Kunhali’s revenge

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

For Malayali’s the Kunjali’s of Kottakkal or the Malabar Marakkar family are very familiar. These sea captains of the Zamorins were very famous for their commando style raids against Portuguese shipping. There were four Kunhali or Kuttiali’s in the 1600 - 1700 time period. Kunhali IV who was executed by the Portuguese did not leave any offspring and apparently died a bachelor. In another blog, I willtry and cover the origins of the Marrakars and their relationships with the Marakkayars of Kayal Patanam in Tuticorin.

But this is not about the Marakkars, this is about a young lad who like the Hyat Sahib and Joao Da Cruz, was converted by force. His story too is interesting and continues to hide in the deep annals of history. He eventually became the tool for Kunhali’s revenge against the Portuguese who had tricked and killed him.

When Furtado together with the Zamorin’s forces defeated the Kunhali’s forces in 1591, he took away with him a 13 year old youngster named Ali, a cousin of Kunhali IV. Many years later, Ali saw Kunhali his uncle, once again, for the very last time. He was, I understand, taken at the age of 22 (in 1600) to witness Kunhali’s execution.

Ali, Kunhali marakkar’s cousin was later baptized in the Goan church and renamed Dom Pedro Rodriguez after the King Peter or Pedro. Later Dom Pedro Rodrigues who had become a fidalgo in the Goan society was married off to an Orpehus Del Rei (orphan girls from Portugal – Their story was covered earlier in another blog) and they lived an uneventful life in Goa until fate intervened. As Kunhali was captured and sentenced to death, many notables were invited to watch this horrible execution in which Kunhali was dismembered and his head salted. Ali was one among them. He watched, transfixed and horrified.

What would you think happened to the lad? He rose in revolt, against the people who killed his uncle. The revolting sight brought back sense in the mind of the Dom Pedro and he decided to go back to his old Islamic fold of Marakkars. OK Nambiar (Kunjalis - Admirals of Calicut) and Newitt say that he escaped with his family one night from Goa and proceeded to join the traditional activities of the Marakkars in Malabar. He decided to take revenge and renamed himself Ali Marakkar. For the next 18 years he assumed leadership of the Marakkar troops and continued the incessant fight in the shipping lines frequented by the Portuguese effecting major & frequent losses.

His major exploits included capture of five Portuguese fighting vessels (Portuguese in India – page 203 Frederick Charles Danvers) in 1618 and making off to the islands of De Las Vacas and Tristao Golayao (Laccadives I suppose). Dom Constantine de Sa sent a force out of Colombo comprising 58 ships to these islands to recapture the five vessels. However they were not successful, and though they managed to evade a clever trap when they were invited to go to a house and pick up the goods that Dom Pedro had secreted out there, they lost later. While departing, a sea fight ensued where Dom Pedro defeated the galleon (18 ships sunk, 300 people killed) and escaped again and attack more Portuguese fleets during the third decade of the 17th century. Teotonio says that Dom Pedro Rodrigues, harassed the Portuguese relentlessly, looted their ships frequently, and was feared by the Portuguese, after all he was trained by the Portuguese and knew many of their methods and secrets.

What finally became of Dom Pedro a.k.a Ali Marakkar and his half Portuguese family is not known, but he was the final of the Marakkar’s clan even though not a direct relative of the Kunhali.

Note - The Kunhali legend and lineage stopped with Kunjali IV. It may be interesting for some that Kunhali in his later years, as I understand, adopted a Nair lady and had her married off to a rich Mappila or Surati ship owner. This act was utilized by the Portuguese (together with many other rumors) to create animosity in the mind of the new Zamorin. The Zamorin also got incensed when he heard that Kunhali IV had declared himself the king of the seas. For the Zamorin this was the last straw and he joined forces with the Portuguese and went against the Kunhali. This sounded the death knell for the marakkar, and after a long drawn fight with the twin forces of the Zamorina nd Portuguese, he surrendered, the Portuguese beheaded him and then followed the above revenge by the Ali Marakkar.

A History of Portuguese Overseas Expansion, 1400-1668 - By M. D. D. Newitt
Essays in Goan History By Teotonio R. De Souza
Charithrathile Marakkar sannidhyam – S V Mohammed Vatakara
Portuguese in India – Frederick Charles Danvers
Pic - Kunhali IV - thanks to jaihoon


  1. P.N. Subramanian

    Dom Pedro's story of his revenge was quite interesting. Any traces of his tomb?

  1. Calicut Heritage Forum

    What a great historical coup! Reads like a le Carre work!! The period between 1500 and 1800 is one of least researched in Calicut history. May your story inspire serious researchers to dig up our past.
    Incidentally, you have anticipated my post on the possible contribution of Kunhali Marakkar for Krishnattam in my blog. Watch the space!! CKR

  1. Maddy

    Thanks PNS - but he is hardly mentioned in history - probably a search in Kotakkal may yield something..

    Thanks CKR - Funnily that period is covered in a a number of foreign books and only one Indian's Panikkar.

    I look forward to your study on Krishnattam & Marakkar...

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Maddy,

    Just came across a reference to this book, and wanted to see if you had had a chance to look at it.

    "Mamale of Cannanore"

    Thanks, VG.

  1. Maddy

    hi VG..

    No I have not been able to lay my hands on it, however i have the KKN Kurup book on mammally - aliraja..

  1. ஜெயபாலன்

    Very happy to Read about Ali Marakar. The Island Ali Maraikar captured in 1618 is Delft of Sri Lanka. Delft is my ancestors Island. Its old name is 'Pasuth devu' meaning Cow Island. Portuguese named it as Ilha Das Vacas. My mother side ancestors who also hate Portuguese have helped Ali maraikar. Now I am reading about Ali Maraikar to fore my novel about my ancestors who were rebelled against Portuguese. I am a Sri Lankn Tamil poet. Won Indian National award for acting in Aadukalam 2011. Please contact +91 9941484253.

  1. cp aboobacker

    Dom Pedro Rodriguez? Wish to know more on him.Mr James Xavier has written a novel on him, The Spaniard, in Malayalam.But it is a novel.

  1. Maddy

    Hi Aboobacker
    Pls read this post which provides more info..