Zamor: The tale of a Bengali in the French revolution

When the French Revolution in the 1790s overthrew the French monarchy and gave power to the people, it changed the course of world history forever. One might have heard of the historic names associated with this revolution like Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But not many of us know that the French Revolution also had a leader of Bengali origins.

Here’s the forgotten tale of Zamor, a young boy from Chittagong who participated in a revolution of people that changed the world forever.

The boy from Chittagong

From whatever little records can be found, Zamor was born in 1762, in Chittagong of Bengal. It is likely that he had little or some African lineage in him. Zamor was probably a member of the Siddi or Habshi community.

We make these assumptions based on Countess Du Barry’s mention of him as an “African boy” and his one portrait where his skin color gives off an impression that he’s African.

Kidnap by slave traders and ending up in France

Chittagong at that time was the finest port in the East. It was frequented by traders and businessmen from all over the world and slave trade was not an uncommon sight.

Read more: Chittagong port: Reliving the history of the oldest port in the East

BRITISH SLAVE TRADERS

Zamor was the victim of these slave traders. He was kidnapped by British Slave traders when he was 11 and was sold to King Louis XV of France as a palace slave. The king, however, gifted him to his mistress, Countess Du Barry, who named him Louis-Benoit Zamor. She also believed he was African which she writes about in her journal.

“The second object of my regard was Zamor, a young African boy, full of intelligence and mischief; simple and independent in his nature, yet wild as his country. Zamor fancied himself the equal of all he met, scarcely deigning to acknowledge the king himself as his superior.”

The countess wrote in her journal.

Becoming a leader in the French revolution

Zamor had a keen interest in philosophy and was inspired by the works of Rousseau. In 1789, by the time Zamor turned 27, the French revolution broke out.

A young man inspired by Russeau, Zamor took the side of the revolutionaries and the Jacobins. He began to detest the Countess and her lavish lifestyle.

As an informant to the Committee of Public Safety, he got the Countess arrested by the police for protecting the Aristocrats in 1792. After that, Zamor eventually got more vocal and actively involved in the revolution. He rose to become a secretary in the revolutionary government.

His charges against his countess eventually led to her execution by guillotine. At the trial, Zamor publicly announced his birthplace as Chittagong of Bengal Subah, breaking the long misconception that he was African.

The Aftermath of the revolution

The tale of the heroic rise, of a young boy from Chittagong to a leader of the French revolution has a bitter ending.

Zamor was arrested by the Girondins soon after the execution of Du Barry. He was tried and imprisoned but was able to secure his release.

Zamor fled from France only to return in 1815 after the fall of Napoleon.

He bought a house near the Latin quarters of Paris and spent the rest of his life in extreme poverty as a school teacher. Zamor died in 1820 and was buried in Paris in an unnamed grave.

Somewhere in the city of art and revolution, lies the remains of a boy from Bengal who lost his home when he was eleven years old. A boy who was sold as a slave to the other side of the world. A slave who became a hero in a revolution that changed the world. Somewhere in Paris, sleeps a son of Bengal who never returned home.

Read more: A lost community of Armenians in Dhaka

The story of how Bengalis owe Pohela Boishakh to Mughal emperor Akbar

It’s that time of the year again. Pohela Boishakh is tomorrow. As usual the country will welcome the Bengali new year 1426 with music, parades and day-long celebrations.

Even though every year we engage in the celebration of a day that is unique to our own heritage, we seem to have forgotten where it all started. In fact, we owe our very own holiday to the Mughal emperor Akbar.

Here’s how emperor Akbar invented the modern Bengali calendar.

A new religion?

Source: Creative Commons

During his tenure, Mughal emperor Akbar had set up one of the most powerful empires in the world. The seed of aspiration that emperor Babur had sowed when he first came to Hindustan had bloomed into a strong rooted tree by Akbar’s time.

With his empire and his hold over Hindustan secure, Akbar shifted his priorities to a more intellectual side of things.

His interest in religions and theology eventually prompted him to come up with his own new religion. It had elements of both Islam and Hinduism. Amartya Sen believes that a new lunisolar calendar was a part of his plan to float this new religion.

Taxation: The higher motive

But a different group of historians, perhaps more authentic accounts, suggest that Akbar had a higher motive than religion; taxes. Since the mughal empire followed the Islamic lunar calendar, it often posed a conflict with the common subjects as the lunar calendar was not in sync with the on and off seasons for cultivation in India. For the ease of his taxmen, Akbar ordered his astrologists to take the Islamic lunar calendar and prevalent solar calendar in India, combine them, and come up with a new lunisolar calendar.

Tarikh-e-Ilahi

This new calendar, known as Tarikh-e-Ilahi, was introduced all over India. But just like Akbar’s newly introduced religion, Din-e-Ilahi, this too didn’t last after his reign. Except for Bengal. In Bengal, this new calendar became an integral and useful part of daily Agriculture and the local Hindu religion.

The calendar that was invented by Akbar and introduced all over India has now become the sole identity of the Bengali nation and culture. This Pohela Boishakh, let’s take some time to remember the emperor who gifted us an integral part of our national identity. Literally. Shubho Noboborsho.