centuries the Europeans had chaffed under the Arab monopoly in trade
with the East. Just when Europe was stirring out of its deepest
of dark ages, there were many sponsors for journeys to the unknown
Orient, not the least being the kings and queens of Europe. The
Papal proclamation then had roughly divided the world into two spheres
of influence between the Spanish and the Portuguese.
In stepped an adventurous Vasco de Gama,
a capable naval Captain and a fortune hunter. He found the easiest
way to India by bribing the Arab pilot when his ship anchored off
Kenya at Port Malindi. Following the centuries old route taken by
the Arab traders and riding on a monsoon wind, he sailed the Sao'
Gabriel to land at Kappad near the town of Calicut or Kozhikode.
The entire history of the East was to change from that day.
Zamorin or Samuthiri received the Portuguese,(known locally as parungees)
warmly. Trade concessions were granted to the Portuguese. But sensing
the rivalries of the local kings, the Portuguese immediately set
about engaging themselves in consolidating their positions. Through
all this, what struck the otherwise peaceful people of this land
was the extreme cruelty of the Portuguese. Cabral Alvarez believed
in the supremacy of the Portuguese on the sea-lanes and killed anyone
dared to break it.
Vasco de Gama's second foray into Kerala was tainted with such acts of barbarity that it was said that "…his
deeds were blots in the annals of a Christian nation, and a disgrace
to the name of humanity.." A succession of Governors, soldiers
and priests set about expanding the territories and plundering the
lands they conquered.
There was some organised resistance to the
Portuguese expansionism, particularly at sea from the Samuthiris
of Kozhikode. Notable among the Samuthiri's Admirals is Kunjali
Marakkar, still a revered hero in Kerala. He achieved some sort
of victory in checking the Portuguese expansionism, but against
better weapons, technology and cunning, it was a losing battle.
An interesting sidelight is the Portuguesebehaviour
towards the thriving community of Christians in Kerala. Tradition
has it that these Christians were converted by St.Thomas the Apostle
in the 1st Century AD . The Portuguese were a little annoyed that
the local Christians were more Hindus in their outlook, culture
and traditions and never heard of the Pope in Rome. The famous Synod
of Diamper (present day Udayamperoor near 14 Kms from Kochi) in
1599, decreed that all Christians henceforth revert to the Pope
in Rome as the Supreme Spiritual head and not the Pontiff at Antioch
This is the course of time led to a revolt
by a section of the Syrian Christians . Legend has it that they
took an oath - by tying themselves to a Cross at Kochi on 15 January
1653. This is known as the "Koonan Cross Oath" and is
still revered as a turning point among the Syrian Christians who
constitute about 23 percent of the population of Kerala. But the
Portuguese had some success in proselytising and did manage to convert
some communities along the coast to Christianity. They are the Latin
Catholics and have become an influential section in Kerala.
Portuguese finally met their match in the Dutch, the other predatory
European powers in the East. They proclaimed the Kochi Maharaja
as the titular head and drove the Portuguese out. With aim of total
control over the Eastern Spices trade, the Dutch East India Company
was set up in 1602. Stefan Van Hegena set sail with 13 ships and
reached Kannur ( Cannanore) in 1604.
The Dutch known locally as Lanthakar, was
in the race for evicting the Portuguese from the lucrative Eastern
spices trade. Strategic alliance with the Samuthiri helped them
drive out the Portuguese once and for all by 1663. But from then
on it was the same old story of the former allies falling out. This
phase ended with the Dutch gaining undue advantages and gaining
foothold over most of the coastal areas and towns, prominent being
Kannur and Kochi. By 1717 there was some sort of a treaty established
between them. But these could not save the Dutch from defeat in
1741 at the hands of a resurgent king of Thiruvithanmkur , Marthanda
Varma in the battle of Kolachel. By 1795, the Dutch were so weakened,
that the British did not have much trouble evicting them permanently
from the Kerala landscape once and for all.