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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 21

Of a captured Portuguese vessel that was wrecked. - An ambassador frorn the king of the Maldive Islands. - A vessel of Acheh. - A Malay native. - A Maldive confession. - The discovery of a strange island; and other events.

Shipwreck of Dutch cargo
While I was at the Maldives the Dutch had captured from the Portuguese a fine and good ship, and brought it with all its cargo to Acheh, where they had discharged it into their magazine for sale there. They then found by chance a ship captain and sixty sailors, who had lost their ship on the coast of Sumatra, and were men of Gujerat and Cambay. The Dutch asked them if they would serve them faithfully, and on their so promising, and giving such and such security at Acheh, the Dutch gave them this Portuguese vessel, victualled and equipped in all necessary respects, on a contract to carry one of their factors with merchandise to Cambay, after which the master should dispose of the ship as he liked.

The master and his crew, well enough pleased with this windfall, accepted the offer gladly. The Dutch loaded the ship with more than 60,000 crowns' worth of goods, consisting of cloth, ivory, lead, iron, steel, sulphur, silver, precious stones, and other valuables. This ship made sail straight to Cambay, but they were unable to pass the Maldives without paying forfeit like ourselves: for one fine night she went upon the reefs of the island and was wrecked.

They saved their cargo in like manner as we did. I saw the Dutch clerk and factor, named Martin Domburgh, a native of Zeeland (province in Netherlands), and a man of fine presence and education. He and the master and mariners remained about two months at Male', after which the king gave them a barque to take them off. The master, who was a moslem, and well known at the islands, begged the king to treat the factor kindly, which he did. I saw this Martin Domburgh afterwards at Cochin, as I shall relate in the proper place.

It is impossible to describe the cruelty and tyranny exercised by the king towards the mate of this ship, a man of about thirty-five, and his son, a boy of twelve or thirteen, and two of their men, who were accused of having concealed some of the ship's treasure - to wit, gold, silver, and precious stones; for he kept them upwards of a month in prison, beaten and whipped every day, and bound with their faces to the ground, without anything to eat, save such as was gIven them in small quantities in secret.

But I may say also that I never saw such constancy and courage as was theirs, for they could never be got to avow anything, until at length they had to be liberated, when it was evident that they would not die, I was never astonished at anything so much as at that, that they did not die a thousand times over, with all the ills they endured. They were nothing but skin and bone when they came out of prison; but what I admired most of all was the resolution of the little boy, to undergo all that suffering with patience so great.

When, then, the king saw that he could draw nothing from them, he had them doctored and nursed, and gave them some money to get home with. Yet true it is that they had hidden this money whereof they were suspected.

Dom Adrien de Gouveia - ambassador from the Maldives christian king at Goa
About a year before we left the Maldives, there came to the king an ambassador from the christian king of these islands, who lived at Goa, of whom I have already spoken. This ambassador was a Portuguese, and told me he had been at Rochelle in France. He was tbout fifty years of age, and was named Dom Adrien de Gouveia. He came in considerable state, accompanied by some other Portuguese and christian Indians.

The subject of his visit was a certain dispute which existed between that young christian king and his uncle, Dom Pedro, who resided at Cochin, the latter wanting to take part of the tribute coming to the said king. A suit was pending about it in the parliament at Goa for a long time, during which this Dom Pedro enjoyed the receipt of it - for, under the treaty of peace, the Maldivians were not obliged to pay the tribute elsewhere than at Cochin, where the uncle was.

At length, the parliament of Goa having ordained that the christian king, Dom Philippe, should have of the Maldive king and all the chiefs of the country a certificate to the effect that they recognised him as the king, he therefore sent this embassy with a quantity of presents.

But the Maldive king took but little notice of it, and the ambassador waited there for two months without getting an audience, such was the pride and haughtiness of this king in a matter wherein be perceived no gain for himself; and when he was got to do business with them, his demeanour was exceeding proud. In fine, it was four months before the ambassador got his despatch, which was granted, when he asked it, with offerings of the rarest gifts, as well from his master as from himself.

Acheh king's trading ship wrecked in Maldives
About the same time was wrecked there a ship belonging to the king of Acheh. It had not intended to come there, but to Masulipatan or to Bengal, yet the calms and currents brought it there perforce. The king got all this merchandise, which accrued to him by law. The captain saved much gold, silver, and precious stones, and was well treated by the king, who gave him a barque well furnished with provisions to go away in.

But I will tell what happened to one of these Malays (for so they call all the people of Sunda and the parts about Malacca). Having saved a large amount of property, the captain and some of the chief men wanted to dole it to the others according to their own notions; but three of the men resolved to have their share or die in the attempt.

So one day, espying the captain as he was taking a walk by himself, they attacked him in such wise that but for the succour of the inhabitants he must have been killed, or forced to surrender his booty; but he was saved for the nonce. Being a brave and courageous man, and knowing the natural temper of the Malays - to wit that they are irreconcilable in their enmities, and never swerve when once resolved upon anything, and make no more ado about the life of a man than of a chicken - he bethought him to be beforehand with them.

So, with the assistance of some of his own party, he lay in wait, arms in hand, for the three men as they came out of their temple or mosque, and attacked them with such vigour, that the most valiant of them, and the author of the quarrel, was laid low, and the two others were wounded, and only saved by the people of the island. They defended themselves bravely, and he that was killed received many wounds; for they are a cruel and vindictive race.

The king was very angry, and ordered the Fandiyaru to do justice in the matter, which he did in this wise. He summoned the captain and the two survivors before him, and after inquiring all that had passed, he found that the dead man had come by his death justly, for having tried to kill his captain. But he could hardly make the others come to any agreement, for the captain was by no means willing to pardon the two others, and would do nothing but at the express command of the king.

Finally an agreement was come to, the Fandiyaru ordering the two men to kiss the feet of the captain, and to ask his pardon, which they willingly did. He also made them recite aloud a confessioai in Arabic - as, according to their law, all have to do who have committed any fault: for criminals and convicts are not allowed to have speech of or intercourse with the rest until they have first made confession of their fault before the Fandiyaru, or others deputed by him to receive it (these being the naibs, and no others), and are thus absolved. The Fandiyaru made the captain do the like, because he had slain a man, and all were afterwards good friends.

Yet the two men would not embark with the captain when he went, saying that he would throw them overboard: for that race put no confidence in one another, whatever reconciliation they may have come to; so that they preferred to wait until the next Maldive ship should be sailing for Acheh. When the captain went, the king of the islands wrote to the king of Acheh, and sent him some presents; for they were good friends, and often sent letters and presents to each other.

As for the wrecked ship, it is the general custom that all belongs to the lord of the country where the wreck is; and another lord would take it for an insult if the merchandise of a ship of his that was wrecked were restored to him.

The search for Foalhavahi, south of Maldives
Some time afterwards, the king sent on two occasions a very expert pilot to discover a certain island named Foalhavahi, which is still almost unknown to them, except that they say that long ago one of their barques landed there by chance (so they find it stated in their histories), but were forced to leave by reason of the great miseries wrought by the devils who, as it is said, possess the island, and cause the great, horrible, and perpetual storms, which rage with such fury in the seas there that ships cannot remain at anchor. They said also that the devil visibly tormented them.

As for the island, it is said to be very fertile in all sorts of fruits; and the large medicinal coconuts which are so dear at the Maldives are believed to come from there; others, however, think that they come from the bottom of the sea. I did not hear whether there was any betel or not. The island is under the tenth degree beyond the line, and about 120 leagues from the Maldives.

The Maldive kings have many a time sent vessels to discover it, but they have never known where to find it; and such as have landed there have done so by chance. Had this pilot who was sent discovered it, it was intended to try and people it. They took with them some sorcerers and magicians to treat with the devil and come to terms with him, for they know not how to conjure him they only pray him to do something, and promise him their vows, and offer gifts and banquets. But this pilot could not find the island, and was unable to return straight to the Maldives; in such case all that can be done is to make Acheh, or, better, Ceylon, or Cape Comorin.

Both times that the pilot went, he lost the greater part of his men by death. He used to say that he would pursue the discovery or die in the attempt. The reason why they always met with storms was that they every time went in the winter, while the winds and currents from the west prevail; and that was for the cause that had they gone during the east winds, and had not fetched the island - as, indeed, was a matter of great uncertainty - they had been borne towards the Ethiopian coast, and had perished there.

This pilot was vastly keen to take me with him on this voyage, and I was as anxious to go; but the king would not permit it, knowing that if ever I reached the coast, I would never return to the island.

Wreck of ships from Bengal and Gujerat
But while I remained there I witnessed the arrival of a tall ship of Bengal, laden with the merchandise of that country. It came to the islands solely to load the bolis or shells of which I have spoken so much. The captain of that ship died, and the king inherited all; and but a little later another captain from Gujerat died also, and the king succeeded to his property too: wherein may be seen the great profits and revenues of the king arising from these casualties.

Wreck of ship owned by a king in Ceylon
There was also a king of Ceylon, who, out of desire to make a present to the king of Cochin, equipped a galley and loaded her with cinnamon of the finest, and with areca, but after her setting out the calms and currents brought her to the Maldives, into a channel where the current was not strong enough to carry her beyond the islands. Yet those on board were unable to fetch land, till the islanders went out with their barques, and with plenty of ropes, anchors, and oars, and so salved the ship and brought her to anchor.

Those on board, thinking to coast along and to make land every day, had not taken much provision, wherefore, after being a long while at sea before they reached the island, they were so feeble and worn with hunger and thirst, that they could do nothing, having nought to eat but cinnamon and areca. If, indeed, they had not made land at these islands, they had made none nearer than the coasts of Arabia or Malindi (East African port), upwards of 900 leagues off, and so full soon had died. The island where they anchored is called Hithadhoo, to the south of Male', from which it is distant about 50 leagues, in the atoll Hadhunmathi.

The merchandise carried by them was in great request at the islands, and more the areca than the cinnamon: for they can no more want this areca than we bread and wine. They were constrained to sell their goods for the wherewithal to live. But the custom of these islands is, that none dare do business with strangers without permission of the king; yet they omit not to trade in secret, only when that is known they pay a fine, and all the merchandise is forfeited: it is allowed, however, to give some fruits, and to give food and drink.

The strangers, too, must give their merchandise in barter without fixing the price, for it is the province of the king and the elders to fix the prices of foreign merchandise, that is, of all that comes not in the usual way of trade; for they use not so with what comes in the ordinary way, and is brought by the Malabars that come there frequently with their wives, children, and servants. These are permitted to traffic everywhere, like the folk of the country, and are subject to the same police and regulations.

This Singalese captain of the vessel of Ceylon had not brought any money, expecting to find at Cochin all commodities and credit. So, having no money to buy food, he made an offer to the king of all his merchandise for a supply of victuals, that so he should get away, But the king, well knowing that all the merchandise would fall into his hands, paid no attention, and only caused provisions to be supplied from day to day.

Then arose the question of discharging the goods and getting the galley on dry land in order to refit her. But the islanders, who are a mischievous race, and seek only the ruin of the poor strangers, while they were assembled from all the neighbouring parts, and were receiving good pay for hauling the galley on shore, out of malice drove her on a sandbank, where she broke up; and the poor captain and his men, thus left without a ship, were obliged to remain there for some time.

Then they fell sick, and nearly all died, and among these the captain, whereby the king became heir to all the cinnamon, which they call 'fonithoshi', and the areca, called 'fua'. If the Cochin king had written for it, he would have sent it all to him. He afterwards thought to send it to Arabia, and at the time when he was killed there was a large vessel all laden to convey it there; but that was taken with everything else, as I shall relate hereafter.

The vessel from Masulipatan
Shortly after this, arrived another vessel from Masulipatan, laden with rice, white cloths, oils, and other goods suitable to the island market. The captain was sixty years of age, and had hair as white as cotton and as long as that of women. His ship came to anchor 30 leagues south of Male', and had come there to load fish for Acheh. This captain took a great fancy for me, but he died at Male', so the king forthwith sent to fetch the ship; but as they were bringing it by night it struck a reef, and all was lost.

Clever captain from Cambay
There was also a tall vessel of Cambay, which cheated him cleverly; for the captain, casting anchor at an island 40 leagues to the north from Male', sent four of his chief men to salute the king with presents. Their object was not to remain there, but only to get some ropes, victuals, and other commodities. So, when they feigned a desire to traffic, the king was well enough pleased, and waited to get his share; to this end he desired not that the four men should return, and told them to write word to their captain to come to Male' with his vessel.

But they, knowing that their captain desired to be off, and fearing that he would leave them there, and so save their wages, got the king to permit them to return, under promise to bring the vessel, for which purpose he gave them a body of soldiers. But when once they set foot upon their own ship, they full soon sent back the soldiers with rounds of shot from their cannon and arquebuses, and flights of arrows.

The king was much annoyed, and threatened punishment to some strangers who were residing in the said island, and likewise to the inhabitants of it, as being the parties who had caused the ship's people to abandon the notion of coming to Male' for traffic. He would have liked nothing better than to see them come and anchor at his own island, seeing that when they were so far off he could not make such dispositions as suited his purpose.

But it would be impossible to describe in detail all the vessels that came to these islands while I was there. I have only made mention of those to which some misfortune or other notable accident happened. All the aim and object of the king and his subjects was but to bring about some mischief, for he used to give some portion of the wrecked ships to his ministers, and among others to the soldiers. But he gave nothing out of the ships whose captains died there: of these none but he drew any advantage.

Footnotes 1887:

Perhaps the first part of the word is the Malay 'palo', 'island'. There can be little doubt that this island, around which so much fable had circled, was one of the Chagos archipelago. A very small island of the Peros Banhos group is still called Poule; but as most of the names of these islands are French, the identification is doubtful. The northernmost of that archipelago is in 4 degrees 44 minutes South, and the southernmost of the Maldives (Addu) in 0 degrees 44 minutes South. It is not surprising that the Maldivians knew little or nothing of islands so comparatively near, when we bear in mind that they were at the mercy of monsoons and currents, whose direction is east and west alternately, and that the Chagos Islands lie almost due south.

More of them seems to have been known to the Maldivians than Pyrard was aware; for in the letters patent of 1560, issued by the ex-king Dom Manoel from Cochin, he describes himself as king not only of the Maldives, but also of the 'seven islands of Pullobay'.

As for the devils, all we need say is that an island inhabited by them was a commodity which any respectable moslem community of those days could hardly do without. See, the Arabian Nights as to the demons called Sealah and Dahlan, and the island Bartail.

The island of Foalhavahi seems to have been famed beyond the Maldives. Vincent le Blanc, while in Pegu, picked up the following story, where the legend is obviously mixed up with references to the cannibalism of the Battas of Sumatra or of some of the wild tribes of Arakan, and the mention of the kings of Acheh and Bengal would seem to identify the island with Pulowe, to the north of Sumatra, rather than with the far-off Chagos. Geographical difficulties, however, did not trouble the great traveller of Marseilles:

'South-west of the isle of Ceylon are the Maldives, many in number and very dangerous for their shelves of sand and rocks; but I will say no more of them, because my knowledge is but small; besides, they have amply and exactly been described by others; but I will say something of a wonderful island beyond the Maldives towards the south, some 12 degrees from the line, and called Polouis or Polouois, now desert, though formerly inhabited and flourishing, which (as I since learnt at Pegu) was governed by a prince called Argiac, a potent king of many islands and kingdoms; he having many children by several wives, gave this island to one of the gallantest of them, named Abdenac, for his portion, with several treasures.

'This Abdenac was possessed of it peaceably for five years space: his elder brother, called Argiac after his father, the king of Acheh in Sumatra, refused him the share of treasure his father had left him, whereupon the other, enraged, craved the assistance of the king of Bengal, who furnished him with ships, wherewith he invaded his brother, burnt his towns, and put to death most of his followers, but received a mortal wound himself.

'Returning to his island of Polouis with the treasures he had regained of his brother, and finding himself near death, he distributed all his wealth among his own people, and bequeathed his island to his Dume or evil spirit, as his heir, intreating him to preserve it to the Day of Judgment, when he hoped to return to the world. This will made, he died, and had no other sepulchre than the bowels of his kinsmen and friends, according to the custom of that region, where in many places they eat the dead flesh of their kindred and near relations, persuading themselves the soul to be sooner at rest than if they permitted the corpses to putrify in the earth, and that no sepulchre is so honourable as the bowels of a dear friend.
This island falling to the evil spirit's share, he became so turbulent that, from the time he took possession, the island was no longer habitable nor approachable; and all the inhabitants forced to retire into the adjacent isles. Ever since, this place remained desert; yet there are great store of birds and beasts.

'Sometimes the Maldivians have landed there by chance, but have been forced immediately to retreat, the evil spirits do so perplex them, raising great tempests on that sea. Being at Pegu, I heard a famous magician had promised the king to bring him some animals from his island, and also the treasures of Abdenac; but the demons did so perturb him, he could not effect his purpose; for as he was taking footing in the island, and beginning his conjurations he had writ upon a leaf and put into the hands of one of his boldest disciples, they were, by the illusions of Satan, so suddenly terrified, that the miserable disciple fell dead upon the place, and the master magician was so horribly beaten and dragged by the devils to the ship side, that his companions had time only to re-embark him and hoist sail for Pegu.

All the rest were strangely tormented and beaten, except the master's mate and the seamen, who were wiser, for, knowing the condition of the place, they would not put foot on land, which afterwards they were glad of. Thus was the magician served, and twas almost past his skill to recover himself.'

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