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  • Survival of the Portuguese Estado da Índia:Political Economy and Commercial Challenges 1700-50
  • Teddy Sim Y.H.

Survey

Glenn Ames has pointed out that the economic history of Portuguese Asia and the general historiography of Portuguese colonial history are each entangled with a similar problem, that is, considerable resources and attention are still focused on the "glorious" period. Portuguese activities in the Indian Ocean have been examined in terms of their redistributive impact by Niels Steensgaard, and that has been rather decisively proven to be limited.1 At the same time, the pace of the Portuguese decline has raised larger questions about the existence of the trade network before the European arrival in the sixteenth century. Considering one of the strands of thought, if we accept Andre Gunder Frank's hypothesis of a multicentred world and the notion that the Europeans were merely catching up belatedly on the expansive phase of the K-wave cycles, the Portuguese were the first Westerners to ride on this trend. The nature of the Portuguese insertion in the East has also engendered its own debate. The "feudalistic" patrimonial and redistributive paradigm has been perceived as an opposing construct to the early modern capitalistic one—the latter represented by the Dutch and English companies. Later research shows that the other Europeans may be as guilty of "archaic" practices as the Iberians. If the latter won out, part of the explanation may be attributed to reasons that are more inconsequential and non-ideological when the excesses on both sides are cancelled out.2

Seen from a "more economic" angle, decline is accounted for in terms of waning trade figures, sealed eventually by the "Atlantic Turning." The work by Magalhães Godinho remains a majestic piece in the field. Works in this area, including contributions by Oliveira Marques, represent the first attempt by exiles of the authoritarian Salazar regime outside Portugal to catch up with developments in Western historiography in the 1960s. Among those who fancy an economic explanation, some have pushed for a "simpler" explanation in numbers—Portugal was too small a country with too limited a resource base to be able to sustain its overseas enterprise.3 While writing specifically to account for the Portuguese loss of Ceylon, Winius evoked this explanation as well.4

In terms of the nature of Portuguese participation in the Eastern commerce, there has been a gradual shift in research investigation to focus on private traders during and beyond the glorious periods. The Portuguese private traders from Cape Comorin to the eastern coast of India and farther east have been revealed by studies (for instance, by S. Subrahmanyam) to have been commercially active in the seventeenth century, and even from the latter half of sixteenth century. J. Boyajian has highlighted the role of the New Christians in the Portuguese private trade in the East although some of his findings are open to debate. Writing on the period 1660-63, A. Ahmad raises awareness that Portuguese from home and in India (including mestizos from there) continued to invest in the carreira and intra-Asian trade. Private trade (whether authorised or otherwise) has been touted by H. Furber as the "initiator" of the "great commercial revolution" of the eighteenth century. C. Pinto points out specifically that during the last years of the Pombaline period (1770-77), these traders not only persisted in their activities across the entire spectrum of the Eastern network, but also brought about a revival and boost in mercantile activities.5 Apart from approaches which treat the Portuguese more exclusively, historians have initiated studies on specific local and regional developments, and have located Portuguese activities in the context of these. In this direction, there are, for instance, S. Subrahmanyam's study on commerce in South India in the seventeenth century, S. Arasaratnam's research on the eastern coast of India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and B. Gokhale's as well as A. Gupta's work on the west coast of India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. In the nineteenth century, the picture of the Portuguese East painted by W.G. Clarence Smith for the nineteenth century was not a dismal one.6

After a...

Additional Information

ISSN
1532-5768
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-01
Open Access
No
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