This chapter provides a long analysis of the arrival, and impact, of Europeans in the Indian Ocean up to the mid eighteenth century. The aim is to locate these Europeans in the structures we have already described in the previous chapter. In a possibly perverse way, what we intend to show is that the European presence over its first 250 years certainly varied from place to place and time to time, but overall the effects on the Indian Ocean, its trade, its people, even its politics, was limited. The next chapter deals in detail with continuing structures, which by and large the Europeans were forced to accommodate, or concerning which they had no knowledge at all. Here we will look not only at trade, the topic which so far has dominated the historiography of the Indian Ocean, but also at religious movements, and the social history of people on ships. Finally we will note how the Indian Ocean was now much more part of a wider world than had been the case in previous centuries. In the terms set out by Horden and Purcell, we increasingly have to write a history where the history in the ocean, that is a history which looks beyond its geographical bounds, is more important than an autonomous history of the ocean. Yet so far these links to the rest of the world were relatively benign: in the last two chapters of this book we will see how their nature changed as Europe changed, and the Indian Ocean became peripheral in the capitalist world economy.
Few writers today would follow the Indian scholar-diplomat K.M. Panikkar and write about a Vasco da Gama period of Asian history, beginning in 1498 when the Portuguese navigator arrived in southwest India. Some however would accept his succeeding claim, that it 'was a great event from the point of view of the results that followed from it.'1 The tendency here, much to be found also in Victorian English accounts of their empire, is that this was the crucial insertion of the wedge which later led to European dominance. My whole argument is that the presence of Europeans is one thing, and certainly there were increasing numbers of them in the Indian Ocean region in the period covered by this chapter, but to see this as the beginning of the demonstrable dominance of the nineteenth century is to take a very teleological view indeed. There had, after all, been 'foreigners' in the Indian Ocean for millennia: Romans, Greeks, a host of others. Early Europeans fitted into a very broad and diverse complex of people living around and sailing across the ocean. There was contact certainly, both hostile and peaceful, but until the power dimension changed in the later eighteenth century this did not become an impact, let alone dominance.
One useful way to get a perspective is to remember Zheng He's expeditions, which we described in the previous chapter (see pages 90–1). He commanded massive fleets. The first one in 1405 included sixty-two large ships, some of them over 100 metres long. There were about 28,000 men in this expedition. The best perspective is to remember that in the early fifteenth century, as the Portuguese began their slow progress down the West African coast (they took Ceuta, in Morocco, in 1415), Chinese fleets came close to the Cape of Good Hope; some think they sailed around it. At the end of this century Europeans rounded the Cape, and soon after reached the Straits of Melaka, at the other end of the ocean. Thus at the beginning of this century these straits saw a great Chinese fleet, and at the beginning of the next a much smaller European one. At these two times the port city of Melaka became first a sender of tribute to the Chinese emperor, and then at the end was conquered by the Portuguese.
Another even wider comparison is also instructive. Andrew Hess points out that between the Portuguese capture of Ceuta and 1522, when Magellan set off around the world, the Europeans began maritime expansion, or even empires. The Ottoman Turks did this at the same time, and the two collided in the northern Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century. By the accession of Suleyman in 1520 the Ottomans ruled a coastline stretching from the Crimea to Yemen, and also including the Black Sea and much of the Mediterranean. Yet the Portuguese and Ottoman empires were very different. As we will see, the Portuguese version was essentially maritime, but for the Ottomans taxing and controlling land was always the key, with maritime matters merely an adjunct. In 1526 Suleyman lost interest in the Indian Ocean and instead turned to Hungary.2
Broadly speaking, the evolution of the European presence goes like this. From 1500 to well into the eighteenth century Europeans controlled some ports: some they created, some they conquered. In this period these ports had a totally maritime focus; the Europeans controlled little except some mostly long-distance oceanic trade. Only the umland was usually also taken, this being where food came from. Indigenous ports were different, for they had connections with the inland as well as the umland, even if they were not part of an inland state. The at least tacit support and patronage of land-based powers was essential for them to survive. In the eighteenth century some European ports began to be more closely linked to their hinterlands, and soon after, Europeans conquered these hinterlands, fundamentally altering the situation. The focus of the ports moved from one concentrating on the foreland to one looking more to the hinterland.
I will argue later that the Portuguese introduced politics into the Indian Ocean. To set them in context, I will first provide a discussion of the attitudes of Asian rulers to sea trade and maritime matters more generally. In all this the crucial distinction is between Asian rulers of port cities, and those controlling vast landed empires in the interior.
As we noted in the previous chapter, the rulers of the autonomous port cities – such as Mombasa, Kilwa, Mogadishu, Aden, Hurmuz, Calicut and Melaka – were completely dependent on trade for their revenue: controlling only small areas of land, the usual Asian resource of a tax on land and its products was not available to them. Some of these rulers traded for themselves, especially those in southeast Asia, though we have claimed that this was done as a merchant rather than as a ruler. To advantage oneself as a merchant by using political power (such as monopolies or forced purchase) would be to drive away the visiting merchants on whom the ruler depended almost completely.
The link between politics and trade in the various port polities of southeast Asia was much closer to that of other port cities controllers in the western ocean than to the situation in the landed states, whether they be the three great Islamic empires or China. Kathirithamby-Wells has shown that in the Malay world the entrepot and the polity was always concentric. Controllers of port polities obtained prestige and luxury goods from their trade, and this flowed into economic and political power. The geography of the area dictated that agrarian matters were much less dominant and, unlike, say, India and China, were not set off from maritime matters: rather they were complementary. Some southeast Asian rulers at times tried to use their political control to give themselves economic advantage, such as by proclaiming a monopoly over some products. Most however acted in the way we have sketched above, in other words tried to provide fair treatment for merchants so that they would continue to call.
These rulers of port cities clearly would oppose any outside force which threatened this situation of peaceful trade. When Europeans arrived and tried to monopolise trade in some products, and tax or direct other trade, these port cities or polities had to resist: some were successful, others not.
The situation in the great landed states in this period was quite different. Historians have found these states exhibiting three attitudes to trade, to merchants, and to the sea. Some say the state took no interest, some say it took an exploitative and malevolent interest, and some see a fruitful conjunction between political power and economic interests. We can ignore East Africa in this discussion, for the only major state, the Mutapa, was far inland, and in decline anyway. We are then really dealing with the three great Muslim states of the period, the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Mughals, and of them the Mughals deserve most of our attention. They ruled India, the area which has to be seen as the fulcrum or axis of the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans were far away and had landed, European and Middle Eastern, interests to pursue. The endemic wars between them and the Safavids show the landed focus of them both, and also means that they had little in the way of a maritime role in the Indian Ocean.
Nor, however, did seaborne Indian states. I will concentrate on the area of Gujarat, including the period after its conquest by the Mughals in 1572. The focus of the Muslim rulers of Gujarat is pithily encapsulated in a saying attributed to one of them: 'Wars by sea are merchants' affairs, and of no concern to the prestige of kings.' Their interest lay in controlling and taxing land, and the peasants on it. Customs revenues made up only a small part of their total revenue. Any activity which they may have undertaken at sea was very much auxiliary to land matters.
The attitude of the Mughals seems to be very similar, at least as regards specifically maritime matters. It was Akbar who conquered Gujarat, and at this time he had his first and only view of the sea. He went out from Cambay on a brief excursion with a select party, and enjoyed seeing the spectacle of the ocean. His interest in sea matters was very slight.
His main concern with the sea was a result of his desire to send pilgrims to Mecca, leaving from Surat and travelling by sea. Yet this concern did not lead to his taking the trouble to found a navy: as was noted of a successor, Aurangzeb, in the second half of the seventeenth century, he contented himself 'in the enjoyment of the Continent, and styles the Christians Lions of the Sea, saying that God has allotted that Unstable Element for their Rule.'3 The whole mind-set of the Mughal emperors and their nobles was land-based. Prestige was a matter of controlling vast areas on which were located fat, meek peasants. Glory was to be won by campaigns on land, leading one's contingent of cavalry, galloping over the plains. To courtiers, including the emperors, the sea was a marvel, a curiosity, a freak. This was not an arena where power and glory were to be won.
In 1617 Akbar's successor, Jahangir, also came to Cambay. His account of what he saw is of a piece with his numerous other observations in his memoirs where he is describing curiosities, such as a rare fruit, or a brave man. 'In these days during which I was encamped on the shore of the salt sea, merchants, traders, indigent people, and other inhabitants of the port of Cambay having been summoned before me, I gave each according to his condition a dress of honour or a horse or travelling money or assistance in living.' He found out that 'Before the arrival of the victorious host some ghurabs from European ports had come to Cambay to buy and sell, and were about to return. On Sunday, the 10th, they decorated them and showed them to me. Taking leave they went about their business.' He concludes, 'As my desire was to see the sea and the flow and ebb of the water, I halted for ten days' and then went off to Ahmadabad.4
The Mughals, and other Indian rulers of large states, by and large pursued a hands-off attitude to trade in general, including that by sea. As Barendse puts it, the Mughals and the Safavids neither exploited trade nor encouraged it: they had very little in the way of a trade policy at all.5 However, at times merchant and ruler interests coincided, and then the state could help the merchant while helping itself. Studies by Om Prakash and Van Santen show a closer nexus between state and merchant in Mughal India than was depicted in my own earliest work. For example, the Mughals actively encouraged the importation of bullion, and also provided a very sophisticated minting process.6 Om Prakash's characterisation of the essential element in Indian trade being that of 'bullion for goods' is completely appropriate. Obviously merchants were concerned to acquire bullion, but rulers also were concerned to accumulate their own stocks of precious metals. They also more generally wanted there to be plenty of precious metals in India. It seems that they shared some of the preconceptions of their European fellow-rulers at this time, that is that a rich country was one with a large stock of bullion. Given that few European products found markets in India, while Indian products had ready acceptance all over the Indian Ocean area and also in Europe, 'bullionist' aspirations were much more adequately achieved in India than in Europe.
The general attitude of most Indian rulers, whether Hindu or Muslim, seems to be one of a rather remote benevolence. Trade could certainly provide revenue, and more inchoately it was meritorious for any ruler to rule over happy, prosperous people, but actual intervention either for or against was most unusual. A Marathi treatise on statecraft from the early eighteenth century describes this sort of attitude:
Capitalists are the ornaments of the kingdom. The land is prosperous and populous because of them. Goods otherwise unavailable are procured through them. In times of crisis their loans enable the ruler to overcome difficulties. Protecting them brings great advantages. For this they should be respected and honoured. Do not allow them to be harassed or molested for any reason.
If a wealthy businessman is captured during raids on enemy territory or during sea expeditions, then he should pay a suitable ransom. Detain him until this is paid; when that is done treat him honourably and return him to his own land. It is not right to subject businessfolk to the severities reserved for the soldiers and employees of an enemy.7
It has often been argued that the decline of great empires led to economic problems, including a decline in sea trade. The late Ashin Das Gupta was an influential proponent of this thesis. He claimed that the decline, in the eighteenth century, of all three of the great Islamic empires – the Ottoman, the Safavid and the Mughal – affected Indian Ocean trade deleteriously. At the least these states had provided a certain stability and law and order, and had defended their borders against raids from outside. Locally powerful figures in all of them were to an extent controlled, and where possible their revenue raising activities (often more or less plunder) were curtailed in favour of the central state levying a more routine tribute or tax. This sort of predicability was obviously good for merchants. As the countrysides were monetised merchants had a larger role, buying the crop for money which the cultivator used to pay land revenue, and then on-selling the produce at a regional market. Merchants need information and communications, and large empires do too. Imperial networks of communication served not only to keep a ruler informed of events in distant places, they also made it possible for merchants to learn of distant markets, and to transmit funds via letters of credit. All this, we are told, was ended as these empires collapsed into anarchy.8
To demonstrate this conclusively would require much more quantitative research than has been done so far. But some things make one dubious of this blanket claim. For a start, sea trade as such was not affected by these declines, though certainly some port cities and some production areas were. The whole notion of Islamic decline in the eighteenth century has become a controversial one. Older European historiography wrote of decline, collapse and confusion, to justify conquest by the West. However, Ottoman decline in the eighteenth century is no longer universally accepted. So also in India, where the successor states of the Mughals were themselves perfectly viable. Even the Marathas, once stigmatised as lawless plunderers, have now been shown to be much more organised and benevolent than was once thought. In short, the whole notion of decline has been called into question.
In any case, to the extent that these vast empires were under stress, there were some compensations for trade and the economy. Most obviously, when the Mughal state began to release vast hordes of bullion accumulated over a century and a half, in order to fight its enemies, some parts of the economy obviously benefited from this increase in liquidity. In some areas it is clear that traders simply tried to avoid unsettled areas and avaricious land holders: routes changed, but trade continued. For many traders the political situation was only one element which determined their success, and the areas to which they traded. More important in their prosperity or collapse were such eternal verities as whether or not their goods met local demand, and arrived at a time when the market was not glutted.
If, then, the notion that the decline of landed states caused a decline in sea trade is not proven, we need to look instead at the activities of the Europeans, and assess whether it was competition from them which led to problems for indigenous Indian Ocean traders. This is the central concern of much of this chapter and the next: for now we can quickly say that this was indeed the case, but beginning only in the second half of the eighteenth century. An acceptable compromise would be to try and find a combination of causes for the decline of Indian Ocean trade done by local people, including both political changes in the interior and competition from Europeans.
The first Europeans to arrive in the Indian Ocean in numbers, and in an organised fashion, were the Portuguese. In one respect their attitude to trade and politics differed profoundly from what we have found for both emperors and port polity controllers around the shores of the ocean, for by claiming sovereignty over the ocean they claimed to be able to control and tax trade. In another respect they mirrored closely the position of the port polity controllers, but not the landed empires, in that the vast bulk of their revenue came from the sea, not from land. I have chosen to write rather extensively about the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. This is not to say that they had any profound effects there, but as so much of the historiography emphasises their actual or potential importance I have thought it necessary to locate them more correctly in their place and time. Such an analysis also casts much light on what else was happening, apart from the Portuguese presence, in the sixteenth century in the ocean.
The initial responses to the Portuguese varied from amazement to hostility to contempt. When the Kalabari people of the Niger Delta first saw white men, around 1500, they were perplexed.
The first white man, it is said, was seen by a fisherman who had gone down to the mouth of the estuary in his canoe. Panic-stricken, he raced home and told his people what he had seen: whereupon he and the rest of the town set out to purify themselves – that is to say, rid themselves of the influence of the strange and monstrous thing that had intruded into their world.
When the first Portuguese arrived in Colombo the locals reported to the king that
there is in our port of Colombo a race of people very white in colour and of great beauty; they wear jackets and hats of iron and pace up and down without resting for a moment. Seeing them eat bread and grapes and drink arrack, they reported that these people devour stone and drink blood. They said that these people give two or three pieces of gold or silver for one fish or one lime. The sound of their cannon is louder than thunder at the end of the world. Their cannon balls fly many leagues and shatter forts of stone and iron.9
The ethnocentric Ming Chinese accounts from the later sixteenth century depicted the Portuguese as malevolent goblins who acted completely outside norms of accepted behaviour. One said,
So they [the Portuguese] secretly sought to purchase children of above ten years old to eat.... The method [of preparing the child] was to first boil up some soup in a large iron pan and place the child, who was locked up inside an iron cage, into the pan. After being steamed to sweat, the child was then taken out and his skin peeled with an iron scrubbing-brush. The child, still alive, would now be killed and having been disembowelled, steamed to eat.10
The Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean with a background of equally fabulous ideas. Le Goff has written of the role of India and the Indian Ocean in medieval European thought. In these exotic fantasies there were fabulous riches, fearsome monsters, and even noble savages.11 The Travels of Sir John Mandeville circulated widely in Europe from the first half of the fourteenth century, including Portugal. His book is a curious mixture of 'fact' and 'fiction'. He said there were Christians and Jews in Malabar, and the tomb of St Thomas in Coromandel. He wrote about the pepper vine, and widow burning, but also of eels 30 feet long, and 5,000 islands in the ocean. He reported that Indians did not travel very much as they were under the planet Saturn. Some of the flavour of his account is given when he noted that Hurmuz was very hot:
But it is so hot there in that isle that men's ballocks hang down to their shanks for the great violence of the heat, that dissolves their bodies. And men of that country that ken the manner bind them up and use certain ointments cold and restrictive to hold them up, or else they might not live.12
Such benign fantasies on both sides soon gave way to harsher realities. The Portuguese identified quite quickly the main choke points and strategic places around the Indian Ocean littoral. Indeed, the early correspondence, histories and other accounts devote much effort to this sort of identification of where was vital to control. Goa (1510), Colombo (1505; a fort was built in 1518), Melaka (1511), Hurmuz (1515), Diu (1535) and Aden were seen as most strategically located to serve Portuguese ends, and all except the last were taken. These port cities were all flourishing before the Portuguese conquest, and all had strategic implications. Goa was centrally located to control the Arabian Sea. Colombo was strategically located, and provided access to cinnamon. Melaka and Hurmuz controlled choke points, and were also major emporia. Possession of Diu provided control over the entrance to the Gulf of Cambay, and access to the rich production areas around the eastern shore of the Gulf. In the case of East Africa, Mozambique in the south had several advantages. It was conveniently located to control trade on the southern coast, and to block trade from the hostile Muslim world down to the gold available in Sofala. Also, and here Mozambique was unusual as compared with the other ports which they conquered, it was to be the vital way-station for the carreira from the colonial capital of Goa to the metropolitan capital of Lisbon, fulfilling the same function that the Cape of Good Hope later provided for the Dutch. In theory this voyage was to be done in one passage, but in practice the great ships often needed to call in on the African coast to heal their sick, to get supplies, on the outward voyage to collect cargo for India, or to await the next monsoon. Mozambique became the vital link in the chain between Goa and Lisbon.
These strategic sites were acquired with several ends in view. Their conquest helped the Portuguese to undermine the Muslims who had previously dominated Indian Ocean trade, especially that in spices. They functioned as nodes in the vast seaborne network of the Portuguese maritime empire. They provided facilities for the vital armadas, and the carreira to Portugal. They were beach-heads from which conversion drives were launched. They provided places where the Portuguese elite could give themselves fancy titles and indulge in an anachronistically feudal lifestyle, and from which they made vast private profits during their terms of office. In a more general sense the Portuguese were trying to create or impose a hierarchy de novo in the Indian Ocean. From a situation of autonomous port cities and free trade in which competition was economic but not military, they now wanted to establish an articulated structure where Lisbon controlled Goa, and Goa controlled all the conquered port cities. The nature of the political aspiration, and also its extent, has to be seen as quite revolutionary.
What were the Portuguese trying to achieve by these conquests? What they set up was not an empire, not even a maritime empire. Subrahmanyam and Thomaz note that
in the first half of the sixteenth century, 'Portuguese India' did not designate a space that was geographically well defined but a complex of territories, establishments, goods, persons, and administrative interests in Asia and East Africa, generated by or subordinate to the Portuguese Crown, all of which were linked together as a maritime network.13
Within this network, the aim was very largely economic. From early on they unilaterally declared that all trade in spices was to be done only by themselves, or by people licensed by them. Offenders against this, that is the traders who had previously handled this trade, were to be severely punished, and their goods confiscated. To achieve this aim they captured a series of strategically located port cities, and patrolled the waters of the Indian Ocean searching for 'illicit' traders.
The patrols and the capture of ports had a wider aim also. The Portuguese wanted to direct, and tax, all trade in the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese required that all ships trading in the ocean take a licence, or cartaz, from a Portuguese authority. The key point was that the cartazes required Asian ships to call at Portuguese forts or towns and there pay customs duties before setting off on their voyage. What the ship could carry, and where it could trade, was strictly limited. In particular, Muslims from hostile areas, weapons, and spices were prohibited. Portuguese fleets cruised around checking all ships they came across. Those without a cartaz, and those who infringed its terms, were subject to confiscation at best, and sinking at worst.
This system was a vast protection racket, for the Portuguese were selling protection from violence which they themselves had created. Obviously it was most effective only when the Portuguese had established customs houses at which the Asian traders could call. This took some time, and this ameliorated the harshness of the system. They were established quite early in Cochin and Goa, later in Diu, and much later again in Daman and Chaul. This in turn shows two things about the Portuguese system. First, while the Portuguese presence remained fundamentally maritime and littoral throughout, this is not to say that the priorities of this empire did not change, for they did. Around mid century the focus moved from one looking to the carreira and the trade to the metropole towards a much more Asian-centred one where, for example, the aim became to encourage and tax Asian trade rather than try to control it too closely. Second, the Portuguese were unable to conquer large areas of land, and so had to make their money from the sea. Hence this system, and hence their great reliance on maritime revenue. In this they contrast strongly with a landed state, such as Gujarat. The Portuguese Estado da India got fifteen times more revenue from sea trade than from land trade. Portuguese India got about 60 per cent of its total revenue from customs duties, Gujarat got only 6 per cent. Revenues derived by the Portuguese from their control of Diu made up a large part of official receipts. The surplus from Diu, in a good year late in the sixteenth century, provided about one-sixth of Goa's total revenue. Similarly, when trade between Gujarat and Hurmuz was blocked by war, the puppet sultan of Hurmuz had to send a much smaller contribution to Goa, as most of Hurmuz's trade was with Gujarat. As a final illustration of the unequal nature of the relationship, the route from Goa to Cambay was the most important of all for the Portuguese, even more than the carreira to Portugal. However, from the Gujarati point of view this trade made up only a small part of total trade, roughly 5 per cent.14
We will turn to the matter of the success of these aims presently, but first we need to consider two controversial matters. The first area of controversy is, how did the Portuguese justify this system, and second, was this justification one which we can accept? The great chronicler João de Barros set out the justification. The Portuguese were, in Asia, lords of the sea, and made all other ships take a safe-conduct licence, or cartaz, from them. Ships trading to enemies of Portugal could be seized on sight. By common law the seas were open to all, but this applied only in Europe to Christians, who were governed essentially by the principles of Roman Law. Hindus and Muslims, on the contrary, were outside Roman Law as they were outside the law of Jesus Christ, which all men must keep to avoid the eternal fire. Further, Hindus and Muslims had no claim to right of passage in Asian waters, because before the arrival of the Portuguese no one had claimed the sea as hereditary or conquered property. There being no preceding title, there was no present or future right of passage.15 The concrete manifestation of this came early, when in 1499 the Portuguese king Manuel gave himself the title of 'Lord of the Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India'. The late Charles Boxer several times pointed out dryly that at this time the Portuguese had no ships at all east of the Cape of Good Hope.
To investigate the legitimacy of this claim, we need to consider whether there had indeed been any previous attempt to establish control, sovereignty, or even just suzerainty over the Indian Ocean. And we need to decide whether or not the copious violence which the Portuguese used to enforce their aims was new in the ocean.
The juridical matter is rather complicated. When the Portuguese sailed into the Indian Ocean in 1498 they carried with them baggage from the Mediterranean, such as the Roman claim to Mare Nostrum, and generally a tendency towards thalassocracy. As Mollat noted, from very early times in Europe 'the domination of the sea was a natural objective of maritime cities.'16 In 1498 they entered a body of water which was almost completely mare incognita to them. They also implicitly considered it to be mare liberum, that is, as Barros noted, a sea space which had not been claimed by any previous state or other body. The distinction between mare clausum and mare liberum was set out by Grotius in the early seventeenth century, acting as a supporter of Dutch pretensions at sea. However, the notion of mare clausum can be traced back to the mid fifteenth century. The key question in evaluating Portuguese claims is to decide whether control over the Indian Ocean had already been parcelled out among the existing maritime powers, or was it a free international highway? Alexandrowicz finds that there was freedom of navigation on the high seas. Grotius ridiculed the Portuguese claim that they had now occupied the high seas, for many others had sailed over it before them. Yet Grotius seems here to be setting aside the Portuguese claim that while certainly people had travelled over the sea before 1498, no state had claimed either sovereignty or even suzerainty. Thus, he said, the Indian Ocean before Europeans entered was res communis, that is open to all.17 This has a nice echo of the modern concern with the notion of the sea as the last of the Commons.
If this be accepted, then it has to be argued that the Portuguese claim had, in their eyes, some validity; there was no preceding right of passage claimed so they could do it, and if necessary use force. There was a juridical vacuum which they could fill if they chose, which they did thanks to their own notions as set out above.
The second area of controversy concerns the existence, or prevalence, of state violence in the Indian Ocean before the Portuguese arrival. We discussed this matter at some length in the previous chapter (see pages 97–9). To sum up, there certainly had been violence at sea before the Portuguese arrived. Piracy was very widespread indeed, and took a heavy toll on merchant shipping. We will say more about this presently. There even are a few instances of Asian states at this time or in the past using sea power, such as Srivijaya, and the Cola state. However, it does not seem that any of these powers had very effective navies. We should see their maritime efforts as being completely adjunct to their land ones: their navies were only auxiliaries to their armies. Similarly, the controllers of the various port cities, such as Calicut, Melaka, Cambay, Hurmuz, made no attempt to force ships to call to trade. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Portuguese introduced state controlled violence into the Indian Ocean.
Some Portuguese violence was not directly done by the state, but was tacitly accepted. Professor Thomaz wrote that,
Whereas the chief aim of the system of control set up by the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean was attained only in parts, its by-products seem, on the contrary, to have developed beyond all expectation. We refer mainly to extortion, bribery, peculation and piracy. The Bay of Bengal, which lay virtually out of reach of the Portuguese authorities, was the ideal ground for such activities.18
He sees violence as implicit in the whole Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean, especially in the matter of privateering. These state-sanctioned fleets could plunder ships outside the Portuguese system, and the proceeds were divided up among the officers and crew of the successful ship according to set shares laid down by the state. I would extrapolate a little more from this important point than Thomaz is prepared to do. The Portuguese unilaterally dictated a closed Indian Ocean, and then the king, instead of having to pay his men to enforce this, instead let the victims pay by letting his soldiers plunder those who infringed. This sounds very precisely like the sort of protection racket one gets in many societies, where a criminal element collects protection from shop keepers in return for not breaking their windows. Analogous to this is the failure to capture Aden. It could be that this suited Portuguese captains very well. They could patrol and plunder, seize prizes and take bribes; had Aden been Portuguese these opportunities would have been reduced.
One way to demonstrate that peaceful trade was the accepted norm in Asian waters is to see how locals responded when first faced with European demands. What we find is surprise at such unprecedented notions, which clearly flew in the face of accepted practice at the time. The Portuguese in 1502 tried to get the ruler of Calicut to expel his 'foreign' Muslim traders, but he responded that he could not do this, 'for it was unthinkable that he expel 4,000 households of them, who lived in Calicut as natives, not foreigners, and who had contributed great profits to his Kingdom.' A century later the ruler of Surabaya, in eastern Java, was asked by the Dutch not to trade with the Portuguese as they were enemies, and he replied 'that he could not help it that we were in enmity with the Portuguese and that he did not wish to be in enmity with anyone; also that he could not forbid his people to trade, as they had to support themselves by it.' Later in this century the port of Makassar greatly increased its trade, and the Dutch noted that local merchants flocked there because the ruler 'treats those same foreigners very civilly' and allowed all to trade 'freely and openly, with good treatment, and small demands of tolls.' Unimpressed, the Dutch conquered the port city in 1669.19
A Muslim inhabitant of Kerala, the famous Zain al-Din, wrote a vigorous denunciation of the Portuguese, as indeed did his brother in a long poem.20 His vitriol can be contrasted with the benign, wondering, attitudes which greeted the first Portuguese. By the late sixteenth century the locals knew and feared them. He wrote how they attacked ships sailing outside their system, and of course roundly condemned this. He detailed the atrocities the Portuguese committed on Muslims, and added:
In addition to this system of persecution, also, these Franks sallying forth in the directions of Gujerat, the Conkan, and Malabar, and towards the coast of Arabia, would there lie in wait for the purposes of intercepting vessels; in this way, they iniquitously acquired vast wealth and made numerous prisoners. For, how many women of noble birth, thus made captive, did they not incarcerate, afterwards violating their persons, for the production of Christian children….21
If we accept that Portuguese violence was new, how can it be explained? The precedent we should look at is not a spurious claim of existing violence in the Indian Ocean, but rather precedents from Portugal's European and Moroccan experience. It is often claimed that the Portuguese, unlike their interlocutors in Asia, had been hardened by their long struggles against Muslim enemies, struggles which had no exact counterpart for their Muslim adversaries in the Indian Ocean. As just one example, the Mapillahs, the local Muslims in Kerala, had no tradition of anti-Christian struggle.
The Portuguese anti-Muslim bias was clear, and openly acknowledged in the sixteenth century. It derived from memories of the struggle to free Portugal from Muslim rule, and from the previous North African service of many of the Portuguese, a service consisting of a hard and brutal struggle with Muslim enemies in which atrocities like mutilation of corpses were common. Several authors have pointed to this having a unusually brutalising effect. The author Richard Hall in his recent survey claimed that
The Moroccan crusade in the final decades of the fifteenth century was to set the pattern for Portugal's behaviour in later conquests much further afield. Many of the young knights – the noble fidalgos – received unforgettable lessons in plundering, raping and killing without mercy. They came to accept that the lives of Muslims, men, women and children alike, counted for nothing because they were the foes of Christendom.22
Diffie and Winius put it in a wider context of disregard and contempt for all non-Christians, but at the end again point to Morocco as the formative experience: 'it is wise to remember that Europeans of the age were almost completely without feeling for non-Christian peoples and had little interest in or understanding of cultures other than their own. For the Portuguese especially, nearly a century of vicious fighting in Morocco had brutalised attitudes'.23 So also with L.F. Thomaz. He notes numerous European precedents for Portuguese actions in the Indian Ocean area, such as privateering to Ceuta and further south. North African precedents were taken around to Asia. 'As Morocco was used as a military training ground for young Portuguese noblemen, most of the captains who served in India had substantial experience of marauding activities and considered these as honourable, worthy of reward from the king, and even of religious merit.'24
We can use the concept of a frontier society, so fruitful in North American and Australian historiography, to illuminate the Portuguese experience in Asia. The setting, surrounded by 'teeming hordes' of 'natives', contributed to make Portuguese society in general rough, violent and extravagant. In the Portuguese settlements this was exacerbated by an unusually high proportion of soldiers and sailors in the total population. These men were usually discharged and left without pay during the monsoon months when sea patrols were impossible, and at these times especially Goa and other areas were notoriously dangerous.
The strains inherent in a frontier society, and particularly the need for solidarity among the greatly outnumbered Portuguese, was most clearly seen in the way deserters were treated. In 1512 Bijapur attacked Goa. They were beaten off, and had to surrender nineteen Portuguese deserters who had fought for them. Albuquerque had promised not to kill them. He kept his promise, 'but I ordered their noses, ears, right hands and left thumbs to be cut off, for a warning and in memory of the treason and evil that they did.' On this same occasion Albuquerque had another captured renegade burnt alive. Possibly such draconic punishments were not inflicted later, yet certainly many sixteenth century Portuguese authors commented unfavourably on the large number of former soldiers or householders who had chosen to leave Portuguese areas, and more importantly those who had become renegades, that is had not merely left but now provided military service to enemies of the state.25 True that it is here a matter of violence to fellow Portuguese rather than to Asians, but this merely reinforces how violent this society was, whether to each other or to the Asian 'Other'.
To complete this study of violence we need to consider piracy, which was prevalent in the Indian Ocean both before and after the arrival of the Europeans. We have already noted piratical activities by some of the Portuguese. In Bengal a ballad went,
The dreaded Portuguese pirates, the Harmads, were constantly watching the movement of these [grain] boats [in the delta], stealthily following them through the nooks of the coast. They plundered the boats and assassinated their crew, and the boatmen and captains of the seaside trembled in fear of the Harmads.26
They were followed by other Europeans. One of the first English pirates, or perhaps corsairs, in the Indian Ocean arrived in 1635 in two ships, with a royal licence to plunder 'from the Cape to China and Japan, including the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Coromandel coast.' Two years later they returned to England with booty worth £40,000. The mate of one of the ships was David Jones, who liked to scuttle captured ships; hence the sea is sometimes referred to as Davy Jones' Locker.27
But who is a pirate? To the Portuguese, anyone flouting their system of trade control, most notably the Mapillah traders in Malabar, were pirates. Today we see these people as traditional traders who perforce tried to avoid the Portuguese system and continue trading in pepper and other products just as they had done for centuries. We will later find many other examples of Europeans stigmatising their competitors as pirates, and thus 'legitimate' objects of attacks by navies (see pages 198–9). Regardless, a strong case can be made that the trade control policies of the Portuguese substantially increased piracy, for many Asian traders were dispossessed, and turned to piracy simply in order to survive. This applies to the Malabar traders whose spokesperson was Zain al-Din.
Pirates are a very varied lot, and the attitude of states to them also varied. Some operated with tacit or even open state acquiescence, and so must be seen as corsairs. In 1610 the Sheikh of Qadil, on the Makran coast, allowed piracy, but it had to be focused and controlled. In particular, the Portuguese were not to be targets, as their ships routinely called at the port to get refreshments. The sheik and the pirates agreed to let them alone.28 So also in Malabar, where at times the rulers of Calicut knew of the activities of the Kunjali corsairs, and at others did not, or claimed not to. Nor were all navies really that opposed to piracy. Mitchell points out that in the early eighteenth century in the Caribbean naval ships quite liked having piracy in the area. The crews of the men of war hired for escort duty were well paid, and could carry freight – illegally – at a premium as they were considered to be very safe. And in any case pirates never attacked a guarded merchant convoy.29 So also in the Indian Ocean, where Portuguese crews and captains sometimes, for a price, turned a blind eye to piracy.
Similarly with merchants, who often were happy to tacitly support piracy in order to acquire dubious, 'hot' goods. Writing from Kedah, Bowrey said:
Anno Domini 1675. A Small Vessell belonginge to the English was Sent from Achin hither laden with very fine goods, and was mett with the Pyrats.... They Sett Upon her and killed Samuel Ware, the master and two more of his men, and tooke the Vessell, which done, they Sent away the Other Seamen in a Prow bound for Achin and came boldly Up to Queda and Sold the goods to Sarajah Cawn [Suraj Khan], a Chulyar, and chiefe Shabandar of Quedah, an rogue Enough too. This Rogue by reason he bought them very Cheape made noe question how they came by the goods, although he Saw English marks and Number upon Each particular baile.30
Piracy can be a sign of flourishing trade. They can be seen as macroparasites, human groups that draw sustenance from the toil and enterprise of others, offering nothing in return. As parasites they do best when trade is flourishing as then hosts are readily available. Pirates also move depending on how easy the pickings are. Many European pirates, such as Captain Kidd, moved from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean in the late seventeenth century. The most celebrated capture in this 'pirate round' of the last decade of the century was that of the Mughal ship the Ganj-i-sawai, in 1695, taken by Captain Every and four other pirate ships off the mouth of the Red Sea. The ship carried a huge and valuable cargo, including jewels and a saddle and bridle meant for the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Among the passengers were many pilgrims, some of them elite people and even relations of the emperor. The women were raped, the ship plundered, and some 400 pirates got the huge sum of £1,000 each.31
Piracy is thus an international matter, and also a slippery one, for one person's pirate is another's legitimate trader, or even 'freedom fighter'. So also with an analysis of the success of the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century. We need to distinguish several levels of their activity, in several different places. But the obvious place to start is with a survey of their attempt to monopolise the trade in spices, for this was their prime ambition, and their success or failure here can stand as a model of their total achievement in the century.
By monopolising Asian trade in spices the Portuguese hoped to achieve two, related, goals.32 When they arrived they found that most of the trade was done by Muslims. To dispossess these traders was to strike a blow for the True Faith, that being Christianity. Perhaps more important, a monopoly would mean that the Portuguese could buy cheap in Asia and sell dear in Europe, a happy conjunction indeed of God and Mammon. In the first few decades of the sixteenth century the Portuguese got close to achieving this aim.
The profits could be enormous. Historians have produced many estimates. One finds that the Portuguese paid 6 cruzados for a quintal of pepper in Malabar, including the cost of freight. The minimum price in Lisbon was 22 cruzados, producing then a profit of 260 per cent. Another costing adds in an estimate for wastage and still finds profits of 150 per cent. Even if the cost of the forts in Malabar which made possible the Portuguese monopoly are deducted, we are still left with profits of 90 per cent. In 1505 prices were fixed in India and in Lisbon. Pepper cost 3 ducats per hundredweight in India, and sold for 22 in Lisbon. Other ratios are: for cinnamon 0.75 to 19; cloves 7.5 to 60–65; nutmeg 4 to 300. Later in the century the Portuguese bought cinnamon in Sri Lanka for as little as 15 cruzados the quintal, and sold it for at least 75, and sometimes 100. Godinho has tried to put the spice trade into a more comparative perspective. Around 1515 the spice trade made profits for Portugal of about 1,000,000 cruzados. This was equal to all ecclesiastical revenues, and was double the value of trade in gold and metals.33
Portuguese success marked, for a while, a reorientation of where Europe got its spices. Lisbon replaced Venice, at least temporarily. This was clear to see early on. In 1502–3 twenty-four per cent of Hungarian copper exported by the great Central European bankers the Fuggers went to Antwerp, but in 1508–9 the figure was 49 per cent, and this was used to pay Lisbon for spices. In 1501 the Portuguese captain Cabral came back to Lisbon with a good cargo of spices, and the king, Manuel, told a Venetian envoy he should tell Venice 'that from now on you should send your ships to carry spices from here.' Venetian authorities predicted gloomily that 'There is no doubt that the Hungarians, Germans, Flemish and French, and those beyond the mountains, who formerly came to Venice to buy spices with their money, will all turn towards Lisbon.'
Yet by the middle of the century the Levant trade had revived, and the Portuguese share of the supply to European was falling fast. In the earlier sixteenth century the Portuguese took some 20,000 to 30,000 quintals of pepper to Europe each year. By the end of the century this had fallen to about 10,000 quintals, while Aceh in 1585 was sending 40,000 to 50,000 quintals of spices, mostly pepper, a year to the Red Sea, and so to markets in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In 1515 the Portuguese took 30 per cent of Malabar production, but by the end of the century only 3 or 4 per cent.
What had gone wrong with the Portuguese effort, that the Levant was able to revive, in Braudel's words that by mid century 'The Mediterranean was recapturing the treasures of the Indian Ocean?'34 The Portuguese had to conciliate several local rulers by allowing them some trade in spices. Existing traders, especially the Mapillahs of Kerala, boldly evaded Portuguese fleets. Much pepper was traded by land, where the Portuguese had no control. Finally, the failure to take Aden left open an easy route for spices to reach the Red Sea, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.
However, it was not just spices that were traded between Asia and Europe in the sixteenth century. Another very important product was bullion. The Spanish in the Americas exported large amounts of gold across the Atlantic to Iberia from early in this century, and from mid century even vaster amounts of silver, especially from the incredibly rich mine at Potosí in Peru. Much of this bullion flowed through Europe and so on to the Indian Ocean and Asia. However, again the Portuguese and the Cape route were far from being dominant in this trade. It is clear that much more bullion came into the Indian Ocean area via the Red Sea than came around the Cape of Good Hope. There certainly was a vast drain of bullion from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, but most of this was not handled by the Portuguese, a matter we will return to presently.
To modern eyes and susceptibilities the official claims and actions of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seem to represent a presence which is more or less totally reprehensible, not in any way to be condoned or justified. They found a peaceful open trading system, and tried forcefully to monopolise some parts of it and control and tax the rest. It looks like a black, completely unacceptable, picture.
Yet the reality on the ground, or at sea, was very different. As we noted, the Portuguese were in Asia to buy spices cheap and sell them dear in Europe, thereby undercutting the traditional Mediterranean route. To forbid this trade to all others was one thing, and in any case this effort met with little success, as we saw. But the Portuguese still had to be able to buy the spices themselves, for they monopolised, partially, sea trade only, and not land trade, let alone production. Nor did they have the domestic resources to be able to send large amounts of money out from Portugal. This requirement, to find money to pay for the spices, meant that the Portuguese were soon intricately linked into the country trade of Asia.
East Africa provides an excellent case study of this matter. The Portuguese quickly found out that a commodity which could be used to pay for the spices was available in East Africa, namely gold from the Zimbabwe plateau. If they could secure supplies of this, or better still a monopoly, then payment for spices would be no problem. But it soon also became apparent that gold had to be paid for too. It could be acquired only in exchange for goods, and not Portuguese goods either.
Similarly with East Africa's other prized export, ivory. Here the Portuguese had no hope of controlling supply, for elephants were hunted in very far-flung areas. However, perhaps they could block its export. But they still had to be able to pay for it. The only items in demand on the plateau and elsewhere were beads and cloths from Gujarat; these were the traditional trade items which the producers of gold and ivory wanted, and here, as in so many other areas, the Portuguese then had to fit in to existing patterns. A continuing supply of Gujarati cloths to East Africa was essential in their wider designs. Thus were the Portuguese immersed in an intricate web of country trade in the Arabian Sea, in this case cloths from Gujarat to exchange for gold and ivory which then could pay for spices which then could be extracted from the Indian Ocean network and sent outside it to European markets.
A more detailed analysis area by area confirms this overview, and also shows a considerable variation in Portuguese policies, and successes, over the sixteenth century. In particular, later in the century the concern was more to encourage and tax trade than to restrict it too rigorously. Most recent studies stress that increasingly during the century the Portuguese looked to trade rather than conquest, that they became immersed in Asian life and economics, while the connection with the metropole became more and more tenuous. We will first sketch the political impact of the Portuguese around the shores of the ocean, and then turn to their effect on trade.
In East Africa south of the Sahara the only major state was the Mutapa state or Monomotapa, located in the area which is now Zimbabwe. This state had no sea access, though it produced large amounts of gold and ivory which were taken down to the coast, to Sofala or Kilwa, and then exported. The Portuguese had very little effect on this trade. They tried to monopolise it, but achieved very little. Gold exports had been in decline before they arrived, and this decline continued in the sixteenth century. Ivory was an important export for the Portuguese, but this product was also traded by various Muslim groups. Later in the sixteenth century the Portuguese penetrated far inland up the Zambezi valley. One of the first was the intrepid Jesuit Father Gonçalo de Silveira, who was killed at the Mutapa court in 1561. Later other Portuguese established estates, or prazos. Sometimes these recognised the authority of the Mutapa ruler, sometimes they did not. The Mutapa state declined in the seventeenth century, and Portuguese activities may have contributed a little to this.
Moving north, the Portuguese had various diplomatic and military dealings with the Ottoman Turks. This strong and expansionist Islamic state was a source of great concern for the Portuguese authorities. In the first half of the sixteenth century it took over Egypt and the Red Sea area, including the Islamic holy places. It also established itself in Iraq, in the area around Basra and Baghdad. A small Turkish fleet raided the East African coast in the 1580s, and caused the Portuguese much concern: they responded by building the huge Fort Jesus in Mombasa. Much more famous was the expedition to Diu in 1538, where a strong Ottoman fleet acting in conjunction with Gujarati forces besieged the Portuguese fort, and were defeated only with very great difficulty. The Ottomans remained a feared adversary for the rest of the century. However, this land-oriented power was much more focused on the Mediterranean and the Middle East, especially Iran, than on the Indian Ocean, and Portuguese fears were largely unnecessary.
The next major state with which the Portuguese had contact was Safavid Iran. This state was founded in 1500, just as the Portuguese were establishing themselves in the Indian Ocean. It fought a series of wars with the Ottomans in the sixteenth century, and for this reason the Portuguese tried to have good relations with the Safavids, and encouraged them to confront the Ottomans. Pepper was allowed to pass through the Straits of Hurmuz to Iranian ports, and silk was provided by the Persians in return. Yet this tacit alliance was built on sand, for in 1622 the Safavids and the English combined to take over Hurmuz from the Portuguese.
The Estado da India's main interlocutors were two important Indian Muslim states, Bijapur and the Mughal empire. Bijapur was contiguous to the Portuguese capital of Goa; indeed Goa had been conquered from them in 1510. Relations were tense throughout the century. The local controllers of Ponda, right next to Portuguese territory, were often a worry, while in 1570 Bijapur joined in a major attack on Portuguese areas. It may have been because of these tense relations that Goa did not trade very much with Bijapur. One major trade item, cotton cloths, was obtained from Gujarat in preference to Bijapur, and Goa's food came mostly from the Kanara area further south. Certainly Portuguese activities had very little influence on the progress of Bijapur. The area was conquered by the Mughals in the 1680s, but the Portuguese played no role in this.
As they came to terms with the Indian Ocean trading system, the Portuguese very soon realised that their relations with Gujarat would determine the success or failure of their wider aims. Central was control of the trade in spices, yet while Gujarat produced no spices its merchants played a large role in the trade in these products all the way from Melaka to the Red Sea. So also with the second strand of Portuguese concern with Asian trade, the cartaz system. If this were to work anywhere, it would be in Gujarat, where most of the great ports in the Gulf of Cambay could be monitored by Portuguese fleets cruising off the mouth of this narrow gulf. Another central aim was to acquire goods, other than spices, which could be sent back to Lisbon on the carreira. Gujarati cloths came to make up a very large part of the homeward bound cargoes. Finally, as the Portuguese got more involved in the inter-Asian trade they realised that access to products from Gujarat was vital, for they were widely known all over seaborne Asia and found a ready market wherever the Portuguese travelled.
Like the other great Islamic territorial states, the Mughals concentrated on the land rather than the sea. This meant that most of the time Portuguese maritime activities did not bother the Mughals. On occasion the Portuguese would attack or capture a ship belonging to the Mughal elite, and then the Mughal state would respond. However, the main area where the Mughals were concerned was the pilgrimage to Mecca. The port of Surat, one of the most important ports in the world, was the main exit point for Indian Muslims going on hajj, and the Mughals were concerned that this passage not be blocked. On the other hand, the Portuguese knew that their forts in Gujarat, in Diu, Daman and Bassein, were vulnerable to attack from the land. Equally important, Goa relied on Gujarat for the bulk of its export products, and especially cotton cloths. They could not afford a long war with Gujarat, and nor could they allow any blockade to go on too long, for this would mean that Portuguese trade all over the Indian Ocean and to Europe was denied goods to trade. In effect it was a stand-off, with both sides prepared to be conciliatory most of the time. The Portuguese tacitly allowed the hajj passage to continue, and gave the Mughals 'free' passes for some of their ships. Portugal's other contact with the Mughals had to do with their well-known attempts to convert the emperors. The Jesuit missions to the court failed to achieve this, but their activities have provided us with some fascinating accounts of life at the Mughal court.
In southeast Asia the Portuguese were not faced with any major maritime or territorial power, but this was not the case in China. The Ming dynasty there was powerful in the sixteenth century, and extremely ethnocentric. Foreigners had to behave with due subservience to Chinese officials, and the Ming accounts present the Portuguese as cannibals or malicious goblins. The Portuguese were very much in an inferior position. In the early 1520s a Portuguese fleet was heavily defeated by a Chinese coast-guard fleet. Later, in the mid 1550s, they were allowed to establish themselves in Macau, but always on terms of strict subordination to Ming officials. From late in the century, however, the Portuguese were able to fill a gap and profit from a very lucrative trade which linked Macau and Japan.
The conclusion has to be that Portugal's relations with major states around the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century were mostly civil enough, in part because the maritime interests of the Portuguese seldom conflicted with the major interests and activities of these land-oriented states. Certainly it is impossible to see the arrival of the Portuguese as affecting the progress or decline of these states in any significant way.
If the political consequences of the Portuguese presence were relatively minor, what can be said of their economic impact? On the East African coast they were trying to disrupt, and take over, a well-integrated trading system. Once Portuguese intentions became clear, the existing Muslim traders sometimes worked in cooperation with the Portuguese, but many of them continued their trade in locations outside of Portuguese control. Given the length of the coast, and tortuous navigation especially in the vast and complex Zambezi delta, the Portuguese found it very difficult to do much about this. At different times three ports, Angoche, Mombasa and Pate, were able to keep going a trade which flouted the Portuguese and in effect continued the preceding system of open and free trade. In the first decades of the sixteenth century the Portuguese became aware that Angoche had become a major centre of trade from the ports further north, and was underselling the Portuguese in Mozambique and Sofala very substantially. To counter this the Portuguese established themselves on the Zambezi itself, at Sena and Tete, and also on the coast at Quilemane. Mombasa however continued to send ships south, laden with Gujarati goods, until this flouting of Portuguese aims together with their fear of the Turks led them to take this town in 1593. But no sooner was one gap closed than another opened, for now Pate and other ports in the Lamu area became centres of opposition and 'illegal' trade, despite several Portuguese attacks in the seventeenth century.35
When we move to the southern shores of the Middle East we find a rather different situation. In terms of markets there was one major, but temporary, change as a result of the activities of the Portuguese. For a few decades they were able by and large to monopolise the trade in pepper and spices, and this meant that markets which dealt in these commodities – Aden, Jiddah, Basra on the Gulf, Cairo and Alexandria and Aleppo on the Mediterranean – suffered, as did the Muslim traders who had dominated this trade. However, the Portuguese monopoly had been largely broken by mid century, and these markets revived as a result. Aden suffered more than most, and indeed even after it was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1538 it continued to decline, while a major new market, the port of Mocha inside the Red Sea, rose to prominence.
Moving along the Hadhramaut coast, there seems to have been little change in the predominantly coastal trade of this region. However, this was not the case for Hurmuz. This port city and major market, controlling the mouth of the Gulf, was taken by the Portuguese in 1515. The intention was to block the spice trade up the Gulf, and so overland to the eastern Mediterranean. However, the Portuguese needed to conciliate the Shah of Iran as a counterweight to their main enemy, the Ottoman Turks, and so they allowed some pepper to continue to pass through and into the Gulf. Nevertheless, Hurmuz certainly suffered a decline, and was no longer a major market populated by very diverse merchant communities. Many of them moved to Basra, or to the Persian port of Bandar Abbas.
In Sind the major port was Lahari Bandar, favoured by private Portuguese traders and Muslim merchants. The greatest markets, and the most dominant merchant communities, were to be found in Gujarat. Portuguese fleets were able to patrol across the entrance to the Gulf of Cambay, from their bases in Daman and Diu, and exercise quite close control over shipping entering and leaving this entrance to the great Gujarati ports of Surat, Cambay, Gogha and Broach. This patrolling, and also the demonstrations of military and naval ferocity from 1529 to 1534, and again after the second siege, from 1546 to 1548, convinced most of Gujarat's merchants that they would have to take cartazes and pay duties at Diu. Indeed, there is clear evidence of the Portuguese and the Gujarati traders cooperating and being prepared to be flexible when this was necessary. The Portuguese allowed trade to the Red Sea, even though this area was considered to be a hostile Turkish Muslim one. They also tacitly allowed the pilgrimage trade to continue. Indeed, they even accepted cargo valuations, on which customs payments were based, which were done by the Gujarati merchants themselves. Portuguese flexibility combined with Gujarati acquiescence to produce a quite harmonious relationship in which Gujarati ships routinely called at Diu to pay customs and collect their cartazes.
Overall then the changes in Gujarat's trade during the sixteenth century were rather slight. This however does not apply completely to the first port city we come across as we move south and east. In the late fifteenth century Diu had become a great market, dominated by Turks. Large trading ships called here to collect Gujarati products, and those from further east, in exchange for goods from the Middle East and Europe. The capture of Diu was a central aim of the Portuguese, and this was achieved in 1535. In consequence the Muslim merchants left. Diu now became just a place where Indian Ocean ships were forced to call in and pay customs duties. Its role as a market declined. The main merchant communities were now Hindus, collectively often called banias, and Jains from Gujarat. In the great port city of Cambay some hundred or so private Portuguese settled, usually married to local women. They joined a very heterogeneous mosaic of merchants. The internal economy – the inland traders, the bankers, the shopkeepers, the brokers and the main 'capitalists'- was dominated by merchants who were Hindus and Jains. Many of these people also loaded cargoes on ships, and settled overseas, even in the Muslim-dominated Red Sea area, but the main sea traders were Muslims. Most of these were now local people, descendants usually of local converts to Islam, though many wealthy foreign groups, from Shiraz, the Red Sea, and even Turkey, were also there. The effect of the Portuguese on the activities of these people was slight. For the Portuguese Gujarati goods from Cambay and other ports were vital to make up the cargoes for Portugal, especially the large private cargoes sent home on the great naus, which were overwhelmingly cloths from Gujarat. This however made up only a very small addition to the total trade of Gujarat.
In any case, Cambay declined during the century because the Gulf of Cambay, at whose head it was located, silted up. Large ships found it more and more difficult to get to Cambay. It was replaced by Surat, which was also favoured by the integration of the independent sultanate of Gujarat into the Mughal empire in 1572 (see page 34). By the end of the century Surat was the greatest market in India, in the Indian Ocean, and indeed maybe in the whole world. Here were found the fabulously wealthy Hindu and Jain merchant communities which so many Europeans wrote of so admiringly. Here also were found products from all over the world, including those which the Portuguese hoped to monopolise. There was a host of merchant communities: not only Hindus and Jains (and these anyway were often subdivided according to caste or to economic speciality) but also Armenians, Jews, Portuguese, and Muslims from Persia and Turkey.
The economic relationship between Gujarat and Goa was quite assymetrical. From the Portuguese side, trade with Gujarat was vital and essential, so much so that even the most martial governor had to realise that wars with Gujarat could not be allowed to go on for too long, for a protracted war would be disastrous for the economic health of Portuguese India. João de Castro's reprisals after the end of the second siege of Diu, in 1546–48, drew a barrage of complaints from residents of Goa whose trade was blocked by his actions.
Two elements can be distinguished. Some of the Portuguese settled in Gujarat were agents for rich merchants in Goa, others traded in a small way on their own account. Their main task was to acquire cargoes for the several convoys of small trading ships which each year went from the Gulf of Cambay to Goa. Two or three such convoys sailed each year, guarded from pirates by Portuguese warships, and with 200 or more ships in each one. These convoys were absolutely central for the economic health of Goa. Most of the cargoes sent home on the carreira were goods from these convoys. The private fortunes of many of Goa's residents, including senior political and ecclesiastical figures, depended on these fleets of small trading ships.
Further peaceful and mutually beneficial ties were formed by Gujarat's role as a major money market in the Indian Ocean area in the sixteenth century. Its great Hindu and Jain merchants provided loans quite impartially to traders, rulers, anyone with good credit, and many Portuguese took advantage of their vast resources. Here also is an element of reciprocity; rather than the din of battle, the heroic sieges, it is these economic transactions, deals, accommodations, which show the real nature of relations between Portugal and Gujarat in the sixteenth century.
Along most of the west coast of India coastal trade was dominant, with small local ships carrying goods to the major nodes, of which Surat and Goa were the most important. As one example, the area of Kanara was a rice surplus region which provided food to other areas all up and down the coast, and indeed as far as Hurmuz. The next major market that we must notice is the Portuguese capital of Goa. Goa was analogous to other exchange markets in that it drew very little from its hinterland. Rather, its vaunted sixteenth-century prosperity was a result of Portuguese policies. It was the focus of their military–economic attempt to centralise Indian Ocean trade in their ports. The result was that Goa rose from being a relatively minor port to be a major exchange centre, based on coercion. Within the Portuguese system Goa was most important as their capital, and as the place where private traders could collect cargoes for their trade both within Asia and also to Europe on the state-owned or licensed naus. Yet although Goa had the advantage of military backing from the Estado da India, as a market it ranked far behind the great ports in Gujarat. At its height in the late sixteenth century Goa's trade was worth at most one-tenth of that of all the ports of Gujarat, and Surat alone far outtraded Goa. As the Estado declined in the next century the gap widened: Surat alone around 1640 had four times the trade of Goa. It and the other Portuguese port cities were, in terms of merchant communities, atypical in one important respect, in that alone in the Indian Ocean world they had no important Muslim groups. This was the result of the Portuguese antipathy to Muslims in general, and Turks in particular. Goa was ruled by the Portuguese, but its internal economy was dominated by a caste of Saraswat Brahmins, while its main financiers were banias from Gujarat.
Goa was also the home of a considerable number of other European merchants who had come to feed on the Portuguese body. Some of these people were very substantial. They often held the most important of the government tax farming contracts, and syndicates of them ran the pepper trade for the state later in the century. One of the biggest was Ferdinand Cron, a German who had a great trade in Goa in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He acted as agent for substantial merchant houses back in Europe as well as trading on his own account. Part of his success was based on his control of information, achieved through a network of couriers which enabled him to be first with news of markets and prices. This network, which he took over from the Fuggers, went from his home town of Augsburg to Goa (a distance of over 8,000 kms) and on to Melaka and Macao.36
The Kerala or Malabar coast was the second great area of concern to the Portuguese, for this is where they got pepper, and the naus for Portugal sailed from Cochin. There were several major changes in this area as a result of the Portuguese presence. Calicut, at 1500 the greatest market by far, and dominated by pardesi Muslims from the Red Sea and Cairo, declined as a result of Portuguese attacks. These foreign Muslims moved out to safer parts. The local Muslims, that is local converts called Mapillahs, perforce stayed, and continued to try to trade in pepper outside the Portuguese monopoly system. Cochin became a Portuguese puppet town, and a centre of their trade in pepper. The town included a large casado population, but trade except that to Portugal was dominated by Gujarati merchant groups, and locally by Malabar Hindu groups.
Sri Lanka was a somewhat aberrant part of the Portuguese estado, for it was only here that they attempted a large land conquest. The island was valued both for its strategic location, and for its monopoly supply of true cinnamon. Colombo was considered to be one of the lynch pins of the whole Portuguese system. Yet here also their sea patrols were unable to achieve a monopoly over the export of cinnamon. Encouraged by the conversion of a local king, the Portuguese later in the sixteenth century became embroiled in major land wars. These were unsuccessful, and their cost contributed in a major way to the increasing financial straits of the estado at the end of the century and later.
The Bay of Bengal was an area where the official Portuguese writ ran lightly. The most important port had been Pulicat, and during the sixteenth century the Portuguese dominated this and the neighbouring port of San Thomé, especially the very lucrative trade to Melaka. Consequently, local traders moved to Masulipatnam further north, which became the greatest market in the whole Bay of Bengal. This is yet another sign of the way local merchants could avoid the Portuguese, in this case by moving from Pulicat to Masulipatnam, in others from Diu to Surat, or Hurmuz to Bandar Abbas, or from Sofala to Mombasa. Masulipatnam drew on an extensive and productive hinterland in the sultanate of Golconda. Here the main merchant communities were Hindu groups like the Klings and Chettis, others Muslim such as the Chulias, but also some Gujaratis yet again and Persian Muslims. Further north in Bengal the main market was Chittagong, and later Hugli. While the local economy was controlled by indigenous Bengali traders, long-distance trade often was dominated by people from outside. For example, trade to the major market of Melaka was done by Kling merchants based in Melaka, and the pepper trade by Persians.
At the end of our tour we reach one of the greatest port cities, Melaka. This is another example of a market dominated entirely by foreign goods; very little came from the interior area of the Malay peninsular. Rather, goods from literally all over the world were available there. We noted above that there were four major merchant communities in Melaka at the time of Albuquerque's conquest in 1511. Portuguese control affected them considerably. Their attempts to centralise and tax trade led to an exodus, especially of the Gujaratis, who moved off to more welcoming and less corrupt ports. In particular, the decline of Melaka led to the rise of Aceh, in northern Sumatra, which during the century became a major centre for trade, especially pepper from the east and Indian products from the west.
How then can we sum up changes in Indian Ocean trade in the sixteenth century as a result of the Portuguese presence? The key word must be continuity. Most things did not change. Markets and trade remained controlled, at the most fundamental level, by the monsoons. The major markets needed either to be located adjacent to major production areas, as in Gujarat, or at choke points, such as Aden, Melaka, and Hurmuz. The goods traded in these markets changed little. The great mass of the trade remained coastal trade in humble port markets strung all along the littoral of the Indian Ocean. As to the dominant merchant communities, variety remains the key. A host of traders, both pedlars and princes, traded across the ocean.
In areas controlled more or less tightly by the Portuguese, that is the west coast of India, Muslim traders faced formidable opposition and moved away. Other communities were little affected. As to markets, at least four formerly important ones declined once they were taken over by the Portuguese: Sofala, Hurmuz, Diu, and Melaka. To be sure, Hurmuz and Diu had large surpluses from customs duties, but these resulted not from their roles as markets, but from Portugal's coercive trade control system. Calicut, while not taken over, was badly affected by Portuguese attacks. The only success was Goa, which prospered thanks to concentrated Portuguese efforts; but we must remember that its trade was, as noted, only one-tenth of that from Gujarat's ports. In any case, Goa's success was entirely dependent on the success of Portuguese trade control policies, and once these were challenged and rendered nugatory by the arrival of the Dutch Goa fell into decline, as also did Diu. We must now sketch changes in the seventeenth century.
By the middle of the seventeenth century the Portuguese official position in the Indian Ocean area was in tatters. Most of its major forts – Melaka, Cochin, Colombo, Hurmuz – had been lost, usually to the Dutch. On the East African coast the Estado da India retained toe holds only in Mozambique, and Mombasa until the 1690s. Elsewhere it kept only Timor, Macau, and Goa, Daman and Diu on the west coast of India. In part the estado now moved from being a maritime entity to a land based one, for the northern provinces of Bassein (until lost to the rising Indian power, the Marathas, in 1739) and Daman became flourishing agriculture-based areas where many Portuguese did well: as the saying goes, rich men in a poor state. More important, the private Portuguese traders, the casados, continued to trade as they had done in the sixteenth century. The only difference was that while in the later sixteenth century they had loaded large private cargoes on the naus for Lisbon, they now, as the carreira declined, were forced to focus almost entirely on the Indian Ocean. They were to be found all around the Bay of Bengal, on the west coast of India, and along the Swahili coast. Like the private English traders, they by and large enjoyed no particular advantage over their Asian competitors. While the state declined, private Portuguese continued to operate. As British power expanded later in the eighteenth century they, like for example the Parsis, operated within its entrails, serving as middle men, petty traders, facilitators for the dominant British.
With this broad background, we can turn to the vexed question of the importance of the arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. I will look at several themes, but very briefly. We must first note that the linkages that the Iberians established were vast and pregnant with consequences. The Spanish linked the Americas and Europe, and via the Pacific the Americas and East Asia. The Portuguese connected southern America with Africa and Europe, and also the north and south Atlantic, as well as the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. (Later the Dutch linked the far western part of the Indian Ocean, the Cape, with the far east, that is western Australia and Indonesia.) Men began to travel widely, and serve these far-flung Iberian empires in many continents. Duarte Coelho Pereira served the Portuguese state in Morocco and West Africa. In 1509–29 he was in India, and this period included voyages to China, Vietnam and Siam. Then he returned to Portugal and was Portuguese ambassador to France, after which he had various navy commands. In 1534 he became the lord-proprietor of the captaincy of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, where he remained for twenty years.37
Impressive and far-flung connections indeed, yet in the case of the Indian Ocean we must remember that Asia and Europe had been linked for centuries via the Red Sea and Gulf. Rome had an extensive trade with India 2,000 years ago. Later, Asian products continued to get to the Mediterranean and European markets. Spices were the most important here. Europeans needed them to preserve meat, and to flavour it. This was certainly an important trade for the European consumers, and for the Asian producers and traders. It was also important for the Mamluk rulers of Egypt, for a significant amount of their revenue came from taxing this trade.
Some historians claim that while certainly there had been some contact before 1498, commercial connections between Europe and Asia were greatly strengthened because the Portuguese had discovered a new, faster and more efficient route to join the two, that is the route around the Cape of Good Hope. It is true that the Cape route was, at least in theory, faster than the more difficult route from the spice production areas in the Malukus, across the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea, and then overland to Alexandria. The Cape route also was cheaper, because taxes did not have to be paid to land controllers en route, especially the Mamluks. Furthermore, at this time sea transport was substantially more cost-effective than was transport over land (see page 29).
In practice it turned out that the Cape route was not really so much better. It was, after all, a long and arduous sea voyage which took many months. Quite often Portuguese ships were lost on the way, or had very long passages. Mortality was very high, so that often ships from Portugal had to stop over in Mozambique to cure their sick before they set off again for India. Many of the naus were overloaded, and the cargoes poorly stowed, so that the spices and other cargo reached Lisbon in very bad condition. Between 1497 and 1590 about 171,000 people, mostly Portuguese, left Portugal for India. About 17,000 were lost to shipwreck and disease en route, while of the 105,000 who set off to return to Portugal, 11,000 never made it. During the same period a similar 10 per cent of ships were lost. This data points to a quite high, but not surprising, attrition of men and ships.38
There are two other matters that we need to consider in this context. First, European historians have written extensively about changes in the spice trade to Europe. What we can say here is that this trade was no doubt important for Europe, but not nearly so much for Asia. Only about one-tenth of Asia's total production of spices went to Europe. Most of them were consumed within Asia. China, for example, was a huge customer for ginger and pepper, as was the Mughal empire. To focus only on the spice trade to Europe is to ignore the bulk of this trade, which was never destined to go anywhere near the Mediterranean. The Portuguese had very little control of this intra-Asian trade.
It could be that we are using the wrong geographical categories here. I have been writing of 'Asia' and 'Europe', but maybe this familiar terminology disguises more than it elucidates. When we write about this early modern period there is often an undertone of a successful dynamic Europe as compared with a static, even backward, Asia. We might do better to think of an area called Eurasia. This would include the eastern Mediterranean, and would take in part of the Ottoman Empire. The area then extends down through Egypt to the Red Sea, and so into the Arabian Sea. These areas have all been intricately linked for centuries, even millennia, by trade and the movement of people. If we take this perspective then we could say that the Cape route opened up an alternative to trade within Eurasia, but that this route did not take over from the more traditional ones for some time yet.
But surely the Portuguese, being Europeans, stood out in Asia? Surely many of their feats, and many of the things they introduced, could not be emulated by Asians? Well, not really. One of the few areas where the Portuguese were unusual was in their naval prowess, for they had mastered the art of mounting cannon on board ships. This ability enabled them to achieve considerable maritime success all over the Indian Ocean, though they certainly never came near to controlling the seas and all ships on them.
In a more cultural area, it is sometimes claimed that the Portuguese brought the fruits of Renaissance Europe to India. This is a problematic claim. First, Portugal did not share fully in the series of developments collectively known as the Renaissance, mainly as the Church, and the Counter-Reformation, were too influential. The persecution of Portugal's important Jewish population, which caused many of them to flee north to the Low Countries, persisted after those who remained had converted. This had long-term effects on Portugal's intellectual life. As a specific example, what of the printing press, often considered to be a great symbol of the whole loosening up of the dissemination of knowledge which is characteristic of the Renaissance? A printing press arrived in Goa in 1556, thanks to the Jesuits. By 1679 it had published forty books, but only three of these were on secular subjects. The most famous of these is the work by Goa's great savant, Garcia d'Orta, Colloquios dos simples e drogas. The other thirty-seven were all on religious subjects, and some of them were mere anti-Jewish or anti-Hindu propaganda. And it is symptomatic that d'Orta's work had much more impact on the rest of Europe than it had in Portugal.
If we take a very long-term view, can we say that the Portuguese opened the door for other Europeans to come in and change Asia profoundly? Were they harbingers of a future when most areas in Asia were colonised by Europeans powers, with very dramatic and deleterious consequences? Again this claim is difficult to sustain. As we have been pointing out, in many areas the Portuguese had no particular advantage over the Asian states and peoples with whom they had dealings. They were, if you like, as premodern or early modern as anyone else. Generally speaking, westerners had no superiority in any area at this time. This was obviously the case in terms of culture, society or religion, and it would be racist to say otherwise. However, this also applies in material matters, such as the production of goods, trade practices and technology. Inequality appeared only when western Europe industrialised, and for the first time we have a rich world and a poor world. This happened only from late in the eighteenth century. One consequence of industrialisation in the west was that they now had the technological capacity to take over large areas of Asia, and this is what happened. However, my argument is that the increasing economic and military power of the west led inevitably to their colonising Asia; this would have happened even if the Portuguese had not rounded the Cape in 1498. The Portuguese effort then must be seen as a tour de force, that is a prodigious effort which however had no flow on and no consequences – in short, a one-off achievement.
The reasons for this comparative failure have been much debated. Earlier British writers said it was hardly surprising that this happened, for the Portuguese were corrupt, inefficient, racially mixed, cruel, and Catholic! Of course this is nonsense. Several more cogent factors can be isolated. First is simply the vast and unachievable nature of their aims. They were trying to control a huge maritime space, as any glance at a map will make clear. The population of Portugal around 1600 was about 2,000,000, while Akbar ruled an empire of over 100,000,000. Some Mughal cities had populations of 500,000. Goa in 1600 totalled 60,000, of whom 1,500 were Portuguese and mestiços (people of mixed blood). In the last quarter of the sixteenth century there were about 14,000 to 16,000 Portuguese beyond the Cape of Good Hope. In short, one basic reason for the Portuguese failure was simply a lack of people.
This meant that they consistently had to take account of facts on the ground which constrained them very severely. For example, the King of Malindi was not always as loyal as they hoped, and he had to be allowed to continue his own trade with Gujarat, although this undermined Portuguese control in the south. On the East Africa coast the Portuguese always had to be concerned to conciliate local rulers, whether it be those in the immediate hinterland, or the far distant ruler of the Mutapa state, to whom the Portuguese paid the curva, or a form of tribute, in order to be allowed to trade in his territories.
Sometimes the Portuguese were hampered by their lack of knowledge, and new conditions which affected them. An example of each is gold, and disease, in both cases in relation to East Africa. As to the former, the Portuguese thought that gold on the plateau must come from great mines, just as silver came from Potosí. If they could find the mines they would be able to control them and monopolise gold exports. Dos Santos described well their disappointment once they realised the true situation:
When the Portuguese found themselves in the land of gold they thought that they would immediately be able to fill sacks with it, and carry off as much as they chose; but when they had spent a few days near the mines, and saw the difficulty and labor of the Kaffirs, and with what risk and peril of their lives they extracted it from the bowels of the earth and from the stones, they found their hopes frustrated.39
Gold was mined and washed only as a part-time occupation by the Shona, being done more or less on need when cloth was desired. The activity was very dispersed; there was no central mine that could be controlled, and nor could the actual producers be forced to mine full-time and provide large quantities. Couto recognised this, in a somewhat back-handed way. 'As the Kaffirs are numerous, they always obtain a great quantity [of gold] although they are by nature so indolent that when they have found sufficient to buy two pieces of cloth to clothe themselves, they will not work any more.'40
As for new conditions, while the Portuguese adapted to some parts of this new environment, such as the monsoon pattern, in other areas they found it difficult. The best example is disease, which laid a heavy toll indeed on Portuguese manpower. This was made worse by Portuguese clothing and diet. Mozambique Island in particular was notoriously unhealthy, with literally hundreds dying in its hospital. The building of this hospital had been seen as a prime necessity even as the fort was being built in 1507, yet the mortality rate was very high.41 Nor were other areas much better. In 1528 Nuno da Cunha's fleet travelled up the east coast. He was on his way to India to be viceroy. He left 200 sick Portuguese in Zanzibar so they could recover. Then he wintered in Mombasa with a force of 800 men. Of them 370 died during the 'winter' months.42 Ironically, it seems that the Portuguese suffered more from African diseases than did Africans from European ones. Certainly the arrival of the Portuguese did not unleash the devastating epidemics which resulted from the arrival of Europeans in Oceania and the Americas. Most East Africans seem to have had some immunity to Eurasian endemic strains. This may have been a result of the movement south of Bantu people, or the penetration of immunity from the coast to the interior. It seems that East Africa was more closely connected to Eurasian, or perhaps in this context Afrasian, disease pools than were the Portuguese.
Portuguese efforts were not helped by what seems today to be inefficiency, and even corruption. Peculation was rife in the state; every office holder expected to make large profits from his three-year term. It is a question of whether corruption is the correct term to use, for ideal standards of official conduct today are hardly an appropriate measure to assess the standards of the Portuguese, or anyone else, in this early modern period. However, there is no doubt that Portuguese officials very often engaged in conduct which was highly detrimental to the interests of the state. It could be that the underlying cause here, while in part to do with pre-modern notions of appropriate official behaviour, was also a result of the way the Portuguese presence was by no means a monolith. Rather, there were various layers and interests, many of them in competition with official policy, and among these were even the officials themselves quite often. Officials had to serve the king and his trade, but had also to think of their own trade, for most of the time their pay for a post included extensive trade privileges. In 1604 an official decree complained of this, noting that the captains of Mozambique too often ignored their obligations to guard the fortress and instead spent their time up the Zambezi river looking after their own trading interests. Then the captains were faced with householders in the forts, who all traded, and then again by transfrontiersmen (more correctly transfrontiersfolk, for some were women) who were completely outside the system.
The captains of Diu frequently took bribes in return for allowing 'illegal' trade. One even sold off cannon from the fort to enemies of the state. The prevailing attitude was well expressed by a newly appointed captain of a fort, who visited a religious house to say goodbye. One of the clerics counselled him: 'Be content with what is yours, favour the poor, and do justice.' The captain retorted that he fully intended to get all he could, as did all the others, 'because I am not going to my fort for any other reason than to come back rich.' The great chronicler Diogo do Couto summed up the state of the administration late in the century when he wrote 'for the king's property to increase, it should pass through few hands, and the fewer hands of officials it has contact with the greater will be its increase.'43
Finally, can one mount a counter-factual case that the Portuguese would have done better to engage in peaceful trade? There is adequate evidence that the initial Portuguese demands for control and even monopoly went quite contrary to accepted practice in the Indian Ocean. We have earlier written extensively about how trade was conducted before the Portuguese (see pages 97–9), and can merely add here a little detail from East Africa. There is some evidence that trade there was in something like a state of nature when the Portuguese arrived. Barros claimed that when Gama reached Mozambique he was greeted by a native of Fez, who said the custom of the sultan 'was when strange ships arrived to send and enquire what they sought; and if they were merchants they might trade in that country, and if navigators bound to other parts he provided them with whatever was to be had there.'44 Four years later, in Sofala, the Portuguese claimed that they wanted peace and friendship, and to be treated like all other merchants in this port. The ruler replied that this was quite acceptable. All merchants were welcome, as he derived much profit from them. The Portuguese were welcome to trade on the same terms as everyone else.45
Godinho has discussed this matter in his magisterial work. He says that in 1501 and 1502 the Portuguese got access to the gold trade of Sofala without using violence. But beginning in 1505, with the arrival of Viceroy Almeida with his very militant instructions, this all changed for the worse, and the policy became one of loot and plunder, compulsion and forced monopoly.46 The reasons are various, but one problem was that in East Africa the Portuguese claimed that there was serious opposition to their presence from Kilwa and Mombasa. This however was a matter of chickens coming home to roost, for the ruler of Kilwa had been influenced by Muslims from Calicut, who had told him of the barbarities the Portuguese had inflicted on this Indian port city.47
Even at the time some contemporary Portuguese commented on this strange mixture of trade and violence. One simply noted that 'war is contrary to trade', another, a Venetian on Cabral's voyage in 1500, said, 'If you wish to trade you do not rob competitors' ships', and in 1532 a noble noted that 'To trade and fight are more opposed than the north and south poles.'
Sometimes Portuguese violence was clearly counter-productive. They produced one inveterate opponent in the ruler of Cannanore after they sewed up his nephew and six others in a sail and threw them overboard to drown. According to one contemporary the tyranny of the Portuguese captain of Diu caused a frontal attack on the fort from the neighbouring state of Gujarat. 'The captain of the fort caused the siege of Diu because he behaved so badly to the king of Gujarat and the local Muslims that if they had been Christians they would have had good cause to become Muslims.'
It is probable that the Portuguese could have traded on a basis of equality in all the major Asian port cities. As we noted, these thrived by welcoming all, and providing facilities for trade. Certainly existing traders would have competed hard, but on past performance it seems unlikely they would have been the first to use force. As for the rulers, initially they, before Portuguese intentions became clear, were happy to welcome them as another group of foreign merchants come to trade and so increase their customs receipts.
Peaceful trade would have had economic consequences, apart from the obvious moral ones. The huge expense of the fleets and forts would have been avoided. A Venetian ambassador as early as 1525 noted the consequences of the huge expenditure on military and naval matters:
Having had information concerning the affairs of Portugal, I believe first of all, as has been affirmed to me by men most familiar with the kingdom, that that King has a far smaller sum of money than is commonly believed, for he spends a very large sum in maintaining that voyage to India, and the needs of the various fortresses and diverse fleets, which cost him a considerable amount of money....48
The Portuguese could have sat in Calicut, just as the Middle Eastern merchants, the pardesi, did and not have to go to southeast Asia. Or they could have followed the very successful Dutch model of the seventeenth century. The Dutch East India Company certainly used force in the Maluku Islands in order to get a monopoly on fine spices, but they made more money from more or less peaceful involvement in the 'Country Trade'. Indeed the Portuguese did this to an extent. If we look at areas where the Portuguese were more successful, these turn out to be the same as areas where there was less crown interference and consequently much less use of violence. Leaving aside the intercontinental trade, much local country trade in Asia made large profits both for the Portuguese state and for private Portuguese. The voyages between Japan and China, and on to Melaka and India, made vast profits, and these were not based on the sort of exclusionism characteristic of the carreira back to Portugal. In many ways the Asian empire operated independently of the metropole, self-financing and self-controlled. Right outside of it thousands of private Portuguese trafficked more or less successfully as part of the rich warp and weft of traditional Asian trade, participating on a basis of equality with the vast array of others engaged in the same sorts of trade, with no particular advantages or disadvantages.
It is even likely that if the Portuguese had achieved a monopoly on the supply of spices to Europe, this would have caused little concern or interest amongst Asian traders. Muslim merchants would have continued to trade with their co-religionists from the Malukus to Egypt, retaining control of some 90 per cent of the total trade in spices, for Christian Europe consumed less than 10 per cent of total production. But alas, this strategy of peaceful mercantile competition was never tried, for the reasons outlined above (pages 120–2) relating to Portuguese aims, and Portuguese preconceptions. There was, given these, no option but attempts at monopoly based on violence.
Not everyone will accept these arguments about the basic flaws in Portuguese designs. Nevertheless, it is interesting that many Portuguese in effect acted in the same way as I have argued the state should have; in other words, they 'went native' and operated quite happily and profitably outside the Portuguese system, and within the existing indigenous one. We will come to this matter of accommodation and mingling presently, but first we must introduce the northern Europeans.
The Portuguese claimed, or at least their poet Luís Vas de Camões claimed, that Gama sailed through seas never before sailed. This was true enough if one follows a passage from Lisbon around the Cape of Good Hope to about the modern Delagoa Bay, but not from there on across the Indian Ocean. So also with the Dutch. They followed the Portuguese. Their novelty consisted in their 'discovery' of the roaring 40s and fearful 50s in the southern ocean. Once they were established in Indonesia they soon learnt to keep south of the Cape, and scream across the southern ocean to the west coast of Australia, then head north to Indonesia. This route had never been sailed before, except possibly by Indonesians returning from Madagascar, but we noted earlier that this claim seems to be quite fanciful (see pages 60–1).
The Dutch and the English were concerned to break in on the trade pioneered by the Iberians.49 Their attitude to trade was often as positive as that of the most rigid free-market economist of today. In 1711 Joseph Addison, in an essay called 'Trade as a Civilising Force', wrote in a strikingly benign way that
Nature seems to have taken a particular Care to disseminate her Blessings among the different Regions of the World with an Eye to this mutual Intercourse and Traffick among mankind, that the Natives of several Parts of the Globe might have a Dependence upon one another, and be united by their common Interest.50
The wonder of the East, now focused on products rather than mysteries and the fabulous, was well expressed by Samuel Pepys:
My Lord Broucker and Sir Edmund Pooly carried me down into the hold of the India ship, and there did show me the greatest wealth lie in confusion that a man can see in the world. Pepper scattered through every chink, you trod upon it; and in cloves and nutmegs I walked above the knees; whole rooms full. And silk in bales... as noble a sight as ever I saw in my life.51
In the following sketch I have taken to heart a powerful admonition from the late Denys Lombard. He wanted to
underline the importance of preventing the study of the companies from being separated from the Asian context in which they were formed and developed. When seen from Europe, they doubtless appear to be autonomous institutions of wonderful effecacity, heralding the colonial empires of the nineteenth century. When seen from Asia, they seem first and foremost to be uncertain attempts on the part of newcomers to find their way as best they could into a system which had been in existence for centuries.52
Thinking back to the typology we sketched earlier in this chapter, the Dutch and English, like the Portuguese, acquired some ports, and many trading posts (known as factories) in existing ports, and at times they moved to the second stage, where they participated in production in the interior. But their move to the third stage, where they controlled politically the interior, in most areas came later in the eighteenth century. Specifically, while Europeans established ports on the Coromandel coast, such as Chennai, this did not mean that they did well in local trade, and nor did they outcompete native ports. So also on the west coast of India. Mumbai was set up by the British in the 1660s, but it took seventy years for it to overtake the great port of Surat. The coup de grâcewas military rather than commercial: in 1759 Surat was taken over by the British. And so also in Indonesia: Jakarta (Batavia) won only after the Dutch conquered Makassar.
The Dutch had some decades of maritime experience behind them, especially in the Baltic and North Sea, before they ventured to the Indian Ocean late in the sixteenth century. They had also done well in the distribution within Europe of spices brought to Lisbon by the Portuguese. When Spain conquered Portugal in 1580 their access was restricted, and this seems to have been the main motive for the decision of some Dutch seafarers to go direct to the source of the spices. Early returns were excellent, leading to an uncontrolled rush: in 1598 twenty-two ships owned by five different trading companies went to Asia. One of these companies ended up making a profit of 400 per cent. Economic and political elites (the two were intertwined) realised that intra-Dutch competition was inefficient. To solve this problem the state encouraged the merchants to combine, and in 1602 the VOC (Dutch East India Company) was formed. The state gave it a monopoly over trade to the Indian Ocean. We see here two important characteristics of the Dutch effort. Their Asian presence was located in a trading company, not in an arm of the state. Yet there was an indirect nexus between state and company, in that the state sold off to the company quasi state rights in Asia, and in return the state profited from the success of the company. So also in the Indian Ocean, where the company adroitly mixed skilful trade with the selective use of military force. In this they were much more focused, and hence more effective, than were the Portuguese.
The English experience was a rather muted copy of the Dutch. They also had maritime experience, including the activities of semi-pirates like Drake and Hawkins. In 1600 the EIC (English East India Company) was set up, but with much less capital, and apparently much less commercial expertise, than the Dutch had. The EIC much more than the VOC was modest about trying to be warlike. One official noted that the 'worst of peace is better than the best of war'.
Portugal resisted the intrusion of the northern Europeans, but in most places was unable to hold out. The English played a secondary role, while the Dutch conquered a string of Portuguese forts: Melaka in 1641, Colombo and all of Sri Lanka in 1658, and all the Malabar ports in the 1660s. They also established trading posts in existing ports on both sides of the Indian coast, and in 1619 took the minor Javanese port of Jakarta. Renamed Batavia, this was considered to be well located to act as their capital in the area.
Like the Portuguese, the Dutch aimed to control the spice trade. Ironically, they had considerable success, but finally failed for many of the same reasons as the Portuguese. Their capital, determination, ruthlessness and force gave them early success, which led to the end not only of the Portuguese trade via the Cape but also of the overland trade to the Levant. It was a sign of the times when as early as 1600 the Portuguese unloaded six carracks in Lisbon carrying a large pepper cargo. They found them hard to sell, for their traditional markets in northern Europe were already well supplied by large Dutch shipments.53
On the face of it the Dutch achieved considerable success, but actually their achievement in controlling the pepper trade was less than that for the fine spices, where they finally achieved something close to a total monopoly. In large part this was because, unlike pepper, the fine spices grew in restricted areas. In Sri Lanka the Dutch obtained their first cargo of cinnamon in 1638, and the sale price in Amsterdam was nearly double the purchase price. After the Portuguese had been driven out of this island, by 1658, the Dutch, now having a complete monopoly, thought they could charge what they liked. They raised the price from 15 stuivers to 36 in 1658, and later to 50. Overall the profits were huge. Anthony Reid claims that by the mid seventeenth century the VOC could sell spices in Europe at about seventeen times, and in India about fourteen times, the price which they had paid in Maluku, and he notes that none of this profit went to any Asian.54
Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace made up the VOC 'famous four' spices. As a Frenchman wrote in 1697, 'No lover is as jealous of his mistress as the Dutch are of their trade in spices.' In the Maluku islands, home of the last three fine spices, the Dutch behaved with great ruthlessness. Under governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1619–23, 1627–29), pursuing his 'policy of frightfulness', they deported much of the population of the Bandas, and then moved in Dutch settlers supported by a vast slave population drawn from such scattered areas as East Africa, Persia, Bengal and Japan.55 In 1636 on one of these islands, as a result of Dutch severity, there were only 560 natives left, together with 539 Dutch and 834 free foreigners. To overcome the labour shortage they had to import 2,000 slaves from Arakan and Bengal. On other Banda islands all nutmeg trees were cut down so as to avoid the possibility of smuggling. Their policy in the clove producing areas was equally bloody, indeed was too successful, for so well did they limit production that in 1665 there was a shortage of cloves. Production was closely controlled. In 1710 the directors of the VOC noted 'with grief' that the most recent harvest of cloves on Amboyna was likely to be 1.85 million pounds. They did massive extirpations in order to get production down to an 'acceptable' level of about 500,000 pounds.56
Competition from other Europeans was slowly overcome. The English held on in Bantam until 1682, and after this in Benkulen in southwest Sumatra, thereby retaining some access to pepper. The Spanish left Tidore only in 1663, while the end of the Portuguese was symbolised by their loss of Melaka in 1641. The end of any competition for cloves, nutmeg and mace was achieved in 1669 when Makassar was conquered, and from then on the Dutch made vast monopolistic profits from these spices: several hundred per cent, and even up to 4,000 per cent. Their control of the clove trade is shown by the way they were able to charge one fixed price for this product in Europe from 1677 to 1744. Better still, the Dutch were able to overcome the common problem faced by Europeans trading in Asia. Few European products found any market in the Indian Ocean area, yet in a bullionist age the export of precious metals was seen as undesirable. But the Dutch were lucky, for their sales of spices in Asia produced profits which then could be used to buy goods to send back to Europe.
Yet this rosy picture, for the Dutch, contained its own problems. There were difficulties both in Asia and Europe, and these combined to reduce profits in the eighteenth century, as most dramatically shown by the bankruptcy of the VOC in the 1790s. First, we need to remember that pepper was always the main product. In Europe demand for pepper in the seventeenth century was some 7 million lbs a year, while for the 'famous four' together it was only 1,000,000. But the Dutch never completely controlled pepper. The reason was that pepper was produced in several different areas, not all of them controlled by the Dutch. For example, in the very large producing area on India's southwest coast Dutch power was restricted to the seashore; much pepper escaped their control inland. A Dutch commander in 1664 set out the aim in a letter to his subordinates:
Considering that the pepper trade is the bride around which everything dances, we recommend Your Honours to bend your best efforts to bring great quantities of Malabar pepper into Company hands every year... while at the same time you should prevent the indigenes from transporting it elsewhere by sea or land in secret.
At least in Malabar the Dutch were faced with the same problem which had hindered Portuguese efforts in the region, namely that the production areas were inland, and European power was effective only on the coast and at sea.57 Even VOC control over the Malukus was achieved only at an ultimately too high price. One problem was that about one-third of the production of these fine spices was sold in Asia, as also was pepper, and so the VOC had to make delicate calculations of prices in Asian markets: if their prices were too high then Asian purchases declined, but if they were too low then other Europeans would buy in India and ship to Europe.
There was also the cost of enforcement, and of preventing new production areas. As early as 1663 a Dutch official noted ominously that 'Out of these [pepper trade], the heavy expenses which the Company has borne for such a long time, and which it is still forced to carry, have to be paid.' Smuggling was a particular problem and even some of the VOC's own servants indulged in this, just as had the Portuguese a century earlier. Slaves on the Banda islands and their Dutch masters, the perkeniers (concessionaires licensed by VOC who had local mothers), were adroit smugglers, so the cost of enforcing the monopoly was huge, especially as slightly inferior long nutmeg grew on other islands and could be substituted. The VOC became a bloated and overly rigid body, with a vast and expensive military and civil establishment. The number of employees in the east rose geometrically: in 1625 there were 2,500, around 1700 the number had risen to 13,000, and by mid century there were 20,000 civil servants and troops.58 More generally, Dutch success, at its height from about 1680 to 1720, meant that they did not get into ultimately more profitable trades in cotton piece goods, tea and opium. Piece goods especially had a much wider market than spices, both in Asia and after mid century in Europe also.
There were also problems in Europe. We have noted that European consumption of spices was more or less static throughout the seventeenth century, or possibly even declined a little. The problem was that the huge increase, at least a doubling, in European consumption of spices in the sixteenth century meant that as they became cheaper and more available they were no longer a symbol of wealth and luxury. Their prestige declined and relatively they were less used. New luxuries and stimulants competed with or even replaced spices: coffee, chocolate, cocoa, alcohol and tobacco. New vegetables (asparagus, spinach, artichokes, tomatoes, pimentos, melons) varied the European diet, so spices were less needed to ginger things up. It seems that meat consumption in Europe declined, and also simpler cooking styles were more in vogue. In short, ironically, the VOC monopoly turned out to be a Trojan horse; they controlled products whose value was falling, and ignored humbler but ultimately more productive goods.
This Dutch impact on the spice trade was atypical. Recent work tends to emphasise that in most areas for most of the time we must still stress continuity, at least up to the mid eighteenth century, when the British began to acquire land in eastern India. From this time the whole equation changed and the Indian Ocean area was increasingly dominated by Europeans, and especially the English. Asian markets were undercut by port cities located in colonial areas; Asian merchants were displaced by Europeans backed up by armed force and by a state which ruled all of India and other areas around the Indian Ocean.
We can see some signs of these changes in the 150 years between the arrival of the northern Europeans and the mid eighteenth century. These apply more to the location of the major markets than to changes in merchant communities. Broadly speaking, over this period we see the rise of new port cities, major markets, which were ruled by Europeans. Often some coercion was employed to attract or force Asian traders to use these new markets. In Indonesia the best examples are Jakarta, the capital of the Dutch East India Company from the 1620s, and Melaka, conquered from the Portuguese in 1641. In India the most obvious examples are the three great port cities, each of them created more or less from scratch by the English East India Company: Chennai in the 1640s, Mumbai in the 1660s, and Kolkata in the 1690s. The rise of these new ports, and the increasing volume of European trade around the Cape of Good Hope, left many traditional ports in the Arabian Sea bereft. Most of the Swahili ports sunk into stagnation. Aden and Hurmuz continued to decline. On the west coast of India the once great Surat was replaced by Mumbai by the 1730s, though here it is worth remembering that it took Mumbai seventy years as a British port before it could outrank Surat; the traditional port cities did not give up easily!
Merchant communities often demonstrated considerable flexibility. They were prepared to move to new markets. Late in our period many Surat merchants moved to Mumbai; Coromandel merchants to Chennai; and merchants from many parts of India to Kolkata. Gujarati merchants also moved in to Zanzibar, and played a major role in its economy, being for example responsible for collecting customs. As another example of a change, the Parsi community in Surat had been of only minor importance in the trade of the town until late in the seventeenth century. They then acquired a larger role as agents of the increasingly dominant English. Members of this merchant community also moved to Mumbai and became major figures in the trade of this port in the eighteenth century. There were however dislocations, and new groups rose under the expanding influence of the Europeans. The Dutch attempt to monopolise the trade in fine spices from the Malukus was more or less achieved by the middle of the seventeenth century, and the traditional Malay traders were displaced. However, Indian merchants continued to trade to Indonesia, and were able to circumvent Dutch attempts to block their trade.
Local rulers responded in different ways to the activities of the northern Europeans. In the landed empires they were in a situation of subservience. In China they traded only on the sufferance of the port authorities, and were very closely supervised, not to say humiliated. In the Red Sea and Gulf they had to deal with less powerful states, especially once the Safavid empire unravelled in the early eighteenth century. Before this, their relative position is best shown by how the EIC helped the Iranians capture Hurmuz from the Portuguese. They got little credit or advantage from this.
In India there developed a standoff, but a different one from that which had confronted the Portuguese. It will be remembered that the Portuguese had power at sea, but very little on land, as they themselves well knew. In the case of the Dutch and English companies, they could not exercise the control over trade in, say, the Gulf of Cambay which the Portuguese had achieved, and more importantly they soon placed factories not only on the coast in the port cities but also inland at production centres. This made them very vulnerable indeed. Consequently, while the companies could, and did, seize Indian ships, including those belonging to the political elite, at sea, the Mughals retaliated by seizing European factors in the ports and inland. A stalemate resulted, which was broken only when Mughal power declined in the eighteenth century. One consequence of this, a fateful one, was that the English were able to take advantage of this to secure important concessions for themselves. In 1719 they paid money and were given freedom from internal customs duties in the Mughal empire. This gave them, at first potentially and later actually, an enormous advantage vis-à-vis their Indian competitors.
The response from the port city controllers was obviously different. As we noted, the Dutch took over many of those which the Portuguese had seized a century earlier. The independent ones, such as on the Coromandel coast, welcomed the northern Europeans as a counter to the Portuguese. Both here and on the west coast however the Europeans also set up their own ports, of which Chennai and Mumbai are the obvious examples. As European trade in the ocean increased, these ports flourished and slowly took over the trade of their contiguous Indian competitors.
This also happened in southeast Asia. Several of the controllers of port polities tried hard to compete. This often meant an increase in state control of the economy. Aceh engaged in state-directed pepper production, using slave labour, and also eliminated some pepper areas in order to deny them to the Dutch. The ruler of Banten forced the inhabitants to grow a certain number of vines, and in Makassar the ruler supervised trade, while in Ayutthaya much overseas trade was a royal monopoly. These efforts were in vain. Dutch effectiveness meant that from the mid seventeenth century many previously flourishing Malay ports were outcompeted.59
There was however another dimension to the work of the northern Europeans in the Indian Ocean. Both the English and Dutch companies traded extensively with Europe, and replaced the Portuguese in this sector. Here, then, we are writing a history in the ocean. Om Prakash has written the standard account of this.60 The first period, to about 1680, finds the VOC dominant. He stresses the success of their official engagement in the country trade. Its establishment in mid-century was crucial for Dutch success, and it was based on their continuing access to Japan, and their control of fine spices. Thus while the English by the end of this period were catching up in their share of the trade with Europe, the total Dutch trade was still far superior because of their huge inter-Asian trade. The second period goes from 1680 to 1740. During this time the VOC was successfully challenged by the EIC, and to an extent by other European companies. The decisive factor in this period was a vast increase in the European demand for fine cottons and raw silk. The English, by now well established in India, were able to take advantage of this, especially from their factories in Bengal. In the final period, to 1800, the English went ahead by leaps and bounds, though importantly Prakash stresses that the VOC did not really decline: rather it failed to match the rapid English expansion. We now see tea, a new product, entering the trade, again as a result of changes in European demand and English government policy, and a vast increase in the trade in opium, mostly to Indonesia and later to China. The China trade came to dominate. Imports to Guangzhou doubled and then trebled in the last quarter of the century, thanks especially to a vast rise in English tea consumption once import duties were reduced in 1784.
The main difference between these two companies was in their attitude to trade within Asia, that is a history of the ocean. The Dutch East India Company engaged massively in the 'country' trade, and did very well indeed from it. The great Dutch governor J.P. Coen well described the complexity of the trade which the Dutch East India Company hoped to enter:
Piece goods from Gujarat we can barter for pepper and gold on the coast of Sumatra, rials [silver currency] and cottons from the [Coromandel] coast for pepper in Bantam, sandalwood, pepper and rials we can barter for Chinese goods and Chinese gold; we can extract silver from Japan with Chinese goods, piece goods from the Coromandel coast in exchange for spices, other goods and rials, rials from Arabia for spices and various other trifles – one thing leads to the other.61
Private trade by its employees was actively discouraged, another sign of the rigidity which seems to characterise their total presence. The company opened up some new and long-distance routes, and were able to compete successfully with Asian traders. One of their main successes was a result of their being the only Europeans allowed to trade in Japan from the 1640s: their profits here were immense. In another niche they had an unusual success. The Maldives produced the best, because smallest, cowry shells, which we have noted being very widely used as an alternative currency (see pages 84–5). The VOC was able to centralise this trade on Sri Lanka. In 1763 fourteen ships came from the Maldives carrying 80,000 kgs of these shells, a total of 85,740,000 shells.62
Meanwhile, the English company concentrated on the trade to Europe, and allowed its own servants, called factors, to engage in local trade on their own behalf. Private English trade in the Indian Ocean had expanded greatly by the end of the seventeenth century, and even more during the eighteenth, especially once the swing to the east and China became apparent in the last quarter of the century. Many EIC ships, carrying both company and private goods, spent their lives chaffering around the littoral of the Indian Ocean, engaging in what was in many respects a peddling trade.
Despite this large and often successful engagement in the country trade, the Europeans still had to send out large quantities of bullion to the Indian Ocean area; few European products found a market in the area. As Furber noted, 'if silver had not been available to the Europeans in sufficient quantities, the East India trade could not have been carried on.'63 This in turn reinforces our view of a world beginning to be integrated, for the bullion came from south America, and much of it flowed on to the Indian Ocean, either via the Mediterranean and the Middle East and so to our ocean, or around the Cape in European ships. On average two-thirds of VOC exports from Europe were in bullion; in the seventeenth century Peruvian silver, in the eighteenth Brazilian gold. Between 1660 and 1720 Dutch imports into Bengal, one of their major trading areas, were only 12.5 per cent goods, the rest being bullion. So also with the EIC. Over the period 1660–1720 only 20.6 per cent of English imports to all of Asia were made up of goods: the rest was bullion.64
Most rulers at this time, whether English kings or Mughal emperors, were bullionists who believed, with prevailing economic thought, that a rich state was one which had huge stocks of precious metals. Despite this, the influence of both of the companies in domestic politics, and their contribution to home revenues, was so great that they were allowed to export huge amounts of bullion. It must be stressed how fortuitous this all was. The consequences of the discovery of the Americas, and then of huge silver deposits there, generated the bullion without which Europeans could hardly have entered Indian Ocean trade. The ramifications of this are clearly enormous.
There was also a fluctuating, and ultimately unsuccessful, French effort in the ocean. The French seem never to have quite got it right. Several companies, usually undercapitalised, and often created de novo by the state as compared with the Dutch and English examples where the state recognised merchant pressure, had difficulty in competing with their European rivals. Often the French arrived too late, to find a trade, or a port city, already dominated by someone else. They did however attempt to plant colonies in Madagascar in the 1640s, and on the Ile de Bourbon (Réunion) in 1670. In 1710 they moved from there to Mauritius, now renamed the Ile de France. This island had been sighted by the Portuguese. In 1598 the Dutch named it and claimed it, but even in 1617 it was still uninhabited. Later the island was meant to serve as a way station between their other important territory, the Cape Colony, established in the 1640s, and Indonesia. They even tried to colonise it, but their settlements there failed, and they withdrew in 1710, having taken all the ebony and made the dodo extinct. Both these islands were captured by the British in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. The British at this time also acquired Rodrigues, which the French had settled in 1750, and the Seychelles, colonised in 1770.
The French were one of the European groups engaged in the slave trade in the Indian Ocean. This trade had a long history, and we have noted extensive trade from East Africa to the Middle East over many centuries. In the seventeenth century there was little demand for slaves in India, but there was a lot in southeast Asia, where various forms of bondage, right through to slavery, were common. This was especially so in Aceh, where expanding pepper plantations and tin mines needed slaves, as also did agriculture to feed a growing population. The Dutch entered this trade with some enthusiasm, doing especially well in buying people when there was famine in India. In famine years in Coromandel the Dutch shipped a thousand or so each year to Indonesia. The Dutch also took labour from Madagascar to work in their Cape colony, and even took some to the Americas.65 Later in the century the EIC took some hundreds of slaves from Africa, and especially from Madagascar, to Benkulen in Sumatra.
The French participated in this trade in the western part of the ocean. Indeed, the trade only became important when the French developed plantation agriculture, especially sugar, in the Mascarenhas islands. Again Madagascar was the first place to supply slaves, but later the East African coast was also exploited.
Europeans in the Indian Ocean were making important advances as the eighteenth century progressed. Even by 1750 the VOC and EIC were handling nearly 40 per cent of Bengal's silk exports, and this was a major export from the area.66 In global terms, Steensgaard worked out figures which show how important the Europeans were becoming. He claims that the total Indian overseas trade around 1600 was about 60,000 tons. The VOC alone by the 1620s had 10,000 tons, and around 1700 had 30,000 tons. By the middle of the eighteenth century European demand for Indian Ocean products was probably bigger than the total internal trade in the ocean, though this takes no account of inland markets.67
Our schema concerning the degree of influence of port cities claims that the third stage is when a controller of a port city not only interferes in production, but actually seizes the land on which production was occurring. The Dutch did this early on in the Malukus, but this was atypical for the time. It was only when the British acquired revenue rights in Bengal in the 1760s that a seismic change occurred. Their political power was used ruthlessly to the advantage of the EIC and more particularly the English private traders. For the first time producers could be coerced, and new trade networks created. English private traders in Kolkata and Mumbai came to dominate the trade of the Indian Ocean and the South China sea, and the EIC rose to superiority in trade to Europe. Bullion for goods no longer applied, for the English could finance purchases in Bengal from land revenue collections, and could also borrow money from private European merchants in Bengal against bills of exchange payable in Europe.
Ashin Das Gupta linked the beginning of European dominance with Asian decline, and this he explained was caused by the decline of the great Islamic empires. He sees an important transition. Once European ships had carried Asian traders, and Asian goods, to Asian markets, European ships being preferred increasingly as they were less likely to be attacked by pirates. Now, in the eighteenth century, European ships carried European goods to European controlled ports. He also described how Europeans began to move inland. At first they merely protected their inland trade with small bodies of troops, but this soon moved on to interfering in actual supply. By mid century Surat's trade had been taken over by Mumbai; as Das Gupta put it, 'there can be no doubt that by the turn of the nineteenth century not only was the European ship dominant in the ocean but the Indian ship has sailed into oblivion.'68 But this story will be taken up again in the next chapter.
Involvement in the country trade got Europeans closer to Indian Ocean patterns and rhythms. They fitted in, acculturated, in the milieu. We described how there developed a tacit understanding between Gujarati merchants and the Portuguese officials in Diu. So also in East Africa, where below the official pronouncements there was a whole other layer which was to do with cooperation, acculturation and dependence. This was even to be seen in relations with Muslims, in theory so hated and seen to be so threatening. Especially in the early days the Portuguese relied heavily on existing Muslim trade networks in the south to get their goods. To ensure their cooperation the Portuguese treated them well, gave them presents, and tried to work with them on matters such as choosing a new sultan for those ports in the south where puppet sultans ruled.69
Other examples of very human interaction are numerous, best seen perhaps in copious intermarriage or at least interbreeding, and in the practice of Christianity, or for that matter Islam, in the area. Boxer described an 'amicable mixture of Christian, Muslim and pagan practices', and these syncretic practices were followed not only by newly converted Bantus but by whites, mulattos and Goans as well, despite the opposition of the clergy. Such happy mixing and intermingling was also found at Sena in 1633, where the church school was attended by the children of Portuguese, and also people of Chinese, Javanese, Malabari, Sinhalese, and various African backgrounds, in a way reminiscent of the College of St Paul in Goa.
This sort of low level intermixing was seen in a variety of other contexts. In 1606 Padre Gaspar de San Bernadino arrived at Siyu. There were no Portuguese, or indeed Christians, in the area so the status of priest was unknown to the locals. However, two Hindu merchants from Diu did know what they were. They spoke good Portuguese and acted as interpreters for the Fathers and told the local king all about how Christian fathers behave. At Takwa, on Manda Island, is a blue and white sixteenth-century Portuguese dish set into the base of the cistern beside the mosque, that is the ablution trough.
There have been many studies of the Portuguese all over the Indian Ocean area 'going native', assimilating to the intricate long-standing networks of trade, especially in the Bay of Bengal area and many parts of southeast Asia. These people operated outside official Portuguese channels, spoke various Asian languages, and indeed very seldom had the opportunity to be counselled by a priest. They were in a position no different from, say, Armenians, Jews, Shirazis, Turks, and the host of other people trading and living and marrying in this polyglot and heterogeneous maritime world.
Most Portuguese outside the official structure were men who had served in the forts, and then by getting married had become casados ('householders'). Many of these people found better trading opportunities outside the forts and strips of the coast controlled by the state. They went to other areas and traded alongside all the others found there, whether Swahili, other Muslims, or Indian Hindus. Many of these people can be seen as transfrontierfolk, the appropriate term for people who do not straddle a frontier, but rather move right over to the other side and acculturate more or less fully. These men were to be found all over littoral Asia, up and down the Swahili coast, in Cambay, all around the Bay of Bengal.
The same interaction can be seen in the 'search for the similar' which the early Portuguese did both in East Africa and in India.70 In both cases they tried desperately to come to terms with, even appropriate, unknown people and religions, and understand them in terms familiar to themselves. In both cases what happened was that they met Hindus, followers of a religion at that time unknown to nearly all Europeans, and thought their religion was a form of Christianity. They were also predisposed to find Christians because they hoped to find Prester John, the Christian emperor who would ally with them and smite the Muslims from the south.
In a more social area, it is clear that many Portuguese in India acculturated and fitted in to the Indian Ocean littoral environment. Portuguese doctors, including even Garcia da Orta, recognised that often Indian remedies were better than European ones. Some aspects of pollution were picked up from Hindu practice. There was copious sexual interaction, and hence reproduction, between Portuguese men and Asian and African women. The result was the creation of a very large mestiço population. Even in their capital city of Goa the Portuguese were far outnumbered by Indians: the total population in 1600 was about 75,000, of whom 1,500 were Portuguese or mestiços, 20,000 Hindus and the rest local Christians.
The medical intermingling can stand as a type for this whole topic.71 Until the sixteenth century medical knowledge and practice in Europe, in the Muslim world and in India seems to have been relatively evenly spread. No area had any decisive advantage, although in different specialities different areas were ahead. There was a considerable degree of interaction between the traditional systems of these three areas. Yet there also was a recognition that some illnesses were geographically specific; some Indian illnesses, for example, were seen by foreigners as 'different', and best treated by indigenous methods. This was especially to be seen in the first European city in Asia, the Portuguese capital of Goa.
One example of both difference and interaction was bleeding. Bleeding was almost a universal cure, prophylactic and restorative in European medicine. They continued to rely on this when they got to India. In January 1542 Francis Xavier, later to be a saint, was ill. He ended a letter by writing, 'I would very much like to write at greater length, but sickness does not now permit it. I have been bled seven times today, and I am only passing well.'72 In the 1670s the Abbé Carré fell ill with a fever, and insisted on being bled. Great quantities were hacked out of him by enthusiastic amateur bleeders, and
This made me so feeble that I cannot bear to speak of it. Yet, though I felt very weak, I was not surprised that the fever grew less, as it no longer had the cause [that is, excess of blood] which had kept it up; and I further reduced it by refusing for eight days to eat many little delicacies that I would have liked – sometimes one thing, sometimes another, though I must confess I refrained with very great difficulty. For eight or ten days I still had my sight, my memory, and my senses, but so feebly that I did not remember anything that happened to me.
In the Royal Hospital of Goa bleeding was widely prescribed, being done up to thirty or forty times, so long as 'bad' blood came. Here we can see interaction, as Tavernier tells us:
I forgot to make a remark upon the frequent bleedings in reference to Europeans – namely, that in order to recover their colour and get themselves in perfect health, it is prescribed for them to drink for twelve days three glasses of pissat de vache [cow's urine], one in the morning, one at midday, and one in the evening; but, as this drink cannot but be very disagreeable, the convalescent swallows as little of it as possible, however much he may desire to recover his health. This remedy has been learnt from the idolaters [that is, Hindus] of the country, and whether the convalescent makes use of it or not, he is not allowed to leave the hospital till the twelve days have expired during which he is supposed to partake of this drink.
This mingling presumably explains why long after Portuguese political power had declined their language remained a lingua franca in maritime Asia. When the Dutch conquered Sri Lanka they were forced to use Portuguese to communicate with their new subjects. At the battle of Plassy in 1757 Clive used Portuguese to communicate with his troops. So also at the Cape, where in 1765 Mrs Kindersley wrote vigorously that the slaves of the Dutch were
brought originally from different parts of the East Indies. What seems extraordinary is, that they do not learn to talk Dutch, but the Dutch people learn their dialect, which is called Portuguese; and is a corruption of that language, some of them are called Malays or Malaynese, brought from that country of Malacca, and the islands to the eastward of India, subject to the Dutch company.
She found the same in India. She wrote of Indian Christians, whom she considered to be very low people, 'Their language is called Pariar Portuguese, a vile mixture of almost every European language with some of the Indian. This is however a useful dialect to travellers in many parts of Hindostan, particularly on the sea coast, and is called the lingua Franca of India.'73
Yet we must not exaggerate the extent of interaction, let alone of tolerance. Portugal's official policies were brutal and ethnocentric. Yes, there was mingling on the ground, yet there also was racism. Portuguese colonial society was very strictly graduated. At the top were those born in Portugal and who had no hint of Jewish blood. The newly converted Jews, New Christians, were regarded with very considerable suspicion. The great savant Garcia da Orta was posthumously convicted of Judaising. His bones were dug up and burnt. His sister was burnt alive. Next in the hierarchy were casticos, people born in India of Portuguese parents. There were very few of these, as few Portuguese women came to the east. These people in any case were considered to be inferior to those born in Portugal, because their wet nurses were Indian and hence they had drunk 'contaminated' milk. Next was the large mestiço, mixed blood, population, who were subject to many slurs and disadvantages. In nearly every case the father was Portuguese, the mother Asian. Those of mixed African and Portuguese descent were lower again. Then came Indian Christians, then non-Christians, and at the bottom black slaves. Goa had a considerable slave population. They were used in domestic work, and sometimes were hired out by their owners to work as seamstresses, nurse maids, or prostitutes. Often they were treated very brutally indeed. Their value can be seen in the fact that the dearest slave in the Goa market would be a young woman who could cook, sing, sew, and was a virgin. She would sell for 30 cruzados, a fine Arabian horse for over 500.
The Protestant Dutch and English also mingled and interacted. Often they learnt from Asian and African experience. After the VOC took over Mauritius they tried to introduce European-style agriculture, and failed. However, their slaves came from Madagascar, which shares with Mauritius many characteristics of soil and vegetation. The Dutch learnt more appropriate farming techniques from their Malagasy slaves. Similarly in Madagascar, where the French were forced to learn how to cultivate from local people.
Despite this, there was still very considerable racism in the Dutch and English settlements. Indians in most of them were forced to live in 'black towns', apart from the European rulers. The Dutch in Jakarta were greatly outnumbered. In 1673 the city had over 2,000 Dutch and 726 Eurasians, but nearly 3,000 Chinese, over 5,000 'black Portuguese', about 3,000 local people of Malay background, and a massive 13,278 slaves. These were mostly for domestic work, and for show, but some were used by Chinese owners as plantation labour.
Divisions in Jakarta were roughly similar to those in Goa. The population figures we have just quoted show a strict division according to race, and the VOC also laid down rigorous sumptuary laws, which regulated who could wear a hat, or carry a parasol. Only the governor was allowed to have a coach with six horses.
Who was really the important group in this Indian Ocean littoral port polity? It has been claimed that a particular group was essential to the running of the town. Blussé writes that women, hardly any of them Dutch, were the vital support for the functioning of the city, hence he describes them as caryatids. Equally important was a racial group, the Chinese. Just as local and Gujarati Hindus played a dominating role in the Goan economy, so also did the Chinese in Jakarta. Their work in feeding the town, and generally running the local economy, was essential. Despite this, there were massacres and expulsions from time to time, yet they always returned. These massacres were a part of the brutal, 'life is short' nature of Jakarta. Like Goa, the European city often felt threatened from within and without, so that society was rather like the classic frontier society well known in several newly established settlement societies in the Americas and elsewhere. Brawls and street fights were common, executions of the guilty were appallingly savage affairs, and people were publicly whipped not just for political offences but also for moral or social deviations from the strict Calvinist norm.74
Short life expectancy also fostered this 'frontier' mentality, full of tension and with a lack of concern for life. Mortality in Jakarta was very high, and often Dutch ideas exacerbated the situation. They believed that disease was carried in the air, so windows were kept shut and the occupants roasted. They insisted on wearing European clothes and eating European food, neither appropriate to a city located nearly on the equator. Jakarta was located on several small rivers, but to make it more like Amsterdam they dug canals, and these became sewers which spread diseases very efficiently. While Goa also suffered from water-borne diseases, in many areas the Portuguese seem to have acculturated much better than the Dutch.
The English company was prepared to tolerate private trade undertaken by its employees, and indeed this was one of the reasons for English success in the eighteenth century. Among the Dutch, after an early experiment with allowing some private trade by VOC employees, the company decided to rigorously enforce its monopoly. No company servant, at least in theory, was allowed any private trade. Only those who had left company employment could do this. This meant that many fewer Dutch men went native and, as we noted of the Portuguese, took part in the warp and weft of Asian trade. Some however did, such as one who was found having a splendid time on an island in the Malukus 'with as many women as he pleaseth... he will sing and dance all day long, near stark-naked... and will be drunk for days together.'75
We have then a mix of prejudice and interaction, or antipathy and interbreeding. The Persian envoy Sulaiman reminds us of something else, namely that cross-cultural understanding was hard to achieve. We described how the first Africans and Asians to see Europeans found them to be bizarre creatures indeed, yet so did Sulaiman nearly two hundred years later. In Chennai, once he had got ashore, he was taken to an English party which was held to celebrate the coronation of James II in 1685. He found the whole experience extremely curious. The English did not take off their shoes, they sat on chairs rather than carpets, they had their dogs with them, and there were women present. This bit at least he liked:
Surely such women must be encouraged. Their beautiful straight backs sway like cypress trees and bring a rush of sap into the dry garden of the old lover's hearts. The rose-red glimmer of their cheeks, cheeks like those of heaven's Houris, sparked new life in the breasts of the company of friends. Thus the light of their beauty was admitted and they participated in the festivities despite the fact that they were women.
As the party got going,
the mart of hugs and kisses began to warm up. Everywhere slim-waisted women were being embraced while faces grew red with the rose-coloured wine. The festivity reached such an intensity the veils of modest restraint were on the verge of bursting into flame and burning away. It is another of their fixed rules that the degree of friendship one has for a person is expressed by the amount of affection one shows that person's wife. . . . when a [dance] turn was well done they plucked throat-burning kisses from one another's honeyed lips.76
This discussion of interaction leads us easily into a discussion of continuing structures in the Indian Ocean from 1500 to 1750. We have provided copious data already to show a minimal European impact in many areas: in the next chapter we reverse the focus and look from within the ocean rather than focusing on the activities of Europeans, their successes and failures.