Tomé Pires

Tomé Pires

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Tomé Pires was an apothecary
Apothecary
Apothecary is a historical name for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica to physicians, surgeons and patients — a role now served by a pharmacist and some caregivers....

 from Lisbon
Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

 who spent 1512 to 1515 in Malacca
Malacca
Malacca , dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south...

 immediately after the Portuguese
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 conquest, at a time when Europeans were only first arriving in South East Asia. After his arduous experiences in India and the East Indies
East Indies
East Indies is a term used by Europeans from the 16th century onwards to identify what is now known as Indian subcontinent or South Asia, Southeastern Asia, and the islands of Oceania, including the Malay Archipelago and the Philippines...

, he headed the first official embassy from a European nation in China (Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 to the Emperor of China
Emperor of China
The Emperor of China refers to any sovereign of Imperial China reigning between the founding of Qin Dynasty of China, united by the King of Qin in 221 BCE, and the fall of Yuan Shikai's Empire of China in 1916. When referred to as the Son of Heaven , a title that predates the Qin unification, the...

, Zhengde
Zhengde Emperor
The Zhengde Emperor was emperor of China between 1505-1521. Born Zhu Houzhao, he was the Hongzhi Emperor's eldest son...

, during the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

), where he died.

Pires was apothecary to the ill-fated Afonso, Prince of Portugal, son of King John II
John II of Portugal
John II , the Perfect Prince , was the thirteenth king of Portugal and the Algarves...

 of Portugal. He went to India in 1511 invested as "factor of drugs", the Eastern commodities that were an important element of what is generally called "the spice trade
Spice trade
Civilizations of Asia were involved in spice trade from the ancient times, and the Greco-Roman world soon followed by trading along the Incense route and the Roman-India routes...

". In Malacca and Cochin he avidly collected and documented information from the Malay-Indonesia
Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

 area, and personally visited Java
Java
Java is an island of Indonesia. With a population of 135 million , it is the world's most populous island, and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. It is home to 60% of Indonesia's population. The Indonesian capital city, Jakarta, is in west Java...

, Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

 (the two dominant islands of modern-day Indonesia) and Maluku
Maluku Islands
The Maluku Islands are an archipelago that is part of Indonesia, and part of the larger Maritime Southeast Asia region. Tectonically they are located on the Halmahera Plate within the Molucca Sea Collision Zone...

.

The Suma Oriental


From his Malay-Indonesia travels, he wrote a landmark book on Asian trade, the Suma Oriental que trata do Mar Roxo até aos Chins (Summa
Summa
Summa and its diminutive summula are mainly used, in English and other modern languages, for texts that 'sum up' knowledge in a field, such as the compendiums of theology, philosophy and canon law which were used both as textbooks in the schools and as books of reference during the Middle...

 of the East, from the Red Sea up to the Chinese). He wrote the book in Malacca and India between 1512 and 1515, completing it before the death of Afonso de Albuquerque
Afonso de Albuquerque
Afonso de Albuquerque[p][n] was a Portuguese fidalgo, or nobleman, an admiral whose military and administrative activities as second governor of Portuguese India conquered and established the Portuguese colonial empire in the Indian Ocean...

 (December 1515).

It is the first European description of Malaysia and the oldest and most extensive description of the Portuguese East. It is a compilation of a wide variety of information: historical, geographical, ethnographic, botanical, economic, commercial, etc., including coins, weights and measures. Pires was careful to investigate the accuracy of the information collected from merchants, sailors and others with whom he had contact. It shows him to be a discriminating observer, in spite of his tangled prose, but superior to other Portuguese writers of the time. The book, couched as a report to Manuel of Portugal
Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I , the Fortunate , 14th king of Portugal and the Algarves was the son of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, , by his wife, Infanta Beatrice of Portugal...

, and perhaps fulfilling a commission undertaken before he left Lisbon, is regarded as one of the most conscientious first-hand resources for the study of the geography and trade of the Indies at that time, including one of the most important resources for the study of the contemporaneous Islam in Indonesia
The spread of Islam in Indonesia (1200 to 1600)
Islam was brought into Indonesia by traders from Gujarat, India during the eleventh century, although Muslims had visited the archipelago early in the Muslim era. By the end of the 16th century, Islam, through conversion, had surpassed Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion of the peoples...

. Although it cannot be regarded as completely free of inaccuracies in its detail, it is remarkably consistent with evidence of the time and makes no fundamentally erroneous statements about the area. Its contemporary rival as a source is only the better-known book of Duarte Barbosa
Duarte Barbosa
Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguese writer and Portuguese India officer between 1500 and 1516–17, with the post of scrivener in Cannanore factory and sometimes interpreter of the local language...

 and, later Garcia da Orta.

The Suma Oriental, unpublished and presumed lost in an archive until 1944, also includes the first written account of the 'Spice Islands
Maluku Islands
The Maluku Islands are an archipelago that is part of Indonesia, and part of the larger Maritime Southeast Asia region. Tectonically they are located on the Halmahera Plate within the Molucca Sea Collision Zone...

' of Banda
Banda Islands
The Banda Islands are a volcanic group of ten small volcanic islands in the Banda Sea, about south of Seram Island and about east of Java, and are part of the Indonesian province of Maluku. The main town and administrative centre is Bandanaira, located on the island of the same name. They rise...

 in Maluku
Maluku Islands
The Maluku Islands are an archipelago that is part of Indonesia, and part of the larger Maritime Southeast Asia region. Tectonically they are located on the Halmahera Plate within the Molucca Sea Collision Zone...

, the islands that first drew Europeans to Indonesia. In its detail "it was not surpassed, in many respects, for more than a century or two," its modern editor, Armando Cortesão, has asserted. Suma Oriental is represented by a long-lost manuscript in Paris. Four letters written by Pires survive, and there are a scattering of references to him by contemporaries, including a letter of Albuquerque to the King, 30 November 1513.

Pires mentioned several Tamil cities of Ceylon he visited on his travels in the manuscript, including Kali
Galle
Galle is a city situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, 119 km from Colombo. Galle is the capital city of Southern Province of Sri Lanka and it lies in Galle District....

, Nigumbo
Negombo
Negombo is a town of about 121,933, approximately 37 km north of Colombo, in Sri Lanka. It is located at the mouth of the Negombo Lagoon, about 7 km from the Bandaranaike International Airport...

, Celabão
Chilaw
Chilaw is a western seaboard town on the island of Sri Lanka.It is a bustling town with a famous fishmarket and beach...

 and Tenavarque, home to the renowned temple complex of Tenavarai.

1516 embassy to China


In 1516, Tomé Pires went to Canton
Guangzhou
Guangzhou , known historically as Canton or Kwangchow, is the capital and largest city of the Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China. Located in southern China on the Pearl River, about north-northwest of Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a key national transportation hub and trading port...

 (Guangzhou) in the fleet of Fernão Pires de Andrade
Fernão Pires de Andrade
Captain Fernão Pires de Andrade was a Portuguese merchant, pharmacist, and official diplomat under the explorer and Malacca governor Afonso de Albuquerque...

 leading an embassy sent by king Manuel I
Manuel I of Portugal
Manuel I , the Fortunate , 14th king of Portugal and the Algarves was the son of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, , by his wife, Infanta Beatrice of Portugal...

 to Zhengde Emperor
Zhengde Emperor
The Zhengde Emperor was emperor of China between 1505-1521. Born Zhu Houzhao, he was the Hongzhi Emperor's eldest son...

 of China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. However, was never received by the emperor, due to several setbacks, including the suspicion of the Chinese, and the plot moved by deposed sultan Mahmud Shah after the Portuguese conquest of Malacca
Malacca
Malacca , dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south...

 in 1511. The embassy fell in disgrace, with some of its members killed starting a period of three decades of Portuguese persecution in China. Tomé Pires is said to have died of disease in 1524 in China, although some state he have lived up to 1540 in Jiangsu
Jiangsu
' is a province of the People's Republic of China, located along the east coast of the country. The name comes from jiang, short for the city of Jiangning , and su, for the city of Suzhou. The abbreviation for this province is "苏" , the second character of its name...

, but without permission to leave China.

Further reading

  • Cortesão, A. A Suma Oriental de Tomé Pires e o Livro de Francisco Rodrigues. Coimbra, 1978.
  • Cortesão, A. Primeira embaixada europeia à China. o boticário e embaixador Tomé Pires. Lisboa, 1945.
  • Dias, J. Lopes. Medicinas da 'Suma Oriental' de Tomé Pires. Porto, 1947. Sep. ``Jornal do Médico, vol. 9, n.º 208, pp. 76-83.
  • Dias, J. P. Sousa. A Farmácia em Portugal. Uma introdução à sua história. 1338-1938. Lisboa: ANF, 1994.
  • Loureiro, Rui M. O manuscrito de Lisboa da "Suma Oriental" de Tomé Pires (Contribuição para uma edição crítica). Macau: Instituto Português do Oriente, 1996. - letters from the survivors of the Pires' embassy, imprisoned in Canton. According to Cortesão's later research, the letters were actually written in 1524.