Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Cyprian Fernandes: Emma on Pio, Goans
(Excerpts from the book)
Pio’s detention on Manda Island: Pio told later that he built a small shelter against scorching sun and a simple bed. The land was destitute of vegetation and there were no facilities when he got there. A daily ration of food was barely enough to suffice for one meal. He went on a hunger strike, but after nine days realised that it would hurt prisoners nothing more. They would die like dogs for the all the authorities cared. The prisoners were sullen and dejected. Pio met some of his old friends there … Achieng Oneko and others and they set about improving the morale of the 9000 men on the island prison. They organised games and tried to catch fish, turtles and the like to supplement their impoverished diet. After pleading with the authorities, I was allowed to write to my husband once a month but the letter would be censored. His reply would be censored. I received permission to send Pio literature. He asked for the works of Shakespeare and (George Bernard) Shaw. Later Pio said the books kept him from committing suicide. Everything he had, he shared with his friends, even my letters.
Our home: We had little finances. Pio sadly confessed that the money given by my father had been used as part-payment for a printing press which he wanted to operate as the voice of the people. The press was lost as soon as Pio was arrested. On his release from restriction in 1960, Pio asked Oginga Odinga (head of the Kenya People’s Union and arch opponent of Jomo Kenyatta) to help him buy a house. It was more like a hotel –we had people coming and going and dropping in for a meal at all hours. Pio would have political refugees from Angola and South Africa spend a night or two and listen to their accounts of their situation.
No African who came to the house was turned away –if they needed school fees for their children, advice or just a letter written to a relative or government official, Pio lent a hand. They were his brothers, and I mean brothers. He knew the weaknesses of some of them but felt they would see reason enough if temporarily they did not put their country first. From the start of his interest in Kenya politics, Pio understood clearly that the African cause must be carried by Africans. He identified with the Africans completely and secretly suffered anguish that he was no born and African. He preferred to work behind the scenes, but he did not work in isolation. He consulted with lawyers, economists and politicians before planning his work. He chose his non-African friends carefully for what they could contribute to the cause.
Despite the fact that Pio vehemently worked against those opposed to the African freedom movement, he did not harbour rancour against any individual. I never once heard him raise his voice in anger or swear at anyone, he called them blind or stupid in their policies. He was once given a pistol for protection … he promptly buried it in the garden. Later when he heard that one of his friends was in danger, he dug the weapon up and gave it to his friend for protection.
On the Goans in Kenya:
Pio and I had attended a few social functions after his release from detention and even though several men forward to hear about his “detention” there was little evidence of their sympathy for the detainees.
When the Portuguese anthem was played at the end of an occasion, Pio could guess where their allegiance lay. He had painted a sketch of Kenya’s road in the struggle for freedom and left it to them to pursue a course. Mr J. M Nazareth Q.C. and a few others were already on the road.
Later we did not attend Goan functions, so I was not aware of the view they had of Pio. Even after Pio’s assassination I did not feel that I belonged to the Goan community. I do not fault the community –it is just that we had other interests and concerns. I was happy with any Asian who understood and helped Pio’s work.
Goa: Pio and a small group of Kenya politicians including Tom Mboya and Joe Murumbi flew to India around 1961 and met with Pandit Nehru. The agenda included the liberation of Goa as well as funds for a printing press in Kenya (to provide the African political viewpoint). Funds were granted, and Pio went on to set up the Pan African Press. Subsequently, Pio and Fitz De Souza attended Goa’s liberation celebrations. There are some Goans who applaud Pio’s small contribution for Goa.
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