Thursday, August 26, 2010

Afanasy Nikitin

15th century Russian explorer of India, sailed down the Volga to Astrahan, was set upon by men and storms. losing wares, provisions - whole ships. Persia, then to India where three years were spent traveling, observing, writing. All this 25 years before da Gama.

He marveled at foreign ways and customs and wrote about as many as he came across in "Voyage Beyond Three Seas." These were simple descriptions of what people wore and ate; their habits, their beliefs. Sometimes the matter-of-fact was wrapped in fable, to wit:

"At Alland there lives the ghuggu, a bird; it flies at night, crying 'ghuggu' whenever it settles on a house-top, someone dies in the house; and when anyone tries to kill it, it begins to spit fire. As for monkeys, they live in the woods; and they have a monkey prince who leads an army. And when anyone harms them, they complain to their prince, who sets his army upon the offender. Then the monkeys fall upon that town and destroy the houses and kill the people. They are said to have a very large army and to speak a tongue of their own."

Six years on the road. Died short of Smolensk.


Blobber Goongis said...

Interesting that he was a contemporary of Zhen He, a Chinese admiral of the Imperial Navy that explored the "Great Western Ocean" up to the east coast of Africa, including most of Indonesia, the Phillipines, and coastal India. Apparently he was more interested in establishing trade and knowledge that any sort of conquering. Don't know if he kept as extensive notes as Nikitin, though. Could be they had a few drinks together at a bar in India.

Nahhh, prob'ly not. Zhen He was born Muslim. They did make him a eunuch, though. That ought to count for something. Or, at least, for something less than which he started .

Jay said...

I wasn't familiar with Zhen He. It's amazing our western education can ignore somebody like that. His expeditions dwarfed any launched from Europe and, God! the size of those treasure ships! I had no idea there ever were such things. I can see I'll have to look into his life further and come up with a face for him. Thanks for the info.

By the way, I might have to come up with a Blobber Goongis, too. Hadn't thought about those words in years. (I think it's spelled Blobber Goongus, though.)