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The Vanishing Goan tribe: East, West conumdrums



BY  ARMAND RODRIGUES


In the assimilation process, most immigrants to Canada, from the Eastern hemisphere, have had to adapt rapidly to societal norms within codes of conduct, language nuances and social interaction, somewhat dissimilar from those they left behind.  Hardly so, for those from the former Portuguese colony of GOA, in India –a mere dot on the map of the world.

At first blush, Goans abroad have to be perceived as an enigma by an anthropologist or by their neighbours and peers. They hail from the East, have the same pigmentation and attributes as one from the East, yet are distinctly Western in deportment.  To understand this seeming paradox, it is necessary to cast a backward glance in time at the evolutionary process that brought about this unique condition.

The moulding process commenced with the Portuguese gaining a foothold in Goa, in 1510 (they held sway until 1961).  They came with a sword in one hand and a crucifix in the other.  Mass conversions to Catholicism followed.  With conversion, came a sea-change in eating habits. The cow may have been holy to the Hindu, and the pig unholy to the Muslim, but to the omnivorous newly-minted Catholic, nothing was anathema.  “Demon” alcohol came with the territory.

Other factors were also conducive to the re-orientation phase.  The first printing press in all of India, came to Goa in 1556, and gave Goans an edge in Western education.  The first Jesuit college was established in 1574, followed by a secular school in 1773.  English schools commenced in the 18th century.  Steamships made their debut in 1870, and the railroad in 1886, thus putting things on a faster track and opening up opportunities farther afield.

Before long, the Portuguese declared Goans – regardless of denomination – as legally equal to themselves.  The cross-fertilization of cultures had long before that earned  Goans the sobriquet of “Romans of the East “.  Catholics  ate , drank, dressed, worshipped, engaged in sports and behaved like their Western counterparts throughout.  In this crucible, everything seemed to coalesce for the Goan, making him/her the complete package.  Women were being accorded parity with men.

With the advantage of a Western background superimposed on their Eastern ethos, Goans could readily make themselves at home in any new environment.  The commonality was not lost on the British and the Portuguese, who treated Goans as preferred recruits for their colonies.  Sporting and social interaction with their recruiters helped polish any rough edges the Goans may have had.

In the 60s, political changes in emerging Third World countries certainly jolted the Goans from their complacent stomping grounds.  They got propelled into repositories of Western culture, such as England, America, Canada and Australia in the South.  Hardly a ripple of cultural shock was evidenced by them in their new environment.  The antecedent metamorphosis had groomed them for receptivity and a soft landing.   It was easier for them to burn their boats behind them and come without any real cultural baggage to weigh them down.

The majority of Goan immigrants to Canada fell into the domain of the white-collar worker, with no major disparity in education between men and women, or in self-confidence.  (Of course, like most other immigrants, Goans had to endure the humiliating Canadian affront to their education and work experience).  Noteworthy is the fact that Goan women were able to make a valuable contribution to the family income and expedite home ownership.

Goans are not found living in concentrations or enclaves in Canada.  This diffusion has perhaps helped congruity with their neighbours and made for better inter-personal chemistry, specially when the Goans’ unmistakable occidental orientation becomes manifest.  Integration and putting down roots came about rapidly.

For Goans,the umbilical cord has been severed and  any residual Eastern tug of the past no longer competes with the Western pull of the present.  They are here to stay and to leave behind a favourable imprint on their adoptive country.