This Day in History (20-May-1498) – Vasco da Gama Arrives in India

Vasco da Gama is famous for his completion of the first all water trade route between Europe and India. When Vasco da Gama set out on July 8, 1497 he and his crew planned and equipped four ships. On the voyage, da Gama set out from Lisbon, Portugal, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and sailed north. As the ships sailed along the east coast of Africa, many conflicts arose between the Portuguese and the Muslims who had already established trading centers along the coast. The Muslim traders in Mozambique and Mombasa did not want interference in their trade centers. In Malindi, on the other hand, the Portuguese were well received, because the ruler was hoping to gain an ally against Mombasa, the neighboring port.  From Malindi, da Gama was accompanied the rest of the way to India by Ahmad Ibn Majid, a famous Arab pilot.

Vasco da Gama finally arrived in Calicut, India on May 20, 1498.  Calicut was the principle market of trade for precious stones, pearls, and spices.  At first, the Portuguese were well received and accepted by the Hindu ruler.  However, this immediate reaction did not last. The ruler later felt insulted by the gifts that Vasco da Gama brought, because they were of little value to him.  Da Gama was not able to establish his trading station or negotiate a trading agreement, because the Zamorin (samudrin raja, the Hindu King) did not want to alienate the local merchants. Finally, when da Gama wanted to leave, the Zamorin told him that he had to pay a heavy tax and leave all the Portuguese goods as a form of collateral. Da Gama was enraged, and on August 29, 1498, da Gama and his crew departed with all of their possessions and five hostages.  Da Gama also took a letter from the Zamorin stating that the Zamorin would trade spices and gems if the Portuguese could get scarlet cloth, coral, silver, and gold.

Da Gama returned to India again in 1502, but with muscle power which forced Zamorin to sign the treaty. This led the way for other Portuguese conquests in the East Indies.



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