segunda-feira, 7 de novembro de 2016

Lusophone opportunities in the Indian Ocean

O artigo em baixo foi inicialmente publicado na revista The Brussels Europe Press Club Magazine nº5, de Novembro de 2015.

Lusophone opportunities in the Indian Ocean
by António Vieira da Cruz

Por mares nunca de antes navegados
Passaram ainda além da Taprobana
(Luís Vaz de Camões, “Os Lusíadas”, Canto I)

Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean
Portuguese is the 6th largest language in the world by number of native speakers and it is spoken by around 250 million people in the five continents. [1] But we might say that Portuguese culture is a tale of three oceans: the Atlantic, the Indian and the Pacific. Most of the times we hear news in Portuguese from Atlantic Brazil, Angola or Portugal; we may also think of Macau and Portuguese interactions with Pacific China or Japan; instead, I chose to write here about our relation with the Indian Ocean. By travelling through this ocean you will certainly face many people with Portuguese surnames, find Portuguese fortresses and churches, or even taste Portuguese cuisine influence in local gastronomy. There is a strong link between those people, those places and Portuguese culture. This is the intangible value of lusophony. But we can go forward – as Portuguese sailors did in the past – and find also very tangible ways to connect people and produce wealth.

Today, 90% of international trade and two thirds of all petroleum supplies travel by sea. Around 70% of the world traffic of petroleum products passes through the Indian Ocean. [2] What happens in the Indian Ocean always had repercussions in other regions. Two proverbs from the 15th century are significant: one says “if the world were an egg, Hormuz would be its yolk”; the other said “whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice”. [3] Well, the Portuguese conquered both Hormuz (1507) and Malacca (1511). When the Portuguese conquered Malacca, Ming China’s economy suffered. [4] Former President Hu Jintao recognized China’s “Malacca Dilemma”, by which the country is still dependent on the strait for over 25% of its exports and 15% of its imports. [5] Moreover, “40% of world trade passes through the Strait of Malacca and 40% of all traded crude oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz.” [6]

From the early 16th century until mid 17th century we may say Portugal dominated trade in the Indian Ocean by setting up forts at the important straits and ports along the coasts of Africa and Asia. Like Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid draw maps to sail in the Mediterranean Sea, we could use The Thousand and One Nights’ Sindbad the Sailor story or Camões’s The Lusiads to sail in the Indian Ocean. From Camões we will find some clues to understand the importance of the Indian Ocean to Portugal and vice-versa. Inspired by the poet I would like to enumerate some key places for the lusophony, starting by South Africa and going through three continents by the ocean’s coastline until the end in Australia.

Cape Town, South Africa
The first European to cross the cape was Bartolomeu Dias in 1488. Until then the cape was called “Cape of Storms” (Cabo das Tormentas), but it was renamed by King John II of Portugal as “Cape of Good Hope” (Cabo da Boa Esperança), revealing his optimism to find a sea route to India. Camões writes about Adamastor, a terrible monster that sunk many ships and tells how the heroic Portuguese sailors overcame this obstacle. [7] The main exports of Cape Town are wine, petroleum products, grapes, apples, pears and quinces. It is also worthy to mention the growing tourism industry and the relevant financial, business services and real estate sectors.

Mozambique is the biggest Portuguese-speaking country in the Indian Ocean. Gas reserves are estimated to be the fourth largest in the world. [8] Mining and quarrying sectors accounted for 1.5% of the economy and energy accounted for 5%. However these sectors were expected to expand by more than 10% per year due to increased output of coal and gas. Important mineral extracted in the country are aluminum (2% of world’s production), beryllium (5%) and tantalum (6%). There is also a significant extraction of marble and production of cement. The main agricultural products in Mozambique are cotton, sugar cane, cashew, copra and cassava.

Zanzibar, Tanzania
Vasco da Gama passed in Zanzibar in 1498 and the island became a Portuguese possession for almost two centuries (1503-1698). Zanzibar's main industries are spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper), raffia, and tourism. The island where Freddie Mercury was born also exports seaweed. It is relatively autonomous from mainland Tanzania and Saul Bernard Cohen points out the island’s geopolitical potential: “the durability of the union of Zanzibar and Tanganika is increasingly in doubt. Should Zanzibar become independent, it could benefit from its location to become a gateway state linking East Africa to South Asia and Middle Eastern areas oriented to the Indian Ocean.” [9]

Mombasa, Kenya
Vasco da Gama was not well received by the King of Mombasa, who tried to ambush his units. With 1.3 million people, Mombasa is now the 2nd largest city of Kenya and it was part of the Portuguese Empire for more than 100 years (1593-1698 and 1728-1729). Mombasa has the largest port of Kenya and exports refined oil and cement. Tourism is its main industry.

Malindi (Melinde), Kenya
Pillar of Vasco da Gama in Melinde
Contrasting with the hostile reception south in Mombasa, Vasco da Gama was very well received by the Sheik of Malindi. This is where in The Lusiads the hero Vasco da Gama narrates a part of Portugal’s History. That is already a good reason to visit the place. In reality they signed a trade agreement and the Portuguese explorer hired a Muslim sailor– probably Ahmad ibn Mājid El-Melindi – to guide him through the Indian Ocean water until India. Then, the main exports of Malindi were ivory, rhino horns and agricultural products such as coconuts, oranges, millet and rice. In 1499 the Portuguese established a trading post in Malindi that served as a resting stop on the way to and from India. Malindi remained the center of Portuguese activity in the Eastern Africa until 1593 when the main base was moved to Mombasa. Nowadays the main industries in the region are tourism, cement and cashew.

Adding to the previous mentioned conquests of Hormuz and Malacca, we must ackowledge other strategic places that the Portuguese conquered, such as Socotra Island (Yemen) and Aden (Yemen) to control the entry of the Red Sea; Muscat (Oman), Sohar (Oman), Khor Fakkan (United Arab Emirates), Bahrain, Qeshm (Iran) and Bandar Abbas (Iran) to – with the help of Hormuz (Iran) – control the Persian Gulf.

India and Ceylon
The Portuguese presence in India is well known and lasted for 450 years. I will not take long about this here. Places like Goa, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Aveli, Diu, Kochi, Cannanore or Calecut were part of the Portuguese Empire. Also Mumbai was Portuguese for 127 years (1534-1661) and it was given to the British as a wedding dowry when Portuguese Queen Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II of England. This Portuguese queen was the one who introduced in English society the culture of tea and the use of a fork at the dining table. And today, Mumbai is the largest city in India and one of the world’s biggest with more than 12 million inhabitants. Spices and tea were the main imports from Portuguese India and Ceylon. Ceylon was Portuguese for 153 years (1505-1658), until it was conquered by the Dutch. Nevertheless, there are still many lusophone elements in current Sri Lanka and many people still bear their Portuguese names. Besides tea, Sri Lanka is rich in rubber, coconut and graphite. It is also important to note Sri Lanka’s tourism growing industry and its indisputable centrality in the Indian Ocean.

Chittagong, Bangladesh; and Bago, Myanmar
Also known by Portuguese as Chatigão or Porto Grande de Bengala, Chittagong has now a population of 7 million people and it is the second largest in Bangladesh. In 1598 there were around 2500 Portuguese in Chittagong. In 1616 Chittagong and the island of Sundiva were conquered and the remaining Portuguese people dedicated themselves to piracy. There are many descendents from Portuguese in that area and I met some Christians with Portuguese surnames still. Main industries nowadays are shipping, tea, consumer foods, textiles, cement, real estate and tourism. Chittagong is also central in the BCIM international commercial corridor, which will link Kunming (China) to Mandalay (Myanmar), Chittagong (Bangladesh), Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (India). Likewise, other Portuguese adventurers went south to Myanmar and installed themselves in the Kingdom of Pegu (now Bago). Two of them were even acclaimed as kings: Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa and Filipe de Brito e Nicote. Unfortunately, that history did not end well. Brito e Nicote was impaled, his troops were made prisoners for life. Their descendents are still Christians, have Portuguese names and faces and can be found in rural areas in Ava and Bago areas. They are known as the “Bayingyi”. [10]

East Timor
Finally, and leaving many lusophone places to name, we must consider a country that has Portugal’s best support: East Timor. Where the Indian Ocean ends and the Pacific Ocean starts, the eastern part of the island of Timor was governed by the Portuguese and it is a Portuguese-speaking country on the other side of the world. Timor has been developing a partnership with Australia for the extraction of petroleum and natural gas resources in the waters southeast of East Timor. Regarding Australia, some theorists say that the first Europeans to reach Australia were Portuguese. But what we know for sure is that there is a large hardworking Portuguese community in Australia nowadays. [11]

Like the Portuguese, other great nations explored the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans, the Omanis, other Arabs and Persians, the Chinese, the Dutch, the French, the English, and now the Americans, the Indians and the Chinese again, all of them had different experiences on the region. But as we see the Portuguese experience is especially rich. If we dare to rediscover the lusophone Indian Ocean and reconnect with its people, we may find a very interesting advantage for trade and investments. For that, we must embrace lusophone values like the courage to turn a Cape of Storms into a Cape of Good Hope; or to partner with valuable people to achieve better results, like Vasco da Gama and Ahmad ibn Mājid did in Melinde; to think strategically like Afonso de Albuquerque did; and to conquer the hearts of native people, like St. Francis Xavier did in Goa and Malacca where he is venerated still today. So, the remaining question is… when will you start your lusophone enterprise?



[3] KAPLAN, Robert D., in “Monsoon”, p. 7, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York 2011.
[4] KAPLAN, Robert D., in “Monsoon”, p. 10, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York 2011.
[7] CAMÕES, Luís Vaz de, in “Os Lusíadas”
[9] COHEN, Saul Bernard, in “Geopolitics of the World system”, p. 376, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Oxford 2003

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