Migration under the microscope

Oct 11, 2011, 09:58 IST | Pamela D'Mello

A special chair for diaspora studies at the Goa University is the latest push for a concerted, effort to document the expat experience

A special chair for diaspora studies at the Goa University is the latest push for a concerted, effort to document the expat experience

When engineer-turned-doctor Herman Carneiro set up one of the earliest mailing lists for Goans and called it Goanet, he was just a 17-year-old student in the US, mucking around with the potential of the Internet, then still new in 1994. If anyone were to tell him then that his small initiative would regroup his community and give it a voice as never before, reaching out to a global diaspora, he would have found it difficult to believe. Since then the list has thrived, spurred on many others, and built the momentum for global Goan conventions that have become annual affairs, opening up a new dialogue. For a state, that has had a quarter of its population leave its shores for employment and out migration over two centuries, it has a been a while coming. After decades of almost obliterating the contributions and lives of its expatriate population, there is now a spurt in research and understanding of its diaspora. Current discourse here is steadily coming to acknowledge its importance and merit. A new interest in understanding migration patterns, its impact on the state, besides tracking personal successes, family and community histories is being engendered.

Home sweet home: Returned expats like Karl DeSouza of Moira and
his children take to Goa and all things Goan with alacrity

Not insignificant has been the push given by the Department of Non Resident Indian (NRI) Affairs, headed by former Union Minister, Eduardo Faleiro. The office is currently overseeing efforts to get into operation a special chair for diaspora studies at the Goa University. "It will act as a quality institution for the study and research on the Indian diaspora in general and the Goan diaspora in particular," says Faleiro. The Commissioner's Office recognised the importance of sustained research, shortly after it published in 2008, the Goa Migration Study, a statistical analysis of migration patterns, conducted by the Research Unit on International Migration, at the Centre for Developmental Studies, Kerala. The study estimated that the Rs 700-crore remittances from abroad equals 6.3 per cent of state domestic product or 33 percent of revenue receipt. Seventy four per cent of emigrants are from the region's Christian community, who historically, took advantage of a western education, musical training and liberal attitudes to seek employment initially all over British India from the 1830s onwards,  before moving further afield to Burma, Karachi and Africa. Many thousands dispersed over the Lusophone world, in Angola, Mozambique, Brazil and Portugal.

Here we are: Expat youth, visiting Goa on an official invite, pose with
the Goa assembly speaker P Rane

Christians were motivated to seek jobs elsewhere, when overpopulation, high taxes, declining agriculture and more recently, low wages made living difficult. The cultural emphasis on "doing well" and "coming up" is another of the factors that drove migration, says researcher Dr Stella Mascarenhas Keyes. Either way, the expatriate's money, certainly propped up the Goan economy for decades, besides building the iconic grand old villas that dot the landscape. There is no doubt though, that a flawed justice mechanism has put the non-resident at a distinct disadvantage, leaving them at the mercy of tricksters and local land grabbers. Mascarenhas-Keyes says while satellite communities grew everywhere, the fountainhead was always Goa. Official response and engagement with its transnational population came only in the late 1990s, following  several community efforts to reunite the global community. In fact, community and individual effort is still at the forefront, powering a remarkable amount of interest, producing both academic and non-academic studies. Memoirs and histories, that may not quite hit the bestseller list, but nevertheless resonate with the community worldwide, are now spilling forth. In her 2010 work on the Goan diaspora, author Selma Carvalho digs up fascinating emigre stories, weaving personal histories, a quest for livelihoods, struggles for survival and achievements, big and small around the backdrop of British and Portuguese colonialism, the world wars, newly independent Africa, and migrations into the relative prosperity in  the new world of America, Canada and the UK.

In black n white: Goanetters fete a Goan global chess champ,
Ivana Furtado, at one of their annual meets in Goa

Among the many intriguing stories of the emigre, none seem as fascinating as the migration to Africa, where they worked for the British colonial establishment largely in clerical positions, though some were traders and a few professionals. While the majority steered away from politics, a few were to embrace the African independence cause as their own. Carvalho reveals unknown details of the life of Kenya's second Vice President Joseph Murumbi -- who few knew was the son of an emigrant Goan trader and his Maasai partner. Sent to Bangalore and Bellary to school  at the age of six, Joseph Murumbi Zuzarte later worked in Burma Shell for a while, besides volunteering for famine relief in South India. At 22, he returned to Kenya, and at his father's urging, contacted his Maasai mother and adopted his Maasai name Murumbi.  Murumbi was to later befriend the Goan political activist Pio Gama Pinto in Nairobi, Kenya, both becoming more deeply involved in Kenya's nationalist struggle, of which Gama Pinto is an acknowledged hero. For his radical politics, the parliamentarian Gama Pinto was assassinated in post independent Kenya. Along with the Mumbai born Goan lawyer and Deputy Speaker of independent Kenya's first parliament, Fitz de Souza, the trio left a different legacy of commitment to the land they adopted.

Another research work this year has tracked through memoir and testimony, the life of Aquino Braganca, a Goan-Indian who made one with the cause of Mozambique's liberation struggle. Penned by his widow Silvia, the research is a tribute to Braganca who went on to become advisor to Mozambique president Samora Machel, and perished alongside Machel in a 1986 plane crash, that many believed to be the handiwork of the then apartheid state of South Africa.

Together: At an Goanetters' annual meet in Goa

It is not just the glorious chapters that are being delved into. Histories far less flamboyant and glorious, lives led quietly, are also being considered important enough to record before they are lost to time. In June this year, the Goan Association UK, was allotted a 38,300 pound grant by The Heritage Lottery Fund, UK to support a study on British Goans who arrived predominantly from British controlled East Africa in the mid-20th century. Eddie Fernandes, co-ordinator at the project, said the two-year study would create audio and video recordings of the displacement, transition and resettlement histories of Goans who settled in Britain from post colonial East Africa. So what has sparked off the new interest in migration stories? "Some events are emblematic of a society. For Goans, the diaspora stories have become our historical past and a rich source of our collective identity, thus far passed on through oral narration. The people who carry the story are passing away and there is a felt need to preserve them before they are lost to time," says Selma Carvalho.

United with a click: Goanet founder, engineer-turned-doctor Herman Carneiro

A precursor to the grand funded project are the smaller individual efforts of people like Eddie Fernandes, a retired senior librarian at University College London and his wife Lira (librarian at the British Film Institute), who have been running and editing for 12 years, the initially weekly and now daily 24X7 daily newsletter and website GoanVoice UK. "As a librarian, I learnt and was trained in the use of information technology to retrieve information. It was not difficult to apply the techniques and resources to find information about the worldwide Goan diaspora," says Fernandes of his widely read service.Closer home, the Indian Council of Historical Research is financing a separate study of the Goan exodus by Mumbai-based historian Teresa Albuquerque. "It will cover the period of migration from the advent of the Portuguese in 1510 to Goa's liberation in 1961," said Albuquerque. The much-published historian has recently completed research on Goan pioneers in Bombay, a study that traces Goan effort in building community and city life in the 19th century.

"The majority (of migrants to what was then Bombay) were seamen and those taking up humble professions in Bombay, to escape poverty back in the declining agrarian economy of Goa under the Portuguese. What is remarkable is the strides they made in setting up community schools, educating themselves and their children, establishing churches, setting up their presses and uplifting themselves from poverty to a reasonable existence," says Albuquerque. The histories of several landmark institutions, notably the Antonio D'Souza High School, the development of Mazagaon and localities like Cavel inevitably form part of this narrative. The more educated and affluent from traders like Sir Roger Faria, Dr Bhau Daji Lad, Dr Gerson da Cunha and many others Albuquerque recognizes in her study, no doubt cast a longer shadow on Mumbai's history, she explains. Far more episodic is a work-in-progress project, being coordinated by Mumbai journalist Reena Martins, to garner memoirs and essays from Goans telling their Mumbai tale of lives lived in the city. More recently, Mumbai based writer Naresh Fernandes' book TajMahal Foxtrot in its documentation of Mumbai's jazz age of the '60s, inadvertently draws the spotlight on the many Goan musicians who backed up Bollywood orchestras by day and played gigs at jazz clubs by night. Retired school principal Tony D'Sa is drawing inspiration for his proposed anthology of Africa Goan stories from the Canada based 55 Plus Goan Association, that took its writing programme for seniors seriously enough to produce and publish 41 engaging tales.

There can be little doubt that an important catalyst of some of this outpouring, has been the several Internet sites and mailing lists that were set up in the mid-'90s and connected the diaspora in a way never before possible. It connected a population all over the world, but for the first time facilitated a dialogue with internet savvy communicators back home. And it could be argued that these in turn got their inspiration from hundreds of associations that kept its �migr � people culturally rooted and linked as a community. With its tendency to be close knit, associations have always sprouted in the dozens, which ever continent people chose to settle in, with affiliations and celebrations often tied to ancestral villages back in Goa. Food, music, dance, sports, language and a shared culture have been the perennial glue, as with any other expatriate group. Printed newsletters packed with community happenings and news have given way to mailing lists and Facebook pages.

Over the last 17 years, Goanet has put out information from weather conditions, news reports to recipes, photographs, and death notices, to discussions on identity, development, politics, village life and more. Mostly convivial, sometimes acrimonious, the forum has nevertheless renewed interest among expatriates to understand their roots and identity. The GulfGoans mailing list, set up by the Kuwait based Ulysses Menezes is as old and initiated the first 365 day online Konkani Music Radio station. GoaWorld and GoaCom set up by the Toronto based Tim D'Mello were the first websites to make a significant impact. How long will the interest sustain? Carvalho suggests , "The migration story is always of interest. It's the eternal rags to riches story which everyone loves. Perhaps not riches in the Goan case, but certainly one of transformation."

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