Goa churches to preserve historical artefacts

Slowly but surely, Goa is waking up to its rich Portuguese cultural heritage.

After years of lying in various Churches across Goa, Portuguese era artefacts will now be given a new lease of life by Archdiocese of Goa, which is even thinking of creating ‘museums in each of the churches’. Goa’s Catholic Church has decided that the Christian heritage artefacts need to be preserved by forming special heritage cells, that would be manned by experts.

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao recently told a gathering near Panaji that every parish (village level community) must take care of the age-old articles lying in the churches. This heritage needs to be “protected, preserved and conserved” in the form of museum, he said. “If needed it should be restored so that it can be passed on to the next generation,” Ferrao said.

The Archbishop of Goa has said that the “absence of (heritage) professionals could be disastrous for the protection and restoration of these artefacts.” “The church is not primarily a custodian of art and architecture. The mission of the church is fundamentally spiritual. A mighty outpouring of human artistic creativity entire to the glory and worship of God has resulted in the Church becoming, defacto, the custodian of immense treasure of culture and artistic heritage,” he added.

After decades of trying to underplay its Portuguese roots, the Catholic Church in Goa seems to be finally waking up and acknowledging its history and heritage.

Not only should these Portuguese era artefacts be used to make the Goan Catholics proud of their heritage, they should also be used to start an intercultural and interfaith dialogue with other cultures and religions based on mutual respect and admiration. By better understanding their own and other cultures, Goa’s multicultural population will be better equipped to live in peace and harmony with one another.

Goa’s colonial history rediscovered

Like with most colonial – native relationships, Goa has always seemed to have had a love – hate relationship with Portugal. Goa, once a Portuguese colony, was ruled over by Portugal for over 400 years. And in a sense, Goa’s Portuguese colonial history has made Goa what it is today. 

But as a new generation grows up in Goa today, more familiar with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo as Portuguese heros rather than the old Portuguese rulers of Goa, Goa’s relationship with Portugal and everything Portuguese seems to be changing. Suddenly, everything described in Goa as “colonial,” “Portuguese” and “Latin” and suddently, Goa’s colonial history seems to have become an integral and intrinsic part of Goa’s “identity”. 

When compared to other colonial relationships in the region, especially “India’s” relationship with Great Britain, this is only common. The old guard – the freedom fighters who fought against the Portuguese or those Goan citizens who suffered under the 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule – are either dead or too old to retain their prominence and importance. Today, it is the youth of Goa that has grown up watching Cristiano Ronaldo or Luis Figo on television that determine what is cool and what’s not. In “colonial theory”, the longer the time gap since the end of colonial rule, the more positive the recollections of the colonial era are. There was a recent uproar in India when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at his alma mater Oxford University, said in a speech that Britain’s rule over India was not all that bad. And although this raised quite a few heckles among some parts of the population in India, most youngsters (eager to gain a British degree or fans of Manchester United for example) tended to agree. And Goa’s youth seems to be going the same way. 

One important area where the rise of Portugal’s popularity can be seen is in its language – Portuguese. Till 1995 or so, only a few students learnt Portuguese in Goan schools. Despite the efforts of the Indo-Portuguese Friendship Society and the Fundação Oriente promoting Portuguese in schools and colleges, most young Goans saw Portuguese as a language of the past and one that was more associated with one’s grandparents rather than one’s peers. This attitude towards Portuguese has changed dramatically over the last few years with University and private Portuguese language courses springing up like mushrooms all over Goa. Despite Portugal’s poor economic state, the youth of Goa today hope that learning Portuguese will increase their career prospects, especially with the emerging Portuguese-speaking economies of Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. Brazil, one of the BRIC countries and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, is suddenly now on the lookout for talented, Portuguese and English speaking employees – a gap that Goa is happy to fill. 

Tourism seems to be another area in which Goa’s colonial history is seeing a renaissance. 

Tourist brochures are full of “old colonial houses” providing an old world experience to tourists, who are looking for more than the usual sun and sand of Goa’s world renowned beaches. 

The “Latin Quarter” of Fontainhas – home to my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay – is also experiencing a revival of sorts. As more tourists learn about Goa’s rich cultural and colonial heritage, they seem eager to experience it first hand. Unlike the regular half-day bus tours to Old Goa and the Church of Francis Xavier that resemble cattle transport rather than tourist providers, many tourists now want to spend a few days simply walking around the quaint bye lanes of Fontainhas and soaking up the Latin atmosphere, rather than competing with the throngs of tourists in Old Goa or the beaches of Anjuna – Baga. 

While there remains lots to be done in the area of Heritage Tourism Communication – the topic of my PhD thesis in Salzburg, Austria – recognising the importance of Goa’s colonial history and heritage is the first and most important step in this direction.