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Goa (region)

Goa is a region of India, situated on the south-west coast. The region was a Portuguese colony known as Portuguese India. The regional capital is Panaji[?], also called Panjim.

After India's freedom, the underground freedom movement in Goa accelerated and support for it from across the border increased considerably. India finally liberated Goa from 450 years of Portuguese Rule on 19th December 1961. The region still retains many items from that time, including Catholic churches. However, it remains the least converted Portuguese colony in the world, with only 27% of the population converted into Christianity.

Few Goans speak Portuguese now, although the language lives on in place names and some family names. English is the most widely spoken foreign language, and shops in tourist areas invariably have signs in English. Some shops also have signs in Finnish.

View southwards of the Goan coastline

The local language is Konkani, an Indo-European language related to Hindi. It is spoken by 1.5 to 2 million people in Goa and surrounding areas.

The region is famous for its excellent white sand beaches, and in the 1960s was a popular destination on the Hippie trail. Today the region has a booming tourist industry, and many large hotels have been built in the last twenty years.

Political History

With the subdivision of the Bahmani kingdom[?], after 1482, Goa passed into the power of Yusuf Adil Shah[?], king of Bijapur[?], who was its ruler when the Portuguese first reached India.

At this time Goa was important as the starting-point of pilgrims from India to Mecca, as a mart with no rival except Calicut[?] on the west coast, and especially as the centre of the import trade in horses (Gulf Arabs) from Hormuz, the control of which was a vital matter to the kingdoms warring in the Deccan[?]. It was easily defensible by any power with command of the sea, as the encircling rivers could only be forded at one spot, and had been deliberately stocked with crocodiles.

It was attacked on February 10, 1510 by the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque[?]. As a Hindu ascetic had foretold its downfall and the garrison of Ottoman mercenaries was outnumbered, the city surrendered without a struggle, and Albuquerque entered it in triumph, while the Hindu townsfolk strewed filagree flowers of gold and silver before his feet.

Three months later Yusuf Adil Shah returned with 60,000 troops, forced the passage of the ford, and blockaded the Portuguese in their ships from May to August, when the cessation of the monsoon enabled them to put to sea. In November Albuquerque returned with a larger force, and after overcoming a desperate resistance, recaptured the city, permitted his soldiers to plunder it for three days, and massacred the entire Mahommedan population.

Goa was the first territorial possession of the Portuguese in Asia. Albuquerque intended it to be a colony and a naval base, as distinct from the fortified factories which had been established in certain Indian seaports. He encouraged his men to marry native women, and to settle in Goa as farmers, retail traders or artisans.

These married men soon became a privileged caste, and Goa acquired a large Eurasian population. Albuquerque and his successors left almost untouched the customs and constitutions of the 30 village communities on the island, only abolishing the rite of suttee. A register of these customs (Foral de usos e costumes) was published in 1526, and is an historical document of much value; an abstract of it is given in R. S. Whiteway's Rise of the Portuguese Empire in India (London, 1898).

Goa became the capital of the whole Portuguese empire in the East. It was granted the same civic privileges as Lisbon. Its senate or municipal chamber maintained direct communications with the king and paid a special representative to attend to its interests at court. In 1563 the governor even proposed to make Goa the seat of a parliament, in which all parts of the Portuguese east were to be represented; this was vetoed by the king.

In 1542 St Francis Xavier[?] mentions the architectural splendour of the city; but it reached the climax of its prosperity between 1575 and 1625. Goa Dourada, or Golden Goa, was then the wonder of all travellers, and there was a Portuguese proverb, "He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon."

Merchandise from all parts of the East was displayed in its bazaar, and separate streets were set aside for the sale of different classes of goods- Bahrain pearls and coral, Chinese porcelain and silk, Portuguese velvet and piece-goods, drugs and spices from the Malay Archipelago[?].

In the main street slaves were sold by auction. The houses of the rich were surrounded by gardens and palm groves; they were built of stone and painted red or white. Instead of glass, their balconied windows had thin polished oyster-shells set in lattice-work.

The social life of Goa was brilliant, as befitted the headquarters of the viceregal court, the army and navy, and the church; but the luxury and ostentation of all classes had become a byword before the end of the 16th century.

Almost all manual labour was done by slaves; common soldiers assumed high-sounding titles, and it was even customary for the poor noblemen who congregated together in boarding-houses to subscribe for a few silken cloaks, a silken umbrella and a common man-servant, so that each could take his turn to promenade the streets, fashionably attired and with a proper escort.

There were huge gambling saloons, licensed by the municipality, where determined players lodged for weeks together; and every form of vice, except drunkenness, was practised by both sexes, although European women were forced to lead a kind of zenana life, and never ventured unveiled into the streets; they even attended at church in their palanquins, so as to avoid observation.

The appearance of the Dutch in Indian waters was followed by the gradual ruin of Goa. In 1603 and 1639 the city was blockaded by Dutch fleets, though never captured, and in 1635 it was ravaged by an epidemic.

Its trade was gradually monopolized by the Jesuits. Thevenot in 1666, Baldaeus in 1672, Fryer in 1675 describe its ever-increasing poverty and decay. In 1683 only the timely appearance of a Mogul army saved it from capture by the Mahratta[?], and in 1739 the whole territory was attacked by the same enemies, and only saved by the unexpected arrival of a new viceroy with a fleet. This peril was always imminent until 1759, when a peace with the Mahrattas was concluded.

In the same year the proposal to remove the seat of government to Panjim[?] was carried out; it had been discussed as early as 1684. Between 1695 and 1775 the population dwindled from 20,000 to 1600, and in 1835 Goa was only inhabited by a few priests, monks and nuns.

Tourism in Goa

View northwards of Fort Aguada, south of Baga

Tourism is concentrated mainly in the north of Goa, around coastal towns such as Baga and Calangute. It was adversely affected in the last couple of years by fears arising from September 11th and religious strife in Gujerat.

Many tourists go primarily for the excellent beaches around Baga, where topless female Brits and Finns make an interesting contrast to the discrete local dress. The low costs compared to Europe are also attractive.

Other tourists come for the experience of Indian and Goan culture, and even now the hippy culture hangs on to some extent, with traditional Indian Ayurvedic healing being widely available.

The third tourist constituency is the birdwatchers. With a huge array of birds in a small province, Goa is an easy introduction to Asian birding. The respect for life that is part of the local culture means that most wildlife is very approachable. Taxis take great care to drive round dogs and cows, although not, unfortunately, people.

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