The Real Goans - Vasco da Gama

Who was Vasco da Gama: A Portuguese navigator who was born in 1468 in the town of Sines, Alentejo a province in Portugal. He died in 1524 while Vice-Roy of India in the town of Cochim. He was the illegitimate child of Estevão da Gama and at one time thought of pursuing priesthood.

He was a man trusted by King John II who gave him several missions. In 1497, King Manuel I gave him the command of three ships, Saint Raphael, Saint Gabriel and the Bérrio. This small flotilla was commanded by him and his two brothers Paulo da Gama and Nicolau Coelho.

His arrival in India was the ultimate success sought by Henry the Navigator 80 years before. In 1998 he is included in the ASTA Travel Hall of fame. Life magazine considered him to be one of the great personalities in this millennium.


VASCO DA GAMA - the maritime explorer 1469-1524
by José Colaço

May 22, 1998 marked the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in the South Indian port of Calicut. Da Gama was the first person to have traveled via the sea route directly from Europe to India. In terms of courage, determination and sheer endurance, da Gama's journey ranks amongst the greatest historic events of this millennium. For better or for worse, it is the event which catalyzed a series of events which forever changed the history and geography of the world.

Celebrations are underway in many countries - especially Portugal. As expected with the celebration of any event such as this, there has been controversy.

The following is a personal look at Goa, its recent history, the historic Vasco da Gama voyage and the controversy the 500th anniversary celebrations have generated.

I believe that Goa as it is today, is distinct from any other part of India or the world. It has and exudes an intriguing blend of Konkani, Hindu, Kunbi, Maratha, Portuguese, Catholic, Islamic, Arab and Kannad influences; a blend shared by no other part of India or the world. It is also a state of India whose populace is largely honest, peaceful, content, hardworking, gracious, fun loving and hospitable while at the same time being mindful of the various sensitivities and influences that are omnipresent. Most Goans are quite conscious of their uniqueness.

The original inhabitants of Goa were most likely the Kunbis and other tribals. Thereafter Goa and its people were subjected to a plethora of influences. By the time the Portuguese arrived, Goa had already been settled into by the Konkanis and the Saraswats. The once powerful hindu kingdom of Vijaynagar which had control of Goa had just lost it to their arch rivals, the Turkish muslims of Bijapur.

Goa became the second most important city for the Bijapur Turkish Empire and a major transshipment port for pilgrims to Mecca and for horses from Arabia. But life in Goa was far from being peaceful. There was a constant tug of war between Maharajas of Vijaynagar and the Sultans of Bijapur for the control of Goa.

The Muslims were quite intolerant of the Hindus in Goa, a compliment the Vijaynagar Hindus returned to the Muslims a few miles farther south. It is this intolerance, distrust and infighting which allowed the Portuguese to get a foothold in Goa, Cannanore and Cochin. A foothold which the Portuguese had probably not initially planned and one which they hardly had the manpower to retain. At the outset, main interest of the Portuguese was financial : the ability to buy spices directly from India and sell them in Europe for a substantial profit.

Upon arrival, the Portuguese almost wiped out the substantial Islamic presence and influence from the Bijapur Turks in Goa. The Portuguese were initially a welcome relief to the Hindus' long suffering persecution by the Muslims who were tyrannical. But eventually the Portuguese themselves became quite intolerant. This intolerance was most evident during the 16th and in the mid 20th century during the dictatorial rule of Antonio Oliveira Salazar. While this intolerance was for only a minor portion of their stay in Goa, it led to significant resentment among the Goans, the desire among them to be Independent from Portugal and the eventual eviction of the Portuguese from Goa.

After 1961 when Goa became a part of the Indian Union, some realignment of the dominant influences took place. The prevailing Portuguese and Catholic linked influences began to wane and a strong Maharashtra based pro-Marathi anti-Konkani force began to assert itself. But the Konkani base which is the foundation of Goa and Goan-ness prevailed. This was unequivocally demonstrated in the Opinion Poll of 1967 when Goans en masse rejected the attempt by the Marathi-lobby to have Goa absorbed into the neighbouring State of Maharashtra.

With the advent of tourism, a new attempt is being made to create a renewal of the Lusitanian flavour in Goa. It is a good marketing tool. And while this has produced a half-hearted 'look alike' version of the very culture which was being heavily suppressed in the 1962-1982 period, the remnants of the Lusitanian culture found new spirit and ground to exist; and it does - though, just barely. In the 1962-1982 period the anti-Konkani Goa Government often appeared to discriminate against the Konkani, Lusitanian and Goan Catholic elements and influences in society. This discrimination was quite overt. To escape this Catholic Goans emigrated in droves to countries as far flung as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Portugal, the United States and Brazil. To many, their clean, serene, safe and beautiful Goa was being systematically dismantled in the name of progress. An event they could no longer bear to see unfold right in front of their eyes. They joined the hundreds of thousands of Goans who for decades had been leaving Goa in search of better opportunities. In the 1980s another massive emigration of Goans began. This time it was the highly trained and educated set who proceeded to the Middle East, Australia, the UK and North America in search of better prospects.

The Konkani language, suppressed during the Portuguese era in Goa, ironically came under a second period of effective suppression, this time by the anti-Konkani lobby during the 1962-1982 period. The irony of this of course was that a good number of the neo Konkani-suppressors were actually on very cozy terms with the repressive Salazar regime. However, for several reasons the Konkani taught in the schools and preached from the pulpit is significantly different from the Konkani spoken in the homes. This disparity is most obvious when one studies the Konkani spoken by the Goan Catholics. With time however the Catholic dialect of Konkani can be expected to be effectively suppressed and eliminated by the Konkani which is now being taught in the schools.



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