Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle

Vasco da Gama Captures a Moor,
and Arrives at Mozambique

Well satisfied that his voyage had so far been successful, and that, if he persevered, he would in no very long time reach India, Vasco da Gama still deemed it prudent to run along the African coast till he should reach some place where he could get trustworthy information where it would be best to strike directly across the ocean.

The sailors had given over all thoughts of turning back, and went to their work happily and with a will. The pilot of the San Raphael  begged to be allowed to once more guide the ship, and was restored to his post. As for the criminals, they had lost all influence over the crews by their failure, and were disposed to be obedient and submissive. One sunny morning the ships were running along under a fair wind, making good speed, and showing by their steady motion that the repairs had been thorough.

Vasco da Gama was on the deck of the San Raphael, gazing curiously at the coast, and chatting with his officers.

Of a sudden the pilot cried out, "A sail ahead!" The captain could scarcely believe his ears. Why should there be a sail on these distant waters? So far, the savages they had found were only provided with rude canoes and oars. Had they already reached a region where the art of navigation was known?

Vasco da Gama hastened to the pilot's side; and there, sure enough, in the hazy distance, a boat with a sail could be distinctly seen skimming the smooth waters.

Vasco at once gave the order to bear down with all speed upon the sail. But now they had evidently been observed from the boat; for, by a sudden tack, it made off to the sea; and, after a long chase, the sail was lost sight of in the falling darkness. Vasco, though chagrined at failing to overhaul it, was consoled by the thought that the sail indicated the vicinity of a navigating people.

The next day, as the ships continued to skirt the shore, one of the sailors spied a rocky point stretching out into the sea; and off this point was anchored a peculiar sort of coastwise vessel, called a zambuk. Just beyond the point, a large creek flowed down from the hills behind.

The ships had scarcely got opposite the point, when a canoe was seen leaving the zambuk, and making leisurely for the shore. There was no time to be lost. Vasco ordered some of his men to take a boat, and go in pursuit of the canoe. In a twinkling they were on the waves, and were rowing lustily towards the shore.

It was not long before the craft that was being pursued caught sight of the pursuers. The sailors perceived that it contained seven men. The Portuguese rapidly gained upon the canoe, and in a few moments were but a rod or two behind it.

Seeing this, six of the men in the boat, in their terror, plunged into the sea, and swam vigorously towards the shore, leaving their companion in the lurch, sitting helplessly alone in the canoe.

When the Portuguese came alongside, they found that the man who had thus been abruptly left behind was not a Negro, nor a Caffre, but a Moor.

His complexion was cream-colour, and his hair straight He wore a white shirt, with a silk band around the waist. Over his shoulders was thrown a short cloak of colored cloth; and on his head he wore a round turban, made of wrappings of colored silk sewed with gold thread. From his ears hung a pair of small gold rings.

The Moor had sat still in the canoe simply because he could not swim. When the Portuguese seized him, and put him into their boat, his teeth chattered, and his frame trembled from excessive fright; but on the way back to the ships he became more composed.

The Portuguese went to the zambuk and searched it, but found noting worth bringing away. They then carried their prisoner to the San Raphael, and presented him to Vasco da Gama.

After a while the Moor recovered from his fright, and gave Vasco to understand by signs that he was the agent of a great Moorish merchant, and that he was about to embark a cargo of merchandise on board the zambuk An African slave on the San Raphael  spoke to him in Arabic, of which, however, he understood only a few words; explaining by signs, however, that, farther on, there were people who spoke that language.

Vasco da Gama treated the Moor rather as if he were a guest than a prisoner. He caused a long red robe to be brought and put on him; and he proffered him some cakes, olives, and wine. The Moor ate heartily of all that was set before him; but the wine he could not be prevailed on to touch.

Davane—this turned out to be the Moor's name gradually became confident and at his ease; and the more Vasco da Gama saw of him, the more he was convinced that his prisoner was an unusually intelligent and honest man. He took him below, and showed him the spices he had brought as samples of what he wished to obtain; whereat Davane made him understand that he himself was a broker, and could put him in the way of some profitable commerce.

The Moor was soon able to give Vasco da Gama a convincing proof of his good faith. One day, as the ships were sailing along the coast, he eagerly pointed out some shoals and banks ahead, making signs that the pilots should go around, and thus avoid the danger of being stranded on them. These proved to be the Shoals of Sofala. The river of that name was passed in the night, and was not seen by the Portuguese; although the good Moor tried hard to tell them of it by pointing and imitating the flowing of a stream.

A day or two afterwards, another sail made its appearance at a little distance off. This time Vasco da Gama resolved that he would not be out-sailed. The San Raphael  edged out to sea, and the vessel was soon overhauled.

To the surprise of the Portuguese, the occupants of the zambuk—for such it proved to be—made no attempt to escape, but welcomed the sailors who were sent out in a boat to board her. Two Caffres willingly consented to return to the San Raphael  with them; and, as soon as they appeared on deck, the Moor Davane, who seemed to recognize them at once, joyfully cried out that they were Caffres of Mozambique.

It happened that on board Paulo da Gama's ship was a Caffre from Guinea. He was at once sent for, and, to Vasco's delight, was found to be able to talk with the others. From them he learned that the zambuk, which was now lying quietly by awaiting their return, was laden with guano, of which some islands not far off contained an abundance; and that they were going to carry it to Cambay, where it was used in dyeing cloths.

Davane found that he, too, could communicate a little with the Caffres, and told Vasco da Gama what he learned from them. It appeared that some distance ahead was a large town, which carried on an active trade in all sorts of goods; that they were on the road to Cambay, which was a great kingdom and a rich country, especially in drugs and spices. Davane advised Vasco to keep a sharp look out on the zambuk, and to make the Caffres guide the ships through the numerous shoals in this region. Vasco accordingly told the Caffres to return to their vessel, and keep on ahead with it, so as to show, by lanterns with which he provided them, when they were approaching the shoals in the night.

Meanwhile the captain manifested his gratitude to Davane, regaling him with the best there was on board, and assuring him that he should be bountifully rewarded (or his services and fidelity.

It was towards the end of March that the ships. following always in the wake of the zambuk, entered the channel which runs between the large Island of Madagascar and the African coast. Here they began to come upon numerous small islands dotting the sea. Some of them had many trees; others were quite bare and sandy.

One evening Vasco da Gama described four islands, two of them lying in close to the shore, and the others farther out in the sea. Scarcely had these appeared, when from one of the islands near the shore he perceived several canoes putting out, and rowing towards him.

When the canoes came near the San Raphael, their occupants were seen to be very dark, but not as black as negroes. They wore handkerchiefs of various colors, some being wrought with gold thread, wound around their heads, and coats of striped cotton, girdled at the knees; and Vasco was not sorry to observe that they were armed with swords and daggers, which showed that they had traded with civilized peoples.

These men, who proved to be Moors, came confidently on deck, as if they had found old mends. Viands and wine were set before them by Vasco's command, which they ate and drank without hesitation, and with great gusto.

Through the Moor Davane, who acted as interpreter, and seemed rejoiced to see these people, Vasco was gratified to learn from his visitors that the island on which they lived was called Mozambique, where there was a large and flourishing town, which traded for silver, linen, pepper, ginger, pearls, and rubies, with the Moors; of India.

Here then, at last, he had reached a place where he could doubtless procure definite information as to the distance they were from India, and the way to reach it. It now seemed as if the glorious end of his long and weary journey was about to be attained.

The Moors made the most eager professions of friendship, and offered to pilot the ships into the harbor of Mozambique. This offer Vasco da Gama accepted; and the canoes led the way, the Portuguese ships and the zambuk following in their wake.

The large sails were taken in, and the vessels soon floated into the deep and well-sheltered harbor under their foresails and mizzens.

The sight which now presented itself to Vasco and his men filled them with surprise and curiosity. They could plainly discern scattered over the island, which was beautiful in hilly verdure and luxuriant in foliage, the low but neat-looking houses, thatched with straw, of the native merchants.

Lying at anchor in the harbor, at a little distance off, were the strange-looking ships in which the Moors of Mozambique carried their goods to Sofala, and even perhaps to India itself, and brought back the silks, jewels, and precious spices of the East.

Vasco noticed that these ships had no decks at all; and that, instead of being fastened with nails, their planks were held together with thick cords, which he afterwards learned were made from the fibres of cocoanut- rinds. The sails, moreover,—great flabby-looking things,—were mats woven with palm-leaves. He was told that the Moorish pilots in these vessels actually used compasses made in Genoa, and had quadrants and even sea-charts to aid them in directing their courses across the ocean.

All along the shore were gathered crowds of men, women, and children, many of them decked out in silk, and silver ornaments, eagerly watching the strange ships, and pointing them out to each other.

Vasco sent on shore the Caffres whom he had compelled to come with him in the zambuk; and these soon returned, bringing with them some cocoanuts and two hens, which the Moors had sent as a proof of good will. The Caffres were sent hack with some biscuit and cake, which they distributed to the people on the beach, who seemed to relish them very much.

Finding that the Moor Davane understood the natives of Mozambique, Vasco thought it well that he, too, should visit the village. Accordingly, Coello took him in a boat; and, when they got into shallow water, Davane nimbly jumped out, and waded ashore.

He was gone a long time; and Vasco began to fear that Davane had met with foul play, or had, after all, proved false. After some hours, however, he returned safe and sound to the San Raphael, and lost no time in acquainting Vasco da Gama with what had befallen him on the island.

As soon as he got ashore the people surrounded him and began to ask him all sorts of questions. Where did these ships come from? Where were they going to? Who were the white people in them?

Replying as best he could, Davane was escorted to the house of the sheik, or governor, who, it seemed, ruled in Mozambique in the name of the King of Quiloa. The sheik received him cordially; and Davane told him who the Portuguese were, and whither they were going.

Then the sheik in turn informed Davane that almost all the people in Mozambique were Moors, and traded a great deal, not only in spices and stuffs, but in gold, ivory, and wax. He added, that he should like very much to visit the ships of the strangers; and, giving Davane some cocoanuts, chickens, figs, and mutton, bade him return and present them to the captain, and tell him the sheik would pay him a visit.

Vasco da Gama hastened to reciprocate the sheik's friendly advances. He sent Davane back to assure him that he would be most welcome whenever he chose to come on board; and that the Portuguese were anxious to secure his friendship, and trade with him, as they were wanderers from a far-off land. Meanwhile Vasco took good care to send some presents to the sheik, among them a red cap, some black beads, coral, brass basins, bells, and gowns.

When Davane gave these things with Vasco's message to the swarthy potentate, he looked at them contemptuously, and, turning to the Moor, asked why the captain had not sent him some scarlet cloth.

Davane replied that there was none on board, and then cordially invited the sheik to visit the ships.

"Return to the captain," replied the sheik, "and tell him that I will come and visit him this afternoon."

Davane hurried back, and told Vasco what the sheik had said; and Vasco gave orders that preparations should be made forthwith to receive so important a personage in a manner befitting his rank and dignity.