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.]

Pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa

25 August 2012, Goa. The visit to Fr Almir at Grace Church, Chorao, near the Madel Ferry to Ribandar, was extremely interesting. Julian had been mentioning the existence of a Seminary in Chorao, but I had never ever heard of such a thing, so I discounted it straightaway. What a surprise to find a drawing of a magnificent seminary precisely at Chorao, hanging in the little sitting room of Grace Church Rectory. Fr Almiro said that the ruins were still visible, but that the property, which belonged to a Christian bhatcar now, was filled with Hindu tenants who were naturally unwilling to leave. The bhatcar seems to have some intention of returning the property to the Jesuits, to whom it had originally belonged. Probably because of the plague, the seminary was eventually shifted to St Paul’s in Old Goa. Eventually that seminary or college also fell into ruin.

Another interesting piece of conversation with Fr Almir was about pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa. There is a huge church of St Bartholomew in Chorao, overlooking one of the inlets of the Mandovi, and facing the Pomburpa church. The Chorao Seminary was also facing the river, as is evident from the drawing. Fr Almiro was very enlightening on this point: he said the main mode of transportation in those days was water, and so naturally the biggest and richest houses faced the river, as also the churches and seminaries. Chorao was the abode of the fidalgos, until the plague, and of rich Christian bhatcars. There were almost no Hindus at the time, according to him, and no Muslims at all. (He did not seem to have heard of the old temple near the Divar ferry in Chorao, however.)

So back to Bartholomew and pre-Portuguese Christianity in Goa: Fr Almiro said he believed this was true. When the Portuguese came, they found local Christians dating from Bartholomew and Thomas. They accepted them but destroyed all traces of their pre-Portugese Christianity. Unfortunately, Bartholomew had degenerated into Betal. The Portuguese heaped ridicule on Betal, which is why the familiar ditty:
Nagdo Betaro, xetan bhounvtalo
Xetcarachem mut pieun ghara ietalo.
I remembered this ditty from childhood days, but I had always heard it as “nagdo petaro”. It would seem the right thing is Betaro, or Betal or Vetal.

Despite this, there is indeed a church to St Bartholomew on the island, and it must count as one of the oldest churches in Goa, seeing that the Portuguese first settled on the islands, Ilhas. There is of course another one in Betal-batim in South Goa, or at least a famous altar to St Bartholomew, which, according to a recent editorial in the Herald, the locals still refer to as Betal or Sao Betal. And then the Aldona Church is dedicated to St Thomas.

The interesting thing is that Fr Almiro knew H.O. Mascarenhas, and had even met him in Madras in the old days, and it was from Mascarenhas that he learnt all these things.

He did not seem to know that St Francis Xavier, a few months after landing in Goa, wrote to Ignatius or to Rome speaking about the great devotion of the Goans to St Thomas, and asking for the possibility of celebrating the feast on 3 July…. Cosme Costa concludes that this devotion must antedate the Portuguese presence.

In addition, there is the fact of the surname Nazareth in Vaddem and around. Nazareth is not a Portuguese form, but an Anglicised form – of what? Probably Nozru – I remember Longinus Nazareth telling me that the old ladies of Vaddem would call him Nozrucho put, or Nordrucho put. Nozru – very close to Nasrani, which is the way Christians are still referred to in the Arabic speaking world.

And then the discovery of the St Thomas cross by Cosme Costa near Agacaim.

Person and relation

9 August 2012, Nashik: Joaquim D'Souza said something about my question, Is relation part of the definition of person and why not. He gave me a book: Edoard-Henri Weber, Le Christ selon Saint Thomas d’Aquin. Sounds suspiciously like Pickstock and Blanchette who I criticized in my Arthos review. So perhaps Thomas is more complex than I imagine, and I need to be careful not to absolutize Lonergan’s interpretation. Lonergan may be right; but there may be more.