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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
1611
translated into English in 1887 from the third French edition of 1619 by Albert Gray assisted by H.C.P. Bell

Vol. 1 Chapter 19

The Maldives, when peopled. - Of many other memorable events which occurred at these islands and in the neighbourhood, during the sojourn of the author there. - Of a vessel of Tananor, and the story of a Malabar captain's dealing with the Maldive king, and his hapless fate; and the adventures of the king's nephew and brother-in-law.

Having described the Maldive polity, and the more remarkable events that happened before fortune cast us there, I now come to speak of the most singular and memorable occurrences during the space of five years I resided there. But first I must not forget to tell what I learned of the islanders concerning the first peopling of the Maldives, and how the inhabitants changed their religion.

Maldivian historical beliefs
They hold that the Maldives began to be inhabited only four hundred years ago, and that the first who came and peopled them were (as I have already said, in passing) the Singalese of the island of Ceylon, which is not far distant, and were idolaters, but afterwards changed their religion, it being about one hundred and fifty or two hundred years at most since they received Islam, through the Moorish and Arabian navigators, who, while trading over all the continent and islands of the East Indies, brought there also their law, which has since remained in most of those parts.

It also appears that it was then that the Tartars (Moghuls, or possibly Chinese), who extended their dominion throughout the East, and even to these islands, became infected with this accursed and false doctrine of Muhammad, which has wasted three-fourths of the world. The Maldive people have ever since retained this law, as I have fully described in my treatment of their religion and ceremonies.

The ship from Tananor
I come now to what happened at the islands in my time (1602-7), and to these facts my testimony will be good and sufficient, for I either witnessed or was personally acquainted with the greater part of them. I will begin with what happened to a vessel of Tananor, (Tanur), which came to trade there a year after our arrival at the islands. This vessel was about five hundred tons burthen, and belonged to the king of Tananor, a kingdom situated between Calicut and Cochin.

This king was a Hindu, and of the race of Nairs. There may have been aboard some five or six hundred men, well armed, good Malabar soldiers, and they came there to trade. Their principal cargo was rice, but they had much other merchandise, such as pepper, areca (which is eaten with betel), cotton, butter, oils for rubbing the body after washing, a quantity of white cotton cloths, pottery, iron and copper utensils: so that it was very rich, and their purpose was to barter all these for the merchandise of the country.

But the Maldive king would not let them tarry in the roadstead of Male' more than three days, and then sent them to cast anchor at an island called Bandos, where I had been sick, distant about two leagues north from Male'. The reason of this was that he was afraid they meditated some treasonable surprise.

He caused all their fighting men to disembark, all well armed and equipped, in good health and ready for action. But they had not been there more than two months ere they were all dying of the fever, although the air and water of that island Bandos is better than at Male'.

Most of the men remained at Male', all their goods being placed in cellars and banquesalles, constructed for the purpose. They were there six months and more, bargaining and selling and loading their ship; but during that time the island fever wasted them so cruelly, that there remained no more than a hundred of them alive, and those enfeebled in such wise that they were constrained to engage another crew of the islanders to work the ship back to Tananor.

It was a most experienced pilot of these islands who brought them there, wherefore they bore him much ill will, saying that he had brought them there on purpose to make his king heir to all their riches. At the islands they lost the chief of their captains, whom they regretted much. The rule is, when the captain or master of a vessel dies there, the vessel and cargo go to the king, who seizes them; but this was not so in this case, because it belonged to the king of Tananor.

Hussein Kaka - master gunner from Malabar
As for the private property of the deceased captain, it was not taken by the king, although it appertained to him; but this was for the reason following. That captain had brought with him his son, a young man of twenty-five, called Hussein Kaka, the bravest soldier, the most noble gentleman in address and figure, and the most skilful gunner in all the coast of Malabar. Desiring that he should stay with him, the king worked him with the fairest promises, wherewith the young man was satisfied, as well in order to save the goods which the king gave over to him in their entirety for so consenting, as by reason of a difference he had with the second captain, who was then in command of the vessel. Moreover, the king caused to be delivered to him all his goods that were on board, which he had never otherwise got out; besides which, by remaining there, he became heir to all his father's goods, which he must have shared with his other brothers had he returned to his own country, and would have had to pay for most of what his father had got on credit.

He was thus welcomed and esteemed by the king, who moreover granted to him a high dignity, namely, that of master of arms, called by them 'Edhuru' one of the most honourable offices in the land, requiring great capacity and experience. The king had only one such in his islands, and he was a great lord, as, indeed, the like officers are considered among the nobles and soldiers, as well in these islands as on the continent.

But this appointment caused the death of the young man, by reason of the jealousy which ensued between him and the former master, who was a native of the country, and the son of a previous master, and was much respected by all the lords and soldiers.

With these people there is no greater mark of dishonour and disgrace than the loss of respect between their masters and them. And since arms are held in such high honour, they respect masters in arms more than all others, and exalt them to the rank of princes and lords, for they give instruction to the king and the chief prince.

Aforetime there was but one academy, so, when this new master came, there were two, and many of all ranks quitted the old master for the new, seeing that he knew the use of arms according to the system of the Nairs and Malabars, which is esteemed the best in the Indies. And the king, in order that he should be recognised as a master, presented to him, in the presence of all the court, a bracelet, which he placed on his arm with his own hands, that being the badge of this office. This bracelet was a link of gold with buttons of the same, round, and hollow within, containing the royal sign and cipher written on paper.

These two masters, then, being jealous of one another, it came to pass on the day of a great festival, such as Easter is with us, that after dinner, according to custom, all the princes, lords, gentlemen, and soldiers went to the king's palace for an assault of arms, and to challenge one another, whereby it is seen who are most adroit in the use of arms. This lasts for three days.

These two masters stood on opposite sides with their scholars beside them, and these went forth to fence one with another. The elder master had more scholars, and was more popular than the other, against whom he got up an idle brawl, setting one of his scholars against one of the other - for there, to lay the blame on a scholar, is to attack the master.

So arose a great brawl between the two parties, and some soldiers were wounded. When the king heard of it, he wanted to know who was to blame, and being informed that it was the elder, he reprimanded him severely, and said aloud that the first of them that should cause any mischief should have his hand cut off: this he often caused to be done, even for trifles, when he was in anger; and both masters he ordered to live peaceably, themselves and their scholars.

Nevertheless, the friendship which the king bore to the new master was ever increasing, in such wise that he gave him all the titles of honour he could confer on the greatest in the realm, among others, that of Dahara Takuru, as who should say 'Count' or 'Duke'. Further, he made him change his former Malabar name, by proclamation throughout the island, as the custom is, and made him captain of a company, and caused him to walk with the highest grandees as their equal. These latter conceived such envy towards him, that they resolved, in concert with the elder master, to work his death any way they could.

In truth, the man did not know how to steer in his course of prosperity, for he abused it, and often started a quarrel with the chief men, and even with the highest grandees of the islands; but the king supported him in everything, he took in marriage such women as he pleased, and they thought themselves highly honoured in being married to him, as much for his personal merit as for his dignity and favour with the king.

And what was a further advantage to him, he had for his comrade and scholar the king's brother-in-law, the brother of the chief queen, of whom I have frequently spoken; these two held each other in such friendship, that this was at length the cause of his downfall: for, at the end of two years, during which this favour lasted, they resolved to go away together, and he (the master), the better to conceal his enterprise, took in marriage a widow of the grand Fandiyaru, who resided at the southern end of the islands, in the atoll called Suvadu.

For this purpose he took occasion to depart from Male'; but he was no sooner gone, than his enemies, feeling that the game was now won, went and told the king, giving him to understand the nature of his enterprise with the prince. The king forthwith took counsel with his principal advisers, the six Muskulhin, and sent a captain with forty soldiers in a barque to bring him back, at the same time ordering them to do him no harm.

But all the chiefs then about the king, and among others the former master, gave secret instructions that they should put him to death, and then say that he had opposed his arrest by force of arms, so should they make their peace with the king. All which they carried out, for they found him at the first halting-place, without arms, and there they slew him, and brought back word to the king that they were forced to do it, seeing he would not render himself up at the king's command. The king was grievously vexed, but took no further steps in the matter.

Ibrahim Kalaan, nephew of the king
Having spoken of the fortunes of this stranger, I shall now tell of what I saw befall some of the princes of the country. At the time of our arrival there, the king had no children, but only a nephew, aged twenty-two, and called, like himself, Ibrahim Kalaan (Ibrahim the Great, or Prince Ibrahim). This prince ought to have succeeded him. At that time he was in disgrace, and absent from the court, because he had gone to Arabia without taking or getting leave of the king, and before going had pillaged some of the islands.

Three years after our coming he returned, but dared not come to Male' at the first for fear of the king, who was presently apprised of his arrival at some islands in the north, which belonged to him, and at which he was married. The king received the news with joy, for he loved him and treated him as his son. But false news was brought to his ears daily, that his nephew had designs against him; and this was done by those who wished him ill, and by flatterers, of whom this court was full. Notwithstanding this, the king delayed not to send an armed galley to fetch him, while he, being innocent, made no scruples about coming to the king with only ten or a dozen of a body-guard, and some servants and slaves.

But as soon as he arrived at the court, all his soldiers were cast into prison, with their feet passed through two pieces of wood in which holes were cut, which is their mode of securing prisoners. They also use chains and irons for this purpose.

As for the prince, he suffered nothing, but that he was two months without seeing the king, though he came day by day to the palace, and sat in the place assigned to the public in general. One of the queens, the first of them, sent him a single leaf of betel, and that was a great honour, and the highest he could hope for: for that is done to the royal children alone, and this distinction of itself showed him to be sole heir to the throne, and chief prince. It is the custom of the country, when one is in disgrace, to go every day to the palace and to wait in the court there until the king speaks to him, and takes him again into favour.

The nephew was at length received into favour by means of the grand Fandiyaru, who was of the Sherif race, that is, of the race of Muhammad (footnote 1887: a descendant of Hassan through either of his sons, Zaid and Hassan el Musanna). For, being sent for by the king to preach before him as usual, before beginning his sermon, he made a humble request and petition to the king that he would be pleased to permit his nephew to come and hear the sermon, the which the king granted, for the friendship and respect he had for the Fandiyaru: nor would any but he have dared to make the request.

The nephew came, and from a distance catching sight of the king, made a most profound reverence, like the lowest subject of the realm; whereupon the king said but two words, 'Anade futa irinde' which is to say, 'My son, be seated'. This he did, everyone rising to yield him the highest place. While the sermon lasted, which was more than an hour, the young prince lifted not his eyes nor his head; and the same day all his attendants were set free, and he was forthwith received into favour, and treated with the honour and dignity proper to the heir to the crown.

The king made him his lieutenant-general, and commander of all his men-at-arms, or as they call it, Dhoshimeyna. After he was restored to the king's good graces, there was always great jealousy between him and the king's brother-in-law, the chief queen's brother, who had been well enough pleased at the absence and disgrace of this prince, seeing that thereby he was nearest to the king's favour, and held the highest offices, which were now taken from him on the return of the prince.

The king always called him his son, to the end that all the world should honour him as his true and legitimate heir. This prince, once, being enamoured of a certain lord's wife, who was of extreme beauty, he carried her off with her own consent, and kept her a long while, whereof the husband made complaint to the king, but got not any satisfaction; indeed, the young prince had him beaten in such wise that he was fain to give his wife up altogether. Such is the way of them in that country.

The king's brother-in-law, Rannaban'deyri Takuru
As for the king's brother-in-law, the rival of this prince, he was a young lord, aged about twenty-five years, one of the handsomest men in figure and accomplishments in the islands, resembling more those of Europe, as he was fair, though slightly olive in complexion. He was learned in all the sciences, as mathematics, astrology, navigation, etc. and in the exercise of arms. I taught him to cipher and write in French; and in truth I never found any difference between those people and ourselves, whether in mind or body, save that they are slightly olive, yet withal there are many fair persons, both men and women. His sister and he were of the best family in the country, being of nobler birth than the king himself.

So this lord, in chagrin for the loss of his offices at the nephew's return, began to take counsel with his sister, the queen, as to the means of avenging himself; and her anger against the prince was greater than his. The first means they took was by charms and sorceries, which are very frequently employed, to work both good and evil. In this business they employed many to work sorceries, which they call 'kanverikan' against both the king and his nephew, who were made very sick thereby, and had to get other sorcerers to cure them.

The king ever after this was exceeding wroth with the queen and her brother. But she hated the king to the death, and had long wished to put an end to him, if she had had the opportunity, for she was tired of being kept by force as a captive, and she was never satisfied; and being so rich and noble in her own right, she cared nothing for the honour of being queen, and would have liked a husband of her own choice.

So her brother and she, seeing that their first measures had not succeeded, resolved to try another, namely, to escape secretly by night in a barque, with all her trinkets, jewels, and wealth - for all the rest of her property was in another island belonging to her, called Maafilaafushi (Faadhippolhu atoll) forty leagues to the north of Male', where her mother, a widow resided. The prince, having framed his project, communicated the enterprise to the foreign master of arms of whom I have spoken above, and to another lord, whose father the king's father had in former days put to death, for fear lest he should rise against him, being as he was one of the most valiant lords in the kingdom: he was called Kassin Takuru.

So, too, this young lord his son was very brave, and very ill content that he was but a simple soldier, and had not the rank of his ancestors, wherefore he gave ear to the prince, who was in other respects his great friend, and promised him the queen in marriage; while to the foreign master he promised another sister that he had. Their design was that the prince and the young lord should remain in the island to carry off the queen, while the master should go on before, as he did.

Now it is a custom of the islands that the soldiers carry no arms when they go forth from Male' to the other islands; all must be left in the magazine of the king, to whom they belong. They carry, indeed, daggers and other small-arms, but not fire-arms; but when they go anywhere by command of the king, they may carry all sorts of arms. This is to prevent revolt; also, a certain number of soldiers only are allowed to go at the same time, and the return of these is awaited ere others are allowed to go; and this leave is given only during the westerly winds, which is their winter, and they have to return before the easterly winds, which is their summer time.

In the conduct of this enterprise they won over to their party thirteen of the best soldiers in the country, but one of the thirteen discovered them, and gave warning to the king, who bade keep all secret: for he was hardly able to believe it, and wished to see what it really was. So he commissioned that lord who had brought me from the island where we were lost, and in whom he had most confidence, to take a certain number of soldiers and to find out the truth.

This being done, the barque was seized, with the prince and his soldiers, who were all punished in the usual manner. As for him, he got no more than a severe reprimand from the king, and was kept in disgrace more than six months. It is to be noted that during their disgrace they have no care to dress themselves, or to deport themselves in the proper style, and they take no more part in affairs than if they were dead to the world.

As for the queen, though the king was very angry with her, she said but four words to him, and he was at once appeased. What befell the master of arms I have already related. After this, on the day of the feast of the dead, when the king with his three wives went to visit the sepulchres of his ancestors, the queen caused her brother to be at a place where they had to pass, and there he came, plainly attired and without arms, as the custom was, and saluted the king, who returned his salutation and took him back into favour, and conferred upon him again all his offices and dignities. He was one of the six chief Muskulhin. All the soldiers that were in this affair were at once set free, and restored to their former position.

The Fandiyaru leaves Male' for Mecca with the king's rivals
Albeit, this prince, being a man of spirit, as he afterwards showed himself, finding that he was not restored to all his offices, nor held in the same consideration as before the return of the king's nephew, continued in displeasure and discontent, and being no longer able to bear it, he resolved to betake him to Arabia, along with the husband of his other sister, who was at the time the grand Fandiyaru. They went off in secret, without taking leave of the king, who was exceeding wroth with them and with the queen, who had given them as much gold and silver as they wanted.

The king was especially astonished at the Fandiyaru, who had quitted so worthy an office; but the latter chose rather to obey the queen and the brother-in-law than him. They went to Mecca, in Arabia, where the Fandiyaru died, and the prince, after a voyage of eighteen months, came back in a Cananor ship to Cananor, where he was well received of the king, who was very desirous to have him stay there, promising him armed support in case he wished to make war against the Maldive king.

But the king of the Maldives, on hearing of this, wrote to him at once, and made the queen write too, to beg him to return, with promises of new dignities. The letter of his sister was of more avail than that of the king. So he returned, and had all that was promised to him, and the country remained in peace until the death of the king and his nephew, the manner whereof I shall relate hereafter.


Footnotes 1887:

Kaka
From the Persian kaka, 'uncle'; used also among the Mappilla of Malabar as a term of respect, and sometimes by other classes when addressing respectable Mappilla.

Edhuru, or, according to the fuller title, Edhuru Maniku
Though the office has no doubt lost its importance since the Maldives came within the pax Britannica, and the profession of arms became a mere pastime, there are still four of these fencing masters at Male', who are held in some respect (Bell).

The panikan, or fencing-master, was held in great respect on the Malabar coast.

Daharaa Takuru
This was a mere title in Pyrard's time, and so it remained down to Christopher's time, by whom it is assigned to the sixth vizier, without special duties. In Ibn Batuta's day the 'deherd', as he calls him, was commander-in-chief. The title seems to have fallen into abeyance now.

Dhoshimeyna
At present the Dhoshimeyna Kilagefan and the Dhoshimeyna Manikufan have nothing to do with the soldiers; and, indeed, no such appointment has been made during the present reign.

Maafilaafushi
The name would seem to mean, the island of the Mapilla.

Ali (Azhi) Raja of Cananore
The Ali Raja of Cananor turned the visit of Ranabandery Takuru to good account, for, on the death of Sultan Ibrahim in 1607, this prince succeeded to the throne as his vassal. That Ali Raja already had designs upon the Maldives, if not possession of some of them, appears from the journals of Steven van der Hagen's voyage. That Dutch captain was at Cananor in 1604, but could not get the Raja to take the Dutch side against the Portuguese. He warned the Dutch not to make any attempt upon 'his Maldive islands'.




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