berry, Myanmar

A Journey to Bago. And to the Portuguese Kingdom of Pegu

holy rest
The propped head of the prone Buddha of Mya Tha Lyaung.
In rest
Another Buddha lying down, much smaller than Mya Tha Lyaung's.
Tropical Gardening
Tropical gardening in the heights.
The Mahazedi Pagoda with its golden pinnacle glowing against the blue sky.
Buddhist cycle life
Cyclist walks along a side avenue of Bago, with the Mahazedi pagoda in the background.
Buddhist monks skirt the base of the Mahazedi Pagoda.
The Pagoda of Pagodas
Shwemawdaw Pagoda the tallest in Myanmar at 114 meters high.
Triumph of Buddhism
Panorama of Bago with the Shwemawdaw Pagoda highlighted above the coconut tree forest.
Buddhist Fashion Reflexology
The worked feet of the lying Buddha of Mya Tha Lyaung.
look from above
Reclining Buddha Mya Tha Lyaung's head, in holy observation.
Architectural perspective of the Mahazedi Pagoda.
Works of Gold
Bamboo clad Shwemawdaw Pagoda during a golden cladding intervention.
shadow guardian
Buddhist figure at the base of the Mahazedi Pagoda.
a sharp sanctuary
Multilevel pagoda shrine inside Mahazedi pagoda complex.
shwemawdaw in works
Base of Shwemawdaw Pagoda, with its top in repairs.
Determined and opportunistic, two Portuguese adventurers became kings of Pegu's kingdom. His dynasty only lasted from 1600 to 1613. It has gone down in history.

Dawn came too early. Worn out by the long journey from Yangon, by the successive ascents and descents to Golden Rock and its Kyaiktiyo sacred pagoda, we don't even notice.

So we said our goodbyes in a hurry from the hills of Kelasa and Mount Kyaiktiyo, aimed at the village of Kin Pun at the foot.

After three hours of a hot bus journey, we reached Bago.

Rangoon the great Burmese city remained. Except for the political aberrations of the Myanmar dictatorial regime that led to the founding of the unusual Naypyidaw, it would always be the country's capital. Bago and its region, for their part, concealed a historical connection with Portugal that was equally or more unusual. In such a peculiar way that we saw them as unavoidable.

When we got off the bus, two young people identified us and greeted us, we thought that the guides we had given them to show us around. Helpful, help us with the backpacks. However, they lacked a car or van. Accordingly, they balance behind the wheel of two scooters, with our biggest baggage at their feet.

We first passed through the home they used as the base of their operations. There they arrange our backpacks. There they put us at ease, serve us tea and talk with us until they feel that we have recovered from the morning's punishment.

Maun, the leader of the duo speaks good English. Much better than we would have thought. When we praise your ease of use in the language, we give you an unexpected explanation. “Yeah, it's normal. It's just that I lived in Ireland for some time. I met an Irish visitor here and we got involved.

She ended up getting pregnant. I was still living with her near Dublin for almost half a year. But then I couldn't find work. I felt increasingly rootless and demoralized. I didn't want to just stay at home taking care of Liam (son of both) and living off her. And I came back. Liam is beautiful. It's white but has Asian features. I miss you a lot. Especially his."

Maun struggles to disguise the commotion. When he succeeds, he challenges us to discover the city. Each one of us, behind one of them, on their bikes.

Bagu, Kingdom of Pegu, Syriao

Panorama of Bago with the Shwemawdaw Pagoda highlighted above the coconut tree forest.

A Motorized Discovery of Bago

No helmets but... slowly, slowly. At a speed that allowed us to appreciate the city and, at the same time, hear the explanations that the cicerones shouted at us.

As we walked around, we reinforced the notion that the bikes hadn't been a bad idea.

Bago is a mere 70km from Rangoon. Road number 1 connecting northeastern Myanmar to the big Burmese city runs through it. Frequently, an assorted and gaudy traffic clogs it up. Here and there, buses, both local and regional, take their time to drop passengers off. And a restless fleet of motorcycles and tricycles travels to and fro, in dispute with potential customers.

In the early afternoon hours, the tropical heat cooks the smoke released by traffic. It creates an oppressive atmosphere that makes the high distances between the city's key monuments even more painful.

Monuments abound in Bago. Buddhists. All of them imposing and golden.

From the terrace of Maun's house, we could see the tops of its pagodas standing out above a dense, somewhat misty forest where coconut trees predominated. Road 1 above, we find them closing large two-way alleys.

Shwemawdaw and Mahazedi: Grand Pagodas and Monuments of Burmese Buddhism

We are faced first with the Shwemawdaw Paya, the tallest pagoda in the whole of Myanmar at an impressive 114 meters and, to date, with its eccentricity redoubled by a dense network of bamboo scaffolding that covered it from the first room to its sharp zenith.

We were able to distinguish some workers posted outside this network, busy recovering the integrity of the thick gold leaf that covered the temple and that time had compromised.

Bagu, Kingdom of Pegu, Syriao

Shwemawdaw Pagoda the tallest in Myanmar at 114 meters high.

We continued. We entered the complex of a competing pagoda, that of Mahazedi, the shadow already taking hold of its base.

At that hour, we saw no sign of tourists. Only a few Buddhist monks and believers walked around the base, or burned incense and prayed in the sub-pagodas that dotted it.

From this inexorable shadow, we could admire, in all its brilliance, the resplendent luminosity of the white and yellow pagoda that contrasted with the cloudless sky, a deep blue-blue.

In addition to white and yellow, this second pagoda was also golden. Gold always abounded, whatever the nation's monument to Buddhism, as it seemed to abound throughout old Burma.

A Journey in the Time of Bago and Pegu

This precious ubiquity already came from afar, from the golden age of the kingdom of Pegu, that is what the Portuguese continue to call these places and the city where we were circling.

One of the reasons we were there was the incredible story of the Portuguese dynasty of the Pegu kings. In our view, worthy of a feature film without budget limits. Let's focus on what your plot would be.

It only took a few years after the Portuguese settled on the west coast of India for Portuguese discoverers and merchants to venture into the nearest waters and coastlines.

Those in the southern kingdoms of present-day Myanmar were not even controlled by Goa nor by the Portuguese Crown held by Felipe I of Portugal (2nd of Spain).

Nor did other influential domains in India rule there.

Bagu, Kingdom of Pegu, Syriao

The propped head of the prone Buddha of Mya Tha Lyaung.

Bay of Bengal and the Kingdoms of Burma, a Spring that the Portuguese Knew

As such, captains, merchants and other wealthy Portuguese entrepreneurs could operate there in their commercial and mercenary activities, often serving the monarchs of these parts, without having to account to Goa or Lisbon.

The Portuguese had known, for a long time, the kingdoms of Pegu, Ava, Aracão and the emerging and increasingly powerful kingdom of Toungou. They kept an eye on the political-military chessboard in the area, attentive to how they could benefit from it.

We come to 1599. Min Raza Gyi, the king of Aracan, (Xilimixa to the Portuguese) had long been looking for an opportunity to capture the neighboring kingdom and main rival of Pegu.

Pegu had been resisting integration into the Burmese empire for decades, but by that time Min Raza Gyi estimated that the enemy's degree of instability and weakness had increased sufficiently. It decided to attack and take the capital city of the same name.

In order to ensure the success of the expedition, he recruited a body of Portuguese mercenaries, including Filipe de Brito and Nicote, since 1590, a salt trader on the island of Sundiva, among other occupations, as his name, the son of a father, shows. French and Portuguese mother. We were also accompanied by some Jesuit missionaries.

It was these who narrated and recorded the events for posterity.

The Mercenary Services of Filipe de Brito e Nicote and Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa

Father Manuel de Abreu Mousinho described in his chronicle “Short Speech in which the Conquest of Pegu in India is Counted” that, at that time, another Portuguese adventurer, Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa, was sailing back to Portugal determined to demand the Crown reward for his services and for two of his brothers who have died in the East.

Bagu, Kingdom of Pegu, Syriao

Cyclist walks along a side avenue of Bago, with the Mahazedi pagoda in the background.

Extremely harsh weather forced him to climb the Gulf of Ganges. Upon learning of what was happening in Pegu, Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa joined Filipe de Brito and Nicote and began to co-command the troops of the king of Aracão in the conquest of Pegu.

The Portuguese led the Araconese to victory. As a reward, Xilimixa agreed to build a factory in the port of Syria, today a village south of Rangoon, situated where the river Pegu joins the Yangon.

Banhadala, a subject of Xilimixa, intervened in the agreement. This interference triggered a long conflicting saga between the Portuguese and the kingdom of Arracão, in military terms commanded by Banhadala.

The Long Saga of Conflict with Arracão

Banhadala immediately began fortifying Sirião and banned access to the Portuguese, with the exception of Belchior da Luz, a Dominican friar. Filipe de Brito and Nicote reacted.

Before work on the fortress advanced too far, he sought the support of three other captains.

Two of them were João de Oliva and Paulo do Rego. He found the third in Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa, who saw much more interest and potential gained in this military challenge than in his return to the Metropolis.

In June 1600, using newly built fire machines, more than fifty Portuguese men attacked Banhadala by surprise. They burned his factory. Soon, they passed to the incomplete fortress.

They killed so many subjects of Banhadala that they forced a panicked mob to take refuge on a nearby island.

At the top, the Portuguese fortified themselves in the fortress and terrorized part of the subjects of Banhadala who remained there.

Upon learning of this unexpected outcome, King Min Raza Gyi decided to rescue Banhadala. However, in the years he had spent in the Filipe de Brito and Nicote region, he had consolidated a considerable manipulative power over Xilimixa.

In a debate with the monarch, he convinced him that Banhadala was nothing more than an opportunistic traitor, that he himself would resolve the conflict with the Portuguese and try to control them.

Xilimixa agreed. But the soap opera was far from being here. Filipe de Nicote left for Goa, offered the new stronghold to the Viceroy of Goa. It also multiplied embassies to rulers from neighboring domains and challenged them to ally themselves with Portugal in the conquest of Pegu.

Bagu, Kingdom of Pegu, Syriao

Tropical gardening in the heights.

Commander Banhadala's First of Five Frustrated Onslaughts

During this hiatus, Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa was in charge of Sirião, and Xilimixa was at the mercy of intrigues against the Portuguese. After a short time, he decreed that they had to leave Pegu for good. To guarantee this, he sent Banhadala, at the head of an enormous fleet and six thousand men. Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa had only three ships and thirty men.

Banhadala's numerical supremacy helped him little or nothing. Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa and the Portuguese devastated Arracão's forces, captured forty of his boats and made the attackers disband.

This was only the first of Aragon's attacks on Syria, always with Banhadala in command. Even if, at first, the numerical supremacy of Banhadala proved overwhelming, the next four were also rejected by Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa.

With each defeat of Banhadala and the Arakanese, Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa's reputation for invincibility in the region only increased.

And even more so when the Portuguese captain got the better of a certain King Massinga from the province of Camelan. Saturated with so much destruction, upon seeing the power of the Portuguese, the people of Pegu opted to join them. It remained for history that Philippe de Brito and Nicote were claimed to be king of Pegu.

Filipe de Brito and Nicote's Forced Ascent to the Throne of Pegu

As the latter was then absent, Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa accepted the position on his behalf. When Filipe de Brito e Nicote returned, he finally occupied the throne and resumed his always busy diplomatic agenda.

Later, Salvador Ribeiro de Sousa resumed the journey back to Portugal which he had interrupted in 1600. He will have spent his last days in his native Minho.

The king of Aracão, that one, had to conform to the new and painful reality of the Portuguese Kingdom of Pegu.

For some time now, the projects of Filipe de Brito and Nicote have seen their claims validated and supported by the Viceroy of Goa and even by Filipe II of Portugal. In such a way that the monarch gave him the title of nobleman, and armed Knight of the Order of Christ.

Finally, the completion of the Feitoria de Sirião

Thus rewarded, Filipe de Brito and Nicote returned to Sirion and rebuilt the Customs House. Thereafter, he forced all ships that passed the coast of Pegu to pass through and pay tribute.

Year after year, Sirião and Pegu enriched Filipe Brito and Nicote and, so it is believed, Goa and Lisbon.

These good winds were still blowing when the ever dissatisfied Portuguese decided to try to expand their kingdom.

By 1610, Anaukpetlun, a king of the north, had already gathered most of Burma under his rule. The kingdom of Taungu resisted. Displeased, Anaukpetlun attacked and secured Taungu's surrender. And he appointed a cousin of his, Natshinnaung, viceroy of that realm. Natshinnaung resented the insignificance of the position.

In revenge, he enticed Filipe de Brito and Nicote to take Taungu. Filipe de Brito and Nicote was not asked. He got the support of the Siamese and, in this convenient alliance, in 1612, he headed for Taungu. The conquest failed. Natshinnaung accompanied Filipe de Brito and Nicote to Sirion.

The Revenge of Burmese King Anaukpetlun and the End of the Portuguese Kingdom of Pegu

The mighty king Anaukpetlun reacted with a fury to match. In 1613, Anaukpetlun besieged Syria. After a month of siege he conquered it. Vengeful, he impaled Filipe de Brito and Nicote.

Despite this atrocious end, the first Portuguese king of Pegu is still known in Burma history as “Nga Zinga”, the good man. As for Natshinnaung, in the last days of the siege he agreed to become a Christian and baptized him a priest of Goa.

Natshinnaung also refused the challenge of his cousin who offered him forgiveness, against an oath of allegiance. And the contemptuous response of Anaukpetlun when he decreed his execution was celebrated: “You would rather be the slave of a foreigner than serve a king of your own race”.

Thus, at the age of thirty-four, the one that the Burmese consider one of the principals of classical poetry was lost. Yadu of his story, creator of poems of love but also military, in which he elegantly described soldiers, troops mounted on elephants, among others.

Anaukpetlun also enslaved the Portuguese and mestizos bayingyi, who had Portuguese and Asian blood. later these bayingyi they went on to serve the Burmese monarchs.

The Portuguese Kingdom of Pegu, on the other hand, had a sudden and dramatic end, if we compare it with the persistent and gradual takeover of the Portuguese. It lasted a modest but intense thirteen years.

The destruction of Syria at the hands of Anaukpetlun proved such that little or nothing of the Portuguese legacy survived. It is known that there was a church inside the fortress that was rebuilt and razed again during a more recent attack.

As we continued to see, full of majestic and colorful expressions of Buddhism, today's Pegu has nothing to do with Portuguese. Until late afternoon, we admire other imposing pagodas. And then Mya Tha Lyaung's recast buddha.

We left Bago around six in the afternoon, shortly after sunset, limited by the schedule of the train destined for Yangon. Instead of 18 pm, the composition entered Bago station at 19 pm. And instead of entering Rangoon at 21 pm, he entered at 22 pm.

In the less than 70 km of track on rails, it gave us the impression that the composition never got to exceed 35 km/h. Like the Buddha lying back from Mya Tha Lyaung, the train service from those stops proved anesthetizing.

As contrasting as possible with the hustle and bustle of the Portuguese kings of Pegu.

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