The day Pio Gama Pinto divorced the Goans
This is a piece I wrote for the Daily Nation in Nairobi. On February 24, 2015, Goans joined people around the world in remembering one of their revered fallen heroes, the political martyr Pio Gama Pinto.
In 1965 (Kenya became independent in December 1963), Pio Gama Pinto became the first Kenya politician to be assassinated. Cyprian Fernandes, who covered East Africa at its most turbulent, writes a story he believes should have written decades ago.
First of all, let us nuke some romanticised folklore. There were no Goan Kenyan freedom fighters (plural) of note. There was a (singular) Goan Kenyan freedom fighter. That historical accolade belongs to Fitz de Souza, lawyer, constitutionalist, parliamentarian, deputy speaker. He is still today, a Goan from Kenya. The much heralded “Goan”, Joe Murumbi once told me: I am not a Goan. I am not a Maasai. I am a Kenyan. There was no political capital in shouting about the Goan in him, after all, Goans did not exactly treat Africans as their equal and, instead, took racially superior (at the time) position of being Portuguese Goans. Many years later, after all the political mayhem had cost many lives, he joked: Now I am an art lover (the truth is that Joe Murumbi did much to help the Maasai especially with scholarships for children. While he lived in Nairobi, he had a 35-roomed mansion at the 2,000-acre ranch in Maasailand, Trans Mara.)
The other Goan leading light, JM Nazareth chose to side with India in its fight for independence from Britain. He divorced himself from the Portuguese. In 1960, perhaps the most famous Goan in African political history, Pio Gama Pinto, stopped being a Goan. This is what happened.
IMAGINE that. For over 50 years, something has been pricking my conscience and until I faced my bucket list I was not going to lift a finger. Some things are better not written. Let the lie, like sleeping dogs, lie, I told myself.
My trouble (or gift), in those sensitive post-independence days, was never being afraid of asking the hard questions no matter how powerful the subject. In Kenya, in quizzing cabinet ministers or Jomo Kenyatta and other African presidents there was always a chance if I embarrassed any of them I would be on the next plane home or even suffer the same fate that Pinto did.
In the 1960s, the illustrious journalist (later Editor-in-Chief) Joe (Jawaharlal) Rodrigues used to take me (around 7.30 pm) for an-after-the-edition-has-been-put-bed beer at the Lobster Pot bar and restaurant, a few doors down from the old Nation offices in Victoria Street, Nairobi. On one of these occasions, we bumped into Pio who was meeting other people there.
A bit of background: Pio had rescued Joe from Kampala, where he was floundering on a print-sheet of no consequence, to succeed Pio as editor of the Daily Chronicle. Joe was forever grateful.
After the initial niceties, Joe and he made some idle talk, nothing serious. How is the family, the children and the like? The talk then turned to a trickle of Goans returning to Goa. Some were also leaving for Lisbon and I asked Pio how the Goans were treating him these days?
“I have no time for them. After what happened in October 1960, they made it clear that they were not on my side when it came to supporting African aspirations for freedom. I stopped thinking about them and now concentrate on the challenges ahead for Kenya. I have nothing to do with them,” he said.
Joe did not say anything. He did not even raise an eyebrow. He was that kind of a guy. He did not chat about politics with anyone. Minutes later, after we’d finished our beers, said our goodbyes and left.
In a conversation with Luis de Assiss Correia (famously called “Tom Mboya’s travel agent” for helping the Kenyan leader airlift hundreds of students for further studies in the USA), he told me his impressions of those difficult days.
“Pio told the little minded Goans that their halcyon days were soon to be over. After that, he did not have time for the Goans. Pio then devoted all his energies to his mission, which had started as a 17-year-old, which was the liberation of the Portuguese colonies.”
Luis generally did not involve himself in local Goan politics but he was a friend of Pio’s and they met regularly for lunch. On the day Pio was killed, they were due to have lunch at Parliament House. It was not to be.
There is perhaps one person alive more than any other who can confirm or deny Pio’s shunning of the Goans in Kenya. He is Tony Lopes a former General Secretary of the East African Goan League. He has lived in Toronto, Canada, for quite some time. With Pio, and the League’s President Alex da Costa, and Vice President Euclid De Souza, Tony was at the heart of the Goan war in 1960. Perhaps Pio’s staunchest supporter was Peter Carvalho. He was with Pio at the Goan Institute demonstration and the League gang with the likes of Tom Mboya regularly dined at his house. Peter was the quiet achiever of the group.
It is the thing that has been bugging me for half a century.
There is little doubt that Pio had separated from the Goan community long before Kenya’s self-rule in 1963. In fact, in his early years, he had already gained the wrath of the politically placid (naïve even) Goan club community. My friend and author Braz Menezes says Pio was labelled a communist and a radical at a time when few Goans really understood what a communist was. In October 1960 he had set the divorce in motion with his plans to disrupt the visit to Kenya of the Vice Premier of Portugal Pedro Teotinio Pereira, a sabotage mission that was opposed by the general Goan community.
Pereira was visiting at the invitation of the colonial government. His main aim was to renew links with the Goans in Nairobi and Mombasa. His program would see him officially open the Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa and visit the Vasco Da Gama (the first Portuguese to set foot in Kenya en route to his search for spices) memorial in Malindi.
Pereira’s visit was pure Portuguese propaganda. Britain and Portugal colluded to prop up each other’s claims to their respective patches in Africa. Pereira had arranged the financing of the Fort Jesus Museum through the Gulbenkian Foundation of which Pereira was the administrator. Some 30,000 pounds was made available. Fort Jesus was hijacked and forced into celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. At stake was Portugal’s colonial identity.
Pereira arrived in Kenya on a six-day visit (two in Nairobi and four at the coast) on October 27, 1960.
In the media, the war was fought by the Goan Voice on the side of the loyalists and the Goan Tribune for the East African Goan League. There was also strong opposition to the visit by The Colonial Times and The Daily Chronicle.
Pio’s links with the latter publication date back to 1953 when he became the editor. Both the Chronicle and the Times were owned by Indian merchants. It was rich Indians who propped up Pio’s efforts, especially against the Portuguese and especially in Goa. In the weeks before the opening of Fort Jesus, Pio made clear his opposition to visit. He challenged the contention by the Goan Overseas Association that “Goans look to Portugal as their Fatherland.” Letters in the East African Standard (then strongly a paper supporting colonial rule) stomped on the East African Goan League as being unrepresentative. The letters were like a knee into Pio’s groin.
Catholic priests, perhaps putting an unofficial spin on the subject, had vilified socialists and communists as being akin to devil worshippers and told the Goans that they should have nothing to do with them. I can’t prove this with written evidence but my memories of these times are that religion wielded incredible influence.
Worse still, Pio was a Mau Mau. Goans could not be seen to be supporting a member of this “evil and barbaric” guerrilla force. “A murderous land army”. Photographs of the corpses of their victims were published in the local media. It was a horrific scene to say the least. How could anyone expect the Goans to support someone who associated with such wholesale murder? They did not know at the time, but Pio not only financed the Mau Mau chapter in the village of Mathare Valley in Eastleigh, metres away from the St Teresa’s boys and girls schools, but he also armed them. The worst legend that the church and Goan gossip gave birth to was that Pio had taken the Mau Mau oath which involved swearing allegiance to the cause on the entrails of sheep and goats. Rumour mongers took this to nightmarish proportions by saying that the Mau Mau also took their oaths on the hearts of the “loyal” Africans they had killed. This was frightening. Terrifying. Devilish. Goans could not afford to show any sympathy for the African cause otherwise they would probably on the next boat to Goa.
On the other hand, the colonial government matched the Mau Mau atrocities on Mau Mau captives and sometimes innocent detainees.
Pio was one of the great African socialists of his era. He might have been a communist. But he was no devil worshipper. As I have stated, most Goans did not know what a communist or a socialist was. But the church said they were evil monsters and in ignoring these warnings, Pio seriously miscalculated the Kenyan Goan. Among his strongest supporters were: Dr Euclid de Souza, Alex da Costa, Tony Lopes, Peter Carvalho and many others who did not show their support in public.
Peter Carvalho’s daughter Luisa Heaton who remembers a little of the events of 1960 writes: My Father was also part of the fight for Kenya's independence and he never missed an opportunity to take part in demonstrations outside the British Embassy. It caused my mother a lot of anxiety in case ‘’anything happened to him’’. However, she was behind him all the way. We did spend a lot of time on our knees saying the rosary for his safe return home on those nights. Our family has recently discovered a very curious fact. On a number of occasions when my Father was picketing the British High Commission in the 1950s, inside the High Commissioner's Residence was my daughter-in-law's grandfather who was the Governor of Kenya Sir Evelyn Baring's PA. Two men - Peter Carvalho and Geoffrey Ellerton - about the same age, divided not just by the imposing front door of the residence, but by their political beliefs and loyalties, culture and race. They were not to know then that 50 years later their grandchildren would marry each other! A form of Truth and Reconciliation, perhaps?
Our meal-times were times to discuss politics and religion and we were regularly joined by the Gama Pinto brothers Rosario and Pio, sometimes their wives and children; and sometimes Tom Mboya came to eat with the others. We used to tease my Mother that it just wasn't her food he liked, but that he fancied her! Below is a picture of some folk we had round our table for meals: From left to right: Tom Mboya, Achieng Oneko, Joseph Murumbi, Rosario Gama Pinto, Peter Carvalho, Pio Gama Pinto and his brother-in-law Tome I think.
On Pereira’s arrival in Kenya, the Goan East Africa Association delivered a letter of protest which criticised the Salazar government for not recognising the basic human rights and the human dignity of its colonial subjects.
Those Goans who felt otherwise, and local Portuguese, had the support of the colonial government.
Supporting the boycott was the Kenya African National Union (which would three years later lead Kenya to independence) which attempted to stop all celebrations on the Coast, including those at Fort Jesus and Malindi. The provincial administration stomped on the KANU effort. The party retaliated by ordering all Kenyans to keep away from the ceremonies.
Pio was joined in his crusade by trade unionist Tom Mboya, the rising star of Kenyan politics.
Mboya, who had a number of Goan friends, said in Parliament that it was unfortunate that the Goans had chosen to stay loyal to Portugal, considering all its atrocities on its colonial subjects. (Ironically, Mboya would be the victim of an atrocity not long after when he was gunned down on a Nairobi street one Saturday afternoon).
Mboya’s suggestion was that if Goans did not belong in Kenya then they should leave. (Over the coming months, this was the single most threat to the Goan community which interpreted the views that the Kenya government did not want them in the country of their birth. From that point on it was only a matter of time when they would leave.)
Many, quite wrongly, thought that any threat to their place in Kenya would not happen for many decades. It happened much sooner with the introduction of work permits and as “Africanisation” and “Kenyanisation” became real. They thought quite wrongly they could transfer their loyalties to the new owners of Kenya, don’t get involved, mind their own business and stick to enjoying their club life. Forget it.
The Goans were not alone in this period of uncertainty. Like many whites and Asians, they really wanted to stay in Kenya but were reluctant to commit to the country by taking out citizenship.
The Indian Trade Commissioner in Mombasa asked the local city council to ensure that all Indian flags were lowered in protest during the Vice-Premier’s stay.
During his visit, Pereira was regaled at the Nairobi Goan Institute, The Railway Goan Institute, The Goan Gymkhana, Santa Cruz Club, The Goan Tailors Society, Goan Schools in Nairobi and Mombasa. It was this unrelenting enthusiasm for the Portuguese guest that really turned Pio away from his community.
It was almost as if they were spitting in his face.
I witnessed the conflict first hand on October 27 when I was outside the Goan Institute in Nairobi where there was a demonstration against the visit. Six people, mainly Africans I think, were arrested and detained after they crowded Pereira’s car on arrival. A further three people were arrested at the Dr Ribeiro Goan School.
According to author Joao Sarmento, “most Goans were anxious to be involved in the visit. Many wanted to get involved in organising dinners, visits and other social events.” It is fair to say some were actually falling over each other to bask in the Portuguese limelight.
Consider this: this war between opposing Goan sides over Pereira’s visit had a much more sinister motive that was playing in the background. Goan loyalists were keenly aware of the almost explosive situation that existed in Goa at the time. They were vehemently opposed to any Indian intervention in Goa.
Sadly, it was in the Kenyan Goan DNA to be prejudiced against their fellow Indians. The fragile and volatile political atmosphere truly frightened the Goan community which at that time did not have migration to Britain on its radar. On the contrary, many Goans wanted to be buried in Goa. Hence, if only jokingly, many would say they were returning to Goa for their own funeral.
The other reason for supporting the Portuguese was to keep the migration to Portugal option open and a number of Goans did just that but many moved out of Portugal almost as quickly as they came.
Goans never did understand the cynicism behind the colonial government’s “privileged class” status for the Goans. All it meant was that Goans unwittingly helped enforce the separate development principle by turning up their noses at fellow Indians and, naturally, the “primitive savages”: Africans.
This separate development strategy has its genesis in 1929 when Britain secured for Asians a protected economic niche which reinforced racial separation with a class difference, thus encouraging antagonism between Asians and Africans thus encouraging the probability that they would one day be seen as scapegoats.
The sad thing about it all was that Pio was absolutely and categorically correct: to continue living in Kenya, Goans had to commit to the country. They had to become Kenyans as opposed to a temporary immigrant tribe. As guests of the British colony, Goans had a privileged licence to be just that – privileged - because it suited the colonial government. Goans relished their position as the favourite brown-skins of the white colonials. However, there was no way on earth that the black Kenyan independent government would allow Goans to take any advantage or enjoy any kind of a special position.
As Tom Mboya put it quite bluntly: “If you don’t like it, get out.” Most did.
Sadly, there were many who took up Kenya citizenship but, for various reasons, did not feel a part of the country and eventually left for foreign shores, this included many (or all) Pio’s East African Goan League colleagues. I often wondered what happened to Rosario Gama Pinto, a former workmate sent me this note: “After Pio was assassinated, Rosario was told by a friend who was in the CID to leave Kenya quickly because he was earmarked and would be next. Rosario worked at the same office as I did and he quickly left the country telling everyone that he was going to Brazil on vacation. He never came back.”
On the other hand, there are many stories of Goans who became true Kenyans and who prospered beyond belief.
Either way, there are no regrets - just a little nostalgia for Kenya we once knew.
In hindsight, one would have to say that the Goan Overseas Association made a good investment in supporting Portugal. Just ask the thousands of Goans who hold Portuguese passports. For some in East Africa, the Portuguese document was their only way out. The current Goan population of Wembley and Swindon must surely include the Portuguese in their prayers for without the Portuguese passport they might not have escaped Goa.