Tuesday, March 1, 2016


The Facebook page Memórias da India Portuguesa regularly posts old photos and videos of Goa largely produced during the last few decades of Portuguese rule in Goa, Daman, and Diu. While the visual value of these images is indeed rich, there is hardly any history-related engagement with the same. Since these images are only recently collected together from diverse sources, in effect constituting a historical archive, issues such as engagement with the propaganda within the archive can be subjected to a scholarly analysis.

One of the videos that Memórias shared was a documentary produced by Time magazine in 1953, under the ‘March of Time’ series. This rich archive produced from 1935 to 1967 was recently restored by HBO Archives. It is said that Time magazine wanted to create a new form of visual journalism, a cross between docudrama and journalism. ‘March of Time’ thus used re-enactments and reportage, often leaving people completely baffled and unable to make sense of their films.

Keeping with its style of reenactment-journalism, the episode on Portuguese Goa opens with the director of ‘March of Time’, Dwight Godwin paying a visit to Goa’s then Governor-General Paulo Bernardo Guedes. Owing to the fact that nationalist movements were prominent around the 1950s, and due to the immense pressure that was exerted on the Portuguese by the Indian state and the international community, Godwin’s first question to Guedes was not surprising: “We’ve been told,” he said, “that here in Goa the level of [economic] prosperity is very good…do you feel it is true, sir?” Guedes replied, “É verdade”, adding that Godwin should ascertain for himself if it were indeed true.

And then for the next fifteen-odd minutes, the documentary rapidly projects the economic and social condition of Goa. There are visuals that show the port of Mormugao where “flags of all nations fly in the harbor…just like in the sixteenth century (sic)”, the export of Manganese ore, as well as the mining operations in one of the mines. Although the narrator of the documentary remarks that manganese mining and exports are done in a labour-intensive manner, it nonetheless does not affect the potential of the Goan economy. The import of luxury goods and a very busy customs house impresses the documentary-makers – even if they do not approve of the smuggling that is clandestinely carried out across the border with the territory of neighbouring India.

Though one might suspect this rosy picture of the economic condition of Goa in the 1950s, it must be stressed that no serious historical research has been carried out to ascertain the conditions during this period of time. And as such, the glimpse of a Goan farmer, Caetano, his wife, and their four children, working in the paddy fields is quite interesting and useful. For one, the documentary claims that, like many other farmers in Goa, this farmer is content in being a citizen of Portugal, and is also able to provide two modest square meals for his family – which is better than the then prevailing conditions in India. The emphasis that the documentary places on citizenship extended by Portugal is not a misplaced one, as Portugal recognized the citizenship rights of all Goans after 1910. Yet saying that farmers in Goa were content with Portuguese citizenship might be far from the truth, as most of the agrarian labourers worked on lands that did not belong to them. Until the reforms introduced by Dayanand Bandodkar, the hold of the bhatkar class on Goan land-ownership was almost absolute. Which is why when trying to understand colonial propaganda, one not only has to question the obvious colonial motives involved, but also the class of natives whose control over resources and alliance with the colonial regime worked together to subjugate common people. Thus, one can also speak about class and caste oppression within Goan society under colonial rule, and not just foreign colonial oppression.

Another important glimpse that the documentary offers is that of the African soldiers from Moçambique stationed in Goa. While very little is known about these soldiers from Africa, their presence is sometimes not even acknowledged properly. This is understandable as Goan history is often hijacked by Indian nationalist concerns, and those who are marginal to this worldview are simply ignored. Even histories of race are marginal to the nationalist historiography, perhaps the reason why we do not see African soldiers in Goa as integral to Goan history. Thus, the visuals of Moçambiquan soldiers singing (or being made to sing) their native songs, due to homesickness or nostalgia, allows us a small glimpse of the African thread in Goa’s history.

To be fair to the documentary-makers, not everything in the documentary furthers Portuguese colonial propaganda. For instance, as far as the naval and armed forces stationed in Goa, the documentary remarks that the army “though larger [in comparison to the navy] is a token force”. While Goans have often heard stories of horror perpetuated by the Portuguese on pro-India freedom-fighters, the meager policing resources at the disposal of the colonial state might suggest a different reality.

The documentary ends with Godwin paying another visit to Guedes, after his tour around Goa. Godwin comes to the conclusion that “there does not seem to be any feeling of colonialism amongst the Goan people”. To which Guedes responds, “Goa is not a colony but a province, like any other province, of Portugal”. It is true that Portugal changed the nomenclature of Goa to an ‘overseas province’, but we cannot be sure what it exactly meant for the people living in such circumstances. Colonial propaganda, therefore, cannot be simply rejected, and neither can it be accepted at face-value, claiming that it represents the true images of Goa’s past. But within the claims and counter-claims of propaganda, there is a lot that can be unearthed.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 2 March, 2016)

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