The Voyage of Francois Pyrard, Volume I

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Introductory notes

The Voyage of Francois Pyrard was published in two volumes in the year 1887. It was written by Franciois Pyrard de Laval. It is a travelogue covering the Frenchman’s journey in Asia. de Laval was born circa 1578. He spent around ten years in South Asia including a long period in captivity in the Maldives Island. He passed away around 1623. Selections have been made from Volume I and Volume II of The Voyage of Francois Pyrard which cover the terrains of Goa and Cochin. Observations are made regarding the administration and lifestyles of people. There are details regarding the dietary habits as well as the resources available. Primary Reading de Laval, Franciois Pyrard, The Voyage of Francois Pyrard, Volume I, The Hakluyt Society. Secondary Reading Tavernier, Jean Baptiste, Travels in India, Volume 1, Oxford University Press.

By H. C. P. BELL,

PUBLISHED FORThe Hakluyt Society
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The kingdom of Bengal, and some observations thereon.

After a month’s voyage we arrived at Chartican, a port of the kingdom of Bengal, where we were received by the inhabitants with much rejoicing. On landing, they took me with them to salute the king, who is not, however, the great king of Bengal, but a petty king of this province, or rather a governor, with the title of king as is generally the case in those parts. The great king of Bengal lives higher up the country, thirty or forty leagues off. On being presented to this petty king, he received me with great kindness, and gave mo my full liberty, saying that if I would remain with him he would do great things for me: and, indeed, he bade bring me raiment and food day by day in great abundance. But after a month’s sojourn there I found a ship of Calecut, whose master asked if I would go with him, saying that the Hollanders’ ships often came to Calecut, and there might be some in which I could get a passage to France, since I was minded to return thither; whereto I gladly agreed, seeing I had no other aim but that, and on that score I declined all other favours. I therefore took my leave of the king, which was granted me without ditliculty.

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The kingdom of Bengal is of great extent; it lies in the middle country of the Indies, and is said to he 400 leagues in length, so the king is the most puissant prince in India, after the grand Mogor. About the time I left, the Mogor had declared war against him, and the king was preparing to receive him with more than 200,000 men and 10,000 elephants. He has many tributary kings: for instance, the kings of Aracan, of Chaul, and other great lords, as well Mahometan as Gentile, who are bound to furnish him, when he goes out to war, with a certain number of men, elephants, and horses. They also pay him tribute for such harbours as they have in their territories; and at all of these a great trade is carried on in all sorts of merchandise, the merchants exporting large quantities of goods, by reason whereof they dare not risk the loss of this king’s goodwill.

The country is healthy and temperate, and so wondrous fertile that one lives there for almost nothing; and there is such a quantity of rice, that, besides supplying the whole country, it is exported to all parts of India, as well to Goa and Malabar, as to Sumatra, the Moluccas, and all the islands of Sunda, to all of which lands Bengal is so very nursing mother, who supplies them with their entire subsistence and food. Thus, one sees arrive there every day an infinite number of vessels from all parts of India for these provisions; and I believe it would he still greater, were not the navigation so perilous by reason of the hanks and shallows wherewith all this Gulf of Bengal is full. So it happens that when the Bengal ships are behind their time, or are lost, rice is fabulously dear, and there is à cry, as it were, of the extremity [Page 328] of famine. On the contrary, when the navigation is good, the rice is as cheap as if it grew in the country, and fetches no more than four deniers the pound. The country is well supplied with animals, such as oxen, cows, and sheep; flesh is accordingly very cheap, let alone milk-foods and butter, whereof they have such an abundance that they supply the rest of India ; and pile carpets of various kinds, which they weave with great skill There are many good fruits,—not, however, cocos or bananas ; plenty of citrons, limes, oranges, pomegranates, cajus, pineapples, etc., ginger, long pepper, of which, in the green state they make a great variety of preserves, as also of lemons and oranges. The country abounds with sugar-cane, which they oat green; or else make into excellent sugar, for a cargo to their ships, the like not being made in any part of India except in Cambaye and the other countries of the Mogor adjacent to Bengal, these countries being of the same climate, language, and fertility. There is likewise exported from Bengal much scented oils, got from a certain grain, and divers flowers: these are used by all the Indians after bathing to rub their bodies withal Cotton is so plentiful, that, after providing for the uses and clothing of the natives, and besides exporting the raw material, they make such a quantity of cotton cloths, and so excellently woven, that these articles arc exported, and thence only, to all India, but chiefly to the parts about Sunda. Likewise is there plenty of silk, as well that of the silkworm as of the (silk) herb,* which is of the brightest yellow colour, [Page 329] and brighter than silk itself: of this they make many stuffs of divers colours, and export them to all parts. The inhabitants, both men and women, are wondrously adroit in all manufactures, such as of cotton cloth and silks, and in needlework, such as embroideries, which are worked so skilfully, down to the smallest stitches, that nothing prettier is to be seen anywhere. Some of these cottons and silks are so fine that it is difficult to say whether a person so attired be clothed or nude. Many other kinds of work, such as furniture and vessels, are constructed with extraordinary delicacy, which, if brought here, would be said to come from China.

In this country is made a large quantity of small black and red pottery, like the finest and most delicate terre sigillée; in this they do a great trade, chiefly in gargoulettes and drinking-vessels, and other utensils. There is a great quantity, too, of huge reeds or canes, as big as a man’s thigh, and six or seven fathoms high, hollow inside, and knotted like those here. They are harder to break than any wood in the world ; of these, levers and rods are made to carry over the heaviest weights, and are used throughout India, even at Goa and elsewhere : so much so, that the Portuguese and the Indians use no other poles for their palanquins and litters: these are [Page 330] everywhere called Bambou, When one of these is bent into any required curve and heated, it remains so always, and will sooner break than lose its curve. Of these, too, are made their measures for measuring all their goods, such as rice, grain, oil, butter, and the like. Measures of all sizes are made of them. These reeds grow in quantity elsewhere in India; but this is their original home, and here they are found in greatest plenty. These canes will not bend double; and they are mottled black and white. There is another kind, of a different shape and thickness, the largest of this sort being no more than four thumbs’ girth, and very tall. It is jxirous, hard, and very pliant, so that you can bring the two ends together without its breaking, and yet it is very strong: of this are made walking sticks and canes for chastisement; they raise the skin [Page 331] wherever they fall, hut never break it, however tender it may be. They are neatly shaped, and are naturally of a mottled colour, white, yellow, and black: there is great trade in them to all parts of India, for they are found nowhere else. By rubbing hard two sticks of this cane together, fire is produced as from a match: and they are used for this purpose. There is yet another sort of cane, which never grows thicker than the little finger, of the same form and growth as the other; it is as pliant as an osier, and is called Botan. Ships’ cables are made of it, and many kinds of neatly plaited baskets, and other wicker things. In short, it is used as cord, and can be split into any number of strips. It is a fathom and a half in length. It is trafficked in everywhere, and is in great demand fôr its use in manufacture; it is white, and not mottled.

This country abounds with elephants, which are exported hence to all parts of India. There are rhinoceros also, and some say unicorns, too, which are said to be found in this land only. They say other animals will not drink at a well until a female unicorn has steeped her horn in the water, so they all wait on the bank till she comes and does so.

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In short, I find no country in all the East Indies more abundantly supplied with all things needful for food, with the riches of nature and art; and were not the navigation so dangerous, it would be the fairest, most pleasant, fertile, and profitable in the whole world They usually keep an ambassador at Goa; hut when I was preparing to leave Goa to come home, there arrived an ambassador extraordinary at the court of the viceroy, and it was said that he had come to ask some assistance.

One of the greatest trades in Bengal is in slaves; for there is a certain land subject to this king where fathers sell their children, and give them to the king as tribute; so most of the slaves in India are got from hence. Many of the merchants castrate them, cutting them when they are young, and not only the testicles, but also the entire organ.

I have seen many of this kind, who appeared to have but a little hole for the passage of water. This is in order to put them in charge of the women, and of the keys of the house; they trust them in all things, and never their wives. Such is the custom among Mahometans, for they quit their wives very frequently. Nowhere in India are slaves of so little value, for they are all old and knavish villains, both men and women.

The people are well formed in body, the women are pretty, but more shameless than elsewhere in India. The men are much given to trafficking in merchandise, and not to war or arms,—a soft, courteous, clever people, but having the repute of great cheats, thieves, and liars. They trade in [Page 333] many places, making long voyages; so do many strangers frequent their country : for example, Persians, Arabs, and the Portuguese merchants of Goa and Cochin. Under the government of this king are men of many religions, viz., Jews, Mahometans, and Gentiles, or pagans, these latter showing as great a diversity of ceremonies as of countries and provinces. The great king is a pagan; he of Chartican, whom I saw, was a Mahometan.

The Gentile people of this Bengal country have for their pagoda, or idol, a white elephant; it is hut rarely met with, and is deemed sacred. The kings worship it, and even go to war to get it from their neighbours, not having one themselves, and sometimes grand battles are fought on this score.

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In this land is the great river Ganga, otherwise called the Ganges, the most renowned in the world. The natives hold that it comes from the Earthly Paradise; their kings have been curions to have its source discovered, but they have never discovered it, for all their journeys and expense. Its mouth is at twenty-three degrees from the equinoctial, towards our pole; but whether this is the famous Ganges of the ancients, or that of Canton in China, as some will have it nowadays, I leave to the discussion and decision of the learned in such things; any how, the common opinion of the Portuguese and many others is that this is the true Ganges; if its situation does not correspond, at least its name does. From this river comes that excellent wood called Galamba, which is believed to come from the Earthly Paradise. It is very dear throughout India, and more esteemed than any other, being more rare and odoriferous; very little of it is found, and then it comes floating to the seashore, or the banks of the river; it is also found on the shores of the Maldives, and I have met with it there many a time.

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This river breeds also a large number of crocodiles, and is marvellously rich in fish ; in short, it is the wealthiest in all produce in the East Indies, and after it comes the Indus, the river of Surate and Cainbaye.

The Indians regard the Ganges as holy, and believe that when they have washed therein they are absolved of all their sins ; and Mahometans as well as Gentiles deem the water to be blessed, and to wash away all offences, just as we regard confession. They, however, believe that, after bathing there, they are altogether sanctified, even saints.And they come from afar to wash them there, as do the Mahometans at the sepulchre of Mahomet at Mecca. This is all I was able to observe of this kingdom during the short time I was there.

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Arrival of the author at Calecut, and a description of that kingdom.—The king and people: their manners, religion, and ways of life.

Having at length arrived at the town of Calecut, the first officers of the king whom we met with were the receivers of the king’s dues, who have a house on the seashore, erected on piles, where they remain by day only: for the town and harbour are more than a league in length, and there are three of these buildings, for the watching of all the goods that are landed, for the taking of the number and quantities in writing, and for the conveyance of them thence to the Alfandigue This is a great square building of stone, with galleries above and below, and vaulted with stone arcades like those of our Place Royale, but not so grand or so elegant, with a large number of rooms and warehouses for keeping all the different sorts of goods separate. Over the door is written the name of the goods kept in each warehouse; an officer of the king has one key, while the owner of the goods has another, and neither can enter without the other. The goods remain there till they have paid the dues and the customs, and the exports have to pay as well as the imports. This Alfamdigue is two or three hundred paces from the sea, between the town and the port : it is strong and well guarded, all the the doors being well locked, and none may enter but on business, for the guards are always stationed there. Mistakes [Page 362] cannot well be made in the charging and discharging of goods, and in levying the king’s dues, by reason of the number of clerks and officers who have to pass them, and these are all Nairs or Bramenis. And there is no port in all the kingdom so small hut has its clerks, who, when the goods belong to merchants of the country, merely take a note of them; and at the end of six months or a year the merchants come and pay the gross amount. These officers are all men of quality, and highly respected. They have their offices and Alfandigues at the ports, where they pass the day; in the evening they return from the towns, and pass the night at their homes, which are usually not far from the town, half a league or so: they do not forgather with the crowd.

This town is not like the others of the Malabar coast, for it has its inns and drinking-shops, where food and lodging have their price. In the evening the officers gave us over to the soldiers of the guard, who conducted us to the king, whose palace is a half league from the town of Calecut. The [Page 363] soldiers escorted us thither with all honour and respect. The king, aware of our coming, came down to the lower hall of his palace, because it was night. He was accompanied by ten or twelve Hair pages, all gentlemen, with large gold or silver gilt lamps, full of oil, for they use not candles or torches. Each lamp had six wicks, with snuffers as large as the finger, also of gold or silver gilt, and a large vessel of the same full of oil, so that the lamps should always be supplied. These lamps are hung from a great silver gilt rod, the end of which is fixed in the ground, while above it is curved outwards, so that the lamp does not inconvenience or soil the person who holds it, neither does it run over. The seats in the hall were of wood, well polished and handsome. They use also large black polished stones, like marble, for sitting upon. The king never sits in public, but remains standing.

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Between the town and the king’s palace there is nothing but houses, and there is no place in all India where contentment is more universal than at Calecut, both on account of the beauty and fertility of the country, and of the intercourse with men of all races, who live there in free exercise of their own religions. It is indeed a marvellous sight to see the great multitudes that are there, principally around the king’s palace, where you will see a vast crowd of men, all in arms. All the greatest lords go every day to salute the king, who is greatly esteemed as a man of high spirit, albeit of a changeable humour: for he will greatly love, and then as greatly hate the same person, and afterwards of a sudden receive him again into his friendship. Wherefore no one puts his trust in him: he will take from any hand that gives, and himself confessed that he was a friend to those who gave him the best presents. He is very affable and pleasant, as well to strangers as to his own people, yet is he very choleric also, and is greatly feared by all his Nairs, who are ever apprehensive of his anger.

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While I was at Calecut, all the lords used to hid us eat and drink with them, and to make us presents of gold pieces, silk and cotton cloths, and fruits. Among these was one of greater authority than all others, for in the absence of the king he used to govern the city of Calecut. His house was about a league from the royal palace, situate upon a lake, and built of stone, of about a half-league in circumference, as all their other tanks are.

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The whole coast from Barcelor to the Cape Comorin is called Malabar ; and though there be many provinces and divers countries there, yet are they all of one language, law, and religion, of like government, classes, and ranks of men, according to their respective races, and above all of the same manners. There be many kings, such as those of Cananor, Moutingué, Badara, Calecut, Tananor, Cochin, Coilan, and many other kinglets too numerous to mention. But the greatest and most puissant king is he of Calecut, who is called Samory. This is the distinguishing mark of his grandeur above all the rest, this word having the same meaning as Emperor with us. The king of Cochin is the greatest next to him, and assumes to be his peer, and this [Page 370] is why they are so frequently at war. The others are petty kings of petty territories, who, though they be all kings with sovereign power in their own lands, yet revere and respect the greatness of Samory, speaking of him as their lord, and daring not to disobey him. This I say with assurance, for I have heard it from the mouths of many of these kings themselves. The king of Coilan being so remote, at the very point of Cape Comorin, maintains more of his sovereignty than the rest; when I left India he was holding the Portuguese in siege on land.

The kingdom of Calecut is of very great extent, and of a temperate sky. It is situate between Cochin and Cananor, at nine and a half degrees from the equinoctial, towards the Arctic Pole. The principal town, which is on the sea-coast, bears the name of the kingdom. The country is flat and without mountains, fertile in all the necessaries of life, such as fruits, grain, beasts, and pasture, save that for the bulk of the inhabitants rice has to be procured elsewhere, that grown in the country not being sufficient: they take no other [Page 371] merchandise from their neighbours. There is abundance of pepper, which is the principal source of the country’s wealth; of gems, which are very plentiful there; and of cotton, whereof they make a very fine white cloth, and divers kinds of painted and patterned tapestry.

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The kingdom of Cochin is situated under the altitude of eight degrees from the equinoctial, towards the latitude of the Arctic pole. It is one of the kingdoms of Malabar. The country has the same climate as Calecut, and is equally fertile in the same trees, herbs, and fruits; indeed, the two states are contiguous. Living is cheap, except that bread is dearer than at Goa, because the wheat comes from Cambaye to Goa, and is carried thence throughout all India. The orders and distinctions of the people—that is, of the Hairs and Moucois—are the same; the manners and customs are similar to those of Calecut, wherefore it would be wearisome and superfluous to repeat a description of their manners, customs, and police, seeing it would be all the same as is set forth above. The country, in like manner, abounds with pepper and with precious stones ; but all the pepper is taken by the Portuguese, to whom the king of Cochin sells it: he collects it from all parts of his realm, stores it in his granaries, and sells it when he thinks fit, and not otherwise.

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There are two towns of Cochin, the one being the old town, distant from the sea about a league and a half, where the king resides; the other only a league from the sea, at the mouth of a large river, upon which also the old town is. The new town belongs to the Portuguese, and is fortified with good walls and a citadel. The kings of Cochin have given them this place, and some land round about, over which they exercise full dominion. The bay and mouth of the river is large ; in it appear three great rocks in a line, lying, like the coast toward the north, between a quarter N.W. and a quarter S.S.E.

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After Goa, the Portuguese have no town so fine and large as Cochin. It is built of very handsome houses, churches, and monasteries; and the Portuguese and Christians there have the same order of government as at Goa, whereof I shall speak at large hereafter. They have a bishop, many churches and convents, a Jesuits’ college, and a royal hospital for the Portuguese, as in their other towns. The river is a fair broad stream, and affords good harbourage. At the entrance from the north—that is, on the left side—is a little island, containing the handsome and splendid mansion of the bishop, which they call Vaypin} The town is very populous, as well with Portuguese as Indians, both Christian (of whom there are a large number) and infidel, who, however, are not permitted to exercise their paganism in the town, but have to go without, to places depending upon the king of Cochin. There is great traffic and shipping there, and vessels come and enter this river from all parts: in short, for traffic and affluence of all the necessaries of life, it is a second Goa. This great shipping has rendered the country of the Cochin king busy, rich, and opulent; the king himself has become more wealthy and powerful, because he sells promptly all the produce of his country, and receives in return all that his country has need of, besides the tribute and presents that he gets daily from the Christian, Moor, and Gentile merchants.

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For the space of six months from the month of May or April, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, until the month of November or thereabouts, no ships or barques enter the Cochin river. The reason is that the west wind comes from the sea, and the heavy and continual rains throw up from the land side such a quantity of sand at the mouth of the river, that banks are formed of such a height that it is impossible for either ships or barques to pass them. But when the rains cease there comes a contrary wind from the east, which drives the sand into the sea, and renders the river navigable for all manner of large craft. This happens not only at Cochin, but all over India, at the mouths of rivers, which the Portuguese call barre—that is, entrance.

The principal trade of Cochin is in pepper, and only the kings of Calecut and Cochin exercise it. The king of Cochin [Page 438] stores it, buys it, ami collects it; he has some of his own, and also takes tribute of others who have it, and the rest he buys through his factors, and has magazines for storing it. He keeps it sometimes two or three years before he sells it Nowhere in all the Malabar Indies is there so much pepper as there and at Calecut, for the Portuguese, who trade everywhere, cause it all to be brought there. The next greatest trade is carried on with Bengal, and the merchandise carried there most frequently is the little shells of the Maldives, wherewith every year many vessels are laden.

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Voyage from Cochin to Goa.—Of the kingdom of Cananor and the estate of the Malabars—An accident which happened to the author.

We remained at Cochin, imprisoned and at liberty, about two months. In the meantime there arrived a fleet of fifty Portuguese galiots, under the command of a Portuguese lord. He was on his way from the coast of Cape Comorin and from Point de Galle in the island of Ceylon, and came to Cochin for refreshment in passing. This is their ordinary practice; for the Portuguese and the viceroy of Goa are wont every year at the beginning of summer, which is in the month of September, to equip two fleets of a hundred [Page 440] galiots, along with three or four large galleys. Half of this fleet they send to the north, as far as Diu or Cambaye, and thereabouts, to guard the coast, and hold their power over the sea, and prevent any from sailing there without their passport. The other half they send to the south, as far as Cape Comorin, for the same purpose, but principally to puige the sea of the Malabar corsairs, who wage war with them and with all traders. So it is, that in those parts of India none dare navigate the seas without a passport from the Portuguese, unless they feel themselves sufficiently strong to resist, as do the Arabs and the men of Sumatra and others, who are always at war with them.

So while this fleet was refreshed for the space of five days, being about to return to Goa, which is distant from Cochin 100 leagues to the north, we employed the Jesuit fathers to get us a passage to Goa ; this they did, using their offices with the governor of Cochin, who delivered me to the general of the fleet, to be put into the hands of the viceroy.

This is a selection from the original text


animals, butter, drinking, fertile, food, green, lemons, religion, trade, war, wealth

Source text

Title: The Voyage of Francois Pyrard, Volume I

Editor(s): Albert Gray, H. C. P. Bell

Publisher: The Hakluyt Society

Publication date: 1887

Original compiled 1619

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive: compiled 1619

Digital edition

Original editor(s): Albert Gray, H. C. P. Bell

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 326-336, 361-371, 433-440


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

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Genre: India > non-fiction prose > travel narratives and reports

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