BARBOSA, Duarte de
Born in Lisbon in the last quarter of the 15th century, Duarte Barbosa was an important representative of the Portuguese interests in the trading posts of the Malabar Coast, and he would be known in posterity for the authorship of The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants.
The identity of his ancestors is unclear, but it is known that he was the nephew of Gonçalo Gil Barbosa, who accompanied Pedro Álvares Cabral to India in 1500 as clerk of the fleet and shortly after, became the factor of Kochi.
Duarte Barbosa went along with his uncle on this trip, and during that time he began to learn Malayalam (the main language of the region of Malabar). He became a renowned specialist in the language, and in 1503 made use of his knowledge, serving as interpreter during the contacts between the district governor, D. Francisco de Albuquerque, and the King of Kochi.
In 1506, he completed his first visit to India as he accompanied his uncle on the return voyage to the Kingdom.
In Portugal, D. Manuel granted him the position of clerk in the trading post of Kannur as soon as a position was vacated, and in 1511, he returned to the East in a fleet commanded by D. Garcia de Noronha in order to assume this position.
Once in India, he became a strong opponent of the imperial policies of Governor Afonso de Albuquerque, who didn?t allow Barbosa to take the position of first-clerk in the trading post of Kannur because of his opinions, and instead relegated him to the inferior position of second-clerk.
In a letter to King D. Manuel, dated January 12, 1512, Duarte Barbosa complained about this situation and expressed his opposition to the policies of Albuquerque, especially concerning the conquest of Goa, which he considered too costly and unnecessary. Instead, he valued the diplomatic commercial relations and gave priority to the trading posts of Malabar.
In opposition to the governor, Duarte Barbosa collaborated with the ?group of Kochi,? whose members included Lourenço Moreno and Gaspar Pereira, among others. Together with this group, he tried by all means to challenge the intentions of Albuquerque, especially in the episode which culminated with the accusation of being a spy and consequent imprisonment of Mateus, the Ethiopian ambassador sent to D. Manuel?s court.
Following this confrontation, Afonso de Albuquerque ordered Duarte Barbosa?s transfer to the least important trading post of Calicut in the year 1513. His continued defiance led to the governor arresting him and sending him to the fortress of Kochi the following year. However, the Zamorin of Calicut intervened and prevented the execution of this order. In spite of this hostile relationship, Albuquerque recognized and made use of Duarte Barbosa?s linguistic skills and his aptitude to negotiate with local potentates.
Duarte Barbosa stayed in Calicut the following years and in 1515 supervised the construction of two galleys that had been ordered by merchants from Mecca in exchange for a payment of 20,000 reis.
He probably returned to Portugal in 1516, and for his services was rewarded with the position of clerk in the trading post of Calicut, where he returned the following year in a fleet commanded by João da Silveira.
On this return trip to India, he encountered the fleet of the new governor, Lopo Soares de Albergaria, who had returned from the unsuccessful expedition to the Red Sea. He witnessed the fleet?s attack on the port of Zeila in the Gulf of Aden.
He returned to his position in the trading post of Kannur in 1519, perhaps waiting for the vacancy of the clerk position in Calicut. There are only references to him again ten years later in Kannur when he served as interpreter in the negotiations between Governor Nuno da Cunha and the local king. He eventually died in that same city between September 1546 and May 1547.
The highlight of Duarte Barbosa?s life was the writing of the book, The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants, also known as Livro do que viu e ouviu no Oriente [Book of what he saw and heard in the East], which is the result of his vast experience in India.
This work, which includes geographical, ethnological, linguistic, and economic information, was one of the most important reports on the East written by a Portuguese in the 16th century.
Completed around 1516, the book did not earn general attention immediately, but in 1524 it was translated into Castilian in the context of the dispute for the Maluku Islands. It was later translated into German and Italian, still in the 16th century. Both Gaspar Correia, author of Lendas da Índia [Legends of India], and Damião de Góis were equally familiar with Duarte Barbosa?s work, as they quoted him in their books.
Due to the references to all the regions known by the Portuguese of the time, from the eastern coast of Africa to the Ryukyu Islands south of Japan, Duarte Barbosa?s book proved to be one of the principal sources of knowledge about the Portuguese presence in the East.
BARBOSA, Duarte, O Livro de Duarte Barbosa, edição crítica e introdução de Maria Augusta da Veiga e Sousa, Lisboa, Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, 1996. GUERREIRO, Inácio e Rodrigues, Vítor Luís Gaspar, ?O «Grupo de Cochim» e a oposição a Afonso de Albuquerque?, in STVDIA, Lisboa, nº51, 1992, pp. 119-144.
Author: José Ferreira
Translated by: John Starkey