Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Dr. Garcia de Orta, Jewish Portuguese physician of Goa - first book on tropical medicine

Garcis de Orta, physician of Goa.israelstamps.com
One Portuguese nobleman based in the Portuguese colony of Goa  by the name of Garcia de Orta (or Garcia d'Orta) (1501? – 1568), a Renaissance Sephardi Jewish physician, herbalist and naturalist and  made a pioneering contribution in the area of  tropical medicine - pharmacognosy and ethnobotany. He worked in Goa, India, then a Portuguese overseas territory and  gained vast experience in some dreaded tropical diseases and made invaluable contribution to the early development of the understanding of modern medicine.  He studied countless tropical plants, herbs, etc., and gathered detailed information about their medical values to cure some serious tropical ailments/ diseases. While serving as the Chief physician at the Royal Hospital Goa, Garcia maintained  a botanical garden of his own close to the hospital, mainly for his research. However, his residence and the garden are lost over a period of time after his death.

Garcia de Orta was born in Castelo de Vide, presumably in 1501, the son of Fernão (Isaac) da Orta, a merchant, and Leonor Gomes. Educated at  the Universities of Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca in Spain, Garcia  returned to Portugal in 1525  to avoid religious persecution. That time Spanish inquisition was on and he was forced to become a Christian in 1497. After established as a good physician in his home town and later in Lisbon, he ultimately became a Physician to the Portugal king John III.  Fearing forceful implementation of Portugal inquisition and the ban on emigration of New Christians, Garcia  sailed for Portuguese India in March 1534. He settled in Goa in September in the same year and began  his practice as a physican and got a name for his healing power. He became a physician to the Viceroys, Governors of Goa and a personal physician  to Burhan Nizam Shah I of the Nizam Shahi dynasty of Ahmadnagar. As for his personal life, Garcia de Orta's marriage with his wealthy cousin  Brianda de Solis, in 1543  was  not a smooth one and was on the rock though the couple had  two daughters.

Unlike early pioneers in this field, he was a maverick and relied his studies  more on the experimental approach to the identification and use of herbal medicines rather than the traditional approach of using  available knowledge then. It was quite useful to his contemporaries who understood the basics of  tropical plants and their medicinal qualities.

He is famous for this elaborate work  Coloquios dos simples e drogas e cousas medicinais da India published in 1565  by him in a unique style in the form of a dialogue between him and a hypothetical Dr. Ruano who is new to the tropics of India.(Conversations on the simples, drugs and materia medica of India),  His magnum opus is said to be  the earliest treatise on the medicinal and economic plants of India.  One Carolus Clusius translated it into Latin which was widely used as a standard reference text on medicinal plants. Clusius was the one who understood the greatness of this painstaking work of Gracia. He provided an important practical frame work for the practitioners of tropical diseases that affected people in thousands. Besides, the book is said to be the first famous non-religious book printed in Asia. (For details read: https://archive.org/details/colloquiesonsimp00orta) The earlier ones were religious in nature.  He wrote many books on tropical medicine and plants, but, none survived due to Goa Inquisition  except the a fore-mentioned work.
Coin of Portugal. 200 escudos 1991-COINZ.eu
 Above image:  Today physician Garcia de Orta is a celebrated figure of Portuguese history of Goa. He is  featured on stamps, coinage, and paper money. Two gardens, one in Goa, India and the other in Lisbon, Portugal are dedicated to de Orta whose monumental work on tropical plants of India and medicine is a standard text across the globe. It is translated into many languages.
Garcia de Orta died in 1568 before the Goa inquisition (introduced in Goa in 1565)  was put into serious action in 1569. In the same year, his sister was burnt at the stake for being a secret Jew and based on her confession Garcia's mortal remains were later exhumed by the religious fanatics and burnt along with an effigy. There are memorials recognizing his outstanding contributions in Tropical medicine  built both in Portugal and India.
 
 Goa physician, Garcia De orta Wikimedia Common,


Above image: Statue of Garcia de Orta by Martins Correia at the Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Lisbon.
Tit-Bits:
01. About the medicinal qualities of Cashews De Orta is of the view  that cashews are placed in sour milk and this remedy helps people with asthma or worms. He covers a variety of plants, shrubs, etc., and their medicinal benefits.
Footpath in a garden, Garcia De Orta, Panaji, Goa, India.
February 18, 2013Getty Images
02. Jardim Garcia de Orta is a small, well kept garden in Panaji, Goa just off Church Square in memory of the 16th century Portuguese physician In the garden, there is a column twelve and half meter tall  with the national emblem of 4 lions that was built in 1968 replacing the bust of de Gama atop  the column. The governments - both state and central took serious steps and in 2010 redeveloped the old garden that was laid in 1855.

03. During the Portuguese rule the site - Island of  Bombay was taken on lease by Garcia de Orta from the King of Portugal between 1554 and 1570. The islands of Bombay came under the  control of the English in 1665. He resided in The Manor. On this site, the British built the Bombay castle and fortified it. 
04. It is to be noted that De Orta undertook the study of tropical plants and their health  benefits long before the British had settled down in India under the British Crown.

05. De Orta was the first European to describe some dreaded Asiatic diseases like Cholera. He also performed an autopsy on the Cholera victim, first recorded in the Indian medical history.

06. Many of his studies in medicine were based on the Indian system of Ayuveda and also Unnani. Both of them rely heavely on herbs and plants.

07. De Orta traveled to Srilanka - Jaffna (once a Portuguese Colony) and studied certain plants used to treat snake-bites. He also studied the plant there called Dattur used by the thives to poison their victims. Such plants had forensic value.
Ref:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombay_Castle