Tuesday, August 16, 2022

You Live & Learn

Yesterday I went by the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA) in the hope of buying a Bhutanese non-circulating commemorative silver coin called the "Joao Cabral 300 Ngultrum" coin, supposedly issued in 1994. A friend in Portugal was desirous of buying the coin. The officers at the RMA were nonplused - they had never before seen the coin in their lives, and their official records did not list it! They offered the opinion that the coin may have been issued by the Bank of Bhutan or the Ministry of Finance who in the past use to issue bank notes and coins - before the establishment of the RMA in 1982 - although it took on the role of a Central Bank only in 1983.

I said that commemorative coins were issued only by the RMA - never by the Ministry of Finance or the Bank of Bhutan. The Joao Cabral coin is dated 1994 - meaning it has to have been issued by the RMA, if it was indeed issued by them.

The dubious Joao Cabral Silver 300 NGULTRUM Coin

So then the coin must be a fake - a spurious one. Well that is intriguing but not impossible - you may have read on this Blog about the fake Bhutanese stamps issued and sold to the international collectors, without the knowledge of Bhutan Post.

As I was about to exit the RMA, I remembered that I had a mutilated Nu.1,000.00 bank note in my purse. So I pulled out the bank note and asked the officer; “Where can I have this mutilated note exchanged?”.

The officer looked at the bank note and said; “This is not mutilated - this is a torn note. Mutilated notes are when there is a burn hole”.

Really? Torn is not considered mutilated???? Intriguing - but this is veering off into the by-lanes - let us stay on the main street - the Joao Cabral 300 Ngultrum Silver Coin.

Can it be that the coin is a fake? I went into a little research.

According to one website (https://de.ucoin.net/coin/bhutan-300-ngultrums-1994/?tid=89845) the coin was minted - 10,000 copies of it - at the Royal Mint located at Llantrisant, United Kingdom. I logged onto the website of The Royal Mint and searched for the history of the coin - the following is what was displayed when I hit the SEARCH button:

No Match - meaning the record of the coin's mintage is false

This coin was not obviously minted by the Royal Mint - leading me to conclude that the coin must be a fake. Further probing revealed that the dragon on the Cabral coin’s reverse was rendered without the jewels (Norbu) in its claws. Bhutanese always depict our dragons clasping Norbu in their claws. The Chinese, on the other hand, hardly ever depict their dragons with Norbu in their claws - as shown below.

The Bhutanese almost always depict the dragon with its claws clasping the Norbu

The Chinese show their dragons without the Norbu in their claws

It now becomes even more clear that this was a forgery job - if it was issued by the RMA I am sure they would have depicted a Bhutanese dragon with Norbu in their claws, and not a Chinese one, sans the Norbu.

Who is/was Joao Cabral?

He was one of the two earliest European visitors to Bhutan - the other who accompanied him was Father Estevao Cacella - they were both Portuguese Christian missionaries. They arrived Bhutan in 1626. They were on their way to Tibet - to found a Christian Mission there - which they did, in Shigatse.

The missionaries Joao Cabral and Estevao Cacella spent eight months in Bhutan and met Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in Tango. Under the authority of the Zhabdrung, they even started a Churh in Paro where they tried to convert some Bhutanese into the Christian faith, without success. They left for Tibet in 1627.

Father Cacella died in Shigatse in 1630. Consequent upon the power struggle that erupted in Tibet during 1635, Father Cabral closed down the Mission and returned to India, where he died in Goa in 1669.

In all provability the report submitted by the two Portuguese Jesuits  - "The Relacao", dated 4th October 1627 - may be the very first accounts the Western world got to read about Bhutan and the Zhabdrung.

The two Jesuits presented many gifts to the Zhabdrung - one of which was the “Tob” - cannon, currently displayed at the National Museum in Paro.

My friend Carlos Gumero of Portugal spent months in Bhutan - researching for his doctoral thesis on the two Portuguese missionaries - the dissertation of which argued that their intensions were more warlike, and NOT religious!

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