Terça-feira, 27 de Julho de 2010

Maritime India: Trade, religion and polity Panaji, Goa

 

The gains of the local trade led to create the Indo-Portuguese cultural heritage in Goa

 

We owe it to Pius Malekandathil: His recent
compilation of ten dispersed research
articles into a book entitled Maritime
India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian
Ocean (Delhi, Primus Books, 2010), has made it
easier for us to appreciate better, the insights he
has been contributing over the past two decades
to the understanding of maritime India. He starts
by calling our attention that there have been all
through history, two Indias – the inland and the
terrestrial India. The maritime India was more
exposed to changes and had to be more accommodative,
liberal and tolerant in contrast to the
inland India, which always remained more conservative
and socially rigid. This need not be seen
as a watertight division, and the dividing lines
were always blurred, resulting into intermediate
realms. How far inland are the maritime frontiers?
This is one among many questions that this book
seeks to raise and answer.


The geography and the ecology of the littoral
played a vital role in the shaping of the ethos
and mentality of people living along the sea or
its proximity with a rhythm and pattern of their
own, generally defined as the culture of the littoral,
including professional occupations, linguistic traditions,
food habits, etc. Pius Malekandathil does
not tell us that the impact of the waves and the
winds was also responsible for bringing distant
people together, or for taking home people into
Diasporas, but this is implied throughout these
essays and we are offered some refreshing concepts,
such as maritime consciousness and value-based
dependence on sea space. It is in this
context of sea space and oceanic circuits that we
are led to identify the regional and micro-regional
nodal points that served as procurement and distribution
outlets for resources that political elites
and rulers sought to promote or control for enhancing
their power base.


The ongoing research about Goa, just like about
any other littoral region, needs micro-studies,
but which are never delinked from the macro-vision
of its fast or slow fluctuating links with the
sea space and ocean circuits. We need an ever
greater interaction between the Goa-based researchers
and students of history and culture
with the national and international research circles.
The internet forums, including Goa-Research-Net
(created by me in 1996 jointly with Goan journalist
Frederick Noronha) can be useful tools for this
interaction, in addition to the usual University-based
institutional activities.


Pius Malekandathil’s academic and professional
curriculum is a fine example of how the historiography
needs to be developed and promoted
by casting ever wider the analytical web, but
never ignoring the regional and local specificities.
Within a short span of time Pius Malekandathil
has lectured and researched at Pondicherry University,
Goa University, Shankaracharya University
(Kalady), and is now at the JNU in New Delhi. The
insights he contributes to the understanding of
Goa’s history are drawn from his trans-regional
and oceanic perspective across times, going back
to the incorporation of the Indian ports into the
Persian Sassanid mercantile networks. Gopakapattanam
(Revatidvipa) was one of the nodal points
for this Sassanid trade. Pahlavi-inscribed crosses
found along the coast from Goa (in Agassaim) till
Mylapore are some traces of that network. The
Gulf links of the Goans are therefore not any novelties
promoted by the arrival of the Portuguese
and the British in India. They date back to fourth
century, when the persecutions of the Christians
by Shahpur II drove merchant communities from
Persia to Indian littoral, particularly to Malabar,
but they were also active along Konkan and Gujarat
coasts.


The Sassanid network served as base for the
construction of the Arab-Islamic network that followed
and integrated Goa. The second essay of
the book concentrates upon Goa’s maritime past
in this phase, extending till the Portuguese arrival
and their efforts at replacing it. It starts with the
Arab-Rashtrakuta collaboration. Goa under Silaharas,
initially vassals of Rashtrakutas, had strong
Arab presence, at least since the 10th century.
Al Masudi’s travel account includes Sindapur
among the important maritime centres of Western
India. Later Arab visitors Al Idrisi (12th c) and Ibn
Batuta (14th c) also contain references to Sindabur,
with fine buildings and rich bazaars! But even
before the intervention of the Kadambas, many
ship-owning Arab merchants seem to have settled
in the region with bases at Chandrapura and Balipattana,
making it a Hanjamannagara. Present day
Anjuna and its flea market could draw
inspiration from this not so distant commercial
past.


The Arab ship-owning magnate Muhammed,
his son Ismael and grandson Sadhan, played key
positions in the trade activities of Gopakapattanam
under Guhalladeva I and his son Shastadeva, and
Jayakesi I, assisting them in naval battles against
the North Silaharas. Jayakesi I permitted Sadhan
to collect customs for the maintenance of a
mosque from vessels coming from different regions
of the Indian Ocean. The income probably
served to assist the urban poor, and was to some
extent a parallel to the Portuguese Institution of
Santa Casa de Misericórdia. The policy of Jayakesi
favouring the mosque with a grant needs to be
viewed as a strategy to attract more traders from
Arabia, ensuring thereby more wealth to
strengthen his emerging kingdom. Truly enough,
the Muslim merchants contributed liberally with
personnel, vessels and money for the political
expansion of the Kadambas.


The fall of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 following
the attacks of the Mongols, adversely affected
the trade links with India, including Goa.
The repeated attacks by Malik Kafur, Muhammadbin-
Tughlaq and Jamal-ud-din from Honavar,
drained further the economy of Gopakapattanam.
But these misfortunes also opened new opportunity
of importing horses from West Asia. Jamal-ud-
din was son of a Goan ship-builder. He had
accumulated fortune to establish himself as sultan
of Honavar and to seek control of Goa itself. Since
then Goa became a mere gateway of commercial
ambitions of rival regional powers, such as Vijayanagar,
the Bahamanis and the Bijapur. It was
against this economically well-activated and commercially
stimulated space that the Portuguese
arrived to conquer Goa in 1510.


While most of the remaining essays concentrate
mostly on the south Indian participation in the
Indian ocean networks, including the foreign
commercial origins and growth of the communities
of Armenians, Jews and St Thomas Christians, we
get to know, more about the dispersion of the
Portuguese renegades in India and their utilisation
by the Portuguese Goa-based administration to
share in the privatisation of trading activities in
the so-called Portuguese shadow empire in the
Bay of Bengal and South China sea. We come to
know also better the growing shift of the Portuguese
carreira or seaborne trade, via the Cape,
to greater concentration in more lucrative intra-
Asiatic country trade. Pius Malekandathil concludes
that the gains of this local trade of the
married-settlers that permitted them to create
what we see today as the Indo-Portuguese cultural
heritage in Goa, Cochin and the other former
Portuguese settlements.

            

TEOTONIO R DE SOUZA

Herald, 8 May 2010, p. 8.

(dir. da Lic. em História) 

Publicado por Re-ligare às 18:28
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