Suma Oriental

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Suma Oriental

The Suma Oriental que trata do Mar Roxo até aos Chins (Summa of the East, from the Red Sea up to the Chinese) is a book written in Melaka and India by Tome Pires between 1512 and 1515. Pires (c. 14651524 or 1540) was a Portuguese pharmacist who stayed in Melaka from 1512 to 1515, immediately after the Portuguese conquest, at a time when Europeans were only first arriving in Southeast Asia. In Melaka, he avidly collected and documented information from the Malay-Indonesia area, and personally visited Java, Sumatera and Maluku.

The Suma Oriental is the first European description of Peninsular Malaysia and the oldest and most extensive description of the Portuguese East. It is a compilation of a wide variety of information: historical, geographical, ethnographic, botanical, economic, commercial, etc., including coins, weights and measures. The book, couched as a report to Manuel of Portugal, and perhaps fulfilling a commission undertaken before he left Lisbon, is regarded as one of the most conscientious first-hand resources for the study of the geography and trade of the Indies at that time, including one of the most important resources for the study of the contemporaneous Islam in Indonesia.

Pires was careful to investigate the accuracy of the information collected from merchants, sailors and others with whom he had contact. Although it cannot be regarded as completely free of inaccuracies in its detail, it is remarkably consistent with evidence of the time and makes no fundamentally erroneous statements about the area.

The Suma Oriental was never published and was presumed to be lost in an archive until 1944. Its contemporary rival as a source is only the better-known book of Duarte Barbosa and, later Garcia de Orta.