ÍNDIA, Gaspar da (1460-?)
Was born in Alexandria circa 1460 and named Mamet. He was a Jew, who descended from Polish emigrants that were natives of the city of Bosna. Nothing is known about his youth, although there is evidence that he was a merchant, a lapidary or both. Prior to serving the Crown, Gaspar da India would have spent about eight years in Goa, at the service of the governor, performing functions equivalent to those of a harbor master. While fulfilling his duties, he would come into contact with the Portuguese.
After departing Calicut, Vasco da Gama´s ships were anchored for repairs and provisioning in the vicinity of Angediva Island, near Goa. Gaspar da India was sent to him with instructions from the Governor, to entice the Portuguese to his cause and, if this were not possible, to lead an attack against them. Gaspar, however, was denounced and captured, confessing his intentions under torture.
On 5 October, 1498, he sailed to Portugal with Vasco da Gama´s fleet, leaving a son, Baltazar, in the Orient, probably in Goa. During the trip or immediately after arriving in Lisbon, Gaspar da India converted to Christianity, adopted the name, Gaspar, and received the last name, Gama, due to being godfathered by the captain himself.
Gaspar da India did not remain in Lisbon long. In 1500, he sailed to the Orient again with Pedro Alvares Cabral´s fleet, serving as interpreter for the first time. Not only did he translate several letters into Arabic, but he also participated frequently in expeditions ashore, always for the purpose of interpreting. Due to the connections he maintained prior to being captured, he played a fundamental role in the first encounter between Pedro Alvares Cabral and the Zamorin of Calicut as well as in the beginning of Portuguese relations with Cannanore and Cochim.
After the return of Cabral´s fleet, Gaspar went to India again in 1502, with Vasco da Gama but did not have a particularly significant role during this trip. Since it was a campaign ripe with events, he would have participated in many of these. No particular mention is made of him, however, which indicates that Vasco da Gama did not attribute much significance to his roles as interpreter or advisor.
In 1503 he returned to Lisbon, where he remained for an extended period of time, going back to the Orient in 1505, on the occasion of the nomination of Dom Francisco de Almeida as Viceroy. Gaspar da India would serve him with dedicated loyalty. Under his command, Gaspar witnessed the looting of Mombasa, about which he would write later in defense of the viceroy. He participated actively in the planning and construction of the fortress on Angediva Island. With Francisco de Almeida and his son, Lourenço de Almeida, Gaspar was part of the group that was received by the King of Cannanore. He was instrumental in the first contacts with Vijayanagar, through his son, whom he encountered again at the end of 1505, as well as in the development of the policy of neutrality implemented by the viceroy, vis-à-vis the local conflicts. The surviving correspondence allows us to conclude that Gaspar da India fulfilled two key roles during the time he served under the orders of Francisco de Almeida. The first, which was ordered by the Crown, was to provide detailed reports of the performance of the Portuguese agents in the Orient; the second was to mediate the relationships between the Portuguese and the various Muslim factions in the region.
Gaspar da India demonstrated great loyalty towards Dom Francisco de Almeida, adopting his last name. He intervened in his defense on the scandalous occasion of the looting of Mombasa as well as when he faced accusations of despotism and abusive government. In the conflict between Francisco de Almeida and Afonso de Albuquerque, Gaspar naturally sided with the former, which earned him the animosity of the latter. In 1509, when Francisco de Almeida returned to the kingdom, Gaspar remained in the Orient under the orders and protection of Dom Fernando de Coutinho. After his death, however, due to Afonso de Albuquerque´s animosity, Gaspar da India eventually fell into disgrace, remaining in India until 1515, when he returned to Portugal with his son.
Despite his origins and his seemingly low position as an interpreter, Gaspar da India was an extremely significant player in the establishment and consolidation of the Portuguese position in India, because of his ability to exert influence over his superiors. Early on, in 1499, King Manuel became aware of his potential value not only as a translator but also as a source of information. Gaspar was able to manipulate the information to retain this important position. In addition to being key to establishing contacts with local governments, he was also instrumental in developing the policies that governed the first decade of Portuguese presence in the Orient. His significance was attested to by Damião de Gois´ testimony, when he asserted that Gaspar da India was ennobled by King Manuel I and granted an annual pension of fifty thousand Reis, beginning in 1504.
Bibliography: SILVÉRIO, Silvina; Gaspar da Índia, in Descobridores do Brasil. Exploradores do Atlântico e Construtores do Estado da Índia, coord. João Paulo Oliveira e Costa, Lisboa, Sociedade Histórica da Independência de Portugal, pp. 225-253.
Author: Elias Pinheiro
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel