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Vasco Da Gama Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Susan Mendes

Susan has taught students in Kindergarten through eighth grade and has a master's degree in educational leadership.

This lesson will familiarize you with Vasco da Gama, the first person to travel from Europe to India by water. Learn about his early life and his voyages around the world.

Who Was Vasco da Gama?

A king offers you a large sum of money and promises you good fortune and the status of a hero. The catch? Risk your life and the life of hundreds of others by sailing 24,000 miles in a wooden ship from Portugal to India for ten months. Would you take this risk? Vasco da Gama did and became one of the most famous explorers to have ever existed!

Early Life and Career

Vasco da Gama was born in 1460 in the small country of Portugal. His father was a member of the military, and eventually Vasco da Gama joined the Portuguese navy. In 1492, the king sent da Gama to fight French ships off the coast of Portugal, which da Gama successfully defeated. The king then persuaded da Gama to find a direct route to India from Portugal by water and da Gama started on the journey.

Portrait of Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama

Voyage to India

On July 8, 1497, da Gama led four ships southwards towards Africa in hopes of finding a route to India. He decided to take the route around Africa, making stops in Mozambique and Kenya. After ten months of sailing, da Gama and his crew had finally reached India on May 20, 1498.

Map of route to India
da Gama route

Once the crew arrived in Calicut, India, they were in for a few surprises. First, da Gama assumed that the people of India were Christian, and was confused and surprised to find that they were actually Hindu. Also, the Muslim traders of the region felt threatened that da Gama and his crew were there, as the Muslims were not willing to give up their trading rights. After three months in India, da Gama decided to return back to Portugal in August 1498.

Unfortunately, da Gama's route back home did not go over smoothly. Da Gama and his crew were met with monsoons, which bring very strong winds and heavy rain, and several crew members had contracted scurvy, a disease caused by not getting enough vitamin C. Upon returning to Portugal, only 54 of the 170 crew members survived!

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