This is a much welcome translation of Mártires Lopes original work in Portuguese, first published in 1993, with a second edition (also in Portuguese) in 1999. As the author herself states in the preface to her first edition, this is one of the few times that material from the Pastoral Visits and Church Rolls in Goa has been used. This is not the only source whose publication whether in Portuguese or English makes this book a valuable contribution to the field of Goan and Portuguese history. The wealth of empirical detail on various aspects of eighteenth-century life provides many insights, particularly when this book is read alongside existing work on other periods of Goan history. Mártires Lopes’ material has been gathered across Portugal, Brazil and Goa, from national archives, University libraries, local church records and the Archives of the Patriarchal Curia of Goa. The author indicates in the first section of the book that the significant political marker of this century is the Pombaline reforms that were initiated in the middle of the century, in Portugal and the colonies.
The reforms of the Marquis de Pombal were enabled by his position as Minister under the King D. José I from 1750 until 1777; a period of dominance that was brief and cataclysmic. The Pombaline reforms have been customarily seen to typify Portugal’s engagement with Enlightenment thought – always in conflict with the strong monarchist and ecclesiastical traditions of the country. The most widely circulated epithet about Pombal as an enlightened despot indicates that his writ in favour of economic rationalization and nationalization of trade and commerce within the empire, along with other reforms, was enforced through his influence with the monarchy, and not necessarily as an extension of political consensus within Portugal. This is also evident in the fact that his controversial suppression of the European religious orders within Goa as elsewhere, along with the attempted expurgation of their influence on pedagogy was overturned or ignored quite easily under the reign of D. Maria who succeeded D. José I. These aspects could have been more usefully illuminated through a discussion of what Pombal’s engagement with Enlightenment thought, and Portugal’s in general, actually constituted. Unfortunately, the question of impact and transformation tends to be addressed through enumeration, description and statement of fact, undoubtedly valuable for the field, but somewhat wanting as a suggestion for how to understand social, religious, economic and administrative transformation.
The preface indicates the great potential of examining eighteenth century in Goa through certain events that were definitively transformative, such as the acquisition of the New Conquests from various feudatory rulers. These were territories that surrounded the sixteenth-century conquests of Bardez, Ilhas and Salcette, and whose addition doubled the area of Portuguese holdings, and transformed the demographic picture of Goa into that of a population that had a majority of Hindus. In addition, as the author emphasizes, enlightenment-driven reform ensured civil equality between indigenous Catholics and the Portuguese in Goa. This additional spur to and validation of the political ambitions of Goan priests and bureaucrats forged political relations whose effects would be long-lasting. Lastly, the short-lived but momentous period of liberalism during which religious freedom was assured in the New Conquests and the ban on various forms of Hindu practice in the Old was relaxed, also generated a separate strand of political activity among Hindu populations. None of this however, is explored through frameworks that would allow the discursive shifts generated by such changes to be made visible. Though the author’s preface astutely states that the intellectual changes among Goans could be traced though the changes in pedagogy, and that the Pinto conspiracy, a conspiracy among Goan priests hatched allegedly to overthrow the Portuguese, was also a likely site to trace change, this is not quite accomplished beyond the statement of fact. This is largely because the work draws predominantly from an empiricist and anthropological tradition that is often quite unquestionably Eurocentric and orientalist.
A discussion of agricultural reform tends to reproduce the certainty of colonial officials in the possibility of agricultural improvement through a change in method and choice of crop, in order to benefit from the economic profitability of certain produce. Mártires Lopes notes the very limited success of this approach in a region that was already importing its most basic foods from neighbouring territories. She however attributes the inevitable problems that would arise from this wholly utilitarian approach to a range of contradictory factors. These contradictions may have been rendered comprehensible through a discussion of how these reforms may have altered in one sweep traditional forms of cultivation, along with patterns of land use, distribution, and fundamental forms of social organization. This is hinted at in the author’s list of possible reasons for failure, which includes resistance to changes in method, the unsuitability of new crops to local conditions, the resistance of village councils who feared the disruption of customary practices and organization and regrettably, as it seems a mere reproduction of the colonial voice, the ‘slackness, negligence and idleness’ of the local population. This last is all the more regrettable as the footnote to this comment is a submission made by the pertinent indigenously manned district authority, the Camara Geral to the King, saying that though the impetus of the concerned officials was to give Goa ‘the natural state of Europe, America and other lands of India, which have a great variety’, that many of the suggestions were in fact untenable (see page 61). Such critiques in themselves suggest likely lines to research the intellectual structures supporting eighteenth century reforms. These however are not explored in the book, which favours meticulously recorded empirical information.
For this reason, the book through its avowed aim for the systematization of data does provide exhaustive detail and firm ground for a further exploration of these questions. It per-haps does not require to be said that if some of these questions had been taken alongside the search for composite data, it may have altered the trajectory of research. However, given the state of the field, where the recovery of basic data requires painstaking work, this is no small feat. Nonetheless, some basic discussions of colonial discourse and its critique prevalent from Edward Said’s Orientalism onward, have not informed the work. The considerable lag between translations between Portuguese and English academic worlds may be responsible for this, though this is scarcely the only position from which one could try to problematize colonialist perspectives. This affects the more interesting sections of the book that one awaits with some expectation, such as the discussion of the Pinto conspiracy, a plot involving predominantly Catholic Goan priests whose resentment against the ceiling on their ascendancy in Church hierarchies allegedly combined with other anti-colonial stances of supportive groups, to propagate that the Portuguese should be ousted from Goa. The individual intellectual propensities of these participants, which Mártires Lopes details, their invoking of enlightenment philosophies and the American War of Independence as a model for anti-colonial resistance, when placed alongside the dissent of groups in the New Conquests, the most recent inductees into the Portuguese empire, suggests an interesting combination of intellectual arguments and political positions. The conspiracy is however analysed predominantly for the political ambitions and anxieties of various groups, and the influence of enlightenment cited only as a sign of ‘notable cultural westernization’. The combination of motive and influence however, does not account for what is evidently a moment that reveals the intellectual formation of the indigenous Catholic elite in patterns that would persist in their many anti-colonial pronouncements into the next century. Further, the analysis of ideas of liberalism solely as a western import into indigenous politics has been discredited in other contexts such as British India. In the case of the Goan Catholic elite, to maintain a binary between indigenous and western political thinking prevents one from grasping the import of assimilationist colonialism and conversion to Catholicism, which is what constitutes the difference of Portuguese colonialism. The discussion of the Pinto conspiracy weaves together already published material as well as some new details about the principal initiators. It also fruitfully discusses the accumulated historiography produced with differing political compulsions since the time of the conspiracy.
In further editions it would be advisable however to rethink the uncritical stance on the process and conceptual framework through which conversion was effected in the sixteenth century. The chapter on religion for instance begins with the statement, ‘The expansion of Christianity in Asia was a glorious feat indeed, arrayed with positive aspects in the context of the human and spiritual life of the people (p. 159).’ Such unalloyed reproduction of the early crusading fervour is puzzling, as apart from postcolonial studies, liberal critiques surely offer a range of interpretations of this moment, not all of them celebratory.
The section on education is particularly illuminating for the spate of reforms it details, that were effected in syllabi and institutional structures. This hints at debates that may have occurred in other locations over what should constitute a course in medicine or in philosophy. The author elaborates how these questions were transformed through enlightenment influences and through the more local impetus to oust the unchanging traditions established by religious orders. Lastly, the thick social description that is offered in the records of the Pastoral visits, a tantalizing resource that has scarcely been examined by researchers besides Mártires Lopes, is unfortunately presented through conventional ethnographic norms. While an account of the drunkenness and carnal vices of ecclesiasts and their faithful cannot fail to entertain, a more complex framework for the analysis of this detail on everyday life is required. The suggestion that people were prone to alcoholism because of a hard life, and that the reasons cited by families for their reluctance to send daughters to church indicate a ‘curious way of thinking’, does not constitute an explanation (see p. 250). An attempt to grasp at structures of thinking and living that are different from European ones would help avert the quandary over how to explain the phenomenon of theft and the suggestion that it was considered a minor offence in India as compared to contemporary Europe, and the further suggestion that the same situation obtains in present day Brazilian society (p. 143). In the absence of an acquaintance with some of the writing around questions of social structure and anthropology, the text tends to explain life in Goa through the categories of official records. It is a difficult task however, to understand tradition and modernity in a society if one views it through the lens of ‘illicit behaviour’ and ‘social tension’.
Rochelle Pinto is Associate Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore.