Tomé Pires (c. 1465 – v. 1523 / 24 or v. 1540 ) is an apothecary Portuguese who lived in Asia in the xvi th century. First Portuguese ambassador sent to China ( 1520 – 1522 ), and author of the Suma Oriental , the first European description of insular Southeast Asia and the oldest and largest Portuguese description of Asia.


Upon his arrival in Beijing, he did not obtain an audience with Emperor Ming Zhengde and was sent back to Guangzhou and imprisoned in September 1521 . According to some, he died two years later executed. For others, he would have lived until around 1540.

Tomé Pires is particularly extraordinary source on the Southeast Asia island and the presence of Islam in this region in the early xv th century 1 . Living in Malacca from 1512 to 1515, one year after the conquest of this port city by the Portuguese, he visits Sumatra and Java , and collects all possible information on the archipelago.

It is known that in his day, most of the principalities on the east coast of Sumatra have a Muslim prince, from Aceh in the north of the island to Palembang in the south, as well as the ruler of the Minangkabau kingdom in the Where is. The west coast, the south and the interior of Sumatra are not yet Islamized.

Pires describes the Muslim principality of Pasai (located in the present province of Aceh) as an active port, where resides a large cosmopolitan population.

Pires writes that the western part of Java is still Hindu. He calls this region çumda , that is ” Sunda “, attesting to the use of that name, although the Sundanese kingdom is called Pajajaran . The northern coast of Java, the Pasisir, is Muslim to Surabaya . The interior is also Hindu-Buddhist.

The sovereigns of the principalities of the north coast are Javanese, but also Malay or of Chinese , Indian or Arab origin . Pires describes a process of javanization among these non-Javanese, admiring the culture of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of East Java.

The testimony of Pires shows that the diffusion of Islam in Indonesia is a complex and long process, since in 1292 already, Marco Polo , of passage in Perlak , a port city of Sumatra in present Aceh, observed that the prince was a Muslim 2 .


The Suma Oriental remained in manuscript and supposed lost until its reappearance in 1944. It is part of the old collection of the library of the National Assembly in Paris. The book was published, in English translation, in 1944 by Armando Cortesão, under the title: The ‘Suma Oriental’ of Tomé Pires: an account of the East, from the Red Sea to Japan, written in Malacca and India in 1512 -1515; and, the book of Francisco Rodrigues, rutter of a voyage in the Red Sea, nautical rules, almanac and maps, written and drawn in the East before 1515, Translated from the Portuguese MS in the Library of the Chamber of Deputies Paris , 2 flights ., London: Hakluyt Society , 1944. This book was reprinted in 1990 (ISBN  8120605357 ) . An edition in Portuguese was given by the same Armando Cortesão, under the title: A Suma Oriental by Tomé Pires eo Livro by Francisco Rodrigues . Coimbra, 1978.


  • Serge Gruzinski, The eagle and the dragon. European excess and globalization xvi th century , Fayard, 2011.

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Ricklefs, MC, A History of Modern Indonesia since c. 1300
  2. ↑ Observed in 1292: “Know that Muslims haunt (sic) so often this kingdom that they converted the inhabitants to the law of Muhammad; at least those of the city, because those of the mountains live like beasts and eat human flesh, and all other flesh, and adore various things. “(Pauthier, The Book of Marco Polo , 2, 568) .