Saturday, December 8, 2018

Goans, from the beginning



By Armand Rodrigues


Dr.Bernardo Elvino De Souza is precise in how he depicts Goan ancestry in excerpts from his book The Last Prabhu that a friend sent me.  To better understand our evolution I went through material I could readily lay my hands on, and present my unscientific findings hereunder. To put things in proper perspective, I have included some “extraneous” issues in the narrative.

The first inhabitants of Western India were seafaring coastal people who migrated from Africa to South India.  The chromosomes of people in Kerala still reveal DNA common to that of Africans.  That humans originated in Africa is not in question.  But it is equally true to say that Africans reached the Western Hemisphere centuries back. 
One theory is that it could have happened well before the continents split apart from Gondwana.  Africans were nomads and followed wild animals as they moved to distant grazing lands, as they were their chief source of sustenance.  Agriculture came to them later Like the Aborigines in Australia and the Indians in North America,” Gaudis” and “Kunbis” were the original inhabitants of Goa.  “Mhars” and “Kharwis” were settlers. Centuries ago the mighty Sarasvati River between China and India gradually dried up completely and the place became decertified. It is believed that this may have been as a result of the unprecedented volcanic action that led to the upward thrust of the Himalayas and caused the river to be drained. 
Without the life-giving waters of the river the very prosperous cities and towns on its banks had to be abandoned and the inhabitants were forced to move down from the North to greener pastures in India.  The inhabitants are believed to have been of Middle Eastern, Central Asian and European descent. These were Aryans whereas those from South India were Dravidians. The Aryans had a class of Bahamini (Brahmin) priests and Kshatriya (Chardo) warriors, teachers and administrators.
As time went by, the first batch of these people moved down from the north and settled down along the shores of South Goa (Salcete), where the land was flat, more fertile and on the windward side of the Western Ghats.  Later arrivals from the North had no choice but to settle down along the Ghats, in North Goa (Bardez), where the coastline was shorter and terrain quite rocky. Whereas Salcete could reap two rice harvests a year, in Bardez it was essentially one. The Dravidians did all the menial work for the Aryans.
About 4200 years back both groups started co-mingling (exogamy), but the cultural pattern changed about 1900 years back and endogamy (marrying within one’s own tribe) was prevalent with people sticking to their own ethnic or social group. To put things in context it should be noted that each village had its own Hindu deity. Bardez had 12 villages whereas Salcete had 66.  Of the 66, 15 were the principal domain of the Brahmins, 44 of the Chardos, five of the Sudras and two of the Kunbis and Gaudis.
Fast-forward to 1510 when the Portuguese invaded Goa.  They came with a sword in one hand and a crucifix in the other.  Mass conversions to Catholicism soon ensued. Hindu temples in the villages were destroyed and Catholic churches took their place. (The Baptismal records in the Panjim archives show that my Hindu ancestors were Naiks before 1510). The antecedent Hindu caste system became embedded in the church.  The Church and the Portuguese did not frown on the practice as the divisions helped them keep the natives under control...Classification exists in all societies and the caste system was a way to keep “liquids at their own levels”.  The Brahmins and Chardos were dominant castes and they controlled village associations and “communidades” and emerged as the “Gaunkars” and “Batcars” (feudal owners of the land and primal residents and masters of the village).  Sudras, Gaudis and Kunbis were lower down on the totem pole.  As Dr. Bernardo rightly points out there was “no genetic basis for the caste system In India.  Its origins must be attributed to other historical factors or just happenstance”.
Today it still bothers me to remember that as a “gaunkar” in the “confraria” I wore a red cape over a white robe in church processions or at funerals of equals, whereas the other castes had to wear dark blue capes.  And, only ‘Gaunkars” could host the celebration of the feast of the local patron saint. Also, it was the practice for “Gaunkars”--- who owned paddy fields to let poorer people plant their fields in return for half the yield. Likewise, the lower castes were allowed to cultivate community lands that were fallow or low-yielding, in return for providing free services to the “Gaunkars”.  I myself recall getting many a free haircut in my younger days.
In hindsight, I rue the servitude and bondage they endured. There was a time when segregation of sorts also meant that that only wives and daughters of “Gaunkars” could sit on the benches in church, while the menfolk sat on the other side and everybody else sat on the floor.  To add insult to injury the Portuguese did not accord the same rights to Goan Hindus and Muslims, as to the Catholics, until 1910.
Over the last three decades the lines of distinction have been blurring in the West.  With their broader perspective in life the younger generation see themselves as members of a classless society. Today exogamy (marrying outside the caste system or the community) is the order of the day.  It will not be long before the abhorrent caste system will be forgotten completely and “Niz” Goans will be creatures of the past 

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