By Selma Carvalho
It is with deep sadness that I am reviewing Teresa Albuquerque’s book, The Portuguese Impress (Cinnamon Teal; 2017), posthumously. To those of us involved in documenting the Goan presence in East Africa, Albuquerque is revered. Her research on the subject was not exhaustive but it established something firm and fundamental. It pinned down vital aspects of the Goan migration across the Indian Ocean. It established definitively that Zanzibar, after Mozambique, had been the centripetal location which had drawn waves of migrations from Goa. From here, they dispersed, first as businessmen and then as clerks in the British administration, to Dar es Salam, Mombasa, Nairobi, the Shire Valley (now Malawi) and finally to Entebbe and Kampala. For a generation of researchers who came after her (and there are but only a handful of us still, studying the Goan presence in East Africa), she left a trail of crumbs, which we followed, and continue to follow to build on this history.
More strident academics might have frowned upon her unorthodox research methods. She genuinely liked talking to people and was a gatherer of oral histories, long before the word became fashionable and was co-opted by academia. In fact, she realised early on, that Goan diaspora history lay out there in the vastness of the oral tradition. So little of it had been committed to paper but much of it was preserved in memory. So when she arrived in Kenya, sometime in the 1990s, her interviews with prominent community members became the starting point from where this narrative would be exhumed and resurrected.
She researched, in an era, before search engines made the index card and catalogue redundant in archives, when scanning colonial newspapers meant sitting for hours in a musty room where realms of papers would be brought to your desk, and you’d have to go through each one of them to find something of relevance. She persevered. She relied heavily on the Anglo-Luso press (O Anglo Lusitano was indispensable to her work), which Goans had run in colonial Bombay. Other source publications were government gazettes, church booklets and commemorative brochures of various Goan associations. Not having easy access to a solid archive which would have shed light on colonial government correspondence limited her primary research. Genealogy too was in its infancy in the 1990s, and she was unable to draw family trees, which today form an important part of the diaspora historiography. Nonetheless, she has to her credit, one of the more accurate accounts of Goan migration and achievement in the early twentieth century. Later researchers have verified much of her findings rather than disproved them.
The newly released, The Portuguese Impress, brings together Albuquerque’s various writings, in the main, on Goans of Bombay. A curious aspect of the Goan community in Bombay is its parallel to Goan communities in both Karachi and East Africa. The bulk of the Goan migration comprised of semi-skilled artisans and tradesmen, (carpenters, bakers, shop-keepers, launderers, stewards and cooks), but there were men of letters amongst them, (doctors, pharmacists, newspapermen and clerks), who rose to distinguished positions. Together, they were instrumental in founding the frontier townships of the British empire. Wherever they went, Goans set about immediately funding Catholic churches in their new homelands. This act, in part, emerged from being so closely allied with European missionaries who depended on their monthly contributions and hospitality. It was not at all unusual to see Irish priests at Goan social events raising the toast and partaking of the festivities.
Amongst these Goan emigres, although small in number, doctors were visibly prominent. Albuquerque informs us that the life-size statue of Dr Acacio Gabriel Viegas, gracing the entry point into Dhobi Talao was to pay tribute to the man whose timely detection of the bubonic plague, in Bombay, averted a far more disastrous outcome than what transpired. In 1896, Dr Viegas detected the first case. A few year later, in 1902, another Goan doctor, Rosendo Ribeiro, would warn the civic authorities in Nairobi, Kenya of an impending plague and save the pioneer town from great loss of life. Goan doctors had an acute understanding of tropical pathology and their services were much sought after, both in the Portuguese and British military, as well as private physicians to royalty.
Another interesting account Albuquerque presents is that of early Goan bakers in Bombay. O Anglo Lusitano, provides a sketch biography of one Vitorino Mudot, who travelled from Assagao, Goa, to set up a bakery in Bombay in 1819, earning the title of, ‘Father of Goan Bakers in Bombay’. Once again, we can draw parallels between Bombay and East Africa. The earliest Goan establishments in East Africa, along the port of Zanzibar, were Goan bakers. Flour is a durable commodity, so are flour products such as the ‘sailor’s biscuit’. This made, providing to docked naval ships, lucrative business. The swell in their savings prompted another service to the community. They were unofficial money-lenders, tiding over neighbours and friends in case of a cash crunch. As with most Goan businessmen, poor book-keeping and bad debts at times led to their own bankruptcy. Sudden rise of fortunes were also met with sudden destitution almost all the wealth consumed within ten to twenty years.
As soon as a Goan community burgeoned, mostly in port towns of the British empire, they propped up further migrations by throwing open their houses to relatives, or setting up boarding houses which offered room and board at a nominal price. Albuquerque narrates how the kudd, so emblematic of Goan Christian philanthropy and village solidarity, may well have been the brainchild of pioneering baker Vitornio Mudot, who offered accommodation and board for a meagre Rs 4 per month. Other bakeries followed suit. Buoyed by affluence, Mudot led the life of a fidalgo, dressed in the traditional knickerbockers, Goan bakers wore, and carried on a palanquin.
An overriding preoccupation of migrating Goans was education. Intuitively understanding that any advancement could only come from education and bettering their English language skills, the golden age of private philanthropy ensured elite Goans funded schools, some operating on the verandahs of houses or in rented rooms. Leading figures often paid for the salaries of the teachers out of pocket and ensured the most disenfranchised of Goans would benefit from free classes. It was B. X. Furtado (Albuquerque is a descendant of Furtado), who had had the gumption to start a boys’ day school in Cavel which later attracted the attention of the Jesuits, who took it over in 1860 and amalgamated it with their Young Gentleman’s School at the Fort. This was to become the nucleus of the St. Xavier’s High School and College in Bombay.
Because the book is a collection of individual essays written by Albuquerque, at times it repeats itself and some of the articles included are superfluous to the overall cohesion of the collection, but this is a minor impediment to ingesting the information contained within its 379 pages. For a more detailed understanding of her research, there are her full-length works, To Love is to Serve: Catholics of Bombay (Heras Institute; 1986), Goans of Kenya (Michael Lobo Publications; 1999) and Goan Pioneers in Bombay (Goa 1556; 2011), which one can read but this book is ideally suited to familiarising oneself with a wide range of subjects on which she elucidates. It is her work on the Catholic Goans of Bombay, which stands out for commendation.
Dr Teresa Albuquerque was a Fellow of the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, St Xavier's College, Bombay and a member of the Bombay Museum Society, the Asiatic Society of Bombay, the Church History Association of India, the Heras Society and the Bombay Local History Society. In her historical studies, she has researched the colonial past of Bombay and Goa, with special emphasis on the Portuguese impress. A copy of The Portuguese Impress can be purchased here.