had joined Cabral's fleet and remained with his uncle at Cochin. By 1503, he had learnt Malayalam to act as interpreter to Francisco D' Albuquerque on his visit to the King of Cannanore. From the published letter of Duarte, then writer at Cannanore, written on 12 January 1513 to the King of Portugal, it is clear that he did not get the coveted post of head writer and that the people of the country were up in arms against the Governor Diogo Correa. Duarte Barbosa returned to Portugal sometime after 1515 and finished his book by 1518. He had then joined his brother-in-law, Fernao de Magelhas and sailed with him in 1519 for the Philippines. Magelhas died on 21 April 1521 near the Isle of Sebu. Sebu's king massacred the Spaniards, including Duarte Barbosa, on 1 May 1521.

Duarte's work was included in Ramusio' s Italian work published from Venice in 1563. A Portuguese manuscript, found at Lisbon, was published in 1813. The Spanish version of the Manuscript exists in Barcelona and Munich. The first English translation was made by Lord Stanley (Hakluyt Society, 1865) and the second one (An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants) by ML Dames from the Portuguese text in 1918.

Barbosa described Africa, Arabia, Persia (Arabian Persia) and the countries of Southeast Asia. His remarkable description of the wealth of the Abyssinians at the beginning of the sixteenth century was a classic work. Barbosa was one of the earliest to describe the trade between India and West Asia as well as the method by which the Portuguese managed to turn that trade to the Cape of Good Hope route, thus striking a blow against the Turkish Empire. Barbosa's account of the genital operation on the female children among some tribes in the southwestern coast of the Red Sea has been later established as true.

Barbosa has described the failure of Albuquerque to take Aden, the key to the control of the Red Sea trade. He showed also that by controlling Hormuz, Portugal was able to restrict the Red Sea trade with India and Southeast Asia, thus reducing the revenue of the Turks. He has also described the Portuguese controlled rich horse trade of the southeast coast of Arabia that gave the Portuguese dominant position in the Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan as well as the kingdom of Vijayanagar.

Barbosa visited Gujarat and has left a detailed description of the people and their customs as well as their rich trade. He tended to lump all Muslims as 'Moors', though elsewhere he divided them on racial basis as Turks, Arabs, Persians, Khorasanis etc. In case of the Hindus, he mentioned Rajputs and Brahmins. He has also mentioned the Jain banians, who would not eat any flesh. He also mentions the different languages spoken by the Muslims of Cambay. Some of them were immigrants and some were converts, who led extravagant life style. He has mentioned the industries of Cambay particularly cotton and silk stuff manufactured by the artisans. The description of Barbosa of the ports of the West Coast of India throws much light on the rich Indian trade during the Portuguese arrival. His description of the city of Vijayanagar and the affluence accruing from the trade and the toleration of the king has been of great historical value.

One weakness about Barbosa's account that he was dependent on others for information on Bengal. His reference to the city of Bengala has generated quite a bit of controversy. Some scholars have identified it as Saptagram. The account of Barbosa of the life style and trading practices of the Muslim merchants, who also dealt with the trading of eunuchs, remains particularly attractive. Barbosa's absence of reference to the Hindu merchants of Bengal seems to confirm the view that the overseas trade was totally under the Muslim merchants who owned ships. Their trading of cotton cloth and sugar suggest a rich trade particularly with the south East Asian states. The account of Barbosa is important not only for his observations on the state of trade and political events during a transitional period but also for throwing ethnological details, as he thought. [Aniruddha Ray]

Bibliography EF Oaten, European Travellers in India, Lucknow, 1973; ML Dames (tr and ed), The Book of Duarte Barbosa, 2 Vols, ASEA, Indian reprint, 1989.