The global network of Garcia de Orta
The connection between globalisation and Garcia de Orta’s Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India
Before Garcia de Orta wrote his famous Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, he was a young boy living in Castelo de Vide, a small town in Portugal close to the Spanish border. In 1492, the Spanish Crown carried out a decree which forced the Jews in Spain to convert to Christianity. The ones who converted to Christianity became christão novos—New Christians. However, as a result of this decree, many Spanish Jews emigrated to Portugal during the 1490’s. Two of these Spanish Jews were Garcia de Orta’s parents, Fernão and Leonor de Orta, who appeared to have become Christians.
Garcia de Orta’s father was a merchant and it seems that the family was reasonably wealthy, since they were able to send their son to the universities of Salamanca and Alcalá in Spain so that he could study medicine. After de Orta finished his studies, he continued his career in medicine, soon moving to Lisbon in 1526, where he worked for the university.
However, despite his appointment to the university, de Orta set sail for India in March 1534. The fleet belonged to de Orta’s friend and patron, Martim Affonso de Sousa, and on board he served as the chief physician. Roughly six months later, in September 1534, de Orta arrived in Goa. The next four years of his life were spent travelling with de Sousa along the western coast of India, where he visited various Indian cities, including Gujarat, Cochin, and Ceylon.
In 1538, de Orta’s travels had reached their end and he settled in Goa, where he remained for the next thirty years, until his death in 1568. In Goa, de Orta worked both as a physician and a merchant. Especially his work as physician granted him high status, since his patients ranged from the local sultan to multiple Portuguese politicians, including viceroys and governors.
Statue of Garcia de Orta at the Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (Lisbon)