I’tisam al-Din’s Shigarfnamah, 2: hat-wearing Europeans arrive

Unless otherwise marked with KH (initials of Kaiser Haq), the passages below are translated from Farsi text by myself. Farsi text: Mirza I’tisam al-Din. Shigarfnamah Vilayet. Toronto: Foundation for Iranian Studies, 2014.

A brief account of the coming of the hat-wearing Europeans (Firinghees) is necessary.

As historians know, in the past the King of Portuguese was most powerful and richest among the Europeans as the English are presently known to be in all the world. The Portuguese were the first to sail toward Bengal and India. Nearly two hundred years ago, in the time of the Emperor Akbar Shah, they reached Ceylon, Malabar and Pegu, and began robbing the peoples of the coast and nearby regions. The miserable pirates mentioned in histories that menaced haj pilgrims were this same Portuguese because indeed fine Bengali merchandise such as muslin, silk and opium are highly prized in Europe and fetch high prices such that they buy a length of cloth for ten rupees and sell for fifty. The merchants used to carry the wares from ports of Gujarat and Surat to Basra and Jiddah, and from there Arab traders would take them to Syria, Egypt and Rome from where they would be sent to all places in Europe. So the hat-wearing Europeans dreamed of sailing their ships to Bengali shores. The ships weren’t as sophisticated then as they are at present and the compass hadn’t been invented. The Portuguese King stepped forward and outfitted a fleet of four or five ships with food and necessities for a full year and masters of all trades, from philosopher to engineer, so that they could find a direct route to the East. Because they were without the aid of compass, they had to sail along the coasts slowly and with great difficulties. They mapped their way for future journeys, but the laborious process took many lives and several trials until they reached a cape that is midway between Europe and India and is the southernmost point of land and it became apparent that India was near and they could get there. When the news spread in Europe, all the hat-wearing Firinghees were so elated that they tossed their hats in the air and named the cape the Cape of Good Hope which means a place of good fortune in English. [Farsi pp 25-27]

So the Portuguese reached India in nine years and began trading in the ports of Madras, Malabar, Ceylon and Pegu. The hat-wearing Faranghees became so happy as if they were the masters of the seven realms. As the journey became easier and shorter, and they made maps and wrote guide books about the features and characters of land and sea and spread the knowledge to all Europe, the other hat-wearing nations – the French, the English, the German and the Danish – also found their way to India and Bengal and began trading their wondrous wares that captured the fancy of people of these lands. Farsi pp 27-28

On the Coming of the Hat-Wearers to Bengal and Building of Fortresses

During the reign of Emperor Akbar the Portuguese took control of Malabar and Ceylon and other islands and from there began menacing the coastal people, capturing many males and females and selling them in other lands or taking them to other islands to build their forts. Thus they were always at war with the Emperor who refused to give them permission to build settlements. Until during the reign of Jahangir Shah the hat-wearing Faranghese came to the Emperor with great gifts, seeking royal favours in making settlements by offering him wondrous and curious things of all lands of Europe. The kind Emperor took pity on them as he did with all his subjects, and since they were strangers away from their lands and in hardship, and in order to bring rare merchandise and wares of Europe to these parts, he gave them permission to build trading centres in the coastal areas, but forbade them to build forts and moats and cannon towers, a prohibition that was fully enforced until the reign of Emperor Aurangzebe. After Aurangzebe’s death, the Indian Throne lost its former discipline and became slack as the kings, especially Mohamad Shah spent all their time in revelry and debauchery, not heeding the needs of the land and the administration. Instead of cries of warriors, women’s songs rose to the sky; merry troubadours racket replaced the rites of religion; clowns became rulers and real rulers retreated. The governors of provinces conducted the affairs of their lands each in their own ways and began gathering troops and became unjust and committed atrocities. The Portuguese and other hat-wearing nations made pacts with governors and warlords of every region and offering bribes and gifts and using guile and maneuverings began building their fortresses of which many still stand. Farsi pp 28-31


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