Father Giacomo Finicio was an Italian priest of the Order of Society of Jesus who lived and died in Calicut in the 16th Century. Born in Capua, Italy in 1588, he joined the Order and, after training, was deputed to Calicut where the Jesuits had established themselves firmly with Portuguese support.
Although the Portuguese had long given up their efforts to locate the mythical King Prester John, a local version of the same chase was being enacted when Finicio reached Calicut. The Syrian Catholic Bishop of Angamaly diocese had received reliable information that some Christians who had strayed from the path were leading a life of neglect and isolation in the Nilgiri Hills. They knew 'nothing of Christianity except the bare name', the report said. Curious about this lost Christian tribe, the Bishop sent in 1602 a team to find out facts and report to him.
The team had a strange composition. Apart from a priest and a deacon, the team also consisted of a cousin of the ruling Zamorin of Calicut. The mission was, however, a failure as it could not locate any such community.
It was then that the Bishop turned to Father Finicio of Calicut for help. A team under the Father set out in 1603, consisting of six Nairs, four Christians and the Zamorin's cousin who had been on the previous mission.
Finicio and party travelled from Calicut to Tanur and then to Mannarkkad. From there they trekked to Chavadiyur. After three days of strenuous trekking through the Attappadi and Sundappatti hills they reached Melur, a Badaga village in the Nilgiris.
At the end of the trip all that Father Finicio and his team could find was a tribe of innocent Badagas and Todas who worshipped the buffalo. The pious priest stayed among the Todas for two months braving the biting cold, trying to convince the Todas on how they could be saved by becoming Christians. In return, the head priest of the Todas extolled on the virtues of the Bufalo God!
Fr. Finicio might have failed in converting the Todas, but he contributed greatly by telling the world outside about the existence of such a tribe. More important, his report dissuaded further attempts at their conversion till at least for the next 200 years when the Basel Mission went up the Blue Mountain.
Fr. Finicio was the first westerner to locate the Todas and to provide a satisfactory ethnographic account of the community. Anthropologists have acknowledged his pioneering contribution. Finicio died in Calicut in 1632.
400 years after the Finicio Expedition, a group of some 20 adventurers under the auspices of an environmental NGO, Save Nilgiris Campaign, retraced the 'Finicio Trail' in 2004. Their account can be read athttp://hinduonnet.com/thehindu/mag/2004/02/22/stories/2004022200130200.htm