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mardi 24 mars 2015


 I had only one purpose looking through the graves at the Grave Island off the coast of Zanzibar.
Would I be able to identify any Jewish names amidst the medieval miscellany of the tombs.  Alas, I failed. Back at the StoneTown in Zanzibar (Zinj il Barr  the land of the Blacks, the Arab traders had called it), I engaged anyone who would give me a history lesson, but 1498 was too far into the oblivion.
My aim was to find out whether or not Jews from the Malabar Coast had assisted Vasco da Gama in his journey from East Africa to Calicut on the Malabar Coast. The Jewish trading presence was already well known on the spice coast for centuries. Abraham ben Yiju, a tunisian jew was already well established in Mangalore in the 12th century and his trusted assistant travelled to and fro Mangalore to Aden.
The news I could glean in Zanzibar was that a malabari moslem by the name of Mohammed or Ahmed had shown Vasco da Gama the way!
But in the back of my mind, there must have been some Jews who might have helped Da Gama.. after all he was interested in Spice Trade..
The answer arrived as I was perusing through a volume called India and Portugese. As I was reading through the chapter on Cochin, a name suddenly appears, Gaspar da Gama! He pretended to be a Moslem, calling himself Mahomet in the employ of Sultan of Bijaupur..then he confesses to be a christian, hobnobbing with the newly arrived Portugese..
Vasco da Gama, knowing that there was something exotic about him, but not wanting to behead him but use him for his linguistic abilities, Gaspar spoke both Arabic and Hebrew as well as could make himself understood in Spanish, thus communicating with the Portugese.

Truth comes out, Gaspar, his original name is lost to antiquity was a POLISH JEW, born in Poznan in Poland, forced to flee Poland because of royal decree of expulsion of the Jews. He became very useful to the Vasco da Gama as well as the Portugese empire. Historians credit him to be the first european to set foot on Brasil and the South American continent, with Pedro Cabral who later arrived in Cochin.
Despite his multiple conversions, Vasco da Gama was his godfather when he converted to Catholicism, Gaspar married a Jewess from Cochin with whom he had children.
For many other Jews, anthropologists, writers and professors of religion, including this professor from Cuba, Gaspar must be made our Patron Saint.. one of the many improbable Jewish souls of the Malabar Coast!

I am unashamedly Lusophilic..Cabo Verde, Cochin, Malacca, Syriam, Brasil are constantly on my mind. While the Jewish-Portugese relationships over the centuries had been stormy, individual stories like the one above warms my heart.
and of course, I have had close relationships with the Portugese Jews of Jamaica...

Would you like one or two eggs and how would you like them cooked, asked the first Prime Minister of Barabados, Mr Erroll Barrow. at his home in Barbados.
When he knew I was Jewish, he revealed a little known secret, he was a descendant of Baruch Lozada families who had fled the Dutch Brasil in the 17th Century!
here are some information:the marriage of Gracia Baruh Lousada to David Raphael de Mercado may evidence a family link formed earlier via Recife/Livorno trade before the Portuguese reconquest of Dutch Brazil. The Mercados, having left Recife (in Dutch Brazil) in 1654 or thereabouts, promptly used the access that David Abravenel and Simon de Caceres had with Cromwell to secure a pass to Barbados in 1655 and it would seem that they came to Barbados from London soon thereafter . Their remarkably prompt relocation to Barbados from Dutch Brazil shows that they probably knew of the potential for sugar in Barbados - the early history of Barbados  shows that the Barbados sugar pioneer James Drax visited Recife to take advice on sugar from the Jewish planters there. Because Gracia's brothers Aaron, Abraham and David Baruh Lousada seem to have got to Barbados somewhat later than the Mercados - our earliest indication from ref 5 is 1659 - perhaps the marriage was a key factor in drawing them to Barbados