Gaspar da Gama - Jewish Explorer/Interpreter

Admiral, navigator and interpreter who travelled the world during the Age of Exploration.

Born: 1444 - Posen, Poland
Died: Possibly 1510 - Location Unknown

Gaspar da Gama was born in Poland in 1444, but virtually nothing is known about his early years. At some point he began traveling and ended up in both Jerusalem and Alexandria. Eventually he was taken prisoner and sold into slavery—winding up in India. Soon he won his freedom and began to work for the ruler of Goa—it was believed this was Adil Shah of Bijapur, who possessed a powerful army of 40,000 horsemen. He eventually converted to Islam, taking the name Yusuf 'Adil, and rose to the rank of Admiral.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama arrived in India, where he was startled to discover among the natives this "tall Jew with a flowing white beard." Believing he was probably a spy, Gaspar de Gama was immediately arrested and tortured. Realizing the man would be useful to him—he spoke various languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean (Caldeu) and Italian mixed with Spanish—da Gama was eventually taken back to Portugal with the explorer, where he converted to Catholicism.

He quickly became a favorite of the King of Portugal, whom it was said he would dazzle with tales of the Far East. He was soon employed as a pilot, interpreter, and negotiator for subsequent voyages of Vasca de Gama as well as explorers Francisco d'Almeida and Pedro Alvares Cabral.

Historians believe da Gama was the first European to set foot on the new land of Brazil when he accompanied Cabral on a voyage to India. Thinking they had landed in India, da Gama went ashore to talk to the "Indians", but discovered his knowledge of the language was of no use. He took part in d'Almedia's expedition against Calicut in 1510, which is where he may have died.

Interesting Facts
  • Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer for whom America is named, once sought da Gama's counsel.
Further Reading
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