Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: The Vanishing Goan tribe(2), food for thought

The vanishing Goan Tribe … food for thought

By Armand Rodrigues
At first blush, the Goan abroad has to be perceived as an enigma by an anthropologist or by his/her neighbours and peers. He/she hails from the East, yet is distinctly Western in deportment. To understand this seeming paradox, it is necessary to cast a backward glance in time and at the evolutionary process that brought about this unique condition.

Incidental to their quest for the spice route, Portugal conquered Goa --- a mere speck on the west coast of India --- in 1510. This was the first conquest in India by a European power. They came with a sword in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Mass conversions to Catholicism followed, with newly-bestowed Christian names in baptism. The first printing press in the entire Indian subcontinent came to Goa in 1556. This gave Goans an edge in Western education. An Eastern civilization had come into contact with a Western one and had revitalized its own cultural alternatives. Before long, the converts were emulating the conqueror when it came to eating, drinking, dressing, dancing, music, playing soccer and worshipping. When the steamship came to Goa in 1870 and the railway in 1886, Goans saw the potential for a good livelihood, by becoming proficient in English.

The commonality did not go unnoticed by the British. With no scruples about the holy cow, unholy pig or demon alcohol, we became a made-to-order fit for them. They gave us preference in their burgeoning colonies in Africa. Like my father before me, I joined the British Civil Service in Uganda. Quality of life left little to be desired in this tropical paradise. And, like the British, we had our own community clubs and sports facilities (see www.egi-reunion.com), with a full slate of social and sporting activities year-round. We had a good rapport with other expatriates and locals in sports. For good measure, we could go hunting, fishing or sightseeing.

For a while after Uganda gained independence from the British in 1962, conditions were tranquil and the locals were an example of civil rectitude. But the good life could not last forever for expatriates. Storm clouds were looming on the horizon and the theme song was Africanization – a death knell for foreigners. At the end of 1968 my wife, Enid, and I made a life-changing decision. I sacrificed my career of twenty-one years and position as CEO and Enid left her tax-free United Nations job. Friends thought we were making a huge mistake. We cashed in our chips and gambled on Canada, in preference to other options. Our contingency plan had seen us accepted well before the need arose. We landed in Toronto in January 1969, with two young daughters in tow. Other than the vagaries of the weather, our homogeneous societal norms and language skills made acculturation painless.

As fate would have it, I soon started playing field hockey for an Anglo-Indian team called “Wanderers”, of which I was one of the founders. Interacting with other teams, revealed that there were Goan countrymen playing for diverse teams. Field hockey was the common factor that brought us together. We were quick to realize that if we formed our own team, we could become a force to reckon with. This was a eureka moment. With umpire Rocky Barreto as the driving force, Aloysius Vaz, Willie Monteiro, Tony Fernandes, Tony D’Souza and I, set the ball rolling in February 1970. Winter and the lack of proper transportation did not permit other players to come to a meeting to plan a course of action. Undaunted, and with no qualms about getting a team together, it occurred to us that as a gregarious people accustomed to club life, playing under the banner of a coherent body would give us better status. We contacted all the Goans we knew in Toronto and environs and spread the word about a possible club. Our initiative led to the formation of the Goan Overseas Association (G.O.A.), Toronto in April 1970, under whose auspices the hockey team could play. Without missing a beat, we were back in our old familiar social, sporting and cultural milieu, playing field hockey, soccer, cricket, tennis and badminton and meeting various like-minded people.

In 1970, the club floated the Norbert Menezes Gold Cup (Toronto). It soon became the most prestigious field hockey cup in North America and attracted men’s teams from all over the world, for its annual tournaments. Launched in 1973, the Savio Barros Cup (Toronto) did the same for women’s field hockey.

Just as our roots were going deeper in Canada, the notorious Idi Amin delivered a severe body-blow to Asians in Uganda. They were expelled at short notice in 1972.
Thanks to timely action by PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Bryce Mackersy, the Minister for Immigration, a number of Goans were rescued with other Asians and given asylum in Canada. Many of the refugees, of both genders, came with enviable national and international pedigrees in field hockey and other sports. From 1973 onwards, field hockey in Canada gained a new dimension. It is common knowledge that field hockey garners nothing like the media attention that ice-hockey receives in Canada, perhaps because it is comparatively tame and civilized and lacks the crowd-pleasing brawls of the latter ! The two hockeys may be in different orbits but both are equally important in a global context.

By the 90s, the pioneers had retreated from contact sports but some are still into tennis, badminton, squash and golf. The younger set took up the cudgels in field hockey and soccer. Several young Goan men and women proudly represented a province or Canada in field hockey. It is relevant to note that Goans have been in the summer Olympics since 1936 and that it was no accident that Ken Pereira was the field hockey captain for Canada in the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. Carrying the flag for Canada was the icing on the cake.

G.O.A. (Toronto) continues to be a viable entity. In 1988 it hosted a two-week Goan International convention, in Toronto, the likes of which had not been seen before. The driving force behind this huge undertaking was Zulema D’Souza, who was the club President at the time and came with credentials that included field hockey at all levels including the Olympics. At the convention, all and sundry could rub shoulders with dignitaries and intellectuals from different callings, from here and abroad, in lectures, debates, workshops, theatre, dinners and dances. For a number of years, the club hosted track and field meets for members. And, for several seasons, the Goan Theatrical Group presented many a full-length play, interspersed with songs and skits, in Konkanim (the language of the homeland). Other producers have kept the tradition alive. And, four seniors’ clubs spawned by the mother-house, cater well to the social needs of the ageing population, with group excursions abroad thrown in.

Does Goan oneness wane on moving abroad?

Why do Goans interact differently with fellow-countrymen who may have had some acculturation in dissimilar surroundings? To understand this paradox, it is necessary to examine the reasons why Goans ventured into environments outside their own and how their outlooks evolved in dissimilar orbits and over different time spans.

In the 16th century, because of Christian Evangelization, a number of Goan Hindus were the first to move out to Karwar. By the 19th century, Christian Goans went to Karachi, Bombay, Poona, Belgaum, Mangalore, Calcutta and Hubli, simply because of economic necessity. At the time, the British held sway over most of the Indian subcontinent (which included the present Pakistan). From the late 19th century onwards, Goans found their way to East Africa, mainly of their own volition, simply to earn their bread and butter. The Portuguese and the British welcomed them to their possessions. In the 20th century, Goans went to the Middle East in droves.

The ones that went to Karwar, Mangalore and Karachi essentially went for good, whether intended or not. The other three streams kept their ties to the motherland. They supported families back home financially, maintained family homes and visited regularly. The ones in Africa and the Middle East had to remember that their sojourn was at the mercy of the rulers, with a return to Goa an ever-present prospect. In the course of their peregrinations, Goans absorbed a measure of acculturation based on outside cultural elements, and then morphed into distinct subcultures, with attendant benefits. Just like "you are what you eat", one's makeup changed with prolonged stays in different environments.

This percolation is especially true of the East African Goans. Their lifestyle mutated into a format that emulated that of the British there. With a cook, being served at table, maid to look after the children, a gardener/errand boy, full-course meals, choice of liquors, dressing well, busy social and sporting life (with clubs and pavilions of their own) hunting and fishing, they could not have asked for anything more. After a four or five-year tour of service, they enjoyed four to six months of vacation leave in Goa or India. Life was good and a quantum departure from what it may have been otherwise or elsewhere. It is not inconceivable that quite a few would still be in a hand-to-mouth existence in Goa – even ploughing paddy-fields--- had they not reached Africa. To their credit, the British admired Goans for their efficiency and honesty, and acknowledged that they were the backbone of the Civil Service. Goans became a good fit for the British and, for census purposes, were accorded their own separate identity. Goans who went to Pakistan relinquished their former identity and accepted Pakistan as home. Holding administrative positions with the British and being well-established as teachers, secretaries and professionals they had good standing in that society even after Partition.

If we factor in education, it is observed that Goans who went to Africa did relatively well with essentially a high school certificate, or less. It must be remembered that up to the 50s Colonial regimes held sway in Africa and employment, wages and advancement operated in racial compartments --- European, Asian and African. An Asian graduate had no hope of moving into the Executive class held by Europeans, and emphasis on higher education seemed counter-productive. However, things changed from the 50s onwards, for the better. This anomaly did not apply to Goans who stayed in India or Pakistan, especially after Independence. Higher education was their ticket to a better lifestyle in a pool of people of identical ethnicity, and they pursued professions all along, more so than their counterparts elsewhere. Quantitatively and qualitatively they may have emerged with an edge.

Consanguinity apart, the pertinent mutations resulted in separating the clusters when interaction was factored in. Goans who stayed behind on the mainland are said to have believed that they were more patriotic than the rest. In the mix it is relevant to observe that the offspring of disadvantaged folks, who had endured a hand to mouth existence, became upwardly mobile in the mid-20th century, through higher education. Their contribution to the prosperity of Goa is immense. And, the perception was that the East African Goans, with their dissimilar lifestyle, became a notch removed from the rest. The Middle East Goans were seen as well-remunerated, most prudent with their money, and to have ploughed back more into the Goan economy than their counterparts. They had an affinity for gold and modernistic housing in Goa. They also brought to the stage a greater sense of godliness.

The above hypotheses seem to have resulted in "liquids finding their own level" or "birds of a feather flocking together", as has happened with other cultures that now inhabit a multi-cultural and diverse society as in Toronto or Canada. That said, it is significant to note that the six who spearheaded the formation of the Goan Overseas Association (Toronto) may have been African Goans--who were in the majority-- but the very first formal president of the club, in 1970, was a Karachi Goan and the third, in 1972 was from Bombay.

If it was believed that Goans of all stripes would regroup and coalesce into one big happy family, in a diverse and multicultural setting like Toronto, this has turned out to be wishful thinking. The younger generation breaks the mould, and pulsates to the beat of a different drummer. They have been moving away from parochialism and dissipating into a wider diaspora. And, maybe it is pre-destined that "never the twain shall meet", with their "them" and "us" subterranean thought processes prevailing. Our gregarious nature is evidently shifting into a more insular mode, as is the norm in these parts. Even an optimist will acknowledge that re-integration may be a far-fetched dream. All signs point to a pattern of greater emerging diffusion, with Goan oneness moving towards a mirage on the distant horizon.

Odious as comparisons may be, it will be recalled that class distinctions were part of our cultural physiognomy. Although Catholics did not officially believe in the Hindu caste system, vestiges continued to linger on in at least a below-the-surface sense. Over the last two decades or so, the lines of distinction have started getting blurred in the Western hemisphere. The younger generation, with their broader perspective on life, see themselves as members of a classless society. Upward or downward mobility in the caste or class structure is a fact of life today. However, the "old order changeth yielding place to new". Fault-lines now separate the demographic terrain based on which previous stepping stones we transitioned from to our new domicile. But even this phase will pass as we get more and more submerged in the morass of the "melting pot" and its levelling proclivities.

Are our clubs in terminal decline?
By Armand Rodrigues
Whether in the "koods" (village clubs) of Bombay or sophisticated Institutes and Gymkhanas elsewhere, the Goan has always been a gregarious creature, with the need for camaraderie a part of his or her physiognomy. This characteristic has endowed him or her with the propensity to form clubs for social, sporting and cultural purposes, wherever fate may have dictated their domicile. For several decades now, such clubs have served a very useful purpose and promoted solidarity within the community.

But times are changing. Smaller clubs in Australia and Portugal are going through a phase of diminishing interest to a greater degree than London or Toronto. The traditional community seems destined to succumb to a cosmopolitan culture, and a cohesive unilineal kinship cannot be expected to have an indeterminate shelf-life abroad.

Our community is all the more vulnerable because of its relatively miniscule number. Cultural homogeneity can only be short-lived, and a gradual erosion of cultural values, with a decline of community clubs, has to be expected.

Sociologists recognize that the open societies we live in have propelled the younger generation into a different orbit than that of their forbears. They are more pragmatic and venturesome. With inroads in the professions they have found diversity in associates and interests. They have inherited a sense of belonging to the global village. They see things in a broader context and have shed any parochial notions lingering in their psyche. They are fearless, independent-minded and able to fend for themselves, with kinship counting for less and less. They are inextricably linked to a star in the western firmament. Integration and inter-marriages have gone hand in hand.

These schismatic factors have brought about a significant turnaround in cultural dominants. Cosmopolitan culture is overtaking the community ethos. "Goanness" or "Indianness" is being submerged in the transition. The upshot is that our associations will face a gradual decline in membership, to the extent that there may not be enough to sustain and anchor a cultural entity for an indefinite span of time.

At the other end of the spectrum, with about 60% of current members of most clubs being middle-aged or seniors, continuity has to be seen as a fleeting prospect. We cannot be unmindful of the fact that the older population in Canada is increasing faster than the younger, and that we as a community are not immune from this adverse trend.

All is not lost yet. The "greying" torch-bearers of yesteryear continue to keep the flame alive in the strong and active Eastend and Westend Seniors' clubs, towards which more and more are gravitating every year. With a full slate of activities, and enthusiastic participation, these clubs more than complement the diminishing offerings of the mother-houses. For now "Grey Power" continues to stoke the embers.

These pieces were written a few years ago, hoping I will be able to get an update.

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