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Pages From History
Pepper Queen Abbakka
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Four hundred years ago, the emperor of Spain was fuming with anger and asked his Minister to bring the Commander of the Portuguese forces to his presence immediately.

The Portuguese Commander presented himself before the emperor soon. The emperor chastised the Commander and shouted with anger, "Are you not ashamed of being defeated again and again by a black dwarfish Indian woman by name Abbakka? Who is she? Is she superhuman as to challenge us? The entire Europe today is talking about our defeat; in the Clubs, the Churches, the markets and everywhere people are discussing about our defeat by a woman. Though she is our enemy, I have great admiration for that heroic woman Abbakka. Tell me something more about her".

The Portuguese Commander heaved a sigh of relief and said, "Your Majesty, there is a small State called Ullala, very near Mangalore, where we have our trading centres and that area is under our control. Abbakka belongs to a family known as Chauta; her husband belongs to Banga family and Mangalore is under his control. But husband and wife do not like each other and have fought many battles too. Taking advantage of their quarrel, we helped the husband to wage a war against his wife Abbakka, but she repulsed us and we had to withdraw many times."

The Portuguese Minister joined the conversation and said, "There are two queens by the same name Abbakka, the mother and the daughter. Both of them have defeated us but the daughter Abbakka is more dangerous and she is the one who has brought disgrace to us". Are there no kings in that kingdom, asked the emperor. "Your Majesty! They have a different system of succession. If a king dies, his sister's son becomes the King. If the sister has no son, then the daughter gets the kingdom. This is called Aliya Santana in their language. That is how senior Abbakka's kingdom has come down to junior Abbakka about whom we are talking". The emperor walked out in disgust.

Pietro Della Valle was an Italian traveller and when he was in Persia, he had an audience with Persian emperor Shiya Abbas. During the conversation with the emperor, Pietro told him that he would be visiting India shortly. The Persian emperor was supremely happy and told Pietro, "When you go to India, please go to Mangalore without fail. There is a pepper queen by name Abbakka, who is the talk of the town in Europe for her victory over the Portuguese. Do not miss to meet that heroic woman.

The wretched Portuguese are most unethical I have seen. There was a family quarrel between Abbakka and her husband Narasimha, and taking advantage of this, the treacherous Portuguese sided with the husband and made him fight a war against his own wife. Of course, ultimately queen Abbakka taught a lesson both to her husband and to the Portuguese. I admire that great queen". Pietro became curious and he came to India, went to Ullala and met the queen Abbakka many times and had dinner with her and subsequently wrote gloriously about her. The Portuguese had the monopoly of trade in the Western coast and compelled all the kings and merchants to sell pepper, cardamom, cotton, rice and other commodities to them only at very low prices.

Abbakka refused to the Portuguese terms of trade. She sent ships laden with pepper and other commodities directly to Arabia and Persia and earned huge profits. The Persian and Arabian merchants were also happy because the prices quoted by Abbakka were far less as compared to the prices demanded by the Portuguese and hailed Abbakka as a trader practicing fair means. She became famous as pepper queen. The Portuguese obstructed her trade and waged wars against her. Undaunted Abbakka with the help of Keladi King Venkatappa Nayaka and Zamorin of Calicut, fought against the Portuguese, seized four Portuguese ships and made the Portuguese withdraw.

But the Portuguese did not keep quiet. Again and finally in 1618 AD, the Portuguese attacked Abbakka again and she crushed the Portuguese and their allies and this made great news in Europe, Persia and other countries. Abbakka, though a queen of a small kingdom of Ullala, took great interest in the welfare of her subjects helping them in agriculture by building dams. She also took other measures to help the people.

Actually, she always worked with her people taking part personally and earned a good name as a benevolent queen. She was very simple, always dressed in simple attire and Pietro mistook her for the first time for an ordinary common woman. She never used a parasol or a white umbrella as all queens do but carried an umbrella made of palm or areca tree feather - like leaves.

But she was the first person to stand against the foreigners, in this case the Portuguese, and put an end to their political ambition, commercial malpractices, religious conversions and destruction of temples. From this point of view, she may be considered as an early freedom fighter. But alas! The historians have not paid attention to this aspect and have neglected her. But she received rich encomiums from Persians and many Europeans including her enemies and they saluted her silently. That is the greatness of Abbakka.

Prof. A. V. Narasimha Murthy,
Former Head,
Department of Ancient History & Archaeology
University of Mysore.

Courtesy: Star of Mysore

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