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Remembering the Master Mariner Vasco Da Gama
The 15th -18th century was the great age of exploration. Sailors and mariners set out to explore the world. There are innumerable of them, but one man stands heads and a shoulder above all of them is the Portuguese mariner Vasco Da Gama. His feat of having opened or discovered the sea route to India for Europe puts him ahead of all other seamen, who sailed the 7 seas.
Columbus also set out searching for the route to the exotic land of India and ended up discovering America in 1492, but the winner of the race to discover India was Vasco Da Gama, who sailed in a special sea ship right across the Cape of Good Hope and thence across the Arabian Sea to the West Coast of India He landed on the Indian coast in1498. Gama's arrival on the West Coast of India was without rancor or problems. It can be termed "entente cordial" and set the tone for the East and West to meet without an intermediary
For this alone Gama deserves greater accolades as a man who was ahead of all. The route to India was something the Europeans had been looking for long especially after the capture of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks and the subsequent clampdown of trade in spices and silk from the East and India
Vasco da Gama: The Mission
Vasco da Gama was born in 1460 and was the 3rd son of Estevao da Gama, a minor provincial nobleman. At that time the Portuguese kings were hard-pressed to fill their treasury and were looking for alternative sources of revenue. An important way to earn was by the spice trade to India and the east.
The Portuguese were keen to open a route to India especially after the Ottoman Empire became a bulwark against such trade. The Turks denied pepper and spice to Europeans and charged an exorbitant amount as a tax if this was allowed.
The Court especially commissioned Vasco da Gama to search for a sea route to the east. Accordingly, he set out from, Lisbon on 8 July 1497. After a voyage that took him across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope he was able to reach the Malabar Coast on the west coast of India on 20 May 1498. It was a great voyage. His last leg was from the African coast across the Arabian Sea to the West Coast of India. Considering the primitive navigation instruments Vasco had, the voyage was by itself is a feat to remember for all time to come.
One incident is worth recounting here. It appears that on the way Gama lost his way, but he was able to capture a pirate named Ibn Majid. This man was able to guide Vasco across the Arabian Sea. Some reports indicate that this man was taken back to Lisbon by Vasco. Nothing is heard of this man after that as he probably married a Portuguese girl and settled there.
Gama’s discovery heralded a new age in European imperialism in Asia. This helped the sagging Portuguese economy. The new sea route was instrumental in this revival. Vasco was well received by the native Indians and despite lack of knowledge of the local language Vasco carried himself with aplomb and laid the foundation for imperialism of Europe at a later date.
Heralding the Age of Imperialism
Vasco laid the foundation of European presence in India. He started the spice trade, but soon the Portuguese diversified into other commercial products. This gave a great fillip to Portuguese economy. Earlier the Portuguese had relied heavily on trade with West Africa, but now they had another opening.
Gama cleverly mixed politics and war with trade. He ensured a better price for the spice growers and prosperity increased
Vasco da Gama left an indelible mark but the effects of his first voyage were not repeated in subsequent voyages and on his next 2 voyages he was unable to get any treaty signed with the local rulers. This was held against him and he was bypassed. But he was reinstated for a last voyage in 1524 to India. He set course with a fleet of 5 ships, but it was troubled voyage as 4 ships were lost at sea. He landed in Calicut, but died within 3 months of malaria. Thus the life of the greatest mariner went out thousands of miles from home.
Never the less, Vasco Da Gama did enough to leave an indelible mark on world history and but for him the age of imperialism would not have dawned for the western world.