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Acculturation and Assimilation

By Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Permanent Black Delhi, 2011, pp.227, 595.00


This book deals with the careers of three individuals, Miyan 'Ali bin Yusuf, Anthony Sherley and Nicolo Manuzzi in the early modern period. It analyses the processes of acculturation and assimilation that marked the career of these three men-an exile, a diplomat and a traveller, the limits of these processes and the historical reasons for these limits (p. xvi). The author draws our attention to the complexities of the constantly changing lives and fortunes of individuals inhabiting the periphery of the social, cultural, political and economic world created by early modern European expansion. Subrahmanyam identifies the various levels at which they eng-aged with the people, how they adapted and self fashioned their identities, and assumed multi-facetted roles. He uncovers the many masks that these 'tricksters' wore and the socio-cultural constraints within which they operate. Chapters two, three and four form the core of this book. The second chapter looks at the life of Miyan 'Ali bin Yusuf, the son of Yusuf 'Adil Khan, who established himself as the ruler of Bijapur following the disintegra-tion of the Bahmani Sultanate. Miyan 'Ali bin Yusuf lived in Goa under the protection of the Portuguese. The exiled prince had been party to a political conspiracy that sought to over-throw the ruler of Bijapur and to install him instead. However, ill-conceived plans and diplomatic manoeuvring left him politically cornered, and a pawn in the larger scheme of Portuguese diplomacy. The Bijapur ruler almost purchased him from Governor Martim Afonso de Sousa, but he was rescued by his successor Dom Joao de Castro. Ali was freed and given residence adjacent to the Jesuit church and seminary in Goa. In the 1550s and 1560s, Ali and his family began to feel the pressure of the Counter Reformation in Goa. Subrahmanyam discusses the political and social tensions that the family experienced with the conversion of Ali's daughter in 1557 to Christianity and, later the conversion to Christianity in 1560 of a prospective wife for one of Ali's sons. Subrahmanyam highlights the importance of such conversions and their role in accommodating and rehabilitating the regional elite in the new aristocratic order established by the Portuguese in Goa. Many of these elites lived away from their home-lands in the Moluccas, Sri Lanka, Munhumu-tapa, Badakhshan, Arakan and other parts of South Asia. Subrahmanyam argues that they '... came to be profoundly isolated and alienated, allowed to retain their religious identity and "another law" ...

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