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Part I -Chapter I 


The Voyage To Abyssinia

The author arrives after some difficulties at Goa. Is chosen for the Mission of Aethiopia. The fate of those Jesuits who went by Zeila. The author arrives at the coast of Melinda.

I embarked in March, 1622, in the same fleet with the Count Vidigueira, on whom the king had conferred the viceroyship of the Indies, then vacant by the resignation of Alfonso Noronha, whose unsuccessful voyage in the foregoing year had been the occasion of the loss of Ormus, which being by the miscarriage of that fleet deprived of the succours necessary for its defence, was taken by the Persians and English. The beginning of this voyage was very prosperous: we were neither annoyed with the diseases of the climate nor distressed with bad weather, till we doubled the Cape of Good Hope, which was about the end of May. Here began our misfortunes; these coasts are remarkable for the many shipwrecks the Portuguese have suffered. The sea is for the most part rough, and the winds tempestuous; we had here our rigging somewhat damaged by a storm of lightning, which when we had repaired, we sailed forward to Mosambique, where we were to stay some time. When we came near that coast, and began to rejoice at the prospect of ease and refreshment, we were on the sudden alarmed with the sight of a squadron of ships, of what nation we could not at first distinguish, but soon discovered that they were three English and three Dutch, and were preparing to attack us. I shall not trouble the reader with the particulars of this fight, in which, though the English commander ran himself aground, we lost three of our ships, and with great difficulty escaped with the rest into the port of Mosambique.

This place was able to afford us little consolation in our uneasy circumstances; the arrival of our company almost caused a scarcity of provisions. The heat in the day is intolerable, and the dews in the night so unwholesome that it is almost certain death to go out with one's head uncovered. Nothing can be a stronger proof of the malignant quality of the air than that the rust will immediately corrode both the iron and brass if they are not carefully covered with straw. We stayed, however, in this place from the latter end of July to the beginning of September, when having provided ourselves with other vessels, we set out for Cochim, and landed there after a very hazardous and difficult passage, made so partly by the currents and storms which separated us from each other, and partly by continual apprehensions of the English and Dutch, who were cruising for us in the Indian seas. Here the viceroy and his company were received with so much ceremony, as was rather troublesome than pleasing to us who were fatigued with the labours of the passage; and having stayed here some time, that the gentlemen who attended the viceroy to Goa might fit out their vessels, we set sail, and after having been detained some time at sea, by calms and contrary winds, and somewhat harassed by the English and Dutch, who were now increased to eleven ships of war, arrived at Goa, on Saturday, the 16th of December, and the viceroy made his entry with great magnificence.

I lived here about a year, and completed my studies in divinity; in which time some letters were received from the fathers in Aethiopia, with an account that Sultan Segued, Emperor of Abyssinia, was converted to the Church of Rome, that many of his subjects had followed his example, and that there was a great want of missionaries to improve these prosperous beginnings. Everybody was very desirous of seconding the zeal of our fathers, and of sending them the assistance they requested; to which we were the more encouraged, because the emperor's letters informed our provincial that we might easily enter his dominions by the way of Dancala, but unhappily, the secretary wrote Zeila for Dancala, which cost two of our fathers their lives.

We were, however, notwithstanding the assurances given us by the emperor, sufficiently apprised of the danger which we were exposed to in this expedition, whether we went by sea or land. By sea, we foresaw the hazard we run of falling into the hands of the Turks, amongst whom we should lose, if not our lives, at least our liberty, and be for ever prevented from reaching the court of Aethiopia. Upon this consideration our superiors divided the eight Jesuits chosen for this mission into two companies. Four they sent by sea and four by land; I was of the latter number. The four first were the more fortunate, who though they were detained some time by the Turkish bassa, were dismissed at the request of the emperor, who sent him a zebra, or wild ass, a creature of large size and admirable beauty.

As for us, who were to go by Zeila, we had still greater difficulties to struggle with: we were entirely strangers to the ways we were to take, to the manners, and even to the names of the nations through which we were to pass. Our chief desire was to discover some new road by which we might avoid having anything to do with the Turks. Among great numbers whom we consulted on this occasion, we were informed by some that we might go through Melinda. These men painted that hideous wilderness in charming colours, told us that we should find a country watered with navigable rivers, and inhabited by a people that would either inform us of the way, or accompany us in it. These reports charmed us, because they flattered our desires; but our superiors finding nothing in all this talk that could be depended on, were in suspense what directions to give us, till my companion and I upon this reflection, that since all the ways were equally new to us, we had nothing to do but to resign ourselves to the Providence of God, asked and obtained the permission of our superiors to attempt the road through Melinda. So of we who went by land, two took the way of Zeila, and my companion and I that of Melinda.

Those who were appointed for Zeila embarked in a vessel that was going to Caxume, where they were well received by the king, and accommodated with a ship to carry them to Zeila; they were there treated by the check with the same civility which they had met with at Caxume. But the king being informed of their arrival, ordered them to be conveyed to his court at Auxa, to which place they were scarce come before they were thrown by the king's command into a dark and dismal dungeon, where there is hardly any sort of cruelty that was not exercised upon them. The Emperor of Abyssinia endeavoured by large offers to obtain their liberty, but his kind offices had no other effect than to heighten the rage of the king of Zeila. This prince, besides his ill will to Sultan Segued, which was kept up by some malcontents among the Abyssin nobility, who, provoked at the conversion of their master, were plotting a revolt, entertained an inveterate hatred against the Portuguese for the death of his grandfather, who had been killed many years before, which he swore the blood of the Jesuits should repay. So after they had languished for some time in prison their heads were struck off. A fate which had been likewise our own, had not God reserved us for longer labours!

Having provided everything necessary for our journey, such as Arabian habits, and red caps, calicoes, and other trifles to make presents of to the inhabitants, and taking leave of our friends, as men going to a speedy death, for we were not insensible of the dangers we were likely to encounter, amongst horrid deserts, impassable mountains, and barbarous nations, we left Goa on the 26th day of January in the year 1624, in a Portuguese galliot that was ordered to set us ashore at Pate, where we landed without any disaster in eleven days, together with a young Abyssin, whom we made use of as our interpreter. While we stayed here we were given to understand that those who had been pleased at Goa to give us directions in relation to our journey had done nothing but tell us lies. That the people were savage, that they had indeed begun to treat with the Portuguese, but it was only from fear, that otherwise they were a barbarous nation, who finding themselves too much crowded in their own country, had extended themselves to the sea- shore; that they ravished the country and laid everything waste where they came, that they were man-eaters, and were on that account dreadful in all those parts. My companion and I being undeceived by this terrible relation, thought it would be the highest imprudence to expose ourselves both together to a death almost certain and unprofitable, and agreed that I should go with our Abyssin and a Portuguese to observe the country; that if I should prove so happy as to escape being killed by the inhabitants, and to discover a way, I should either return, or send back the Abyssin or Portuguese. Having fixed upon this, I hired a little bark to Jubo, a place about forty leagues distant from Pate, on board which I put some provisions, together with my sacerdotal vestments, and all that was necessary for saying mass: in this vessel we reached the coast, which we found inhabited by several nations: each nation is subject to its own king; these petty monarchies are so numerous, that I counted at least ten in less than four leagues.

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