In a previous column, I included a brief reference to a book recently published in Portugal by a researcher of Goan origin, Angela Barreto Xavier, with a provocative argument in which she presented the present-day Goa as invented by the Portuguese with local collaboration across centuries.
One great virtue of the Goans seems to be that they are always open to collaborate, be it with God or with the Devil, or probably even without caring to know who seeks their collaboration.
This could provide some food for thought, even if that may not radically change our Goan style of functioning.
Goans will continue to be divided over who is a Goan. The identity issue is the root-cause of the tragedies that permitted many newcomers to `invent’ Goa all along its distant and recent past.
One guarantee the Goans can always have is that fresh inventors will arrive to replace the older ones. Far from looking at it as any black humour, Goa has its progress assured, without having to worry much about it. Konn tori ietolo ani amcho fuddar poitolo.
Be that as it may, if we are to believe some authoritative historians, Afonso de Albuquerque first arrived in the Indian Ocean, or rather approached the coast of Kan´nur (Cananore) on 11 September 1503. The first expedition returned to Portugal early next year with some spice cargo.
Albuquerque had to wait for some more years and play subordinate roles under Tristão da Cunha and Francisco de Almeida. Prior to taking Goa, Albuquerque had shown his mettle by subjecting Oman to iron blade and blood bath. The Mosque of Muscat had been attacked. Ormuz was not yet conquered, but had a taste of what was to come.
Albuquerque described his success in the Gulf to the then viceroy of India as a `divine miracle’. He sent some veiled captive women to Portugal. The operation was concluded again on 11 September 1507, but not without experiencing unpleasant disobedience of some of his captains who were angered by Albuquerque’s style of rigid command.
The dissentions were known to rulers of Ormuz and provoked the Turks to expand towards Egypt and towards Iran. Could there be some linkage of date which Al Quaeda chose for its attack upon the twin towers?
Following his take-over as the governor of the Estado da Índia in November 1509, his priority was to stop the Sultan of Egypt from constructing a fleet at Suez to challenge the Portuguese. As part of this plan, he also thought of conquering Goa, an important base that was used by the Rumis for horse-trade and for refitting their vessels.
It was defended by mercenary soldiers from Iran, in service of Adil Shah. Albuquerque had gained an important ally in the person of Timayya, who had been in touch with Albuquerque as a strategic informer and had advised him to act swiftly, since the Adil Shah had died recently and the military command in Goa could be unprepared for an attack. Timayya assisted with his forces and probably hoped to be named jagirdar by the new rulers of Goa.
Albuquerque reported to his king after an encounter with Timayya that he saw in him a messenger of the Holy Spirit. But he got soon tired of him after he saw him exceeding his powers as thanedar of Portuguese occupied Goa.
The Portuguese chronicler of the XVI century, João de Barros tells us that the Portuguese discovered that Timayya was of low origin, meaning probably that he was not of Brahmin caste, and that he had no respectable standing in Goan society.
After Albuquerque conquered Goa a second time and definitely on 25 November 1510, he promised that the native Hindu population would not be harmed and could continue making its living normally. They would retain their lands and continue paying their dues to the Portuguese authorities as they did earlier to the Muslims.
However, he wrote to his king on April 1, 1512 that if more Portuguese would marry local women and settle down as they were already doing with enthusiasm, the native inhabitants could be driven out, “because the land belonged to the king and to no one else.” On this understanding, King Manuel of Portugal ordered in March 1518 that lands could be distributed among the Portuguese settlers, excepting those that belonged to native Christians before the conquest.
Were there Goan Christians before the Portuguese conquest? Or was that part of the so-called Portuguese invention?
We can guess that the native reaction through the village communities was certainly quick. There followed a new proclamation of the Portuguese crown in 1519 revising the earlier stand and declaring that only the lands that belonged to the Muslims could be given to the Portuguese settlers and that none of the lands that had always belonged to the native landowners would be taken away from them.
There is also another letter from the king of Portugal to the Portuguese settlers in Goa. It was a reply to complaints from them:
You have written to me about an order issued by the revenue administrator Afonso Mexia and confirmed by the chief-captain of the city and my governor Lopo Vas to the effect that no Portuguese city-dweller may buy any lands or palm-groves that belong to any Hindu inhabitant of the land, even if such properties are said to be belonging to the crown. [Medieval Goa, 2009, pp. 33-34]
As we can gather from the payment receipts issued by the treasurer of Afonso de Albuquerque, when he recruited personnel for his first military band in Goa, he got native candidates who knew to play brass and percussion instruments.
Hence, the musical talent of the Goans preceded the Portuguese arrival and invention of Goa. When the Portuguese administration started collecting the revenues, one of the important revenues was derived from consumption of palm arrack. Yet another Goan skill and collective habit that did not wait for the arrival of the Portuguese. I shall leave it to future researchers interested and based in Goa and elsewhere to look out for more pre-colonial skills of the Goans.
Even if there was `liberal politics’ in Goa since 1821, it certainly did not benefit much the Goan native elites as the Pinto Conspiracy and its implications reveal.
The Hindus had to wait till the Republic of 1910 for any civic rights. Modern democracy is certainly a post-1961 invention in Goa, a decade or so before 1974, when the Portuguese liberated themselves from the dictatorial regime at home.
The same regime had earlier reduced Goans to second class citizenship through its Colonial Act, which was reformulated in mid-50s by changing the designation of `colonies’ to `overseas provinces’, as a way to evade the demands of UN for self-determination of the colonies.
To conclude, it is interesting to note that the life-size portraits of the first viceroy and the first governor of Goa are missing from the gallery of the viceroys in the Old Goa museum.
One can glean from the published memoirs of the Portuguese Minister of Overseas in 1961 that he got them out with connivance or `good will’ of the Indian authorities, through his diplomatic trickster Jorge Jardim, who was negotiating the repatriation of the Portuguese POWs in Goa. They are preserved in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, in Lisbon, while the portrait of Salazar continues exposed in the Goan museum.
This article previously appeared in the Herald.