A Presença Portuguesa nas Ilhas das Moluccas 1511 - 1605

Term Paper 1998 11 Pages

History Europe - Other Countries - Middle Ages, Early Modern Age









1. Introduction

Nowadays the name Moluccas is given to the group of vulcanic islands between Sulawesi, Timor and New Guinea, with the capi­tal Ambon on the is­land of the same name, belonging to the province Moluka of the Republic of Indonesia. In the 16th cen­tury, however, only the five islands of Ternate, Tidore, Maquiem, Motir and Bachão were known as the Moluccas[1].

As in those times the Molucca Islands were the only production centre of cloves, they possessed an enormous economic value. In the 16th century it was neither possible to cultivate the clove tree in other regions, nor to transplant it to other islands with success. The Portuguese had known about this probably in the beginnning of the 16th century (Albuquerque:756).

The Molucca Islands were Islamized during the last quarter of the 15th cen­tury, with Banda coming under Muslim influence only a short time after that. Islands in the area that never possessed highly prized spices, like Ambon, Flores and Timor, were never converted. Obviously the rapid expansion of Islam in the 15th and 16th century was clo­sely related to the commercial expansion of Malacca (founded in 1403, converted to Islam in 1414). It was the gradual Islami­zation of the litoral cities in the area that overcame Maja­pahit[2], not a direct confrontation. The adoption of the religion of the custo­mers by Javanese and Sumatran traders seemed more a canny business attitude than a deep-felt orthodoxy (Diffie/Winius: 362). They never casted out their old beliefs, but blended the new religion with theirs. Even though Islam was the official re­ligion, ¾ of the people in the Moluccas were ani­mists and Tomé Pires writes that the ”Kings of the islands, despite being moors, were not even circumcised and not very devoted to the sect”[3].

With the religion came the use of writing in Arabic letters and Malayan, the then used language of commerce, later being replaced by Portuguese as língua franca.

Formerly organized in chiefdoms Islam had introduced monarchy and sulta­nates in the Molucca Islands, the most important being Tidore and Ternate. As coastal navigation was non-existant, cloves were never exported by the local people, shortly before the arrival of the Portuguese, the clove trade was dominated by Curia Deva, a Keling from the Coromandel Coast and Pate Cuçuf from Java (Pires: 214).

2. First contacts

Afonso de Albuquerque’s conquest of Malacca in August 1511, planned by D. Manuel I. since 1508, gave the Portuguese not only a rich city at the crossroads of several important trade routes but also direct access to the seas of the Malay Archipelago and the Far East.

Albuquerque’s directions were the construction of a fortress in the Malacca, the establishment of good relations to the neighbou­ring states and the initi­ation of trade with the spice producing centres. He sent out three ships un­der the command of António de Abreu, Francisco Serrão and Fernão Dias[4] Bisagudo to explore the Molucca Islands, manned with three pilots, 20 sla­ves on each ship and 120 Portuguese. The junk of a local moor, Nathoda Ismael, had already departed for the Spice Islands in order to spread the news of Malacca’s conquest by the Por­tuguese and ”so that de Abreu would be welcomed when he arrived in those ports”[5]. The commanders had strict instructions to do everything possible to establish friendly relations and to observe local customs (Hall: 264). Proceeding along the north-east coast of Sumatra, the coast of North Java, passing Buro, Ambon and Ceram, the pilot, Francisco Rodrigues, who accompanied Abreu’s expedition, started to gather the first cartographic material of the area by personal observation and copying indigineous maps (Cortesão: 59), including Java and Ambon. The Moluccas were not reached, but Abreu managed to load cloves, mace and nutmeg on Banda, before returning to Ma­lacca. Serrão’s nau was ship­wrecked on an inhabited island but he was rescued by the people of Hitu, Ambon, who brought him to Ternate, the ”paradise of cloves” (Prestage: 166). He soon gained the ruler’s confidence, became his counsellor and close friend and as the general advised on the constant wars with the Sultan of the neighbouring island, Tidore. Writing to his per­sonal friend Fernão de Maga­lhães that he ”had discovered a new world, bigger and richer than that of Vasco da Gama”[6] might have been responsible for Magalhães’ voyage 1521 (Prestage: 166) as because of the information contained in these letters the Spanish later trusted Magelhães with the circumnavigation of the world that lead him to the Molucca Islands.


[1] Maluco in Portuguese texts of the 16th century: i.g. Rodrigues’ legend on one of his maps: ”estas quatro Ilhas Azuis ssam as de malluquo homde nace ho crauo” (Albuquerque: 755).

[2] the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Majapahit (1293 – 1520) had controlled most of the Indonesian archipelago, but went to a rapid decline during the late 15th century.

[3] ”os Rex das Jlhas sam mouros nam muytº emcarnados na seyta mujtos sam mouros sem sere circumsidados E nam sam mujtos os mouros os Jemtyos De quatro partes as tres E mais” (Pires: 443).

[4] Simão Afonso Bisagudo in some texts (Thomaz: 548)

[5] João de Barros (cit. by Thomaz: 548)

[6] ”outro novo mundo maior e mais remoto e rico do que descobrira o Almirante D. Vasco da Gama” (Cortesão: 56).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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University of Lisbon – Faculdade das Letras
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Presença Portuguesa Ilhas Moluccas Historia Expansao Descobrimentos Portugueses




Title: A Presença Portuguesa nas Ilhas das Moluccas 1511 - 1605