By Cajetan Coelho
The Jesuit presence in Goa is almost as old as the existence of the Society of Jesus itself and Goa served as the base for the expansion of all sorts of Jesuit activities in the East from 1542. The spiritual tenor of the Jesuit apostolate did not entirely escape contamination from the colonial designs of the Portuguese and other European powers, and this was understandable because the congregation was made up almost exclusively of European members. By the time they made their profession, the very few natives who were admitted, save for their colour, had lost all local culture and identity including the ability to speak the native mother tongues. Through their relentless spiritual onslaught, the damage they inflicted on the local population in the realm of culture and ethos was phenomenal. The post-colonial changes in the organization of the church and of the Society of Jesus have enabled the Jesuits of Goa to take a step such as the establishment of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research to assist the Goan people to rediscover their lost cultural identity and rectify their image in their own eyes and in the eyes of their conquerors, both Indian and European. Being the result of deliberations that took into account the post-liberation needs of the Goan people the Xavier Centre of Historical Research is meant to assist in this process. The Louvain trained theologian and psychologist Dr Romuald De Souza, then the provincial of the Goa Jesuits, provided the necessary vision and impetus, and used the native talent existing in the Goa Jesuit province to give concrete shape to this project. Successive provincials after him have fervently nurtured this institution and the present provincial who is also its chairman, Rev. Gregory Naik, himself an eminent Jesuit eduction strategist in the Indian Subcontinent, is leaving no stone unturned to make it an institution of real international repute encouraging open access to scholars from far and wide in spite of many limitations.
The activities of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research were inaugurated on 4 November 1979, at provisional premises at Mira Mar situated on the mouth of the River Mandovi. This area was the scene of the Dutch blockades of Goa in the first half of the 17th century. The inaugural lamp was lit by Professor P.M. Joshi, the retired director of the Maharashtra Archives. The director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, Dr Jose Blanco, came down to Goa to grace the occasion and to express support for the venture. This was at a time when the political relations between India and Portugal had just begun to warm up after the 1974 revolution which put an end to the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal and initiated the process of decolonization of what was left of the Portuguese empire. The Xavier Centre of Historical Research has helped this process at the cultural level by its involvement in the organization of the series of International Seminars on Indo-Portuguese History [ISIPH], initiated by Rev. J.C. Alfonso former director of the Heras Institute in Bombay in December 1978. The foundation stone for the permanent building of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research at Alto Porvorim, Goa, was laid on that occasion. Much of the existing material infrastructure including books has been obtained through the friendly and ever reliable contribution of Rev. Dr Josef Ubelmesser of Nuremberg and his friends at the Sussen Parish in Germany. The spacious new premises were ready for inauguration and occupation five years later, namely on 27 January 1983, when the Xavier Centre of Historical Research organized the third ISIPH in which 60 Indo-Portuguese scholars from twelve different countries took part.
Fifteen private family collections form the bulk of the holdings of the XCHR-Sussen Research Library. In addition to books from old Jesuit houses and those donated by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for the teaching of the Portuguese language, supplemented by donations from the Portuguese Institute of Culture, some of the large collections came from prominent Goan personalities such as Professor Mariano Saldanha, a linguist who taught Sanskrit and Konkani in Lisbon for over two decades; Dr Jose Nicolau de Fonseca, author of the classic Historical and Archaeological Sketch of the City of Goa (1978); and Mr Bras Fernandes, a co-founder and first secretary of the Bombay Historical Society (1925), which later grew into the Heras Historical Society (1956). The library also received books from other well-known Goan writers like Fr. Filinto Cristo Dias, a Portuguese linguist, and Mons. F.X.G. Catao, a Goan church historian. Besides book material, Catao's unpublished manuscript notes were transferred to the XCHR after his death and have been classified and catalogued for the use of scholars. They deal almost exclusively with the church under the Portuguese Padroado and the local church of Goa. A priceless collection of manuscripts covering the late 18th to the early 19th century was donated to the Xavier Centre by the historic House of Mhamai of Panjim, Goa. This collection of business and family correspondence pertaining to this household includes nearly 200,000 papers in different languages, including Portuguese, French, English, Kannada, Marathi (Modi), Gujarati, and Persian. The Mhamais had an agency house that maintained business contacts all along the western coast of India and even with such distant places as Brazil, East Africa, and Macao. They were also revenue farmers for the Portuguese administration in Goa, as well as acting as Savkars and political informers for the French East India Company during the period of the Anglo-French conflict. The value of some of these papers has already been brought to the attention of historians through several articles published by Dr T.R. de Souza, the former director of the Xavier Centre.
The XCHR-Sussen Historical research Library now has about 15,000 books, including rare atlases, plus photocopies and cyclostyled Government records, reports, seminar papers, dissertations, bibliographies, paper clippings, and loose maps. The Xavier Centre has been building up this library along its three main thrust areas of research, namely: (1) Asia during the European presence in the East with emphasis on the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and the British activities in India; (2) the church in India; (3) Third World issues. The library also possesses rare collections of journals and other serial publications. Although it is a closed access library, readers can easily find what they want with the help of a good descriptive catalogue for which the Dewey Decimal System of classification is followed. Computerization of an analytical index of journals is in progress. No historian or scholar working on a theme related to Indo-European studies today can safely afford to ignore the collections in the XCHR library, or the other research output of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research, chiefly in the form of its publications. Ten volumes have so far been published.
Seminars and Workshops
The Xavier Centre of Historical Research has also been organizing local history seminars every year since 1980, and these have played an important role in developing research consciousness among the local talent. The seminars have received regular support from the Indian Council of Historical Research, and a special feature of these gatherings has been to put professional historians and history students in the audience, giving them an opportunity to listen to questions raised by experienced amateurs. The main aim of this methodology has been to make the historical research relevant to the common man, rather than leaving it the historians to squander research grants on themes that do not interest the paying public. These seminars have so far treated such themes as 'Popular Expressions of Religion in Goa', 'The Church and Goan Society', 'The Press and Goan History', 'Oral History of Goa's Freedom Struggle', 'St Francis Xavier and Goan Piety'.
The Xavier Centre also organized the western zonal seminar of the Indian Council of Historical research in 1981 and two international seminars on Indo-Portuguese History in 1983 and 1994. Workshops are also organized from time to time for research students to discuss problems and areas of research and history writing.
Portuguese and Dutch Language Courses
The Xavier Centre has been organizing one-month crash courses in Portuguese since 1981. The courses are held twice a year to coincide with the Diwali and Summer vacations and are intended to provide the requisite tool for those who have to handle documents written in Portuguese. Over 200 research scholars and others have availed themselves of this facility so far. Several Indian Universities undertaking studies in maritime and Indo-Portuguese history have sent their students to attend these courses. The first course in basic Portuguese does not require any previous knowledge of the language. Every session consists of 75 hours of class work.
The Xavier Centre has also recently started the teaching of Dutch. The Dutch presence in India has lasted for nearly two centuries and there is plenty of historical documentation available for research in India and in the Netherlands. The first course in Dutch was conducted in the summer of 1995 and was well-attended. Earlier, the Centre conducted three such courses at the University of Pondicherry in South India. These crash courses which involve one hundred hours of class work have been found useful by history scholars and others. The recent course in Dutch attracted scholars from various universities in India. The 'Nederlandse Taal Unie', the 'Internationale Vereniging voor Neerlandistiek', the 'Stichting Ons Erfdeel' and the consulates and embassies of the Netherlands and Belgium in India have assisted one way or the other in the conducting of these courses.
The Xavier Centre of Historical Research has also built a small museum, which contains several representative items of Goan Christian art, but also rare collections of Goan numismatics and philately, plus palm-leaf manuscripts, commemorative medallions, and a stone inscription. Some of the museum items date back to the pre-Portuguese period, including some early gold coins of the Kadamba rulers. The stone inscriptions include an edict of the Maratha ruler Sambhaji, son of Shivaji. The inscription is bilingual, in Old Marathi and in Persian.
Xavier Centre of Historical Research
Alto de Povorim
Goa 403 521
Cajetan Coelho is the research coordinator at the Xavier Centre of Historical Research.