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  • Spencer Low

When the Portuguese first arrived in India... Part 2

In a post a few years ago, I wrote about the fact that when the Portuguese first arrived in India, they were surprised to encounter speakers of Spanish and Genoese. This was due to the extensive Muslim trading network that had brought Moors from Mediterranean North Africa all the way east to India.

Viceroy Lopo Vaz de Sampaio established Portuguese factories in Mangalore in 1526 (from Wikipedia)

May 20 was the day Vasco da Gama and his Portuguese fleet sailed into the port of Calicut (now called Kozhikode in the Indian state of Kerala) in 1498. To mark that day 526 years later, Mangalore Today published an article about the historic arrival, the first time any European successfully sailed from Europe all the way to India. It so happens that da Gama's next destination after Calicut was Mangalore (now called Mangaluru in the Indian state of Karnataka), 250 km to the north and almost halfway to Goa.

According to Mangalore Today, when the Portuguese arrived in Calicut, they "engaged in some tourism, including a visit to Hindu temples, but they misunderstood Hinduism as an exotic subset of Eastern Christianity."

Another interesting detail was the fact that da Gama’s expedition included "numerous proficient Arabic speakers who worked with local Malayalam translators to facilitate communication between them and the king of Calicut." So although the Portuguese chanced upon speakers of European languages (Castilian Spanish and Genoese) in a very exotic land, they performed their business in a language that was once spoken on Portuguese soil for more than 500 years. This was during the Islamic period that started in 726 with the Umayyad Caliphate's conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, ending in 1249 when the Reconquista was completed with the capture of Algarve. 250 years after that, knowledge of the Arabic language would once again be useful.

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