Portuguese sailor and navigator, ~1460 – 1524. He became the first to sail to India and the far East from Europe.
Born around 1460 as the son of a prominent military, a
fortress commander on the southwestern coast of Portugal. The Portuguese
had at this time a very strong navy, and were also colonizing
Africa and other continents. Since the beginning of the 15th
century, Portugal had been trying to find a route around Africa, but had never
succeeded. The reason for this was of course due to the Muslims of middle
Asia monopolizing the trade by land with India. The idea was to find another
way to trade directly with the far East.
With this background, the King of Portugal, John II
ordered a fleet of four ships to set sail for India in 1497. He made Vasco’s
father Estêvão da Gama leader of the expedition, but
when Estêvão died shortly after, Vasco became the leader. The
four ships left Lisbon and set course for Cape of Good Hope which had been
discovered a couple of years earlier. After 10 months of sailing, da Gama’s
expeditions had rounded the Cape and had reached what today is Kenya. After
picking up a pilot there – possibly the famous Arabic navigator Ahmed
Ibn Majid - who could lead them to India, they finally
reached Calicut (
now Kolkata former Calcutta* now Kozhikode in Kerala) on May 20, 1498.
The arrival to Calicut didn’t go smooth since the Muslim
merchants protested the Portuguese presence, and the goods that da Gama had
brought as gifts and for trade weren’t in high demand in India. After an
eventful trip back, where many of the sailors died from scurvy, they reached
Portugal in late summer 1499.
The next expedition for Vasco to India set sail in 1502,
and has as a goal to break the Muslim resistance in India, and also to revenge
the death of Portuguese officials left behind in India by a second expedition.
A large fleet, some 20 ships, reached Goa in summer 1502. da Gama then went
to bombard and massacre Muslims and Hindus in Calicut in order to subdue the
ruler (Zamorin) of Calicut, but to no avail. Instead they want back to
Portugal. However, the Muslim resistance was now broken.
Thanks partly to Vasco, Portugal now had a small enclave in
Goa, and also almost had monopoly on the trade with India. In 1524 Vasco da
Gama became viceroy of India, and arrived there later the same year. After
only a few months in India he became ill, and died on Christmas eve 1524.
*2001.10.30@21:46 JudyT says "Calicut and Calcutta are not the same place. Calicut is Kozhikode in Kerala(?)".
Reference: ne, britannica