Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The First Burman to visit Europe

The First Burman to visit Europe.
Dom Martin 1606 -1643, The first Burman to visit EuropeM. S. Collis in collaboration with U San Shwe Bu2/7/2008It is the object of this paper to explain who Dom Martin was, why as an Arakanese he had a Portuguese name and how it happened that he paid a visit to Portugal. The story is extraordinary and romantic, but were I to plunge into it without some sort of a preliminary summary of the political situation in the Bay of Bengal at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the result would be unintelligible, a flux of kings, priests, noblemen and pirates, and the Arakanese fortuitously appearing here, the Moghul there, Portuguese everywhere, the whole having the complexion of a cinema drama. In consequence I must trespass upon your patience and preface as briefly as possible his adventures with an historical survey. For the purpose of this view, I select the year 1610 A.D. Readers of my previous studies in Arakanese history will be aware that in that year the Arakanese empire was at the height of its destiny. Razagri was king and his territory stretched from the eastern mouths of the Ganges delta to the delta of the Irrawaddy. In his employ or under his protection were certain groups of Portuguese. Of these, one consisted of the Portuguese mercenaries in his home army and navy, chiefly gunners and engineers; another of traders who had been allowed to build a settlement at Dianga, near the city of Chittagong, on condition that they helped to defend the Chittagong frontier against the Moghul. The Moghul had by 1610 taken over the administration of Bengal and in consequence their territory marched with Chittagong. They were Razagri’s most serious pre-occupation. Portuguese also lived under their protection and at Hugli, on the river of that name, maintained a trading settlement. Besides these groups of Portuguese, the mercenaries in Arakan, the traders at Dianga and at Hugli, there was in the Bay a further group of Portuguese who lived at Sandwip Island within some thirty miles of the Chittagong river. As this group plays an important part in this history, it must be described in some details. King of this island was the famous pirate, Gonsalves Tibau. This man had come out to the East in 1605 as a soldier. In 1607 he had accumulated sufficient money to enable him to purchase a small ship, which he loaded with salt and in which he sailed to Dianga to trade. By a piece of bad luck he happened to put in there on the very day that Razagri was punishing the Portuguese for some treachery or other. As a result, his ship was confiscated and his two years savings were lost. Completely ruined, he gathered round him others who like himself had been reduced to poverty, turned pirate and preyed on the Arakan coast with such success that 1609 he had a well equipped sea force of 40 sail and 400 men. With this he attacked the island of Sandwip, then occupied by one of the Moghul’s men, and proclaiming himself King. It was a rich island inhabited by Hindus. Moreover being situated on the mouth of the Megna, it enabled him to erect custom houses and collect dues from trading ships. Piratical excursions were also undertaken into Delta rivers of the vicinity. By these means he soon acquired funds and is stated in 1610. the date of this survey, to have had a force of a thousand Portuguese and eighty ships with cannon. It must be insisted that Tibau’s sovereignty was real. The Viceroy of Goa had no control over him. By 1610 he had become so prominent and important a figure in the Bay the Razagri, who was contemplating a brush with the Moghul in the matter of a frontier dispute, invited Tibau to co-operate with him on the naval side. It is sufficient for the purpose of this paper to say that Tibau, to whom the control of the Arakanese fleet had been given, turned round at the last moment, allowed Razagri’s land force to be taken at a disadvantage and routed by the Moghul, himself seized the Arakanese fleet, murdered its officers, enslaved its crews and in the general confusion that followed harried the Arakan coast. Razagri returned to Mrauk-U and we can sympathie with him if he took the view that Gonsalves Tibau was the most underhand black villain that any gentleman could be fool enough to trust. Such is a summary of the political situation in the Bay in 1610 and with so much clear in the mind’s eye it is possible to advance upon the story of the subject of this paper. In 1610 Razagri had appointed his younger son, Min Mangri, Viceroy of Chittagong. A son or a brother of the Arakanese kings was usually posted to that charge and there was nothing unusual in Rasagri’s choice except that Min Mangri was not on good terms with the heir to the throne, Min Khamaung his elder brother. This latter was a wild young man. As I have noted elsewhere, in association with the poet Ugga Byan he attempted three times to assassinate his father. Min Mangri urgued, probably with much truth, that an individual upon whom family ties lay so lightly, would make short work of him, hisdetested brother, when he came to the throne. At the very least Min Mangri saw himself deprived of his Viceroyaltly. He therefore cast about for an ally, some one who would lend him support when the inevitable blow fell, some one who would perhaps be strong enough not only to save him from his brother but to put him in his brother’s place. The obvious person to fullfil these requirements was the pirate-king Gonsalves Tibau. Min Mangri therefore sent an embassy to him, suggesting a treaty of alliance. The proposal was admirably suited to the immediate needs of the Prince of Sandwip. That worthy, after his seizure of the Arakanese fleet and his harrying of the coast of Arakan, was in the worst odour at Mrauk-U Min Mangri’s proposal was in effect to provide him with a strong friend in the enemy’s camp, one to protect him from the vengeance he feared and who with good luck might facilitate further lucrative raids. In short he accepted the offer. It was decided to seal it by the marriage of Min Mangri’s daughter with Tibau’s son. Min Mangri had three children, two daughters and a son. In this year of 1610 his son was four years old. It was year of 1610 his son was four years old. It was this son who afterwards became known as Dom Martin and went to Europe. But I must not anticipate. We are now engaged in describing the nuptials of his elder sister. It was agreed that on her marriage she should take the Catholic faith, for Tibau, though a ruffian, was very careful to observe the forms of his religion. Manrique, whom we follow here, states that in this affair the swashbuckler derived his greatest satisfaction from the feeling that he was the divine instrument in saving a soul from damnation. This point need not be pressed. Suffice it to say that he selected as emissary to Chittagong Father Rafael of Santa Monica. This friar was to covert the pricess to Catholicism and afterwards conduct her to Sandwip. Father Rafael spoke Arakanese fluently. He was also much loved by the country people, to whom he appeared a saint. When he came to a village, he used to paint a red cross on the foreheads of the children who pressed up to kiss his hand. The parents recongnising this as some holy symbol allowed it to remain until obliterated by the weather. Such is the amiable picture of the ecclesiastic sent by the pirate-king of Sandwip to further his political machinations. That Father Rafael was a genuine holy man is bone out by the fact that Gonsalves found it very difficult to make him fall in with his ideas of how a Portuguese envoy on so important a mission should conduct himself. The Religious would have much preferred to stroll into the city of Chittagong incognito or recognized only by the poor and children. This did not suit Tibau’s conception of the entry of a matrimonial embassy. But when father Rafael was asked to sail up the Chittagong river in galley with flags flying and bands playing, he flatly refused. The pirate then resorted to a stratagem. Father Rafael started from Sandwip in a common sort of boat accompanied by one catechist. After he had left, ten of the best galleys, with embroidered awnings, musicians and well dressed gentlemen on the quarter deck, proceeded by another route and reached the Chittagong river before his arrival. There they waited, anchoring a little below the jetty. When his small boat came up, the captain of the galleys boarded it and delivered to the Father a letter from Gonsalves, begging him to enter Chittagong in state. Father Rafael was about to refuse, when he noticed that the jetty was crowded with the local nobility and gentry that the bnds had struck up, that the artillery had commenced the salute and that an immense mob behind was clamouring to know what the delay was about and why the Portuguese ships did not approach. Under the circumstances the Father perceived that his original intention of landing from his little boat had become ridiculous and yielding with the best grace possible, he went aboard the captain’s galley. This was the signal for weighing anchor. The galleys advanced towards the jetty, the crew rowing with a calculated rhythm, the soldiers standing at the salute while the band played the martial airs of Portugal. Father Rafael of Santa Monica landed. The waiting nobles received him with great ceremony; the City Magistrate was presented to him; in a body they moved in towards the street. There eleven elephants were waiting. The creature with the gilt howdah was for the Father. He was led up to it by the City Magistrate, who with the accepted gestures intimated that it was a present from the Viceroy. At the same time he gave the Father a parasol and told the elephant to kneel. The public reception on the jetty had been very trying for the Father though he had carried it through, returning salutation for salutation. But now the kneeling elephant and the gilded parasol overcame him. He could not be induced to mount. Thanking the City Magistrate profusely, he firmly said he could not parade through the City on that beast, and calling his catechist he began to walk. This made the Portuguese captains, for whom other elephants had been provided, look blank and it scandalized the City Magistrate. But there was nothing for it, all had to fall in on foot behind the Father and in this manner they made their way towards the palace. Yet the priest walking made a more vivid impression on the populace than had ha been seated in a howdah; his action was in accordance with oriental ideas of how a holy man should behave; and the Viceroy coming to meet him as far as the gate on the third circumvallation, received him with the ceremonies prescribed for the reception of saints. On entering the palace Father Rafael was introduced to the Viceroy’s three children, the eldest being the princess whom he had first to convert. The youngest, as already mentioned, was a boy of four years old, the Viceroy’s heir, grandson of King Razagri and the subject of this paper. Father Rafael asked the princess whether of her own free will she wished to become a Christian. To this she replied with reserve that she desired first to hear expounded the Catholic dogmas and asked for time to listen to the Father’s argument. Where upon the Viceroy summoned the Chief Eunuch and ordered him to admit the Father at any hour into the princess’s apartments. “Thanks to this ample permission and to help from the above” explains Manrique, the Religious soon silenced the princess’s objections. He continued however, to expound and now that he knew she was won over he had no scruples in describing in detail the tortures of the demand. “All those who die unbaptised are damned” he added. This frightened the princess, who burst into tears, asking pretended to be in no hurry and spoke of a baptism on her arrival at Sandwip. But she thinking of hell’s flames and now thoroughly alarmed, cried “Supposing I was to die on the voyage!” and without an instant’s delay told one of the girls to bring in a can of water, there and then forcing the Father to baptize her. A few days later Father Rafael conducted her to Sandwip where amid great rejoicings she was married to Tibau’s son. This sealed the alliance between Min Mangri, Viceroy of Chittagong and Gonslaves Tibau, King of Sandwip. The former now felt that he could at least resist his brother Min Khamaung, if he was unable to supplant him. Tibau acquired tone and influence; increased his exactions on ships entering the Megna, accumulated treasure and dreamed of a future sack, perhaps assisted by Min Mangri, of Mrauk-U itself. When Razagri heard of this marriage and realized that this younger son was now allied with the ruffian who had treacherously seized his fleet, harried his coasts and who certainly must be supposed to harbour further designs against himself, he became uneasy. He had every reason to be. The Arakanese MS. histories relate that some eighteen months after the events described Min Mangri broke out into rebellion against his father, declaring himself an independent ruler, no doubt with the intention as the next step, of seizing with the assistance of Tibau the throne of Mrauk-U. So it happened that in 1612 Razagri sent an army against him under the Crown Prince Min Khamaung upon whom he could depend to operate with industry, as it was his own inheritance that was threatened. Chittagong was besieged. Min Mangri had secured from Gonselves Tibau the services of four hundred Portuguese, who were placed at points of vantage on the walls. The leager dragged on. After four months the citizens were starving and lost heart. They sent a message to Min Khamaung to say that they would be glad to surrender the city to him but that this could not be effected, because the Portuguese forces had taken control of the operations. Certain efforts were then made to deflect the Portuguese. These failed and Min Khamaung ordered a more violent assault. The defence began to waver and to stiffen his men Min Mangri himself paraded the walls at the head of his staff. Unfortunately becoming involved in a melee, he was struck by a musket ball and mortally hurt. They carried him into the harem, after he had abjured the Portuguese to continue the defence, as the fall of the city would mean the murder of his children. These perceiving that the Viceroy’s death was imminent and that it would be followed in spite of their efforts, by the surrender of the inhabitants of Chittagong to their liege lord, the King of Arakan, decided to apprise Gonsalves Tibau of these things and invite him to contrive some way of saving the young prince and his sister. Tibau received the intelligence, but did not wish openly to be involved in the rescue of the children. His alliance with Min Mangri had not borne fruit and with the death of that Prince he would again be politically isolated. In such a position he did not desire the embarrassment of the Viceroy’s heir, who, a child of six, without a state and proscribed could be of no service and might draw to him the inconvenient attack of the King of Arakan. On the contrary he had no wish to abandon the children, who were his son and daughter-in-law; moreover at some future date it might be convenient for him to have an heir to the Arakanese throne up his sleeve. The trusty friar, Father Rafael of Santa Monica, was therefore summoned and directed to enter the beleaguered city and evacuate thence the young prince and his sister by artifice. The Father was ready enough to go as he scented two new converts. Disguised as a mendicant, he made an entry which was as private as his earlier arrival at that city had been public, and discovering himself to the Portuguese officers, was taken to the palace. The Chief Eunuch, acting on old instructions, made no difficulty about admitting him into the seraglio, where he found the Viceroy in articulo mortis. This somewhat dashed the Father, for he had counted upon him being at that balance, where, sufficiently conscious to hear his exhortations, he would be sufficiently near his dissolutions to desire to comply with them. He hazarded indeed, a question or two, hinting at the consolations he was able to dispense. But the Prince was too far gone to apostosize. He died a pagan. The woman immediately set up a lament, but Father Rafael had sufficient presence of mind to compose them. It was essential, he pointed out, to keep for a while the Viceroy’s death a secret. If the courtiers heard wailing, it would be over the city in a moment that Min Mangri was dead and the Arakanese would come pouring in before he could get the children away. The ladies saw the same of this and the court dancing girls were ordered to sing their drollest ditties. Suspicion quieted, the Father made his preparations. That night taking the children he escaped with them down a subterranean passage to the sea, where a galley was waiting. Embarking on it, they held on past Sanwip till Hugli, the Portuguese settlement, was reached. Here within the Moghul dominion they were safe from their uncle’s vengeance, safer than they would have been at Sandwip. Meanwhile Min Khamaung had entered Chittagong without opposition and after attending his brother’s funeral immediately called for his nephew and niece. When they were not forthcoming, he suspected Tibau, but it was not until afterwards that he learnt they had escaped to the Moghul. Foiled in this, he finished his business and returned to Mrauk-U, where later in the year he succeeded his father. At Hugli the young prince began his eduction at the convent of St. Nicholas. The Prior reported his case to the Viceroy at Goa and it was decited on no account to press him while still a child to become a Catholic. But funds were made available to give him the training of a Portuguese nobleman. His sister was taken into the house of one of the leading citizens of the town and there cared for in the same manner. From six to thirteen the young prince remained in the convent. The Fathers selected for his perusal Catholic devotional works and histories of the heroes of Portugal. As time went on his reading of the lives of the saints and of the great men of Spain and Portugal, of the conquest of Peru and Mexico and of the fabulous voyages of the mariners, his close association with the leading gentlemen of Hugli and the personal tuition he received from his master, Father Antonio de San Vincente - all these influences combined to make him feel that to become himself a Portuguese nobleman was the most magnificent ambition in the world. He longed to emulate the great captains and he realized that if ever he was to enter their company he must first he enrolled as a member of their faith, in which indeed he had become by reading and suggestion a whole-hearted believer. Inspired by this double motive, one Sunday in 1619 when the community came out after vespers, he went to the Prior and told him the time had come for him to be baptized. The Prior in pursuance of his careful policy would not immediately agree but after the matter had been further discussed by the Fathers of the convent of St.Nicholas, a feast day was selected and with great pomp and magnificence the prince and his sister were bapised. She was given the name Petronilla and he was christened Martin, an old family name of Portugal. As Dom Martin, the Portuguese noble, he is known from this date. It is now necessary to glance for a moment at Sandwip and Arakan to see how the political situation there had changed during the seven years spent by Dom Martin at Hugli. The fall of Chittagong had changed the fortunes of Gonsalves Tibau. As long as Min Mangri was Viceroy, the pirate-king was assured of a dominating position at the head of the Bay. With his death and the appointment of a new Viceroy strictly under the control of the King of Arakan, his position was threatened. He realized that it was a fight to the death between him and Min Khamaung, the King. As he was certain that the Arakanese would choose an opportune moment to send a strong force against him, he planned to forestall their attack and by some startling and particular exploit cause them to decide to leave him alone. With this object in view he proposed in 1616 to sack the capital Mrauk-U itself. As this was beyond his powers alone, he sent an emissary to the Viceroy of Goa, Dom Jeromyno de Azevedo, representing to him that a sudden onslaught upon Mrauk-U by the combined fleets of Sandwip and Goa would probably be successful and that as Mrauk-U was the richest city in the Bay, much treasure might be expected. This proposition illustrates the quality of the Portuguese eastern empire in 1616. It was clearly hastening to its end when a pirate-king could enter into negotiations with the Viceroy and plan with him to make a sudden descent upon with him to make a sudden descent upon a city with which Portugal was at peace. Dem Jaromvno accepted Tibau’s proposal and sent a fleet consisting of sixteen ships under Dom Francisco de Menezes Roxo. The rendezvous was the mouth of the Kaladan river, the present Akyab harbour. Tibau arrived with fifty ships and the combined fleet of sixty vessels proceeded up the river. It was the month of November, the beginning of the cold season, and as is the case at that time of year, the weather was clam and bright. Mrauk-U lies fifty mines from the sea and the final approach to it is a network of narrow creeks. The Portuguese project was in fact ludicrous. Mrauk-U was impregnable from such an attack by ships. The Portuguese had not smallest chance of success and their plan must have been conceived in complete ignorance of the terrain. They were not to get very far. Somewhere in the neighbour-hood of the Urritaung Pagoda the Arakanese fleet attacked, assisted by certain Dutch vessels which happened to be in the port. The engagement was hot and long. To begin with the Portuguese had the advantage of the tide, which was flowing up and assisted them in pressing the attack. But towards evening Dom Francisco, the Viceroy’s admiral, was killed by a musket ball in the forehead and with the turn of the tide Portuguese broke off the battle, headed for the of open sea and returned to Sandwip. The Viceroy disgusted with so ignominious a failure would not hear of a second attempt and withdrew his ships. Some of Tibau’s own men, seeing that he was now isolated, deserted him. Min Khamaung followed up his victory. A strong force was sent to Sandwip. The island was taken. Gonslaves Tiabu escaped the massacre but he was a ruined man and appears no more in history. Such were the events which had occurred during Dom Martin’s seven year novitiate at the convent at Hugli. Their effect was to make him entirely dependent upon the Portuguese of Hugli for his future. His relative Tibau, his elder sister who had married Tibau’s son, the resources of Sandwip, interest with the inhabitants of Chittagong, all had gone. His uncle Min Khamaung was firmly established on the throne Mrauk-U. In such circumstances it is easy to perceive why he turned his mind away from his own country which offered him no prospects and as time went on began to concentrate it upon carving out a distinguished career among the Portuguese. As stated above he was thirteen years of age when he became a Catholic. Shortly after this the Hugli Fathers, who now began to regard him seriously as one of their nation, decided that for a youth of such promise Hugli was too restricted a sphere and wrote to the Viceroy suggesting that he should be invited to Goa and there presented at the Viceragal court in conformity with his rank. This was sanctioned and accompanied by his beloved master Father Antonio de San Vincente, he went to the capital of the Indies. There they lodged him in the convent of Our Lady of Grace, but he also frequented the court and by mixing with the noblemen in the Viceroy’s suite, he completed his education. He seems to have been a young man of open and engaging manners, magnanimous and high spirited and after five years residence in Goa, at the age of eighteen he found his taste for the profession of arms had grown so strong that he begged the Viceroy to give him a commission in the Navy. This request was granted; he left the convent of Our Lady and began his service as a cadet under the personal supervision of that old master of the military art, Captain Freire de Andrada, General of the Straits of Ormuz. This important event in his life took place about the year 1624, who years after his uncle Min Khamaung had died and his first cousin Thirthudhamma had succeeded to the throne of Arakan.Title: Dom Martin 1606 -1643, The first Burman to visit Europe.
Author: M. S. Collis in collaboration with U San Shwe Bu

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