Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle

Adventures at Mozambique

The sheik was as good as his word. Scarcely had Vasco da Gama finished his mid-day meal, when one of the sailors came running to him with the news that several boats putting out from the shore, one of which contained some Moors in very handsome dresses.

The San Raphael  had been gayly decked out to receive the noble guests. Flags and streamers fluttered from the masts and sails. A pretty tent, trimmed with ribbons of many colors, had been set up on deck; carpets had been spread, and chairs and benches had been arranged, for the occasion. Vasco had ordered all the sick and infirm men to stay below; while the rest of his men provided themselves with arms, lest the Moors should show signs of treachery.

Paulo da Gama and Nicolas Coello had joined their chief on the San Raphael, and all three of the captains were dressed in rich velvet coats and plumed caps. They now took their places on the quarter-deck, and awaited the coming of the sheik. The canoes were fast approaching the ship; and soon Vasco was able to perceive that that which carried the sheik was really a raft, made of two boats lashed together, and a platform of planks laid over them, and provided with an awning of mats. Beneath this sat the sheik, on a low, round stool covered with rich silk. On the raft with the sheik were ten other Moors, evidently of high rank.

Just as the Moorish boats drew up alongside the San Raphael, the trumpets sounded a loud welcome. Then the sailors aided the swarthy dignitary and his companions to ascend on board, where they were met and cordially saluted by Vasco and Paulo da Gama, who bowed low to the sheik. Paulo being the elder of the brothers, the sheik, mistook him for the chief of the fleet. Taking Paulo's hand, he raised it to his breast in token of respect, and said something in a low voice which the captains could not understand.

The sheik was then conducted beneath the tent, where he was offered a, chair covered with a handsome carpet. His attendants were provided, with, places on a long bench which had been placed near by. Vasco and Paulo sat on either side of their guest, and the Moor Davane stood just behind the chairs to act as interpreter; for, by this time, Davane had picked up enough Portuguese to converse a little with Vasco and his men.

At first, nothing was said; the sheik looking around very curiously and deliberately, and taking note of every thing on board, as if he had never seen the like of the San Raphael  before. Meanwhile the Portuguese were able to observe him and his companions at their leisure.

The sheik was a tall, dark, slender man, of graceful form and presence, with large black eyes and black flowing beard. He wore a long jacket of plaited red Mecca velvet, and a blue cloak, embroidered with gold and silver lace; loose white breeches which reached to his knees; a broad sash about his waist, in which glistened a silver-handled dagger. On his head rested a huge silk turban of various colors, ornamented with gold, thread and lace; and on his feet were a pair of silken shoes. In his hand the sheik held a silver-mounted sword. As he sat under the tent, he looked a very magnificent personage indeed; and the Portuguese gathered around him and gazed at him admiringly.

Da Gama vists a shiek


The noble Moors who had come with him were scarcely less splendid in their apparel and adornments. They were fine-looking men, with silk robes and bright coloured turbans. Some were quite fair, others were brown, and yet others nearly black. Attending the sheik were several musicians, who had ivory trumpets and other curious instruments with which to entertain the strangers.

After the sheik had taken a good look at the ship and its company, he began to speak in Arabic; and the Moor Davane slowly translated what he said to Vasco, and also what Vasco replied to the sheik. The following conversation took place:—

"I am very glad you have come to my port," said the sheik; "and all that I can do to aid you I will, for to see you gives me much pleasure. There are many things here that I have not seen before. Are you foreign merchants? And from what country are you? What brings you hither?"

"We are from a far country called Portugal," returned Vasco, "and are the subjects of one of the greatest kings in Christendom."

"I supposed you were Turks, from your being so fair; but it appears you are not."

"We have cargoes of merchandise which we wish to exchange for other articles, and are trying to find India; but alas I my lord, our pilots know not which way to steer to reach it."

"And if you do not find India," asked the sheik, smiling, "what will you do?"

"We shall go about the seas until we die; for we should fear to return to our king without having found that which we came to seek."

"Show me, then, specimens of the merchandise of which you are in search." Vasco ordered some pepper, cinnamon, and ginger to be brought and shown to him.

On seeing these spices the sheik turned round to his companions, and laughed and nodded, saying,—

"Oh! you may find plenty of these in this region, and I will give you pilots who will carry you where you can get as much as you please. But what have you brought to exchange for them ?"

"We have gold and silver."

"Well, with gold and silver you may buy any thing the world over. Pray, sir, will you not have your men blow on those things again?"

The sheik pointed to the trumpets, which were sounded as he wished; whereat he seemed very much pleased bending forward to listen to them.

"Now," he went on, "I wish you would show me your bows and arrows, and the books of your law."

Some cross-bows and armor were brought, and were examined by the Moor with the greatest curiosity and surprise.

"We have no books of the law," said Vasco, "as they are not needed at sea." Vasco now thought it his turn to ask questions, and inquired of the sheik how far it was from Mozambique to India; to which the latter replied, "About nine hundred leagues."

"And where is the land of the famous Prester John?"

"Oh I it is far away from here, in the inland country," returned the sheik, pointing northward.

Vasco ordered that the best meats and wines the ship afforded should be set before his guests, who feasted upon the viands with hungry eagerness, and grew very merry and talkative over the wine.

It was sundown before the Moors, appearing much pleased with all they had seen and heard on board the San Raphael, embarked again in their boats, and returned to the island. As the sheik went away with many friendly signs and expressions, he promised that he would send Vasco two pilots, who would conduct him safely to his destination.

The next day Vasco da Gama sent the Moor Davane on shore with some presents for the sheik. Among them were some pieces of satin cloth, two caps, five Flemish knives of fine temper, and a present of money for the pilots whom the sheik had promised him. He told Davane to buy some cows and sheep, and such other provisions as he could find.

Davane ere long returned with the two pilots, and reported that all the food he could find was some corn, but that they could procure sheep and cows farther along the coast The pilots were comfortably lodged in the forecastle, and were treated with every kindness by the Portuguese. Little did Vasco suspect with what treachery he was to be repaid for his hospitality.

Davane again went on shore to complete his purchases; and now the sheik took him apart in his house, and asked him many questions about Vasco da Gama and the ships. How many men were there? Were they all well? or were some of them sick? What kind of arms had they? How much merchandise and gold and silver were there on board? Davane replied that on the San Raphael  there were about sixty men-at-arms, whose weapons were swords and lances; that the Portuguese were Christians, but good men and strong, and friendly to those that were friendly to them; that there were some who were sick; and that they had cross-bows and cannon. The more the sheik questioned him, the more did Davane suspect that his object in doing so was not an honest one.

"Go back to the captain," said the sheik, "and invite him to come on shore and dine with me; and ask him to send his sick here, that they may be cared for."

As the faithful Davane rowed back to the San Raphael  he resolved to impart his suspicions to Vasco da Gama, and to warn him not to accept the sheik's insidious invitation; for which Vasco warmly thanked him.

Davane's surmises soon proved only too true. The sheik and his companions, when they learned that the Portuguese were not Turks, as they had supposed, but were Christians, became secretly hostile to them; and their cupidity having been aroused by the sight of the rich goods and coins which Vasco had displayed, they resolved at the same time to obtain them, and to destroy the heretic strangers.

There were four Moorish ships at anchor in the harbor, which the sheik ordered to be in readiness to attack the Portuguese ships. He called together the Moors in the town, and told them his purpose, and to prepare to make an attack. Vasco da Gama was happily forewarned by his good friend Davane; but not wishing to create enemies along the coast, lest he should get a bad reputation in those regions, he would have sailed away at once, had it not been necessary to take in fresh water for the ships.

How was this to be done? They did not know where there were streams to get water from; and they were now certain, that, if they approached the shore, they would be savagely attacked.

Vasco thought he would first try to propitiate the sheik; and, that failing, he would send a boat well armed on the perilous errand of seeking for water.

Davane was accordingly sent a third time on shore, and was welcomed by the sheik with a great show of pretended friendship. He told him that Vasco da Gama could not disembark in any country except that to which King Manuel had sent him, and so could not accept his invitation to dine; and begged the sheik to tell him where water could best be procured. This the sheik pretended to do; pointing out a place, however, where the Portuguese could be easily attacked by his Moors. Davane then returned to the ship with this new proof of the sheik's evil designs.

It now only remained to send out a boat, filled with well-armed men, in search of a stream. The risk was great; but water, if possible, must be obtained.

A large boat was soon lowered, and Nicolas Coello was put in command of it. He carried with him two cannon, ten sailors, and twelve men with cross-bows; and one of the Moorish pilots, whom the sheik had sent on board, was ordered to accompany the expedition, and guide the boat to a convenient creek. A sharp watch was kept on him to see that he did not betray them, or make signals to the shore.

It was midnight when the boat set out on its errand. It was safer to go under the cover of the darkness; and, besides, they had to take advantage of the high tide, lest they should run aground at the mouths of the creeks. Before long, it became evident that the Moorish pilot was trying to play them false. He directed them first to one place, and then to another, pretending to point out a stream where water could be got; and so long a time was thus occupied, that, before Coello knew it, the tide had receded, and he was in great danger of being stuck on the beach. This was, no doubt, what the pilot desired.

The men rowed desperately, and at last succeeded in getting out into the bay again. Then they cried out, angrily, that the treacherous pilot should be killed on the spot. Coello himself was sorely tempted to make an end of him; but reflecting that Vasco da Gama would perhaps wish to have him hung on the deck, so that the people on shore might see how traitors were treated, he forbore.

Daylight had now come, and the boat was crossing the bay. At a favorable moment, and before the men could prevent him, the Moorish pilot suddenly leaped overboard. He dived deep into the sea, and it was some minutes before the Portuguese caught sight of him again. He swam under water a long distance, and came up, too far away to be reached by the cross-bows, striking out vigorously toward the shore.

Coello ordered the men to row after him, but presently was forced to turn back again, as the shore was now crowded with enraged Moors, who shot arrows, and threw stones from slings, at his little company, endangering the lives of all.

The boat went back to the San Raphael  And now Vasco da Gama had to decide whether he should attack the town, or go quietly away. On the one hand, he was angry at the perfidy of the sheik and the pilot, and was sure that he could easily destroy the place with his cannon, if he chose: on the other, he did not wish it to be reported along the coast that the Portuguese had come to fight and plunder.

Peaceful counsels at last prevailed. Vasco determined to proceed on the voyage, the other Moorish pilot having been put in irons. Just as they were making sail, however, Vasco saw a boat push out from the island, containing four Caffres and a Moor. They had a white-cloth fastened at the end of a pole, which they flourished as a flag of truce. Vasco caused the San Raphael  to heave to, and the Moor came on board. He told the captain, through Davane, that the sheik was astonished at the Portuguese for trying to kill his pilot, and at their going away so abruptly; adding, that, if any of his people had ill treated them, he would see to it that the offenders were punished. Upon this, Vasco da Gama wished to send Davane back to Mozambique with a friendly message; but Davane begged that he might not be sent for he was afraid that the sheik would kill him.

So the captain ordered one of the convicts whom he had brought with him to go back with the Caffres, and to remain at Mozambique till he returned from India.

This convict, whose name was Joan Machado, was very unwilling to trust himself thus among enemies; but Vasco was obdurate, and Machado was forced to get into the canoe.

He was ordered to tell the sheik that the Moorish pilot had treacherously failed to guide the boat to a place where water could be obtained; and that, as the sheik had not treated the Portuguese with sincerity, they were going away without bidding him adieu.

The little fleet now once more weighed anchor, and put off to sea, carrying several Moors who had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese. As she was sailing away, the San Raphael  drifted upon a sand-bank, but was happily got off again by the exertions of the crews before the Moors could take advantage of the accident.

Before following Vasco on his voyage, we may briefly relate what afterwards befell the convict, Joan Machado, who was sent so unceremoniously back to Mozambique.

The sheik, instead of ordering him away to be beheaded, treated him well, and, as Joan knew a little Arabic, often talked with him. Thus Joan got into his good graces, and was allowed to remain in peace at Mozambique as long as he pleased.

It happened, that, when the San Raphael  ran aground, another convict, named Rodriguez, a friend of Machado's, availed himself of the confusion to escape from the ship, and swam ashore. He soon joined Machado at the sheik's house, and both Machado and the sheik were delighted to see him.

After being in Mozambique for some time, poor Rodriguez died; and his faithful friend, procuring the consent of the sheik, buried him at the end of the island, and put a rude cross over the grave.

Joan Machado soon learned to talk glibly with the Moors; and being a fine-looking man, with pleasant manners and much intelligence, he soon won the friendship of the whole population as well as of the sheik.

He told them how great and powerful the King of Portugal was, and that he was resolved to send fleets to India until he conquered it: whereupon the sheik made up his mind that he would as soon as possible retrieve his error, and make friends with the Portuguese.

Machado travelled about from country to country along the coast, and finally made his way to India. He traded and grew rich, and was held in the highest esteem by the Moors among whom he lived.