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Goa In The Literary Imagination

Last Updated: 01 May '09

  Goa In The Literary Imagination

Nina Maria Caldeira
English Department
Goa University

Art borrows from experience and the creative experience gets branded on the creative mind finding shape in a creative form. The task of a creative writer is to stimulate in the reader a particular consciousness: political, historical, cultural, or otherwise and has a potential to represent either a microcosm or macrocosm of the past, present or future. Therefore, modes of cultural production, especially the literary, carries an infinite capacity to refer, to recollect, to reflect, to resonate, to even rectify. The creative process is determined by political, economic and cultural materialities and anticipates the reader's participation in unraveling inscriptions in the narrative. The impact of a literary text on the reader's mind is indisputable. A powerful novel Petals of Blood by Ngugi Wa Thiongo had to be banned on the grounds that it could evoke reactionary violence at any moment. Precisely in this sense, the history, polity and culture of Goa could best be seen through its literary imagination where facts pass through the prism of the writers' visions. Nonetheless, if history in modern times relies on oral narrations to provide the missing links or is even considered more authentic than traditional history by some historians, could literature be more reliable a source of information than mere documentary records? Whatever the case, as a signifying cultural practice it can arouse passions: of Oppression, of Nationalism, of Identity, or of Diaspora. Into this literary model this paper bases itself. It does not propose to give an eclectic catalogue of Goan writers writing in English but only those who are seminal.


The foremost in the colonial literature of Goa in English could well be said to be Francisco Luis Gomes who is credited to be the first novelist of Goa with his novel Os Brahmanas (1866) which was later translated in English as The Brahmans (1871). The novel is dedicated to Antonio Augusto Texeira de Vascocelos, the political editor of Gaxeta de Portugal. The novelist situates his novel not in Goa but in Northern India. Gomes was a member of the Parliament in Portuguese. Probably in placing the novel in North-India, Gomes did not wish to offend the Portuguese colonialists directly. Fired by Western romanticism and the spirit of liberalism, Gomes makes a plea for his own country but it remains at the level of a plea devoid of the resistance force of the later writers like Lambert Mascarenhas. In fact, Gomes enters into a love-hate relationship with the white forces rejecting while assimilating thereby representing the ambivalent position of the colonial subject dangling between two poles: Of Westernization and of Nativization. The Brahmans has for its theme the pacification of the proud Indian Brahmin who later turns out to be a thug and a follower of Goddess Kali with the intention of avenging himself on Robert who has insulted his pride.

The romantic fabula of The Brahmans was obviously influenced by the author's western education most notably by the French novelists Victor Hugo and Lamartine who were almost his models. Moreover, the novel had the western man in mind for its readership. "If, dear reader, you should go to India in this season, you will find in the squares and streets half-naked men, stretched beneath the shade of trees and enjoying the Dolce for niente."(p.53).

The novel ridicules the pretensions of the Brahmin caste with its emphasis on external rituals rather than practising it as a way of life as is suggested by the Vedas. The chapter called "The Purity of the Brahmins" reads as follows:

The hands of the pariah, if they touch the Brahman, imprint on the latter the indelible seal of hell; the blood of the cow, if sprinkled on his body, penetrates to the marrow of his bones. The purity of the Brahman is like the dewdrop hanging from a leaf: at the slightest touch, it vanishes forever. (p.20).

At the same time, the author debunks the class superiority of the whiteman. "The English in India travels like a Nawab. Twenty or thirty servants, ...four horses, eight dogs,...big bathing tubes...The country in India has peculiar and new features for Europeans."(p.111).

Os Brahmans is structured on the Western model of a novel and may not read like an indigenous novel of resistance. However, it has to be placed in its age. In the Goan context, Gomes is credited to have created the first sparks of consciousness of Nationalism.

Gomes however does not despise the white man and his civilization. His Nationalism seeks for Internationalism and wishes to borrow from Western civilization aspects, which would enrich his own country.

On the other hand, Lambert Mascarenhas' novel Sorrowing Lies My Land (1955) can be said to be representative of the anti-imperialist stance. Though based also during the colonial period almost at the end of the Portuguese regime, it foregrounds issues of Oppression, Representation and Identity. Mascarenhas, based in Bombay was fighting for the liberation of Goa from Bombay which had already come under the influence of the Swarajya movement. The militant voice of the author resonates in the protagonist of the text, Tobias Costa, hailing from landlord family and who despite the political and societal pressures, remains true to his ideology till the end of his life. The authorial intention is explicit when the narrator Felipe, the crippled son of Tobias closes his narration with the following words:

But I know one thing. And that is, some day when the foreign oppressor is driven away, these houses will be open again and be peopled, the fields will yield bounteously, this village and others like it, will be full of life again, and Goa, this land of my forefathers, which now lies sorrowing, will smile and be gay once more. When this happens, I shall perhaps not be here; but I shall be happy in the knowledge that those who will tread on my grave will be free men-free, as my father always wanted them to be.   (p.179)

In the national history of India, the history of Goa assumes a difference in being colonized by a different colonial force. Goa was lusitanized and not Anglicized and therefore, the history of Goa assumes a difference. The fact cannot be overlooked especially in the context of unraveling the complexity of the Goan cultural identity which being ruled by Portuguese colonialists assumes a distinct quality while being incorporated into the larger nation-state of India. At the same time it shares the colonial destiny of India in the sense that all forms of colonialism rests on similar machinery. Goa's nationalist upsurge in fact predates the upsurge of India at large with the first Pinto movement dating back to 1787 in the face of strident Portuguese laws.  The narrative of Sorrowing Lies My Land being written in the colonial space shares a generic similarity with the writers of Postcolonial writers in engaging in a counter discourse of resistance. Mascarenhas attempts to decolonize the Goan Imagination, to drill into him the fact that Goa existed always as part of the nation of India and not as a mere discovery of the Portuguese. "Sick indeed I am Emma: not sick with any physical ailment but sick to see our people so emasculated, so complacent, so devoid of self-respect and political consciousness...These damn Portuguese have so denationalized us that we may as well have no soul of our own." (p.60-67). Mascarenhas exploits the intimate relationship between husband and wife to project two attitudinal differences among the colonial subjects: the wife grateful for the colonial boons of the Christian religion and culture and the husband in a diametrically oppositional position questioning its legitimacy. The nationalist husband and the de-nationalized wife engage in an argument:

Do you want to know, Ema, what I really want?...Well, I want this land of my fathers to be free of this Portuguese pest, so that we Goans may rule it the way we choose.

And what does that mean Tob?

That means that I want the Portuguese, Do you want to know, Ema, what I really want?...Well, I want this land of my forefathers to be free of this Portuguese pest, so that we Goans may rule it the way we choose...   to leave us alone and go to their land, or to the Devil! That's what I want, Ema, and shall want until my dying day.

My mother sniggered and then exclaimed in derision: My, my, my, what a hope! Goans to rule themselves! Pffh! And what is it that you want to be, Tob, the Governor? Ha-ha-ha!...

Isn't it enough that the Goans are fighting among themselves exclaimed my mother, taunting. What kind of rule will that be, Tob, the Governor? Ha-ha -ha!

..You are a fool, Ema, a fool! Retorted my father angrily.  If Goan fight among themselves it is because the Portuguese want us to. That's the way of the Imperialists -divide and rule. Otherwise why did they retain our castes, though they made us Christians, if not to crate divisions amongst us? Can't you see, Ema, can't you see their game? (p.60)

While the wife tells the story of the emissary light of colonialism, the husband retells the same story in a deconstructive model. If Africa can represent its colonial history through Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Australia can boast of Allen Paten's, Cry the Beloved Country, the small state of Goa can certainly place before the Globe Sorrowing Lies My Land as an example of powerful texts of literary decolonization. Post colonialism does not simplistically refer to ‘after colonialism' as was spoken prior to 1970's. From 70's onwards, it deals with the effects of colonization on cultures and societies. Post colonialism begins with the very first moment of colonial contact. Colonialism as a phenomenon may have been extremely complex enveloping every strata of consciousness: political, social or cultural. But it is even more pronounced at an ideological level. If imperialism was constructed by an ideology commonly known as the White Man's Burden or the Civilizing Mission that ideology can certainly be deconstructed. Mascarenhas aims at such a deconstruction, what Bill Aschroft would call Writing back to the empire or Ashis Nandy would label Decolonizing the Imagination to write back to the Empire or to decolonize the Imagination.

Perhaps nowhere has the colonial strategies been more insidious and cryptic than in education. Education was a ‘massive cannon in the artillery of empire. Education is a domination of consent and creates a division between the material and discursive patterns of colonialism. In fact, nationalist sentiments are best drilled into school texts. Tobias remembers the knowledge that was imparted to him in his school days:

The books told us about rivers Tejo, Douro and Guadiana, and about the great provinces of Minho, Tras-os-Montes, Beiras, and the great cities of Lisboa, Porto, Coimbra and Setubal. According to our books, Portugal was the world and the world was Portugal, and if there were any other places existing they were not worth learning about. (p.28)

While the elite class was educated in Portuguese, the lower ranks were instructed in Konknni. Portuguese education was naturalized and legitimized to the detriment of the Konknni language. As the Goan professor instructs his students in the course of the text.' Konknni is not our language. It is..it is ..er never mind what. Our language is Portuguese and we must all speak it even in our homes. Do you understand?(p. 28) The game of linguistic control is evident in the way the school children were indoctrinated with slogans such as Aqui e Portugal and Viva Portugal. Clearly, language was used to  construct cultural hegemony.

Sorrowing lies my land represents the typical native intellectual claim to the pre-colonial culture. While Gomes' Os Brahmanas falls in the assimilationist phase, Sorrowing Lies My Land represents the nationalist phase. 


Very interesting to note here, is that the same author Lambert Mascarenhas writes about the post-independence disillusionment created on account of the gap between aspirations and achievements in his play The Greater Tragedy. It is an indictment of the moral bankruptcy of the politicians and red-tapism that afflicted Goa after liberation. Perhaps the tragedy was greater than the colonial one. The play is made more poignant with its subtitle "The Death of a Nationalist." It gives the political history of Goa's struggle for liberation in the person of the 78 yrs old Grandfather Manuel Antonio Fernandes who dies as he cannot endure the picture of Goa that Aniceto narrates to him. The play begins with the grandfather trying to answer the grandson's question. The question determines the analysis of the entire political text. "Is not quality of life very important, more important than bridges, roads and industries, and the loss of that quality brought about by Liberation is it not a greater tragedy?" The reader is left in suspense as to the nature of the question and Grandpa dies without answering, without suggesting remedies. The reader is left to choose his own course. The play is meant at the same time, as the author says in the Preface, "to record the names of many nationalists and freedom fighters who have remained unknown and unsung" and to whom the writer wishes to pay his humble tributes.

The Goan is an identity apart in the historico-cultural map of India. Each and every aspect of the Goan life is a product of its genetic inheritance. Having along history of several dynasties, namely the Satavahanas, the Bhojas, the Chalukyas of Badami, the Rashtrakootas, the Shilaharas, the Kadambas, the Vijayanagaras, it finally became a colony of the Portuguese in 1510. All the dynasties have left their imprint on the territory. Passing through the Portuguese rule, it acquired a blend effect to produce an Indo-Portuguese culture. 450 yrs. of Portuguese rule over the essentially Pan-Indic Goa created a model of synthesis in Goan Identity.

Goa won its independence in 1961. The major event that affected the political and cultural destiny of Goa was the Opinion Poll fought between two groups, the Maharashtra Gomantak Party asking for merger of Goa with Maharashtra and the opposing groups called the United Goan Party demanding for a separate Union Territory of Goa. In the election the United Goan party emerged victorious thereby marking the first step toward Goan separate identity. Goa was granted statehood on 31 May, 1987, with Konknni as its official language. The language issue was again fought by two opposing groups; the Konknni Bhasha Mandal demanding for Konknni language to be declared the official language of Goa and the Marathi activists demanding Marathi to be declared the official language. When the official language Bill making Konknni the exclusive official language of Goa was passed, the first blow for the preservation of the Goan Identity was struck.

Search for identity is an irrepressible and irrevocable aspect of a creative artist. It would be even more pronounced on Goan writers whose primary responsibility is to dishevel the many misleading myths constructed about Goa. Goan identity became particularly problematic during the transition period with some Goans welcoming its liberation and other old die-hards craving for good old Portuguese days. To address Goan identity, therefore necessitates deep insights into its composite culture. In a passionate quest for self-discovery and self-actualization, Carmo D'Souza has attempted to map Goan Identity in his fictional narrative Angela's Goan Identity.  The title itself is suggestive of the theme of transition, signified in the change of name of the character: from Angela to Anjali to Anjinha. The novel traces the dissolution of the feudal system and strict adherence to caste system with the character Rajendra's marriage with the Dutch girl Merlin, Shakuntala's with the Keralite Prof. Joseph, Indira's with the fisherwoman's grandson Dr. Merwyn, Angela's with the Sikh Milka.


There is a word in Portuguese for which there in no English equivalent...It is Loss, Yearning, Nostalgia, Bitter-Sweetness all at once. The word is Saudade. (Skin, p.10)

Margaret Mascarenhas' novel Skin winds up on a note of diasporic sensibility as the woman in the novel, Saudade, ponders over her daughter who is born in Paris, born of Saudade, a woman of African pedigree and of Leandro, her Goan master. The daughter is therefore a veritable blend of cultures, "a living bridge between races, between continents, between the physical plane and that of the spirit.  She was the perfect conduit between the old ways and the new. A cultural hybrid who would fit anywhere and nowhere, forever suspended between worlds. Her liquid green cat eyes were the eyes of a dream traveller. I know, because I am one myself." (Skin, p. 254)

Victor Rangel Rebeiro, Peter Nazareth, Margaret Mascarenhas represent diasporic literature of Goa.

Like all emigrants Goan diaspora carry their cultural baggage with them and feel intensely nostalgic about their homeland. Another dominant reason for diasporic writing is representation, to create space and new references not merely in the new land but on the globe at large. Such writing helps the emigrant writer establish his roots.  Victor Rangel Rebeiro's Tivolem 1998) is situated between the years 1933 to 1964. Rebeiro writes very self-consciously about his traditional roots leading the reader on a tour to Goa, recreating a faithful picture of its village life of yesteryears. It can be described as a memoir, conceptualized and remembered by the writer. Abounding in legends and folklore, it is poetic-prose par excellence. Unlike Skin, the locale of the novel does not shift from Tivolem.  The narrative centers around four repatriates: Marie-Santana returning from Portuguese Africa, Simon Fernandes returning from Kuala Lumpur, Senhor Eusebio returning from the Gulf and Teodosio from Africa. However, the main character of the novel is the village Tivolem itself, giving the text a regional and local flavor. The narrative engages the reader in the beauty of language. Tivolem represents the earlier phase of Goan diaspora when Goans migrated mostly to Africa and then to Gulf, Skin represents the second generation of Goan diaspora. Skin engages itself with reclaiming genealogy. Reconstructing family roots makes the protagonist of Skin Pagan to realize that skin is a superimposition of many skins: Brown, Black and White. Born of a Goan father and an American mother, Pagan typifies a cultural hybrid. As Pagan explains to her boyfriend Xico, it was not America that was her problem but "the problem is me; in my inability as a cross-cultural hybrid to figure out where I belong."

Pagan returns to Goa to discover the superimpositions of so many ‘skins' within a skin the "Mitochondria in DNA-the key to unlocking our collective memory."(p.246). The protagonist of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children thinks of himself as "fathered by history" (118) and "handcuffed to history."(p.420). So is Pagan haunted by history, trying to find herself in the historical role. However, the history that Pagan reconstructs is fragmented one told by different story-tellers. The art of the novel remains on multi-levels of story-telling, on many levels of reality.

Works cited:

Gomes, Francisco Luis. 1971. The Brahmans. Bombay: Sindhu Publications

Mascarenhas, Lambert. 1970. Sorrowing Lies My Land. Panjim: Goa Publications.

Mascarenhas, Lambert. 1988. The Greater Tragedy. Goa: Lamas Publications.

D'Souza Carmo.  1994. Angela's Goan Identity.

Rebeiro, Victor Rangel. 1998. Tivolem. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

Mascarenhas, Margaret. 2001. Skin. New Delhi: Penguin Books.


Suggested Readings:

Morton, Desmond. . 2001. A Short History of Canada. Toronto: Hurting Publishers

Arun Mukherjee. 1994. Oppositional Aesthetics : Reading from a Hyphenated Space. Toronto: TSAR,

Hutcheon,  Linda. 1988. The Canadian Postmodern: A Study of Contemporary English-Canadian Fiction. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

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