Portugal’s Oriental Odyssey

During the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age, the Lusitanian discoverers were especially focused on finding the Christian kingdom of Prester John, mythically located in the Orient[1]. So, the story begins with two secret agents of D. João II – António de Lisboa e Pero Montarroio – searching across overland routes for the Christian King, who never went beyond Jerusalem due to not knowing the Arabic language in order to achieve the goal of the journey. Then came, in 1487, Afonso de Paiva and Pero da Covilhã, both leaving from Santarém to Valencia, then to Barcelona, Rhodes, Alexandria, Cairo and El-Tor in the Red Sea. Finally, as merchants in caravans, they crossed Arabia[2] to reach Aden, from which they took different paths: Covilhã went to India (Cannanore, Calicut and Goa), Paiva, in turn, went to Suakin, on the coast of Abyssinia.

The last one died prematurely, while the former, once again in Cairo, sent his new information[3] about the oriental coast of Africa[4] and the Island of the Moon (Madagascar) to Lisbon. In fact, it was indeed Pero da Covilhã who helped to set the itinerary of India’s navigation to the Portuguese discoverers, especially pointing out the south passage of Africa from where it was possible to reach Calicut. After visiting Aden again, Covilhã went to the trackless mountains of Ethiopia from where, due to the imposition of a descendant of Prester John, was not allowed to leave it for the rest of his life, despite being well treated.

The Portuguese, while discovering the oriental Ocean mysteries and secrets, really found a commercial and a maritime monopoly set by Muslims, Ethiopians, Turks, Egyptians, Venetians, Persians, Afghans and Chinese. Despite all, the Portuguese discoverers tried to establish good relations with the oriental natives, especially with the Rajah of Calicut (now Kozhikode), who, unfortunately, betrayed the Portuguese people by allowing them to be killed in order to save commercial and religious interests in the Indian hemisphere. The Portuguese, who, at the time, were undoubtedly a spiritual force of nature, had no other option except to wage war by constructing trading dêpots and fortresses in every key strategic position from the Persian Gulf to the Sea of China.

In fact, many places – such as Quiloa, Anjediva, Mombasa, Sofala, Onor, Diu, Curiati (Kuryat), Sohar, Muscat, Khor Fakkan, Kalhat, Orfacate, Hormuz, Goa, Cannanore, Cochin, Malacca, Daman -, are historical ones regarding the Portuguese Diaspora. Besides, it is perfectly known that the Governors of Portuguese India, like Francisco de Almeida, Afonso de Albuquerque and João de Castro, were indeed military geniuses by closing all the Indian Ocean Naval passages to the Atlantic, Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Pacific, transforming them into a Lusitanian mare clausum established over the Turkish, Muslim and Hindu colonies, emporiums and feudal lord systems. Nevertheless, those Governors, despite being fiercely feared and respected by their enemies, were capable of guaranteeing that many natives could pursue their own lives according to their religion and, especially, making full use of their own properties[5].

Far beyond the usual commercial and military reasons about the Portuguese Diaspora ascribed by superficial academia, we must say that a deeper one was taking place at the time, evidently rooted in the Christian Holy War which occurred in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East[6]. So, the ultimate mission, dating from Henry, the Navigator, was not confined to the circumnavigation of Africa’s coast to reach Ethiopia through the West, but especially to pontificate an alliance with oriental Christian kings, remotely related to Saint Thomas, the Apostle. Paradigmatic of this spiritual mission can also be the military prowess planned by Albuquerque to steal the Prophet’s body in Mecca to ransom the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem from the infidel’s yoke[7].

Albuquerque, The Caesar of the East, successfully created, for barely seven years, a Portuguese Empire in Southeast Asia. To assure it, he set up the respective limits through three key strategic positions: Hormuz, Goa and Malacca. Consequently, the real aim consisted in enclose the Red Sea entry in order to obstruct the network passage of spices into the Mediterranean[8].

Also known as The Portuguese Mars, or even as The Lion of the Seas[9], Albuquerque seems to be a unique character historically and religiously speaking. In the battle of Goa, he suddenly got an extraordinary vision of a knight who used a red cross over his mantle while fighting the Muslims infidels with blank arms. This knight was, according to Iberian religious tradition, an Apostle of Christ, named Santiago[10].

Thus, the military history of the Portuguese, especially in what respects the oriental Odyssey, is a supernatural phenomenon. Remembering the first siege of Diu (1538), it is really astonishing how the Lusitanian heroism could face a numberless Turkish army to which the Governor, António da Silveira, resisted so Homerically that even the King of France (Francisco I), marvelled with such exploit, ordered that the portrait of Diu’s illustrious hero should be installed in the Palace of Fontainebleau.  When Diu was encircled for the second time (1546), João de Mascarenhas, emerging as a brave and courageous Governor, would be able, in turn, to resist during seven months against consecutive battles and as many constant assaults which were permanently repelled, or even against eventual open breaches caused by hundreds of Muslims rapidly detained by a handful of invincible Portuguese, including children, women and older men[11].

Despite all the heroic, religious and military achievements of the Lusitanian people in the Orient, it is also true that a careless administration put a brief end to a spiritual mission prefigured in the Armillary Sphere. Ormuz, for instance, was deprived of the Portuguese domain in 1622, while Malacca suffered the same fate in 1641. Goa, also known as the “Rome of the Orient”, remained integrated in the Portuguese State of India till 1961, as it also occurred with Diu, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, unlawfully invaded by the Indian Union troops[12].

Only one man resisted using unusual diplomatic agenda regarding the historical rights of the Portuguese people, to which Goa strictly belonged as well. That man was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Oliveira Salazar. His political strategy consisted of several main goals during Goa’s crisis, such as:

1. Showing to the world that Pandit Nehru was, no matter his nominal pacifism, an imperialist aggressor in whom the British education did not deeply remove the primitive one. Focusing on this point, the Portuguese leader could also indicate how England, as a civilized nation, had always respected the Portuguese State of India.

2. Letting one see that the Indian accusations against Portugal concerning colonial imperialism were a pure product of political propaganda, since Goan citizens had already their own legislative college as well as their own representation in the Deputy Chamber, not to speak of the possibility of being able to exercise their own professional duties in every Portuguese territory, including metropolitan ones.

images GoaInvasao4803. Renouncing Indian Union proposals since 1950, through which the main purpose was to convince Portugal to compromise Goa’s future. Nevertheless, Portugal never denied the genuine predisposition of resolving the multiple problems regarding the joint state affairs.

4. Resisting against Indian Union violence and oppression based on a state war or even on a psychological state of terror purposely created upon Goan citizens, namely through the interdiction of the circulation of persons and merchandise by overland and sea, and through railway cuts, communication interruption, harbor enclosures, freezing deposits and, finally, through terrorist attacks against frontier stations and the population itself.

5. Appealing to the International Court of Justice which recognized, in 12th April 1960, Portugal’s rights respecting Dadra and Nagar Haveli, in spite of being ignored and disrespected by the Parliament of New Delhi, from which finally came the illicit act of annexation by simple decree.

6. Comparing not only the moral population of Goa, deprived of religious and racial conflicts, with the precarious, racial and anti-Western way of life imposed by the Indian Union in so many States of the Hindustan Peninsula.

7. Considering secular alliances and treaties between England and Portugal, such as the Declaration of 14th October 1899, also known as the Treaty of Windsor. According to this one, the British Government was obliged to defend the Portuguese overseas territories from all present and future enemies[13]. Consequently, Oliveira Salazar, forced by the circumstances involving Goa’s crisis, invoked the reported alliance in order to request the Government of His Majesty about the possible cooperation against Indian aggression. Unfortunately, the answer, expressing the subtle pragmatism of British diplomacy, came through “inevitable limitations” on preventing armed attacks taken by members of the Commonwealth against Portuguese territories.

8. Requesting the United States intervention based on the assumption of the moral responsibility of one of the most powerful nation at the time. But unfortunately, the political and diplomatic intervention, though repeated diligences in Washington and New Delhi, did not make any difference at all. On the contrary, it had not only revealed the defeat of the less powerful nations of the world, but, above all, the utter inability of the most powerful ones to defend International Law.

9. Denouncing the United Nations Organization, which could not prevent Goa’s invasion no matter how the world would be shocked in the presence of such an alarming aggression[14]. It was, perhaps, one of the last few chances that the Western civilization had to establish, in a classical way, a universal system of balanced forces in order to keep a desirable solidarity between noble and pacific nations. Instead of that remained the crash of the United Nations invaded by a tumultuous crowd of States, parties, majorities and anti-Western groups bent on continental revolution and International Law subversion.

10. Dissuading, through a military position, an eventual Indian aggression, even if the military superiority of the last one could not allow any hope for a Portuguese success without allied support. Besides, in case of attack, Oliveira Salazar ordered, notwithstanding such terrible grief of soul, full sacrifice of spirit and honor by all Portuguese forces in order to: a) resist as much as possible – at least eight days -, to mobilize international instances in profit of the Portuguese Government b) preserve, at one time, Portugal’s historical dimension by assuming an old Lusitanian tradition in India c) valorize the military capacity of the Portuguese concerning their own territories, especially in Africa.

At mid-night, 18th December 1961, Portuguese Goa was finally invaded by Indian military forces. Despite the surrender of the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief Vassalo e Silva – whose heroic intentions were till the last minute very well known -, there was, symbolically speaking, some resistance expressed by Cunha Aragão and the ship´s crew of Afonso de Albuquerque, vanished after an artillery duel with Indian cruisers[15]. On the whole, 45 Portuguese and 22 Indians were killed.

In consequence, Goa’s fall was indeed disastrous for Portugal’s future as a political and an economical nation. So, for the first time, Portugal was not the same country as it had been for five hundred centuries, even becoming, for that very reason, much more vulnerable in its spiritual unity. Besides, the strategy of Nehru was, at that critical moment, reinforced by the Kremlin’s communist policy in order to attack and neutralize Portugal’s vital points based on African territories.

If it is true that some U. S. political and diplomatic personalities have perceived Portugal´s strategic position in facing international communism subversion, as, eventually, John Foster Dulles or even Dean Rusk, it is also true that Kennedy’s Administration, intellectually bounded by anti-colonialism illusion, commended an unrealistic policy that, in so many aspects, was incapable of protecting the Western allies and, in the end, of taking down terrorist forces by helping ironically some alleged alternatives based on pro-Western “nationalism”, democracy and human rights in Africa[16].

Oliveira Salazar, while establishing a parallel between international communism and American democratic “liberalism”, had the feeling that within twenty or thirty years the world would be entirely communist. Today, many academic analysts, scholars and political scientists can abstractly say that his prevision failed, no matter how the world came into an incredible mess. But, for the most precautious and independent thinkers, that same intuition can, surprisingly, make some real sense as it approaches one more battle between the forces of Good and Evil[17], both prefigured, in many ways, in the Atlantic and Eurasian conceptions of Life and Humanity.

[1] According to Marco Polo´s information, the enchanted prince lived in Central Asia.

[2] They also travelled through Medina and Mecca. While in the sacred city of Islam, both, in disguise, prayed to Maome, the Prophet.

[3] In Cairo Covilhã met with two Portuguese Jews sent by D. João II: Rabbi Abraham of Beja and Joseph, a shoe-maker of Lamego. The second one returned to Portugal with all the information gathered by the “Perfect Prince’s” secret agent.

[4] Pero da Covilhã had, for the purpose, visited Melinde, Quiloa, Mozambique and Sofala, recording the centres of commerce dominated by local sultans.

[5] After the victory of Goa (1510), Albuquerque was very generous in preserving the natives from slavery as well as being deprived of their own lands, riches and religious cults. The only demand was indeed Mamluk’s expulsion. In the conquest of Malacca (1511), another example can be found in Albuquerque´s tolerance with regard to the existence of cult places and Koran teachings. Generally speaking, he wished to preserve the coexistence between Jews, Muslims and Christians as Portugal earlier did in the Iberian Peninsula.

[6] Regarding the Portuguese Knights Templars, the greatest one was the Grand Master Gualdim Pais, companion of D. Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal. During the 3rd Crusade (1189-1192), guided by the tree most powerful princes of Europe – Federico Barbaroja, Emperor of Germany, Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Philippe August, King of France -, a considerable number of crusades, disembarking in Portugal´s coast, helped D. Afonso Henriques making the conquest of Lisbon (1147). However, the King responsible for transferring the Order of the Temple, extinguished by Pope Clement V (1307), to the Order of Christ (1319), was, fortunately, D. Dinis. This providential diligence, connected with the construction of a naval army, would permit the prospective knowledge and the financial resources to finally project the Portuguese navigators into the greatest Oceanic adventure of all times.

lisbonne torre de belem[7] Albuquerque received secret instructions from D. Manuel I in order to form a Christian Crusade to save Jerusalem from Islamic domain. The chief goal was to plan a strategy to reach the rear of the heart of Islam through the Indian Ocean. For that special purpose, D. Manuel I sent several emissaries to contact the European kings (Louis XII of France, Henry VII of England, Ferdinand the Catholic of Spain) and even search for the approval of Pope Alexander IV, who himself, in spite of the Turkish advance into the Balkans, did not accept the Portuguese Crusade.

[8] Alexander the Great planned, in times of yore, to open a canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Albuquerque was so attracted by that possibility that he even considered doing it by recruiting land undertakers of Madeira Island.

[9] This last expression belongs to Shah Ismail I from Persia.

[10] On the other side, Malacca was military taken in Santiago’s day (25th June). Curiously, Albuquerque was already a knight of the Order of Santiago.

[11] At the occasion, D. João de Castro, an intrepid warrior as well as a man of science specialized in hydrography, meteorology and the art of navigation, ran to help Diu with a small army that put to flight forty thousand Turks.

[12] The Indian forces were composed by an army of 45 000 soldiers and 26 000 reservists, supported by heavy ordenance, combat cars and several squadrons of Aircraft Bombers. The Portuguese forces, in turn, were barely composed by 3 500 officers, sergeants, metropolitan soldiers and 900 Indo-Portuguese.

[13] With regard to such Declaration, the first article of the Treatise of 1642 was expressively ratified as well as the final article of the Treatise of 1661. The former was generically related with an alliance between both Atlantic nations, while the other was related with the Portuguese Overseas defence by the British Government.

[14] The motion approved by a majority of seven votes to cease immediately the hostilities and to make the invasion forces drawback, was rejected by Russia. Once more become demonstrated not just the influence of the Soviets to support the New Delhi belligerency, but especially the inability of the Western nations to defend collectively their own strategy, interests and good will for the well being of Mankind. On the other side, the United Sates, guided by Kennedy’s Administration, joined again the day after with all members to vote against Portugal and, curiously, to guarantee, two days later, financial support to the Indian Union.

[15] There also died in combat brave Portuguese men, as the second lieutenant Santiago de Carvalho and lieutenant Oliveira e Carmo.

[16] In fact, a great number of juridical principles coming from the United Nations siege, such as the plebiscite or the principle of self-determination, were indeed abstract and negligent principles applied to Portugal’s case. Firstly, because Portugal’s Political Constitution had been expressively conceived to assume and guarantee the existence of a sentimental community of multiracial people spiritually united. Furthermore, Portugal was not a classical colonialist nation as England, France, Holland and Spain really were, simply because its peculiar racial interpenetration was not a fictitious theory, or even less an ideology or propaganda illusion, but a real fact. And that is why there is, according to traditional Portuguese culture, a deep distinction between colonialism and colonization. In other words, the Lusitanian secret conception of life had always been focused on historical and future nation embracement of many and different cultures in most places in the planet. So, in these armillary context, Salazar’s Portugal wished to preserve political ties – constitutionally different but not incompatible with a tendentious autonomic administration concerning individual participation on sovereign powers in all Portuguese territories – in order to unite all community parcels based on linguistic, national and Fatherland common values.

[17] We see Good and Evil as principles in a symbolical way and not in a strictly Manicheaistic one.

19Miguel Bruno Duarte is a Fellow in Philosophy and Political Science at the Inter-American Institute for Philosophy, Government, and Social Thought.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

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