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Goa, remain Goan

Luis Dias

My family and I had such a lovely time at CIPA (Centre for Indo-Portuguese Arts) Madragoa recently. If you haven’t already been there, you really must. This labour of love deserves a dedicated column in its own right. I’m very sure that, like me, after your visit, you’ll want to keep going back for more.

One fado that the incomparable Sónia Shirsat sang (with Órlando de Noronha and Carlos Meneses doing the honours at Portuguese guitar and viola do fado respectively) stood out for me: ‘Lisboa não sejas francesa’ (Lisbon, don’t become French). I’ve heard it before, of course. But I was hearing it sung live after a very long time, and after Sónia’s introduction, I paid attention to the lyrics.

When I got home, I decided to look it up. It was written in 1952 by Raul Ferrão (1890-1953) and José Galhardo (1905-1967) originally for an operetta ‘A Invasão’ (The Invasion), in commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the Napoleonic occupation of Portugal in 1807.The great fadista Amália Rodrigues of course made it internationally famous.

The invasion of Portugal (1807) is a dark chapter in Portuguese history. To understand its background, one has to go back in time to the 1387 Anglo-Portuguese alliance or treaty (widely considered to be the oldest alliance between any two nations, still in force) sealed by the marriage of D João I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt.

The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) pitted France and its allies (led by Napoleon Bonaparte 1769-1821) against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. Portugal was part of this coalition.

Napoleon was irritated that Britain was finding new opportunities for trade with Portugal’s colony in Brazil, and that the Royal Navy often used Lisbon’s port in its operations against France; and Napoleon wished to seize Portugal’s fleet. Furthermore, Prince John (João VI) of Braganza, regent for his insane mother Queen Maria I (1734-1816) had failed to comply with the emperor’s Continental System, a prohibition against British trade. In addition, the seizure of Portugal would fit neatly into Napoleon’s future designs against Spain.

Despite the Portuguese monarchy eventually acceding to most of Napoleon’s humiliating demands, an Imperial French corps under Jean-Andoche Junot(1771-1813) and Spanish military troops invaded the Kingdom of Portugal, resulting in the almost bloodless occupation of Portugal, as the royal family and leading nobility had decamped by Portuguese royal fleet (with the ‘support’ of the British Royal Navy) to Brazil. Just days before, a ‘secret convention’ had been signed in London between Portugal and Britain on the transfer to Brazil of the seat of the Portuguese monarchy and temporary occupation of Madeira Island by British troops.

The French occupation of Portugal came to an end the following year largely due to popular uprising in northwest Portugal, the loss of Spanish support of Napoleon in their own (Dos de Mayo, May 2) uprising, and British intervention in early August when General Sir Arthur Wellesley and 9,000 soldiers landed in Mondego Bay.

Meanwhile… (as our local press likes to say)..What was happening in Goa? The French had been eyeing Goa longingly for years, acknowledging it was “the only good port” on the Malabar coast, with by then “limited usefulness to the Portuguese, who have nothing but sepoys and monks there.” (Ministère des Affaires Étrangères Paris, Mémoires et Documents Indesorientale et Colonies françaises (1738-1784), Volume 7, fls 417v-418r).

It is no secret that Napoleon planned to attack India by sea; several strategies were contemplated, all of which saw the capture of Goa as an essential step. The British realised the strategic importance of Goa too, and Lord Richard Wellesley (1760-1842) upon arriving as British governor to India in 1798 immediately made several requests that the directors of the East India Company negotiate with Lisbon to cede the Estado to the British.

That year, two British warships the ‘Suffolk’ and the ‘Arrogant’ appeared in Goan waters and British forces occupied Cabo and the Aguada Fort.

Without waiting for clearance from London, (and lying to the Portuguese governor Francisco António da Veiga Cabral (1794-1807) that he had permission from both London and Lisbon), Wellesley sent a 1200-strong army into Goa, Daman and Diu on September 6, 1799. When word reached Lisbon, a furious regent Dom João demanded the territories be evacuated. Wellesley reluctantly complied in April 1802.

Within months, with the threat of war with France looming afresh, the English were back, in October 1802; this time they behaved as truly occupying forces, not as allies, well summarised by Goa’s president of the Supreme Court Diogo Vieira Tovar de Albuquerque: “Podemos dizer que somos mais presidiados do que defendidos pelos Ingleses” (“We can say we are more imprisoned by than protected by the English”).

Daman’s forest resources were denuded to supply Bombay’s shipyards, with nearly all of Nagar-Haveli deforested. While the vestige of English ‘occupation’ in Goa is a ‘presence’, (the war cemetery in Dona Paula), its residue in Daman and Diu is a ‘lack’: the disappearance of the Nagar-Haveli forest, and the lack of respect for Catholic churches in Diu respectively.

But a vestigial impact here, felt even today is the quantum leap in Goan outmigration, taking jobs in British possessions in the subcontinent and further afield, literally changing our collective fortune.

Ernestina Carreira in her illuminating book ‘Globalising Goa (1660-1820): Change and exchange in a former capital of empire’ speculates that the English ‘occupation’ of Goa was a means for them to gain access to Portugal’s by-then more precious dependency, Macau. China (and opium) had become the pillar of British trade in India, but the East India Company still had no concession of a port there. This is why Wellesley’s successor Lord Minto attempted to ‘protect’ Macau as well, in 1807, aware that neither Goa nor the regent (about to embark for Brazil!) would be able to react.

Goa and Madeira were returned to Portuguese sovereignty in 1813 and 1814 respectively. Nevertheless, in 1839, London was again offering to ‘buy’ Goa, Daman and Diu from Lisbon for £50,000!

When researching the ‘Lisboa não sejas francesa’ fado, I came across an interesting eponymous article in ‘Diário dos Noticias’ (2017) by Olivier Bonamici, who laments that “a new wave” of French are coming to Portugal, to escape the “Parisian mindset”, to benefit from Portugal’s milder tax laws but who also have helped revive the real estate market. But one from this “new wave” wanted to teach the Portuguese how to eat their bacalhau: fresh, not salted!

Bonamici reminds the reader that Portugal has ‘história’ and ‘tradições’, and its cuisine and language are under threat. He exhorts the “new wave” to respect the people, the language and the country that welcomes them. Everything cannot be sacrificed on the altar of tourism and money, certainly not one’s ‘identidade’ (identity).

He suggests it’s time to change the fado chorus from ‘Lisboa não sejas francesa’ to ‘Lisboa, sê portuguesa!’ (Lisbon, be Portuguese).

Sound familiar? Goa is inundated by its own “new wave”, and our own identity, language, cuisine (restaurants serving a variety of authentic Goan food can be counted on one hand), traditions, environment, are at stake. It is time to remind Goa to be Goan. Madragoa is a big step in this direction!

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