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Cyprian Fernandes: One of the mistakes we made in Africa


The Vanishing Goan Tribe (Part I)

(Revise) Goans are probably the most dispersed of all Indians on a per capita basis. Young Goans have had access to quality education both in Goa and greater India but the lack of employment for educated young men in Goa made it necessary for them to leave the homeland and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Early on, there were “colonies” of Goans in India and Pakistan. Early in the twentieth century they began to look further afield and growing numbers began to make their way to East Africa and Mozambique. That first generation was quite content to earn a living that enabled them to live in middle class comfort, educate their children and, at the end of a long and uneventful career, return to Goa to live in peaceful retirement for the rest of their days. This was the Great Goan Dream, not very grandiose perhaps, but respectable and attainable even on modest incomes.

That way of life would probably have continued for centuries had the rest of the world stood still. That does not happen, however, and the winds of change brought about political upheaval in the mid-twentieth century and Goans somewhat reluctantly came to realize that it was time to move on. The first wave from India, Pakistan and African countries settled in Britain possibly because they held British passports, had been loyal subjects of the British Raj (or Rani) and felt that Britain owed them entry at the very least for their loyal service. When the first wave joined the rat race and reported that the streets of London were not paved with gold, Portugal, Canada, the U.S.A., Australia and a host of other countries became destinations of choice.

Wherever we Goans resettled ourselves in the diaspora, we opened clubs and associations that served several purposes. These clubs were based on the pattern already established in the countries of origin, a defiant way of proving to ourselves that we are a resilient people able to keep our national identity despite change and upheaval. Besides the usual cultural, social and sporting activities, these clubs served as welcoming havens for new arrivals, no matter where they came from. Those who faced an uncertain future for themselves and their families were comforted by being among their own kind. They were given help and advice based on the experience of earlier arrivals. They established networks that would help them survive until such time that they found their feet in the new environment.

It is clear that changes are taking place. At one time, the NSW Goan Overseas Association that was founded mainly by Goans who came from Eastern African countries used to attract 300 or more people. Recently, I attended a function at the G.O.A. that was an outstanding success. It was noticeable, however, that there were very few present from the countries of the founding fathers such as East Africa. There are many reasons for this. The number of new immigrants from those areas has dwindled after the great exodus of the 60’s and 70’s. Age could be a factor. The original tide of immigrants is now getting to an age where driving more than a few
blocks is seen as a major deterrent. They may visit the club once or twice a year for old times’ sake – but, at the end of the evening, the common complaint is,“There was no one I knew there.”
Most Goans adapt themselves easily and are soon assimilated in their local communities – which is a healthy sign – but it reduces the need for the security blanket that the clubs and associations offered in the past. Moreover social activities change over time and as people age, parents make themselves more available to children and grandchildren. In the fullness of time as well, the older generation dies and the young have no need for clubs as they have embraced a way of life where race or colour no longer matter.

And, that is how it should be. My concern is that in time, people will forget the good work that the clubs and associations did and the vital role that they played in helping new arrivals cope with the pressures of settling down in a new environment that was not always inclined to be welcoming to a flood of new immigrants. We need to celebrate and record the men and women who founded those institutions and without whose efforts many Goan families would have had difficulty surviving in an age when welfare provisions for immigrants were not as readily available as they are today.

I would like to pay tribute to those men and women – and the clubs and associations they founded – before memories fade and records disappear. My aim is to record the histories of the various associations and the personal recollections of their members. This is hardly a ground-breaking idea. I know that much has been done especially in England and Canada to meet with and record the memories of “old timers” and I applaud those who initiated those efforts. It is not my intention to compete or to replace any of the existing agencies seeking to record and thus preserve the past achievements of our global Goan community. Rather I hope to provide an additional opportunity for Goans who wish to recognize persons or groups who they feel did much to help others or whose achievements in any field of endeavour were a source of pride to our community and deserve to be recorded for posterity.

I envision a book by Goans about Goans. I look forward to your contributions no matter your country of origin or where you now live in the Goan diaspora. Below is an example of the kind of personal memories that I am seeking. Please send your stories – or any questions or suggestions - (including photographs at 300 dpi) to skipfer@live.com.au

Thank you for any help that you can give in promoting this project.

MERVYN MACIEL: Once upon a time in the UK: As far as the U.K. is concerned, 'our tribe' is certainly diminishing - age, health concerns and sadly, those who are no longer with us. I well remember the enthusiasm at Socials when I first arrived in the 60's. Despite the cold weather, we travelled far and wide to attend social functions which were well patronised.
 
Later, as numbers grew and we got more settled in our respective areas, volunteers came forward to attempt to lay the foundations of what later became the Goan Association (UK).
Regular social functions were held, sporting events and an annual 'festival' where East African Goans from various parts of the country would come to savour something of 'home. Live bands, food stalls, traditional folk dances etc were all the order of the day. Goan bands began springing up like mushrooms and most were very good.
   
Much later, Village Associations were formed and Village Feasts were celebrated on a grand scale at popular London venues. Such functions were so popular that we had to restrict numbers and no ticket sales at the door etc. (I am recalling this from my own experience of, initially Secretary and latterly President of the Moira Association (UK). How I ever got this job I will never know since I hail from Salvador-do-Mundo - but they kept insisting "You are a grandson of Moira"!

East African and Kenya will always remain in my blood. I wake up each morning thinking of those glorious days we were privileged to experience. There is no paradise on earth to compare with East Africa (Kenya in my case) -despite some criticism from those who've never been there! In my case, my memories are more of my days spent with the pastoral tribes
of Kenya's Northern Frontier (NFD). I still keep in touch with them. It was they (the tribes) who inspired me to write my first book, Bwana Karani">

Despite being few in numbers in the Frontier, we, Goans, always met together at each other’s houses, talked about Goa and enjoyed Goan food cooked by those who were fortunate to have their wives in some parts. In many other parts, e.g. Turkana, NO WOMEN WERE ALLOWED! As for the younger generation, most of whom arrived here when very young or were born here, I don't think their attachment to East Africa is the same as ours.
But, those who were older still remember those glorious days in paradise!
   
Wish you all the BAHATI (luck) in your endeavours to ensure that we are NEVER forgotten.

Cliff Pereira: Basically, I guess there are not one, but several forms of Goan diaspora, some ancient, as in here in Hong Kong and Singapore who are known respectively as Hong Kong Portuguese or Singapore Eurasian.  Others are formed within the last 150 years, such as the Bombay, Karachi, Aden and East African Goans, and then the most recent such as the "Gulfies" or famous "Swindon Goans" and groups that availed of Portuguese passports in Goa. Apart for the last group all are the result of multiple global migrations and indeed can literally be found on 6 of the 7 continents today. As far as I know there are no Goans in Antarctica. 

The processes of acculturation vary with time and distance from Goa. The most "Goan" (and in this case we are talking about Christian Goans) are of course those that recently migrated and those that migrated to other parts of India. The least "Goan" are those who migrated centuries ago and are now part of quite different and distinct ethnic groups (Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malacca, and Penang). For these only the memory of being of Goan origin survives. East African Goans are somewhere in the middle, though with each passing day that community is becoming less genetically and culturally Goan. It is already a non-Konkani literate group, and with the passing of the elders who were the first to be born in East Africa (like Ferdie Rodrigues), plus the high rate of mixed marriages, high educational levels and adoption of principally English (but also Portuguese and French), this community is becoming thoroughly assimilated with the host communities. The pattern of assimilation is typical of any immigrant group, but given that Catholicism is not an ethnic minority language in most of the destination countries, Goans have made a more positive assimilation then say Jews, Muslims or indeed Hindus.



Please send your material including photographs (at 300 dpi) to skipfer@live.com.au. I would love to hear from anyone who like to contribute with their written material, photographs or provide other assistance. Also check out my website www.headlinesofmylife.today for the latest postings