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Past Continuous

A glory called Goa


MODERN MEMORIES: Goa Cathedral in Panaji, built in the Portuguese Gothic style.

It's been half a century since Goa was liberated from Portuguese occupation. Even though some relics of the colonial past are being traded for new acquisitions, the imprint of almost five centuries of colonialism - from music to food, architecture to manners - endures in the golden land.

The walls of the erstwhile fortified 'Cidade de Goa' (City of Goa), for long the capital of all Portuguese possessions in the East, have crumbled. The Viceroy's Arch in Old Goa, once the main entry gate into the city, stands forlorn. It is, in a way, an indication of the waning influence of Portuguese rule on the land. As shrill voices demand that Goa's colonial period be relegated to history books, just 49 years after the Indian armed forces ended four-and-ahalf centuries of Portuguese rule in Goa, remnants of a historic past are dwindling quickly. Almost five decades after the Portuguese were shipped off by the Indian military, the dust raised by the colonisers is yet to settle, making Goa at times brassy and at other times coy about its Portuguese heritage.

"Goa has been denuded now, but what the Portuguese left behind was something great. One example is the unification of the islands of Goltim-Navelim, Divar and Malar. The Portuguese unified them after building the Linhares bridge, " says Percival Noronha, member of the Goa Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The Linhares bridge is a 3. 2-km long causeway that connects the state capital Panaji with Ribandar.

Not every Goan would, however, share the view that colonisation was good for Goa. "Portugal did not do anything for Goa while it held the territory. In 450 years, only mining flourished. If you consider education, then during Portuguese times, the literacy rate was 30 per cent, of which 20 per cent were Marathi and English readers and only 10 per cent knew Portuguese. Goa would have remained in this condition if not for liberation, " says columnist and freedom fighter Flaviano Dias.

Development was almost unheard of during colonial rule and when liberation came on December 19, 1961, Portuguese troops caved in without a fight, meekly surrendering after having stubbornly held on to the territory Afonso de Albuquerque had captured for them almost five centuries earlier.

Portugal's romance with Goa began in 1510. After a brief flirtation earlier that year, during which the European nation held, for a couple of months, the Island of Goa (today Tiswadi or Ilhas), the invaders were chased away by the Shah of Bijapur. A monsoon on the island of Anjedive, off the south coast of Goa, didn't diminish the Portuguese colonisers' lust for the land and having regrouped they returned on November 25 and, in a single day's battle, captured the island from a weakened Adil Shah.

There, on that island, the Portuguese settled for the next 451 years, elevating it to the capital of their Estado de India (State of India). It was an affair that lasted through the centuries and, depending on how one looks at colonialism, either flavoured or tainted the local culture, and enriched or impoverished native history. In a state where opinions are aplenty, views on colonialism are contentious and many. There is currently a campaign opposing even any hint of a 'commemoration' of this conquest. "You cannot celebrate this. This was an invasion and resulted in colonial rule. If somebody has committed some atrocities against your family, do you condone it? Anyone who celebrates this is an antinational to me, " the BJP spokesperson in Goa, Rajendra Arlekar, says.

And then there are those who hold a balanced view. "Goa, " says former Union minister of state for law Ramakant Khalap, "benefited in various ways from Portuguese rule. We got the first printing press in Asia, the first medical school in Asia, and the first municipality in Asia along with a common civil code. At the same time, there were atrocities and the Portuguese did not allow the majority community to rise. " In the early years, persecution at the hands of the colonisers led to a large number of Hindus fleeing the territory to neighbouring kingdoms. "Many who had left Goa in the sixteenth century and went to Sawantwadi returned to the new conquests in the nineteenth century. By this time, the Portuguese were more tolerable towards the Hindus, and after the establishment of the Republic in Portugal in 1910, Hindus were no longer targeted, " says writer on church history, Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas.

Interestingly, the entire state of Goa did not endure colonial rule from 1510 onwards. The geographical boundaries of today's Goa did not exist until 1781, the year the Portuguese annexed Bicholim, Sattari and Pernem. The new conquests - Pernem, Bicholim, Sattari, Ponda (1763), Quepem, Sanguem, and Canacona (1764) - added to their sixteenth century acquisitions of Tiswadi, Bardez, and Salcete.

It is in the talukas of Tiswadi, Bardez, and Salcete that one can still see examples of a distinct colonial architecture, and in certain areas, even hear Portuguese being used as the lingua franca among residents. Not only was the Portuguese influence in the new conquests far less, even the sparse development seen in the old conquests was missing. Even today, the grandest display of Portuguese influence in Goa lies in the village of Old Goa, where a cluster of churches have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Monuments. It is the area Albuquerque first conquered and which, in its prime as Cidade de Goa, was described as one of Asia's greatest cities.

The city was once nicknamed 'Rome of the Orient' for the number of churches that rose majestically from the ground, and also 'Goa Dourada' (Golden Goa). But, was Goa once actually golden? "Goa was golden, perhaps economically, during the heyday of the Kadamba period, during the pre-Portuguese trading era, and for some decades of Portuguese rule until its decline and the decadence that set in. But the economic benefits of this time (Portuguese rule) did not percolate to the villagers surely, except perhaps those that administered on behalf of the rulers. It was certainly 'golden' environmentally, until the descent into the degradation we see around us (today), " says writer and academician, Dr Maria Aurora Couto.

Today, many may deceive themselves into believing that what the cornered Portuguese abandoned in 1961 are only monuments as sentinels of their presence - churches, forts and houses. They are the more visible vestiges because of their lofty dimensions and distinct architectural styles, but there stands out in Goa a way of life that is in sharp contrast to that in the rest of the country. This socio-cultural difference that exists in the state today is a legacy of the Portuguese, and has catapulted Goa on to the world tourism map and also given Goa some notoriety. Goans, as Couto puts it, are "more open socially, which unfortunately is misinterpreted and abused by those who come from a socially restricted environment and seek release of their inhibitions when on holiday, leading to media condemnation."

One field in which Goa gained tremendously through its association with Portugal is in law and judiciary. Portugal was, in this aspect, a rather generous coloniser, implementing in its colonies the same laws it had for its people on the mainland. As a result, the Portuguese common civil code, a law well ahead of it times, was introduced in Goa. Even today, the unamemded family laws of that civil code remain in force in the state.

During the mid 1990s, Khalap, as Union minister of state for law, initiated a debate on the possibility of having a uniform civil code for the country, and the Portuguese code applicable in Goa was being considered as the core around which to build the new law.

"The common civil code applies uniformly to all citizens, irrespective of caste and religion in Goa. There is no distinction permissible under that law, and by it, a homogeneous society is possible, and uniformity can be achieved. It is a very good thing to have happened to Goa, " says Khalap, explaining why he had adopted this view between 1996 and 1998.

One of the lasting effects of Portuguese rule in Goa has been the conversion of a large chunk of its population to Christianity. The Portuguese came as traders but their crusading zeal was high as well. To this day, some 26 per cent (2001 census) of the population practices Christianity. There is no doubt that all those who converted did not do so voluntarily. Many were coerced into joining the Christian faith and the infamous Inquisition is an example of the methods the Portuguese used in Goa. "The Inquisition was a black spot in Goa's history. It was aimed more towards the Christians who would not leave the customs associated with the Hindu religion," admits Mascarenhas.

The perceived high Christian population in the state often leads to some questioning a Goan's Indianess. "We could call Goa a meeting point of the East and West. From 1510 onwards, some Western culture was imbued into Indian culture, some of which like music and manners are plus points. Many of these remain till today. But by giving the converts Portuguese surnames, their pre-Portuguese identities and histories were compromised. Despite this, Christians have remained sons of the soil albeit with European surnames, " says Mascarenhas. Goa's unique culture, while setting it apart from India, however, does not isolate it from the nation. It adds a dash of spice to India's multi-cultural diversity. A spice that would not have been possible but for the long and harsh colonial rule. alexandre.

Reader's opinion (3)

Vimal JainNov 24th, 2010 at 13:22 PM

Colonizers whether British or Portugese were just interested in monetory benefits. Till the time, country gave them positive returns, they stayed here.Once it started giving negative returns, they accepted our own rule, called freedom. From 24% share in world GDP, our share reduced to 2%.

Rudi FernandesNov 23rd, 2010 at 03:17 AM

No sweeter land in all of the Indian sub-continent.
I look forward to visiting Goa again in December.
Just hope the Goa government could plough back the millions from tourist revenue into keeping Goa green and beautiful

Mansi AgrawalNov 22nd, 2010 at 18:25 PM

Goa is often called the 'Pearl of the East'. Its history is mesmerizing

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