Project X 1497-1999





Description | Sources

Poetry-multimedia by damian lopes

Five years after Christopher Columbus’s journey to what he thought was India, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, proceeded north to East Africa, and then east, across the Indian Ocean, to land on the Indian subcontinent. Da Gama’s journey of 1497-99 is far less celebrated than that of Columbus in 1492 (especially in the English-speaking world) but its impact was just as profound, because within a few years Portugal established permanent settlements along the coasts of East Africa, Arabia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. This voyage ushered in the ‘age of discovery’ and the beginning of a new phase of European colonial expansion and exploration in Africa and Asia, empires that lasted well into the twentieth century.


Original Launch: 8 July 1997
Version 2 Launch: 8 July 1999

Written and designed by damian lopes, Project X 1497-1999 is a poetry-multimedia installation. It explores discovery, technology and colonialism by using the internet to re-examine Vasco da Gama’s first voyage from Portugal to Africa and South Asia in 1497-99.

First launched on 8 July 1997 – the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s departure from Portugal – Project X 1497-1999 had over 10 000 readers (hits to the text version, not just the homepage) in its first two years. It has also been used in university courses, including at the University of Alberta, University College London (UK) and the University of Miami (USA).

With the third phase now complete, the work uses sophisticated custom JavaScipts to link over 150 poems (in two collections), and over one hundred glosses and supplementary documents. With over three thousand hyperlinks, the poems are all highly interconnected: every word or phrase in the poems is ‘clickable,’ leading either to another poem or to a gloss. Though it appears possible to read the work in a more or less linear fashion, the JavaScripts ensure each reading is unique, just as each exploration takes the explorer on a different route. History, reading, exploration, research, surfing the web – these are all forms of navigation. And now in an age where the world’s surface has been fully ‘discovered,’ the interconnected nature of this work reflects the fact that the internet has ushered us into an age of rediscovery, finding out what we already know.

Beyond the website itself, Project X 1497-1999 inspired a panel entitled Communities Virtual at Desh Pardesh (an annual South Asian cultural festival held in Toronto) in May 1998. In addition to that panel, Project X 1497-1999 was featured in the “Notes from the Underground: Alternative Histories, Counter-Narratives” panel at the Public Displays of Asianness conference at New York University in November 1998. In June 1999, lopes returned to Desh Pardesh to moderate a panel entitled ‘’ Project X 1497-1999 returned to Desh Pardesh again in 2000 to be featured as an installation.

The development of this poetically and technically challenging site has been made possible by several sponsors. All readers are requested to make a donation, on a ‘pay what you can’ basis, but readers are free to read the text before doing so. Donations are important because the author has not been paid for the work, and readers should not expect authors to work without compensation or acknowledgement of some kind. Unfortunately, readers have not proved very honourable as yet.


Project X 1497-1999 draws on many sources, both real and imagined. Darren Wershler-Henry likes to say literature is theft, and a Goan proverb says: if you want to kill, kill an elephant; if you want to rob, rob a treasure. Here’s a list of the elephants (you’ll have to find the minor thefts on your own):

The poems attributed to Roteiro da Viagem de Vasco da Gama have been edited out of a journal of the same title. The Roteiro is believed to be an anonymous journal kept on the first voyage of Vasco da Gama. It was printed for the first time in 1838, in an edition edited by Diogo Kopke and Dr Antonio da Costa Paiva (Roteiro da Viagem que em descobrimento da India pelo Cabo da Boa Esperança fez Dom Vasco da Gama em 1497. Porto, 1838. 8vo, pp. xxviii, 184). A second edition was published in 1861, edited by A. Herculano and Baron do Castello de Paiva (Roteiro da Viagem de Vasco da Gama em MCCCCXCVII. Segunda edição. Lisboa [Imprensa Nacional], 1861. 8vo, pp. xliv, 182). The English translation, A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497-99, was edited by EG Ravenstein and published by the Hakluyt Society, London, in 1898. Some footnotes are quoted directly as glosses.

The poems attributed to Project X 1497-1999 have been edited out of several sources. Like the Roteiro, the authenticity of these journals has yet to be fully verified. The pieces attributed to João Figueiro are taken from the Archivo Portuguez Oriental (Nova Goa, 1857); those by Fernão Martims are from João de Barros’s Decadas de Asia, Dos feitos que os Portuguezes fizeram na Conquista e Descubrimento das Terras e Mares do Oriente (Lisboa, 1778); and those by João Nunez are from Castañeda’s The First Booke of the Historie of the Discoureie and Conquest of the East Indias, as translated by N. Litchfield (London, 1582). The English translations of the first two were provided by Fernando Pessoa and his colleagues.

Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive is a Victorian dictionary of Anglo-Indian terms, that is words that had come into common usage by Anglo-Indians (in the Victorian sense, meaning Britons in India, rather than denoting so-called mixed race as it tends to be used now). The first edition was edited by Henry Yule and AC Burnell, and was published in 1886. A second revised edition was edited by William Crooke, and published by John Murray, London, in 1903.
    The entries offered here are from the second edition which retains the first edition’s entries, updating them with additions marked in square brackets. Due to the limitations of setting type on the web, certain accent markings, diacriticals, and non-latin text have not been preserved. Significant omissions are marked in curly brackets.

Lendas da Índia by Gaspar Correa is a highly fanciful and inaccurate account of the early history of the Portuguese in India. Despite its failings, it remains an important document largely because of the credence it has been given by some writers and historians. The translation used here is by Henry EJ Stanley, and was originally published in London by the Hakluyt Society in 1869 under the title The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama. This translation does not comprise the whole of Lendas da Índia. Several footnotes are quoted directly as glosses.

A word of caution: don’t believe everything you read here.

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Marks the Spot Project X 1497-1999