The Moluccas and the neighbouring islands
The right half of the chart depicts the group of the Moluccas Islands in the eastern part of the Southeast Asian islands, surrounded by imaginary islands in the Magnus Sinus, which is bordered by the supposed land mass lying to the east. The only vessels sailing this sea are Moorish, with the billowing sails (one lateen, the other three square) on the customary one or two masts all bearing the crescent. To compensate for this, the three islands and three imaginary points on land mass have flags bearing the Portuguese coat-of-arms.
A large green-painted island, with a blank banner designed to hold a caption, lies at a tangent to the northern edge of the map. This reappears on the next chart, showing the Magnus Sinus, now with the identification Batuca Insula, to which I shall return. As mentioned above, a large Latin caption in a frame explains:
“Islands of the Chinese. On these isles, they mine gold and silver with great energy, and besides the copious amounts of wheat and other fruits, pepper, cinnamon, clove, sandal, nutmeg and all sorts of aromatics grow, and in general, a king rules over each one”.
Immediately to the south of the caption, there is an island whose name, Ilha Ceu, has no known equivalent.
As a whole, the islands to its north and east are the work of the cartographer’s imagination, since the Portuguese had not yet explored the region and Ptolemaic geographic shows no islands within the Magnus Sinus.
The centre of the chart is occupied by the Moluccas, whose outline is to some extent more accurate than in Francisco Rodrigues’ Book, seeming to demonstrate that the cartographer had access to a chart of this region that has not survived. It should also be noted that the islands are not depicted to scale within the context of this chart. For example, the island of Seram (here called Seilam) stretches for seven degrees longitude, which at the equator’s latitude represents 126 leagues or 777 km. In fact, the island is no more than 340 km long, or three degrees of longitude.
In the restricted sense normally used in 16th-century Portuguese text, Maluco refers to the islands of Ternate, Tidore, Makian, Motir (or Moti) and Bachan, which produced clove and were strung out from north to south along the western coastline of island of Halmahera. Portuguese texts usually called the latter “ilha de Geilolo”, after its main kingdom, or alternatively “Batochina do Moro”, to distinguish it from “Batochina de Muar”, which referred to the island of Seram, further south and closer to Ambon. In 16th-century Portuguese texts, the term “Maluco” refers only on the centre of the area now referred to as Maluku Utara (“North Maluku”), excluding the peripheral islands, while Maluku Tengah (“Central Maluku”) refers to the islands of Buru, Seram and Ambon, and Maluku Selatan (“South Maluku”) to the chain of islands off Timor (Liran, Wetar, Kisar, Moa, etc.).
The Moluccas islands stricto sensu are shown on this chart by eight large, five medium-sized and nine small islands, set out in a cluster pattern. This is even less accurate than the sketch produced by Francisco Rodrigues, who lined them up from north to south along the coastline of the large island that is identified as Ilha dos Papuas, and is now called Halmahera, although the Portuguese called it “Geilolo” or “Batochina do Moro”. However, it should be noted that papua (pepuah in Malay) means “curly” or “frizzled”, so “Island of Papuas” may mean something any of the eastern Southeast Asian islands where the population is more Melanesian, with negroid characteristics, and not necessarily from New Guinea. In contrast, Rodrigues is more accurate on another issue than the Atlas Miller, which locates the “ilhas do cravo” (the Moluccas stricto sensu, marked with the Portuguese flag) in the northern hemisphere between 1° 45’ and 7° 30’ latitude, when they are in fact located on either side of the equator, between 45’ N, the latitude of Ternate, and 55’ S, the latitude at the southernmost tip of Bachan. The Central Moluccas – set around the island of Seram, which is called Seilam Insula on this map due to contamination by the Portuguese word Ceilão (Ceylon) – are also shifted northwards. Seram itself is shown straddling the equator, when its true location is between 2º 46’ and 3º 51’ S.
Nonetheless, the drawing of this group of islands is more accurate here than in Francisco Rodrigues’ Book, which is hardly surprising since several Portuguese expeditions had visited the region by the time the Atlas Miller was being produced.
The first Portuguese fleet to sail to the Moluccas was preceded by a junk jointly owned by a rich Tamil trader from Malacca called Nina Chatu and Rui de Araújo, the first Portuguese factor in Malacca. It was captained by a master of Persian origin called Ismael, and entrusted with announcing to those lands that Malacca had fallen to the Portuguese. Shortly afterwards, the first official Portuguese expedition, three ships under António de Abreu, set off from Malacca with orders to erect padrões (Portuguese marker stones) in the main places where he landed. Besides two Malays, Abreu took the following as pilots: Gonçalo de Oliveira, Luís Botim and the well-known Francisco Rodrigues, whom Afonso de Albuquerque described as a “young man who was in these parts, whose knowledge is great and who knows how to make patterns (i.e., maps)”.107 The expedition set sail in November 1511 and stopped in Geresik, in the far east of Java. Then, one of the vessels (under Francisco Serrão) was wrecked, although António de Abreu’s ship managed to save the survivors. Given the adverse conditions, the fleet abandoned the idea of going to Banda and wintered in Gulegule, a port some 25 leagues south-west of Seram, recorded here with the name Guliguli, written in minuscule on the eastern part of Seram. They only reached Banda – a minuscule ten-island archipelago of which only six are inhabited, but where nutmeg grew – some three months later. Recorded as the Ilhas de Banda on this chart, the form of the islands is relatively accurate but their size is enormously exaggerated as in total, the surface area of the archipelago is no more than 44 km2. In contrast, the islands’ average latitude (4º 42’ S) is relatively accurate.
The ships under António de Abreu did their trade and Francisco Serrão purchased a junk to replace the one lost off Java. Since one of the other vessels was not in good shape, they decided to return to Malacca rather than continue to the Moluccas, taking the cargo of nutmeg, mace and cloves that they had acquired in Banda. However, Francisco Serrão had no better luck with his junk than with his ship. While António de Abreu and his two vessels would return safely to Malacca, Serrão was again shipwrecked, this time off Turtle Island. The Portuguese sometimes called this Luçapinu, an approximate transcription of the Malay Nusa Penyu, which does indeed mean “turtle island” and is part of the Turtle Islands (Kepulauan Penyu, 5° 25’ S, 127° 55’ E, WSW of Banda). On this chart, these islands are called Ilhas do Serrão, with the normal inflation of their size but correctly located in relation to Banda. The island called Ilha Solitária cannot be definitively identified because that area has no known isolated island. Its position in relation to Seram suggests that it must be one of the islands from the Seran Laut group (c. 3º 48’ S, 131º E), of which only one island had been sighted.
Francisco Serrão and his seven or eight crew members were saved by a coracora (type of boat) crewed by maritime nomads (called bajaus in Malay) who took him to Ambon. The kings of Ternate and Tidore, who were both seeking friendship with the Portuguese, sent for him. As the messengers from Ternate were the first to arrive, Serrão departed with them and finally reached the Moluccas. He decided to remain there, sending reports and a cargo of cloves to Malacca on the junk captained by the same Ismael, who had gone in search of him to Ternate. In turn, Ismael’s junk would later sink in Tuban, the aforementioned port in eastern Java, but the merchandise would later be recovered by the fleet of João Lopes Alvim and sent to Java in March 1513 by Rui de Brito Patalim, the captain of Malacca.
Late in 1513, or more probably in early 1514, Rui de Brito Patalim sent a second fleet out from Malacca for the east of the Southeast Asian islands, this time under the command of António de Miranda de Azevedo. Like that of António de Abreu, this fleet consisted of three vessels, and also failed to make it past Banda, instead trading for the cloves that it brought back and meeting Serrão, who went there for that specific purpose.
In 1515, Jorge de Albuquerque, the second captain of Malacca, once again sent António de Miranda de Azevedo to Banda in the Bretão, this time accompanied by a junk. The ship was to be loaded with spice and to take replies to the letters received. A letter of Álvaro do Cocho, who sailed as the royal factor, reveal that the junk belonged to Naina Suryadeva, another Hindu trader from Malacca. The returning fleet brought back more fully loaded junks that must have been chartered or purchased in Banda. In 1516, Álvaro do Cocho embarked on his second voyage, sent from Malacca by the third captain, Jorge de Brito. In fact, Álvaro do Cocho was the captain of the first Portuguese vessel to reach the Moluccas stricto sensu, and was also responsible for returning to Portugal with the first padrão (nautical map) of the Moluccas from experience, since the sketches produced by Francisco Rodrigues, who never got further than Ambon, were clearly based on Malay maps or mere oral information. Given the Atlas Miller’s greater accuracy in showing the Central Moluccas, it is tempting to conclude that it was based on the now lost map drawn by Álvaro do Cocho. However, the drawing of the Moluccas themselves or the North Moluccas is surprisingly inaccurate.
In 1517, by order of Jorge de Brito, a caravel captained by Manuel Falcão and a junk were sent to Banda, where they loaded up and returned to Malacca without reaching the Moluccas. The same happened in 1518, this time with a junk captained by Simão Vaz. Sent out to Banda by Nuno Vaz Pereira, the fourth captain of Malacca, Vaz traded successfully but did not sail to the Moluccas. The following voyages regularly visited Ternate, where Serrão still remained. However, his story is not relevant here since it could not have been known in Portugal around 1519, when the Atlas Miller was being produced, and correspondingly had no impact on its creation. It is curious to note that the relatively accurate drawing of the Moluccas in the atlas does not seem to fit in with the intent to confuse potential competitors for possession of these islands, an aim that apparently emerges in other details. However, the goal may have been to suggest that the archipelago was well known and under control, while disguising the routes to reach it. This could explain the depiction of a gigantic set of shallows east of the Moluccas, in a semicircle that stretches from 8° N to 13º S and forms a veritable chastity belt around the much sought-after islands.
The Ilha dos Papagaios (Parrot Island) located north-west of Seram is shown in approximately the same place as in the drawing by Francisco Rodrigues. However, it then seems to disappear from Portuguese cartography, as no further mention of it is made in narrative sources. Given its position in relation to Seram, it would seem to be the small island of Boano (3° S, 128º E), which measures 149 km2. However, the islands that Tomé Pires claimed (in Suma Oriental) produced parrots are Morotai, north-east of Halmahera (2º 10’ N, 128º 30’ E), Bachan (40’ S, 127º 30’ E) and one of the five “Clove Islands”, as well as Seram for white parrots. If this island shows any of the above, it can only be Morotai, since Seram is named and Bachan is evidently one of the Moluccas cluster.
The depiction of the islands of Ambon and Buro is very inaccurate. Ambon, which actually lies 3º 40’ S, 128º E, south of Seram, has been shifted west, or further west than Buro, which lies to the north-west, between 3º 3’ and 3° 52’ S, and between 125° 57’ and 127° 15’ E. Moreover, the respective size of the islands has also been inverted, with Buro (real size 9,599 km2) appearing as smaller than Ambon, which only totals 761 km2.
The islands shown along the northern coast of Seram, and all those depicted east of the island or south of the islands of Serrão, Banda and Solitária are works of the cartographer’s imagination.
The supposed eastern land mass
The image of this supposed land mass – further examined in the following chart, which aims to draw it in its entirety – is a complete fraud that does not even correspond to the one in that chart, on the back of this sheet.
The shape of the coast and the line of one of the rivers, with two separate mouths, are copied from the map of the Magnus Sinus in the atlas by Ptolemy, or to be more exact, the one by Planudes. However, while the east coast of the Magnus Sinus runs from 18º N to 9º S, the latitude is stretched, reaching at least 23º N, the parallel that coincides with the upper edge of the map, and a similar amount to the south, reaching its lower edge. Thus, the said coastline is stretched from a genuine range of 27º to one of at least 46º.
Just five place-names are given for rivers: from north to south – Cacoto, Bazaca, Papioco or perhaps Parioco, Zaba and Malu. The origins of these names cannot be determined, although they sometimes seem to suggest other geographical features found in the atlas. Thus, Bazaca may be Bazacata, an island shown in the middle of the Sinus Gangeticus, or perhaps Balaca, which Ptolemy identifies as an island off Taprobana, at 5º 20’ S, 129º (= 101º) E. In turn, Parioco (or Papioco) suggests Parloco, the name of an island in the next chart, which may perhaps be identified as Japan. In Ptolemaic geography, Zaba is the name of an island located on the equator at 135º (= 107º) E, east of Taprobana, while Zabai (Sabe, in other versions), is a city just beyond the Magnum Promontorium, the southern tip of Aurea Chersonesus (the Malay Peninsula). Malu could be several place-names found in Ptolemaic geography: Male, one of the regions of India Intra Gangem; Malea, a mountain in Taprobana; Maleum, a promontory in the Gulf of Barygaza (Baruch) which corresponds to that of Cambay, within Cisgangetic India; Maleus, a mountain in the region of the Suari, on the Ganges; or Malli, a people on the banks of the Hydaspes (now Jhelum), one of the rivers in the Punjab.
The illuminations show some mountains and trees that seem to be Dicotyledoneae, while there are no palm trees, even around the equator.
Luís Filipe Thomaz
Director of the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Portuguese Catholic University
(Fragment of the Atlas Miller commentary volume)