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The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil
Francois Pyrard de Laval
translated into English in 1887 from the third French edition of 1619 by Albert Gray assisted by H.C.P. Bell

Vol.1 Chapter 9

Grievous sickness of the author, which left him in evil plight. - Escape of four Dutch, and the ill-favour of the king towards those who remained.

I was for about four or five months in fairly good health, and, except for the want of the free exercise of my religion and liberty, was comfortable, well housed, fed, and treated by the lord who had brought me, my lodging being in a little apartment within the enclosure of his house. One of his servants waited upon me at all hours, and brought me my food with separate utensils, for they never eat with one who is not of their religion. He loved me as one of his own sons, of whom he had three, of nearly the same age as myself, and they loved me as their brother.

This lord was in favour with the king, who placed all confidence in him; they had been attached to each other from the time they were four or five years old, and each was now fifty.

Such being my condition, I fell ill of a severe burning fever, very common there and very dangerous, especially to strangers, so much so that few get over it; still less the christians, for whom there is no sort of cure, for they are not disposed to obey the sorcerers and get cured by charms and enchantments, as the islanders use. I was ill and in great danger for more than two months, and it was ten months before I was quite well. Not a day passed but the king and the queens sent to get news of me and my condition; he sent at all hours the choicest dishes and the most delicious morsels from his own table; and in order that I might be treated more at my ease, and might the better ask for what I wanted, he sent one of my own comrades, whom he charged with the care of me, in addition to the house servants.

The sickness was severe and very troublesome; it is known through all the Indies under the name of Maldive fever: they call it Male' hun. It is the sickness of which most of my companions died, as all strangers fail not to be soon attacked; and when one gets over it, one may be sure he will recover from the other maladies to which the climate will subject him; for a man changes by habit with the climate and manner of living, and this malady, as it were, makes him a new body, and he feels quite inured. And, indeed, if a stranger, whom in their language they call 'furadhi meeha' (voyage man), recovers from it, they say that he is Dives (Dhivehin), as who should say naturalised and no longer a stranger. For this kingdom in their language is called 'Male' rajje', the kingdom of Male'; but by the other Indians it is called Male' islands, and the people 'Dives'.

To return to my illness. I was eight days without swallowing anything but water, and that too is a bad thing. The country people refrain from drinking anything but lukewarm water, with a little powdered pepper in it; this prevents the inflammation, which would otherwise ensue when the fever passes off. I could not, however, take this beverage, which does nothing to quench the thirst. After the fever left me my legs and thighs swelled greatly, as if I had the dropsy. All foreigners suffer in the same way. Besides, I could not see for more than ten or a dozen paces before me, and I was afraid I should become blind.

The fever also left me an obstruction and inflammation of the spleen, which caused me great difficulty of breathing. This spleen disease is very common among them, and they all have it rather large; they call the disease 'hun korhi'; and, in fact, it so remained with me all the time I was at the Maldives.

About the same time, the king fell sick, and on this account I could not see him when I was on my feet again - until, on his recovery, as he was going to the mosque, I saluted him. He was much surprised to see the state to which I was reduced by this inflammation, and said that his illness had prevented him doing more for me. He at once bade his attendants see to it, and sent to find men who were skilled in curing this ailment and told them to take the unguents from his own stock; for the king always keeps a quantity of drugs, medicines, and recipes of all sorts for the sick, even charms. The people would go and ask for them, and he was well enough pleased to do this kindness to all corners; and by this means also to know who were ill, who recovering, and who dying, and so to provide for the burial of those who died. It was his wont to do this for the poor and for such as were without means, in manner suitable to the degree of each.

Thus did many busy themselves with my illness; but I did not get well until my legs burst and the water which caused the swelling escaped; my eyes then recovered their former power. But the mischief was that the ulcers in my legs became very large and deep, and so painful that I got no rest by day or night, and the humours taking their course by this channel, it was difficult to close the wounds up. In this condition I remained for four months; the king causing me to be attended to and cared for to the best of his power.

Cured on Bandos
There was a little island within sight of Male' called Bandos, where dwelt a man esteemed expert in that line. The king sent for him, and bade him cure me if he knew how, and he would reward him handsomely. The man promised to do so; but he added that if it should please the king to permit him to take me with him he could cure me much sooner, for the air was much better and more bracing, and the water better at that island than at Male'. The king permitted him, and gave word to his officers to serve out to him everything he asked for my support; so I was indeed well treated and cared for by this man.

Dutch sailors escape from Male'
But meanwhile happened an accident to my comrades, which grieved me much and entailed much discomfort to me. This was, that of the five Dutch that were at Male', four made resolve to escape from the islands by stealing a boat, seeing the desperate position to which we were reduced by being unable to depart with the king's permission. Two of the Dutch had arrived at Male' with our captain and the others brought with him; and having been with these men when they died, they succeeded to the money which they had kept concealed; thus they had every means of procuring the requisites for embarking.

See now how they pursued their enterprise. The factor of the christian king of the Maldives kept a banquesalle, or storehouse, on the seashore at Male'. He was an Indian of Cochin, of the race of Canarins, and a christian, though a bad one, as I afterwards came to understand. These Dutch made friends with him, and so plied him with money that he let them put and keep in his store the provisions and baggage which they required. It remained only to await an opportunity for seizing a boat, which was a long time in coming.

At length it happened that one of the followers of the lord who brought me to Male' left his boat near the place on account of the rain; and as he was hour by hour expecting the fine weather, he did not take out the rudder as usual. The boat was all equipped for the fishing, but very small, being no more than eight times the length of an arm, which is the most common measure used (it is called 'riyan'; another smaller measure is used for cloth, namely, from the elbow to the tips of the fingers, this is called 'muh').

The boat was called Dhooni i.e. 'bird' because it was a quick sailer, and it was equipped with provisions and water for several days. Our people having made this discovery, embarked at nightfall with their goods and made off; but bad luck had it that this night and the day following there raged the most violent storm imaginable, no less than that we came through off the coast of Natal (off south eastern Africa). Even the islanders said they had never seen so many coconut trees blown down in twenty-four hours. I leave you to imagine whether it be possible that our poor fellows could have saved themselves in such a storm, in a little frail bark, not knowing the channels and passages which they ought to take in the midst of so many rocks and reefs.

So it was that afterwards there were found upon the beach some pieces of the boat's equipment, which led to the belief that they had perished - as, in fact, they had; for nothing was ever heard of them again, neither at the islands nor on the mainland. The king was greatly incensed at this third escape, as well on the account already stated, that it is high treason to steal a boat and depart without leave, as because one of the four Dutch was a good gunner and he liked him for that. This gunner was engaged at S. Malo (in Europe) for the voyage. Having received some money as an advance, he married, and was no longer willing to come and offered to return what he had received. This our captain would not agree to; on the contrary, he had him seized and carried on board, neck and heels, by four men, on account whereof he was never afterwards well disposed, and even on several occasions when some of the ship's crew were offended at the captain for some punishment, conspired with them to make a wrong course, and to wreck the ship, and so get ashore. This he confessed to us at the Maldives. He also behaved with barbarous inhumanity towards our captain while he lay at the point of death at Male', for he took off him by force a night shirt which he was wearing; nor was he dissuaded from the act by all the prayers of the poor sick captain, only saying that he wanted it, and that he no longer recognised the captain after the loss of the ship.

This disaster happened to these poor Dutch about eighteen months after our shipwreck. I reflected that by God's assistance, amid so many tribulations, I had never engaged in these attempts at escape, which all turned out ill, as I have related. (The mate and his eleven friends did indeed reach the coast of India, but were there consigned to the Portuguese galleys.)

Two days afterwards, my comrade with whom I had vowed so warm a friendship died after a long illness. This was to me an intolerable affliction. He was from Vitré (in France), and in our vessel had the office of clerk. I believe that he was at length brought down with vexation and melancholy, having left a wife and children to make this voyage, and now saw no hope of return.

To come back to the Dutch who had gone off. When it was discovered, and the king was informed, messengers were sent to our people's lodgings to see for a fact who were left. They found two Frenchmen, one Dutch, and the man who was dying, as I have said. The six elders assembled at the king's palace, the accustomed place, and summoned our three men, whom they kept there by the space of four or five hours, telling them that they were accomplices in the others' treason, and threatening them with death.

At length, seeing that they were not guilty, they let them go; but the king gave orders not to give them any more rice as provision from his store, - not however, preventing those who would from giving them victuals: for his part, he would never again believe a Frenchman. And, in fact, they did not by reason of that order fail to get a livelihood. All these things grieved me excessively: my long and tedious illness, the loss of our men, the death of my friend, and the anger of the king, which waxed against those of us who were left.

On my recovery, which was at the end of two months after I was taken to the little island of Bandos, I desired to tarry there, thinking thus to avoid the wrath of the king, which by this delay might be appeased; but at length I was advised not to add by contumacy to my transgression (for so they referred to our friends' mishap), and to return at once to the king. I took the advice, and on arrival, as the custom is, I put myself in the way of the king before going to my lodging. He happened to be going out at one of the lower courts, next to his sleeping apartments. I saluted him in the usual way, without any difference. Then he spoke to me, and asked if I had been well treated, and was quite well, and even wished to see the place of my sore. This gave me good hope that I was again in his favour as before; hut I was greatly deceived, for he forbade them to give me anything from his house, any more than to my comrades.

I was vexed not, however, for the victuals, for the lords let me not want for anything; but for this cause, that, there, a man to whom the king does not give food is of no account, and has no position. And even the great lords accept rice of the king, and it is a high honour, too; so, on the contrary, is it a kind of infamy to be deprived of it. My special friends did not, however, cease to favour me and help me, as they saw that the king did not speak ill of me, and that he acted thus to inspire me with fear for the future; otherwise, when the king is in good earnest incensed against anyone, that man would not find a single friend, and those who had been his friends would abandon him. Two months passed in this disgrace, but for all that I did not cease to go regularly to the palace to present myself to the king.

Pyrard becomes a favourite of the king
I was warned that by the custom of the country one should not absent oneself when the king is angry, nor cease to go to the palace regularly, until by long patience the king speaks and again receives you into his favour. I again fell ill of a fever. The lord with whom I lodged appraised the king of it, and he bade him treat me well and spare nothing. Nor did he; and to give me better hope, he assured me that the king was not at all angry with me, but on the contrary was solicitous for my health: and, indeed, the king bade them give me the ordinary provision of rice, and to my three companions too. The illness was short, and I was soon well again.

Six weeks afterwards, I was fairly astonished to be summoned to the palace by the six elders, and to be told that they were informed that we had a design to escape. They gave me orders, on the part of the king, not to have any dealings with my companions, nor to speak French to them; and that I was to give them the same order. It was very difficult, lodged so near each other, to obey this order and not to speak or communicate with one another, which, indeed, we did in secret. For all that, fifteen days after, it was reported to the king, who was much offended, and commanded that my three companions were to be taken to an atoll named Suvadiva, which is eighty leagues to the south of Male'. You have to pass the line (equator) to get there. That is the place where the king exiles those who displease him; it is an island far removed from his court, where foreign vessels never touch, whose inhabitants are very unmannerly, rude and boorish.

This order was given to the master or intendant of the royal ships, who is called 'Maadadahelu'; this person had conceived an ill-will towards me, out of jealousy of the lord who had brought me from Fehendhoo, with whom he was there, for he had made me promise on the journey that I should lodge with him, and I could not do it, for the king made me lodge with the lord who had brought me. By way of revenge, he sent word to me by one of the royal sergeants, who are called 'meeru baharu', that I was to come to him to be embarked for Suvadiva with the others. I could not refuse nor resist this order, and in great sorrow went to embark, when one of the sons of the lord with whom I was, well knowing that the king had given no such order with regard to me, promptly informed him of it; the king at once ordered that I should be disembarked, saying that he did not intend that I should be elsewhere than near himself. By this means I was freed.

Some of the lords begged of the king to let one of the three others also remain, or that he should go at another time. This was because they liked the man for being a good tailor and a trumpeter: and this gave him much custom and acquaintances in all ranks. The king consented, so that only two were embarked, a Frenchman and a Dutch, and we two remained; for after the departure of the others there was no word of sending him, as they thought that we could not effect our escape.

The king sent for me and reprimanded me for our disobedience; adding that he was annoyed that I had entertained a design to escape, and that he did not wish me to go and drown myself as the gunner had done. I humbly excused myself, and assured him that I had not participated in any such enterprises. It was then that I began to be in the greatest favour with the king.

Two years afterwards, my two comrades who had been banished to Suvadhu were recalled on this wise. One of them, the Dutch, was a very clever cutter of soft wood with the point of a knife; and having more leisure than he cared for, took it into his head to make a little vessel in the Dutch fashion, no longer than an arm's length, but so neatly done that it had all its proper sails, ropes, utensils, and equipment, no less than a big ship of 500 tons. He sent it to the king, who admired the little work so highly that he sent orders that the workman should be sent back at once, and out of esteem for him, his companion too. So we were again all four together for the space of fifteen months.

The king gave me a lodging close to him, and every day I had rice and other provisions brought from his house. He also supplied me with a servant to wait upon me, besides some money and other presents; by means of which I became somewhat rich, according to the notions of the country, to which I conformed in every possible way, as well as to their habits and customs, so as to be the better received among them.

I trafficked with the foreign ships which arrived there, and with so much address, that they put entire confidence in me and left large quantities of merchandise of all kinds for me to sell in their absence or to keep against their return, and gave me a certain share. I remained also in the king's favour, whom I went to salute every day, and was consequently well received by the grandees, and treated with the warm friendship of many. I had a number of coconut trees of my own, which are there a source of riches. I had them tended by labourers, who give their services for hire. In a word, I wanted nothing but the exercise of the christian religion, and I was much grieved to be deprived of that, arid to lose all hope of returning to France.

So it is that my long sojourn in these islands gave me a great knowledge of them, of the people who inhabit them, and their manners and customs, and I am now disposed to leave on record, with some particularity, the information I thus acquired.

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