Vasco da Gama’s date of birth is not exactly known. It is believed that he was born in 1460 in the city of Sines in Portugal as the son of the governor – Estevao da Gama and his wife from the origin of an Englishwoman. Vasco was their third child. He had four brothers and a sister. Most probably, he received a thorough education in the field of navigation and mathematics in Evora. Then, following in the footsteps of his father, he joined the convent of Saint James of Compostela. The master of the order was then Prince Jan, who in 1481 became the king of Portugal. 11 years later, already as Jan II Doskonała, he sent da Gama to the port of Setubal with the task of intercepting French ships which, despite the peace, plagued the native Portuguese fleet. Da Gama handled the task superbly and dealt with the French quite quickly.
In the second half of the fifteenth century pepper and spices were extremely valuable, and the best source of obtaining these products was India. To this end, they strived to find the optimal route from Europe to India, which consisted of circumnavigation of Africa from the south, passing the Cape of Good Hope and sailing north. At the turn of the 80s and 90s of the 15th century, this task was entrusted to Estevao da Gamie, but he died before starting the preparations himself, and his mission was taken over by young Vasco. July 4, 1497.
One hundred seventy sailors headed by Vasco da Gama set out on four ships. The Portuguese did not have an easy task, because not only that most of the previous expeditions in this direction ended tragically because of the gusty wind blowing from the bow, his crew largely consisted of prisoners for whom the expedition was a form of punishment, not real sailors. Of course, the crew were aware of the dangers lurking on the way to India. In a fit of fear, they aroused rebellions, although the determined and concrete da Gama successfully suppressed them.
After passing the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands and Sierra Leone they sailed deep into the Atlantic Ocean. They spent about three months on the open sea, and after another two they finally arrived at the Cape of Good Hope discovered by Bartolomeu Dias. Then they entered the waters of the Indian Ocean and headed north along the eastern coast of the Black Continent.
The main task of Da Gama was to establish trade relations. In the ports, apart from replenishing supplies, he collected information about the visited nations, their customs and diplomatic relations with other countries. By the way he also plundered Muslim ships with whom Europe waged war. Having sailed to the territories of today’s Kenya, he employed a navigator who was perfectly moving around the Arabian Sea. From there, his trip went straight to the coast of India, where he reached Kalikat on May 20, 1498. With the arrival of the famous Indian port, there was a breakthrough in shipping.
Difficult trade negotiations with local authorities resulted from the opposition of Arab merchants. Eventually an agreement was reached. Da Gama was forced, however, to leave several crew members to run a local trading station. The return turned out to be quite a challenge. The hardships of the journey decimated the crew to such an extent that only 55 people returned to Portugal on two ships filled with spices and jewels. The greatness of the success of the great explorer overshadowed the losses, and da Gamie was awarded the title of “Admiral of the Indian Seas”.
King’s admiration for the discoverer of the road to India was so large that he decided to appoint him as the commander of the expedition consisting of 20 ships, which in 1502 went to India. The purpose of the expedition was to avenge the Portuguese who died as a result of riots caused by the conflict of the expedition commander of 1500 – Pedro Cabralem, and the ruler of Kalikat Zamorin. The success of da Gama in India was then enormous. He oppressed the Kilwa Kisiwani community and forced a ransom. In addition, he avenged his compatriots by smashing the fleet of Kalikat into the dust, eventually conquering the city.
In 1503 da Gama returned to his native Portugal, leaving part of the fleet under the command of his uncle Vicente Sodre. This time, his efforts did not find favor with the King of Portugal Manuel I the Happy, because he failed to force Zamorin to surrender. When choosing the new viceroy and governor of the discovered lands, Vasco da Gama was omitted, and these titles received Francisco de Almeida. Da Gama moved into the shadows and for over 20 years he stayed away from politics and expeditions. His attempts to regain the favors of the ruler of the family country also failed. Only after the death of King Manuel, his successor decided to look at the officials in the areas occupied by Portugal.
In 1524, Da Gama was re-sent to India to replace the corrupt Eduardo de Menezes. However, shortly after landing, da Gama fell ill with malaria and died three months after Christmas Eve. One of the captains of his fleet took over the function of the Governor of India. He was buried in the church of Saint. Franciszka in Cochin, and eventually his ashes were transported to Portugal in 1439.
There is no doubt that the trip to Gama is one of the most important and most significant travels for mankind, it has united different nations and allowed for establishing new trade relations. The great explorer has proved that Europe is unmatched in terms of outstanding minds, unique individuals and technology. Portugal has also grown into a colonial, military and commercial power. However, there is also the dark side of this outstanding expedition: a new war for influence between the Christian world and Islam.
Great Age of exploration starts with improved sailing techniques and progressive development of trade in the Mediterranean Sea and open waters in 15th century. This story shows geographical discoveries and causes and effects on different cultures.Read more