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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Reviving Goa's Portuguese past

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Goa

More than 40 years after Portugal was forced to abandon its tiny imperial outpost of Goa on India's west coast, new attempts are being made to revive some of the cultural markers of its colonial past.

That includes a forthcoming heritage tourism trail through some of Goa's once-grand Portuguese-style mansions and a revival of the Portuguese language.

Dancing the Corredinho on a tourist boat
Some Portuguese cultural traditions remain
But some critics say the new wave of nostalgia cannot prevent the inevitable decline of Goa's distinctive east-west cultural mix.

One example of that mix is corredinho, a distinctively Portuguese dance that is a common sight on tourist boats in Goa's capital Panjim. But the dancers are all Goan.

Renaissance

Four centuries of Portuguese rule have left their mark on Goan life.

The 400-year-old Fiegueiredo mansion in Lotulim in south Goa
Attempts are being made to restore grand-old mansions

And now a cautious movement, led by the Goa-based, Portuguese private organisation, Fundacao Oriente, is attempting a renaissance.

Its director, Sergio Mascarenhas, describes how they have been organising a music festival.

"We started last year and we're going to do it this year again at Capela do Monte, a chapel in north Goa that we have restored."

Fontainhas Road in Panjim, once an upmarket neighbourhood in the Portuguese capital, is like a living museum.

Most of the houses are several hundred years old.

Here the Fundacao Oriente is taking part in the restoration of some of the buildings.

Goa's Latin past

It's the same story in the 400-year-old Fiegueiredo mansion in Lotulim in south Goa.

Singer Remo Fernandes
Remo Fernandes welcomes the revival of Goa's Portuguese heritage
Maria Fiegueiredo, a Goan with a Portuguese passport, spends six months here and the rest in Lisbon.

The mansion's high ceilings, a huge dining hall which accommodate 800 guests and its spacious ball room, speak of its Portuguese past.

"Maintaining something of the Portuguese culture in Goa, Latinidad it's called, the Latin culture here is a heritage of Goa which should be preserved," says Mrs Fiegueiredo

She has just converted part of her home into a heritage inn.

Goa's tourism department is also helping to pay for the conversion of 20 old-style Portuguese homes into inns.

Another hundred are earmarked for the second phase.

And the final tally of living monuments could run into the thousands.

That's not counting the ancient whitewashed Portuguese churches and the magnificent temples still in use in villages across Goa.

Critics

But Ajit Sujikar, whose Panjim Inn remains Goa's first and only heritage inn at present, is cautious about the revivalist fervour.

"I have this doubt because it's, shall we say, not a mass movement. It's a selective process you know.

"And we have to look at the utilitarian aspects. Any conservation must be self sustaining. It must pay for itself. Money put in must be money returned."

Others are still more dismissive of the attempt to cash in on the colonial legacy.

Francisco Sardinho, a former chief minister, is a leading figure in Goa's Roman Catholic community.

"You cannot revive the Portuguese past... it's only a dream," he says.

"If anybody thinks he's going to revive Portuguese past it's only going to be a dream which will always be unaccomplished."

When I visited Remo Fernandes, one of Goa's best-known artists, in his 200-year-old ancestral north Goa mansion, he performed a haunting Portuguese song.

"You came into my life so naturally," he sings, perhaps an unwitting reference to the way Portuguese culture became one with Goa over the centuries.

He says if the Portuguese heritage is being revived with good intentions then he would welcome it.

But many believe such efforts will merely delay the increasing influence on Goa of the rest of India.


SEE ALSO:
Political change in Goa
24 Oct 00  |  South Asia
Goa shuns backpackers
18 Oct 00  |  South Asia


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