Sunday, June 18, 2006

Of Aldona, Siolim, Anjuna and Morjim... circa 1877

By Frederick Noronha

Would you believe that in 1877, there were as many as 8988 people living in Aldona? Or that Siolim had 9604 residents,and Anjuna, 8508? Even Morjim had a rather significantpopulation of 3853 at that time.On the other hand, villages like Ambeacho-Goval in Sattaritaluka had barely 12 persons living there. But that was 1877,at a time when the estimated number of Goans living abroadwas just 34,557.Trivia? These loose and seemingly unconnected facts pop outat us from the dusty pages of history stored an interestingyet little-visited library at Alto-Porvorim. If you chanceupon the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, you stand thechance of unravelling a lot of secrets of yesterday's life inGoa.For instance, details about how migration affected this smallstate. Of how the comunidades were run. Or, how valuedgoldsmiths from Goa were even in the early sixteenth centuryPortugal.On one of the well-maintained shelves, one can page throughoriginal copies of the first newspaper to be published fromGoa. Gazeta de Goa was brought out in 1821, and listspolitical and other "news" across its now-fragile pages. Onebrief item reports on the war between Russia and Turkey,giving a hint of what readers in Goa got to read in thosedays.One also comes across facts which everyone seems to haveforgotten about the Goa of the yesterdays."Indian goldsmithery was considered to be of a very highorder. The Portuguese were fascinated by it," points outlibrarian Ms. D'Souza. She points to a book called TheHeritage of Rauluchatim. Raulu Chatim was a goldsmithwho went to Lisbon to display his art in the early'sixteenth century, and this book was written only in1996 by the son of Goa's last Portuguese Governor-General.On other shelves of this library, one can learn a whole vastamoung of interesting tid-bits about Goa. For instance, youcould check out the number of persons -- single, married orwidowed -- in the villages of Assolna, Benaulim or Betalbatimin the year 1881.There's a very useful tide-table, using which one candetermine the high and low-tides simply by looking at thephases of the moons. Similarly, in those days when natureruled, there is a full year's of information about thesunrise and sunset timings.Goan and Portuguese authors also took some pains in trying tounderstand the significance of Hindu festivals, both regionaland national. Maybe one might find the spellings used todescribe these festivals rather quaint today --Makarsakranti, Mahashivratri, Shimga, Vorshpratipad, RamNavam....Looking through some other books, one could get aninteresting collection of information. It might seem like tit-bits of trivia, but surely meant a lot in those days.Even today, this information could give an insight into thelives and times that our grandparents went through.Take for instance, the details about the functioning of theBombay Tramway Co. Ltd. Its speed was restricted to six miles per hour, and five miles per hour in the Abdul RehmanStreet. Ticket rates are published, from Sassoon Dock toParel via the Portuguese Church and Grant Road.There are long lists of rules governing the functioning ofthe comunidades. One can find out statistics about what was then called the West of India Portuguese Railway (now part ofthe South Central Railway). Even the teachers who taught atvillage schools were listed -- obviously there were only a handful, in those days when literacy was something only a fewcould attain.It is interesting to see the manner in which migration out ofthis state was slowly taking root. For instance, in the latenineteenth century itself, there were a number of "clubs" setup by people from Goa across the country.Some examples from Bombay: the Club Lusitano da AssociacaoDramatica on Picket Road, Goa National Dramatic Company onGirgaum Road, the Indo-Portuguese Cricket Club of Bombay, theInstituto Luso-Indiano at Agyari Street and the Instituto deSto. Antonio (the old Anglo-Portuguese School).In Calcutta, one comes across the St. Anthony's Girls School,and there's the Goa Portuguese Association at Karachialongwith the Goa Portuguese Association Cricket Club. Thereare many other clubs and institutions in Pune and even aninstitution called the Goan Death Benefit Association!Goa-linked commercial firms are also listed in destinationsas remote as Ahmedabad, Amravati, Baroda, Bellary, Bhusawal,Bombay, Calcutta, "Cawnpur" (Kanpur), and Karachi. In thatearly age itself, Goans seem to have got involved in a numberof various commercial firms -- ranging from printing works to tailoring, philately, Catholic religious books, wines,pharmacies and handling passenger baggage.Quadrille Band Suppliers of Calcutta had the distinction of being listed along with a hint of its patrons in high places.It goes down as an "estabelecimento musical fundado em 1865,sob o distincto patrocinio de sua excia. o vicerei da India e de sua alteza of governador da Bengala".XCHR's book collection has been steadily growing. From 1993to 1995, for instance, it grew from 13,000 to 16,000. You can see from the above that one doesn't need to be a historian to appreciate the useful facts that emerge from its library andtreasure-house of past information.Besides its many books, XCHR has rare atlases, maps,dissertations and bibliographies, newspapers clippingsand some 200 cyclostyled volumes of government reportsand seminar papers. It also has photocopies ofinaccessible documents and articles.XCHR also houses around 200,000 Mhamai House documents. (Inthe eighteenth century, the Mhamais were engaged in businessat Old Goa, before they shifted to Panjim in 1759. They weretobacco revenue farmers, but faced bankruptcy in 1818.Besides other activities, they ran an agency house for theFrench, and counted the state shipyard as one of their clients.) It has received donations of books from as far apart as Lisbon, Porvorim, Delhi, Candolim, Margao, US,Anjuna and England.Computer printouts of the indexes of XCHR are available,while there is also a microfilm reader on hand. In keepingwith the wealth of information this centre contains, even theprestigious US Library of Congress has evinced interest inits information.It's another fact that people from in and around Goa have nottaken full benefit of this useful collection. But scholarslike Prof. Philomena Antony of Chowgule College haveundertaken interesting work -- for example, on the relationsbetween colonial Brazil and colonial Goa -- through thiscentre.Some other interesting exhibits have also found their way tothis centre. For instance, the family of the late Dr. Manuel F. de Albuquerque of Anjuna, gave a quaint gift to the XCHR.Dr. de Albuquerque was the personal physician to the former Sultan of Zanzibar. His family donated to the centre's museumthree swords, including the golden sword won by the Goan doctor for his discovery and combat of the bubonic plague in distant Africa in 1903! [This article was written some years back, and is being recirculated.The writer is a Goa-based independent journalist.]

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