Posted by: lrrp | October 3, 2005

WHY CUNCOLIM MARTYRS? by Teotónio R. de Souza

An historical re-assessment

There is much being said and written nowadays and efforts are underway for re-writing the history of the Church from the perspective of the Third World. It is argued that much that we have by way of Church history is written by the missionaries and from the missionary perspective. Such a perspective was never fully delinked from the colonial perspec­tive, and western cultural superiority remains an essential ingredient of it. (1) Their background and implied cultural-political values from the West determined what was good for a “good Christian” in the colonized regions where they came to work. Their accounts reflect their values. Cultural conflicts that the native society had to experience as a result of the political-religious combination of the colonial times did not seem to them as anything else than the “Devil at work”. It would not be a bad exercise in research to count the frequency of this expression in the Jesuit missionary reports. Other missionaries had such expression as well. “The Devil at Work in the Jesuit Edifying Letters” could make a best­seller!
Our historical re-assessment today demands that we do not continue accepting the missionary accounts at their face value. We need to seek deeper explanations for the reactions of the native people to their encounters with the Gospel and Gospel-bearers. Such a re-assessment throws up serious issues of socio-economic-cultural nature and we need to understand these better for appreciating the Good News and the Bad News that conversion to Christianity meant to our people. Granted that the missionaries acted in “good faith”, they may not deserve today our unqualified and unquestioned admiration, and much less, veneration. The criteria to beatify or canonize persons have been worked out and are generally applied by the West-dominated Church without sufficient sensitivity to the cultural feelings of the rest of the World. I believe that we need to decolonize the liturgical calendar, just as much as the missionary histories that helped the processes of “beatification”. It is very fine to talk of the “catholic and universal” Church, but that has in practice made European peculiarities universal. We need to still wait to see when the faithful in Europe would fervently pray to a black saint of Africa or to a brown saint of Asia! In the meantime we have been celebrating novenas and feasts of saints who have little cultural significance to us. The liturgical calendar has thus been a subtle instrument of continued cultural alienation of our peoples. Interestingly, these feelings were voiced by the Polish Apostolic Delegate to India, Ladislas-Michel Zaleski, in his lntroduction to his book The Saints of India in 1915. To quote him: “Why should The secular priests (of India) recite the office of Saints of foreign countries, who have for them no especial interest, and neglect and ignore the particular Saints of India, their Patrons and Protectors?”(2) Zaleski follows his argument in the Chapter dealing with Bl. Rudolf Acquaviva and his companions. He refers to the four native Goans who were also killed along with the Jesuits, and comments: “It should be examined if these four Indian Martyrs who certainly died for the Faith, could not be included in the beatification. The two last named (young boys Dominic and Alphonso) singularly about whose life and death we have more details, would be wonderful patrons for Indian youths and boys.” (3)
It is in this context that I thought of analysing the background and implications of The “martyrdom” of the Jesuits and their native collaborators in Cuncolim in 1583. My analysis suggests that both The Por­tuguese rulers and the native dominant class of Cuncolim were using religion for their own vested interests. Religious beliefs were not the main issue, but the economic and political implications of conversion were seen as a threat. The religious feelings of the ordinary people were excited to obfuscate these main implications and to kill the missionaries. There is no reason To believe that the native exploiting class of Cuncolim were doing Devil’s and the Portuguese colonial exploiters supporting the missionaries were doing God’s work.
Only a dispassionate analysis could help us to understand better the inner contradictions of our society. Now that we are sufficiently distant from the passions aroused by the freedom-struggle and are experiencing new forms of external domination, we may be better disposed to look into the caste and class contradictions of the Goan society. Whether we wish to admit these or not, they will always be an important ground that will make any external domination more or less successful. A good historical background and a conscious and deft handling of intra-societal conflicts can alone pave the way for a sound development of post-liberation Goa. Such a sound development will have to take necessarily into consideration the disabilities experienced by different groups at dif­ferent times of our history due to internal and external factors. In this connection I wish to recall the inaugural address to the recently held fifth lnternational Seminar on lndo-Portuguese History at Cochin. Addressing the participants, Prof. M. G. S. Narayanan of Calicut University drew their attention to the long-term impact of the Portuguese on Malabar society as he saw it: “A challenge was thrown to the Hindu society, the like of which had never occurred before. The possibility of converting a socially depressed class was effectively demonstrated, and thereby the basic injustice built into the Hindu caste structure was exposed. This challenge has acted as a catalytic agent in lndian society for promoting reform during the last five centuries. It has made The Hindu orthodoxy painfully aware of the revolutionary potential of low castes, outcastes and tribals. (4)
If the Portuguese “plunderers-preachers combination” (to borrow the expression from M.G.S. Narayanan) (5) found collaboration from the politically oppressed chieftains and socially oppressed low castes in Kerala, the situation was not entirely different elsewhere in India and at different times of its history. It was so in Goa at the time of its conquest by Afonso de Albuquerque. The Hindu population seems to have been unhappy with the Muslim overlords, and the representatives of the dominant Hindu class thought that they could use the Portuguese to regain its earlier dominance. However, besides other factors of Portuguese policy there were the underlying intra-societal conflicts that contributed towards sabotaging the aspirations of the dominant Hindu section. We are informed that Timmaya, who suggested the conquest of Goa to Albuquerque was hoping to be a kind of jagirdar, following the conquest of Goa. Bur we also know that he was motivated by his being dispossessed by his own brother. (6) It is this line of exploitation of brother by brother that I wish to follow up in the course of this paper, and it is this angle that requires more of our attention in future research. There are also references in the early Jesuit documentation to persons in Goa wanting to be converted in order to escape the disabilities they experienced in their traditional social structure.(7) In a memorandum submitted by Miguel Vaz, a prominent churchman in Goa to King John III of Portugal in 1545 we read: “Let us do this people favour, honour and justice, and let us not give them into the hands of Krishna and Gopu, Brahmins, about whom they were continually complaining. And knowing these two for the great tyrants they are, I for my part hold that people had good reason to complain.” (8) This again suggests the same line of analysis, rather than succumbing to The usual aggressive-defensive communal approach.
I consider this process of disintegration of traditional village communities as important for the understanding of the intra-societal conflicts and their implications. Many tend to believe that village communities of Goa wer
e models of organization for harmonious village life and development.
It is important to grasp the diversification of the village economy, or rather its evolution from the patriarchal agricultural economy in which the handicrafts were only a sideline activity that complemented the agricultural needs of The peasant households. As a result of growing monetisation that was made necessary by sovereigns based at distance and collecting revenue in cash (and this seems to have been the case since quite early times in the Konkan which never had its own politically autonomous units) there was increasingly greater “feudalisation” and growing inequality in property relations in the countryside. (9)
This process contributed to reducing the hulk of the village inhabitants to tenants and introducing greater degree of commodity relations. It was a process that forced many peasant households to pay greater attention (if not exclusive attention) to non-agricultural occupations, and also to look beyond the village for buyers. However, this did not give rise as yet to professional artisans producing only for the market. There was a transitional phase when the artisans were still bound to supply for the needs of the dominant village elite and receive full or part remuneration in kind. This is the picture of development of village economy that emerges from the evidence that I was able to produce for Goa’s state of economy in the l6th-l7th centuries. (10) It may be interesting to note the need of the Azosy village for instance to make a two-year contract with the village cobbler Braz Fernandes. His remuneration is partly given in the form of namasy land-grant, but he is also to be paid ten xerafins in cash in quarterly instalments. What is even more interesting is that the ganvkars who get pairs of double-strapped sandals pay him one and half barganya, and those who order single-strapped pair pay one bargany. (11) This fact seems to indicate a stage of disintegration of the traditional village communities of Goa and their diminishing self-sufficiency. Of course, the degree of this disintegration was not the same all over Goa. Azosy and the villages nearer to the capital city of Goa were more subject to this process due to their easier access to the city market. This must have been true already during the pre-Portuguese times when Goa was already known to the Arabs as an important industrial and commercial centre. It was all the more so under the Portuguese who made Goa commercially important on a wider scale. (12)
If this impact of the city of Goa upon the village economy was not greater, it could be explained as due to three factors: Firstly, the Portuguese did not believe totally in free labour, and they required certain amount of compulsory work from the natives (veth begari). The Portuguese punishments were also of this kind, thereby providing forced labour in the gunpowder manufactory and for the galleys. Secondly, large­scale domestic slavery in Goa helped to restrict the opportunities for the natives from the countryside to derive full benefits from the city needs. Thirdly, large-scale Christianisation and the control exercised by the Religious Orders in the village economies was an important factor. We know of skilled labour that had to be lent free of any remuneration to build the new places of worship in the villages. (13)
However, what seems to have favoured greater penetration of the countryside was the all-pervading system of revenue farming and monopolies. This promoted concentration of capital in the hands of some native merchants and also village officials like sinay, kulkarni and potekar (tax collector). These had control over labour they recruited from the villages in connection with their functioning and their involvement in the city market or village land transactions and several forms of extortions connected with revenue payment. The peculiar anti-Hindu legislation that prevailed in Goa and did not permit the majority of The Hindu “capitalists” to invest in lands saved the villages from facing greater inequality of property relations. (14) However, already in the l7th century the village communities of Goa display a marked stage of disintegration of the traditional village set-up of the artisans as village servants. This is evident in the fines that were imposed upon the defaulting artisans. The fact that these were monetary fines is quite revealing. (15) Several foreign travellers who visited Goa since late 16th century and after have left lengthy records of their visits. The city market they describe could provide every conceivable ware and the native Hindu and Christian artisans were very active in it. (16)
I have discussed the process of the disintegration of village economy as having been more marked in the areas subject to market influences of the city. However, Cuncolim was experiencing a similar process at work though it was far from the city of Goa, and not to close to the provincial town of Margão. We need to examine the other factors at work in the interior. If Cuncolim led the revolt against the Portuguese in association with its neighbouring villages, this fact needs perhaps to be understood against the background of its own economic development and interests that were affected by the new tax impositions and administrative-religious controls of the Portuguese. The Portuguese chronicler Diogo do Couto describes Cuculi (sic) as “The leader of rebellions” and its people as “The worst of all villages of Salcete”. (17) The prosperity of this village seems to have been derived from its fertile land that had abundant and fresh waters from rivers descending from the New Conquests and crossing it before they became brackish in the neighbouring villages nearing the coast. (18) Surplus agricultural production had enabled this village to develop crafts of a very skilled order. Cuncolim is still known for its skilled metal works. But already in the letters of Afonso de Albuquerque one reads that guns of good quality were manufactured in Cuncolim, and he finds them comparable to those made in Germany. (19) A century later the viceroy D. Jeronimo d’Azevedo was banning the manufacture of guns in Cuncolim under penalty of four years in the galleys and even gallows! (20) This kind of developed crafts can give us some idea of the economic interests that had developed in Cuncolim when the Jesuits arrived. The village also had other important economic resources. One of these was its permanent bazar at the end of more than one caravan routes connecting it with the mainland through the Ghats of the Ashthagrahar province. One of these cut through the Donkorpem Ghat and another through the Kundal Ghat, leading to Netarli and Naiquini respectively. Besides these two Ghat passages there was another coming from Dighi Ghat to Veroda via Talvarda. It was frequented by caravans bringing cloth and other provisions. (21)
Cuncolim bazar needs to be considered as an important factor in its socio-econornic development. In keeping with the traditional fairs connected with temple and religious festivities, also the bazar economy of Cuncolirn depended upon its temple and religious celebrations. One should analyse against this background the reaction of the dominant class of Cuncolim to the destruction of its temples and to the attempts of the Jesuits who sought to establish Christianity in Cuncolim and its satellite villages of Assolna, Velim and Ambelim in 1583. I do not wish to repeat here the details that are sufficiently well known about the wanton destruction of these villages by the Portuguese soldiery preceding and following the murder of some Jesuit Fathers and some others associated with their conversion drive in these villages. (22) They see the “Devil at work”. What I wish to stress, in keeping with the line of argument I have proposed, is a thorough analysis of the socio-economic compulsions behind the political and religious events that have been discussed ad nauseam in writings concerning Cuncolim. It is important to see their hostility to Christianity in terms of threat to their es
tablished economic and social privileges connected with the temples and bazar. It is not so easy, however, to assign priority to material considerations in the actual practice of religion and the religious feelings connected with it. It is a case comparable to the Portuguese classic claim of seeking souls and spices in India! The people directly connected with the religious worship or responsïble for its promotion generally speak more in terms of purely spiritual motivations. However, their activities are sustained by the material wherewithal provided by those engaged in economic activities. So also the reactions of the natives of Cuncolim after the destruction of their temple were possibly a mixture of open expressions of spiritual revulsion and less expressed anger over the damage to socio-economic prospects of the dominant groups of the village population. The demolition of the temples implied deprivation of religious and cultural traditions that sustained an established social structure and its underlying economic base.
We know it from contemporary Jesuit records that the Hindus of Salcete tried to rebuild the temples and were ready to spend much money to do so. (23) This was confirmed in the case of Cuncolim by a stone inscription found in 1971 at the site of the bazar. This inscription of 12 lines in Marathi and deciphered as belonging to the year 1579 suggests that a temple of Mahadev was rebuilt by one Vithaldas Vithoji of Kshatriya descent. The inscription says that any Musulman destroying it will incur the sin of the violation of a holy place, and being a Maratha will incur the sin of killing a Brahmin. By reconstructing it a Musulman will have the merit of going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and a Maratha doing the same will have the merit of a pilgrimage to Kashi. The inclusion of shapavakya and benediction for the Musulmans is interpreted as an expression of good treatment that the Hindus usually received from Muslims of Bijapur. (24) Obviously there was no question of curse or benediction for the Christians. Following the murder of the Jesuits in 1583 nothing was left of the reconstructed temple and the village elders (including two directly involved in the massacre of the Jesuits and their companions) who fell victims to the ruse of the Rachol captain Gomes Eannes de Figueiredo were murdered despite a safe-conduct assured to them. (25) It is important to note in the account of Diogo do Couto the reference to Aganaique and Ramagaro, who were among the village elders killed by the Portuguese captain and his soldiers treacherously, as “the most feared by all in the village”. This could be a pointer to the role played by them in the traditional exploitative structure of the village. (26)
The “martyrdom” and conversion of Cuncolim did not end the exploitation by the vested interests. New ones replaced the older ones and the conversion does not seem to have made a great difference. The later history of Cuncolim-Veroda as Condado of The Marquis of Fronteira since its donation in perpetuity to João da Silva and his descendents in 1585 could be the theme for a long study and it will require access to the records of the House of Fronteira and to many case files in the court (julgado) of Quepem of the comarca of Salcete. There are also records among the Mhamai House Papers at The Xavier Centre of Historical Research pertaining to the administration of the revenues by Narayan Camotim Mhamay as Rendeiro of the Condado from 1809 to 1818 or so. Apparently, the administration of the Condado was more benevolent than that of the Jesuits in the neighbouring Assolna-Velim-Ambelim. But only a more detailed study could establish the truth of the appearences, because even for the short period of the administration of revenues by Narayan Mhamai Kamat one comes across umpteen cases of confiscation of lands and other personal possessions of several village inhabitants who are sued in the court of law as bad debtors to the revenue farmer. (27) I have come across instances of popular representations against the administration of the Condado, and there are cases of Rendeiros complaining against the abuse of authority and funds by the procurators of the House of Fronteira in Goa. Such complaints seem to be motivated by the rivalry among the candidates for the revenue-farming of the Condado. (28)
The population statistics maintained in the parish records give the Christian population of Cuncolim for every year between 1775 and 1942 as ranging between 4432 and 7236. Only from 1934 onwards figures are available also for the non-Catholic inhabitants of the village. The proportion of Hindus seems to be steady at little less than half of the Christian population. The number of Muslims is never more than 500. (29) Even though the former ganvkars of 12 vangad lost their old administrative rights after 1583, they continued to maintain their superior identity through the Church confraternities marked by caste exclusivism which resulted in unhappy incidents as recently as in 1983, ironically marking the fourth centenary of the “martyrdom” with a short-lived “Independent Church of Cuncolim”! (30)
What has been possible to present in this paper is only a frame­work for understanding better what exactly the devil was doing in one single instance of the missionary history of Goa. The re-writing of the history of the Church in India, and in the Third World in general, can become relevant only if the local situation at the time is studied and analysed more carefully and with greater empathy. Every reference to “devil at work” in the missionary reports could thus become a suggestion for re-assessment and a starting point to write a new chapter in the history of the people and their religious-cultural development.


Lukas Vischer (ed.), Towards a History of lhe Church in the Third World, Bem, 1985.
Ladislas-Michel Zaleski, The Saints of India, Mangalore, 1915, pp. 7-9.
Ibid., p. 341.
M. G. S. Narayanan, “India’s Encounter with the West: The Portuguese Colonial Missionary Experience in Long-Term Perspective” (Mimeographed Text, 19 pp.)
Carmo Azevedo, “Timmaya: A Quisling?”, Essays in Goan History, ed. Teotonio R. de Souza, New Delhi, Conccpt Publishing Co., pp. 23-28.
Anthony D’Costa, The Christianisation of the Goa Islands, Bombay, India Printing Works, 1965, pp. 40, 47, 99, 117.
Documenta Indica, I, ed. J. Wicki, Rome, 1948, pp. 68,70.
A. I. Chicherov, India: Economic Development in the l6th-18th centuries – Outline History of Crafts and Trade, Moscow, 1974, p. 135.
Teotonio R. de Souza, Medieval Goa, New Delhi, Conccpt Publishing Co., 1979.
Ibid., p. 85.
Chicherov, op. cit., p. 135.
Teotonio R. de Souza, op. cit., pp. 93, 117, 124-126.
Teotonio R. de Souza, “Mhamai House Records: Indigenous Sources for Indo-Portuguese Historiography”, The Indian Archives, XXXI, n.1 (1982), pp. 25-45.
Teotonio R. de Souza, Medieval Goa, p.86
Ibid., pp. 117-119, 121.
Diogo do Couto, Decada X, P. I, L. III, Cap. XVI (Lisboa, 1788), pp. 383-85.
XCHR Manuscripts — J. N. da Fonseca Papers: Contains replies sent by various villages and other State bodies to a quesitonnaire circulated by Dr. J. N. da Fonseca in 1875 with the help of J. H. da Cunha Rivara. These replies were partly used by Dr.Fonseca in preparation of his classic An Historical and Archaelogícal Sketch of theCity of Goa, Bombay, 1878.
Cartas de Afonso de Albuquerque, ed. Bulhão Pato, Lisboa, 1884, Vol.I, p. 203.
Archivo Portuguez-Oriental, ed. Cunha Rivara, Nova Goa, 1875, Fase. 6, doc. 259.
Ajuda Lihrary (Lisbon), Ms. 54-X-20. It provides very interesting information about the Ghat passes leading into the Konkan territories of Bhosles and Sunda. Gives location and lengths of the various routes, and also brief information about their military or trade importance.
Documenta Indica, XII, ed. J. Wicki, Rome, 1972, pp. 916-933: Valignano’s contemporary account of the mar
tyrdom, dated Goa 8 December 1853.
Ibid., p. 920.
V. T. Gune, “Meaning of ‘Maratha Houni”, Maratha History Seminar Papers, ed. A. G. Pawar, Kolhapur, 1971, pp. 1-6.
Diogo do Couto, op.cit., pp. 509-514.
Loc. cit.
XCHR: Mhamay House Papers.
Ibid.. Also a set of manuscripts I purchased from an alfarrabista in Lisbon and belonging to 1848. A report on Cuncolim dated July 1921 discusses the implications of a strike by the people of Cuncolim to cultivate the lands of the Condado in 1911. There was much resentment against the administration of Condado by João Joaquim Roque Correia Afonso, who is accused by some residents of Cuncolim of cxploiting his job for personal gains. The report also points a finger to one João Rebelo who used his association with the Portuguese consulate in Bombay to enrich himself considerably and has now showing iriterest in exciting natives of Cuncolim against the Condado.
Archive of the Archbishop-Patriarch (Panjirn): Ms. Rois de Goa and Rois de Salcete.
Leopoldo Rocha, As Confrarias de Goa: Conspecto Histórico-Jurídico, Lisboa, 1973, pp. 301-302; Thomas Aquinas, Cuncolim is a Historic Village, Cuncolim, 1983.


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