Goans, the utter radicals in Kenya Times of India

Utter radicals: Kenya's Goa connection
Vivek Menezes | TNN | Dec 21, 2016, 09.29 AM IST
Goans dominated in the colonial administration of British-ruled Kenya, Uganda, and German Tanganyika.

Goans dominated in the colonial administration of British-ruled Kenya, Uganda, and German Tanganyika.
The story of Goan migrants to East Africa is among the most astounding episodes in Indian diaspora history. A tiny percentage of migrants from the subcontinent (themselves never more than five percent of the overall population), pathbreakers from the Konkan, played an outsized role in colonial expansion, and then the anti-colonial push for independence. Aquino de Braganza was a crucial ideologue and negotiator for Mozambique's freedom fighters. A G Gomes invented the 'gomesi', now national dress in Uganda. But most incredible is the record and legacy of Goans in Kenya.

'Yesterday in Paradise' by Cyprian Fernandes is an elegiac but no-holds-barred chronicle of when "Goans dominated in the colonial administration of British-ruled Kenya, Uganda, and German Tanganyika...the colonial administration would have collapsed but for the skill and management of the Goan clerks and accountants. Later, doctors, chefs, musicians, dentists, motor mechanics, coolies, carpenters tailors and workers with other skills joined...In semi-tropical Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika they found an even larger paradise than they could have ever imagined. Until 1963, they enjoyed life with a gusto that could only have been found in their beautiful Portuguese-ruled Goa."

Fernandes deserves congratulations and lasting gratitude for 'Yesterday in Paradise'. It is a book only he could have written, including anecdotes and perspective, which remained unwritten for decades after being bullied out of Kenya. His wife was warned "dear lady, get him out of this country today. They are going to kill him. They have a bullet with his name on it". Happily, those anxious moments led to a happy ending. Now the veteran journalist is peacefully settled, counting blessings, "I have woken up each morning and my prayer has been 'thank you, Goa. It's great to be alive, in Australia. Thank you'."

It's little known - and even less understood - how important Goan migration was in the making of modern native consciousness across the British and Portuguese maritime empires. Fernandes correctly attributes this pioneering spirit to "eighteenth-century Pombaline Reforms and the sense of equality by which Goans regarded Europeans in the nineteenth century. Burton stated that it is 'No wonder that the black Indo-Portuguese is an utter radical, he has gained much by Constitution.' The Goan attributes of public philanthropy and community service grew out of the pre-Portuguese Goan concepts of communidade (community) and were revisited by the European enlightenment. This concept was very important to the community of Bombay and was carried to the segregated highlands of Kenya by such people as Dr Rosendo Ribeiro and Dr A C L de Sousa."
Recommended By Colombia


When the end of colonialism appeared on the horizon, a handful of Goans helped lead the way for Kenya. Pio Gama Pinto "broke the apartheid rules by entering European restaurants and hotels in Nairobi and Mombasa in the early 1950s. As a result of his efforts...non-whites were finally allowed access to such places." Gama Pinto was "an ultra-national Goan Kenyan freedom fighter. The other was Fitz de Souza, lawyer, constitutionalist, parliamentarian and deputy speaker." Son of a Goan father and Maasai mother, Joseph Murumbi Zuzarte was "freedom fighter, one of the architects of Kenya's constitution, the biggest player in the legal defence of the Kenyan leadership in detention during the Mau Mau insurgency, [set] up the network of the Kenyan diplomatic corps, Kenya's first Foreign Minister, Kenya's second Vice President."


Like other Indians in East Africa, Goans struggled to stay on in the post-colonial environment and the majority migrated to the West. A significant number came home to India. But Fernandes reports, "there is one group of people who deserves Kenya's collective applause: the Goans who remained. I am not sure that those who stayed after everyone else had left did it for reasons of commerce and business, or that they could not fathom living anywhere else, or because some of them were genuinely dedicated to the betterment of the country if not the people. Whatever the reason, the eternal survival instincts of the Goans have allowed them not only to prosper but also to become one with other Kenyans."


Wonderful irony that Goans who once pushed the colour bar in one direction - insistent on parity with Europeans - now tip scales in the other, conceding no ground in the definition of African. Much the same happens everywhere. Cyprian Fernandes - self-described "addicted to living by my wits and by the seat of my pants" - speaks for an entire community, "I am a man of many parts, from many places...Kenyan dust runs through my veins and resides in my DNA, which means my body will always be Kenyan but, while I have left my heart in Kenya, my soul belongs to my country of adoption, Australia." Yet, "the Goan in me will only die with that last sunset".