Saturday, July 6, 2013

"A Small Place of Different Worlds: Thinking Goa Postcolonially" - MUSE INDIA (July - August 2013)

There are multiple languages, dialects, scripts, religions, castes, races, colonisers, and diasporas to contend with in considering the different worlds of Goa. Among other languages, literature by Goans appears in Marathi, Portuguese, English, and the state’s official language of Devanagari-scripted Konkani. However, Konkani is also written in the Roman script, and even in Perso-Arabic, Kannada, and Malayalam along the Konkan coast, evidencing cultural and linguistic connections to other regions. And as a challenge to the idea that conversion meant that Hindus alone were made Catholic by the Portuguese, history reminds that in 1510 Afonso de Albuquerque rounded up the widows of Adil Shah’s soldiers, and had the Muslim women christened so he could marry them to the men of “his fleet … These baptized brides were to become the first recipients of Portuguese culture in Goa” (Sinha 2001: 20). This Early Modern miscegeny aside, Indo-Portuguese interraciality was not commonplace (de Souza 2007: 236, 239-242) and, as Margaret Mascarenhas’ novel Skin proffers, the presence of African slaves in colonial Goa expands interracial possibilities in the enclave beyond the white-Asian binary. Then, there are the diasporas, which extend the Goan presence into once Portuguese colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; into former British India and, from there, into other erstwhile colonies such as East Africa and thereafter the Commonwealth nations; and, in recent history, the Middle East to cover but a few areas from where stories of and by Goans are told outside their homeland. Yes, there are all these different worlds that constitute India’s tiniest state; even within this, the question persists of whether Goa can really be thought of as “postcolonial” if its decolonisation in 1961 was the result of an Indian takeover that subsumed Goan self-emancipation.

The concept of Goan identity as being historically ambivalent, preceding colonisation even, is reflected in Goa: A Daughter’s Story, when Maria Aurora Couto says that “[i]t is difficult to put a finger on [its] exact nature” (2004: 300). Conspicuously, Couto’s book contextualizes Goan history from her heteropatriarchal positionality as a member of an elite Catholic Brahmin family. Insomuch as this is the case, the author does recall her father’s pluralistic view that “the Portuguese only added a dimension to what is essentially Goan” and that, to her, 

Goa is a seamless whole created by succeeding waves of settlers who came upon the haunting beauty of red earth criss-crossed by rivers, bordered by the Arabian Sea, a land fertile and salubrious, where they camped, traded, planted, built, and where each left an imprint to enrich its intrinsic beauty and character ... [C]ultures from across the ghats and beyond the seas have clearly contributed to ... a society that is cosmopolitan in its rootedness. (2004: 74)

While it should account more for those indigenous groups that are Goa’s First Peoples – the Dhangars, Velips, Gawdas, and Kunbis – Couto’s description merges the fixity of land with identity in flux. It interprets otherness and multiplicity as being integral to Goanness. This portrayal also makes apparent the palimpsests between homeland and diaspora in the ethos of Goan identity, as Goa is presented both as a region of origin and reception. In this, there is nothing unique about the Goan condition, for several other lands and peoples with a history of colonisation and displacement have seen similar influences. Where Goa does stand out is in having one of the longest colonial histories in the world; therein, its status as a previously Portuguese dominion offers an epistemological terrain that diverges from usual postcolonial thought, as I will discuss.

In African Independence from Francophone and Anglophone Voices, Clara Tsabedze appeals for “[f]urther comparative studies focussing on the development of literature in those countries that have followed different paths to independence, for example the lusophone nations of Africa (Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Sao Tomé)” (1994: 146). What Tsabedze alludes to in calling for more complexity in the study of the literary traditions of Luso-Africa, and especially in reference to decolonisation, is the necessity to move away from the overdependence on Anglo-centrism in postcolonial thought. Where Goa invigorates the field is not only because of Portuguese colonialism but, through that avenue, its connection with Africa, for instance.

Through the incorporation of literatures and histories of geographies beyond national borders, Tsabedze’s
proposition is amplified by allowing for more cross-pollinated perspectives on post/coloniality. As an example, Mascarenhas’ novel Skin enmeshes its Goan characters, several of whom are interracial, in multiple diasporic, colonial, and postcolonial multiculturalisms, thus dislocating Goan subjectivity from any sense of homogenous national belonging. Skin explores racialized and gendered dominance as the contiguities of imperial and native patriarchies through the generational repetition of physical traits, such as green eyes and missing nipples, which mark the bodies of women as an archive of historical violence. The novel envisages a different relationship between Asia, Africa, and Europe through religious and cultural historiography by enveloping the legend of Kimpa Vita, or Dona Beatrice, a seventeenth and eighteenth century Angolan/Kongolese prophetess (Mascarenhas 2001: 11). In Mascarenhas’ novel it is a descendant of Dona Beatrice’s who is enslaved and brought to Goa by the Portuguese, continuing on the traditions of the past in the new land (95-96). The novel’s treatment of African Goan identity allows for a trans-cartographic and transhistorical perspective on race through religion, all the while centring the lives of women.

Though unconnected by cartography, colonial policies, population movements, and the stories of these phenomena furnish the connective tissue between colonies, as well as colonies and the metropole. Undoubtedly, British colonisation also connects South Asia and Africa, but not only does Goa provide a vantage point from which an Afro-Asiatic post/colonial nexus might be gauged, but also associations between colonialisms because Goa occupied a liminal position between the Portuguese and British empires. Between Empires is, incidentally, the title of Rochelle Pinto’s book where she argues of the subjectivity of predominantly elite Catholics that “[t]here were at least two spheres of interaction through which [these] Goans were inserted into a racialized colonial discourse: one of these, obviously, is the presence of the colonial state in Goa, and the other, the circulation of Goans through other Portuguese colonies” (2007: 17). That “[a]s with the Church, the Goan elite used print to protest against racial discrimination at home,” jarred with how “they produced descriptive and ethnographic accounts to insert themselves into a favourable position in racial hierarchies in Africa” (ibid).

In addition to demonstrating the use of textuality in constructing Goan identities between the homeland and the diaspora in the nineteenth century, Pinto importantly denotes how 

[t]he predominantly upper caste Catholic Goan intelligentsia was accustomed to a fair degree of mobility within Portugal and its colonies. Accustomed to holding office in various colonies, ... and to the workings of [institutionalized] power..., the Goan elite was probably accustomed to seeing themselves as prominent, if not equal, citizens of the expansive cultural milieu that constituted the Portuguese empire. (2007: 16)

In effect, what Pinto demarcates here is a major distinction between British and Portuguese colonisations and their management of colonial subjects. While Goans could hold political office in the Portuguese metropolitan centre, the relationship between the British Empire at large and British India was not characterised by equivalent practices of non-racialized mobility and representative government.

Dissimilarities of this nature then require of literary criticism that it takes approaches which bear in mind that not all post/colonialisms reflect similarly in their resultant literatures. Compare the nuance Pinto supplies in her assessment of the Goan elite in a global colonial context to Anand Patil’s criticism of Os Brahamanes, or The Brahmins, published in 1866. Reputedly the first novel by a Goan writer, “it was published in Portuguese in Lisbon” (Patil 1995: 87). Patil describes the author Francisco Louis Gomes as “an experienced journalist, biographer, and politician, who joined the opposition party in the Portuguese parliament” (1995: 89). Setting his novel in British India, Gomes uses the 1857 “Sepoy Mutiny” as backdrop, but “fails to interpret the 1857 Uprising in the nationalist spirit,” Patil charges (1995: 94). “His choice of the Irish planter Robert Davis...,” Patil holds, “[was] meant to please the colonizers...” (91). The colonisers Patil has in mind are revealed when he notes that “[i]n the nineteenth century, the British looked down upon the Irish peasant as a ‘white negro’” (ibid). How curious that Patil should believe that a book in Portuguese was meant for readership by the English! Besides, the Davis character is not only Irish, but also Catholic, making it far more likely that Gomes chose the British Indian locations and the Irish Catholic character to serve an allegorical purpose for his Portuguese readership, a matter which I shall return to later.

Through his novel, Patil maintains, “Gomes speaks as a Goan and a Portuguese. He boasts of his ‘universal standpoint’ and pleads for humanism ... This dilemma is caused by his two nationalities” (ibid). Patil is too quick in ascribing to the novelist the semblance of “an adopted child [who] tried to make European culture his own” (1995: 90). He rightly discerns the orientalist bent of Os Brahamanes (1995: 91), and Gomes’ position as being “representative of ‘native intellectuals’” (89)  – or what Ann Stoler labels as “colonial agents” or “subaltern compatriots” (1995: 8). Nonetheless, following Pinto’s observations of the nineteenth century, Patil is remiss in believing of the period Gomes lived in, and of a person of his societal standing, that Goa and Portugal operated then or for the politician/intellectual as two nations – an impression replete with British Indian colonial ideology as seen, for instance, with Partition and the creation in 1947 of Pakistan and India.

Nevertheless, such comparison is not an argument for a retroactive recuperation of the values of one system of coloniality over another; if anything, it is not impossible to see how Portuguese colonial practices of representational government underscored the privileges of the native elite and employed them collusively within structures of imperial power. The theme of “the relations of hierarchy among the different European colonialisms” is taken up by Boaventura de Sousa Santos in his essay ‘Between Prospero and Caliban’ where he observes that British colonialism should be seen as “the norm ... in relation to which the contours of Portuguese colonialism get defined as a subaltern colonialism” (2002: 11). Certainly, the British did supersede their other European counterparts in the global sway they held in the imperial arena. Yet, de Sousa Santos, in using the language of subaltern studies, does so to eclipse the subaltern colonised themselves while attempting to reduce Portugal to the status of “an ‘informal colony’ of England” (ibid).

Even in its eventual subjugated position, what has to be taken into consideration is that Portuguese
colonisation continued to benefit from its associations with the British Empire, and not least through such colonial subjects as Goans who were a living bridge between Portuguese and British India, as well as between the Indies and colonised Africa. Selma Carvalho finds that Goans “enjoyed their status as a distinct nationality in [British] East Africa ... based on them being Portuguese nationals and Catholics” (2010: 97). As its power waned, Portugal was able to hold on to some semblance of its former imperial self through the Goan diaspora in Africa for, as Carvalho opines, the Portuguese were “ever vigilant not to give the slightest credence to the notion that Goans and Indians were connected” (2010: 98). In upholding the difference of Goans versus Indians in East Africa, British colonial law benefitted by creating a labour pool of civil servants (Carvalho 2010: 96). These selected Goans were meant to be exemplary, a model minority in comparison to the Indians they were set apart from and, more pointedly, native Africans.  Though in genesis a British policy, it also reified Portugal’s power to create and recreate colonial identities and, in so doing, colluded with such imperial design.

What the preceding distinguishes is the interdependence of colonial systems along with the imbrication of colonial subjects in the perpetuation of hegemony. Still, this does not mean that resistance does not occur. Patil believes that Os Brahamanes “[imitates] the colonizers’ generic repertory to preserve that hegemony” (1995: 87-88), which undermines the possibility that the novel could have been resistant to colonial practices in any form. Why then might Gomes, for all the flaws Patil picks out in his novel, choose an Irish Catholic character but to potentially communicate to his Portuguese readership the similar minoritization between Goans in the Portuguese realm and the Irish in Britain? Patil eschews a consideration of this probable indication, instead citing Gomes’ reliance on European literary traditions and its “stalwarts,” among whom he names Alexandre Dumas (90).

Again, Patil misses another conceivable way to view Goan literature from a postcolonial lens other than the Anglo-centric one he privileges. Even though gesturing at European literature, Patil never veers far from thinking of that canon as being either shaped by British literary tropes or geared toward audiences of that provenance; he also monolithically reads Europe as white. Dumas, the French writer, was not only half-black – his paternal grandmother had been a slave – but one of his most famous novels has a Goan connection. Pinto records that “José Custodio de Faria ... became a prominent hypnotist in France ... and is said to have inspired the persona of Abbé Faria, the prisoner in the Chateau d’If in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo” (2007: 17).    

Rather unconvincingly, Patil identifies Gomes’ “inferiority complex” as being “born of his choice of the
Portuguese language” (90). Indeed, as Jamaica Kincaid asks so provocatively in A Small Place of the limits of colonial language and the ability of the colonised to express themselves in it:  “For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime?” (1988: 31). Counterpose Kincaid’s striking sentiment against Salman Rushdie’s claim that “[f]or some Indian critics, English-language Indian writing will never be more than a post-colonial anomaly, the bastard child of Empire ... [F]orever inauthentic” (2002: 148). Not only does Rushdie seek to challenge claims of authenticity by postulating that English be considered Indian, but also that English has been subverted, hybridized, bastardized, and forever changed because of its colonial associations. It is arguable that this is even more so with the Portuguese language which was shared between metropole and colonies, such as Goa, which had no national distinction despite geographic distance. Brazilian Portuguese serves as a particularly apt example in proving how colonisation dramatically changes language.

It is undeniable that language has long been a source of consternation for how Goan identity and its literary traditions are indexed. The writer and translator Vidya Pai asserts that “[t]he oppressive linguistic policies of the Portuguese rulers in the sixteenth century ensured that Konkani disappeared from the public sphere in Goa ... A language thus marginalized by history’s tide could hardly boast of any creative literature of note” (2013: 55-56). Pai then avers that “[i]t was only after Goa was liberated in 1961, after the Sahitya Akademi recognized Konkani as an independent Indian language and it was included in the eight schedule of the Constitution, that creative writing received impetus…” (56). Though Pai chronicles the recognition of Konkani as Goa’s state language, she fails to say that only a single script – Devanagari – was officially acknowledged, despite a history to the contrary. Further, Pai posits the decolonisation of Goa as the pivotal moment that effects the flowering of a heretofore colonially repressed literary tradition; nowhere is the irony expressed that the postcolonial state had exerted its own suppression of a multiplicity of linguistic expressions by refusing to officially recognize them.

Discounting all literature prior to 1961 as Pai does partakes of the postcolonial state’s vision of a limited
ambit of Goa, Goan identity, and the literary traditions of Goa’s worlds by cathecting them to the Indian nation-state rather than the other trajectories that Goa has followed. In writing about her translation of Mahableshwar Sail’s Yug Sanvaar - or Age of Frenzy published in 2004 - Pai highlights how the Konkani writer uses colonial era “religious conversion, the migration of communities and the excesses of the Inquisition...” in Goa as “the three main planks on which the novel rests” (2013: 59). The translator avouches that Sail’s novel “called for much research into the historical and sociological accounts of the period” and that “Yug Sanvaar testifies to Sail’s mature handling of a turbulent period of Goan history, of interest to Konkani Hindus ... and to Konkani Christians in search of their roots” (60). As much as the novel and its translation may try to postcolonially recast all Goan identity as sprouting from common roots, it can only do so by sidestepping Goa’s Muslim heritage and its other worlds, while simultaneously upholding a Brahmanical hierarchy of an allegedly Hindu-only Goa.

“[C]an a way be found to make what happened not have happened?” Kincaid asks rhetorically (1988: 32). To think Goa postcolonially is to grapple with “what happened” in all of its ambiguities and complexities. In a conference report about his work on an anthology of Goan literature, first published in 1983 as a special issue of the Journal of South Asian Literature and re-released in 2010 as Pivoting on the Point of Return: Modern Goan Literature, Peter Nazareth concludes with the evocative statement: “It was a house with many rooms” (2013). What can be educed from this is the function of criticism that addresses Goan literature to serve as an analytics of the homeland and its many worlds, as well as the many worlds in which Goans have found home. Thinking Goa postcolonially is to see a place small enough to contain worlds of difference.

Carvalho, Selma. 2010, Into the Diaspora Wilderness, Saligao and Panjim, Goa 1556 and Broadway Publishing House.
Couto, Maria Aurora. 2004, Goa: A Daughter’s Story, New Delhi, Penguin Books India.
de Sousa Santos, Boaventura. 2002 ‘Between Prospero and Caliban: Colonialism, Postcolonialism, and Inter-identity’ in Luso-Brazilian Review 39.2, pp 9-42.
de Souza, Teotónio R. 2007 ‘Portuguese Impact upon Goa: Lusotopic, Lusophonic, Lusophilic?’ in Creole Societies in the Portuguese Colonial Empire (eds Philip J. Havik and Malyn Newitt) University of Bristol, Bristol, pp 235-250.
Kincaid, Jamaica. 1988, A Small Place, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Mascarenhas, Margaret. 2001, Skin, New Delhi, Penguin Books.
Pai, Vidya. 2013 ‘A Saga of a Frenzied Age: Mahabaleshwar Sail’s Yug Sanvaar’ in 50 Writers, 50 Books: The Best of Indian Fiction (eds Pradeep Sebastian and Chandra Siddan) Harper Collins Publishers India, Noida, pp 55-60.
Patil, Anand. 1995 ‘Colonial and Post/Neo-colonial Discourse in Two Goan Novels: A Fanonian Study’ in Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 26.4, pp 87-112.
Pinto, Rochelle. 2007, Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa, New Delhi, Oxford University Press.
Rushdie, Salman. 2002, Step Across this Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002, New York, Random House.
Sinha, Arun. 2001, Goa Indica: A Critical Portrait of Postcolonial Goa, New Delhi, Bibliophile South Asia and Promilla & Company Publishers.
Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Durham, Duke University Press.
Tsabedze, Clara. 1994, African Independence from Francophone and Anglophone Voices: A Comparative Study of the Post-Independence Novels by Ngugi and Sembène, New York, Peter Lang Publishing Incorporated.
Nazareth, Peter. ‘Editing an Anthology of Goan Literature.’ Confluence, 6 Apr 2013. Date of access – 10 May 2013.


This article appears online in the July - August 2013 issue of Muse India dedicated to Goan literature.

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