That is what Newitt states in the introduction, it's not a publisher's description.Sorry, probably a bit out of topic, but here it goes a question:
I never had the opportunity to read Malyn Newitt and although I know that he has an extensive work about the Portuguese empire and the post colonial period, I rarely saw him quoted. I don’t even know if he was translated to Portuguese, which is curious since so many of his works could be sold in Portugal.
Anyway at Amazon it is stated “The Portuguese appear to have been the first European visitors to encounter East Africa, with the arrival of a lone traveller, Pero da Covilham, in c.1491. Covilham left no account of his experiences, so Vasco da Gama had little idea of what to expect when he led his first voyage to the region in 1497.”
Does Newitt really states in the book that “Vasco da Gama had little idea of what to expect when he led his first voyage to the region in 1497”, or is just one of those sentences written by the publisher? I am saying this because Pêro da Covilhã sent at least a report to D. João II by the Jew José from Lamego. We don’t know if the report really reached D. João II, even if we have tips that can lead to that hypothesis. But if it did, that report or any other from agents sent to the East by land, we can assume that Vasco da Gama had some information about the trade in the Indian Ocean. After all he went directly to Calicut after leaving Africa. This could be to previous information or due the information gathered in Africa, in the voyage. What is Newitt perspective?
In context, it seems to me that when Newitt stated that Vasco da Gama's crew had little idea of what to expect he is specifically talking about them having little idea of what the coastal east African peoples were like. It is possible that Pêro da Covilhã's reports sent through José from Lamego don't mention anything about the peoples of the east African coast and that this is why Newitt wrote that da Covilhã left no account of his experiences on the coast.
"Although the coasts of eastern Africa and northern Madagascar were well known to the Muslim merchants and sailors and had been visited and described by geographers and writers such as Al Masudi, Ahmed Ibn Majjid and Ibn Battuta, there are no records of any Europeans having visited the region prior to the coming of the Portuguese. Portuguese encounters with the peoples of eastern Africa began with the visit of a lone traveller, Pero da Covilhã, who took a ship from India to Sofala dressed as a Muslim merchant, probably in 1491. Covilhã left no account of his experiences so that the crews of the three ships who accompanied Vasco da Gama to India had little idea what to expect when they reached the coast in December 1497. Da Gama made a leisurely voyage up the eastern coast of Africa stopping near Inhambane, then laying up for a month in the Qua Qua River near the mouth of the Zambesi doing repairs, before sailing on to Mozambique Island, Mombasa and Melinde. Da Gama was gathering intelligence and the account of his voyage, probably written by Alvaro Velho, gives a vivid account of the first contacts between Portugal and the coastal peoples which was to have a great influence on those who came after." - Malyn Newitt