Fifteenth Century Arab navigator and cartographer Ahmad Ibn Majid was once so famous that he was described by some researchers as the first Arab seaman and a pioneering author in oceanography.
An English comic book series launched at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) is an attempt to remind today’s youth about the glorious past and adventures of the long- forgotten and unsung seafarer from this region.
“Battle of the Winds: The Legend of Ahmad Ibn Majid, the Epic Sailor” also tells the riveting account of the spice trade and spirit of navigation in vivid humour, according to its Indian creators Manu. K.S and Deepak. S. Raj.
Inspired by the adventures and navigational techniques of Ibn Majid, the story covers the spice trade through the sea from 1440 to 1500, they told Gulf News. [See the box]
“Majid was a navigator and merchant. He was the man who invented scientific seafaring and perfected a lot of navigational instruments. Many Arabs know about him, but not today’s youth. We made him our hero to tell an international story to an international audience,” said author Manu who has won national and state-level awards for 3D-animation series for children.
A former associate of Hibiscus Digital Media, Manu wrote the scripts and dialogues for the company’s award-winning animated series in Malayalam for children (Manchadi, Pupi and Kathu) and met Deepak during the production of Banu Bablu, an animation series which dealt with the core concept of mathematics.
The dominance of the Arabs in spice trade and the envy of the Portuguese and the Spanish form the story line of their first comic book series.
However, the adventurous tales of Majid, who spoils the Europeans’ attempts to conquer the spice route, have been told in a humorous way with the addition of some fictional characters.
“The Arab merchants and seafarers followed the trade winds to reach India and the Far East. This was unknown to the Europeans and they wanted to tame the winds. Hence we named it ‘Battle of the Winds’,” said Manu.
Deepak, the illustrator, said they have ensured a striking balance in incidents involving the Europeans and the Arabs. “Geographically, our native place [Kerala in south India] also has a big role in the history of linking the East and the West through the spice route.”
The creators said it took almost two years of travel and research for making the series which will have about 15 volumes with each coming out every six months. The first volume is named ‘The Spy’s Route.’
Deepak, who made the sketches in the A4-size book with 64 pages, said: “We have retained the classic format of comic series but added modern story elements.”
Colouring of the sketches has been done by Rahul. S. Sankar.
“Contemporary slang and popular expressions from the media have been used so that youngsters can relate to the contemporary reality as well. We are trying to fill the gap of a comic series for the young adults. This is also our attempt for a gadget-free life for the youngsters,” added Manu.
Who was Ahmad Ibn Majid?
Narrating the history and controversy about Ahmad Ibn Majid, Manu said: “Arabs dominated the spice trade till Vasco da Gama landed in the Malabar region of today’s Kerala. They bought spices, particularly pepper from Malabar and the ancient regions of Malaysia and Indonesia and sold it to Venetian merchants.”
“A normal person’s wages in Europe were not enough to buy even an ounce of spices and the taste of food with spices remained a privilege of the wealthy in Europe. Both the Spanish and the Portuguese wanted to grab the route map from the Arabs and Majid is spoiling their plots in our story.”
There has been a controversy about who took Vasco da Gama to Calicut and some Western historians allege that it was Majid who gave him the map.
However, another section of historians and researchers including His Highness Shaikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, have denied this.
In the comic series, the creators said, they have maintained the claim validated by the Sharjah Ruler and other researchers who stated that Majid did not do that.
“So, we have portrayed him as the hero who fights the attempts of the Europeans to conquer the spice route and spice trade. We will be using Sharjah Ruler’s new book on Ibn Majid as a reference for our upcoming volumes,” said Manu.
In the first volume, Duke of Viseu Prince Henry employs Chung Chung, a Chinese traveller to steal Majid’s map. But Majid’s wisdom prevails. Majid also teaches the 41 pirates and their employer Black Fin, the spurious trader, a lesson. There are three characters named Jamal, Kamal and the Camel who add the flavours of humour and philosophy to the story.