The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxiv.

Concerning the Kingdom of Eli.

Eli is a kingdom towards the west, about 300 miles from Comari. The people are Idolaters and have a king, and are tributary to nobody; and have a peculiar language. We will tell you particulars about their manners and their products, and you will better understand things now because we are drawing near to places that are not so outlandish.1

There is no proper harbour in the country, but there are many great rivers with good estuaries, wide and deep.2 Pepper and ginger grow there, and other spices in quantities.3 The King is rich in treasure, but not very strong in forces. The approach to his kingdom however is so strong by nature that no one can attack him, so he is afraid of nobody.

And you must know that if any ship enters their estuary and anchors there, having been bound for some other port, they seize her and plunder the cargo. For they say, “You were bound for somewhere else, and ’tis God has sent you hither to us, so we have a right to all your goods.” And they think it no sin to act thus. And this naughty custom prevails all over these provinces of India, to wit, that if a ship be driven by stress of weather into some other port than that to which it was bound, it is sure to be plundered. But if a ship come bound originally to the place they receive it with all honour and give it due protection.4 The ships of Manzi and other countries that come hither in summer lay in their cargoes in 6 or 8 days and depart as fast as possible, because there is no harbour other than the river-mouth, a mere roadstead and sandbanks, so that it is perilous to tarry there. The ships of Manzi indeed are not so much afraid of these roadsteads as others are, because they have such huge wooden anchors which hold in all weather.5

There are many lions and other wild beasts here and plenty of game, both beast and bird.

NOTE 1. — No city or district is now known by the name of ELY, but the name survives in that of Mount Dely, properly Monte d’ELY, the Yeli-mala of the Malabar people, and called also in the legends of the coast Sapta-shaila, or the Seven Hills. This is the only spur of the Gháts that reaches the sea within the Madras territory. It is an isolated and very conspicuous hill, or cluster of hills, forming a promontory some 16 miles north of Cananore, the first Indian land seen by Vasco da Gama, on that memorable August morning in 1498, and formerly very well known to navigators, though it has been allowed to drop out of some of our most ambitious modern maps. Abulfeda describes it as “a great mountain projecting into the sea, and descried from a great distance, called Ras Haili”; and it appears in Fra Mauro’s map as Cavo de Eli.

Rashiduddin mentions “the country of Hili,” between Manjarúr (Mangalore) and Fandaraina (miswritten in Elliot’s copy Sadarsa). Ibn Batuta speaks of Hili, which he reached on leaving Manjarúr, as “a great and well-built city, situated on a large estuary accessible to great ships. The vessels of China come hither; this, Kaulam, and Kalikut, are the only ports that they enter.” From Hili he proceeds 12 miles further down the coast to Jor-fattan, which probably corresponds to Baliapatan. ELLY appears in the Carta Catalana, and is marked as a Christian city. Nicolo Conti is the last to speak distinctly of the city. Sailing from Cambay, in 20 days he arrived at two cities on the sea-shore, Pacamuria (Faknúr, of Rashid and Firishta, Baccanor of old books, and now Bárkúr, the Malayálim Vákkanúr) and HELLI. But we read that in 1527 Simon de Melo was sent to burn ships in the River of Marabia and at Monte d’Elli.1 When Da Gama on his second voyage was on his way from Baticala (in Canara) to Cananor, a squall having sprung his mainmast just before reaching Mt. d’Ely, “the captain-major anchored in the Bay of Marabia, because he saw there several Moorish ships, in order to get a mast from them.” It seems clear that this was the bay just behind Mt. d’Ely.

Indeed the name of Marabia or Máráwí is still preserved in Mádávi or Mádái, corruptly termed Maudoy in some of our maps, a township upor the river which enters the bay about 7 or 8 miles south-east of Mt. d’Ely, and which is called by De Barros the Rio Marabia. Mr. Ballard informs me that he never heard of ruins of importance at Madai, but there is a place on the river just mentioned, and within the Madai township, called Payangádi (“Old Town”), which has the remains of an old fort of the Kolastri (or Kolatiri) Rajas. A palace at Madai (perhaps this fort) is alluded to by Dr. Gundert in the Madras Journal, and a Buddhist Vihara is spoken of in an old Malayalim poem as having existed at the same place. The same paper speaks of “the famous emporium of Cachilpatnam near Mt. d’Ely,” which may have been our city of Hili, as the cities Hili and Marawi were apparently separate though near.2

Illustration: Mount d’Ely, from the Sea, in last century.

The state of Hílí-Máráwi is also mentioned in the Arabic work on the early history of the Mahomedans in Malabar, called Tuhfat-al-Mujáhidín, and translated by Rowlandson; and as the Prince is there called Kolturee, this would seem to identify him either in family or person with the Raja of Cananor, for that old dynasty always bore the name of Kolatiri.3

The Ramusian version of Barbosa is very defective here, but in Stanley’s version (Hak. Soc. East African and Malabar Coasts, p. 149) we find the topography in a passage from a Munich MS. clear enough: “After passing this place” (the river of Nirapura or Nileshwaram) “along the coast is the mountain Dely (of Ely) on the edge of the sea; it is a round mountain, very lofty, in the midst of low land; all the ships of the Moors and Gentiles that navigate in this sea of India sight this mountain when coming from without, and make their reckoning by it; . . . after this, at the foot of the mountain to the south, is a town called Marave, very ancient and well off, in which live Moors and Gentiles and Jews; these Jews are of the language of the country; it is a long time that they have dwelt in this place.”

(Stanley’s Correa, Hak. Soc. pp. 145, 312–313; Gildem. p. 185; Elliot, I. 68; I.B. IV. 81; Conti, p. 6; Madras Journal, XIII. No. 31, pp. 14, 99, 102, 104; De Barros, III. 9, cap. 6, and IV. 2, cap. 13; De Couto, IV. 5, cap. 4.)

NOTE 2. — This is from Pauthier’s text, and the map with ch. xxi. illustrates the fact of the many wide rivers. The G.T. has “a good river with a very good estuary” or mouth. The latter word is in the G.T. faces, afterwards more correctly foces, equivalent to fauces. We have seen that Ibn Batuta also speaks of the estuary or inlet at Hili. It may have been either that immediately east of Mount d’Ely, communicating with Kavváyi and the Nileshwaram River, or the Madai River. Neither could be entered by vessels now, but there have been great littoral changes. The land joining Mt. d’Ely to the main is mere alluvium.

NOTE 3. — Barbosa says that throughout the kingdom of Cananor the pepper was of excellent quality, though not in great quantity. There was much ginger, not first-rate, which was called Hely from its growing about Mount d’Ely, with cardamoms (names of which, Elá in Sanskrit, Hel Persian, I have thought might be connected with that of the hill), mirobolans, cassia fistula, zerumbet, and zedoary. The two last items are two species of curcuma, formerly in much demand as aromatics; the last is, I believe, the setewale of Chaucer:—

“There was eke wexing many a spice,

As clowe gilofre and Licorice,

    Ginger and grein de Paradis,

Canell and setewale of pris,

And many a spice delitable

To eaten when men rise from table.”

R. of the Rose.

The Hely ginger is also mentioned by Conti.

NOTE 4. — This piratical practice is noted by Abdurrazzak also: “In other parts (than Calicut) a strange practice is adopted. When a vessel sets sail for a certain point, and suddenly is driven by a decree of Divine Providence into another roadstead, the inhabitants, under the pretext that the wind has driven it thither, plunder the ship. But at Calicut every ship, whatever place it comes from, or wherever it may be bound, when it puts into this port, is treated like other vessels, and has no trouble of any kind to put up with” (p. 14). In 1673 Sivaji replied to the pleadings of an English embassy, that it was “against the Laws of Conchon” (Ptolemy’s Pirate Coast!) “to restore any ships or goods that were driven ashore.” (Fryer, p. 261.)

NOTE 5. — With regard to the anchors, Pauthier’s text has just the opposite of the G.T. which we have preferred: “Les nefs du Manzi portent si grans ancres de fust, que il seuffrent moult de grans fortunes aus plajes” De Mailla says the Chinese consider their ironwood anchors to be much better than those of iron, because the latter are subject to strain. (Lett. Edif. XIV. 10.) Capt. Owen has a good word for wooden anchors. (Narr. of Voyages, etc., I. 385.)

1 The Town of Monte d’Ely appears (Monte Dil) in Coronelli’s Atlas (1690) from some older source. Mr. Burnell thinks Baliapatan (properly Valarpattanam) which is still a prosperous Máppila town, on a broad and deep river, must be Hili. I see a little difficulty in this. [Marabia at Monte Dely is often mentioned in Correa, as one of the ports of the Kingdom of Cananor.]

2 Mr. Burnell thinks Kachchilpattanam must be an error (easy in Malayálim) for Kavvilpattanam, i.e. Kavváyi (Kanwai in our map).

3 As printed by Rowlandson, the name is corrupt (like many others in the book), being given as Hubaee Murawee. But suspecting what this pointed to, I examined the MS. in the R.A. Society’s Library. The knowledge of the Arabic character was quite sufficient to enable me to trace the name as [Arabic], Hílí Máráwi. (See Rowlandson, pp. 54, 58–59, and MS. pp. 23 and 26, also Indian Antiquary, III. p. 213.)

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24