GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (88)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Father Cabral’s life would be long and many geographies he would cover. If we followed it step-by-step, many are the stories to be told.

Let us stay, therefore, in the region to which this set of chronicles is bound. Having just returned from Central Tibet, João Cabral would witness a decisive historical event: the Mogul attack on Hugli in 1632. That same Hugli from which, in 1627, he had left with Estêvão Cacela and Bartolomeu Fonteboa in order to cross the lands of the Kingdom of Cocho and Bhutan, and where he had returned before heading back to Tibet, this time accompanied by Father Manuel Dias, testing yet another route, that of Sikkim, the current state of the Indian Union intertwined between Nepal and Bhutan – a route that would be discontinued due to the unexpected death of Father Dias, as has also been said here.

However, it was at the origin of the aforementioned Mogul attack that an unexpected change of attitude towards the Portuguese arose. It happens that after the death of Jahingir, emperor magnanimous follower of the line of action of the progenitor Acbar, and with whom the Portuguese always had excellent relations, there would sit in the chair of power Shah Jahan, his son, who had no shame in assassinating – not without first blinding him, as was the tradition in those places – his brother Shahryar Mirza, legitimate heir, de facto emperor for only a few weeks.

Jahan was both cruel and fanatical, and from the start he showed enormous hostility towards the Portuguese from Hugli who had massively joined the cause of Shahryar Mirza, despite having previously served Shah Jahan as soldiers, as he had been one of the most feared generals from that time. The mogol saw the gesture as a betrayal and did not forgive them.

To make matters worse, neither did the city send him the usual gift and congratulations when he was enthroned at the end of 1627, that is, shortly after Estêvão Cacela and João Cabral had passed there. Hugli was a commercial adventure for the Portuguese despite the official power based in Goa. About three hundred of them would then reside in that commercial warehouse, married to local or mixed-race women, although there were also some, in rare cases, of European extraction. The rest of the population, some ten thousand, were Indians, mostly traders and sailors, and there was also an undetermined number of slaves, since human trafficking was one of the very profitable activities in that city.

Although Hugli was generally useful to the authorities in Bengal, activities like this caused discomfort. And also the lucrative sale of gunpowder and weapons to the Portuguese mercenaries and pirates who were on the loose in those seas and in Dianga (today a mere neighborhood in the city of Chittagong) and on the island near Sandwip, where they were based, serving whenever required Tiri- tu-dama, king of Arracão, who tenaciously defended his territories from the impending and inexorable Mughal advance. Those Portuguese on the loose, good at arms, were a desired presence in those parts and that is why the Arracanean monarch protected them, closing an eye to the less licit activities to which they engaged: plundering the coastal villages and boats of the Gulf of Bengal that would supply them with slaves which they would later sell at Hugli.

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