A story in Maffeius’ Indic Histories Book 5 concerns a fighter named Noadabegua from Malacca who fought the Portuguese bravely and died, pierced with dozens of wounds, but the wounds did not bleed until an arm band was removed that contained the bone of a certain local animal. When the arm band was removed all his blood flowed out at once, as if a vase had been shattered. mirum dictu! comments Maffeius. The mystery here is the identity of the animal: os animalis cuiusdam Sionii (cabim incolae appellant). In the book from which this comes both Sionii and Cabim are capitalized. Neither word appears in any Latin dictionary I have access to, nor is there anything of use in the very large LLT-A and LLT-B databases of later Latin published by Brepols, and which I have access to at work. Here is the whole passage.
Qua in re illud vel in primis accidit memorabile. Vehebatur quadam e navibus iis Naodabegua Malacensis, unus ex eorum numero qui nuper in Sequeriae exitium conspiraverant. Is in itinere oppressus ab Lusitanis cum egregie dimicans aliquamdiu restitisset, multis demum confossus ictibus ita corruit ut e patulis vulneribus nihil omnino cruoris manaret. Mox inter spoliandum corpus, ut primum detracta eius brachio est aurea armilla (mirum dictu) tamquam vase confracto ita sese cum anima universus repente sanguis effudit. Cuius rei stupore defixi Lusitani cum de captivis causam quaesissent, cognovere inclusum esse in armilla os animalis cuiusdam Sionii (cabim incolae appellant) cuius in sistendo sanguine virtus efficacissima sit. Id ipsum os deinde cum in Lusitaniam devehendum esset una cum pretiosis aliis rebus naufragio periit. Atque in hunc modum barbarus ille concepti in Sequeriam facinoris poenas acerba persolvit morte.
Presumably Sionius is an adjective referring to a nearby place or people; I’m thinking the nominative form of the animal in Latin would be cabis. But what is this magical critter whose bone can stop the flow of blood?
Sebastião Dalgado’s Glossário Luso-Asiático explains it under the entry for “cabal,” arguing it comes from the Malay “kabal,” an adjective meaning invulnerable. Portuguese mistook it as an animal, probably the pangolin, called kaballuva in Singhalese. João de Barros and other Portuguese chroniclers describe it normally as “cabal” rather than “cabim.” (From a helpful correspondent on the FB Neo-Latin group). Perhaps the Cabim did exist after all. I need one in the garden!
Thank you so much for this, Peter, both for the timely sleuthing and for the reference to Dalgado’s Glossary, which will no doubt be very useful to me and my collaborator Leni Ribeiro in the future!
It was fun. I can’t resist things like this! P.