Portuguese Language Goan Literature: Whence, Whither and Wherefore?

By Paul Melo e Castro

In India: A Million Mutinies Now, a book as much lauded for its style as censured for its polemics, V. S. Naipaul writes: “[t]he Portuguese had created in Goa something of a New-World emptiness, like the Spaniards in Mexico. They had created in India something not of India, a simplicity, something where the Indian past had been abolished. And after 450 years all they had left behind in this emptiness and simplicity was their religion, their language (without a literature), their names, a Latin-like colonial population, and this cult, from their cathedral, of the Image of the infant Jesus.” (1990, p.142)

Even the most cursory glance at the sizeable body of literature in Portuguese from Goa demonstrates the many ways in which this assertion, redolent of stereotypes about Goa peddled both in India and Europe, is simply erroneous. Rather than any emptiness, Goa as pictured in its Portuguese-language archive, presents a highly complex mix of autochthonous and Portuguese elements, pre-Gama inheritances and British influences, and a population separated yet also conjoined by differences of caste, class and religion only characterisable as simple from an exterior position of ignorance or bias.

In no way was the Indian past abolished, though perhaps to call it Indian in a national, as opposed to ethnic or civilisational sense might be anachronistic. Instead Goa was and is a product of manifold influences on the ground from both East and West and a global history connected to the seaways of the Indian Ocean and beyond. As regards the other characteristics Naipaul seized upon: Portuguese-derived names and the Catholicism they indicate are, it is true, commonplace in Goa today though among a steadily decreasing percentage of its inhabitants.


Read the full essay in our print anthology ‘The Brave New World of Goan Writing 2018.’ Buy the anthology here.

Paul Melo e Castro is an academic and lecturer in Comparative Literature and Portuguese at the University of Glasgow. His publications include Lengthening Shadows: An Anthology of Goan Short Stories translated from the Portuguese Volume I and II (Goa 1556, 2016). He is also the author of Shades of Grey: 1960s Lisbon in Novel, Film and Photography. (London: MHRA Texts and Dissertations, 2011).