That East Africa figures quite commonly in literature from and about Goa is evidence of how the presence of the Goan diaspora in Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now Tanzania) has influenced the socio-cultural imagination of a tiny region. In turn, this proves that its size notwithstanding, Goa has long been connected to many parts of the world. At the recently concluded conference “Africa-Asia: A New Axis of Knowledge”, organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies, a Netherlands-based entity, and hosted at the University of Ghana, Legon (24-26 September, 2015), I presented a paper on the place of Goa and Goans in the literary connections between the two continents. In so doing, I wished to draw attention to how the continent of Africa had played a role in the Portuguese coming to and, then, leaving Goa. It struck me during my time in Accra that though much can be said about the Goan-East African nexus, the case is less so for how one might think of Goa’s associations with other parts of the continent, and with West Africa in particular.
Although the first of its kind, the Africa-Asia academic conference no doubt harked back to the Bandung Conference of 1955, especially since this year marks the 60th anniversary of the meeting that was the precursor to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Of the twenty-nine African and Asian nations that participated in the Indonesian conference, some were newly independent, including India. The major focus of the Bandung meeting were deliberations over the solidarity of Third World nations; how might they be champions of peace in the era of decolonization and also in relation to the beginnings of the Cold War period? Though the spirit of Bandung began to dissipate by the 1960s, it was an important moment of South-South collaborations.
In contrast, the academic conference I participated in seemed to focus more on economic prowess in today’s Afro-Asiatic relations, and notably China’s growing participation in various African industries, including construction and finance. Nonetheless, there were also presentations on the influence of multiculturality and globalization on cultural production and social relations. This was demonstrated in the research of scholars working on convergences between Indian and Nigerian filmmaking and film-viewership, but also by those studying South Asian diasporic communities in Ghana and elsewhere. Indeed, what was made apparent in following these various strands of the conference was how even the examination of South-South relationships are still haunted by contemporary Western influence or the colonial past. So, for instance, China’s current role in Africa is generally seen as being akin to US international involvement, while the afterlife of diasporic movement – particularly in South Asian-African contexts – is largely regarded within circuits once prescribed by British coloniality.
Perhaps Goa’s ties with Africa offer alternative lines of consideration. Not only was Goa a conduit between Portuguese and British India, but Goans also journeyed for work to both Portuguese and British Africa. But prior to such transit which became common in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Portuguese had already been deeply entrenched in the African slave trade, with both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans being employed for that purpose. As a result, African slaves were brought to Portuguese India, and their bloodlines and descendants continue to be part of our heritage, despite our penchant for racialized colourism and casteism.
At the end of the colonial period, Africa also played a part in ending Portuguese colonization in Goa. In West Africa, Angola had begun agitating against the Portuguese in 1961, a year of much import to Goa. Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau were soon to follow suit. It was also in 1961 that Nehru came to formally institute NAM, along with Kwame Nkrumah – independent Ghana’s first Prime Minister – along with leaders from other nations. Pressured by leaders of the anti-colonial movement in Africa who asked Nehru to take action against the Portuguese in Goa because it would abet the decolonization of Luso-Africa, India’s first Prime Minister launched an attack on the region in December 1961. While it had been the intention of African leadership to see the end of Portuguese colonization in Asia, Nehru’s military action not only delimited Goan self-determination, but also annexed Goa to the existing Indian nation-state.
In these decades after the end of European colonization in Africa and Asia, and even as globalization brings in new forms of power hierarchies, perhaps it is time to rethink South-South relations along other axes of knowledge. While accounting for the importance of economics, trade, and politics, there is also a rich terrain of history, literature, culture, and community that deserves consideration. As the Goan example highlights, even a small place can reveal the complexities of intercontinental associations that run on multiple levels while offering perspectives on the past and direction for the future.
From The Goan.