Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cyprian Fernandes: Cheek-to-cheek at a Goan dance in Africa

A Goan dance

Here is classic description of a Goan dance in any East African country. It is an excerpt from Peter Nazareth’s “fictional” In a brown mantle. I use the quote marks because the book appears to be thinly disguised as Nazareth’s once temporary homeland Uganda:

A dance in a Goan institute used to be rather formal. The dance usually starts at 9 pm, which means that the band starts playing at around 9:30 pm and couples start drifting in at a quarter-to-ten ( Cyprian: Goans were genetically such awful time keepers that allowed themselves the luxury of naming their own time: Goan time which was usually 60 or 70 minutes after the appointed hour).

The people are semi-formally dressed in attractive dresses or suits. The couples sit on chairs placed around the dance floor or around small tables (In Nairobi, it was just chairs around the dance floor). If they sat around the dance floor, the men usually vanished to the bar. They then hold their drinks and watch from the sidelines until somebody gathers up the nerve to commence dancing.

(Cyprian: Watching from the back of the hall is also another tribe of Goan men, young Goan men. The wannabe Romeos, the love-sick scaredy cats, and the not-so-drunk showing off an imaginary plumage but not girls worthy of respect are likely to engage them. The peacock plumages’ lair at the back is also home to the “tough guy” lovers who only dance the midnight special (usually cheek-to-cheek in the dim light) and last dance which is reserved for that special girl.)

Then the men go up to the ladies of their choice (they dance with their wives first) (Cyprian: a duty dance) and say: “May I have the next dance, please?” The reply is usually “Yes” in which case they go round the floor in varying degrees of happiness.  (Not Fortunato D’Mello, who never took dancing lessons. When I asked him why, he said that he once counted the number of times a couple went round the dance floor. He then estimated the length and breadth of the floor. After which, he calculated that a couple moved 17 miles (27 km) round the floor during that dance. “All that distance and they got nowhere,” he said)

The band plays a set of three pieces – say three quicksteps. Each piece lasts for three or four minutes. The band takes a break and the two return to their seats, the man saying “thank you very much” and “may I get you a drink”.

The next dance starts – a set of three foxtrots.  And the dancing starts.  Three waltzes.  A break.  A set of three rhumbas. Break. Three jive/soul. Break. A mild of set of African dance songs. Break.

There is no eroticism in Goan dances. Rather, whatever eroticism exists is submerged and can only be detected when a wolf-like Joaquim D’Costa is dancing with a long-haired married lady. And there is no break in the civilised behaviour, except for the inevitable fight around the bar, which ends by somebody bringing the warring parties together over a drink or somebody being thrown out.

A lot of my friends loved the Italian Cha Cha Cha which made me chuckle. Some were very special at dancing the waltz, others invented their own version of the dance. There was one guy who took his partner round the hall almost as if he was driving in a Grand Prix. Naturally, everyone kept out of his way. The Swahili international hit,  Malaika (angel) first recorded by its writer Fadhili William was high on the hits list for the Midnight Special or the Last Dance. The Midnight Special was also famous for traditional Goan dances like the mandos  and something British called The Lancets (?), aped from the British in India (I think). We locked arms and sang those ole time ole English favourites ... She'll be coming round the mountain ... and dozens of others. Remember the Hokey Pokey ... you put your left leg in ...? And the Conga Line after rocking in the New Year? We loved everyone ... and,  of course, Auld langsyne to bring in the New Year. As the years went by Rock 'n' Roll, the Twist, African-American soul and West Indian reggae began to dominate. Rowland Rebello was perhaps the finest exponent of the jive and the twist. Goans did not take to the jive too quickly but eventually most people were doing it. The samba and the rumba were a lot of fun. The rumba often lent itself to be a favourite of mine but I loved the jive (rock 'n' roll) and the soul hits the most. 

Then, of course, there was the "tag" or "tap" dance in which the men were allowed to cut in on a couple mid-dance by tapping on the shoulder of the male partner. This dance proved handy if you were shy of actually going up to her and asking her to dance while she sat with her parents. It was also useful to cut out any potential suitors by having your army of friends not allowing more than a step or two for the intruder. The "ladies' special" allowed the girls a chance to ask the man of their choice, sometimes announcing in public who they fancied or who was courting them. Others played it safe by dancing with a brother or father.

The other critical element in the social development of young Goans in East Africa were sports visits  from one city to another. The sports contests were ferocious to say the least but all that tough love on the field sometimes turned to good love on the dance floor as new friendships were made and new loves were found. The sports visit was a high point in the social calendar of both the hosts and the visitors.

The dance, especially at Valentine's (usually a masked ball) in February, Bachelors and Spinsters, Leap Year Ball, Easter, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, as well as the day occasions (the “hops”) played a central role in the social evolution of young Goans. Only the "best" people attended the dances as the ticket prices were reasonably high to keep the "riff-raff"out.

Dress was formal: men wore lounge suits and girls were in dresses. At Christmas or the New Year's Eve Ball, men wore their best suits or black dinner jackets. A few brought their prized  white shark skin tuxedos out of the moth balls. The women wore glorious full-length gowns and were at their stunning best. It was also usual for girls to wear a new dress at every dance which they sewed themselves or a neighbour obliged for a small fee. Some families used the same tailor throughout out his life or their lives.

As the traditional arranged marriage (usually with someone in Goa and later with someone in the African country where you lived) continued to be erased from the Goan ethos, it was left up to the Goan social clubs to cater for the young to take the embryonic steps towards the mating game. It is here the besotted finally got a chance to get real and personal with the girl of their current dreams (but not too close, the eagle-eyed parents kept a sharp look-out and (in the very early days) it was not uncommon for a parent to come on to the dance floor and insist on a more respectable distance between the two dancers. However, it was not long before young Goans were dancing cheek-to-cheek, or the girl resting her head on the boy’s shoulder, sometimes rather awkwardly. That’s it. If you liked the girl so much, you may have had one duty dance with her mother or her sister and then you danced every other dance with her. If you were brave enough, you sat with the family. If you were virtually one step away from the engagement ring, you held sweaty hands for the rest of the night and everyone in the hall knew who was going get married next. The dance was also the scene of many a heart break as a partner was dumped for another or chose to play the field.

The most important dances were midnight special and the last dance. Dancing cheek-to-cheek under very dim lights, or no lights, a special guy saved this dance for a special girl or the best choice for the night. Some of these cheek-to-cheek encounters did result in happy and long-lasting relationships. At the Railway Goan Institute, most couples tried to hog one of the three or four ceiling fans, dumped the tradition dance steps that they had learned from the Bonny Rodrigues School of Dancing and opted for a kind of sweet soul, slow, slow gyration, virtually in the one spot. Heaven, if you were that special girl.

It was also unforgivable for a girl to ask a boy to dance (except, of course, once a night in the ladies special). “Decent girls don’t do things like that”. “Decent girls don’t throw themselves at a boy”. “What will he think of you?” Once in a blue moon, if you were mooning in on other people’s conversations, you might hear: Why did you dance with her (or him). In the case of “her” it was because she was just a friend. In the case of “him” it was because he asked for the dance.

Now and again, the father of the girl (after having his elbow well and twisted by both daughter and wife) would approach the boy say to him: “You should come and visit us sometimes.” The boy would be there the next day, for a little while. If that did not happen he would be circling the house desperately trying to catch a glimpse or miraculously crash into her as she ran an errand for her mother. A few would even have their secret meeting places.

When you were invited to a home, on the rare occasion, you were asked to bring your university degree, your Post Office (on bank) savings book or evidence of your potential as an ideal suitor. Some boys never took up the invitation because the mother or the father frightened the daylights out of them. In later life, some lived to regret that but others dined on the experience as an after-dinner joke.

The progression, of course, (in Nairobi at least) was a date to the movies (20th Century or Kenya Cinema) or faluda and samosas at Keby’s, ice cream at the various joints. Much later into the relationship, it was coffee out at Embakasi Airport or a smooch-in at a friend’s place or in a parked car outside her home or the grounds of the club. No physical sins were committed. Sins of thought are another matter. Then, there were those wonderful picnics in the back of a truck or in a convoy of cars. Lots of games, lots of singing and music and lots of “getting closer to her or him (or the partner for the day)”.

I am sure my readers will decorate this piece with your own wonderful experiences in Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kericho, Kampala, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanga, Arusha, Kampala, Jinja, Entebbe, or anywhere else in the world.

I met the girl of my dreams, my late wife, at the Railway Goan Institute.

Like a lot of my contemporary friends, I loved the Goan dances.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

YiP review update: A beautiful tribute to your Mum

More reviews:

Appreciate your documenting our time in Kenya. We have great memories and enjoyed your book. Thank You.
Carmen & Arnold

Just loving Yesterday in Paradise Cyprian Fernandes. So many childhood and growing up reflections!
Joseph D'Souza An now having completed reading "Yesterday in Paradise" I can say I understand the special meaning of the Sydney Friday Club! Thank you Cyprian Fernandes for evoking such emotive and evocative memories in your book. My knowledge gap of some of the background to where I was born, the community and environ influences, and the sheer introduction 'back' to a good life that was. I wonder if you visit Melbourne? Well actually we are in the Yarra Valley. We don't have a 'salt lick'....but we do have the wildlife and beautiful natural surrounds!
From a friend: You are never going to guess this!!! I’m just about to post you!!! My book arrived, I can’t put it down. On chapter 8. It’s amazing. I have learnt so much about Kenya etc and about you. I’ve had tears and laughter too.

It made me smile about the corn cob, and you being chased around the sofa by a priest. It is also very moving about your mum. A beautiful tribute to her. Great to know where the name Skip originated too.

Just been reading Yesterday in Paradise 1950-1974 by Cyprian Fernandes
‘A bullet with your name on it’
In June 1974, Cyprian Fernandes, the Goan author of Yesterday in Paradise: 1950-1974 received an ominous warning ‘there is a bullet with your name on it’.

Within days Fernandes with his wife and young family fled Kenya, first to Britain, eventually settling permanently in Sydney, Australia. It took him forty years to overcome the trauma of his abrupt banishment from that ‘Garden of Eden’ before he started writing a blog analyzing the ‘forbidden fruit’ - the stories that would have surely hastened that bullet. Now Fernandes (73) has emerged with a book with his name on it.
It is a powerful story of being born into poverty and despair, growing in a world of racial and community prejudice, and ending his stay in Kenya amid success and fame, working on increasingly complex stories during his life as a feisty journo; he covers all topics, takes risks, probes, explores, follows wisps of smoke and rumours until he finds the bare bones of a story, and then checks facts. He is intrigued by the twists and turns of national and all-Africa politics and travels with official Kenyan delegations across Africa, and on overseas courses and ‘reporting junkets’ including to the Munich Olympics of 1972.

It is a decade when corruption, allegedly managed from the top, is taking root in Kenya. But nobody can talk or say anything derogatory against the President and his immediately family, or inner circle. As an investigative reporter, Fernandes develops the instincts of a bloodhound in a political environment filled in innuendo, tribal conflict, cold war politics, and murder. There is an extensive chapter on Pio Gama Pinto, first Goan political murder in post Kenya independence and others that follow: Tom Mboya (murdered in 1969) and JM Kariuki (murdered in 1975).

He expertly highlights other key players and the bit actors in Kenya’s immediate post independence history. It includes the short-lived role of Vice President Joseph Murumbi (half-Goan, half Masai), and Dr Njoroge Mungai, who served in turn as Minister of Health; Defence and Internal Security, and eventually Foreign Affairs. The independent stoic Managing Editor of the Nation, Joe Rodrigues, was a hero and mentor. There are other interesting characters.

Fernandes’ writing skills are displayed at their best when he recounts his early life and growing up in the now notorious suburb of Eastleigh. He presents a beautifully crafted tribute to his mother, a deeply religious woman who ‘ran errands, did grocery shopping, babysat, ironed and cooked, dressed corpses, wailed at funerals and performed other menial tasks.’ She dabbled in traditional medicine, and traditional Goan exorcism in which salt and red dried chilies are used to remove the evil eye and similar evils.’ She even gave massages to lines of injured football players. She was eventually laid to rest in Australia.

It is easy to see the connection between a remarkable woman and the author’s relentless struggle for survival – his mother and six children were abandoned at age ten by their drunken father. At age thirteen, Fernandes refuses to bare his bottom to receive a severe canning from Father Hannon, and is forced to run away and abandon high school. He must now make his way in the world. There is also a sad chapter when long after leaving Kenya, the author discovers that his once much-revered headmaster molested boys in his care at the Parochial School in Eastleigh, Nairobi.

Finally there is an extensive acknowledgement of the ‘African Goan’ community that found opportunity and a good life in their adopted country, and gave so much to Kenya in faithful service to its British rulers, but also treated Africans with more respect than their colonial masters, in all walks of life, whether as clerks, accountants and school teacher - in most cases training their African successors to take over their jobs in a smooth transition.

Yesterday in Paradise is a story of intelligence coupled with incredible luck, grit, doggedness, diligence and dedication, fuelled with unbounded chutzpah.

If you love reading social history, have an interest in colonial times, or just love a good well-structured story, or have lived or known someone who has lived or visited Kenya, I can highly recommend this book.
Product Details: Paperback/ Balboa Press AU/ English/
ISBN-10:1504303431/ ISBN-13:978-1504303439
Dimensions 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches/ 15.2 ounces
Available from, Balboa Press or

Braz Menezes, Author of Just Matata (2011) Beyond the Cape- Sin, Saints, Slaves and Settlers (Second Edition of JM 2015); More Matata – Love After the Mau Mau (2012)
Goan academic Cliff Pereira: what I like is that Cyprian has touched and even elaborated on some of the issues WITHIN our community in East Africa, and within Kenya, that few other writers of his genre dared to write about, and I I am sure there will be lots of debate and conversation at all levels about the book.
Yesterday in Paradise "A page turner ...
Every Goan should list it as a must book to read.

Yesterday in Paradise
By Cyprian Fernandes

It is said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I loved the cover of Cyprian Fernandes’s book Yesterday in Paradise. The backdrop of the Savanah with a cheetah in the foreground and insets of wildlife pictures of Kenya and Nairobi city as it is today makes the cover very appealing.

Was the book as good as its cover? Of course, it is a page turner. Page after page, it revealed the challenging, exciting life of Cyprian as a journalist.

“Fill my butt with pain killing injections and give me a pair of crutches, and give me a letter saying I am in great pain,” Cyprian told the doctors in the Medical Emergency Room of the Munich Olympic Games after faking severe pains in his legs. He was told he has to be hospitalised.
“No, no,” Cyprian pleaded. “I am a journalist and have to cover the field and track events.”
 That did the trick. Cyprian crutched his way into the Olympic arena the first journalist in the world to interview medal winners. This is the type of stuff true journalists are made of to get a story. Cyprian has proved it time and time again his unhindered probing into investigative journalism in Kenya and internationally. It is no surprise that Cyprian had a bullet with his name when it came to Kenyan politics with behind the scene revelations of murder, assassinations, killings by the Mau Mau and corruptions in the government.

There are chapters in the book that are uplifting to read. Birth of the Gold Rush – Kenya’s Olympic Heroes. Joe Zuzarte Murumbi – a rare African politician and a honest man. Fr.Hannan, paedophile – a very sad, disturbing story. And The African Goan – an insight into the Goan psyche and the gradual disappearance of the Goan in the future. This chapter will not sit well with the ageing male Goans that are unfairly referred to as dodderers but not by Cyprian.

The book is an excellent read. It is:
A page-turner.
An engaging tale.
Interesting and informative.
A Kenya of yesterday.
Truly, Yesterday in Paradise - lost!

Every Goan should list it as a must book to read.

Emiliano Joanes

My thoughts on Cyprian Fernandes’s “Yesterday in Paradise”
As one who was born and lived the life in Kenya, I would class Cyprian Fernandes’s memoir, “Yesterday in Paradise” as a “just-can’t-put-it –down” book.

Who, I wonder, after a seemingly disturbed childhood would rise to the dizzy heights in the journalistic world as our author has? But Cyprian had a loving and caring mother who, despite odds stacked heavily against her, literally worked her socks off and sacrificed all solely to ensure her children were safe and well looked after. No sacrifice was too much for her and it is heartening to see the author pay a much deserved tribute to this incredible woman.

That Cyprian lived by his wits can be seen from many instances in the narrative. For example, during his schooling in Eastleigh, he refuses to ‘bow down’ to authority – in this case, the school’s Principal, Fr. Hannon- who wrongly accuses him of lying. Kudos to Cyprian for standing his ground and being freed by the truth.

A bank clerk’s or office job was not for this ‘never-give-up’ individual who was made of sterner stuff!  As you plough through the pages of ‘Yesterday in Paradise’ you will see that Cyprian’s destiny lay elsewhere.

His later foray into the coveted world of journalism, and his meteoric rise within the organisation saw him being assigned some of the most enviable and dangerous tasks – a mission he always accomplished with singular distinction. Here was a man not given to suffering fools gladly as shown during his encounter
with quite an inexperienced and arrogant Minister of Information who took umbrage to an editorial piece Cyprian had written. Undeterred by the Minister’s threatsof deportation, the brave author stuck to his story, refusing to apologise for what was in fact, the plain truth.

Through his friendship with some of the senior Ministers in the Kenyatta Government, Cyprian may well have been privy to some of the inner workings of the government. In this book, he has had the guts to ‘spill the beans’ so to speak, and come out  strongly about the rampant corruption in the corridors of power of the Kenyatta Government. Many, including Kenyatta himself, come in for severe criticism for reneging on their previous promises to the “wanainchi” (the landless masses), and instead, allocating large acreages of formerly ‘White Highlands’ farmland to themselves and their families.

The author does not forget the ‘African Goan’ –to whom he devotes a whole chapter, paying glowing tribute to the humble civil servants who kept the government machinery functioning.
There is so much in this very readable book that the author touches on – from early Goan migration to even the ‘ugly ‘and distasteful caste system which hopefully is being consigned to history. It is a book which should be required reading for every Goan.
So why are you waiting? Go on and buy a copy NOW!

 Mervyn Maciel
(Author of ‘Bwana Karani’ & ‘From Mtoto to Mzee’)

From a colleague:
Yesterday in Paradise slipped through my letter box this morning and a very handsome affair it is and I thank you for it. Also for the nice things you say about me and for bringing to life memories and events I had just about forgotten and things I never knew.
Sorry it lacked a dedication but your sentiments are quite evident. I don't always agree with everything but what sort of world would it be if we all agreed -- certainly not a Kenyan one.
I was horrified by the Fr Hannan stuff but I suppose you felt it needed to be told. The Church got away with too much by hiding things to avoid scandal, thereby bringing even greater scandal on itself.
You've had a good life Cyprian and thank God for it. You have written about it in that energetic, straight-up style I associate with you and which anyone who knows you will recognise.
Benegal Pereira: My immediate thoughts after quickly scanning through the first few chapters: Your candid (and yes, splendid !) style, your thoroughness and vivid description of Goan life in Nairobi during the colonial period, make ‘Yesterday in Paradise’ a powerful resource for current and future teachings of the EA Indian [Goan] diaspora. In essence, YIP will be more than a teaching tool, it’s a first-hand historical record, packed with nostalgia. Congratulations !.


  This invaluable collection of photos was sent to me by David Mungai. He says it is “for the acknowledgement of Kenyan History, the celebra...