Insights into Colonial Goa
Why and how did Colonial Britain recruit Goans?? History undoubtedly belongs to the past, but understanding it is the duty of the present generation. In 2020 (pre-Brexit), the British print media published derogatory articles which portrayed Goans as opportunists who abused the EU immigration system by making a backdoor entry into the UK via Portugal. This scenario raises the interesting questions of why and how Goans became familiar with the British and vice versa.
The following are abstracts from our recently published book, Insights into Colonial Goa, which traces Goan emigration to British India, the Mid-East and Africa. In 1510, Goa was the first Asian territory to become a European colony. Following that, Portugal acquired several enclaves along the coasts of the Indian Ocean (East Africa, Mid-East and India) and around the South China Sea (South-East Asia). Portugal controlled the lucrative Silk Lane maritime trade of Asian spices to Europe after outmaneuvering the Arab-Venetian monopoly of the traditional over-land route along the Silk Road.
As a result of their successful trading in spices, Portugal and Goa reached their socio-political and economic zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries -- a golden era for both. After a century of Lusitanian dominance over the spice trade, other European powers such as the Dutch, the English and the French also ventured into that specialty get-rich-quick commerce. Old Goa served as the prestigious capital of Portugal’s eastern empire from 1530 to 1961; when colonization ended and Goa became part of India. After a century of Lusitanian dominance over the spice trade, other European powers such as the Dutch, the English and the French also ventured into that specialty get-rich quick commerce.
From their capital in Goa, the Portuguese oversaw their coastal enclaves both north and south of Goa, extending from Surat to Quilon. Of strategic importance were the islands of Bon Bahia (later called Bombay), which were handed over to the English in 1661 as part of Catherine Braganza’s dowry when she married Charles II. More than a century later, not only did England trade with India; but after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, ruled parts of the country. Portugal developed the model for Asian colonization in 1510, but it was the English who perfected the system. With sophisticated weaponry and devious manipulations, the English turbocharged the process of annexations in the 19th and 20th centuries.
During the early days of colonization, Portugal recruited Goans as seamen-apprentices, especially for the return voyage to Portugal and after they had experienced high death rates of sailors on the outgoing voyage from Lisbon. The 17th century witnessed some Goan emigration to Portuguese colonies, including ports along the East African coast especially Lourenco Marques (now called Maputo) and Beira in Mozambique. Some Goan émigré groups were displaced when the Omanis took control over Portuguese held Malindi, Mombasa, and Zanzibar.
However, when these later areas became British colonies, other Goan groups were recruited to settle in those areas. A chess game indeed! The British understood the importance of having an efficient and reliable administrative support staff in their colonies. The rulers were also keenly aware of the difficulties in recruiting British-born workers to re-locate to the colonies, despite the extraordinarily high compensation offered to them.
Fortuitously for the British, Indian employees were willing to work for much lower remuneration and provided their services with eagerness as well as loyalty to the boss – an observation Portugal had made two hundred years earlier. The first time the British experienced significant exposure to Goan culture was when England occupied Goa (1799-1813) as part of The Metheun Treaty of 1703 (one of the longest lasting mutual-defense treaties between two countries). However, Goans had experienced European ways of life for almost 300 years prior to British occupation of Goa.
As the British became increasingly familiar with their Goan subjects, the rulers appreciated the natives’ tolerant, contented, relaxed personalities, education, apparel, lifestyle, diet, and work skills. Forward thinking, progressive priests and nuns, in the Old Conquest of Goa must be given due credit for establishing primary schools in almost every parish as well as expanding the Goa-diocese-run parish schools to other enclaves.
The parish schools provided students of all religions and castes the ability to read and write in the Latin script as well as learn the basics of math and science -- The 3 Rs – like levels of western education of the time. Goans also developed skills at European cuisine – vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, including ham and bacon, and baking. The clergy also taught Goans to play western musical instruments and sing in church choirs.
Goan musicians became the mainstay for entertainment at official and social events in clubs and gymkhanas on land and at sea. Until recently, only Goans provided musical accompaniment on the violin, guitar and concertina for Bollywood movies.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay had plans to design the education system within the Raj. But long before the 1835 Macaulay report, the Lusitanian, especially the parish schools in 1600s, had well-established forms of education both in Goa as well as Portugal’s enclaves along the west coast of India. According to Macaulay, “education in the colony should train a narrow class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” Large numbers of Goans began immigrating to Bombay, which was rapidly expanding economically.
At school, the newly-arrived studied alongside children of other Luso-Indians (later called East Indians and Mangalorean) and of other ethnic groups including Parsees, Hindus, Muslims, Anglo-Indian, British and Irish military personnel as well as other servicemen. As Lusocentric and later Anglo-centric, Goans represented a fine-tuned model; the education they received from Franciscan, Jesuit and other teachers paralleled Macaulay’s vision. In short, Goans were well-positioned to be employed by the British in India and in their overseas colonies. Over time, the western educated class -- Hindus and Christians -- became pillars of the political establishment and apologists for colonialism both in India and in Goa. These included stalwarts like the Nehrus (father and son), Gandhi, Jinnah, and others who went to England for further studies.
Getting skilled help in Asia, the Middle-East and Africa posed a difficult challenge, and the English were keen in recruiting and holding-on to their well-trained and valued assistants. Bombay Presidency (the largest of the three presidencies within the Raj) served as the stepping stone for English Civil Servants and officers (civilian and military) and their Goan protégés prior to postings across southern Asia, the Middle-East and Arabian Peninsulas, as well as Africa. The presidency also served as a boost for Goan communities and parish schools and colleges (for boys and girls) in Bombay and attracted more Goans to migrate to Bombay in the hopes of gaining employment and higher education. In 1878, the Anglo-Portuguese treaty facilitated Goan migration to British territory just as Portugal-Goa connections were on the decline and replaced by Portugal-Brazil axis. Brazil had replaced Goa in the Lusitania crown.
The Goans that made Bombay their home were called Bomoicars. Other major Goan enclaves in the Raj were in Calcutta, Poona and Karachi. The Persian Gulf Arab states were mainly Aden. The English-speaking world home to Goans was colonial territories in Africa and south-east Asia. The Portuguese and Christian education lit the fuse of Western thought-process among Goans. The British turbo-charged the slow burning spark of Goan and East Indian transformation under the British Raj in Bombay.
There were Lusophones and Anglophones. Unfortunately, they also made distinctions that did not exist between and within the groups. Then and even more now, there is motivated sociology to promote divisions among the populace. From the Portuguese fidalgo to the English Nabob, we now had the natives in India who sprung from obscurity, to acquire great wealth, and on occasion spend it extravagantly. Thanks to the supportive staff, the British were much more successful in building railway lines in Africa, (to use just one metric), than were other colonial powers such as the Germans or the Belgians in that continent. In addition, the British expanded their hold on East African territories from coastal ports to the entire region of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rhodesia and other inland territories of Africa. They were able to prevail in their endeavors due, in large part, to their hard-working assistants, significantly comprising Goans.
The French, in contrast, achieved only minimal success in recruiting residents of their colony in Pondicherry to work in French-ruled African colonies. It was not long before word spread that Goans were productive employees, which led British vassals, allies and rivals in Asia, Mid-East and Africa to recruit Goans to work for them. Goans who settled in British East Africa were called Afrikanders. The recruited Goans had the full range of socio-economic skills from professionals like doctors and engineers to the ABC of society. And they were recruited as civil servants for the government, and government services like rail, post and telegraph, customs; private business, navy and merchant fleet; and in private capacity as domestic help. Goans who worked in shipping and British territories located in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe regularly repatriated their earnings to Goa, thereby making valuable contributions to the Portuguese economy. The system was even given official recognition as the Remittance Economy.
The Afrikanders, Bomoicars, shippies, and others returned to Goa (to their ancestral home) for vacation, to find a spouse, retire or for ill-health. Depending on where they lived and worked, Goans were categorized as either Anglophone Goans or Lusophone Goans. It has been said that the best crystal ball is a rear-view mirror. During the Raj, Anglophile Indians self-servingly wanted “Dominion status” for their native land (like Canada and Australia) to be associated with the mother-country.
Lusophile Goans wanted something similar for Goa. But due to draconian restrictions, the educated class split into icons of colonialism and anti-colonialism. Beyond providing lipservice, the European countries had no intention of granting rights and freedoms to those living in their colonies, both in India and Goa, which led the younger generation of natives to demand total freedom from colonization. The seeds of affinity for the West planted during the colonial era continue even today across India and other colonies. “We are here because you were there” is the writing on a poster at a protest march in London.
Please feel free to forward this message to other Goan, Indian and Portuguese websites and share it with your friends and relatives on other social platforms. We hope you enjoy reading this article and the book as much as we loved writing it. Your thoughts and feedback are welcome. Thank you for your attention.
Regards, Philomena and Gilbert Lawrence.
For more details please see “Insights into Colonial Goa”
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