GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK — The Siam of Domingos de Seixas (1)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

 

Debut, with pomp and circumstance, in August 2001, The Legend of Suriyothai is considered the most expensive film in the history of Thailand. With a budget of more than 400M bahts (US 9M) the film has a historical character, report on the aurous period of Ayutthaya, the Odia to the Portuguese chronicles. As expected, the film’s debut was a success. The box office on the first day of opening to the public sold 100,000 tickets, despite its high price.

The film was intended to have the Portuguese mercenary Domingos de Seixas as narrator, who in the 16th century lived in the Siamese capital for 25 years, before returning to Lisbon. This did not happen, as we shall see below.

The Legend of Suriyothai relates the heroism of Queen Suriyothai who in the mid-16th century took command of the army of the kingdom of Ayuthaya, after her husband, King Mahachakrabhat (1548-1569) had succumbed in a battle against the invaders of Pegu (Burma). An episode that, moreover, is reported by Fernão Mendes Pinto in his book Pilgrimage. Over the course of three hours, the film by the director and Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol manages to bring to the screen the splendor of ancient Ayuthaya, the customs of the time, the bloody battles where the elephants stood out, true war machines to join others introduced by the Portuguese merchants and mercenaries. They were the ones who supervised the management of these same weapons that would radically alter the rudimentary defense system of the time.

By the time of arrival in Ayuthaya of the embassy of the Macanese Jesuit and future counselor of the king of Siam, Baltasar de Sequeira, in 1648, the Portuguese were scattered all over Asia, in their capacity as traders, warriors, intriguers and evangelizers. The Portuguese community in ancient Siam dating back to 1516, following the first friendship, trade and shipping agreement between Portugal and Thailand, went far beyond commercial activity. In the Portuguete Bangue (Portuguese village) lived several thousands of Luso-Siamese that constituted the elite of the army of Siam, dedicating themselves to several other arts and crafts. Trade with Macau was flourishing, and the Jesuits, despite the fierce resistance of the local monks, tried to convert as many people as possible.

On the other hand, the other Europeans – those who ironically would remain in the history records – to get close to the mighty king had to do it on their knees, as was the case with the Dutch in Japan after the expulsion of the Portuguese.

The Luso-Thai community, along with the Chinese one, would be the last to surrender to the Burmese invader, who in 1767 would reduce to ashes the capital of Siam.

Years later, in 1786, King Rama I donated a land to Portugal on the banks of the Chao Praya River in Bangkok, the new capital, to build a trading post there. The place would also serve as a dockyard and warehouse for trade with other Western countries. There would be built the “Noble House,” which would welcome the Portuguese overseers and consuls. Until today. There stands the present Portuguese Embassy.

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