featured posts


CUBA IS THE FUTURE FOR LATIN AMERICA AND PERHAPS THE WORLD On my way out of Cuba, from La Habana, on COPA airlines flight to Panama, I w...

jeudi 28 août 2014





He had a question for me. Would you be able to organize a week long trip for some of us enthusiasts from this part of the world to Oman and Hormuz to visit places that the great navigator had visited?
First reaction was fear.. I am a Jew and Hormuz is in Iran and   currently not very friendly towards Jews! Oman is my favorite  Moslem country in that region, and the great navigator stayed a while at Salalah, a region I am familiar with.
But what about Hormuz?
Lately the news from that region has not been good, but once Hormuz held the region and the world in awe.
Here are some descriptions:
The Strait of Hormuz lies sandwiched between Iran on the north and Oman on the south at the entrance to the Persian Gulf between 56° and 57° E and 26° and 27° N. No more than 52 kilometres wide, it presents a formidable, twisting, waisted entrance to ships passing between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman part of the larger Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. To the west lies Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Palestine and to the east, the Mekran, Oman, Afghanistan and India. On the northern side of the strait and 8 kilometres off the coast of Iran lies the island of Hormuz. Small, desolate and barren, this island was selected about AD 1300 to become the new town of Hormuz and replace the old one (otherwise known as Minab) on the mainland of Iran. Here it grew and prospered for over 300 years until once again it moved back to the mainland but west of the old town of Hormuz (Minab) and was renamed Bandar Abbas.
Throughout history the strait and the towns of Hormuz have been of strategic and commercial importance in the region. It begins in antiquity and the early trade that passed through the strait and continues up to present time, when the Strait of Hormuz once again assumed political and economic importance through the numerous oilfields in or about the Persian Gulf on which the Western economies are so heavily dependent. They are an integral part of the Middle East and the legend of wealth that has always been associated with it. Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, referred to the wealth of the Middle East in one of his Odes about 23 BC, seven years after Cleopatra’s death:

You who are richer than
The unplundered treasure chests of the Arabian
Sheikhs and the rajah kings ...[1]

With the defeat of the Portuguese in 1622 and the advent of the English to the area, accounts and stories of Hormuz’s wealth circulated in Europe and in England. John Milton, who for a period of time was Latin (foreign) Secretary to Oliver Cromwell, drawing from Peter Heylen’sCosmographie … containing the chorographic and historic of the world published in 1652 [2] wrote in 1665 of Hormuz in Paradise Lost:

High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormuz and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold. [3]

As when to them who sail
Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past
Mozambic, off at Sea North-East winds blow
Sabean odors from the spicy shore
of Araby the Blest, with such delay
Well pleas’d they slack their course, and many a league
Cheer’d with the grateful smell old Ocean smile.[4]

Wealth and the great diversity of peoples living and trading at Hormuz is a constant theme in the narratives and accounts that follow. It had not diminished by the end of the 18th century when the French historian Abbé T. G. F. Raynal wrote the following account of Hormuz in his history published in 1770:

Hormúz became the capital of an empire … it afforded a more splendid and agreeable scene than any city in the East. Persons from all parts of the globe exchanged their commodities and transacted their business with an air of politeness and attention …. The streets were covered with mats and in some places with carpet, and the linen awnings which were suspended from the tops of the houses, prevented any inconvenience from the heat of the sun … Camels laden with water were stationed in the public squares. Persian wines, perfumes, and all the delicacies of the table were furnished in great abundance, and they had the music of the East in its highest perfection … In short, universal opulence, an extensive commerce, politeness in the men and gallantry in the women, united all their attractions to make this city the seat of pleasure.[5]

Raynal’s account is that of Hormuz at its zenith at the end of the 16th century when it was an important commercial centre with, it is said, up to 40,000 people whose existence depended on trade by land and sea. In 1622 when Portuguese rule of the island and dominance of the region was removed by the Persians and the English, the town not only lost its position as a commercial centre but was moved to the mainland.  The decline of the island was rapid and although the English considered taking over from the Portuguese, the Persians had already set about establishing the new town of Hormuz, Bandar Abbas, on the mainland by dismantling the old. In contrast to Raynal we have an account by A.W. Stiffe of the Indian Navy who visited the island of Hormuz in March 1873 and found:

A few soldiers or armed men hold the old fort as a sort of military post for the Governor of Bandar ‘Abbasi. The place is rarely visited by a European vessel…. Of the Arab city, the most important ruin is a minaret, about 70 feet high…. Of the rest of the city nothing remains except mounds strewn with broken pottery …. [Of the houses] They are all more or less ruinous’ and estimated 200 men in the modern village.[6]

For the purpose of the visit, I have highlighted an important fact in red above.
During the visit of Admiral Zheng He, the port of Hormuz was in the island of Hormuz 

this island can be easily reached by ferry from Bandar Abbas in the mainland of Iran.
The Portuguese Fort is still seen, hundreds of years after its abandonment

So, Dr T, the destination is certain to be the island and perhaps we can discover something of the visit of the great admiral Zheng He..
Like the Chinese Nets and Cheena Barani of Cochin, the great admiral may have left behind something in Hormuz!

Cheng Ho 15c.

The eunuch-admiral Cheng Ho[1] made seven exploratory voyages to the China seas, India and the east coast of Africa in the early part of the fifth century with large fleets and thousands of men. The first six voyages were under the patronage of the Ming Emperor Ch’eng-tsu[2] (reigned 1403-1425).[3] On the seventh expedition, the fleet reached Hormuz. The purpose of the voyages is not known but some details were recorded by an interpreter, Ma Huan.[4]
After three successful expeditions, the Yongle emperor of China stated that ‘seas had been conquered and there was quiet in the four corners’ and announced on 18 December 1412 the fourth and largest of the seven expeditions which would sail into the Persian Gulf to Hormuz. What it was that Zhu Di, the third Ming emperor, wished to achieve is not certain apart from the allure of the wealth of Hormuz and the prospect of trade with the renowned foreign merchants that resided there. However Zhu Di was approaching the zenith of his reign and vast projects were underway or being initiated. The fourth expedition to Hormuz was the largest yet assembled and consisted of 63 vessels and 28,560 men but with the additional preparation it did not leave the Fujian coast of China till January 1414. For the expedition, Zheng He, the Chinese admiral, recruited Ma Huan, a Moslem, to act as Arabic translator and who was eventually to become the main chronicler of the expedition.
With various stops en route in the South China Seas, and some partitioning of the fleet to other areas such as Bengal, the expedition left the Indian coast directly for Hormuz. It took them 25 days to reach Hormuz, considerably shorter than the voyage of 1432 would take of 34 days. Ma Huan records that the people were “very rich” and their dress “handsome, distinctive, elegant” and that there were no poor people because “if a family meets with misfortune resulting in poverty, everyone gives them clothes and food and capital, and relieves their distress.” The Chinese traded their “porcelains and silks” for “jewels, woolens and carpets” and received gifts of “lions, leopards and Arabian horses” as tributes to the Chinese emperor.[5]
The expedition returned to China the following summer in 1415. It was not until 12 January 1432 under Zhu Zhanji, the Xuande emperor and grandson of Zhu Di, that the seventh and largest expedition set sail from China with more than 100 ships and 27,500 men arriving at Calicut in India on 10 December 1432. From there the eunuch Hong Bao separated from the main fleet and proceeded to Hormuz, other Arab cities, including Aden and Dhofar, and ports on the east African coast. In July 1433 the treasure fleet returned to China and sailed into the Yangzi River. On 14 September, the ambassadors of Sumatra, Ceylon, Calicut and Cochin, Hormuz, Dhufar, Aden and other Arab states paid tribute at Fengtian Palace. This was to be the last expedition.[6]
The interpreter, Ma Huan, wrote a book, Ying-Yai Sheng-lan or The Overall Survey of the Oceans’ Shores which was completed about 1433 and describes in some detail the locations visted during Zheng He’s expeditions. There is a section on the ‘country of Hu-lo-mo-ssu’ or Hormuz which gives details of customs and other facts not usually found in european dialogues but Ma Huan does not refer to it as being an island. However the Indian Ocean section of a nautical chart from Zheng He’s expedition clearly indicates Hormuz as being an island between the main coast of Persia and the promontory of the Musandam.[7]
The section is reproduced here in full:

Setting sail from the country of Ku-li, you go towards the north-west; [and] you can reach [this place] after travelling with a fair wind for twenty-five days. The capital lies beside the sea and up against the mountains.
Foreign ships from every place and foreign merchants travelling by land all come to this country to attend the market and trade; hence the people of the country are all rich.
The king of the country and the people of the country all profess the Muslim religion; they are reverent, meticulous, and sincere believers; every day they pray five times, [and] they bathe and practise abstinence. The customs are pure and honest. There are no poor families; if a family meets with misfortune resulting in poverty, everyone gives them clothes and food and capital, and relieves their distress.
The limbs and faces of the people are refined and fair, and they are stalwart and fine-looking. Their clothing and hats are handsome, distinctive, and elegant.
In their marriage- and funeral-rites they all obey the regulations of the Muslim religion.
When a man marries a wife, he first employs a go-between, and after the rites have been complied with, the man’s family arranges a feast, to which he invites the chia-ti—the chia-ti is the official who superintends the regulations of the religion—[Page 64] and the people in charge of the wedding, and the go-between, [and] the eldest of the relatives. The two families inform each other about their local origin and antecedents for three generations back, and after the execution of the marriage-documents has been settled, they later choose a day for concluding the marriage. Were not this done, the authorities would regard it as adultery and punish them.
If a man dies, they use a white cloth to robe [the body] at both the full dressing and the first dressing; they have a pitcher full of clean water, and take the body and wash it from head to foot two or three times; after the cleansing, they fill the mouth and nose of the body with musk and camphor; then they wrap it in shrouds, put it in the coffin, and bury it immediately.
The grave is built with layers of stone; [and] at the bottom of the grave they spread five or six ts’un of clean sand; they carry the coffin thither and then remove the coffin, merely taking the body and placing it in the stone grave; they securly cover the top with stone slabs, and superimpose clean earth, making a thick and well-rammed grave-mound, very solid and neat.
In their diet the people must use butter; it is mixed and cooked in with their food. In the market roast mutton, roast chicken, roast meat, wafer-cakes, ha-la-sa, and all kinds of cereal foods—all these are for sale. Many families of two or three persons do not make up a fire to prepare a meal—they merely buy cooked food to eat.
The king uses silver to cast a coin names a ti-na-erh; the diameter, [in terms of] our official ts’un, is six fen; on the reverse side it has lines; the weight is four fen on our official steelyard; it is in universal use.
Their writing is all in Muslim characters.
Their market-places have all kinds of shops, with articles of every description; only they have no wine-shops; [for] according to the law of the country wine-drinkers are executed.
Civil and military officals, physicians, and diviners are decidely superior to those of other places. Experts in every kind of art and craft—all these they have.
Their juggling and acrobatic performances are none of them unusual; but there is [Page 65] one kind [of unusual performance]—[in which] a goat mounts a high pole—; [this] is most amusing; for this trick they use a wooden pole about one chang long; on the top of this wooden pole, it is only just possible to set the four hooves of the goat on the wood; they take the pole, set it firmly on the ground, and hold it steady; [then] the man leads up a small white billy-goat; he claps his hands and does a sing-song; the goat capers about to the beat of the drum, and comes up close to the pole.
First, it takes its two fore-feet and places them firmly on the pole; next, it takes its two hind-feet and with one jerk sets them on the pole; next, a man takes a wooden pole and leans it over the front of the goat’s legs; the goat again takes its two fore-feet and places them on the top of the pole; afterwards it takes its two hind-legs and raises them with a jerk; whereupon the man holds the pole steady; while standing on the tops of the two poles, the goat makes posturing movements like dancing gestures; [a man] brings another pole and joins it on, adding five or six lengths in succession to the top and increasing the height by about a chang; after the [goat] has stopped dancing, it stands upon the middle pole; whereupon the man pushes away the pole and catches the goat in his hands.
The again, he will order [the goat] to lie on the ground and appear to be dead; when he orders it to stretch out its fore-legs, it stretches out its fore-[legs]; [and] when he orders it to stretch out its hind-legs, it stretches out its hind-[legs].
Then again, there is [a man who] takes along a large black monkey about three ch’ih high; after it has performed all manner of tricks, [the man] directs a bystander to take a kerchief, fold it up several times, and tie it tightly round both eyes of the monkey; he directs a different person to give the monkey a surreptitious hit on the head and hide himself in the thick of the crowd; after this [the man] releases the kerchief and directs [the monkey] to seek out the person who struck him on the head; however vast the crowd, the monkey goes straight to the man who originally [struck him] and picks him [Page 66] out; it is most strange.
The climate of the country [includes] cold weather and hot weather; in the spring the flowers bloom, and in the autumn the leaves fall; they have frost, [but] no snow; rain is rare, [but] the dew heavy.
They have one large mountain, the four faces of which produce four kinds of articles. One face produces salt, like that of the sea-side—red in colour; the people chisel out a lump with an iron hoe—like quarrying stone; some lumps weigh thrity or forty chin; moreover, it is not damp, and when they want to eat it, they pound it into powder for use. One face produces red earth—like the red colour of vermilion. One face produces white earth—like lime; it can be used for white-washing walls. One face produces yellow earth—like the yellow colour of turmeric.
In all cases chiefs are ordered to superintend [the quarrying]. Of course they have travelling merchants who come from every place to purchase [these products] and sell them to be used.
The land produces rice and wheat, [but] not much; it is all bought in different places and comes here to be sold; the price is extremely cheap.
For fruits they have walnuts, pa-tan fruit, pine-nuts, pomegranates, raisins, dried peaches, apples, Persian dates, water-melons, cucumbers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, carrots, melons, and other such things. The carrots—red, and as large as a lotus-root—are very plentiful. The melons are very large; some [stand] two ch’ih high. The walnuts have a thin white shell, which breaks when you squeeze it in the hand. The pine-nuts are about a ts’un long.
The raisins are of three or four kinds; one kind resembles a dried date, and is purple; one kind is as large as a lotus-seed, has no pips, and is candied; [and] one kind is round, as large as a white bean, and rather white in colour. The pa-tan fruit resembles a walnut; [Page 67] it is pointed, long, and white; [and] inside there is a kernel which in flavour surpasses the flesh of the walnut. The pomegranates are as large as tea-cups. The apples are as big as [one’s] fist—very fragrant and delicious.
The Persian dates are also of three kinds. One kind bears the foreign name of to-sha-pu; each fruit is as large as [one’s] thumb; it has a small stone; it is candied, like granulated sugar; [and], being excessively sweet, it is not pleasant to eat. One kind is mashed and made into twenty or thirty large lumps; it has the taste of a good dried persimmon and of a date-plum. One kind resembles a jujube, [but] is somewhat larger; the taste is rather acrid; [and] the people use it to feed the cattle.
In this place they have all the precious merchandise from every foreign country.
Further, there are blue, red, and yellow ya-ku stones, and red la, tsu-pa-pitsu-mu-la, cat’s-eyes’, diamonds, and large pearls—as big as longan fruits, and one ch’ien two or three fen in weight—, coral-tree beads, branches, and stems, and golden amber, amber beads, rosary beads, wax amber, black amber (of which the foreign name issa-pai-chih), all kinds of beautiful jade utensils, crystal utensils, and ten kinds of flowered pieces of brocaded velvet (on which the nap rises one or two fen, the length being two chang and the breadth one chang), woollens of every kind, sa-ha-la [cloth], felt, mo crepe, mo gauze, all kinds of foreign kerchiefs with blue and red silk embroidery, and other such kinds of things—all these are for sale. Camels, horses, mules, oxen, and goats are plentiful.
Their goats are of four kinds. One kind is the big-tailed sheep; each animal weighs seventy or eighty chin; the tail is more than one ch’ih broad, [Page 68] drags along the ground, and weighs more than twenty ch’in. One kind is the dog-tailed goat; it resembles a mountain goat; [and] the tail is more than two ch’ih long. One kind is the fighting goat; its height is two ch’ih seven or eight ts’un; on the front half portion the hair is long and drags on the ground; on the back half portion it is all trimmed clean; the head, face, neck, and forehead resemble the sheep; the horns curve round towards the front; [and] on them it carries a small iron plate, which makes a sound when [the animal] moves; this goat by nature delights in fighting; [and] novelty-seekers rear it in their houses so that it may fight for money-wagers with [the animals of other] men as a sport.
Again, [the place] produces a kind of animal called ‘fly-o’er-the-grass’; the foreign name is hsi-ya-kuo-shih; it is as big as a large cat; all over its body [it has markings] exactly like tortoise-shell or cantharides; the two ears are pointed and black; its nature is mild, not vicious; if lions, leopards, or other such fierce beasts see it, they prostrate themselves on the ground; indeed it is king among the beasts.
The king of this country, too, took a ship and loaded it with lions, ch’I-lin, horses, pearls, precious stones, and other such things, also a memorial to the throne [written on] a golden leaf; [and] he sent his chiefs and other men, who accompanied the treasure-ships despatched by the Emperor, which were returning from the Western Ocean; [and] they went to the capital and presented tribute.[8]

The envoys that returned with the fleet to China were Ma-la-tsu and others. 

[1] also spelt as Zheng He.
[2] also spelt as Zhu Di.
[3] #309 Wiethoff, Bodo, trans. Whittal, Mary, Introduction to Chinese History, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1975 ~ p. 49.
[4] #195 ed. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Times Atlas of World Exploration, Times Books, London, 1991 ~ pp. 22-3
[5] #311 Levathes, Louise, When China Ruled the Seas, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994 ~ pp.139-140. It is not certain whether it was here or in Calicut that Zheng He met merchants from east Africa that he persuaded to return with him to China.
[6] #311 Levathes, Louise, When China Ruled the Seas, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994 ~ pp. 169-172. An idea of the size of Zheng He's treasure ships can be guaged by their length of about 400 feet in comparison to the Portuguese galleons of about 100 feet. An illustration of the comparative sizes is given in #311 Levathes, Louise, When China Ruled the Seas, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994 ~ p. 21. The Wu bei zhi (records of military preparations, 1621) contained reproductions of Zheng He's stellar diagrams used for navigation. One used to help the fleet navigate from Hormuz back to India is given in #311 Levathes, Louise, When China Ruled the Seas, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994 ~ p. 97. Zhu Di is also translated as Ch'eng-tsu and Zheng He as Cheng Ho. Embassies from Hormuz went to China four times during the period of these expeditions, #309 Wiethoff, Bodo, trans. Whittal, Mary, Introduction to Chinese History, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1975 ~ p.153.
[7] #95 Chang, Kuei-Sheng, The Ming Maritime Enterprise and China's knowledge of Africa prior to the age of great discoveries, Terrae Incognitae, Amsterdam, 1971, vol. III, pp. 33-44 ~ pp. 38-39
[8] #329 Ma Huan, Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan, The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores 1433, Cambridge University Press for the Hakluyt Society, Cambridge, 1970 ~  pp.165-172

I don't think it is safe for me to travel to Iran or Hormuz at this crucial period of crisis in the Middle East, but I would be more than willing to wait for them at the Musandam Peninsula in Oman..

Notes on Hormuz are from Essays on Hormuz by Peter B Rowland