Sunday, May 12, 2019
What makes a Goan, a Goan?
My Goa: What makes a Goan a Goan? (An excerpt from Fitz de Souza’s Forward to Independence)
Copyright © 2019 Fitzval R.S. de Souza
The views and opinions expressed in this book are the author’s own and the facts as remembered by him.
All rights reserved.
For my mother, Goa was probably the place she felt most at home. My father too had often talked about returning there. I remember when we lived in Nairobi, how he would sometimes pace up and down at night, talking about going back and restoring the fortunes and proud reputation of the family liquor business, for which our ancestors had won medals and plaudits. I had said at one point that I did not think we should earn money from such a trade.
I had left Goa as a young child, but growing up I was aware of a rich heritage, the Indian and the European, the Hindu and the Christian. On returning to Goa for the first time in 1959, after 30 years, I was surprised at how many things I saw fitted with my memories. I found the caste system was very strong. I remember when I arrived all these fellows of the lower caste came to see me, about 30 or 40 of them. My mother said we were supposed to give them some food and liquor, so we made some toasted grams and they all ate and drank feni and sang praises to me.
Hearing all this I decided to make a speech, which I had been thinking about for a long time. ‘Listen,’ I told them, ‘all this caste system is rubbish; we are no more bhatkars than you are mundkars.’ Bhatkar meant landlord, and mundkars were originally people with no property rights, whose houses could be pulled down and the materials taken by the landowner.
After Indian independence, the law had changed so that if you had lived somewhere for three years you could buy the land and house, which was right I think. After I had made the speech, the fellows cheered me. Noticing they were all still standing, I said, ‘You chairs brought out. Not one of them would sit. I said, ‘Look, I’m telling you, you’ve got to sit down we are all equal.’ ‘Yes, thank you,’ they replied, ‘but we cannot sit, our fathers would object.’ I said, ‘Your fathers are not here.’ But they told me it would also bring a curse: that I was after all more than a landlord and an employer – I was their bhatkar: their philosopher, their guide.
What makes a Goan? Being born and bred in Goa was always the natural and obvious qualification. I mentioned earlier however that many, perhaps most Goans, considered themselves to be Portuguese rather than Indian, Christian rather than Hindu. I sometimes used to ask such people, ‘Who made you Portuguese?’ to which they replied, ‘The law.’ There was some truth in this, and it may have been Salazar that allowed the Christians access to better schools and other advantages, prompting Goan families to convert. Further back in history, Christianity and the Portuguese identity was also spread by soldiers sent out to bolster Goa’s military strength.
(Fitz and his family spent a lot of time in the later years in their stunning home in Donna Paulo (???)
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