Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pork and the Goan pre-Portuguese past: Food habits that surprise!

It seems almost lost in the mists of time now. That time when the idea of Goa Dourada, a Goa that was Lusitanian, or Portuguese, needed to be fought with another idea. The idea that eventually emerged to contest that of Goa Dourada was that of Goa Indica; the Goa that was Indian. If one idea pointed to a Lusitanian inspiration for Goa, the other pointed more properly to a brahmanical inspiration for Goa. The support for Goa Indica was found in geographical contiguity, in Puranic legend and sundry other clues.


Now this Indic connection for Goa was not unwarranted. There was a need to overact the rhetoric overdrive of the Estado Novo, and Goa Indica played its role in this ideological battle. The question remains however, if Goa Indica managed to capture the entire essence of Goa, or was it another incomplete cliché that needs to necessarily give way to another? Where would this new cliché come from if at all? Thankfully, Mother India in her variety provides the answer to that question. In the early 1980’s a group of scholars who had suckled right at the brahmanical breast of the Mother emerged with an interesting intellectual agenda. Styling themselves the Subaltern Studies Group, this group of scholars argued that there was much in the history of the subcontinent, and the manner in which we thought about it that had to change. We had to move away from the understanding of history as the progress led by great men, to a history that features the non-elite groups, the subaltern, as agents of social and political change. This focus on the hitherto small people of history, was matched by the independent growth in the Dalit movement in India. As a result, we can today actively think of crafting a history of India based on Dalit and subaltern experiences and push back brahmanical histories from the centre-stage it has occupied till date.


One of the many problems with Goa Indica is that when it thought of the pre-Portuguese past, it thought of Goa as a brahmanical centre. The history of this pre-Portuguese past was the history of the great men and groups in the brahmanical tradition. There was, and is, no space for the non-brahmanical groups in the imagination of a pre-Portuguese Goa. Having said this though, it must be pointed out that Goa Dourada, at least when used within the Goan context, was a reference to the self-image and perceptions of the Lusitanianised brahmanical and elite groups. Between the two cliches, you have the nationalist, and imperialist imaginations of the elite and the brahmanical. If one has to redress this understanding of Goa then, at the same time not fall into Lusitanian moulds for Goa, where should we go? Where do we find the trope that will allow us to place at the centre, the experiences and histories of the Goan subaltern?


Happily it appears that we may not have to go too far. Perhaps the answer was sitting before our very noses all the time and thanks to our elitist obsessions we just didn’t recognize it!


The eating of pork is essential to any Catholic feast or festive occasion, and many assume that the consumption of pork was something that was ‘imposed’ and introduced to the ancestors of today’s Catholics by the Portuguese and the accompanying missionaries. What if however, this was not quite the story? What if pork was already a part of the Goan diet before the Portuguese came in? Would that possibly change the way in which we look at the constituents of Goan Catholic culture?


It is possible, and no doubt documented, that the missionaries urged pork on to the populace that converted to Catholicism way back in the 1500’s. However, to assume that this was the first time the converts to Catholicism had ever consumed pork is to assume that the entire population that converted was possessed of brahmanical sensibilities. If one looks around, at social groups in the rest of Mother India, one realizes that there is a good portion of the non-brahmanical population of the sub-continent that quite enjoys eating pork. We can also safely assume that these groups were insulated from the rigors of that famed beast, the Holy Inquisition in Goa, and that their pork-consumption is not a savory leftover from their missionary-scarred past. The consumption of pork then, it turns out, is not in fact some Portuguese introduction to Goan cuisine, but in fact foundationally (pre-Portuguese) Goan!


A significant social scientist in Goa, was recently contemplating the fact that the social groups, at least in Catholic Bardez, who were professional cooks were groups that in other parts of India were seen an untouchable. What caused then, this scholar wondered, for the missionary priests, to attach cooking as the traditional occupation of this group on their conversion to Christianity? If one realizes that these groups were in any case consuming Pork, and that the missionaries came from Europe with a taste for porcine flesh, then voila! One sees a natural partnership being produced! This association begins to make more sense when one realizes that the first Christians in Goa, were not members of the Brahmanical castes, but in fact the non-brahmanical castes, no doubt eager to get away from the stuffy sensibilities of the brahmanical groups. The fact is that only after the enactment of penal legislations did segments of the brahmanical groups convert to Christianity.


Realizing that the consumption of pork was a part of the pre-Portuguese culture of Goa pushes us to realize that there is much that we assume to be Portuguese impacts on Goan culture that are in fact remnants from the elusive pre-Portuguese past. To be sure there was some amount of colonial influence in the manner in which pork consumption spread. But for that matter, most of the constituents of sub-continental cuisine, are the result of the intervention of the Portuguese. It was because of the colonial transportation of American spices that we have the Indian cuisine that we are familiar with today.


In sum then, while the idea of Goa Indica was relevant and helpful, it is time we started relooking the clichés we use to describe Goa. Looking at the practices of the non-brahmanical groups in Goa, would perhaps give us another interesting angle to enter the Goan experience.


(First published in the Gomantak Times 25 August 2010)

9 comments:

Gonzo Garbanzo said...

i quite possibly might agree..always wondered whther swine eating was pre portugese:) either way...good outcome:)

Teotonio R. de Souza said...

Jason,
Any documentation you can cite for the pre-portuguese swine-eating in Goa / rest of India? Or it is another of your imaginary argument to make a point?

Abhik Majumdar said...

Is there any historical evidence regarding pork consumption in pre-Portuguese times? Perhaps the journals or diaries of the first European visitors might throw more light on the matter.

Jason said...

Thank you for the question Abhik. I am open for correction on this matter, but I see no reason to ask this question in the first place.

It is common sociological/anthropological knowledge that non-brahmanical and castes that today see themselves as Dalit, ate, and continue to eat pork.

Given the commonly understood historical trajectory of the subcontinent, with either brahmanical or Islamic sensibilities dominating - allowing us to formulate the terms Sanskritisation or Islamicization - any trend vis-a-vis pork consumption would be toward the opposite. That is to say, the tendency would be to quit eating pork.

If Goa was in fact not distinct from the rest of the subcontinent, or at least the regions around it (and in Tulu-nadu, pork consumption is quite common), then it stands to reason, that pork consumption was, at least among the non-brahmanical groups, passe.

But I believe that the issue is not merely one of historical documentation or not. The issue is of the imaginative leaps that are an essential part of building new theoretical formulations. The current historical dogmas, say the Aryan and Dravidian divide, were built on a distant imaginative leap, and built on, till we today barely question it.

Finally, when you suggest we look at journals and diaries of the first European visitors, are you not giving them a centrality that is militates against calls such as 'Provinicialising Europe'? Secondly, why should we assume, that these Europeans would have documented 'truthfully' all local experience?

Finally, my expertise does not lie in historical texts. I could quite possibly be, entirely 'historically' wrong. But I am not particularly bothered by that. I see the column I write, as not necessarily representing reality, but providing fodder to think through issues, together with my audience. In particular, is there a way in which we can think through the peculiar circumstances that contemporary Goa finds itself in? This thinking-through could result in a turn around of the position I represent. But this is what public debate is about no? and the constitution of public spheres and civil societies? (Civil societies being where everyone is allowed representational space, not just the dominant).

Ramesh Dicholkar said...

Thank you, Jason, for a thought provoking idea. In fact, it is surprising how often we forget the obvious, reminding me of the fable of the (brilliant or simple-minded?) old monk who, meeting humans after many decades of isolation, needed tangible evidence that he had been born into a human mother and not the jungle parrot he had grown up with.

Rather than demanding textual evidence (which can be copiously provided, of course, for many periods and regions of the subcontinent) that "Indians" of various groups did consume pig of all sorts, It sounds far more interesting, imaginative, and scholarly, to ask two perhaps not so unrelated sets of questions:

1) How far did the colonial powers and converters understand the association between pork and pollution; what role did this greater or thiner understanding play in the conversion of low, middle and high castes; how innocent or casual is the placing of the Faraz as church cook; and what consequences did this have on the structuring of power and symbolic relations between different groups?

2) On the other hand, and coming to terms with your sound argument about the bankruptcy of the Goa Indica argument, it strikes me as surprising that scholars naively embraced this counter-image without realising both its political and heuristic shortcomings. While you have extensively dealt, using different words, with the political implications of Goa Indica (and its all-too-obvious nationalist and brahmanical agenda), perhaps it is important to reflect on the cognitive conditions that have lead scholars to ignore the twinship of the Goa Dourada/Goa Indica arguments, their almost identical breeding and the astonishing fact that one could be actually used to contest the other.

At the same time, of course, most, if not all, researchers have failed to actually go beyond the mere pamphletary dimension of the Goa Indica image, thus suffocating what perhaps was its most promising point: indeed, even if the political affiliation with the colonial or imperial historiography was no longer as evident, the thematic, theoretical and methodological thrust did not change much - resulting in the repetition of tired subjects, phrases and practices as well as in the obliteration of new questions such as the one you are advancing here.

Finally, it is also very surprising to notice that most of the Goa Indica proponents seem to have focused all their critical efforts in the so-called deconstruction of the Goa Dourada myth while sparing its Indica sister such scrutiny, thus reifying several other more or less literal myths and imaginary arguments in their hunger for a more "properly Indian" past. It's probably enough to think of writers like Pratima Kamat, Nandkumar Kamat or P. Sakardhande (not to mention their champion Kosambi or others who seem to have retired from academic publishing) and the way they have uncritically and unimaginatively accepted - with a few handy rationalisations - pseudo-puranic accounts of Goan history that might well be as pre-Portuguese as the Bom Jesus church, or the manner in which they have rehabilitated pseudo-historical models that have their foundations on British and Portuguese colonial writing, to understand the theoretical weakness and political conservativeness of the Goa Indica movement. Sound source criticism seems to have magically (imaginatively?) disappeared here, and the narratives that Goa Indica proponents have left us all sound suspiciously similar to the Goa Dourada that they so bitterly criticised but so poorly understood.

Thanks for everything,
RD

Ramesh Dicholkar said...

Thank you, Jason, for a thought provoking idea. In fact, it is surprising how often we forget the obvious, reminding me of the fable of the (brilliant or simple-minded?) old monk who, meeting humans after many decades of isolation, needed tangible evidence that he had been born into a human mother and not the jungle parrot he had grown up with.

Rather than demanding textual evidence (which can be copiously provided, of course, for many periods and regions of the subcontinent) that "Indians" of various groups did consume pig of all sorts, It sounds far more interesting, imaginative, and scholarly, to ask two perhaps not so unrelated sets of questions:

1) How far did the colonial powers and converters understand the association between pork and pollution; what role did this greater or thiner understanding play in the conversion of low, middle and high castes; how innocent or casual is the placing of the Faraz as church cook; and what consequences did this have on the structuring of power and symbolic relations between different groups?

2) On the other hand, and coming to terms with your sound argument about the bankruptcy of the Goa Indica argument, it strikes me as surprising that scholars naively embraced this counter-image without realising both its political and heuristic shortcomings. While you have extensively dealt, using different words, with the political implications of Goa Indica (and its all-too-obvious nationalist and brahmanical agenda), perhaps it is important to reflect on the cognitive conditions that have lead scholars to ignore the twinship of the Goa Dourada/Goa Indica arguments, their almost identical breeding and the astonishing fact that one could be actually used to contest the other.

(continues below)

Ramesh Dicholkar said...

At the same time, of course, most, if not all, researchers have failed to actually go beyond the mere pamphletary dimension of the Goa Indica image, thus suffocating what perhaps was its most promising point: indeed, even if the political affiliation with the colonial or imperial historiography was no longer as evident, the thematic, theoretical and methodological thrust did not change much - resulting in the repetition of tired subjects, phrases and practices as well as in the obliteration of new questions such as the one you are advancing here.

Finally, it is also very surprising to notice that most of the Goa Indica proponents seem to have focused all their critical efforts in the so-called deconstruction of the Goa Dourada myth while sparing its Indica sister such scrutiny, thus reifying several other more or less literal myths and imaginary arguments in their hunger for a more "properly Indian" past. It's probably enough to think of writers like Pratima Kamat, Nandkumar Kamat or P. Sakardhande (not to mention their champion Kosambi or others who seem to have retired from academic publishing) and the way they have uncritically and unimaginatively accepted - with a few handy rationalisations - pseudo-puranic accounts of Goan history that might well be as pre-Portuguese as the Bom Jesus church, or the manner in which they have rehabilitated pseudo-historical models that have their foundations on British and Portuguese colonial writing, to understand the theoretical weakness and political conservativeness of the Goa Indica movement. Sound source criticism seems to have magically (imaginatively?) disappeared here, and the narratives that Goa Indica proponents have left us all sound suspiciously similar to the Goa Dourada that they so bitterly criticised but so poorly understood.

Thanks for everything,
RD

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a village where the pigs (ghar dukor or poslele/poshille =domesticated dukor) were cleaning our open toilets. Sometimes they were a nuisance. Near my primary school I used to watch the elaborate ritual of butchering of the pigs, beginning with the burning of the hair. That smell still lingers in my nostrils.

In the village the scenes of squealing pigs and piglets tied to bicycles were common and as children we used to enjoy the chase to catch the pigs using ferocious dogs. I still shiver after recalling some of these gory scenes. I had seen a pig stoned to death.

Personally I don't consume beef or pork and I don't decide on diet choices of others.

What I have found intriguing is the distinction which Hindus of all castes, esp. in villages make between pork=ghar dukor meat and the meat of wild boar (Ran dukor). Biologically, technically there is hardly any difference. Both types of meat can be classified as 'pork'.

Worse still 'pork eaters' are ridiculed as "dukor khaire'. In fact the xacuti of the later (randukor) is considered one of the best spicy preparation in Goa despite the fact that 'adi varaha' (royal emblem of Chalukyas of Badami who ruled over Goa for 200 years) or the 'wild boar" is the third reincarnation of Lord Vishnu as per the puranic dashavatara legend.

Irrespective of the food preferences, Prof. Motghare of GMC has found that pork from Goa's ghar dukor has been causing brain damage in a significant pork eating population in Agacaim on account of the 'tape worms'.

regards and best wishes

Nicholas Fernandes said...

Dear Jason,

You have opened a good avenue by stating Goa had rich past before portuguese, Goan tradition of famous cooks, sailors, mariners, perhaps astronomers with knowledge
of astronomy(skies) which were used by the Portuguese in its conquest of fareast and trade
and if we delve deeper in this we might know our true and rich heritage.

I believe before Portuguese, we're also influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Persians,
Chinese to say the least...? a lots of things we do, cook, dress, courtessy attitude, words from language i have noticed are in found in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, Indo China, China..

Thank you and best wishes

Nicholas Fernandes