Some years ago, I started to research into my family history, and during this process I first came to know the story of John Baptist Pinto, my great grandfather. This remarkable man was someone I have a vague childhood recollection of, dating back to a trip home to Goa from Kenya. I was very young and my great grandparents lived at the Nigvaddo locality in the village of Saligão, in North Goa’s Bardez sub-district (concelho or taluka). This is one of my earliest memories.
During the visit, my great grandmother, renowned for her operatic skills, and known as the Nightingale of East Africa, at least within my own family, played the piano and tried her best to encourage me to sing along with her. As for my great grandfather, he was pottering upstairs with some dolls that he was making of local material, including coconut shells and showing them off to me with great pride.
John Baptist Pinto, generally known as J.B. Pinto, was my maternal great grandfather. As I was living in Africa as a child at that time, inevitably, as is the case with many a migrant Goan family, I had little awareness of the man other than his rather distant role as the patriarch of the family.
Several years later, whilst researching in the archives into early migratory patterns from Goa, I came across this book in a library search. Following this, I naturally consulted the work at the Jesuit-run Xavier Centre of Historical Research, at Alto Porvorim in Goa, which incidentally is not far from Saligão. After a few phone calls to my grandmother, I confirmed that the J.B. Pinto from our family had indeed written a book and had also written more work in his native language of Konkani (also spelt as Concanim or Concani in his times).
This small book, first published in the 1962, had always had a relatively small distribution, so although often cited by scholars the availability of the book was limited. In part inspired by this book, my own research on South Asia has focused on identity and community, family, oral history and my own experience as a member of a rapidly growing and increasingly spreading Goan Diaspora.
As I worked on these areas I could see the value in the republication of this text and the potential for researchers and scholars alike to benefit from it. The rise in recent scholarly publications on these issues shows a growing interest in studies on the Goan Diaspora of which this book was arguably among the first. Another early book, A expansão do Goês pelo mundo by Pedro Joaquim Peregrino da Costa, was published by Tipografia Sadananda, 1956. The contents of this text, which includes petitions and letters to and responses from the local authorities, provides us with an insight into the issues and attitudes of the time within Goa. Such rich historical context provides good first-hand material that would benefit any study of this period. Details relating to economic, social and political life are addressed in a surprisingly straightforward and open way. Pinto describes Goan civic, social and community organisation at the village level. A number of institutions and terms used specifically in Goa are referred to and explained.
So, as we started to prepare the manuscript for republication, I resolved to return to his life history and to find out more about this intriguing and rather enigmatic person. J.B. Pinto represents a common picture of those migrating out of Goa and whose families now form a large part of the Goan Diaspora.
As expected, this task was not as easy as it seemed. Like many Goan Ugandan families, his surviving relatives have been scattered around the world. However, through much use of the Internet and help from interested people, I began to piece together his biography.
His family members included a number of surviving children, including my grandmother (who had lived in Uganda, Kenya, Goa and the United Kingdom, at different points of time) and her brother Maurice Pinto, formerly of Uganda and who now lives in Canada. These contacts provided some useful information as well as family anecdotes which I had not heard of before.
The first thing that stood out for me was the sheer determination of Pinto in undertaking this study over a wide time span in the face of official indifference. Also, he did so at times when printing was difficult in Goa, and publishing, with one or two exceptions, virtually unheard of.
He also had a broad range of interests and activities. The second aspect that is notable to me is that these activities were in areas that got recorded and thus remained available to a researcher working in the twenty-first century. The third point that struck me was that Pinto was involved in a variety of public or civic activities. He lived during a time when Goa was undergoing a period of intense social, cultural, political and economic change. Indeed a number of issues currently debated today were also of concern to Pinto at that time.
In more recent times, there has been great interest in the social lives of the working class and the subaltern classes and, as such, this work has helped historians to examine the past in a more balanced way and from a variety of perspectives. With respect to historical studies, this work makes an attempt to give a voice to those whose histories have been largely hidden from view, perhaps due to the nature of communities living in the Diaspora.
Furthermore, it is hoped that, through this publication, others living in the Diaspora and in Goa may be inspired to also share their family histories and thus make a contribution to the better understanding of the past on which our future is so dependent on.
Historically, not only did India achieve independence at this time but this was also the period when Goa underwent some of its most important transformations in several hundred years. Including the suppression of the population under the Estado Novo led by the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar and ultimately Liberation in 1961. Likewise, in East Africa, the British Empire was in retreat and ultimately Uganda would fall under the control of the unstable nationalist dictator Idi Amin, who was to expel the South Asian population (including tens of thousands of Goans) from the country.
In Uganda and in Goa during this period, the Goan Christian population was a relatively small community within a larger community. One gets the impression that this was a world where everybody in the mercantile middle classes knew each other. Further, the necessity of emigration was felt by many members of the community. This book was written during the 1950s, when the writing was increasingly on the wall over the possible end of Portuguese India. Perhaps feeling the winds of decolonisation from both India and East Africa, Pinto set out to document the Goan experience of migration and also to identify why this was happening within the wider context of colonisation and decolonisation.
It was also only possible to publish the book when it came out the first time around after the Liberation. It was published in English despite being partially based on a much longer manuscript which he originally wrote in Roman-script Konkani. I do not have a satisfactory explanation for why he did this, but I suspect that it may well have been that he sought to build a wider understanding of the problems in Goa among the Indian elite who had then taken control of Goa.
In this book, he included a letter that he had sent to the Portuguese Governor of Goa where he had also tried to influence Portuguese policy in Goa, in a way that would reduce the need for so many people to emigrate. Sadly, Goa, despite being one of the wealthiest states in India today, continues to be a net exporter of its people and the newspapers are full of adverts for lawyers who can procure Portuguese passports! Portuguese for its people or from agents promising to facilitate jobs for them in the Persian Gulf and on cruise liners. Many of the trends noted by Pinto sixty years ago remain extremely relevant to the Goa of this day, including his description of the need for our villages to become productive units.
Through this work, we can gain some historical understanding and insight into the affairs of those times. Wider issues are also covered, such as colonialism, in this case both Portuguese and British; Independence both from the British in India and the Portuguese in Goa; nationalism; transition; the impact of migration as well as into the effect at the local level and community-based mechanisms used to elicit change.
Pinto shares with us his personal social activism, opinions and solutions in the form of petitions. In discussing his ideas, he reflects some current thinking of the time. A number of his interests represent and echo a wider discourse on matters that are still pivotal to our lives today, many of which are rooted in this period.
Perhaps we can extend our analytical skills to matters relating to colonial settings elsewhere? This work examines Goa migration to British East Africa and the complexities of rehabilitation. Pinto covers issues which are still examined today, such as race, identity and community. The importance of language, education, economy, tariffs, taxes and trade, currency exchange, the issue of identity cards, citizenship and nationality, the encouragement of entrepreneurship and business enterprise continue to dominate discussion in Goa.
From my own research (The Luso-Indian Stethoscope, 2018), the issue of Konkani being regarded as a language in its own right as opposed to being considered a dialect of Marathi was debated in intellectual circles in the nineteenth century. The status of the language and its recognition as a State language has continued to receive much attention and controversy. Pinto was clearly concerned about the lack of educational institutions that could support the repatriation of Goans with English-speaking skills. He was also an ardent supporter of Konkani language as an important factor of the Goan heritage.
Education was also an important matter to Pinto. He was involved in the establishment of the Norman Godinho School in Uganda. In this work on Goan emigration, he outlines the importance of free and compulsory education in Goa, for the future, its economic prosperity and independence from the need for Goans to seek opportunities elsewhere in order to sustain themselves economically. He also outlines the difficulties and discrimination faced by Goan migrants.
The participation of Goans in the Second World War (1939-1945) had been acknowledged by Pinto, who himself had received a medal for his services during the First World War. He himself, like many of his generation, migrated to Uganda as a young man and returned back to Goa leaving his adult children behind in Africa when he retired with his wife to Nigvaddo, Saligão.
Whilst abroad, Pinto did not however forget his home and followed events in Goa and wider India with interest. An Indian patriot, J.B. Pinto actively welcomed the arrival of the Indian forces in Goa during the Liberation of 1961. As mentioned, he himself had returned to Goa after his retirement in East Africa although his children would ultimately be scattered across the world as a result of the expulsion of the South Asian populations from East Africa. His descendants are now spread across India, Europe and North America, somewhat ironically continuing the path of migration of which Pinto was an early observer.
J.B. Pinto died at his home in Saligão on January 11, 1973, and was buried at the cemetery of the scenic village church. •
Shirley L. Gonsalves is based in Cansa, Tivim, Goa and Aberdeen, Scotland. She is a post-graduate student at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, in the Department of History.
This article was original published on GoaNet.
17 Jan 2019