Gama, Gaspar da

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GAMA, GASPAR DA (c. 1440–1510), Jewish traveler; his original name is unknown. Born, according to one account, in Posen (Poland), he made his way to Jerusalem and then Alexandria, was taken prisoner and sold as a slave in India, where he obtained his freedom and entered the service of the ruler of Goa. When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived off Angediva in 1498, he was greeted in a friendly fashion by this long-bearded European on behalf of his master, but Vasco da Gama treacherously seized the Jew and compelled him to embrace Christianity under the baptismal name of Gaspar da Gama. He now had to pilot the fleet in Indian waters and was subsequently brought back to Portugal. In Lisbon, Gaspar was granted a pension by the king, who employed his linguistic ability in subsequent Portuguese naval expeditions. In 1500 he accompanied Cabral on his voyage in western waters and was with Nicolau Coelho when he first stepped ashore in Brazil. On the return voyage he met Amerigo Vespucci, the Tuscan explorer after whom America is named, at Cabo Verde and was consulted by him. Later he went to India once more with Vasco da Gama (1502–03) and again in 1505 with Francisco d'Almeida. He took part in the latter's expedition against Calicut in 1510, when he may have died.


A. Wiznitzer, Jews in Colonial Brazil (1960), 3–5; Huemmerich, in: Revista da Universidade de Coimbra (1927); W.J. Fischel, Ha-Yehudim be-Hodu (1960), 15–30; M. Kayserling, Christopher Columbus … (Eng., 19282), 113–9.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]