Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle

Vasco Visits the King of Melinda

Before fulfilling his promise to trust himself and his brother Paulo near the shore, Vasco da Gama thought it best to send the other captain, Coello, to Melinda, with the Moor Davane, to have an interview with the king, and see if he were really sincere.

Accordingly, the next day, Coello and Davane went off in a boat, and landed on a quay not far from the royal palace. Coello was very handsomely dressed; and so eager was the curiosity of the inhabitants to see him, and so closely did they press around him, that the king's guard were forced to resort to blows to keep them at a respectful distance.

Coello and the Moor were at once conducted within the palace, and ushered into the royal presence. The king was sitting on a stool, or ottoman, covered with brocade, and inlaid with gold and ivory; while on the floor was spread a gorgeous carpet.

The captain was well satisfied with the interview. He told the king that the Portuguese were from one of the greatest and most enterprising nations in Europe; that King Manuel was powerful, and had mighty armies and fleets; that Vasco da Gama had set sail more than a year before; that they had been endangered ever since by frequent tempests, many hardships, and much treachery; and that Vasco was fully resolved never to return home until India had been reached. The aged king responded kindly, and so impressed Coello with his sincerity and good faith, that when he returned, and recounted what had passed, Vasco's suspicions almost wholly vanished.

It was on a bright, sunny morning that Vasco and Paulo set out in one of their large boats to go near the shore, and there hold an interview with the King of Melinda. The waters of the roadstead glistened in the sun's rays. The town was all alive with gayly-dressed people, who thronged along the quays, and covered the reef with a dense and excited mass. The walls of the town, the caravels, and the ships anchored near, were gay with flags, standards, and streamers, fluttering in the light breeze; and the country round about was clothed in the luxuriant green and ample foliage of the African spring-time. The two boats, as they started away from the ships, were a sight to behold. Vasco and Paulo, attired in cloaks of crimson satin, with plumed caps, and swords, sat upon chairs covered with crimson velvet; while beneath their feet were spread brilliantly-colored Carpets. Over the sides of the boats hung woollen rugs, on which sat the men who had been chosen as the retinues of the two captains. Each boat carried two cannon, loaded, and pointed outwards; and from each floated the royal standard of Portugal.

They were rapidly rowed to the edge of the quay. There stood the old king, with his long, sweeping white beard, surrounded by his swarthy court, waiting to receive them. Vasco and Paulo rose from their chairs, and saluted him with low bows and uncovered heads. An immense crowd of Moors and Arabs observed them from every point of view, and greeted them with loud acclamations.

Da Gama vists a king


They were still too far off, however, to enable the king to converse with them: so he ordered his men to take him to Vasco's boat. Here a chair was placed for him; and Vasco, kneeling, made signs to him to sit. Paulo having gone into his brother's boat, and the African slave who spoke Arabic being in attendance as interpreter, the king and the captains soon engaged in an animated talk.

"Sire," said Paulo da Gama, whom his brother asked to speak, "we are deeply grateful for the honor you do us at this moment. We are anxious to be your friends and servants; and we shall be bounden to you if it pleases you to establish peace and friendship with our liege lord, the King of Portugal."

"God knows," replied the king, "that I have already resolved upon this in my heart. It is what I pray for, and greatly desire; and I affirm, on my allegiance to the Prophet, that I will maintain, as long as I live, a brotherhood with your sovereign."

Vasco, upon this, knelt, and kissed the king's hand; but he raised him up again. And now the crews shouted out, "Welcome, O king! The Lord be praised!"

The trumpets were sounded, and echoed among the walls; and then the deep booming of the cannon was heard. The people on shore were this time less alarmed than astonished at the noise, and pressed forward to listen to the unwonted reverberation.

Vasco da Gama now approached the king, and offering him a magnificent sword, the scabbard of which was enameled with gold, a lance of gilded iron, and a buckler of crimson satin sewn with gold-thread, said,—

"It is the custom, sire, for our king to present arms to any new friend or brother whom he adopts: these arms are given that you may defend yourself with them from all enemies. The sword is a token of knighthood, the greatest of earthly honors; and so, whoever breaks a friendship established by the gift of the sword, loses his honor for ever. Therefore, sire, we give you this sword and these arms in the name of our king; and we promise to always maintain with you sincere peace and friendship."

"I promise and swear by my faith," replied the king, "to always keep peace and friendship with my new brother of Portugal; and this I now say before all my people."

Vasco then begged the king to persuade the pilot from Mozambique, and the Moor Davane, to be faithful to him, and guide him safely to India; for he wished to go soon; and reach India as soon as possible.

"Oh!" returned the king, laughing, "you must not depart for a while yet, but rest yourselves here. I will advise you what course to take, and tomorrow I will tell you more about it." With this Vasco and Paulo took leave of him, and returned to their ships, where they were met by cheers and the loud tooting of trumpets.

Vasco was now convinced that the King of Melinda was sincere, and did not meditate any treachery or snare against the Portuguese; and he no longer hesitated when the king once more sent him a second invitation to come on shore.

The next day, therefore, he proceeded to the quay, attended by twelve of his men handsomely dressed. He was received by a number of courtiers, who at once conducted him to the royal palace. At the door he was welcomed by the king himself, who embraced him; while Vasco kneeled, and saluted the king with a low bow.

His royal host conducted him within, and invited him to sit beside him on a raised dais covered with silk. Here the conversation of the day before was continued, the interpreter standing respectfully below the dais.

The king told Vasco that he had better not go to Cambay, but to some other port of India.

"The things you seek for are not to be found at Cambay," he said; "or at least they cost much there. But I will give you pilots who will conduct you to the great city of Calicut; for near there grow pepper and ginger, and all other drugs are brought there from every clime. Your broker Davane must go with you; for he knows the price of everything, and so you will not be cheated."

To all that the king said, Davane, who had come with Vasco, nodded assent. The king then turned to the Moor, and asked him if he would not continue his journey with the Portuguese to Calicut; to which Davane replied, without hesitation,—

"Sire, I should rejoice to go to Calicut, or, for the matter of that, the world over, with the Portuguese. I have seen much of them, and have been long in their company; and they have treated me excellently well. And I know that the captain is generous, and will abundantly reward me."

"Assuredly I will," returned Vasco, thanking the faithful Moor; "and so well, that, wherever the Portuguese go hereafter in these regions, people will hasten to serve them. And I promise you, sire, that, on my return from India, I will come here again to tell you all that has happened to us, that you may rejoice with us in our good fortune, or share in our grief if our fortune is ill."

Vasco then apprised the king that the ships had fallen short of biscuits, and asked if wheat, with which to make them, was to be had in Melinda. The king not understanding what he meant by "wheat," a boat was sent out to the San Raphael  to get some.

When he saw it, the king said there was none grown in that country, but that the Cambay merchants brought a little of it to Melinda to be used for the royal table; and that as much as could be found Vasco should have. "I wish it, sire, as soon as possible," said Vasco, "as I am anxious to depart without delay."

"That you cannot do," returned the king. "You must wait at least three months before crossing the Indian Ocean."

"Why so ?" asked Vasco in astonishment.

"Because the winds will not be favorable for your voyage till then. You must sail with the monsoon, or trade-winds. They are now contrary, blowing from the east; and it will be three months before they shift around and set in from the west. At this season there are fearful storms, and you would surely be lost. It is most dangerous to cross the ocean in the face of the contrary trade-winds."

This unwelcome piece of news was a surprise to Vasco, who was extremely chagrined to find that he must lose so much time, and postpone his longed-for arrival in India to so late a period. He had not heard of the trade-winds; and this new obstacle, while it did not discourage him, made him sad and anxious.

Bidding his royal host adieu, he returned to the San Raphael, and found, when he got there, a new proof of the king's generosity and good-will. A boat had been sent out, laden not only with big copper kettles full of boiled rice, but a number of sheep roasted whole, some excellent butter, wheat and rice cakes, some boiled and roasted chickens, vegetables, figs, cocoanuts, and sugar-canes.

There was enough for all the crews, as well as the captains and officers; and while Vasco, Paulo, and Coello sat down to a table groaning with good things, the men gathered on deck, and feasted right merrily. Vasco hastened to send the king, in return, some preserved pears in silver basins, and a fork to eat them with; first eating some of the pears in presence of the king's servant, to show that they were not poisoned. This servant was told to apprise the king that the preserves were to be eaten with water, after dinner.

Vasco informed his brother-captains of what he had learned from the king, and they all deplored the necessity of waiting so long a time at Melinda. They feared that the king's disposition towards them might change, and that false and hostile stories might reach him from Mozambique and Mombaza. In order that this might not happen, they resolved that none of the sailors should go on shore except the sick, who needed change of scene and occupation; and that the Moor Davane should be told to remain always with the king, so that he might contradict any evil reports that should reach their royal friend.

Calling Davane to him, Vasco said,—

"I pray you go to the king, and be always near him; for, while you are there, no Moor will dare to speak evil of us. The Moors of the coast are, no doubt, jealous lest we become their rivals in trade; and will do all they can to poison the king's mind against us. Since we are forced to stay here so long, it is best to foster the, friendship which the king now shows us."

With this the Moor, smiling, said to Vasco,—

"Captain, how is it, that, I being a Moor, you repose so much trust in me?"

"My heart tells me that you are a true friend," returned Vasco. "You have done us many good turns, and never a bad one; and so I am led to confide in you." One of the Caffres who was standing by, and understood what was said, grinned, and said to Vasco,—

"Sir, this man very taibo;"  taibo meaning "very good." This pleased Davane very much, and he patted the Caffre good-naturedly on the back. From that time the sailors got into the habit of calling Davane "Taibo."

Vasco was very grateful to the good Moor for his fidelity, and now showed his gratitude by throwing a heavy gold chain around his neck, which Davane, delighted, hastened off to show the king. The king, equally impressed with Davane's goodness, followed Vasco's example, and made him a present of a silken pelisse. Obeying the orders of Vasco, the Moor took up his abode in the royal palace. The king grew very familiar with him, and, being a very jolly old fellow, sat and joked with him by the hour together.

Meanwhile Vasco made the best of the situation, and prepared to remain at Melinda until the trade-winds became favorable. There was, indeed, much that might be done during the three months before them, and no lack of work and recreation with which to make the weeks pass rapidly.

Calling together the masters and pilots, Vasco told them of the delay, and gave orders as to how the time should be employed.

The ships were in some need of repair, and it was necessary to get in provisions for a voyage, which, should the weather prove unfavorable, might be long and tedious.

Once more the ships were heeled over, and the sides thoroughly caulked The decks and upper parts were made water-tight with pitch; and ropes were twisted of a thread made by the natives from the outer husks of cocoanuts, which proved to be excellent for the purpose, as they could be stretched like India-rubber, and were yet stronger in salt water than the cables brought by the Portuguese.

Vasco's wisdom in making his sailors learn to be artisans before they left Lisbon was now amply confirmed. Some of them set to work making hawsers and rigging j others proved to be skilful caulkers; yet others employed themselves on such carpentry-work as the ships needed inside and out. Much of the work of making ropes and rigging was done on shore; and this brought a crowd of curious Moors around the sailors every day.

At the same time, the work of provisioning the hips went actively on. They were supplied with an abundance of fresh water, which was obtained without difficulty from the streams near Melinda. meat, vegetables, meal and fruit were brought on board, and stowed away for future use; and the ship-boy of the San Raphael, accompanied by a negro interpreter, went on shore every day to make purchases.

In this provisioning of the ships, the Portuguese were greatly befriended by the king, who ordered a crier to go through the city to proclaim that nothing should be sold to the strangers for more than it was worth; and that, if any merchant overcharged them, the king would cause his house to be burned to the ground.

Vasco and his brother-captains now went fearlessly on shore as often as they please; and the king, remaining steadfast in his friendship, would have them dine with him, take them on excursions around the city and in the suburbs, and promenade with them in a large pleasure garden at a little distance from his palace.

One day, after the Portuguese had been at Melinda some weeks, the king told Vasco that he was very curious to see the ships, and go all over them, They had now been repaired and put in good trim; and Vasco hastened to take the king's hint, and invite him on board. A day for the visit was fixed, and Vasco ordered that every preparation should be made to give his royal guest a fitting reception.