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The Portuguese were the first European imperial power in Asia. Dr Pearson's volume of their history is a clear account of their activities in India and the Indian Ocean from the sixteenth century onwards written squarely from an Indian point of view. Laying particular stress on social, economic and religious interaction between Portuguese and Indians, the author argues that the Portuguese in fact had a more limited impact on everyday life in India than is sometimes supposed. Their imperial effort was characterized throughout more by reciprocity and interaction than by any unilateral imposition of Portuguese mores and political structures. The book as a whole has a significance well beyond its ostensible subject since it illuminates a whole range of more general historical themes including religious conversion, race relations, the nature of pre-modern society and early colonialism, and the very beginnings of the world economy.

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  • 1 - The Portuguese arrival in India
    pp 5-39
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    Vasco da Gama's arrival near Calicut on 20 May 1498 was the culmination of a continuous, though spasmodic, Portuguese thrust into the Atlantic, south to the Cape of Good Hope, and on to India. This chapter delineates who were the affected Indians, and how they responded to the arrival of the Portuguese. It first describes the political-economic situation in littoral western India at the time of the Portuguese arrival. Then, the chapter examines how the Portuguese attempted to change this situation to their own advantage. During the tenure of Afonso de Albuquerque, forts were established in India to enable the Portuguese to control the trade of the Indian Ocean. The object of forts in Goa and their captains was to enable the Portuguese to achieve several economic aims. One of these was a monopoly.
  • 2 - The system in operation
    pp 40-60
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    This chapter discusses Portuguese policies and Indian reactions concerning the horse trade, general trade control, and technology. The Portuguese arrival in the Indian Ocean meant that for perhaps fifty years the trade through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and so to Venice suffered greatly, though not consistently. Even in the first decade of the sixteenth century over half of Portugal's state revenue came from West African gold and Asian pepper and other spices. A problem as important as mismanagement in Lisbon was the revival of the Levant trade, for this eroded Portugal's early sixteenth-century quasi-monopoly position. Apparently later in the century some of the Christians were persuaded to bring the pepper themselves, but at least for the first part of the century the Portuguese were usually dependent for their pepper supplies on their supposed inveterate enemies, the Muslims.
  • 3 - Evaluation of the official system
    pp 61-80
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    This chapter investigates the strengths and weakness of the Portuguese military and governmental system. It shows how international interests dictated that Hurmuz be left open, at least a little, by the Portuguese. Much more important was the failure to take Aden to control the entrance to the Red Sea. One basic problem was that all officials traded on their own behalf, as well as in many cases being responsible for controlling trade in their particular port. The fuzzy distinction between public and private property can be illustrated by many instances in the sixteenth century, for instance the abuses in Diu. The chapter discusses the official Portuguese system, the one in which they tried to be different and have an impact, by an analysis of three general points to do with the nature of their activities and empire, one of which was their brutality, usually directed against Muslims.
  • 4 - Indo-Portuguese society
    pp 81-115
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    This chapter looks the areas of Portuguese' social interaction in India by first presenting a case study of the Portuguese capital of Goa, and then discussing religion separately. Portuguese private trade, for in many ways this exemplified Portugal's unofficial activities in India. Viceroy Almeida's preliminary expedition to Coromandel in 1507 was to investigate the general situation, especially relating to trade, and to look for the tomb of Saint Thomas, the Apostle. For the private trader there were differences between areas remote from, and areas controlled by, the official system. The chapter presents a detailed social analysis of Goa so as to show the Portuguese empire in operation, and build on analysis of private Portuguese trade. The most convincing evidence have concerning the role of Indians, especially Saraswat brahmins, in the Goan economy comes from quite detailed statistics concerning the holders of rendas, or tax-farming contracts.
  • 5 - Catholics and Hindus
    pp 116-130
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    This chapter presents a discussion on the religious interaction of Portuguese India. Around 1540 in Goa there were some 100 priests, though a Jesuit historian tells us they often were ignorant, and most interested in their trade and their concubines. In the watershed year, 1540, in order to encourage conversions all temples in Goa were destroyed. Most Hindu ceremonies were forbidden, including marriage and cremation. One disadvantage with being made subject to the padroado was that this also meant subjection to the authority of the Inquisition. Amongst Muslims the missionaries made almost no converts; they complained about how obdurate these Muhammadans were. Among Hindus also there was strong opposition, or passive resistance. The chapter considers the nature of the much-publicized conversions to Christianity. The continuing influence of Hindu caste notions among Goan Christians is a specific illustration of the way Catholicism adapted, at least a little, to its Indian environment.
  • 6 - Decline and stagnation
    pp 131-143
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    The decline of the Portuguese empire in India is a much more contentious subject than may at first be apparent. It is indicative of the influence of contemporary cultural bonds on commentators that at the time of the decline the very reverse was sometimes put forward, the trouble with the Portuguese was lack of religion. The sixteenth-century Portuguese administration was pre-modern by definition, just as were those of the British both at home and abroad until the late eighteenth century. The Dutch, arriving in Southeast Asia in 1596, drove out the Portuguese from this area over the next twenty years. They then reduced Portuguese trade in East Asia. The statistics of Portuguese losses in India between 1640 and 1663 are appalling. In the sixteenth century few casados in the larger land areas of Goa, Daman and Bassein had left the cities: private sea trade was the preferred economic activity.
  • 7 - Towards reintegration
    pp 144-162
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    After the loss of the large and prosperous area of Bassein in 1739, the Portuguese ruled only Goa, Daman and Diu. Metropolitan Portugal, enervated by the long war of independence against Spain and perennially suffering from lack of resources and a usually capricious and arbitrary government, staggered through the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In 1807 the French invaded Portugal, and the court fled to Brazil. The aim was to deny France a potential foothold in India. The two most fervent, committed, and intolerant parts of the church were the Jesuits and the Inquisition. The general point is that while Portuguese India contributed little to the empire and its total trade, some of her inhabitants, especially Gujaratis, participated in a quite flourishing Indian Ocean trade. In March 1962 Portuguese India was formally integrated into the Indian Union.
  • Bibliographical essay
    pp 163-176
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    This chapter outlines some of the books and articles the author had read over the years on Indo-Portuguese history, and found to be useful. Georg Schurhammer's Francis Xavier: His Life, His Times is strongest for the history of the Jesuits, and especially Saint Francis Xavier, but he includes copious detail on secular sources for the sixteenth century also. When the focus is narrowed down on the literature on the history of the Portuguese in India, and Goa, the quality of the literature declines sadly. V. M. Godhinho's A Economia dos Descobrimentos Henriquinos is basic for economic aspects of the discoveries, while Diffie's section in Foundations of the Portuguese Empire is a good survey of the voyages and their causes. A. R. Disney's fine monograph Twilight of the Pepper Empire: Portuguese Trade in Southwest India in the Early Seventeenth Century also has good data on Portuguese business society in the metropole.


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