A detailed account of how the Portuguese destroyed the Mapilla monopoly over maritime trade on the Malabar coast
If demography is destiny, the Hindu Kings of Malabar seemed to voluntarily, joyously invite a destiny of doom upon themselves. They did not wake up when the Mapillas had completely monopolised maritime trade. On the contrary, they actually encouraged more migrations from Arabia and provided extraordinary facilities for the local Mapilla merchants as we’ve seen earlier.
Soon enough, the consequences manifested themselves on ground in a nightmarish fashion.
By the mid-15th century, the Mapilla commercial power had acquired political and military might. A branch of the Kollathiri Royal Family converted to Islam and its head, a woman, came to be known as the Arakkal Bibi. Her husband, a Nair named Mabeli was rechristened to Muhammad Ali, popularly known as Ali Raja of Arakkal. However, even after conversion, they continued to be the vassals of the Kollathiris. Over time, they gained control of and established the Arakkal Kingdom with Kannur as its capital. It was a minor principality by any standard but controlled the strategic coastal areas of the Laccadive Islands that included Kavaratti, Agatti, Androth, Kalpeni and Minicoy (now part of Lakshadweep). If Lakshadweep is Muslim-majority today, the reason can be traced back to Ali Raja and his successors. More importantly, the Arakkal Kingdom also controlled the gateway to the highly valuable island of Dharmadam. The Arakkal dynasty would eventually play a significant role in the political fortunes of Malabar as we shall see.
Ten years after the Portuguese pirate Bartholomeu Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope, another pirate, an illiterate fanatical Christian barbarian named Vasco Da Gama embarked from Belem on 25 March 1497 with a modest fleet comprising hardened criminals and seasoned buccaneers. On 20 May 1498, he anchored his vessels at the port town named Capocate, just outside Kozhikode.
When the Mapillas spotted the Portuguese ships, they were immediately incensed. Influential Mapillas had been in the inner circle of the Kozhikode Samuri (Zamorin) and they began poisoning his ears against these new upstarts. However, Vasco Da Gama’s wily diplomacy prevailed and the Samuri allowed the Portuguese to set up a spice factory in his territory.
That was the beginning of a bloody conflict that lasted for more than a century.
Vasco Da Gama’s arrival had suddenly changed everything.
When he noticed that the hated Moors (Muslims) who had caused much havoc by dominating all of Europe’s trade along the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf were similarly dominant here, he seeded a thought that would uproot them in an astonishingly short period. Indeed, some Portuguese travellers write about “Bengali Moors,” referring to the Muslims on the coast of Bengal.
Vasco Da Gama’s piratical adventures were short-lived in India but when news of the enormous booty he carried back to Portugal on 18 September 1499 reverberated throughout Europe, it permanently altered the geopolitics of the world. British colonialism of Bharatavarsha has Portuguese roots.
The other momentous outcome of Vasco Da Gama’s Indian expedition was the fact that it suddenly made trade unprofitable for the Moors along the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. However, Portugal and other emergent European powers decided not to rest until the Moors were completely annihilated.
In 1500, Portugal outfitted another expedition to the Malabar under the leadership of the barbarian Pedro Alvarez Cabral “with ten ships and two caravels, carrying one thousand five hundred men, besides twenty convicts, to establish a factory by fair means if possible, but otherwise to carry fire and sword into the country.” By all means, Cabral occupies a place of high infamy and brutal savagery in the vein of Mahmud of Ghazni and Ghori. His inhuman slaughter of large numbers of Nairs and Mapillas without provocation is truly sickening. At any rate, Cabral’s expedition laid the foundation of a Portuguese settlement at Cochin and the systematic destruction of the Mapilla commercial might.
Long story short, the Portuguese, compared to their brief presence in a small strip in India singlehandedly extinguished the Mapilla power with unparalleled focus and determination. Their capture of Goa in 1509-10 and the diabolical Inquisition of Hindus is a dark chapter of Indian history that need not be narrated here. In our own time, what needs to be noted is the stubborn imbecility and the innate deceit of Nehruvian secularism: the Kerala Government announced a proposal in 1997 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Vasco Da Gama’s rapacious expedition to India.But by destroying the dominant Mapilla power, the Portuguese also halted a near-complete Islamisation of Malabar. As William Logan approvingly notes:
Logan evidently writes in a tone of the superiority of a conquering power but he also writes on the strength of the lived European and British experience of dealing with the Mapillas.
The story of how the Portuguese methodically destroyed the commercial and by extension, the political power of the Mapillas needs to be recounted for a fuller understanding of later developments.
Vasco Da Gama was sent by the Portugal Government to Malabar for a second time sometime in 1502-3. This time, he made extremely smart moves and solidified alliances with the Kollathiris, the Samuri and other powerful chiefs. As he spends more time in Malabar, he is impressed by the Nair code of honour. This is how a note reads:
More Portuguese spice factories are erected in various parts of Malabar: Kannur, Cochin, Kozhikode, and Kollam. The Portuguese now gnaw away at the Mapilla fortunes.
Vasco Da Gama’s firm roots bear fruit.
By 1515, the Portuguese inflict heavy losses on Muslim maritime trade along the coast through a combination of punitive commercial policies and military prowess.
They declare that trade in pepper, ginger and derivatives thereof by any other party—unapproved by them and their allies—is contraband. Next, they prohibit Muslims from trading in “the bark of spice trees, and in the clove jilli-flower, and the herb fennel, and in produce of this kind.” Finally, they close an extensive channel of Arabian ports to Muslim merchants—Moors and Mapillas. This closure extended to the key ports of Malacca, Resha and Thinasuree. These measures produced the intended consequence. This is the picture after just two decades:
In one go, the Portuguese had closed the doors of Muslim trade on both sides: the Mapillas of Malabar could no longer trade with their co-religionists on the Arabian coast up to Mecca and Egypt, and vice versa.
Pushed to a corner, the Mapillas take to unhinged piracy to wreak vengeance by plundering the Portuguese. Their initial raids at Valarpattanam, Trikkodi and Pantalayini Kollam are spectacular. They sail in small boats that afford the nimbleness required to mount vicious, surprise assaults and quick escape. But then they’re no match for the infinitely superior Portuguese military force, proper. The punitive crushing of the Mapillas in 1562 narrated by the Muslim chronicler Zein-ud-din is a representative sample.
This is the exact treatment meted out Muslim invaders and sultans and nawabs to Hindus, right?
To be continued