Aptly, the lecture drew a full house. On 30 March, 2013, those that came to hear architect Gerard da Cunha speak at Kala Academy, Panjim, found themselves in a gallery featuring paintings of colonial era architecture by Japanese artist Akeru Barros Pereira. The occasion was the release of the book The Indo-Portuguese House on which the architect and the painter collaborated.
In his talk, da Cunha sought to contextualize the book’s architectural focus within the history of Goa’s encounter with the world. Yet, the architect began with a reference to how “an arrow shot into the seas by Lord Parashuram had given rise to the land in which Goa” finds location. In employing the story of the Sanskritic figure, perhaps da Cunha’s purpose was to imbue Goa’s oceanic geography with the Indic connection of his book’s title. This overshadows the ordinary and more palpable ways in which the author does situate Goa in relation to the Konkan and Malabar coasts. For example, da Cunha mentioned the agricultural practices that relied on local ingenuity to manage irrigation through “the use of sluice gates.” Just as this would have been an expected feature along the coast, the author also illustrated how “internal courtyards were common” to the construction of pre-colonial houses in Goa, as is true of Tharavad-style homes in Kerala, for example. In both regions, large domiciles served joint families and the courtyards were communal spaces that provided privacy within the dwelling itself.
Even as da Cunha maintained that it was Portuguese colonialism that gave rise to the uniqueness of Goa’s architecture, in developing his historiography of Goa he allowed for other cultural interactions. He spoke of how the Chinese had pre-dated the arrival of Europeans to Goa by nearly a century and how travel between Lusitan colonies, in later times, expanded Goan tastes as seen in the eclecticism of furnishings and decor. For instance, a home-owner with an African connection might demonstrate this “by having a zebra worked into a tile mosaic.” East Asia, too, could be seen in the patterns of china imported from abroad. Homes of the past, then, must be viewed as a composite of the multiple influences which make them unusual, for the houses da Cunha and Barros Pereira’s book chronicle are part of a Goan legacy that connects it to a history of many strains, several of which are obscured here.
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