Kwasi Konadu

African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean

African History 360Kwasi KonaduComment

Known as Siddis or Habshis in India, Africans have lived in South Asia for some two millennia. Over time, they played crucial roles in the politics, economies, religions, cultures, and arts of the region, especially in western parts of India. Though a large number came to the region as captive persons through Arab slavers across the Indian Ocean, numerous Siddis ascended to positions of power and authority in the military and government of various India rulers, and some even became rulers themselves between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. Two such persons were famed Siddi ruler Malik Ambar, who ruled Ahmednagar until his death in 1626, and his son Fateh Khan, who became governor of Janjira and its fort in 1655. Janjira was important for trade and Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca. Its importance is also supported by the failure of European naval powers to capture it and conquer the Siddis of Janjira, who continued to rule the fort.

Fateh Khan became the governor of Janjira in 1655, in the midst of declining Portuguese power in the Indian Ocean region, especially with increased pressure from the British. Fateh Khan found himself, however, in a precarious position: he pretended to be friendly with his enemies, but also came to the Portuguese for help against his foes. Meanwhile, the Portuguese wrestled with Khan and his rival Shivaji. Khan was eventually detained by his three enslaved “Abyssinians.” The Portuguese supplied Khan with arms, provisions, and soldiers because his fort at Janjira helped the Portuguese safeguard their possessions. Both Shivaji and Khan tried to push back against the British, Dutch and French. In 1668, Fateh Khan turned to the Portuguese and became their feudatory through a capitulation agreement, which appears below. The Portuguese then backed the Siddis against Shivaji, who died in 1680.

Ruins inside the majestic Janjira Fort (source: www.outlookindia.com)

Ruins inside the majestic Janjira Fort (source: www.outlookindia.com)

The copy of the conditions that João Nunes da Cunha, Count of São Vicente, Viceroy, and General Captain of Portuguese State of India (Estado da Índia), gentleman of the imperial house of S.A. accepts as feudatory of the State of India, the illustrious Siddi Prince [Fateh Khan] and Mr. Danda Rajapury in the form of a capitulation agreement made and ordered by the Count of the Viceroy, Dom Jeronimo Manoel, a Royal Navy Admiral, General Captain of the Strait of Hormuz,[1] Counselor of His Majesty, Captain General of the Ships of India.

The Siddi [Fateh Khan] recognized his mistake, and [with] dissatisfaction that of all his governors committed in the administration of his dominions during his legal age. He had sent his three governors and guardians to behead some captured Portuguese, destroyed their boats, attempted to commit seditious attacks against the land and ports of the Portuguese State of India during the time they governed for him.

From today onwards, [Fateh Khan and his people] cannot sail any vessel without an authorization letter from the state. All vessels must pay two Arabian horses to the state, no matter if they have good relations or they are at war with the port.

As a result, today, Siddi [Fateh Khan] is forbidden to trade with all Arabian ports, and instead of paying Arabian horses, he will give forty bags (muras) of rice. He will deliver them to the overseer of your majesty of Chaul, and require his knowledge.

In fact, Siddi [Fateh Khan] can also have his overseer in this city, if it is necessary for the benefit of his contract and products. Four authorization letters will be given to Siddi [Fateh Khan] and his vassals to sail in any port, as long as the port does not belong to enemies or make illicit trade. However, Siddi [Fateh Khan] will pay only the rights to the Mughal King, and his vassals will pay the authorization letters that they request. As a way to show good friendship, Siddi [Fateh Khan] will receive a free authorization letter to sail a ship that could carry 500-600 candis (measure) weight.[2]  Once again, it is not allowed this boat to sail to any port that belongs to enemies or make illicit trade.

It has been said that the Viceroy is going to forget from now to the end of time, all inadequate correspondences made by Captains of that fort to the merchants, officers and soldiers of His Majesty.

In the name of His Majesty, the Viceroy takes and accepts Siddi [Fateh Khan] and all his successors as feudatories of the State of India, under the Viceroy’s protection, in order to help them in all their difficulties and needs using the forces of the state.

In case of the Siddi’s ship having been taken during an old war, the Viceroy will order to return it along with five horses offered gracefully to him as a gift.

Concerning the goods and everything else found in the Siddi’s ship, they would remain the property of the Royal Revenue of His Majesty. If these were to be divided according to the regiments, their portion would be restored to the Siddi’s vassals and those who came in the ship will be given their freedom.

According to these conditions, the Viceroy received the Siddi [Fateh Khan] under his protection and the Royal Arms of His Majesty. At the end of the capitulation agreement, it was signed by the Viceroy and it was stamped with the Royal Arms of His Majesty and the other by Mr. Fatecan [Fateh Khan] with his seal to this plate used, the Count [and] Viceroy [with] the seal of the Royal Arms of Portugal….

 

Source: Historical Archives of Goa, Pangim (Panaji), Livro de Pazes, Chaul, 5 May 1670, ff. 52-52v.

[1] Hormuz (in present-day Iran): Hormuz was captured in 1507 and it gave Portuguese a central point of trade between India and Europe through the Persian Gulf.

[2] candis (sg., khandi/candil): unit weight of measure

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