PORTUGUESE COLONIALISM AND TRIBAL LAND ALIENATION
Sebastian Rodrigues, May 2008
Pressure on prosperous tribal lands in Goa prior to Portuguese colonialism was chiefly from the private moving bands. It never enjoyed State patronage as during Portuguese rule in Goa. Arrival of Portuguese was a major setback to the status of tribes in Goa, particularly the Gawdas. At a time when Portuguese arrived Land of Goa was very prosperous both agricultural as well as horticultural respects. Portuguese colonial state that lasted in Goa for world record period of colonialism, of 451 years had a unique and powerful State formation. Its base of support came from those very bands looking out to dominate tribes prior to colonial rule. They were invaders who were not equipped in fine arts State functioning and found Portuguese their convenient allies. Portuguese colonialism contributed to land alienation of tribes in Goa in various ways.
Creation of Private Bhatcars
After years of wanderings in Goa seeking to verbally dominate the tribes though without success colluded with Portuguese for the control and legal transfer of land from Indigenous People to Portuguese nationals and major portion to Desais, Deshprabhus, Prabhudesais and Ranes, and later on Dempos, Salgaonkars, Chowgules, etc. For smooth fraudulent transfer of land they opted to get converted to Christianity, the faith propagated by the Portuguese colonizers and changed their names and surnames to Portuguese. They became metaphorically white to different shades; some colluded with Portuguese State without converting to Christianity, while others did so by converting and was awarded with huge lands for control and ownership wrested from the Indigenous People. They came to be known as Bhatcars meaning landlords. Most of these lands belonged to the Indigenous People though without written documents. Portuguese colonial State with a stroke of a pen created written documents that show legal ownership to the members of bands that sought land captures. State violent agencies in the form of colonial police and colonial military were at the service of these new owners. They prospered under Portuguese colonialism for their intentions were fulfilled during their regime. They will then walk out into post liberation Goa as one of the major segments of people that was gifted with land control by tiny nation from Iberian Peninsula. Thus a class of landlords was born in Goa thanks to colonial intercourse with marauding bands. Their tiny number was compensated with this class learning Portuguese and supplying labour to run colonial State administration in Goa. This gave them access to documents of all kinds in possession with colonial State agencies and so the scope for further manipulation of land records and further land alienation of Indigenous people. Over the colonial period large tracks of lands were parceled out to private individuals, mostly Brahmins. This process created the basis as to how they even though consist less than 2% of Goa’s total Population is able to politically and economically dominate 98% of the population even after 46 years of so called Goa’s liberation in 1961.
The Colonial Church and tribal land alienation
Portuguese Colonialism in Goa also had religious dimensions; it sought to transplant faith of the colonizers onto the colonized. The time of Portuguese colonialism was prior to Industrial revolution in Europe. The symbol of Power was land and it was actual power too. The European religious superstructure was super imposed on Goa while transforming it as major centre for spread of Christianity to Asia. The religion as colonial strategy contributed towards capture of tribal lands and bringing them under the church control i.e. colonial control. Tribal religious worships were put under pressure and ultimately large number of them demolished only to build church buildings in their place. Though these have been recorded in history as Hindu temples, they were not. In fact ‘Hindu’ as a category was yet to emerge during early Portuguese colonial period. It was caste categories that were in currency. Portuguese colonial Church was controlled directly by Crown in Lisbon and locally supported by Brahmins who were converted and were parceled huge tracks of land enjoying class privileges of bhatcars. Converted Brahmins and non-converted Brahmins shared class alliance. It was in their interest that these temples are demolished, not so much for the religious reasons as much as to take control of the lands that temples controlled. In fact, Sergio Mascarenhas, a Portuguese historian presently heading Fundacao Oriente in Goa claims that Temples during Portuguese colonial times were demolished by Goans themselves and not by Portuguese. The problem with the word ‘Goan’ is that it conceals heterogeneous nature of classes in society in Goa and projects everyone - local dominator and dominated - as single category. The question here is which Goans were involved in breaking down of temples? Large tracks of community lands were under temple control. Fascists policies of the times came in handy to the forces seeking to establish control over these lands and demolitions were carried on, and church buildings were constructed over them. This way temple lands was taken over and became church lands. The transfer meant the village temple lands were now under the control of the colonial powers and they were lost to the original community that owned it. The temple committees did not offer much resistance and fled with temple deities as the assault was not just from Portuguese but from the marauding bands acting in alliance with the Portuguese colonizers. In fact they were sheltering them, for if they had to establish their control; sheltering of Portuguese was of strategic necessity, and they did that for 451 years. Imposing Church buildings were constructed and got stabilized too. Brahmins had their one more victory over the lands of Indigenous People.
In order to further cement the takeover of temples various coercive methods of control of Indigenous People were adopted. One of them was mass conversion of the Indigenous People and ban on pre-conversion rituals seeking complete adherence to the new faith. Conversions were carried on though use of force and deceit. And since Indigenous People did not understand language of the colonizer, some of them gave in to the conversion attempts. State agents in charge of the villages known as regidor led the conversion drives. These drives very often consisted of throwing of pieces of bread on the top of the house top, pieces of bread and poke into the village common well, and declaring that whoever is staying in the house or whoever from the village drinks water from the well is deemed converted and they are to report to the church the next day and get new faith and new name and surname, all overnight. And with the ringing of the church bells communities were attempted to be pushed into painful phase of alienation of their land, faith and culture all together. This is how Brahmins in collusion with the colonial powers found long term solution for their problem of minority domination. Church and Christianity was their weapon, their way out for control and domination for posterity.
Besides owning land at village level, church also has central institution that owns land during colonial times. It is known as Santa Monica. Various kinds of lands from all over Goa including the grazing lands for cattle of tribes are under legal ownership of Santa Monica. Grazing lands of Dulapem village in Tiswadi Taluka is one example in this regard.
Formation of ‘Communidades’ and suppression of ‘Ganvkary’
Gawdas as first settlers of Goa had evolved their social institutions for governance of the community and its economy very well. Two institutions played crucial role in this. First is Mand. ‘It is an oldest Social Institution established by the tribals and first settlers of Goa. It is an institution wherein one can learn the social, cultural, religious, political and economic life of the tribals of Goa. As per historians this institution was founded by the Gawda tribe about 5000 B.C. There are no written documents available regarding its registration with the government departments. As members were illiterate and not mixing with other communities, there was no awareness among the members about prevailing laws of the government. One can only know about the history of the Mand only through the oral tradition coming from generation to generation.
Mand used to be an open space situated in the middle of the village ranging from 20-25 square meters to 5000 square meters. Mostly it is an open space but at some places one can find trees like Banyan, Pipal and other forest trees. Beneath this tree one can find a small stone structure called Ghumti. There is no idol kept in Ghumti. Mand is also found among catholic Gawda community.
Mand is an institution governed by an elected body from amongst tribal communities. Any person who attains the age of 18 years can become the member of Mand. A member who completes the age of 65 years is exempted from the membership and is duly respected. Head of Mand is called Manda Guru. His position is supreme and many decisions at Social, Cultural, Religious, Political and Economic are taken here.
One of the magnificent creations of Mand in order to look after the problems relating to the land and its revenues is its Gaonkary System known as Goanponn. This institution has played significant role in controlling and administering, as per oral rules and regulations, all the land belonged to Mand. The land included the one under agriculture, horticulture, grazing lands and also forest lands. This is an area, backbone of tribal economy that was altered by Portuguese Colonial State at the instance of all those who wanted to take over control of the prosperous tribal lands. Portuguese Colonial State undertook the process to get these ‘Gaonkaries’ registered with the colonial State and formed written rules and regulations thereby injecting alien system in Goankary functioning and initiating the process of land alienation in most of the cases. They were given new name in the language of the colonizer – Communidades. Out of around 220 registered Communidades barely two had some representation from the tribal communities. The rest of them got recorded those marauding bands of the time colluding with the colonial State as the Indigenous People. They include Brahmins, continue to propagate that they are the original tribe, and Gaonkary system is theirs and they got Colonial protection for its safe guard. After Gawdas got alienated from their system, Communidades functions without them mainly as legal entities keeping meticulous written details of the generations of descendants and annually collected their share of income Zon. The institution was administered with vengeance with prime objective of preserving legal evidence that those whose names are written in the communidade records are the tribes of Goa. Actual tribes who cultivated and administered these lands had done away with their function and new set of people with collective intention of land grab took control of the situation with direct collaboration of Portuguese Colonial State. While they tried to get into the administration of these lands, over the time they degenerated. The foundational principles amongst Gawdas for the governing of these lands were deep internal solidarity and strong spirit of cooperation that was lacking amongst those who had seized control of Gaonkary System. Gawdas were then kept as reserve force for labour especially on the farmlands parceled out to the supporters of colonial rule in Goa. They were denied education during colonial days as a result they were not able to articulate woes as a community. Education was largely meant for Brahmins and to no one else. This is complex manner in which Gaonkary system was changed to Communidades and tribes in Goa lost their land.
Creation of Mokaso system and tribal land alienation
Portuguese colonialism expanded to the full territory of Goa in phases. The first few islands to come under Portuguese occupation were Divar, and Zuem in Tiswadi Taluka. Soon after that Tiswadi Taluka came under Portuguese rule. Next phase of expansion took place in Bardez and Salcete talukas. Marmagao was part of Salcete Taluka. These places are known as old conquest areas. Inquisition policies and conversions were made fully applicable to these Talukas of Goa during the first 250 years of Portuguese rule. The next phase of expansion was in Quepem, Pernem, Bicholim, Sattari, Sanguem, Ponda and Canacona talukas. These places were under rule of different dynasties before Portuguese entered into series of diplomatic and military measures with them under the Portuguese domain. One common understanding in case of all of them was restrain in implementing policies of conversions and inquisition practices. Besides these, each Taluka was subjected to peculiar set of conditions for their cooperation in payment of taxes to Portuguese and obeying the rules laid down by the Portuguese crown in Lisbon.
One set of conditions were imposed after the pact with warring band of Ranes. Ranes were appointed to collect taxes on behalf of rulers of Sawantwadi in Maharastra known as Sawants to collect taxes from that portion of geographic areas of Goa that were ruled by Sawants. However due to various reason Sawants conceded their territories in Goa to Portuguese and Ranes were left without job. Ranes were trained in warfare decided to launch their attack against Portuguese rulers in a bid to get the colonial State to get subdued for a compromise that would ensure the Protection to Ranes and also guarantee additional privileges. After a brief tug of war for power that included guerrilla fighting in the forests of Sattari and Bicholim talukas, Ranes entered into a settlement compromise with the Portuguese State. Under the settlement Ranes were to enter the phase of cease fire. In return Portuguese would give additional privileges to Ranes in the form of Mokaso lands in Sattari and Bicholim Talukas. Mokaso lands were granted to Ranes in return for maintaining peace with Portuguese Colonial State. Large tracks of lands belonging to Gawdas were legally transferred in the name of Ranes in Sattari and Bicholim Talukas. All together 5 such tracks of land were gifted to Ranes. They were at Advai, Khadki and Saleli in Sattari Taluka, and Sankhelim and Maulingem in Bicholim Taluka. The cultivators, the members of the Gawda tribe who created these fertile lands were nowhere in the picture as far as legal position was concerned but they continued to work on these lands and Hegemonic position of Ranes got consolidated in Sattari and Bicholim talukas during Portuguese rule. While Goa was under Portuguese rule, Ranes set themselves to work to establish their kingdom in these talukas. Fear amongst Gawdas and introduction of Feudal ethos led to a transformation towards more exploitative situation as far as tribes are concerned. With these foundation during colonial regime Ranes stepped into Liberated Goa. Liberation for Ranes meant liberation from Portuguese obstacle to establish its own kingdom in Sattari and Bicholim talukas. Even after 46 years of Liberation of Goa this situation has not reversed and Tribes in Goa are yet to achieve their liberation.
Mining Leases in Goa and land alienation
Explorations for mining purpose began during first decade of 20th century. Portuguese involved German geologists to survey for availability of minerals in Goa. After three decades of exploration iron ore, magnesium, silica and bauxite deposits were found in various parts of Goa. Silica and Bauxite was found in coastal Goa, while Iron Ore and Magnesium was traced in huge deposits in the hinterland Goa. Colonial State began leasing out lands for those who want to begin mining by 1940s for extracting the Ore. By the end of 1950s approximately one thousand mining leases were given in the talukas of Sanguem, Quepem, Bicholim, Sattari, Bardez and few leases in Pernem. Actual mining operations began in 1945. The first 100 tonnes of Iron Ore was exported to Japan in 1948. Goa’s Iron Ore import played very crucial role towards recovery of Japanese economy that was in a state of collapse after the nuclear attacks by USA in 1945. Goa remained its chief supply of Iron Ore and then magnesium till last few years when exports from Brazil came as competitor for Goan Iron Ore. Bicholim and Sattari Talukas were amongst the first to sacrifice its paddy fields, forest, mountains, ground water and livelihood support systems to people living in the vicinity. Most of these lands were occupied by tribes. In fact it was their land. Non-mechanized forms of mining triggered off internal migration within Goa. Tribes as well as non tribes were drafted to work in the mines. New settlements of labour class began to come about. They did not own land in the mining village and this laid the foundation for future confrontations with tribal people that are attached to the agricultural field.
Two rivers Zuari and Mandovi began to be used to transport Ore dug from the bowel of the earth towards Marmagaon Harbor. From harbor Ore would be re-loaded onto the huge foreign ships for export to Japan. Movement of barges in the river water generated ripples that damaged adjacent bands in riparian island villages like Divar and often led to minor floods.
During Portuguese colonial times all the mining leases that were granted were in the name of either Portuguese national, Brahmins converted to Christianity, Gujarati traders in good books with colonial power structures, other businessmen wandering in Goa and sharing friendly relations with colonial power structures, multinational companies etc. In other words all those elements that are helping to extend Portuguese colonialism way beyond Indian Independence of 1947. In fact Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister under whose regime Indian army launched ‘Operation Vijay’ and captured Goa by defeating Portuguese forces in two days in December 1961 got into elaborate negotiations with these mining lease holders before taking decision to send Indian army into Goa. It is only after that he entered into secret pact with the mining lease holders cum mine operators that Indian government will continue the mining leases as granted by the Portuguese colonial State that Nehru mustered confidence to enter Goa almost after 14 years British had left India. Such was a power that they collectively wield over the State structures in Goa.
In fact, few years before ‘Operation Vijay’, in 1958, T.B.Cunha, stalwarts amongst freedom fighters against Portuguese colonialism, wrote in Bombay based journal titled Free Goa that it was mining companies that are responsible for holding and perpetuating Portuguese colonial rule in Goa. It is very important to understand the role mining played in colonial State formation. T.B.Cunha does provide very significant insights into the State of affairs in the colonial times. Here I re-produce his article of 1958, the last one before his death:
“The main cause of the failure to liberate Goa even ten years after the independence of India is the systematic sabotage, carried by Indian businessmen against all the efforts made by Goans and by others (sic) to achieve the liberation. This is now clear to all those who have studied the Goa question objectively and do not believe in the lame excuses invented to explain the shameful continuation of the occupation by Portugal of territories situated in India. It is not the lack of unity among Goans nor the lack of co-operation on the part of Indian people to achieve integration of Goa, Daman and Diu into India that is responsible for the indefinite postponement of freeing them from foreign rule. It is the protection given by some Indian politicians in Power to the Indian businessmen for carrying a profitable speculation in Goa with the full connivance of the Portuguese officialdom. That mainly is responsible for the present State of affairs.
The facilities given by the Portuguese government to the Indian businessmen are such that they have made them interested in the continuance of Portuguese rule in Goa and made them wish to postpone as long as possible the liberation of the Portuguese occupied territories. The Indian Politicians who support these Indian merchants do not seem to realize that the profits made by them are gained not only at the cost of economic and financial interests of India but are also detrimental to her national unity, territorial integrity and future security. Narrow-minded and unable to grasp the national interest as they believe that the profits made by Indians compensate the country for the loss it suffers otherwise from Portuguese occupation.
We have repeatedly shown here, giving names and figures, that the help given by Indian capitalists to exploit the Goan mining wealth has served to increase the revenue of the Portuguese administration and to allow it to maintain an army of many thousands of European and African soldiers and officers and a costly political force. The exploitation of the mining industry and the contraband trade which is simultaneously carried on by the same Indian traders is the main source of income to the Portuguese in Goa who themselves have not invested a single rupee in our country. Under the camouflage of a fictitious economic blockade and sanctions, which the have sabotaged, the Indian merchants, together with some foreign speculators, have extended to the Portuguese the help they needed to perpetuate and consolidate their domination in Goa.
In addition to the help given for the extraction of the iron and manganese ore, the Indian Capitalists have also helped the Portuguese to improve the transport of the minerals by railways, roads and rivers, to build a new and big airport and to extend the works of the Marmagao (sic) harbour. We have given here the name of Indian businessmen including Goans who have invested their capital in all these concerns. Some of these persons are known to be well-related with Indians and some foreigners. The capital, the management and even a great part of the labour is Indian and are closely connected with concerns functioning in India.
A further contribution to help the Portuguese to consolidate their position in Goa is now the formation of a ship-building Society with the co-operation of the Indian capitalists who run the mining industry and indulge in its complementary smuggling trade. The capital subscribed to the new society comes from the Government of Portuguese India and other institutions depending on the government which are compelled by the government to lend their funds. But a good amount of their capital is also brought by the Indian and foreign firms working in Goa. The capital invested by Private Indian and foreign concerns is indeed superior to the sum invested by the government.
The following is the list of the Indian and foreign investors who have contributed to the funds of new society and who also permanently co-operate with Portuguese in strengthening foreign hold on Goa. Here are the most important names:
Chowgule and Co. Ltd.
Damodar Mangalji and Co. (India) Ltd.
Khantilal & Co. Ltd.
Mineira Nacional Ltd.
Subraya & Co.
Timble Brothers Ltd.
V.M. Salgaonkar & Brothers Ltd.
V.S. Dempe & Co. Ltd.
Joao Hogo Sequira
Madev Sinay Talaulikar
Sesa Goa Ltd. (Germano-Italian)
W.I.P Railway (British)
Mingoa society (Italian)
The installation of the ship-building works is to be started in Vasco da Gama near Marmagao harbour under the direction of Portuguese, Indian and Britishers. The capital subscribed amounts to nearly 35 lakhs divided in shares of Rs. 100/- each. The report accompanying the project of the Ship-Building Society clearly says that it aims at resisting India’s efforts to unite Goa to India. It has not prevented the proteges of our Congress patriots to fully co-operate with the Portuguese in the anti-Indian endevour. That may allege that it is “constructive work” (Gandhian terminology) pursued by Indians in Goa with the connivance of pseudo-Gandhians in power in India. As a matter of fact they are plundering and mortgaging Goan wealth for the immediate benefit of Portugal.
While the Indian government is quietly awaiting to settle the problem of Goa by “peaceful negotiations” the Indian moneybags are allowed to peacefully help the Portuguese and enrich themselves at the cost of the Indian and Goan economy, of the suffering Goans and non-Goans and more than anything else at the cost of Indian national Integrity, her good name and her safety. It is in the interest of these moneybags indeed that the settlement of the Portuguese pockets has been postponed indefinitely. They are the people who spread false and distorted news about Goa and mislead and misinform the official circles in India about the real situation of Portuguese territories in India. Only the Indian Government must understand that they are not interested in the liberation of Goa because when it comes, it will deprive them of their easy and tainted profits. One must also know that these double dealers are the real political informers and advisors of the Portuguese on the Goan question.
One must say that these unscrupulous merchants would not have succeeded in their treacherous work of support to the foreign occupants of Goa if they had not received all facilities from Indian authorities to carry on their nefarious activity. Not only they were given in India all normal facilities allowed to honest traders but they were left free to act in contempt of law and resort to criminal corruption to carry on their smuggling activities which are complimentary to the Goan mining industry. In fact, since independence they were treated as a privileged class allowed to prosper at the cost of the most vital interests of the nation. Before the relaxation of the permit system when common people were harassed in every manner when they had to travel to and from Goa, it was precisely these merchants for whom the economic restrictions really meant (sic) who enjoyed all sorts of facilities thanks to powerful friends they had in the official circles. No wonder that the supposed economic sanctions failed miserably and some had to be removed as ineffective. In fact, they are sabotaged in benefit of these unpatriotic citizens and lawbreakers.
While our brave Goan and non-Goan liberators were facing by hundreds and thousands the most fascist repression of the Portuguese Police State, suffering long years of prison, deportations, beatings, tortures and even death, thee Indian adventurist traders were amassing fortunes and prospering at the expense of other people’s sacrifices. And it is precisely these people who are now carrying the whispering campaign against Goans accusing them of being responsible for the failure of liberation because of the lack of unity between their too numerous political parties. As a matter of fact, the disrupting activity among Goans and non-Goans was the work of these very slanderers of the Goan movement who infiltrated bogus nationalists in the ranks of our workers or corrupted others with their tainted money. The whispering campaign is meant to cloak the guilt of those who are really responsible for the continuance of the foreign domination in apportion of the Indian land even after independence. But their treason shall not remain concealed or forgotten.”
This article provides brilliant glimpse of the way mining companies used Portuguese colonial State as their protector for International mining trade. And all this at a time when mining was yet to get mechanized. Mechanization of mining sector began after Goa’s integration with India. And the way Indian State was used by mining companies is too radically different from the way they used Portuguese colonial State. Tribal land alienation in Goa must be looked in this context of International Political Economy.
 Sammit Khandeparkar at history seminar at CES College, Cuncolim on March 13 2007.
 These claims were made at discussion on this theme at a History seminar in CES college, Cuncolim held on March 13-14, 2007.
 Discussions with Durgadas Gaonkar.
 Discussions with Durgadas Gaonkar and Dayanand Gawde.
 For mining lease Map of Goa see Annexure – 3.
 This situation is visible in Colamb village in Sanguem Taluka.
 Bands are barricades that blocks the entry of saline water into paddy fields. They were constructed by indigenous people while claiming lands from the bosom of Arabian Sea many thousands of years ago.
 Cunha, T.B., Portuguese Occupation of Goa supported by Indian Merchants, in Free Goa, 25 July 1958, reproduced in Tombat, Nishta, Tristao De Braganza Cunha (1891-1958) and the rise of Nationalist consciousness in Goa, Appendix three, Ph. D dissertation, Goa University, Goa, 1995.
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