Old Goa



164_6445-4.JPGThe Portuguese took control of Goa by the mid-fifteen hundreds. They ruled it 400 years, until India seized it 1961 (nearly 15 years after Indian independence). Yet the Portuguese influence has left its legacy both on the place and its people. Although the uniqueness of Goa is immediately apparent, our trip to Old Goa (once said to rival Lisbon in grandeur) today has instigated this article.


The Place

Look at a map of Goa and you’ll immediately see that the airport is in Vasco de Gama. And although some major cities and beaches have been renamed, most people still use the old Portuguese names. Arriving in Goa, it is impossible not to notice the Iberian architecture. Besides all the cathedrals and chapels, the buildings are white or pastel-painted. Additionally, most homes have tile porches enclosed by short little pillared (for lack of a better description) wall and a wrought iron gate. If there weren’t so many Indians around, you’d think you were in Central America. Yet, even some of the Goans don’t look like most Indians.


The People

Joylani’s pointed out a few people to me, who “have Portuguese blood for sure.” When I ask her how she knows for sure, she says because they look like all the people she went to school with (apparently Arcata has a sizable Portuguese population). Regardless of how they look, a fair amount of Goans still speak Portuguese (most in addition to their native Konkan, as well as Hindi and English). Yet, perhaps the largest difference between Goa and Hindustan (Hindi for India, literally meaning land of the Hindus), is that a large percentage of Goans are Catholic. All the little shrines have Jesus, Mary, or a saint in them, instead of a Hindu god. And instead of burning candles, incense, and hanging marigolds around Hindu shrines in their homes/restaurants, they have Catholic shrines or crosses with the usual flowers or candles. Instead of Hindu names, the buses all have the name of saint, usually also displayed inside the bus with a wreath of flowers, flashing LEDs, and an electric candle- very Indian still, but Catholic. One of the switches in our room even controls the electric candle on a shelf with Catholic portraits. The funny thing about Goa is even some of the Hindu temples and shrines are built in the Portuguese/Catholic style of pastel colors and European architecture. The confluence of culture and religion can be confusing. In the US, it seems fairly easy to separate culture and religion. Yet in India, oftentimes culture is religion and vice versa, so Goa was extremely interesting in this sense (and as topic could fill volumes). A few of the ways in which Goan Catholic culture was manifested: women wore an antiquated style of dresses (which I assume was from European missionaries), alcohol was way more prevalent in public, and many men had “Christian names” like John or George.


Goa embodies India in that it’s different. So often India is stereotyped by the so-called Hindi-belt (stretching across North India from Kutch to Bengal), but Goa is different in everyway. From language to landscape, it’s an interesting and unique place.

One thought on “Old Goa

  1. the first thing I thought when I saw that picture was think: “that looks like something I would see in Macau” but then I actually started reading and it all made sense (Macau was also ruled by the Portuguese for a while but of course you know that…and I’m sure you’ll be there at some point too. haha)

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