Arab travelers: Ibn Majid, who brought Vasco da Gama to India

This article is also available in: Italiano

Following “Viaggi e viaggiatori arabi” by Francesco Gabrieli, we discover together Ibn Majid, one of the greatest navigators of all time who (unfortunately) led the Portuguese to India

Ibn Majid

As with many great Arab navigators, the precise biography of Ibn Majid is mostly shrouded in mystery even if, especially in the last century, great discoveries have been made about it. We first of all know his origins, which date back to today’s territory of Ras al Khaimah, in the United Arab Emirates, and we also know that he came from a family that has always produced one of the greatest sailors in the Arab world; The date of his birth is not yet completely clear, but it dates back to around 1432. From a very young age, Ibn Majid followed the family tradition, becoming the greatest navigator of his generation, so much so that he earned the nickname “Lion of the Sea “. Throughout his life he traveled far and wide, constantly touching both the African coasts and the Indian ones and writing numerous treatises on travel and navigation.

Precisely for this reason, when Vasco da Gama circumnavigated Africa reaching the Persian Gulf, he turned to him. Thanks to his incredible naval knowledge, Ibn Majid accomplished his task, allowing the Portuguese to reach the coasts of Kozhikode (also known as Calicut), in the state of Kerala, in South-West India. However, it must be said that this trip was probably the most bitter he ever made, since he had already felt from afar the sad fate that the arrival of Vasco de Gama would lead to India and the Arab world in general.

However, according to some discoveries made in 2002 by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Emir of Sharjah and esteemed historian of the United Arab Emirates, Ibn Majid may have known Vasco da Gama for fame, but without ever meeting him since I live. Thanks to the discovery of some ancient texts, it seems in fact that the guide of the famous Lusitanian was not he, but a Christian Indian from Gujarat; this would also explain the nickname used during the trip “Malemo Kanaka”, or “the Master astrologer” in a mix of Arabic and Indian (unfortunately I can’t identify which Indian language and there is no more written in the book), obviously read everything with the Portuguese accent.

The doubts of Ibn Majid

“The Portuguese made himself lord of all these lands … He came to Kalikut, listen carefully to this news, in the year 906 and passes by the Hegira. He sold there and bought and ruled, and corrupted the Samiri (indigenous ruler), and The hatred of Islam reached that point, and the people were filled with fear and concern. Then the Mekki (merchant) found himself cut off from the lands of Samiri, the chief Guardafui remained closed to the traveler. I have truly described these Franks, and I don’t know what will happen after me, between them and the Indians, of peace or hostile acts … I wish I could know what will happen to them, to which everyone looks in amazement!

“Viaggi e viaggiatori arabi” by Francesco Gabrieli

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