The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxv.

Concerning the Kingdom of Melibar.

Melibar is a great kingdom lying towards the west. The people are Idolaters; they have a language of their own, and a king of their own, and pay tribute to nobody.1

In this country you see more of the North Star, for it shows two cubits above the water. And you must know that from this kingdom of Melibar, and from another near it called Gozurat, there go forth every year more than a hundred corsair vessels on cruize. These pirates take with them their wives and children, and stay out the whole summer. Their method is to join in fleets of 20 or 30 of these pirate vessels together, and then they form what they call a sea cordon,2 that is, they drop off till there is an interval of 5 or 6 miles between ship and ship, so that they cover something like an hundred miles of sea, and no merchant ship can escape them. For when any one corsair sights a vessel a signal is made by fire or smoke, and then the whole of them make for this, and seize the merchants and plunder them. After they have plundered them they let them go, saying: “Go along with you and get more gain, and that mayhap will fall to us also!” But now the merchants are aware of this, and go so well manned and armed, and with such great ships, that they don’t fear the corsairs. Still mishaps do befall them at times.3

There is in this kingdom a great quantity of pepper, and ginger, and cinnamon, and turbit, and of nuts of India.4 They also manufacture very delicate and beautiful buckrams. The ships that come from the east bring copper in ballast. They also bring hither cloths of silk and gold, and sendels; also gold and silver, cloves and spikenard, and other fine spices for which there is a demand here, and exchange them for the products of these countries.

Ships come hither from many quarters, but especially from the great province of Manzi.5 Coarse spices are exported hence both to Manzi and to the west, and that which is carried by the merchants to Aden goes on to Alexandria, but the ships that go in the latter direction are not one to ten of those that go to the eastward; a very notable fact that I have mentioned before.

Now I have told you about the kingdom of Melibar; we shall now proceed and tell you of the kingdom of Gozurat. And you must understand that in speaking of these kingdoms we note only the capitals; there are great numbers of other cities and towns of which we shall say nothing, because it would make too long a story to speak of all.

NOTE 1. — Here is another instance of that confusion which dislocates Polo’s descriptions of the Indian coast; we shall recur to it under ch. xxx.

Malabar is a name given by the Arabs, and varies in its form: Ibn Batuta and Kazwini write it [Arabic], al-Malíbár, Edrisi and Abulfeda [Arabic], al-Maníbár, etc., and like variations occur among the old European travellers. The country so-called corresponded to the Kerala of the Brahmans, which in its very widest sense extended from about lat. 15° to Cape Comorin. This, too, seems to be the extension which Abulfeda gives to Malabar, viz., from Hunáwar to Kumhári; Rashiduddin includes Sindábúr, i.e. Goa. But at a later date a point between Mt. d’Ely and Mangalore on the north, and Kaulam on the south, were the limits usually assigned to Malabar.

NOTE 2. —“Il font eschiel en la mer” (G.T.). Eschiel is the equivalent of the Italian schera or schiera, a troop or squadron, and thence applied to order of battle, whether by land or sea.

NOTE 3. — The northern part of Malabar, Canara, and the Konkan, have been nests of pirates from the time of the ancients to a very recent date. Padre Paolino specifies the vicinity of Mt. d’Ely as a special haunt of them in his day, the latter half of last century. Somewhat further north Ibn Batuta fell into their hands, and was stripped to his drawers.

NOTE 4. — There is something to be said about these Malabar spices. The cinnamon of Malabar is what we call cassia, the canella grossa of Conti, the canela brava of the Portuguese. Notices of it will be found in Rheede (I. 107) and in Garcia (f. 26 seqq.). The latter says the Ceylon cinnamon exceeded it in value as 4:1. Uzzano discriminates canella lunga, Salami, and Mabari. The Salami, I have no doubt, is Sailani, Ceylonese; and as we do not hear of any cassia from Mabar, probably the last was Malabar cinnamon.

Turbit: Radex Turpethi is still known in pharmacy, at least in some parts of the Continent and in India, though in England obsolete. It is mentioned in the Pharmacopoeia of India (1868) as derived from Ipomoea Turpethum.

But it is worthy of note that Ramusio has cubebs instead of turbit. The former does not seem now to be a product of Western India, though Garcia says that a small quantity grew there, and a Dutch report of 1675 in Valentyn also mentions it as an export of Malabar. (V., Ceylon, p. 243.) There is some ambiguity in statements about it, because its popular name Kábab-chíní seems to be also applied to the cassia bud. Cubeb pepper was much used in the Middle Ages as a spice, and imported into Europe as such. But the importation had long practically ceased, when its medical uses became known during the British occupation of Java, and the demand was renewed.

Budaeus and Salmasius have identified this drug with the [Greek: kómakon], which Theophrastus joins with cinnamomum and cassia as an ingredient in aromatic confections. The inducement to this identification was no doubt the singular resemblance which the word bears to the Javanese name of cubeb pepper, viz., Kumukus. If the foundation were a little firmer this would be curious evidence of intercourse and trade with Java in a time earlier than that of Theophrastus, viz., the 4th century B.C.

In the detail of 3 cargoes from Malabar that arrived at Lisbon in September 1504 we find the following proportions: Pepper, 10,000 cantars; cinnamon, 500; cloves, 450; zz. (i.e. zenzaro, ginger), 130; lac and brazil, 750; camphor, 7; cubebs, 191; mace, 2–1/2; spikenard, 3; lign-aloes, 1–1/3.

(Buchanan’s Mysore, II. 31, III. 193, and App. p. v.; Garcia, Ital. version, 1576, f. 39–40; Salmas. Exerc. Plin. p. 923; Bud. on Theoph. 1004 and 1010; Archiv. St. Ital., Append. II. p. 19.)

NOTE 5. — We see that Marco speaks of the merchants and ships of Manzi, or Southern China, as frequenting Kaulam, Hili, and now Malabar, of which Calicut was the chief port. This quite coincides with Ibn Batuta, who says those were the three ports of India which the Chinese junks frequented, adding Fandaraina (i.e. Pandarani, or Pantaláni, 16 miles north of Calicut), as a port where they used to moor for the winter when they spent that season in India. By the winter he means the rainy season, as Portuguese writers on India do by the same expression (IV. 81, 88, 96). I have been unable to find anything definite as to the date of the cessation of this Chinese navigation to Malabar, but I believe it may be placed about the beginning of the 15th century. The most distinct allusion to it that I am aware of is in the information of Joseph of Cranganore, in the Novus Orbis (Ed. of 1555, p. 208). He says: “These people of Cathay are men of remarkable energy, and formerly drove a first-rate trade at the city of Calicut. But the King of Calicut having treated them badly, they quitted that city, and returning shortly after inflicted no small slaughter on the people of Calicut, and after that returned no more. After that they began to frequent Mailapetam, a city subject to the king of Narsingha; a region towards the East, . . . and there they now drive their trade.” There is also in Caspar Correa’s account of the Voyages of Da Gama a curious record of a tradition of the arrival in Malabar more than four centuries before of a vast merchant fleet “from the parts of Malacca, and China, and the Lequeos” (Lewchew); many from the company on board had settled in the country and left descendants. In the space of a hundred years none of these remained; but their sumptuous idol temples were still to be seen. (Stanley’s Transl., Hak. Soc., p. 147.)1 It is probable that both these stories must be referred to those extensive expeditions to the western countries with the object of restoring Chinese influence which were despatched by the Ming Emperor Ch’êng-Tsu (or Yung-lo), about 1406, and one of which seems actually to have brought Ceylon under a partial subjection to China, which endured half a century. (See Tennent, I. 623 seqq.; and Letter of P. Gaubil in J.A. sér. II. tom. x. pp. 327–328.) [“So that at this day there is great memory of them in the ilands Philippinas, and on the cost of Coromande, which is the cost against the kingdome of Norsinga towards the sea of Cengala: whereas is a towne called unto this day the soile of the Chinos, for that they did reedifie and make the same. The like notice and memory is there in the kingdom of Calicut, whereas be many trees and fruits, that the naturals of that countrie do say, were brought thither by the Chinos, when that they were lords and gouernours of that countrie.” (Mendoza, Parke’s transl. p. 71.)] De Barros says that the famous city of Diu was built by one of the Kings of Guzerat whom he calls in one place Dariar Khan, and in another Peruxiah, in memory of victory in a sea-fight with the Chinese who then frequented the Indian shores. It is difficult to identify this King, though he is represented as the father of the famous toxicophagous Sultan Mahmúd Begara (1459–1511). De Barros has many other allusions to Chinese settlements and conquests in India which it is not very easy to account for. Whatever basis of facts there is must probably refer to the expeditions of Ch’êng-Tsu, but not a little probably grew out of the confusion of Jainas and Chinas already alluded to; and to this I incline to refer Correa’s “sumptuous idol-temples.”

There must have been some revival of Chinese trade in the last century, if P. Paolino is correct in speaking of Chinese vessels frequenting Travancore ports for pepper. (De Barros, Dec. II. Liv. ii. cap. 9, and Dec. IV. Liv. v. cap. 3; Paolino, p. 74.)

1 It appears from a paper in the Mackenzie MSS. that down to Colonel Mackenzie’s time there was a tribe in Calicut whose ancestors were believed to have been Chinese. (See Taylor’s Catal. Raisonné, III. 664.) And there is a notable passage in Abdurrazzak which says the seafaring population of Calicut were nicknamed Chíní bachagán, “China boys.” (India in XVth Cent. p. 19.)

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