São Pedro and Pêro de Ataíde were friends, almost brothers and comrades in arms, having braved unknown terrors on three oceans, having served on Vasco Da Gama’s expedition around the Cape Of Good Hope to India. And now they were once again on Pedro Alvares Cabral’s expedition, clerks on a 70t carrack, a square-rigged, 2ooft. Caravel commanded by El Rei Sancho de Tovar, Vice-admiral, nick named Inferno. Together, they had braved uncertain tides, winds, scurvy, dysentery and adventures in the many ports that they had docked.
Cabral sailed to four continents – Europe to Africa, America, and Asia and his fleet of thirteen ships. Effectively commanded by Tovar, first made landfall on what he initially assumed to be a large island. Dropping anchor at the mouth of the Frade river, Cabral noticed that a group of natives had assembled on the beach. He dispatched a landingcontingent, headed by Nicolau Coelho. The men learned that the natives belonged to the Tupiniquim tribe. Coelho tossed them his hat and in return received a feathered headdress from their chieftain.
Strong overnight winds prompt the ships to lift anchor and sail north, finding shelter behind a reef at Cabráli Bay. A pilot named Afonso Lopes led a scouting party ashore and encounter a native canoe being rowed downstream. The Portuguese sailors confined a pair of surprised Indians and returned to Cabral’s ship. Unable communicate with the Indians, the Portuguese nevertheless fed the Indians cake and honey that they promptly spat out, unable to bear the taste. They were also visibly distressed at the sight of a chicken. After the rather awkward meal, the Indians were gifted cloth and beads and slept on board the ship that night.
The next day a group of sailors led by Nicolau Coelho and Bartolomeu Dias came ashore, accompanied by the two natives and watched warily by a band of Tupiniquims armed with bows and poisoned arrows. On a sign implying peaceful intent from the accompanying Indians two natives, Cabral’s sailors were allowed collect fresh water from the river.
The fleet lay anchored for a week, and in the interim, through a combination of signs and learning words from each other’s languages, the Portuguese and Tupiniquim gradually began a tenuous relationship – iron nails, cloth, beads and crucifixes were bartered for amulets, spears, parrots and monkeys. Portuguese ‘degredados’ (With the introduction of the penal transportation system, the term degredado became synonymous with convict exiles) and many of the sailors were assigned to spend nights in the village, while the rest of the crews remained on board their ships.
That night São Pedro and Pêro de Ataíde, sharing a meal with an Indian family, discovered Tapioca. Tapioca is derived from the word tipi’óka, its name in the Tupí language, referring to the process by which the cassava starch is made edible. The mashed cassava was mixed with native peppers, herbs and fish caught in the river. The next morning Pedro and Ataide and many of the other sailors who had relished the cassava were gifted sacks full of the tuber.
The fleet provisioned and then turned eastward to resume its journey to India. The objective of this expedition was to procure valuable spices and establish trade relations in India, competing the monopoly that the Moors, Turks and Italians possessed over the trade of spices to Europe and West Asia.
In spite of the loss of ships to a storm in the southern Atlantic and accidents of the coast of Africa, six remaining ships regrouped off Mozambique, eventually arriving at Calicut. Maintaining their ledgers and journals daily São Pedro and Pêro de Ataíde ventured into the grog houses and opium dens around the port, sometimes carousing with ebony skinned women. It was on one such foray that Sao Pedro carried a cloth bag filled with some of the cassava that they had so assiduously saved over the course of their arduous voyage and gifted it to a lady, then the object of his affections. Later that night, he taught her to cook the casava.
In Kerala, boiled and mashed tapioca is often paired with meats or fish, especially sardines. Mashed tapioca with dried salted sardines, covered in green chilly paste is cooked on charcoal.
Tapioca also contains numerous health benefits, aids in weight gain, helps increase circulation and red blood cell count, protects against birth defects, improves digestion, prevents diabetes and lowers cholesterol level. Tapioca also enhances metabolism, maintains bone mineral density and fluid balance within the body.