Navhind Times – 11th August 2013 – Panorama

August ‘Kranti’: Priests against Portuguese “Pigmentocracy” – Dr Pratima Kamat

Categories: Bible,Events,Stories

Navhind Times – 11th August 2013 – Panorama

The months of August and January hold special significance to us, Indians, on account of their association with the Quit India Movement, the Independence of our country and the setting up of the Indian Republic. Interestingly, the history of Goa’s resistance to colonial hegemony has thrown up red-letter dates in these very same months



The months of August and January hold special significance to us, Indians, on account of their association with the Quit India Movement, the Independence of our country and the setting up of the Indian Republic. Interestingly, the history of Goa’s resistance to colonial hegemony has thrown up red-letter dates in these very same months. On January 26, 1852, Dipu Rane unfurled the banner of revolt against the Portuguese; the Adilshahi invasion of Goa on August 12, 1654 was influenced by Bishop Matheus de Castro, who aimed at overthrowing the racist alien rule present in his homeland; a revolt was planned for August 10, 1787 which, it is said, aspired to replace the Portuguese rule with a republican government; and in August 1895, Padre Alvares was branded ‘seditious’ for pursuing his ‘swadeshi’ ideology.


The Estado da Índia as a “Pigmentocracy”


Although some twentieth century historians opine, “There was no racial question anywhere in the Portuguese colonies,” the truth is that the Portuguese empire was a “pigmentocracy” characterised by “a strong and tenacious colour-bar,” with the Portuguese looking down upon Indians as “base, cowardly and unreliable” members of a ‘contaminated,’ and hence inferior, race (raçainfecta).

Racial discrimination, practised by the Portuguese in filling up higher positions in the Church hierarchy, and even in the ordination of local priests, resulted in clerical discontentment. Hand-in-hand with an arrogant display of colour-bar went the corrupt administration, ecclesiastical as well as lay, seeped as it was in luxury and scandal.

Such discontentment could not but breed a feeling of protest, could not but launch an action of revolt, especially because while the Padroado Real (the Crown Patronage of the Church, a set of privileges granted by the Holy See to the King of Portugal to spread Christianity in the East) suppressed the Goan clergy, the SacræCongregationis de Propaganda Fide (Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith), set up in 1622, was in favour of the indigenisation of missionary work.


Matheus de Castro Mahale


Matheus de Castro is a typical example of a Goan priest suppressed by the Padroado Real and encouraged by the Propaganda Fide which facilitated the rise of qualified local priests to the upper echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Castro, after being rejected for ordination by the Archbishop of Goa, proceeded to Rome in 1621 where he was ordained priest, and also encouraged to pursue higher studies. Armed with a doctorate in theology and later consecrated Bishop of Chrysopolis, making him the first Goan to be elevated to an episcopal position, Matheus de Castro proceeded to work in India as Vicar-Apostolic in the Bijapuri lands, with his headquarters at Bicholim.

The Bishop of Chrysopolis believed that the Portuguese practice of colour-bar deterred the progress of evangelisation in the sub-continent. In 1653, when he returned to India after his third visit to Rome, Matheus de Castro was determined to liberate his people from the shackles of Portuguese colonialism. He evolved a three-pronged strategy to achieve this goal: a local rebellion from within which was to coincide with a Bijapuri invasion on land and a simultaneous Dutch offensive on sea.

However, Matheus de Castro was betrayed to the Portuguese authorities who promptly strengthened the land and riverine defences of Goa. The Adilshahi attack commenced on August 12, 1654, but met with total failure. Overconfident of an easy and instant victory, Bijapur had sent a meagre force that was easily repulsed by the Portuguese.

The Adil Shah signed a treaty with the Portuguese and the influence of the Bishop of Chrysopolis at the court of Bijapur took a headlong plunge. Having faced defeat, the Adil Shah paid scant heed to the pleas of Castro for launching a follow-up offensive. Instead, Matheus de Castro lost the confidence of the Bijapuri court and was forced to return to Rome where he died in 1677, an exile from his motherland which he had so painstakingly attempted to liberate from the Portuguese colonial yoke in August 1654.



The celebrated Marquês de Pombal, the prime minister of Portugal under D José I, brought a breath of fresh, liberal air in the prejudice-filled atmosphere of Goa. The decrees which favoured the appointment of qualified Goans to positions in the local administration were, initially, not fully implemented and later with the fall of the Marquês de Pombal from power, they were totally ignored. Having tasted equality, albeit on paper, the Goans were reluctant to be deprived of the same. This was the principal cause for planning the overthrow of the Portuguese rule in 1787.

The leaders, Fr Caetano Francisco do Couto and Fr José António Gonçalves, were qualified Goan priests who had been denied episcopal postings by the racist Portuguese regime. A trip to Lisbon had failed to secure any relief to them from the royal court. In Lisbon, the two priests came in contact with Fr Caetano Vitorino de Faria, the father of the renowned Abbé Faria, who too had come to the Portuguese capital in search of better prospects. On their return to Goa, the two clerics set themselves to the task of winning over local priests, military officers and the civilians to the cause of a coup d’état. They were aided by the Pintos of Candolim in whose palatial house the details of the revolt were chalked


The proposed coup aimed at the overthrow of the Portuguese rule which denied ecclesiastical, military and civil promotions to meritorious sons of the soil. Its leaders, it is believed, being influenced by the writings of the French philosophes, aimed at replacing the Portuguese rule with a republican government which would be based on a new social order erected on the foundations of liberty, equality and fraternity. Had they succeeded in this venture, Goa would have been the forerunner of the French Revolution! The coup was scheduled for August 10, 1787, but five days before D-day it was betrayed to the authorities, resulting in the deportment and heinous murder of some of its leaders.

In the political panorama of the 19th century, the foremost protesting padres were Fr Pedro António Ribeiro, Fr Estevão Jeremias Mascarenhas and Fr António Francisco Xavier Alvares.


The ‘Swadeshi’ ideology of Padre Alvares


Under the Portuguese constitutional monarchy (1820-1910) a limited right of franchise was granted to the Goans. During this period, Goans like Bernardo Peres da Silva, José Inacio de Loyola, Francisco Luis Gomes, Padre Alvares and Luis Menezes Bragança often resorted to campaigns in the press and public protests in defence of their newly acquired political rights.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Padre António Francisco Xavier Alvares raised his voice against the oppressive alien regime present in his homeland. He launched tirades against the irregularities present in the colonial civil and ecclesiastical administration of Goa.

Alvares was a writer, an editor, a founder of educational and social institutions, a patriot and a dedicated social worker and champion of the downtrodden who had proved by his actions that the Church was “the community of Faith, hope and charity,” and wished the administration of Goa to be likewise. In the pursuit of this ideal, he was branded seditious by the Government and excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Unable to see eye to eye with the Archbishop of Goa, Padre Alvares left the Church in which he had been ordained to join the Syrian Orthodox Church which consecrated him Archbishop of Goa, India and Ceylon, excluding Malabar, with the  title of Mar Julius.

His ‘swadeshi’ ideology is apparent from Padre Alvares’s strong advocacy of the use of Goan commodities in the place of their foreign substitutes. He urged the youth to renounce wasteful merry-making, and instead take up the lucrative cultivation of the crop, mandioca, which would improve the finances and the food stocks of their motherland. Through his newspaper entitled, O Brado Indiano (The Indian Cry), Padre Alvares conducted a determined campaign against the corrupt and negligent officials of the Portuguese administration of Goa.

Consequently, he was accused of sedition by the Administrator of Ilhas, Captain Manuel d’Oliveira Gomes da Costa, against whom Alvares had initiated a press campaign. On August 19, 1895, Padre Alvares was charged with “inciting the people to fight for liberation,” “discrediting the Portuguese” and insulting government officials. The case was dismissed for want of evidence of sedition.

The socio-political ideology of these apostles of “Faith, Hope and Charity” continue to have meaning in our lives today, especially their determined crusade against corruption and discriminatory practices, their stress on economic self-reliance and the call given by Padre Alvares to his fellow Goans: “Povo de Goa: Surge e Trabalha” (People of Goa: Rise and Work)!


(The writer is a History professor at the Goa University.)

Author: Basil Jose

Web Admin

Leave a Reply