Nicolo Conti, A Fifteen Century Traveler In Malabar
Nicolo` de' Conti, a Venetian travelled in India and the East for 25 years, between 1419 and 1444. On his return from India when he reached Mecca, Conti was forced to convert in order to save his family; and on his arrival in Italy in 1444, he sought absolution from Pope Eugenius IV. This was granted on condition that he would truthfully relate his travels to the Pope's secretary Poggio Bracciolini. Poggio Bracciolini recorded Conti's travels in Latin in his 'Historia de Varietate Fortunae'.
In 1419, Conti started off from Damascus where he had resided for some years, and the first Indian city which he touched was Cambay in Gujarat. He also visited many places in India including Bizenegalia (Vijayanagar), Pelagonda [Penugonda], Peudifetania [Pulicat?], Odeschiria [Udayagiri], Cenderghiria [Chandragiri], Malepur [Mylapore] and Quilon, Cochin & Calicut on the Malabar coast in Kerala.
"Coylang," or Quilon, from 'Gedenkweerdige Brasiliaense Zee en Lantreize ...' by Johan Nieuhof, published by Jacob van Meurs, Amsterdam, 1682
Description of Coloen [Quilon/Kollam]
The circumference of Quilon is 12 miles. This province is called Melibaria [Malabar], and they trade Ginger named 'colobi', Pepper, Brazilwood and Cinnamon named 'crassa'.
Serpents & Flying Cats: There are serpents without feet [Python?], six cubits in length, wild but harmless unless irritated. There is another kind of harmless serpent with four feet and an oblong tail like that of large dogs, which are hunted for food. In this region there are venomous serpents also having 7 heads arranged along the body, one cubit in length and winged like bats. They live in trees and are of swift flight. They can destroy men by their breath alone.
There are also flying cats [flying lemur or colugo]; they have a small skin attached to the body, extending from the fore to the hinder feet. When they fly they spread it and move it like wings. These are also hunted for food.
Jackfruit Tree & Mango: A tree named Cachi grows here in great abundance, the trunk of which produces fruits resembling the pineapple, but so large as to be lifted with difficulty by one man. The rind is green and hard. Within it 250-300 sweet apples resembling figs, separated from each other by follicles. The sweet apples have a kernel resembling chestnut in hardness and flavor. The kernels are also roasted in the same manner as chestnuts. They feed the cattle with the external bark. The fruit of this tree is sometimes found under the earth in its roots; these excel the others in flavor and for this reason they present them to the king and nobles. The tree is like a large fig tree having leaves intercised like that of palm; the wood is equal to box wood and is much priced for its applicability to many purposes.
There is another fruit named Amba, green like a Walnut but bigger than Peach. The outer rind is bitter but within it is sweet like honey. They steep them in water to remove the acidity before they are ripe in the same manner we steep green Olives.
Description of Cocym [Cochin]: According to Conti, it is 5 miles in circumference and situated at the entrance of a river, from which it derives its name. While sailing in this river, Conti saw lighted fires along the banks and thought that they were made by fishermen. But those who were with him in the ship exclaimed, 'Icepe, Icepe'; these were fishes or monsters, having human form which on the day time live in the water, and in the night comes out of the water, and collect wood and make fire by striking one stone against another. Fishes attracted by the light swim towards it, which the monsters seize and eat.
View of Cochin on the Malabar Coast of India, Johannes Vinckboons 1662-1663
In Cochin he saw the same fruits as in Quilon. After visiting Colanguria [Kodungallur/Cranganore], Paliuria and Meliancota he reached Calicut.
Description of Calicut/Kozhikode: It is a maritime city eight miles in circumference, a noble emporium for all India, abounding in pepper, lac, ginger, a larger kind of cinnamon and many other aromatic spices. In this district alone the women are allowed to take several husbands. The husbands contribute amongst themselves to the maintenance of the wife, who lives apart from her husbands. When one visits her he leaves a mark at the door of the house, which being seen by another coming afterwards, he goes away without entering. The children are allotted to the husbands at the will of the wife. The inheritance of the father does not descend to the children, but to the grandchildren.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely of Nicolo Conti.
The Travels of Nicolo Conti, in the East, in the Early Part of the Fifteenth Century, as related by Poggio Bracciolini, in his work entitled "Historia de Varietate Fortune" translated by J. Winter Jones, In 'India in the Fifteen Century'