The Mysterious Koya Pakki

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Cosebequin, Coja beguy

People who read the Portuguese accounts stumble on this name often, especially when they traverse through the early days. Who was this Koya allied to the Portuguese? Was he also a friend of the Zamorin or just the Portuguese? Was he just a trader or was he an emissary? Was he a go between? To get to know him, let us first see how he gets mentioned and by whom, before we do an analysis of sorts.

The first mentions comes when Cabral visited Malabar in 1500 – There was some confusion about the hostages exchanged and the fact that the goods brought in by the Portuguese were not of much interest to the traders of Calicut. Nor could they find anybody to deliver to them the spices and drugs they wanted. The Portuguese assumed that the problem was being created by the Arab officer i.e. the Shahbandar Koya or port officer of Calicut. Cabral therefore complained to the Zamorin.

As KVK Iyer puts it, When Cabral communicated his suspicions to the Zamorin he promised to make enquiries, and as an earnest of his sincerity he withdrew the Guzerati merchant and appointed a Moplah, named Koya Pakki, in his stead.

The Zamorin received Cabral in a special tent erected for the purpose, assigned the Moplah broker named Koya Pakki to his service, and granted the king of Portugal a ware-house with permission to hoist the Portuguese flag over it

Now Koya Pakki was a resident of Calicut and lived on the coast line, close to the customs house. The Zamorin also suggested that the Portuguese move their goods close to Koya Pakki’s house so that they would find it easier to sell them without interruptions by the Arab moors. This signifies that the Pakki was of a high standing amongst the local populace. The house was ceremoniously handed over to Cabral by the Zamorin. Thus started the first Portuguese factory in Calicut and with it their trading volume increased dramatically.

Castaneda writes – had terribly good fortune in conducting its trade by the assistance of Cosebequin and the natives finding our factory favored by the Zamorin, behaved so very civilly to our people that they could go about wherever they pleased with as much freedom and safety as in Lisbon.

Nevertheless, Koya Pakki was not able to find enough pepper and spices to fill more than two ships. The Zamorin stated that the Portuguese would be accorded preference and that they could approach the moors and buy whatever they wanted at market prices. But the Portuguese found that the Moors loaded Arab ships only while they got nothing. Ayres Correa (chief factor) who was losing patience suggested to Cabral that they rob a Moorish ship bound for the Red Sea, which was being loaded with pepper. Cabral did not want to do that but Correa threatened him by stating that he would complain to higher authorities in Lisbon, who of course only eyed the profits from the venture. Correa raided the ship soon after and transferred the pepper to the Portuguese ships. As one would expect, the Moors retaliated by killing Correa and fifty of his men. Cabral complained and the Zamorin sent his Nayars to provide the Portuguese factory protective custody. However Cabral thought the factory was being surrounded by hostiles and retaliated in the worst fashion by bombing Calicut, killing many people, some 500 all put, as well as elephants. With that Cabral decided to leave Calicut and set directions to Cochin and Cannanore based on the information which Cabral got from Koya Pakki hinting at the Cochin Raja's ambition to make himself independent and powerful.

Koya Pakki his wife and sons, perhaps fearing further retribution from the Arab moors for helping the Portuguese, fled to Cannanore (Bouchon) soon after and it is there that he lived for some years. Bouchon also establishes based on other leads that Koya Pakki was the local Mopilla leader of Calicut.

The next we hear of Pakki is in 1503 is when Albuquerque is approached by the Zamorin with an Ola sent through Pakki, asking for good relations, but resulting in no agreements. In 1504 we hear of overtures made by Pakki to the incoming Lopo Soares, again resulting in more mayhem and no trade agreement. Pakki also warns the Portuguese of the Zamorin’s impeding attack on Cochin and this resulted in the much written defense of Cochin by Pacheco.

1510 Calicut attack – This has been dealt with in detail in an earlier article including the involvement of Koya Pakki and the resulting estrangement from the Portuguese for a while. It is stated that Koya Pakki, the merchant of Calicut who had initially supported the Portuguese, became hostile to them after they attacked Arab vessels and massacred the passengers. But some accounts mention that he provided information supporting the Portuguese attack of Calicut including guidance around the streets, and others state his reluctance resulting in imprisonment and forced guidance.

Gaspar Correas provides some additional background on Cojebequi. He states that Pakki was one of the richest Moplahs of Calicut, possessed a large house and many coconut groves. It also mentions that Pakki had his own ships and a lot of trade that the Zamorin was jealous about.

The Portuguese had had plans for establishing a fort at Calicut since 1500, though all they had was the factory we talked about. The fort was finally completed in 1513, after a peace treaty was eventually signed between the king of Portugal and the Zamorin. Pakki was a frequent visitor to the fort, remaining the Calicut link man for the Portuguese all the time. We hear of Coja Beguy from Duarte Barbosa – He states that Koya Pakki visited the Calicut fort daily and devours a lot of food, food worth a Cruzado, for which there is no profit.

Nevertheless, we also read that following the truce between Albuquerque and the Zamorin resulted in the deputation of Joao Da Cruz. Joao came back a Christian and a Portuguese Fidalgo, so the next emissary to be dispatched to Lisbon in 1515 was none other than our esteemed Koya Pakki. That he went to Lisbon is also confirmed by the observations of Goes meeting Koya Pakki in Lisbon.

Sanjay Subrahmanyam remarks in his book on Gama that this was also of not much consequence to either ruler as Pakki was more interested in furthering his personal interests. I would assume that he tried to obtain favors from King Manuel, as we shall soon see. Interesting right, the only Moplah to have a meeting with the King of Portugual!!

We find from Goes’s notes that Pakki suffered in Calicut after the Cabral affair. It appears that diverting Cabral to Cochin put him into bad stead with the Zamorin who seized his houses and property in Calicut resulting in Pakki fleeing to Cannanore. Goes says - These (the first Portuguese factory) belonged to a Moor, named Cojebequij, who was one of the richest men of that city, and was furthermore like our people, and a very good friend and servant of the Portuguese. He (his properties were) later destroyed (by) the King of Calechut and (who) took his property which was worth more than 800,000 cruzados. When a boy, I later saw this Cojebequij, he came to this kingdom, where he came to ask satisfaction from his losses from the king, Dom Manuel and asked for favors from him, which he gave him, and he gave him honorable offices in India, with which he returned to his land. (De Goes)

To summarize, it is quite clear that Pakki favored the Portuguese, had lost his links with the Arab Moors and the Zamorin, though serving as a go between and interpreter of sorts. While Khoja Shamsuddin the Shabandar led the Arab factions, Koya Pakki led the local Moplahs, but had hardly any clout in the larger scheme of things. It also appears that he shifted base briefly to Cannanore, though his final acts after the destruction of the Portuguese fort and the departure of the Portuguese from Calicut is not very well known. However Gundert in his Kerala Pazhama, does mention Pakki’s last involvement in the Calicut Portuguese relations.

Let us now see in some detail as to how Koya Pakki was involved with the Portuguese fort in Calicut. I will write about the fort itself another day, but the fort was completed at the Northern Kallayi river bank in 1513, after the peace treaty was signed between the King of Portugal and the Zamorin. The trade situation dragged on without development or much benefit to either party for a while due to various issues between them. We hear of a mention when the Zamorin trying to sort matters out, again made a representation in 1520 through Koya Pakki asking the Portuguese to treat the matter of income from Cartazes and of the customs- house in the same way as they did at Kochi and Kannur. Later, hostilities were triggered when Duarte de Menezes attacked and destroyed a fleet of the Zamorin at Ponnani around March 1525. Menezes then blockaded ships carrying rice to Calicut resulting in a scarcity in Calicut. In retaliation, the Zamorin attacked the fort of Calicut in1526. As hostilities raged, the Zamorin’s Sicilian gunner was killed but the Zamorin still could not break through. The Zamorin got alarmed according to Gundert and summoned Koya Pakki to signal truce to the Portuguese. Koya Pakki (this perhaps confirms that Pakki was back in Calicut after the fort was established) pleaded his inability citing old age and sent his son instead. The son managed to obtain a 4 day truce for which he received ample compensation; he was made a minister of the Zamorin and the head of the Calicut bazar. However the Portuguese had by this time, had enough and decided to leave and regroup elsewhere (Goa) as they were also anticipating an attack by the Turks, who had already taken Cairo.

Faced with the continuous hostility of the Zamorin, the Portuguese decided to abandon and partly destroy the fort by blowing up the tower. Koya Pakki had informed the Zamorin that the Portuguese were fleeing, but not about the demolition in which many of the Zamorin’s forces perished. The fort was eventually captured by the Zamorin but he punished the Koya Pakki (no answer how – was he put to death?) and his children fled to Cannanore. That is the last we hear of the person who had spent some 26 years in the employ of the Portuguese.

But why did Pakki become such a trusted ally of the Portuguese? Castenheda and Gaspar Correa provide detailed answers as to how Koya Pakki not only saved the lives of the two sons of Aires Correa during the fracas in 1500, but also three other Portuguese. Interestingly he also provided an ayah or nursemaid for the two kids while they were with him.

As it appears, the Zamorin had previously seen the two children of Ayres Correa and liked them, frequently giving these small children gifts. After the Cabral factory was ransacked, the Zamorin remembered the children and asked Pakki where they were, and to bring them to him. Pakki denied any knowledge and refused to divulge any information even though he was alternately threatened or offered compensation. He lied to the Zamorin that he was actually tending to his wife who was at that moment delivering her babies. He stated that he had seen a Negro carry away the children, but was not sure if the Negro was a local or an African slave in Calicut (he was actually Pakki’s slave). The Zamorin smelt a rat and confiscated all of Pakki;s property after jailing him briefly, stating that as soon as the Zamorin was told the truth about the children, he would reinstate the properties of Koya Pakki. Pakki decided to take the risk, knowing that he would anyway get back his property if the Portuguese were successful in the long run, so he kept his lips sealed.

What had actually happened was that the children of Correa had been brought to Pakki’s house before hell broke loose. Also the three Portuguese rescued by Pakki were hidden in an outhouse, under some hay and later were moved out in disguise, after shaving their heads and moustache/beard – wearing Arab dress. These Portuguese were then moved to a Pulaya dwelling, Pakki knowing that they will be safe there due to the caste restrictions and untouchably. They were then asked to apply oil on their bodies and tan themselves, and soon they looked like locals. The two children were hidden amongst the women of the Pakki family and brought up as Moplah boys, and a nursemaid was also appointed for them.

The story of the children and the Portuguese does not end there, for they lived together with the nursemaid until 1503 somewhere near Cannanore, during the time when Pachecco was the captain at Cochin. At that point of time, Alvaro Rafael had got into difficulties with the Zamorin and Pachecco after notification of the same from Koya Pakki sent Pero Rafael to rescue Alvaro, who incidentally was Pero’s own brother. During that rescue attempt, the two children, the nursemaid and the three Portuguese also escaped to Cochin with Pero and Alvaro. The two boys Antonio and Aires grew up and came back to Malabar when their uncle Diogo Lopes entered the scene. Both of them were involved in many more skirmishes, rose to good positions and later tormented the very Moplahs who saved them.

So we see that the shaming of Cabral and the murder of Aires Correa by the Arabs of Calicut had disastrous effects, and resulted in Vasco da Gama coming again- we studied the massacre of the Meri. Koya Pakki as we saw, survived the attack at Calicut in 1500, moved farther to Cannanore and came back as a friend of Portugal, sometimes also as an emissary of the Zamorin as is stated in some books. In fact it is also likely that he may have just carried a commission of the Zamorin to Lisbon in 1515, though not travelling as a formal emissary of the Zamorin, if I read the story right. It is also clear that it was Koya Pakki who assisted the Portuguese in moving their sights to Cochin and Cannanore, thus isolating Calicut from later Portuguese trade. Finally we saw his involvement in the last scene of the play, supporting the Portuguese flight from the Calicut fort and earning punishment from the Zamorin. So that was Pakki, yet again a small fry in the big story, but the person who was key to many an act.


Cabral Voyages - The anonymous narrative – William brooks Greenlee
The three voyages of Vasco Da Gama – Gaspar Correa
Vasco Da Gama The career and legend – Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Regent of the Sea – Geneve Bouchon
The Rise of Portuguese power in India – RS Whiteway