Friday, July 14, 2006

Konkani Christians

The Catholic community in Canara region is a sterling example of brave defense of Catholic faith and agile acculturation of Christianity in Indian soil.

Often called the Konkani Christians because of the language they use, the original community migrated from Goa during 1500-1763. Varied political, economic and cultural reasons led to the migration.

The Portuguese colonizers in Goa imposed excessive taxes on the native Christians. The taxes were so huge that in 1642 some native Goans sent a memorandum to Lisbon.

The Portuguese, in their efforts to keep Christian purity, insisted the converts should avoid anything that is Hindu. The Portuguese rulers also insisted the natives should adopt foreign food habits and dress. They also gave European names to the natives. But Konkani Christians wanted to preserve their language, culture and manners.

The "Edict of Goa Inquisition" could have also led to the migration. The edict wanted to remove all traces of paganism in the native Christians' birth, death, festivals and dress. It instilled fear and insecurity among the native Christians.

Some historians say better prospects for the agrarian community and greater political stability in the Canara region contributed to the migration.

As they settled happily, Konkani Catholics learnt Kannada and Tulu, the local dialects in Canara region. However, they fostered their love for their mother tongue Konkani. By 1763, they were organized into several communities of parishes and built up their own business.

The captivity

A historical event of great significance happened when South Canara came under the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan between 1761-1799.

Soon after the treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tipu Sultan issued orders to all stations in Kerala to seize the Christians, confiscate their estates and deport them to Seringapatnam.

The Konkani Christians of South Canara were caught in the crossfire of Anglo-Mysore relations and many of them suffered what the Konkani Christians call "the historical experience of Captivity" under Tipu Sultan.

Tipu committed several excess on the Christians and subjected them to inhuman misery, including death and torture.

The fourth Anglo-Mysore war led to the liberation of Christians from captivity after 15 years. The British took over South Canara after the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799.

Some 15,000 of the exiled Konkani Christians survived. British General Wellesley helped some 10,000 of them return to Canara and allowed them to resettle on their land. He also restored their land holdings.

The present Konkani Catholics in Canara are the descendents of those survivors.

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