Duarte Barbosa Preface to "Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar"

"I, Duarte Barbosa, a native of the very noble city of Lisbon, having navigated for a great part of my youth in the Indies discovered in the name of the king our lord, and having travelled through many and various countries neighbouring to the coast, and having seen and heard various things, which I judged to be marvellous and stupendous, and which had never been seen nor heard of by our ancestors, resolved to write them for the benefit of all, as I saw and heard of them from day to day, striving to declare in this my book the towns and limits of all those kingdoms to which I went in person, or of which I had trustworthy information; and also which were kingdoms and countries of the Moors and which of the Gentiles, and their customs. Neither have I left in silence their traffic, the merchandise which is met with in them, the places where they are produced, nor whither they are transported.

"And besides what I saw personally, I always delighted in inquiring of the Moors, Christians, and Gentiles, as to the usages and customs which they practised, and the points of information thus gained I endeavoured to combine together so as to have a more exact knowledge of them, this being always my special object, as it should be of all those who write on such matters; and I am convinced that it will be recognized that I have not spared any diligence in order to obtain this object, as far as the feeble extent of the power of my understanding allows of. It was in the present year of 1516 that I finished writing this my book."

Translated from an early Spanish manuscript in the Barcelona Library. Source: Gutenberg.org.

Duarte Barbosa was a brother-in-law of Ferdinand Magellan. His writings tell of travels in Africa and India in the early 1500s and give a picture of what existed in coastal towns across global trade routes, with descriptions of peoples and cultures he came across along the way. His writings also tell, coldly, of Portuguese brutality in forcing reluctant towns into submission, as well as early tales of Portugal's new slave trade.

Barbosa's writings were likely used to help persuade Spain's King Charles I to back Magellan's expedition, after his and Barbosa's own king, Manuel I of Purtugal, refused. Magellan and Barbosa both sailed with early Portuguese expeditions in Asia and got close to their target: the Spice Islands.

(C) 2020 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.

See Also:

Duarte Barbosa: The Town of Sofala

These Moors established themselves there a long time ago on account of the great trade in gold which they carry on with the Gentiles of the mainland: these speak somewhat of bad Arabic (garabia), and have got a king over them, who is at present subject to the King of Portugal. And the mode of their trade is that they come by sea in small barks which they call zanbucs (sambuk), from the kingdoms of Quiloa, and Mombaza, and Melindi; and they bring much cotton cloth of many colours …  Read More.

Duarte Barbosa also played a key in the Magellan-Elcano expedition credited with the first circumnavigation. At Cebu, Barbosa had a run-in with Enrique of Malacca, Magellan's slave-interpreter. According to Antonio Pigafetta, this led Enrique to help the Cebu rajah ambush the Europeans in a massacre that killed Barbosa and most the other surviving officers and pilots in the fleet. Given the fast departure of the fleet after the attack, though, Pigafetta's charge was at best conjecture. Read more.

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