Cranganore, Mannahatta: trading cities, river cities

I am at the mouth of an expansive stretch of water under clear blue skies and a thick curtain of coconut trees dissappearing into the horizon. Cerulean blue dhows moored along stone piers gently rock along the serpentine green river, the Periyar. For a minute I think it almost looks like the Tagus river of Lisbon gently winding its way inward, the Castello in the foreground. Then I think it reminds me of early Mannahatta too, created alongside the languid Hudson River, and marked by the brutish Dutch Fort New Amsterdam.

Muziris, ancient port city on the malabar coast was a trading destination for the Romans, Phonenicians and Syrians from the 1st century A.D. braving the seas in search of spices. Muziris is situated along the mouth of the majestic Periyar river in Kerala. It boasts the first mosque in India, the first christian presence marked by the arrival of St. Thomas, and the ruins of a large portuguese fort, the Fortaleza de Sao Tome, 1523.

Known by the name of Cranganore under Portugues and British rule, the site resonates with the early site of Mannahatta, or Dutch Manhattan that became the root for modern new york. Both were trading cities, one based in antiquity, the other the first modern metropolis. Both sites were created by Dutch colonial incursion (Peter Stuyvescent, New Amsterdam’s first Governor, had honed his skills of governance in Curacao, a Dutch colony at the time) and by the 1660 shared the same corporate identity, The Dutch East India company V. O. C’s colonial outpost. Both sites were marked by forts, houses of prayer, and a strategic vantage point along a magesterial waterway. Both were seafaring open cities, cities of refuge, where sea farers, mariners and travellers from asia, africa and europe found respite, new livelihoods, a second chance to invent a future. Cranganore and Mannahatta are linked through their Indian Ocean history of connectivity and flows, of Dutch and Portuguese incursion. (Interestingly, the first group of African descent peoples to arrive in Mannhatta were portuguese speaking Africans brought on Dutch ships from Angola via Recife to Mannhatta. This polyglottic history opens the categories of knowing through which both New York and an early port city like Muziris can begin to be understood. They represent two types of trading cities, one ancient, based on pre-industrial ideas of exchange; the other, the inventor of the modern stock exchange. (Joseph)

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