Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Olivinho Gomes on Pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa

From 26 August 2012, Goa:

Olivinho Gomes. Konkani Literature in Roman Script: A History. Panaji: Dalgado Konknni Akademi, 2010.
“The arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in 1510 and the activities of evangelization / proselytization of their missionaries that came in its wake, in which language played naturally a major part, marks a watershed of great importance in the creation of a distinctively Christian literature of excellence in it. But theirs was not the first introduction of Christianity into Goa, as had been believed for long. For a tradition did exist here that St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, had brought and spread the Gospel in the Konkan region including God, in western India, as another of the Apostles, St. Thomas, had done in Kerala and Tamilnadu in the southern part of it.
“However, while the latter’s apostolate not only survived but thrived in southern India and established itself on a sound footing, the former’s did not succeed in striking roots strong enough to survive the onslaught inflicted on it later by other interests, religious and political. The result was that its existence and influence had waned considerably to the extent of its deterioration and merger with local Hindu cults to its ultimate conversion of Berthalameu in the Portuguese of the time [[but is this relevant, when we are talking about pre-Portuguese Christianity?]] to Betal, the homophonous Hindu god of fertility, and its virtual disappearance at the time of the Portuguese advent.
“However, their conqueror, Afonso de Albuquerque, mentions in his letters to the then reigning King Manuel I of Portugal, that he found in the excavations carried out in the fort of Banastarim that encircled and fortified the city of God, which he was repairing after his conquest of it, several crosses and an altarpiece with an engraved image of Lord Jesus Christ. This find was corroborated and reinforced by him by more blue and black crosses he stumbled upon on the Anjediva island off Karwar. [[This is new, but the references?]]
The residue of Christianity that survived in patches, however, brought about a very strong strain of devotion to the Cross and the Virgin Mary, the latter syncretically blended with the Mother Goddess of the local autochtonous [sic] culture. This in course of time seeped into the folk beliefs of the rural population of the area, giving a vigorous fillip to the composition of devotional poetry and music at the lowest rungs of the society. These compositions are thoroughly indigenous and do not display any Portuguese influence in the matter of their lexis, but have more of a Biblical flavor reminiscent of the early Christians of the first century, [[which would these compositions be?]] when Bartholomew preached in the Konkan, as attested in the hagiographic Passio Bartholomei and whose suffering and martyrdom is reflected in its raw and harrowing depiction in Vonvallyanco Mollo (1658-59), the massive five-tomed Konkani magnum opus of the Portuguese Jesuit Miguel de Almeida.” [Gomes 9-10]
Jesse-chi Talli, tum ge
Zolmoli aiz,
Tum Jezu-chi mata Mori,
Ankvar niz.
Davidachi gofinn tum ge,
Hatiar Golia-chem,
Sins kaplem tuvem
Moizeci betkantti tum ge.
Boli Kristanvancem.
Tem xar ibaddleim tuvem
Faravya rayacem.
Voikunttachem zhadd tum ge,
Foll am’rutachem;
Jivit rakhleim tuvem
Mon’xeakullacem. [Gomes 11-12.]
Santa Khursa,
Mornnachya tum polonga,
Ami somest loku,
Nomoskar kortanv tuka. [Gomes 12.]
“But they do not seem to have any religious sanction behind them and are not normally sung within the precincts of a church or a chapel.” [Gomes 13.]

Some other points gathered from Olivinho Gomes:

The earliest script in which Konkani is written is Kandvi – akin to but different from the Kannada of its onetime rulers. [Gomes xv.]

First European traveler to Goa, after its conquest by the Portuguese, is Tome Pires, himself Portuguese. Pires made notes of his travels in the East (1512-15). He indicates Konkani as quite distinct from Deccani or Marathi north of the Kharepattan river, and Kannada on the east and south. [Gomes 1-2.]

The King of Portugal present a printing press to Matheus, envoy of Ethiopia, “to be delivered to its famous Prester John, the / legendary Christian king in the East, with whom the Portuguese wished to establish contact as an ally in their political and religious designs in the region”. [2-3.] This press landed in Goa, as was the custom for all things destined for other areas, and from there was dispatched to the king through the Red Sea route. [[remember that there was no Suez Canal!]] The ship was caught in a storm and had to return to Goa. It was then thought that this was God’s will, and was installed in Goa, in September 1556. In the College of St Paul, just taken over by the Jesuits and named from the Seminary of the Holy Faith started by the Francicans Miguel Vaz and Diogo de Borba. Its first printer, a Spaniard called Juan Bustamente. Started operations in the Roamn script for which he had the fonts and types ready. [Gomes 2-3.]

First books: Francisco Cabral, Conclusoes de Logica, 1556. Manuel Teixeira, Conclusoes de Filosofia, 1556. [Gomes 3.]

Third: Andre Vaz [probably], Doutrina Christam [in Konkani, Roman script]. Vaz was a senior Goan seminarian, a Ksatriya / Chaddhi / Chardo ‘gaunkar’ from Kormbolli (Carambolim), later the first Goan Catholic priest, ordained in 1558. Based on the popular catechism of Marcos Jorge, then popular in Europe and known to the clergy in Goa. Adapted to the needs of his Goan parishioners. [3-4.] This is the first printed book in any language in India, and that in Konkani. [4.] So popular that it was reprinted in 1560, “as reported in the chronicles of the period.” Unfortunately no copy has survived “the fierce onslaught on these religious Orders that was decreed by several Portuguese governments, notably in 1758 on the Jesuits and later on all other religious Orders in J.A. Aguiar’s infamous mata-frades (priests’-killer) decree of 1834, and the sheer neglect and indifference that it was subjected to by later generations of the missionaries and apathy from its own people oppressed by a self-depression.” [Gomes 4.]

Andre Vaz was also credited with the first draft grammar of Konkani, on the basis of which he taught the foreign priests. [Gomes 4.]

1 comment:

  1. Interesting reading just after the write up on Dalit Christians and their plight by Rowena Robinson, the niece of George Soares Prabhu.

    The claim needs to be revived, substantiated and brought to limelight.