Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
How an Italian Jesuit in China Relates to a Portuguese King in Morocco Relates to the Spanish Empire Relates to Brazil Relates to the Dutch East India Company Relates to Indonesia
In 1582, a 30-year-old Italian friar arrived in Macau. Matteo Ricci had dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel as a member of the Society of Jesus. And now he was on a mission to enter mainland China from this Portuguese outpost. Chinese authorities at the time frowned upon the presence of foreign missionaries. But in time Ricci would become one of the most important missionaries ever to work in Asia. In fact today a bronze statue of him stands in the heart of Macau, and he remains a household name in China.
Well, his name in Chinese, Li Madou. He chose it for himself as a rendering of his Italian name. But the middle character, 瑪 (“ma”), had a story behind it. It consists of two parts, 王, meaning “king,” and 馬, meaning “horse.” Ricci chose it in commemoration of his patron, Sebastian the Desired, King of Portugal.
In 1578, Sebastian went to war against the Moors in Morocco. In August of that year, when European knights in their metal armors must have baked under the North African sun, Sebastian and much of the Portuguese nobility met the Moors in the Battle of Alcazar. And almost all of them also met their deaths. The last time anyone even saw Sebastian, he was riding bravely on his magnificent steed into the Moorish ranks.
Sebastian was the last of his dynasty, and his death led to a succession crisis in Portugal. After some political turmoil, Philip II of Spain marched into Lisbon and joined the Portuguese crown to the Spanish one. Thus began the Iberian Union, a political arrangement that would last until 1640, under which all of the Iberian Peninsula was now one country.
But it was far more than the Iberian Peninsula. Both Spain and Portugal had possessed vast colonial empires by the late 16th century. The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, which supposedly (and with extreme arrogance) divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal, became meaningless for the time being.
And until the Union, Portugal had been allied with Spain’s enemies, England and the Netherlands. Now Portugal fully reversed its foreign policy to fall in line with Spain. So it was that when Queen Elizabeth defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, among her new enemies were some of her old friends, the Portuguese. The Dutch had in turn rebelled against Spain, which once ruled them. And now they found themselves opposed to the Portuguese as well. In the Americas, this meant war between the Dutch colonies and the Portuguese ones. In 1630, the Dutch won a large chunk of Brazil from Portugal, although they would eventually sell it back for the sake of commerce.
The Iberian Union also spurred the Dutch into action in Asia in order to compete against their rivals, leading to the formation of the Dutch East India Company. The Company went on to found the colony of Batavia, today’s Jakarta, Indonesia. It also set up a colony in my birthplace, Taiwan, building a fort they called “Zeelandia,” much like the country where I grew up, New Zealand, both named after a province of the Netherlands. Until some six decades after Matteo Ricci’s arrival in Macau, when a Chinese general evicted the Dutch from Taiwan once and for all.
I guess the point is, everything comes around to everything else.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."