Fernão Mendes Pinto

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Fernão Mendes Pinto
Fernao Mendes Pinto.jpg
Born 1509
Montemor-o-Velho, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 8 July 1583(1583-07-08)
Pragal, Almada, Kingdom of Portugal
Nationality Portuguese
Occupation explorer and writer
Known for Pilgrimage

Fernão Mendes Pinto (Portuguese pronunciation: [fɨɾˈnɐ̃w̃ ˈmẽdɨʃ ˈpĩtu]; c.1509 – 8 July 1583) was a Portuguese explorer and writer. His exploits are known through the posthumous publication of his memoir Pilgrimage (Portuguese: Peregrinação) in 1614, an autobiographical work whose truthfulness is nearly impossible to assess.

In the course of his travels in the Middle and Far East, Pinto visited Ethiopia, the Arabian Sea, China (where he claimed to have been a forced laborer on the Great Wall), India and Japan. He claimed to have been among the first group of Europeans to visit Japan and initiate the Nanban trade period.

He also claimed to have introduced the gun there in 1543. It is known that he funded the first Christian church in Japan, after befriending a Catholic missionary and founding member of the Society of Jesus later known as St Francis Xavier. At one time Pinto himself was a Jesuit, though he later left the order.

Pilgrimage shows Pinto as sharply critical of Portuguese colonialism in the Far East[1] The vivid tales of his wanderings over twenty years – he wrote, for example, that he was "thirteen times made captive and seventeen times sold" – were so unusual that they were mostly not believed. They gave rise to the saying "Fernão, Mentes? Minto!", a Portuguese pun on his name meaning "Fernão, do you lie? I lie!".[2]

Early life[edit]

Fernão Mendes Pinto was born in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal, circa 1509, to a poor rural family, possibly small nobility that had fallen on hard times. He had at least two brothers and at least two sisters. His brother Álvaro was present at Portuguese Malacca in 1551 and other letters reveal that a brother suffered martyrdom in Malacca. It is also known that Pinto had a wealthy cousin, Francisco Garcia de Vargas who was present at Cochin in 1557.

Pinto describes his early upbringing as poor and straitened. Hoping to better his prospects, in 1521, around the age of twelve, Fernão Mendes Pinto was taken by an uncle to the city of Lisbon, and engaged in the household service of a high noblewoman. After a year-and-a-half, an obscure incident happened which prompted young Pinto to flee the household. He made his way to the Lisbon docks and was hired as a ship's boy on a cargo ship setting out for Setúbal, a short distance down the coast from Lisbon. The ship was attacked and captured by French pirates, who subsequently abandoned the crew and passengers on a beach in Alentejo. He made his way overland to Setubal, where he was soon hired by the nobleman Francisco de Faria, a knight of Santiago. He served Faria for four years, and thereafter, now around eighteen, entered the service of D. Jorge de Lencastre, Master of the Order of Santiago (and an illegitimate son of King John II of Portugal). Pinto served as a chamber-servant in Lencastre's household for several years. It was a comfortable position, one requiring little work while being well-provided and cared for by his master, but it was not particularly well-paid, certainly no route to riches. At length, around the age of twenty-eight, Fernão Mendes Pinto decided to go overseas with the Portuguese India Armadas, where he had heard that fortunes could be made rather quickly.


Pinto's travels can be divided into three phases: a) his initial voyages from Portugal to India, in which he attempted to join Portuguese outposts on the Western coast of India, and was diverted several times; b) travelling through many nations around the Red Sea, from the coast of Africa to the Persian Gulf; c) after reaching India, he voyaged to the eastern coast of India and to Portuguese possessions around Malacca, bringing him to Sumatra, Siam, China, and Japan. Finally, Pinto returned to Europe.

First voyage to India[edit]

Map of India showing Diu.

Fernão's first voyage to India began on 11 March 1537, when he set sail from Lisbon. Little happened on the voyage besides a brief stop in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. On 5 September 1537 Pinto arrived in Diu, a fortified island and town northwest of Bombay, which had become a Portuguese possession in 1535. According to his account the fortress was under siege by Muslims led by Suleiman the Magnificent, who was determined to overthrow the Portuguese rule in India and to maintain the Muslim monopoly on eastern trade.

Enticed by the tales of riches that could be obtained by attacking Muslim shipping, Pinto joined a reconnaissance mission to the Red Sea, with a brief stop in Ethiopia to deliver a message to the Portuguese soldiers who were guarding Eleni of Ethiopia, the mother of "Prester John" (Emperor Dawit II of Ethiopia) in a mountain fortress. After leaving the Ethiopian port of Massawa, the Portuguese ships engaged three Turkish galleys, but were defeated. Crews of the ships were taken as prisoners to Mocha, a port in southwest Arabia, and put on an auction block. Pinto was sold to a Greek Muslim who he claims was a cruel master. Pinto threatened to commit suicide which convinced his master to sell him to a Jewish merchant for about thirty ducats' worth of dates.

Mocha is in modern Yemen; Hormuz in modern-day Iran.

Pinto's new master took him on the caravan route to Hormuz, then the leading market town in the Persian Gulf, where Pinto was offered to the Captain of the Fortress of Hormuz and the King's special magistrate for Indian affairs, who had recently been sent by the Governor of Portuguese India on a mission for the crown. Pinto was freed at a cost of three hundred ducats paid by the crown.

Pinto's second voyage to India occurred soon after he was freed, when he signed on a Portuguese cargo ship bound for Goa, the Portuguese colony and naval base established to seize complete control of the spice trade from other European powers after traditional land routes to India had been closed by the Ottoman Turks. Against his will Pinto was transferred while en route to a naval fleet bound for the Sindhi port city of Debal near Thatta {the Mughal administrative capitol of Sindh province, the Portuguese attempted to capture or destroy the Ottoman Turkish vessels anchored there. After a number of engagements in the Arabian Sea, with varying success, Pinto ultimately reached Goa.

Malacca and the Far East[edit]

The Malay Peninsula highlighted. The straits of Malacca separate it from the island of Sumatra; India is to the west and Borneo to the east.

From 1539 on it appears Pinto was based in Malacca under the newly appointed Captain of Malacca, Pero de Faria, who sent Pinto to establish diplomatic contacts with unknown states in the region.

Fernão Mendes Pinto was the first Portuguese to note the Ottoman fleet led by Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis, which arrived in Aceh, a steadfast force of sailors which consisted of 300 Ottomans, some Swahilis and Afars from Djibouti (known as Abyssinian), Sindhis from Debal and Thatta, Gujaratis from Surat, and some 200 Malabar sailors of Janjira to aid the Malay Archipelago in 1569.

Most of his early time in Malacca included missions to the petty kingdoms of Sumatra, which was allied with the Portuguese against the Muslims of Aceh (known as Achin in Portuguese) in northern Sumatra. During these voyages he made private trades, hoping to make profits himself, but remained loyal to the King's interests, in contrast to many of his colleagues, who would engage in private trade to the extent that it would be a detriment to the interests of the crown.

Patani voyage[edit]

Following Pinto's mission to Sumatra, he was sent to Patani, on the eastern shore of the Malay peninsula. In a joint venture with Patani-based countrymen, Pinto travelled with a shipload of merchandise to the coast of Siam (modern-day Thailand), but they were attacked by a pirate, who stole their goods. Sailing in search of the pirate, they essentially become pirates themselves, under command of António de Faria. Faria's exploits led him to become a popular figure in Portuguese literature.

Pinto continued in this role for months, operating in the South China Sea, especially in the Gulf of Tonkin (between Indochina and Hainan).

The South China Sea, showing surrounding countries and neighbouring seas and oceans

Prisoner in China[edit]

Ranging northward along the coast of China into the East China Sea Pinto entered the Yellow Sea (between the peninsulas of Shandong and Korea). Here his party raided the tomb of the Emperor of China – but a shipwreck left them in the hands of the Chinese. The survivors of this ordeal were sentenced to one year of hard labor on the Great Wall of China.

Pinto was surprised to come upon a mixed Portuguese-native household, and was encouraged by the experience. He did not complete his sentence, but was taken prisoner by a new power – the invading Tatars. Pinto and his comrades bought their freedom by teaching the Tatars how to storm a fortress, and in the company of a Tatar ambassador, they traveled toward Cochinchina, the southernmost part of modern-day Cambodia and Vietnam.

While on the journey, they encountered a major religious figure whom Pinto describes as "pope-like"—possibly the Dalai Lama—who had never heard of Europe. Frustrated with the slow pace of travel, and still in the vicinity of the deserted islands off the coast of Canton, Pinto and two companions boarded a Chinese pirate junk, which was cast by a storm onto the Japanese island of Tanegashima, just south of Kyūshū; this is the source of Pinto's claim to be the first westerner to enter Japan.

Voyages to Japan[edit]

A few years later (1542), Pinto made his first voyage to Japan, accompanied by other Portuguese, introducing the arquebus[citation needed], a kind of firearm, to that country.

Map of Japan

They landed in Japan in 1542 or 1543 and gained the favor of a feudal lord, to whom they claim to have given the first firearm to have entered Japan, the Portuguese arquebus. The weapon was rapidly reproduced and had a major impact on the ongoing Japanese civil wars. Pinto returned to the coast of China after being released at Ningpo, and made contact with Portuguese merchants who were highly interested in a trade mission to Japan. Their expedition was shipwrecked on the coast of the Ryukyu Islands, however, where they were arrested for piracy but were released because of the compassion of the island's women.

In 1549 Pinto left the port of Kagoshima but he took with him a Japanese fugitive, Anjiro, and introduced him to Saint Francis Xavier. Xavier joined Pinto's voyage to Japan, and famously went on to spread Catholicism to that country. In 1551 Pinto met Xavier again, and worked for him during the evangelization period of the region.

In 1554 Pinto decided to return to Portugal with the fortune gained during his voyages, but prior to returning home he underwent conversion to the Society of Jesus and donated a large sum of his wealth to the Society itself, becoming a brother of the Society. Pinto then departed with Xavier as a shipmate when Xavier left his work in Japan to a successor.

Portuguese Traveler Mendes Pinto, carver Yomeisai, 19th century, ivory, height 132 mm

Probably, the traveler was impressed on the locals people. Because he portrayed on the Engravings with amazing appearance and skills that were unknown to the indigenous inhabitants of the islands. In particular, the Japanese carver of the 19th century Yomeisay created the miniature netsuke, where Pinto is accompanied by the mythological beast that can be tamed only by magic. Fernão Mendes is shown with the unusual fluffy whiskers and beard like the wings spread on his chest. European facial features: a long nose, round eyes, textured cheekbones, high forehead, pear-shaped skull are worked out with great care. It is not known whether Pinto was really so tall, round-shouldered and thin, but these features of his appearance are very naturalistic. His long frock of free cut has a remarkable detail: the buttons that the Japanese saw for the first time in European dress. These very finely remarked details tell us that the carver copied this netsuke from an engraving depicting the first messengers of the West.

Final voyage to Japan[edit]

Memorial to St. Francis Xavier, Hirado, Nagasaki.

A letter from Otomo Yoshishige supports the history of these events: when the daimyo of Bungo requested that Pinto return to Japan, and offering his conversion. The letter arrived at the same time that Xavier's body was being displayed in Goa. Pinto was to accompany the mission, which to a small degree was a successful diplomatic mission, establishing an embassy, but he failed to convert Otomo because of an ongoing civil war – Otomo could not afford to alienate his supporters by converting to a foreign religion during the conflict. Twenty-two years later, however, Otomo eventually did convert to Christianity, at the same time as Pinto was completing his autobiography.

During Pinto's final voyage to Japan (1554–1556) with Xavier's successor, he served as the Viceroy of Portuguese India's ambassador to the daimyo of Bungo on the island of Kyūshū.

At the end of the voyage, Pinto lent money to Xavier to create the first church in Japan. For an unknown reason, Pinto abandoned the Jesuits in 1557 on his return trip.


Pinto returned to Malacca and reported to the captain who sent him on a mission to Martaban which is today part of Lower Myanmar. He arrived in the midst of a siege and took refuge in the Portuguese camp of mercenaries who had betrayed the Viceroy of Martaban. At the end of the siege, Pinto was likewise betrayed by a mercenary. He was made a captive of the Burmese and placed under the charge of the king's treasurer who took him to the kingdom of Calaminham, now called Luang Prabang. Pinto fled to Goa on his return trip while the Burmese besieged Sandoway.


Once Pinto returned to Goa, he again met Pero de Faria, now the former Captain of Malacca. Pero sent him on a voyage to Java to buy pepper, which could then be sold in China, and while buying goods in the Javan port of Bantam, Pinto was joined by forty Portuguese merchants who were alarmed by violence that erupted in the area after the Emperor was slain by his page boy over a point of honor.

Ruins of Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam

The Japanese wakō shipwreck them in the Gulf of Siam where they end up tossed onto the coast of Java.

There they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive, and those that did survive (including Pinto) sold themselves as slaves in return for passage out of the swamp. They were then sold to a Celebes merchant and resold to the King of Kalapa, (modern-day Jakarta). After hearing their stories, he generously sent them on a ship – to Sunda from which they had previously departed.


Using borrowed money, Pinto bought passage to Siam, now known as Thailand. Pinto then describes how not long after his arrival the King of Siam requested Portuguese residents to enlist to quell a revolt in the Northern boundaries. The King was subsequently poisoned by the Queen, who also murdered the young heir to the throne, and placed her lover in the boy's place. The new King was then murdered, and unrest ensued provoking the King of Burma to lay siege to Ayuthia the capital of Siam.

The description of these events in Burmese and Thai history, whether they were actually witnessed firsthand by Pinto, represents the most detailed account of these events that can be found in all of recorded Western history.

Return voyage[edit]

Pinto returned to Portugal on 22 September 1558 after an uneventful voyage. He was already famous in Western Europe as the author of a letter that had been published by the Society of Jesus in 1555. From 1562–1566 he spent four and a half years in court hoping to receive a reward or compensation for his years of service to the Crown.

The book[edit]

Peregrinação, Fernão Mendes Pinto's famous book

In 1558 Pinto returned to Portugal where he married Maria Correia Barreto with whom he had at least two daughters; exact details of his family are unknown. He bought a farm in the region of Pragal (near Almada) in 1562 and in 1569 he started to write the account of his voyages in the Orient.

Fernão Mendes Pinto died on 8 July 1583 on his Pragal farm. His book would be published in 1614, 31 years after his death, by friar Belchior Faria. The full title of the book was

"Pilgrimage of Fernam Mendez Pinto in which is told the many and very strange things he saw and heard in the kingdom of China, in the one of Tartary, in the one of Sornau, usually called Siam, in the one of Calaminhan, in the one of Pegù, in the one of Martauão, and in many other kingdoms and lordships of the Oriental parts, and that in our Occident there are few or no accounts. And also the account of many particular affairs that occurred both to him and many other people. And in the end of it briefly regards some things, & the death of the Holy Priest Francis Xavier, sole light and brightness of those parts of the Orient, & universal ruler of the Society of Jesus in those parts."

(in Old Portuguese: "Peregrinaçam de Fernam Mendez Pinto em que da conta de muytas e muyto estranhas cousas que vio & ouvio no reyno da China, no da Tartaria, no de Sornau, que vulgarmente se chama de Sião, no de Calaminhan, no do Pegù, no de Martauão, & em outros muytos reynos & senhorios das partes Orientais, de que nestas nossas do Occidente ha muyto pouca ou nenhua noticia. E tambem da conta de muytos casos particulares que acontecerão assi a elle como a outras muytas pessoas. E no fim della trata brevemente de alguas cousas, & da morte do Santo Padre Francisco Xavier, unica luz & resplandor daquellas partes do Oriente, & reitor nellas universal da Companhia de Iesus.")

It is thought that the printed version of the book does not correspond exactly to the author’s manuscripts — some sentences appear to have been erased and others were "corrected". The disappearance of references to the Society of Jesus, one of the most active religious orders in the Orient, is notable, as there are clear indications of Fernão Mendes Pinto's relations with the society.

Notable views held in the book[edit]

Although Fernão Mendes Pinto did not have an education similar to his contemporary authors and did not reveal knowledge of either classical culture or of the aesthetics of the Renaissance, his experiential knowledge and intelligence enabled him to create meaningful work.

The absence of a formal education, his physical distance from the dominant culture, and his humble roots were his advantages. His work has no signs of prejudice regarding the "new" cultures discovered by the Portuguese and thus it is a living testimony of their habits, attitudes and ways of life.


The tale of his adventures was written after the fact, according to Pinto's memories of the events, and for that reason it may be open to doubt as a completely accurate historical source. However, it well documents the impact of the Asian civilizations on the Europeans and constitutes a perfectly realistic analysis of Portuguese action in the Orient, far more realistic than the one made by Luís de Camões in The Lusiads.

The most controversial of his claims is that of having been the first European to land in Japan and the introduction of the arquebus. Despite the impossibility of proving these specific assertions, there is little doubt that Pinto was among the first Europeans in Japan, and therefore his account may be considered more reliable than other books describing this period that were written long afterwards.

Another controversial claim, that he fought in Java against the Muslims, has been analyzed by various historians. The Dutch historian P. A. Tiele, who wrote in 1880, did not believe Pinto was present during the campaign, but rather that he wrote his information from secondhand sources. Even so, Tiele admits Pinto's account cannot be disregarded because of the lack of alternative information about Javanese history during the time period; despite the doubts over Pinto's accuracy, his viewpoint may represent the only authoritative source in existence. Maurice Collis, a modern expert on Asian affairs who lived in the area for twenty years, holds the opinion that Fernão's accounts, while not entirely true, remain essentially true with respect to the basic events. Because of this Collis considers Pinto's work the most complete European account of 16th century Asian history.

Legacy and following[edit]

Japanese arquebus of the Edo era (teppo)

Among Pinto's legacies is his claim to introducing the arquebus on the island of Tanegashima that would be known throughout Japan as the "tanegashima". Based on Portuguese models, Japanese swordsmiths managed to mass-produce arquebuses, initiating the tradition of the firearms of Japan. By 1553 there were more guns per capita in Japan than in any other country.[3] In 1600 the Japanese guns were the best of the world.[3] The "Tanega-shima" drastically changed Japanese warfare until the Tokugawa era when they were outlawed. Another legacy of his is funding the first Christian church in Japan which would mark the beginning of Christianity in Japan. His greatest legacy is not his voyages but his detailed description of Asian culture, and history of the 16th century. It is more descriptive than any other European reports, and from a much earlier date.

Mendes Pinto, a crater on Mercury, was named after him in 1978.[4] A high school in Almada, Portugal built in 1965 was named in his honour. In 2011, a 2 euro coin was issued to mark the 500th birthday of Fernão Mendes Pinto.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fernão Mendes Pinto and His Peregrinação, Rebecca Catz, Hispania magazine, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes
  2. ^ The Travels of Mendes Pinto: Team Game, The Inside Scoop on Gaming, RPGnet
  3. ^ a b How to Get Rich: A Talk by Jared Diamond [6.7.99]
  4. ^ Craters: Mendes Pinto on Mercury, Planetary Names: Crater


  • Breve História da Literatura Portuguesa, Texto Editora, Lisboa, 1999
  • A. J. Barreiros, História da Literatura Portuguesa, Editora Pax, 11th ed.
  • A. J. Saraiva, O. Lopes, História da Literatura Portuguesa, Porto Editora, 12tg ed.
  • Verbo – Enciclopédia Luso-Brasileira de Cultura, 15th ed., Editorial Verbo, Lisboa
  • Lexicoteca – Moderna Enciclopédia Universal, vol. 15, Círculo de Leitores, 1987
  • The Travels of Mendes Pinto, Edited and translated by Rebecca D. Catz, The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-66951-3
  • Collis, Maurice (1949). The Grand Peregrination. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-85635-850-9. 
  • Fernão Mendes Pinto and the Peregrinação – studies, restored Portuguese text, notes and indexes, directed by Jorge Santos Alves, Fundação Oriente, Lisbon, 2010, ISBN 978-972-785-096-9


Rebecca Catz. "Hispania". Fernão Mendes Pinto and His Peregrinação. Retrieved 30 August 2005. 

External links[edit]