Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Love in the Time of Colonization" - O HERALDO: The Transient (Goa - 18 February 2012)


Catherine of Braganza
In this the month that celebrates love, the events of the year 1662 comes to mind. That year, in a far from romantic episode, the Portuguese infanta Catherine of Braganza was married to Charles II of England. A custom thought of as so South Asian, their marriage had been arranged as a royal alliance between the colonial powers. Portugal included one of its Indian ports in the royal dowry. Perhaps they gave up that possession thinking it far less significant than the natural harbour of Goa, but the gift was to become a major factor in the establishment of British commerce in the East. That port was Bombay.

The bestowal of Bombay upon the English suggests Portugal’s acknowledgment of that empire’s overlordship in the seventeenth century. Portuguese scholar Boaventura de Souza Santos ruminates on “the relations of hierarchy among the different European colonialisms” and sees British colonialism as “the norm ... in relation to which the contours of Portuguese colonialism get defined as a subaltern colonialism.” He rightly conveys the historical dominance of England over Portugal in the Early Modern period. In so doing, however, Santos literally colonizes the politically loaded language of subaltern and postcolonial studies which all but leaves out the colonized themselves. Further, where de Souza Santos would categorize the dowry offering as proof of Portugal’s subaltern position below England, this would obfuscate how the bond extended the imperial reach of both colonizers. In other words, the “marriage” of convenience – as unequal as it was – still benefitted England and Portugal.

Seventeenth Century Bombay
Because of this “gift,” Bombay became the conduit between Portuguese and British India. It cemented their relations – a collusive effort that played out in perpetuating European dominance in several parts of the world. The link between the empires was also useful to Goans, who were able to expand their horizons beyond Goa’s limited opportunities. From British India, Goans found their way to different parts of the empire, East Africa included. There, Goans were designated apart from other South Asians because of their Portuguese colonial connection, and were often employed in administrative positions in the racially segregated society. Portugal, meanwhile, supported the idea that Goans in British East Africa were somehow different, because it upheld the distinction of Portuguese colonial power in the subcontinent. In this way, even the colonized in the British Empire were used to maintain Portugal’s imperial power.

Jer Mahal, Bombay Site of Goan Clubs
Interestingly, the channel that Bombay provided for Goans would prove to be part of the undoing of their colonization. Writer Victor Rangel-Ribeiro notes how “once Goans began to emigrate en masse to Bombay in search of a university education and well-paying jobs, we became exposed ... to India’s push to independence; the more deeply we breathed in the heady winds of freedom, the more tenuous became Portugal’s grip...” Ironically, Bombay – the interlude in the colonial affair between Portugal and Britain - led to Goa’s divorce from its colonizer. Apparently, some relationships are not meant to last...

An online version appears here.

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, some relationships, especially oppressive ones like colonization, are certainly not meant to last. Go Goa! Go the Nightchild Nexus!!

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    1. Thanks, Shan Star! One can only hope that when one relationship ends, it is not replaced by another destructive one. Thank you for your support.

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  2. Very interesting approach! These are some thoughts that occur:

    Rather than the gift of Bombay "cimenting" anglo-portugueses in India, it harmed them considerably. The Estado da ├Źndia and the EIC had been at peace since 1630s and the painful transfer of Bombay (recall Angediva) started a snow-ball effect that culminated in the anglo-portuguese quasi-war of 1722 in and around Bombay. Also, one of the more interesting aspects of the transfer is what happened to the portuguese or descendente community in Bombay. This was a singular process - not always peaceful - whereby colonizers became colonized in the same spot over a few generations.

    Hoping to read more on Bombay!

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  3. Hi, Jaipas,

    Thanks for your comment on this article. You are right in pointing out that the marriage alliance between England and Portugal did not immediately lead to a "happily ever after" situation. However, the skirmishes that followed could be characterized as the vestiges of a lesser power attempting to retain, or even regain, some glory. The fact that the Portuguese continued to rule in India in their inferior colonial status, even after the events you mention, proves that this was under the aegis of the English. Had the Portuguese not acquiesced to the overlordship of the British, their diminishing power would have likely suffered even more. Further, my main focus is to understand how Goans in Bombay and other parts of the colonial world cohered or subverted the collusive relationship between the colonizers.

    Thanks for taking the time to read.
    Cheers,
    the nightchild


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