Goans lived in misery under Portuguese: Teotonio
Written by RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR
Friday, 21 August 2009 01:16
Well-known Goan historian and head of the department of history, at Universidade Lusofona, Lisbon, TEOTONIO R DE SOUZA speaks in an exclusive interview with RAMNATH N PAI RAIKAR about the second edition of his book ‘Medieval Goa: A Socio-Economic History’, which will be released in the city on August 21.
What made you write ‘Medieval Goa’ three decades ago?
The story, as historians would say, begins during my childhood. I got to hear lot of village stories from my grandfather, who though illiterate was a man of village and popularly known as ‘Lamb Jaco’ (Tall Jaco), as well as my grandmother. My grandfather, who hailed from the village of Moira would be immaculately dressed in a suit when he visited Mapusa town, but always wore a loin cloth once he returned to his village. He would even abundantly use his vocabulary of bad words in Portuguese language to denounce the colonial rule. He, like many others in the village nursed anti-colonial feeling. All these things stayed with me.
Many years later, to be precise, during early 1970s, I completed my MA in philosophy in Pune and then returned to Goa. When back, I had lot of time at my disposal to carry out research on Goa as it existed during the 17th century, in the state archives. At that time, the Jesuits in Goa wanted me to do doctorate in philosophy at Rome, which I refused. Unfortunately, I could not receive guidance from the noted Goan historian, Dr Pandurang Pissurlekar as he had already passed away and had to complete my doctorate on my own. The topic of my thesis was ‘Goa in the 17th Century: A Socio-Economic History’.
Sadly, there was lot of controversy when it came out in 1979 in the form of a book, ‘Medieval Goa: A Socio-Economic History’. People like Carmo Azavedo said that 17th century was not a medieval period as Europe considered it as an early modern period. However, I am still of the opinion that mode of production in a region or a country at a particular time, decides the period of that region or country. I follow the principal of D D Kosambi that Indian history should not be treated as an episode of colonial history. For me, Goa and India have their own history, independent of Portuguese or British regimes.
How is the second edition of this book different from the first one? Have you made certain changes including additions to the second edition, now that more than thirty years have passed since the first edition came out and lot of water passed under the Mandovi Bridge as well as Ponte de 25 Abril?
The second edition of the book has certain improvements in it. I have taken into account the outcome of the general historical research – not necessarily linked to Goa – that came up during past 30 years. This historical research has been critically reviewed in the bibliographical essay as well as final bibliography included in the second edition of the book. However, there was no need to change the basic argument in the first edition, though some details were added. The first edition of the book stands well as it is, even after three decades of its publication. Then there is some new information in the footnotes and as I have mentioned, in the bibliographical essay as well as final bibliography, for the benefit of the readers.
What was the main reason behind selecting 17th century as a period to put Goa under the scanner?
You see, 16th century spoke about the glorious achievements of Portuguese as ‘Heroes of the Sea’ while 17th century saw the decline of the Portuguese empire. I also believed that to take stock of Goa as a colony of Portugal, a century long existence of Portuguese in this region was sufficient. The period was just apt; they were no more the masters of the sea, their trade and commerce was no more profitable, and they were gradually moving to religious orders, with their interest in land growing. The Portuguese rulers, in fact went after the temple lands, as these were the best lands available in Goa.
And how was the social life in Goa during the 17th century?
As I have mentioned, religion started becoming one of the main aspects of social life during 17th century and the process got completed by the middle of the 17th century. The period saw struggle between white traders and white religious leaders, both of whom managed to reach the villages of Goa. This particular aspect was always neglected by the historians. Fortunately, I managed to study the village council proceedings, which informed me about this aspect.
The new cult in Baroque style of religion saw competitions between villages to construct bigger churches, which naturally brought about bankruptcy of the village economy. I have taken Moira village as such classical case in my book. The Hindus were sidelined in this process and their presence was almost nothing. Thus the conservative Hindu families moved out to neighbouring areas, taking their Gods with them. It was a blow to the traditional set up of both, the Hindus and Catholics.
You are of the opinion that ‘Goa Dourada’ or ‘Golden Goa’ was a myth and Goans in general were vulnerable during the 451-year Portuguese rule. Please elaborate and also compare this situation to the present day situation, especially as there are still people existing in our society – both Hindus and Catholics – who are of the firm opinion that the erstwhile colonial regime was far better.
‘Goa Dourada’ was an expression popularised by art historians. Unfortunately, the term was extended to the natives and their way of living. The fact still exists that Goa was not golden for a great majority of natives, so much so that a Jesuit report speaks about majority of natives leading a miserable life. And the report takes into consideration the natives of Salcete, where the Jesuits had things better organised than in other parts.
No doubt, there were certain Hindu families who led a good life, as they handled the fiscal system and were tax collectors for Portuguese rulers. A few of the Catholic families too enjoyed privileges. And then, there were Portuguese fidalgos (noblemen), who led a luxurious life. However, most of the Hindus, Catholics and interestingly, Portuguese people who were brought to Goa to perform labourious tasks led a miserable life. They never had any benefits of the Colonial rule.
I believe you have also published a Portuguese version of the book…
The Portuguese version of the book, released in Lisbon in 1993-94 was the pure translation of the first edition. It was well translated by an expert, even though lot of Brazilian Portuguese crept into it. Nevertheless, it sold very well. In fact, late Charles Ralph Boxer, a distinguished historian of Dutch and Portuguese maritime and colonial history, had written preface for it; perhaps his last write-up.
Diverting from the book, I would also like to touch upon another topic about the land possessed by Church in Goa. You have come out with some strong views on it…
There exist volumes of books in the archives as regards lands transferred to Church. Now, there is a general impression that Portuguese had same policies throughout their colonial regime. But actually they changed from time to time. Interestingly, Portuguese were Catholic by name, but there were periods when Portugal turned anti-religious, anti-clerical and even had no relations with Vatican. In fact, the Republican government which came to power in Portugal in 1910, took away all lands from the Church and provided only those buildings necessary for the cult. The Republican government also suppressed religious orders. In a nutshell, this government brought a control over the Church properties.
It was after the Liberation of Goa that Societies Act came into being and provided autonomy, including facility of internal auditing to Church. Unfortunately, today the monitoring on Church properties is sorely missing. What is necessary under democratic rules is some control over such matters so as to prevent evils of democracy.
Presently, what we see is misuse of Church property, including lands by those connected with the Church. Now, this allegation should not be directly linked to Bishop or priests, but their relatives, friends and so on. Today, the pressure on land is increasing as land has become precious in Goa. The Parish Councils are no more effective. Hence, I feel that the government should maintain control over church properties. And the Church should not feel defensive, as such a step would help it to run its doctrine more efficiently, under accountability.
Finally, coming back to your literary exercises, is there a new book or books awaiting completion on your writing table?
After publishing ‘Medieval Goa: A Socio Economic History’ in 1979, I edited a couple of books for Goa University during its initial years, including ‘Goa and Economic History’ and ‘Essays on Goan History’. Eventually, when I decided to migrate to Portugal, I wrote my farewell work titled ‘Goa to Me’, which presented a critical view on Goa and contained 10 essays along with a long autobiographical introduction.
Now, I want to write two more books namely ‘Linking Goa and Portugal: Past and Present’ and ‘Portugal to Me’, thus completing the trilogy of critical memoirs, that would reveal my ties with Goa, Goa and Portugal, and finally Portugal. I have already been writing a column for a local English daily, which contained several articles fit enough to be included in ‘Linking Goa and Portugal: Past and Present’. As for writing ‘Portugal to Me’, I will have to reside in that country for some more years.
And then, in between I pick up episodes of history of Goa to write various articles. I have around 100 published research articles, which can be compiled into more than one book.