Cesar Federici’s”Account of Pegu” (1563): IV

Commerce in Pegu

Previous Posts:
1. Cesar Federici’s “Account of Pegu” (1563) I
2. Cesar Federici’s “Account of Pegu” (1563) II
3. Cesar Federici’s “Account of Pegu” (1563) III

Federici assesses the prospects of trade in Pegu c. 1563 rather negatively: “In the Indies there is not any merchandise that is good to bring to Pegu, unlesse it be at some times by chance to bring Opium of Cambaia, and if hee bring money hee shall lose by it.” By “money” he must mean silver. (This should be verified in the original manuscript though, the limitations of translations becoming apparent here.)

Silver could not be used as money in Pegu in the early sixteenth century according to work of the Japanese scholar Shigeru. As I observed in an earlier blog posting:

“According to Polanyi the so-called triad of trade, money and markets must be pulled apart. This is the major theme of Shigeru Ikuta’s ‘Portuguese Trade Between Malacca and Pegu in the Early Sixteenth Century’ (Shiroku 10 (1977): 55-62), namely that in the early sixteenth century there was no money that all the trading nodes along the Bay of Bengal held in common.” (On Karl Polyani, Dec 13 2005)

Did this situation of an unmonetized maritime foreign trade economy still exist in Bayinnaung’s Pegu of the 1560’s as well? Federici goes on to enumerate which kinds of goods are traded from various locations on the Bay of Bengal:

“Now the commodities that come from S. Tome are the onely merchandise for that place, which is the great quantitie of cloth made there, which they use in Pegu; which cloth is made of Bombast woven and painted, so that the more that kinde of cloth is washed, the more lively they shew their colours, which is a rare thing, and there is made such account of this kinde of cloth which is of so great importance, that a small bale of it will cost a thousand or two thousand duckets. Also from S. Tome they layde great store of red yarne, of Bombast died with a root which they call Saia, as aforesaid, which colour will never out.”

Federici then launches into a long description of how a trade voyage has to be planned perfectly to coincide with seasonal weather changes. A description of the trade from different places on the Bay of Bengal follows:

“Also there goeth another great ship from Bengala every yeere, laden with fine cloth of Bombast of all sorts, which arriveth in the Harbour of Pegu, when the ship that commeth from S. Tome departeth. The Harbour where these two ships arrive is called Cosmin.

“From Malaca to Martavan, which is a Port in Pagu, there commeth many small ships, and great, laden with Pepper, Sandolo, Porcellan of China, Camfora, Bruneo, & other merchandice.

“The ships that come from Meca enter into the port of Pagu & Cirion, and those ships bring cloth of Wooll, Scarlets, Velvets, Opium, and Chickens, by the which they lose, and they bring them because they have no other thing that is good for Pegu: but they esteem not the losse of them, for that they make such great gaine of their commodities, that they carrie from thence out of that Kingdome.

“Also the King of Assi [Achen] his Shippes come thether into the same port laden with Peper;

[This must be Acheh in northern Sumatra]

“…from the coast of Saint Tome of Bengala out of the Sea of Bara to Pegu are three hundreth miles, and they goe it up the River in foure dayes, with the encreasing water, or with the floud, to a Citie called Cosmin, and there they discharge their ships,…”

“Saint Tome of Bengala” can’t be found on the maps of the Bay of Bengal that I found online previously, but another online source has a gazetteer entry:

“Sao Tomé de Meliapor: (13°00’N – 80°15’E)
1530: 40 “casados”, 1545: 100 “familias”, 1600: 600 “casados”, from 1610s. in decline.Subrahmanyam “Improvising Empire – Portuguese trade and settlements in the Bay of Bengal 1500 – 1700” or “”Comercio e conflito – A presença Portuguesa no Golfo de Bengala 1500 – 1700” 1537: 50 “casados”, Diffie-Winius “Foundation of the Portuguese Empire 1415-1580”

(from: http://www.colonialvoyage.com/population.html)

Given the longitudes and latitudes and Google Earth, a comprehensive trade map for the Bay of Bengal for the sixteenth century becomes a reasonable project.


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