Goa, India Loses Colonial Legacy 60 Years After Portuguese Rule | Arts and culture news


Lorraine Alberto teaches the Portuguese language at the University of Goa, but students are rare in this former colony.

Across Goa, a small coastal state once ruled by Lisbon, there is little appetite for the territory’s 450-year European heritage.

Crumbling colonial houses and the growing cultural dominance of Bollywood portend the disappearance of local history in a place where speaking Portuguese was once a passport to status and power.

Tourists at the Basilica of Bom Jesus before the start of a procession carrying the remains of Saint Francis Xavier in Goa [File: Punit Paranjpe/AFP]

“My children don’t speak it at all,” Alberto told AFP news agency. “They just don’t see the point in learning it.”

Those who lived in 1961, when Indian troops entered Goa and incorporated it into the rest of the country, remember an overnight transformation.

India’s exit from the British Empire in 1947 prompted many Goans to demand an end to Portuguese rule, but few expected so much to change so quickly.

“It was a very strange feeling… The changes came so quickly,” said Honorato Velho, a retired school principal.

Lorraine Alberto, professor of Portuguese at the University of Goa, speaks to her students during an online course [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

The 78-year-old, who once lived next door to Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s grandfather, fondly recalls a childhood strewn with European and local influences.

But his enthusiasm was not inherited by the next generation.

“My wife and I always speak Portuguese out of habit, but never with our children,” Velho told AFP.

Across the state, homes influenced by old Portuguese design trends are falling into disrepair or being demolished to make way for apartment buildings.

Only a handful of traditional houses have been earmarked for protection from development or destruction, according to author Heta Pandit.

The gradual disappearance of covered terraces and mother-of-pearl windows – built to diffuse the sun’s rays – is not just a loss for the architecture, she said.

“These houses are evidence of Goa’s history, they are capsules of our culture.”

Alberto starts a Portuguese course; students from the former colony are scarce [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

“I was just not interested”

Some Goanese have nevertheless found themselves drawn into a relationship with their heritage, even against their first inclinations.

At a recent open-air concert in a coastal village, dozens of people gathered to listen to Goa singer Sonia Shirsat, an accomplished performer of traditional Portuguese fado music.

The 40-year-old man specializes in the melancholy and guitaristic genre, born at the turn of the 19th century and recognized in recent years by UNESCO as “intangible cultural heritage”.

Shirsat paused between songs to patiently explain the meaning of each track, knowing that many in the delighted audience spoke little or no Portuguese.

It’s a role she’s well positioned to play, retracing her own journey from a teenage girl who refused to learn Portuguese to a fado artist who now trains others to follow in her footsteps.

“My mother tried to teach me the language, but I just wasn’t interested,” she told AFP.

Alberto talks to his students during an online class in Panaji, Goa [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

That changed when Shirsat met a Portuguese guitarist who told him that his rich, velvety voice was ideal for the genre.

She decided to move to Lisbon to train, becoming the first Indian to host a solo fado concert there in 2008.

Shirsat has since performed around the world, sometimes incorporating an intercultural element with the use of Indian instruments like the sitar.

All fado songs are imbued with a sense of nostalgia for the past, but in Goa they also serve as a bridge between two eras.

“Fado isn’t just about what’s lost, it’s also about what’s to come,” she said.

“He has lived in Goa for over 100 years. If we don’t preserve it, it’s like killing a part of ourselves.

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