|Vasco da Gama
of the first European expedition to reach India
Vasco da Gama was born at
Sines, Province of Alemtejo, Portugal, about
1469. His father, Estevćo da Gama, was Alcaide
Mor of Sines, and Commendador of Cercal, and held
an important office at court under Alfonso V.
After the return of Bartolomeu Dias,
Estevćo was chosen by Joćo II to command the
next voyage of discovery, but, as both died
before the project could be carried into
execution, the commission was given by Emmanuel I
to Vasco, who had already proven himself in 1490
by defending the Portuguese colonies on the coast
of Guinea against French encroachments. Vasco's
mission was to complete the voyage left
unfinished by Dias -- reaching India by
sailing around the southern tip of Africa.
Although a near-mutiny by Dias'
crew had prevented him from completing his
mission, Dias was commissioned to organize and
plan Vasco's voyage. Dias oversaw the building of
two new ships and had two older ships
refurbished. All the ships were well armed, and
each carried enough food to supply its crew for
three years. Dias also made sure that the ships
were supplied with the sort of goods that had
proved useful to him in trading with the natives
on the west coast of Africa -- glass beads,
copper bowls, tin bells, olive oil, sugar, etc.
While Dias outfitted the ships,
Vasco recruited his crews. His 170 crewmen
included ten convicted killers, whose death
sentences were commuted, and a number of
translators who spoke Arabic and the various
Bantu languages of Africa's west coast.
Command of the expedition was
formally conferred upon Vasco da Gama in January
1497, and on July 8 the fleet sailed from Lisbon
under the leadership of Vasco, his brother Paulo,
and Nicolįo Coelho. At the beginning of
November, the fleet anchored in St. Helena Bay
and, on the 25th, in Mossel Bay. On December 16,
the fleet arrived at the furthest landing point
of Dias, gave its present name to the coast of
Natal on Christmas Day, and reached the mouth of
the Zambesi River by the end of January, 1498.
Although they were menaced by Arab traders in
Mozambique and Mombasa, they were received in a
very friendly manner at Melinda, East Africa. At
Melinda they obtained the services of an Arab
pilot, who conveyed the fleet to the harbor of
Calicut, India, which it reached on May 20, 1498.
Although the rulers of India
were generally unimpressed with the trade goods
Vasco had brought, his diplomatic skills were
enough to secure respect, as well as an agreement
for the founding of a Portuguese colony.
On October 5, 1498, the fleet
began its homeward voyage. Coelho arrived in
Portugal on July 10, 1499, Paulo da Gama died at
Angra, and Vasco da Gama reached Lisbon in
Upon his return Vasco was
appointed Admiral of the Indian Ocean, a post
created especially for him, a position which
guaranteed him a high salary and the feudal
rights over Sines.
In 1502, following a massacre
of Portuguese expatriates in Calicut by local
Hindus, Gama was sent out with a fleet of twenty
ships to re-establish Portuguese control. On the
outward voyage he exacted the payment of tribute
from the Sheikh of Kilwa (East Africa), laid
seige to Calicut, and then concluded favorable
treaties and alliances with the native princes.
He returned to Portugal in 1503. In 1519, he
received feudal rights over the cities of
Vidiguira and Villa dos Frades, with the
jurisdiction and title of Count.
In 1524, Gama was again sent to
India, by Joćo III, to supersede the Viceroy
Eduardo de Menezes, who had lost control of the
populace under his charge. Gama successfully
restored order upon his arrival, but he died at
Cochin, India, on December 24, 1524.
BBC History www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/gama_vasco_da.shtml
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