Persecution, Conversion, Inquisition and Goan Migration

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Persecution, Conversion, Inquisition and Goan Migration

Goan migration, conversion, persecution and the Inquisition all appear to be inter- connected. But what were their causes and effects? The biggest Goan migration occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries during our parents and grandparents’ generations. The reason which forced their migration out of Goa was primarily an economic one. In comparison to the situation in the 16th-18th century, conditions in Goa during that migration period were very favorable. There were no natural disasters such as famines and pestilences; neither were there religious persecutions, forced conversions, or the Inquisition. Even so, Goans migrated in droves.

During the first century after Goan colonization, the main cause of native emigration included persecution and the displacement of natives as a means to acquire their land on which the new colonialists could be housed. Portugal’s modus operandi in the 1500s can therefore be considered an invasion and colonization of Goa, similar to the actions of other invaders/ conquerors both in India and across the world. As far as land-ownership in Goa was concerned, the colonists’ priorities were as follows:

1. White Portuguese and their descendants

2. Casado / Metizo and their descendants

3. Brown Goans — preferably Catholics.

4. Brown natives (mainly from outside Goa) who were needed to boost the economy.

The most important test for property ownership was the individual’s skill and willingness to fight and die for the land, king, and flag. Class 1 and 2 got land-grants which could only be inherited and they lost the land if Goa was no longer a Portuguese colony. This criteria for land ownership also served as an acceptable incentive for Goan girls (belonging to all strata and both religions) to marry White soldiers. Migration during the 250 years of the Inquisition DOES NOT MEAN the Inquisition caused the migration.

The same applied to conversions. The Inquisition was a disincentive for conversion to Catholicism since the Inquisition was targeted to heretics, and the Hindus were NOT heretics. The Inquisition most likely created a tense environment in Goa albeit the law- abiding residents probably went about their chores without any hindrance and felt more secure about not being accosted. Between the 16th and 18th century, the main causes for Goan emigration were:

1. The prevalence of famines due to uncertain monsoon conditions (too little, too much, too early, too late), subsistence farming and unfair distribution of food. Feeding the Brown population was very low on the government’s priority list. Even under the best of
conditions, Goa did not produce enough rice to feed its populace.

2. The death of the breadwinner due to short life-expectancy.

3. Wars, which caused the loss of life, and raids by soldiers belonging to both sides. These acts of aggression resulted in the destruction of live-stock and property.

4. Fear that conscription would be imposed to enlist soldiers to fight the war or manual laborers to repair war-damaged capital cities.

5. Repeated epidemics, pestilences and droughts.

6. The lack of any inheritance or the need to pay off a family debt.

7. Population explosion at a time when the economy is shrinking.


From 1510 to 1600, the colonial emphasis was on defending Goa, developing trade, construction, and re-settlement. After the 1520’s, Portugal also experienced decades of famine and pestilences. Even amidst its uncertain economic times, Goa was booming; the population grew with the White and Brown immigration of soldiers, bureaucrats, traders, builders, and sailors. Goa adopted an open door immigration policy, which resulted in an easy-going way of life and social (mis)behavior. Renegades from Europe or India slipped into Goa, got converted and assumed a new identity. This permitted the newcomers to remain incognito to the family members, friends and community they had left behind. By 1560, the White settlers of Tiswadi (who comprised the majority of the population) were, in essence, the city’s elite.

The Municipal Corporation even passed laws in an attempt to homogenize the population — stipulating what people could wear, how they were to eat and behave, as well as the language they were allowed to speak. The ultimate aim was that these laws would help govern the population, prevent epidemics and reduce endemic disease from decimating Cidade de Goa. About 300 years ago, Goans migrated to several villages in the Kolhapur-Belgaum- Pune areas on the eastern side of the Ghats in addition to moving to the Konkan and Canara coast (villages in Mangaluru in South Kanara). These emigres referred to themselves as Bardeshkars and are identified by the Konkani dialect they spoke, their first and last names, as well as the religion and customs they practiced. Like the Mangaloreans, many of these migrants were highly educated, but most were farmers.


The Goan emigres were overwhelmingly men between the ages of 15 and 35 years. Many had a grade or high school level of education, and they sought jobs as white collar workers. Those without any formal education found employment in industries such as shipping, catering and domestic service. For the prospective Goan sailor, “The sun was caressing our faces and the whole experience makes sailing exhilarating and addictive. While the colonizer came to ‘discover,’ the Goan left to be discovered.” The emigre’s, with their cheerful personalities and boundless curiosity, hoped to make a decent living in careers that invigorated and inspired them.

During the last few days before the novice embarked on his journey into unknown territory, he soaked up some Goan atmosphere, love of family, and availed himself of some freely offered advice such as “If one has an attitude, it’s best to leave it at home.” Old timers shared the highlights of their careers and recalled both the challenges and successes with equal fervor. The conversations evoked emotions that went deeper than patriotism. For some Goans, leaving idyllic Goa was a traumatic experience. Beyond the love of the wide open oceans, sailors required many skills, including the ability to read the infinite moods of the seemingly endless expanses of water. It has been noted that Goans have an innate ability to interpret the movement of the wind between the fronds of the palm trees, gauge water conditions and predict ideal sailing conditions. These pronouncements are typically delivered using the right colloquialisms and Konkani expressions celebrated in Goan folklore. The emigre’s exude a spirit of adventure, optimism, quiet confidence and a desire to explore terra incognita.

The Goan who had little training and work experience was nevertheless armed with a repertoire of native proverbial advice to suit every occasion. The day the wiry émigré was offered a job was one of great rejoicing. Generally, a relative or village acquaintance “cumpari” was eager to host the celebration. The evening was usually spent at the Kudd – a village-based, bachelors’ residence in Bombay / Mumbai. In that home-away-from-home, the prospective recruit and his well-wishers burst into congratulatory toasts, the finest village brew or feni made its sudden appearance and was followed by a meal on the house. Even the city sky seemed to be filled with twinkling stars and the Milky Way was clearly visible. For the educated newcomer, the first challenge was to apply for a job and present
himself at a “job interview” – an unknown concept in small-town Goa.


I recollect that prior to my own job interview for the registrar’s position at Hammersmith Hospital in London, I kept reassuring myself that “the interviewers are unlikely to eat me up. At the most, they will reject me, which I fully expect.” My professor in India had cautioned me that “going for this job interview was a waste of everybody’s time.” To which I responded, “My sole reason for this effort is to experience a dry-run, to know what a medical job interview in England is like.” The interview, which was held two days after I landed at Heathrow Airport, was my first ever opportunity to meet an English person face to face. There were nine other candidates at the formal event a week earlier. The day dawned bright and warmed up as I left for the interview. I took the underground to Shepherds Bush station and walked to the hospital.

Fast forward: The day’s grind yielded instant gratification! I guess I did well enough to be offered the job on the spot. I was scheduled to begin working a week later, and the prospect of being employed at a prestigious British medical institution made me euphoric. As I left the hospital, even nature seemed to be smiling. The sun beamed brightly, and I breathed in the clean fresh air of Shepherds Bush, in the vicinity of the hospital. I had achieved the seemingly impossible. Lady Luck had placed me at the right place at the right time. Getting the job was only the start of settling into it. Sleeves rolled-up, I began to learn the hospital routine. Outdoors, I had to get used to London’s Fall weather — a big change from Mumbai’s balmy year-round temperatures. London also offered many opportunities for entertainment and relaxation. Soon my travel journal ran out of pages!

Demographics in Goa started changing in the 1700s (due to declining economics, repeated famines and epidemics) and markedly changed in the 1800s, when Goa’s economy further declined, and Portugal lost interest in Goa. The king of Portugal relocated to Brazil in 1807. The Whites and Mestizos decided to leave Goa in large numbers for Portugal, Brazil and the African colonies. Before leaving, they either sold or abandoned the land they owned, which became available for the natives. This, in turn, caused an influx of Indians into Goa. It is interesting to note that most Goans who have traced their ancestry claim that conversion to Christianity occurred between five and seven generations ago, which coincides with the time of this migration. On a cultural and social basis, Goans would not have accepted a non-Brahmin as their priest, and those with an “inherited-occupation” found no value in a formal education. Academic sociologists find divisions where none exist.

The natives were incentivized to change their religions for several reasons — to improve their social standing, secure government jobs, and to be part of the socio-economic & quot; inner circle, " including the comunidad. Entire villages got converted (a peculiar phenomenon in Goa) to preserve and continue the traditional societal strata of their village. Ironically, the church frowned upon this division along class lines but may have even encouraged it. At a time when transportation was limited to ox-drawn carts, it was relatively easy for priests and nuns to organize churches and schools which would address the needs of all the residents who practiced a common religion. Historian Teo DeSouza suggests that such events transpired in his own village of Moira.

We are all aware of the remarkable work done by the Catholic Church in Goa and India in the 20th century. For example, the church was dedicated to providing education for the masses, but less than one percent of the priests and nuns pursued conversion of the population to Christianity (compared to evangelicals in India). What makes us think that many foreign nuns and priests, who came to Goa and faced language barriers, were more committed to evangelizing in the 16th-19th century than they were in the 20 th century? The vast majority of the foreign missionaries were involved in nurturing the Christian communities just as the priests and nuns do today.

Goans and Indians resent the forced Westernization of Goa and India during Portuguese and English colonization, respectively. But since the 19th century, their
progeny (Goans and non-Goans) took and continue to take full advantage of the same “Westernization” in the way they live in every continent. Being a diaspora gives a certain vitality of graduating through the “School of Hard Knocks.” A diaspora Goan is an uninhibited native. So while the native is conservative, subdued and less volatile, a diaspora Goans are ebullient, with a bounce in their step and buoyancy in their attitude. A native is composed and inward-looking, referring to another native as a ‘joker’ with a slower speech and a non-committal silence; while a diaspora looks upon another as a ‘mate’. The relations between a native and a diaspora Goan can best be described as a “non-love affair” best described as ‘mog-assundi’.

About the Author: GILBERT LAWRENCE

Gilbert Lawrence seen with his wife Philomena

Gilbert is a grandson of Aldona and Guirdolim. He attended St. Thomas School in Aldona and Loyola High School in Margao, Goa. He passed the SSC exams in 1961, completed pre-medical courses at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay, and received his Medical Doctor’s degree from G.S. Medical College in Bombay. In 1972, he received his Master of Surgery degree from K.E.M. Hospital and Tata Memorial Hospital. Gilbert proceeded to England in 1973 to study radiation oncology. At the F.R.C.R. (Fellowship of Royal College of Radiology) examination held in London, he was considered an outstanding student and was awarded the prestigious Rohan Williams medal — the first non-British student to receive this prize.

Philomena (nee Pereira) is a granddaughter of Sangolda and Aldona. She graduated from St. Anne’s High School in Bombay/ Mumbai. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of Bombay, she taught at St. Xavier’s Boys’ Academy and Greenlawns High School, both in Bombay. She is a freelance journalist and her articles about inspiring, creative, and community-minded people have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines across the USA.

Gilbert and his wife, Philomena, immigrated to the U.S. in 1977. Since then, he has been in clinical and academic practice and has had more than 70 medical/research papers published in various national and international cancer and radiation therapy journals.


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2 Comments

  1. I am appalled and pained to see such an article. The whole purpose seems to depict, though indirectly,that portugese came to help the natives and had no intention to convert. A significant portion of the forefather’s of the current catholics were Gowda Sarsvath Brahmins who had to convert or run. Some converted some ran throwingtheir family deities into wells. Quietly slipping away from these facts doee not behove an erudite scholar.
    Hindus are not heretic. That is why they were not targeted for conversion. Then who were those GSBs who got converted? It is fine to get comfortable with your current religion but to deny the ordeal faced by the ancestors is not right.

  2. Thanks for reading the article and for your comments.

    All your questions and issues have been addressed in great detail in our book “Insights into Colonial Goa” published by Kindle and Amazon; and available in India as an e-book.
    In the West the book is also available as paperback.

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