Archive for May 3rd, 2012

More on Goa’s Slaves: There were also many Bengalis

May 3, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)



My post on Goa’s Japanese slaves has elicited some interesting responses.

From Lucano Alvares, now in Merida, Mexico: ‘This is most fascinating, even more so because of its absolute plausibility and the fact that so few people have acknowledged it. ‘

From the Goan historian Fatima Gracias (author of Cozinha da Goa: History and Tradition of Goan Food): ‘Goa had slaves from various countries and places —-Japanese, Chinese, Arabs, African, Bengalis and so on . Right now I’m reading a manuscript of a forthcoming  book which has  a  chapter with fascinating and detailed information on slavery in Goa.. Slavery ended in Goa in the 19th century.’

From the Goan writer Vivek Menezes, now in Srinagar: ‘Thanks very much for sharing your incredibly interesting post about
Japanese slaves. Though aware of the early  Japan-Goa connection, I had no idea at all about these slaves. When I get back, will certainly
look for more. One other interesting connection that comes to mind is that Occidental medicine reached Japan first via Goa! The first western-style doctors in that country were sent from Goa Medical College! In addition, you probably know that Francis Xavier is patron saint of Japan, that ‘pao’ is a Luso loanword not just in Konkani and Marathi but also Japanese, and that tempura also has Luso (and Indian?) roots (is it not just a Japanese bhajjia?!).’

From Cecil Pinto, a link to a fascinating article by the eminent historian, Dr. Teotonio de Souza: Manumission of Slaves in Goa 1682-1760 as Found in Codex 860. Dr. de Souza shows that there were many Bengalis, and possibly Odiya, slaves in Goa in the 17th and 18th centuries: “The presence of Bengali slaves and eunuchs in Goa is mentioned in thecontemporary Jesuit records, and also in the manuscript we are presenting here. In her recent research on Bengal, Rila Mukherjee (2006) has studied the Portuguese joining hands with the Arakanese in large scale slaving as a way of making up for their losing political control in the region in the early 17 th century. This provoked the anger of ShahJahan in 1632 and resulted in the take over of Hughly.”

The article includes an interesting aside: ‘A barber resident in S. Lourenço (Agaçaim) accepted a Bengali boy as free and promised to teach him to be a barber within two years.’

Dr. de Souza’s article was presented at a conference entitled: ‘The African Diaspora in Asia: Explorations on a Less Known Fact. The conference was held in Panaji, Goa, in January 2006, and the papers have been published in a collection edited by Kiran Kamal Prasad and Jean-Pierre Angenot.

On the comments page, Veeresh Malik has posted a link to an interesting article on a Japanese slave in South Africa. There is a peculiar serendipity to this because last week, at Duke University, I had a discussion about a similar subject with Rita Barnard, a South African literary critic. She remembered a farmstead near Cape Town that was named after someone called ‘Van Bengal’, and was said to have belonged to a freed slave.

From Dani Botsman: ‘I am so glad that you found the Nelson article of interest.  I enjoyed the comments on your blog immensely, of course.  That a large number of the”Japanese” slaves sold by the Portuguese were, in fact, probably Koreans captured by the armies of the Japanese Christian lords who led the invasion attempts of the 1590s adds yet another layer of fascination to it all too I think!  Certainly it is interesting to think about the kinds of relationships that might have formed between the different groups of men and women trapped together on those ships from Nagasaki to Goa (not unlike your utterly compelling depictions of the Ibis perhaps?)’

Dani has recently published an article called ‘Freedom without Slavery? “Coolies,” Prostitutes, and Outcastes in Meiji Japan’s “Emancipation Moment”.’

This is how it begins: ‘In his acclaimed work Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, sociologist Orlando Patterson argues that “the Western world” has come to embrace freedom as its “supreme value” as the result of a particular relationship to the history of slavery, which began in antiquity and evolved throughout the Middle Ages. In the “non- West,” on the other hand, Patterson tells us that freedom was “stillborn,” unable to develop and grow because, in the absence of this uniquely Western constellation of ideas about slavery, it was associated primarily with the unbridled power of a ruler (an Oriental despot), protection from whom required “not personal freedom or freedoms but submission to controlled, countervailing authority, the tight protective bondage of the kin-based group.” In all, Patterson devotes just twenty-four pages (out of a total of more than four hundred) to his explanation of the failure of freedom in the non-West, in effect presenting us with little more than the familiar Orientalist binary of a West in which individual freedoms are paramount and a non-West in which the individual remains subservient to the group.’

Dani proceeds to show up the weaknesses in Patterson’s argument through examples of 19th century Japanese court judgements on various instances of slave- and coolie-trading by Westerners. One of these concerns a vessel called the ‘Maria Luz’:  ‘A 370-ton barque that had set out from Macao, on the South China coast, at the end of May 1872 to make the long journey back across the Pacific to its home port of Callao, Peru. After a month at sea, the ship was caught in a severe storm, and in early July it limped into the port of Yokohama, where the captain, Ricardo Hereira, requested permission to weigh anchor while the crew made repairs.’

In a recent email Dani writes: ‘One thing I did not end up mentioning about the Maria Luz for reasons of space was that it too seems to have been sailed by a crew made up mainly of “lascars”—so, a Peruvian ship, with an Indian crew, carrying a “cargo” of Chinese laborers from Portuguese-controlled Macao, and it ends up becoming the focus of a trial about slavery in Yokohama, Japan, the final outcome of which was decided by the Russian Tsar!  Yet another reminder, I suppose, of the limits of “national” history!’

And in regard to Vivek’s suggestion about the Goan roots of Japanese tempura, Dani writes: ‘With regard to the Tempura question, it would actually make good sense for it to have come from Goa– the Japanese always say it was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, but that does not mean it came from Portugal.’ [I think this deserves a thesis.]

Finally, Pamela de Mello, Associate Editor of the Herald, one of Goa’s leading dailies, wrote a couple of days ago asking if she could print the post in the paper’s edit page. My answer: Yes.


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