Terça-feira, 20 de Julho de 2010

Colonial Church Architecture in Goa

It was ecologically unfriendly, socially disruptive and economically disastrous...

To those who are labouring hard to bring about a paradigm shift from `Indo-Portuguese art' to `Goan Catholic Art', always or predominantly with Hindu artisans at work, I wish to recall that it was `Christianotopia romana' (not `Lusotopia') which prevailed in Portuguese controlled (?) Asia. Probably nationalistic arrogance, vocally denied but seen in practice, does not permit some Portuguese art historians to admit an obvious historical reality.

The Portuguese Church `padroado' was manned largely by missionaries of various European nationalities, and so were the producers of the military and church architecture. Prominent among the missionaries and architects were Italians. Among the missionaries, A Valignano, R de Nobili and M Ricci are more known. The better known architect Julio Simão was himself preceded by Giovanni Battista Cairati.

I am not in the least surprised with the reaction of Dr Paulo Varela Gomes in the Herald of 7 July to my two recent columns. He laments that I failed to identify him by name, and herded him among some Portuguese art historians. I am sorry for that, because I admit he is unique. But what should interest us are ideas, not persons or names! Not dragging persons into discussions is generally helpful for a more critical discussion.

I have no patience or interest in engaging in quixotic battles for Goan church architecture. Goan heritage lovers would hardly care for the hair-splitting differences in `Indo-Portuguese art'. By sheer dint of `boa educação', I do not wish to qualify the response of Dr Gomes as outright hysterical. I shall limit to point out that his so-called research methodology is based upon a logic of adolescents, who usually tend to say or do exactly the opposite of what the adults require from them.

Dr Gomes tells us that he confirmed the originality of his idea of the uniqueness of `Goan Catholic Architecture' after I stated that he brought no novelty. If I would now choose to call his views profoundly original, he may conclude that he is battling with windmills. With that logic  Dr. Paulo Varela Gomes is hardly qualified to judge what others have to say about Portuguese colonialism and its heritage.

As for the rigour of his research, a little pricking was sufficient for him to downgrade an earlier treatise of Matheus de Castro to "initial stages" (whatever that means). But he still insists that "there is one version in Portuguese". Could we know where? Is it a translation made by the Portuguese authorities or Jesuits who hated his guts? I am aware of such a translation and its original in Latin, in the Jesuit archives in Rome. Did Castro flee (`fugiu') from Goa, as Dr Gomes claims [`Ler História', n. 58(2010), p. 56] or did he obey reluctantly the insistent calls from Rome that sought to avoid more frictions with the `Padroado' and Portuguese authorities in India? His linguistic twists reveal his biases.

More interesting and relevant is the research of Dr Maria Manuela Tenreiro, a Portuguese art historian trained in the UK. She recently produced an MPhil dissertation, later developed into a full-fledged PhD thesis. She focuses upon Carlos Julião, an Italian who worked for the Portuguese as military engineer in the 18th century. Julião was involved in the manufacture of the oversized statue of King José installed by the Marquis of Pombal in the `Terreiro do Paço', following the reconstruction of Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755. He rose to the post of Deputy Inspector of the Army Arsenal, joined the royal court in exile to Brazil during the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal, and died there in 1811.

A recent televised program chose the best seven Portuguese historical architectural monuments overseas. Two of them turned out to be from India. It looked like a post-colonial version of a military exhibition organised by the Salazar regime in 1960, titled A Engenharia Militar no Brasil e no Ultramar Português Antigo e Moderno. The photos / designs of the forts were supplemented with sketches produced by Carlos Julião, identifying native subjects of the empire and objects of `ethnographic' curiosity. It was an enlightenment-masked racism with scientific veneer, a tendency that endures beneath subtle post-colonial platitudes and discourses of human rights.

Carlos Julião also did a topographic survey of Macau for 10 years. He served in India for about six years, probably sometime between 1763 and 1777. A manuscript dated 1778 in the National Library in Lisbon titled `Noticia Summaria do Gentilismo da Asia' has corresponding images and text in another pholio by the same name, kept at the National Library in Rio (Brazil). It is signed by Carlos Julião and includes two views of the ports of Goa and Diu. His `Figurinhos' includes, among predominantly Brazillian society, a `Gentio' of Goa in gala dress, a `Baye' of Goa in Brahman dress, a `Gentio' of Goa in ordinary dress, a `Baye' of Goa from the Chardo caste. We have yet to know what else Carlos Julião did in Goa, besides looking at the Goan baye and Hindu (gentios) dressing styles.

Contrary to the obvious interest of some art historians from Portugal in trumpeting the grandeur of the colonial legacy, even while seeking to replace the label of `Indo-Portuguese' to a more convenient post-colonial designation agreeable to natives, the Goan heritage lovers can never forget that it is a religious symbol of the colonial power, appropriated by some local beneficiaries. It was a baroque imposition that was ecologically unfriendly, socially disruptive and economically disastrous. Neither colonial nor post-colonial economy ever coped with such `holy' structures.

The new tendency in church architecture is likely to favour community centres with multiple functionalities, combining the cultic and social needs of the local congregations. The World Heritage rules, framed through UNESCO and other international bodies, always under the pressure of the former colonial powers eager to conserve their colonial art legacy, will continue to exact the preservation of all past monstrosities, or at least their gothic-baroque façades. They could well remain as a constant reminder of the religious-political impositions and interferences in the cultures of the former colonial territories.

To conclude, heritage is a delicate and negotiated concept acceptable to the local / regional sections of the population. The lack of such a social negotiation leads to disasters like the Babri Masjid case at the national level, or many small but disturbing communal frictions resulting in, or following from violations of religious sanctuaries in Goa. There is no such thing as common heritage, unless all or most accept it as such through a democratic consensus.


(director da Lic. em História na ULHT)

Texto publicado no diário Herald, Pangim, Goa, 17 de Julho, p.8.

Publicado por Re-ligare às 10:57
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