The Tulsi and the Cross (Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter in Goa)

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Item Code: NAG483
Author: Rosa Maria Perez
Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788192304601
Pages: 208 (1 Map)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This book is the outcome of the author's long-term fieldwork in Goa and seeks to bridge the gaps in the anthropological research in this state of India. The existing research, essentially historical, tends to consider Goa as Catholic, Portuguese- speaking and framed by Portuguese cultural references. The author offers an ethnographic approach to the understanding of the colonial encounter and of colonialism. Her ethnographical research shows that Goa is, and was, dominantly Hindu and the perception of Goan society as essentially fragmented is a colonial imposition. The author takes into account indigenous views, with special focus on a group of devadasis of a Hindu temple. Through them the author aims to dismantle both the stereotypes staged by Portuguese colonialism and an essentialist and Eurocentric view of the caste system in India.

About the Author

Rosa Maria Perez is Professor of Anthropology at ISCTE-Lisbon University Institute. Over the past ten years she has been a regular Visiting Professor at Brown University, USA. She is a consultant at the European Science Foundation and the European Commission, and a Member of the Scientific Council of the European Association for South Asian Studies. Among her recent books in English are Kings and Untouchables : A Study of the Caste System in Western India (Delhi 2004) and Mirrors of the Empire:

Towards a Debate on Portuguese Colonialism and Postcolonialism (Lisbon, 2002).


This book is the result of my long-term fieldwork in Goa. It is a committed attempt to break away from the dominant perspective in Portuguese social sciences, which I once called "Lusocentric" (perez 1994). Indeed, the existing research, essentially historical, tends to consider Goa as Catholic, Portuguese-speaking and framed by Portuguese cultural references. Marked by a nationalist tendency, this perspective produced a recurrent syllogism: the idea that India is Goa, Daman, and Diu. The fact that they constitute only a small part of the vast cultural fabric of India was only a minor detail'.

The lack of systematic ethnographical research favored the reiteration of stereotypes that chose to ignore that Goa is dominantly Hindu (as it has always been, even in the more "golden periods" of conversion to Catholicism) and that Goan Hinduism merges into a larger Indian background prior to the Portuguese rule of the territory and subsequent to its end.

This Indianess existed in Goa all through the centuries and brought Hindus and Catholics together in the project of a non-Portuguese Goa and, after Goa's integration in India, in the defense by Catholics of Konkani as the language of the state (cf. infra, chap. 5)3. When Portuguese lost to Konkani its status as the official language of public administration, its role as a social tool was tarnished and its appeal was gradually transferred to English. Indeed, Portuguese has been substituted by English, spoken by the new generations whose first names are also frequently English, constituting a symbol of the transition of Goa in the aftermath of Portuguese colonialism to a globalised and anglicized India".

In this book, I will try to dismiss the two main views that have frequently been imposed on the analysis of Goan society: its fragmentation (conveying partial perspective both of Catholic and Hindu communities, as well as of Goa itself) and an excessive emphasis on its historical past, neglecting its present as a part of India and of the world.

Obviously, the past is a distant place and, therefore, subject to nostalgia and forgetfulness. From this point of view, Goa is not unique among the places once colonized by European powers. If we look at a larger and more diverse ethnographic database, it is not difficult to see a process that, although having distinct elements, obeys the same logic: the use of the past as an identifying tool through narratives which are frequently used for social construction or cohesion, recombining their constitutive elements into contemporary stories, embracing competing ideas and reconfiguring the past or articulating a new past built-in for the demands of the present (see Walton 2001)5. These narratives hold a central place in the interpretation and negotiation of strategies for the community, of its perception by itself and its intelligibility to others. Simultaneously, the choice of a specific narrative reflects the political situation and the social structure of certain groups (Hinchman & Hinchman 1997).

To a large extent, the narratives of the dominant groups tend to be privileged and hegemonic, even if they are not consensual or uniformly shared. Bruner proposed that we consider a double dominant narrative in the anthropological research, the one of the observer and the one of the dominant groups observed (Bruner 1986). This double narrative has determined, as I suggested in another book, the historical representations of Goa (perez 2005), as it has also determined the dominant anthropological perspective on India, which is decidedly brahmanocentric and which neglects the view from below, from the margins and the non-dominant practices (see Perez 2004) - that I will try to make perceptible through my fieldwork among the devadasis of a Hindu temple.

Portuguese colonialism in India had sought its ideological legitimacy in the narrative of Goa Dourada (Golden Goa), i.e., the idealization of a well-ordered society without tensions or noticeable ruptures between individuals and groups, converted, in theory, to the values of equality of Christianity and incompatible with the Hindu social stratification. As I argued in an earlier work, the representation of Goa Dourada surfaced whenever Portuguese colonialism foresaw a crisis arising from local (and, later on, international) contestation of its rule; it was manipulated by the Portuguese rulers as part of the myth of a "Rome of the East," another designation commonly given to Goa (perez 2006, chap. 5; see infra, chap. 1).

Goa Dourada had more effective repercussions among the Catholic elite, which found the idea of the Goa Indica, endorsed by the other groups, alien, even though, as we shall see, these categories cannot be regarded as mutually exclusive. Interestingly, as I will try to show in some passages in the present work (see infra, chaps. 1 and 5), these representations turned out to cement individuals and groups in post- colonial Goa and they would be prone to political manipulation once more, this time by the Indian government trying to make the most of the exoticism springing from Goa's Portuguese past. Goa in India: cosmopolitan futures

A number of recently published works (Vertovec and Cohen 2000, Beck 2006, Robinson 2007, Werbner 2008) and new research centers have began taking cosmopolitanism as a focal point for academic studies. At this incipient stage of anthropological writing on "cosmopolitanism," the underlying issue is to evaluate the extent to which it offers something original to the wider debates, distinct from previous concepts such as "multiculturalism," "globalism," "migration," "transnationalism," "pluralism".

Hence, I am not referring to a Goan "cosmopolitanism" in order to reshape a modernized anthropological agenda; rather, I adopt Beck's premise that the human condition has itself become cosmopolitan (Beck 2006) 6. Such cosmopolitanism - which we cannot separate from its socio-political conditions, namely the development of modern technologies of information and communication - had already existed in Goa prior to its contemporary anthropological expression. In effect, from early times Goans used the intercontinental networks of the Portuguese empire as means to circulate, both to other colonies (mainly through the channels of the colonial administration, commerce, medicine and law) and to Portugal. Regardless of the cultural confinement promoted by the Estado Novo , Goans shared the colonial and metropolitan spaces and were part of its wider social web, more precisely of the metropolitan elite where Goan doctors and lawyers were known for their excellence.

The history of Portuguese colonialism in India has abundant references to dramatic exiles and displacements either because of the political suppression of those who opposed the colonial regime or on account of the economic recession in the first decades of the 20th century. However, there is another history yet to be told by Hindus and Catholics whose life stories occurred either in other European countries or in the United States of America, where they took different academic and professional degrees and where Portugal was the place of memories of academic life and professional experience, of friendship and sometimes of love affairs. These Goans took Goa to the world and the world to Goa, their lives allow us to accept the recent definition of cosmopolitanism offered by Pnina Werbner:

At its most basic, cosmopolitanism is about reaching out across cultural differences through dialogue, aesthetic enjoyment, and respect; of living together with difference. ( ... ) it must ultimately be understood not merely as individual, but as collective, relational and thus historically located. (Werbner 2008:2).


Note on Transliterationviii
1The Happy Empire: Representations of Portuguese Colonialism in India10
2The Power of Status: Caste, Class, and Other
3Dancing for the Gods: Ritual and Gender in a
Hindu Temple of Goa60
4Elective Communities: Hinduism and Catholicism in Goa84
5Nation and Nostalgia: Women, Land, and Literature110
Epilogue: Bridges to Other Shores132

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