GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (44)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The title of the publication of the magazine Kailash, Journal of Himalayan Studies, “Letter from the First Westerner to Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Joao Cabral (1559-1699),” is misleading because it omits Cacela’s performance. Let us not forget that he was superior to the hierarchy and responsible for the mission. Nonetheless, Cacela would remain a forgotten figure until another researcher, South African Luiza Maria Baillie, would publish in the Journal of Bhutan Studies the English translation of Cacela’s letter – the Relation we have been analyzing and which serves as a guide to this our trip.

The Journal of Bhutan Studies is a bi-annual publication of the Center for Bhutanese Studies, an autonomous academic unit dedicated to promoting research and scholarship in that Himalayan country.

It is important to remember that the publication of such precious documents is due to the Dutch Jesuit Cornelius Wessels who in 1924 would disenchant them from the archives of the Society of Jesus in Rome. I do not understand why, after all these years, his Early Jesuit Travelers in Central Asia, a reference work, is still not available for free download on the Internet, like so many other works of identical or greater carat. Only the e-book can be obtained, but at the astronomical price of 86 euros. Anyway, certainly an absurd requirement on the part of a greedy publisher…

These letters would be partially translated by the British historian Michael Aris, author of a Bhutan story and husband of the Burmese leader Ang San Suu Kyii. If we take into account that this episode is part of the Bhutanese school curriculum, it is not surprising that João Cabral and Estêvão Cacela are figures among the least known in that country. There were the priests of the Society in the tens and the more lasting would be their presence, although the result was, as in another case, null. None of the few conversions lasted for more than a few months, and in Tibet today no trace remains of that passage. However, only an accurate study can confirm this.

At the end of our visit to the Thimphu library there is still time for a two-way conversation, promptly recorded by our cameraman Pedro Sousa, during which Professor Yonten Dargye presents the Bhutanese version of the facts. It will be discussed over the next few chapters of our story.

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