Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why be apologetic about our Portuguese heritage?

It is not as if we set about to grab great-grand ancestors Afonso de Albuquerque and his merry men by the hand and tell them: oh conquer us we are yours. Our ancestors thought Albuquerque and Co were a bunch of nice white-skinned traders who would help them kick the Sultans out of Goa. Of course they thought wrong. How can you blame them? We Goans are wired to think wrong. We did it then, and landed ourselves into such a mess for the next 450 years. We are doing it now. And unless Nature has patience with us we will make wrong choices forever.

We were forced to convert to an alien religion. If we did not our lands were confiscated. We were an agricultural community then mind you, not a government-servant/NRI community. What greater horror could there be than taking our land away from us? Our families were split up. Elder brothers took the family deity and escaped to Ponda to set up temples under the protection of the Raja of Sonda. They kept the family religion alive there. The remaining part of the family converted to Catholicism. Which is why we have not had communal tension between Hindus and Christians because families share both religions.

Traditions like cremation were turned into major crimes and worship of our gods and goddesses were just not allowed. The Mhamai-Kamats still celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi by using a paper drawing of Lord Ganesh rather than immersing a statue. That’s the way they did it then, in secrecy, defiance and deep devotion. Now it is a beautiful family tradition.

Those of us who converted to save our lands and those who converted in order to be gifted confiscated lands learned Latin prayers and parroted them. The previous rulers had no issue with our bare-breasted women and our kashti-clad men. But the Portuguese ruthlessly enforced their European dress code. Cover up or pay the penalty. One of my earliest memories was the village fest where men strolled around in awesome dignity wearing a coat, a tie, a shirt and a kashti with no trousers. And our ancestors thought that the Sultan was a tough customer.

But then again we are Goans and we came through that 450 year period with grace. We took elements from the Portuguese culture and adapted them to our own. If they wanted churches to be built, they used Hindu artisans who must have chuckled that typical Goan high-pitched breathless chuckle of glee, while they carved Hindu religious symbols into the beautiful facades of the Catholic baroque churches.

At the same time the Portuguese brought in chillies and cashews and added new flavours to our traditional Konkan cuisine. It is this which makes Goan cuisine stand out from the rest. Our music developed calypso rhythms with new instruments like the mandolin, the guitar, the banjo and the piano adding magic to the percussion and wind instruments we already had. Our Konkani language took on a Portuguese lilt and Portuguese words too. Our architecture became a thing of fine art.

It was all good. There must have been bad too, but the good outweighed it as can be seen by the multitudes of delighted visitors who come to this state to marvel at our Goan culture. They think this is a foreign land. Foreigners, especially Portuguese, also think Goa is a foreign land.

This makes us in Goa unique and it is this uniqueness we have to protest and nurture. If our elected representatives cannot have the vision to see that we have to carry the past with us if we have to move forward with any grace, then we, you and I have to make sure they learn this one valuable lesson. It’s like recycling. Nothing should go to waste. Unless it is absolutely useless.

So when bodies like Semana de Cultura Portuguesa decide to celebrate the Portuguese aspect of our Goan culture, on August 27 and 29, my request to our freedom fighters is despite the clowns that govern us today, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us freedom from the colonial yoke. But please do not bring out morchas and go on fasts unto death to kill that aspect of what makes us so unique. Let ours be the final victory. We are free. We sent the Portuguese colonialists packing, but we kept the best for ourselves. That is our victory.

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