Christianity in Goa: Entangled Pasts and the Possible Futures

St Catherine Chapel | Image Source: Wikipedia

All history writing is rooted in a historiography which provides a surplus frame to its narrations. History of the Christianity in Goa is no different. There is also a surplus of historiographies that are employed to frame this past. Most historiographies serve the interest of the dominant class or a group. It is historiography that frames the surplus past or the plural past and in several ways is a negation of the past. It chooses the event, personages and perspectives that will fit into its historiographical frames and excludes, negates or discards those which conflict and militates the interest of the dominant class. All history writing is therefore interest laden and privileges the present and future expectations of the dominant class. Perhaps, Hegel’s view that teaches that determination is negation1 might assist us to understand how the surplus past when framed into an order of things opened by a historiography selects some aspects and excludes other aspects of the past. Derrida has already shown us that this framing through exclusion can always be deconstructed and we can release several locked, expelled and hidden horizons, meanings, perspectives as well as bring to light events, persons, views etc that are exiled from the narrations of history. This paper attempts to manifest the surplus that resides in our past in Goa as well as tries to open in the articulation of the history of Christianity in Goa. The opening of the surplus can lay bare before us how it is narrowly closed in the articulation of our history in Goa, particularly the history of Christians. We then look at how the arrow of time that has led us to a point of this affliction and open other arrows of time that might offer us opportunities to manifest the lost voices, silenced historicals, absented events etc that can be traced on other arrows of time erupting out of the voids of our collective pasts . We opine that this other arrow of time may become salutary for our society.

Present Concerns Framing the Past

History is said to be the story of the victors. Besides, it was shown to be ‘his’ story. Thus history is accused of forgetting the story of the losers and the women. Michel Foucault has demonstrated that history privileges the present over the past. We can notice that history has objectified, silenced and framed Christians of Goa in several of its discourses.

Outsidering Christians

Post-colonial historiography frames the history of Christianity within the narrative of nationalism. Such a framing of our past forgets that nation was a product of recent history. Nations were born after the treaty of Westphalia.2 As such nationalism appears to be a borrowed idea. But it is employed to render Christianity as alien to our nation. Thus, history when determined through the lens of nationalism leaves out anthropology, sociology, and religious history of our people.3 Christians who share biological kinship with other Goans, particularly the majority brethren then begin to look like outsiders. This outsidering or a negative determination of Goan Christian is socially engineered by forgetting their biology and religious history. It is like saying that we prefer coffee without cream to coffee without milk. Although, there is no real difference between coffee without milk and coffee without cream, negative determination does mark a divide. Maybe the coffee without milk in this regard is the Christians. It means when we fix a lack in something, we perceive its reality differently. Christianity as lacking Indian-ness is such a negative determination which forgets the common biological, anthropological and even cultural ancestry of the Christians and frame them as outsiders based on religion. This framing of humans as merely religious beings is reductive and forgets there is an irreducibility of our past. Moreover it does its framing on the basis of the categories that had emergence in the recent past.

Viewing our Past as a Hindu Past

Hinduism as a term has been a geographical ascription and originated outside of what we call the Hindu-fold of today. It became a catch all term for the Islamic rulers and was employed by the British colonizers who framed the plural cults and divine orientations of the people of country into abrahmic religious framework to assist them to administer our people. Thus, we use the term Hinduism only in retrospection.4 Now this novel determination of our people as Hindu became acceptable to most of our people only in the nineteenth century. This singularization of the plural past of our ancestors is another important means that stereotypes Goan Christians as outsiders. It also sees conversion as a betrayal of Hinduism when there was no such one universal Hindu religion at that time. This framing of the plural past as a one unitary Hindu past does epistemic violence to the plural pasts of our ancestors as well renders Goan Christians of today victims to the accesses of the Hindutva forces. One cannot trace the term Hindu in the first hundred years of Portuguese writings from India. The plural history of our people is placed in the order of things set by the ideologies that developed much after the conversion of several Goans to Christianity when Goans are said to have been converted from Hinduism. One can notice that in the narration of breaking down the then temples of our ancestors, the said temples are also viewed as Hindu temples. We can at the most call these temples Hindu in retrospection. This means this era is like coffee without cream but historians in Goa seem to smell the coffee without cream as Hindu era. This often can create a false consciousness among the majority people that grave injustice was done to them in the past and can set in a loss recovery dynamism that traces surplus enjoyment in victimising the Catholics of today.

Narrations of Conversions

There are plural narratives of the conversion of Christians in Goa.5 The mainstream narrative claims that it was the Portuguese colonizers and the missionaries who brought Christianity to Goa. But there are alternate narratives that contest it. The discovery of the Greek cross, now kept in the museum in the seminary at Pilar has demonstrated that there were pre-Portuguese Christian settlements in Goa. Historians had admitted that such a cross was a sign of Christian travellers through Goa in the past. But the sheer size of the cross has indicated that there was a somewhat permanent settlement of these pre-Portuguese Christians. Besides, conversion is seen as a dark period where coercion, persecution, punishment and allurement were thought to be employed by the Portuguese to reap the harvest of the Souls for Christ. There is no doubt that the Portuguese entered Goa with a cross and a sword. But we cannot frame the past with categories that are alien to it and were developed at a later time. The narrative of forced conversion that abounds in the description of the conversion saga of the Catholics needs to be revisited. The narrative of forced conversion gains legitimacy by forgetting the role of the village communes or ganvkarias, Mazanias in the process of conversion.6 At a time when village communes were sovereign, the communitarian identity was the order of the day. There is another violence of framing of conversions as an attack on individual freedom. The modern free Cartesian subject was yet to be born in Goa and therefore conversions were more a result of mimetic desire that drew the masses to follow the decision of their Village elders. This might explain why we had mass conversions at that time

Seeking Productive Semiosis

The order of things that has framed our history has not merely emerged out of conscious semantic resources. There is an asignifying dimension to it. The voids of the past may have ignited an idealised vision of the past and future which then might have triggered the desire to organise, code the semiological flows that have led to the articulation of history of Christianity in Goa in the shape and form that it has today.

 The Arrows of Time

Deleuze and Gauttari view unconsciousness not in the past as has been the case with most psychoanalysts, they see it as turned towards the future and in its screen see how it identifies the possibilities for the present . As such, they try to name it as a mechanic to drive home that it is not just semiotic but chiefly productive. This means that it is not just populated by images and words but is constituted by the mechanisms that generate or produce these images and words in the first place. In some way, we attempt to descend into the non-semiotic dimension of the unconscious. But paradoxically to articulate the meaning of it, we will need semiotic and semantic resources. This is the generative ground which Deleuze and Gauttari7 call the plane of consistency that opens various possibilities for semiotic and semantic structures to appear. This means we enter the non-semiotics sphere or force fields which may be regarded as the predecessor of the semiotic and semantic field that we all inhabit. These force fields have plural arrows of time and one that has reached our temporality is one that has erupted out of this plurality. This journey backwards to open new possibilities for a future is viewed as schizoanalysis by Deleuze and Gauttari. The schizoanalysis will open the arrow of time that has brought us to this juncture and at the same time will open new possibilities for the future by showing other opportunities of riding other arrows of time. Hence, it would be important to enter the non-semantic or semiotic depths of our collective unconscious and examine how an arrow of time has led us to singularize a plural past in the destinies that has brought us to the articulation of histories of Christians of Goa.

Semiological Flows

The semiological flows8 that has acquired crystal forms in our present have emerged for the dynamics of force fields that lie beneath the organizations of those semiological flows. The framing of history of Christians has its roots not just into semiotic and semantic ancestries but has in the first place reached an organisation and formulation of the semiotics flows on the plane of consistency because of the play of the asignifying forces or energies in the force fields. It would be interesting to decode these force fields to disentangle the present from the stranglehold of regularization of our pasts and open up other possibilities of being Indians/ Goans today. This would open how several lines of flights and lines of dissidence are repressed and a sort of freezing of time is arrived for the present. This can loosen the fixations of the past and the present and open the future for us. It will dismantle the kinds of power formations exhibited in our society. Our study can demonstrate how if we reverse the different encodings that are accepted as normal and natural by us, we might open other dimensions of our plural pasts that are forgotten. History is thus, ordered and bestowed verbal articulation from an imagined future that is deemed as salutary to the voids of the past. The voids of the past have led to the assemblages of the semiotic resources that organise and formalise the power formations that promise redemption from the shackles of the traumas and voids of the past.

Visions of Future and the Semiological Flow

The voids of the past may generate force fields that we might understand through a system of algorithms that might account for the morpho-genetic changes that have led to the frames that articulate our pasts. The voids that we are looking for can be traced in colonial trauma, separation of conversion and the encounter of modernity. Colonization and the consequent conversion to Christianity and our encounter with modernity are ridden with profound complexity. But they have produced several voids that cannot be easily articulated. They have pushed us into what Lacan calls the register of the Real.9 This fall into the Real of Lacan is a descent into the non-semiotic sphere which cannot be understood with our semiotic as well as semantic resources. This descent into the asignifying force field has triggered a dream future that produced assemblages that have organised the semiotic flows in our society which then organised or coded the power formations that acquire legitimacy today and write our history. Power is knowledge and hence, history follows the victor. This means the voids erupting from colonization, Conversion and encounter with modernity had different arrows of time or possible futures. Perhaps the Hegelian analysis of the wound might assist us to understand how we rode an arrow of time and reached this point where we find ourselves. Hegel teaches that wound triggers us to imagine a golden past before it and directs our energies to enact it into the approaching future. The present that we are facing has arrived on the backs of the force fields that led the semiological flows to acquire crystallizations of the power formations that animate our society today. By understanding this dynamism, we may open other arrows of time to animate the force fields and the semiotic resources and open alternate timelines for power formations that might derail the present regimes of power and its discursive formations. This means the timeline of the present power formations is arbitrary and can be dismantled to allow other alternative futures to emerge.

Opening Possible Futures

There are multiple potentialities in the voids of the pasts and visions of the future. The arrow of time that has arrived to us in the present is one that is laden with a sense of recovery of something precious that is thought to be lost under disruption of colonization, conversion and encounter with Modernity. We still have to deal with this sense of loss to find freedom from it. The sense of recovery is thought to be crystallizing in the Hindu singularity. But it is actually unmaking of the civilizational ethos of our country.

Accepting the Surplus aspect of Reality 

The sensitivity to the surplus dimension of reality opens us to understand mystery in everything. There is always more in everything. We too are seeking surplus. This drive to surplus might have been described as restlessness by St. Augustine. He also rightly says that this restlessness only rests in God who is a mystery par excellence. Awareness of mystery calls us to embrace a humble epistemology. This humble epistemology can assist us to stay open to plural pasts that are framed and singularized by different power interests. Hence, we cannot Oepidalize as if there is no alternative outside the frame that has rendered Goan Christians as objects of history. Being anti-Oedipal would mean that we Goan Christians have the challenge to become subjects of our pasts and find our voice. This would mean instead of staying in an infantilized silence, it is for us to take charge of our past and code the semiological flows and semantic resources to open salutary present and future for all communities in Goa. This means Goan Christians have to ride the drive for surplus that seeks alternate pasts that have been excluded, hidden or exiled in the historiographies that articulated our history and have rendered us alien. This means we have let the asignifying force fields of the trauma of the past stimulate new multiple orders of ensignifiying semiological flows that would heal us and articulate inclusive futures emerging out of the dark cloud of the pasts.

Seeking Therapy for the Wounds of the Past

There is no zero starting point to begin. We cannot go in the past and change it for us. But to let the past be past, we need to have courage, hope and healing. Our courage, hope and healing is in the awareness and acceptance of existence of multiple arrows of time that are flowing out of the voids of the past. The colonial disruption, the conversion and the encounter with modernity has opened several voids in our society and there are several arrows of time that irrupt through them but we have rode some force fields and resonated with the semiological flows and semantic resources that lead us to the kind of society we have today. The awareness of alternate arrows of time is indeed therapeutic. It gives us courage in the face of hopelessness.10 Here, we might remember George Agamen who said that thought is the courage of hopelessness. It is in this acceptance of possibilities of other arrows and other possible futures that is courageous as it contains the refusal to Odepalize in the face of castrating and crippling fear that seem to point that our future is doomed. Riding the hope for an alternate future can become the first step to let such a future come closer to us. The alternate destinies that we take the courage to think have the promise to heal the wounds of the past and give us a salutary present.

Embracing Otherness

Rejection of the trap to be the other of the same is profoundly emancipative. The drive to become like the other is called the mimetic desire. Scholars like Rene Girard have identified the mimetic desire as the cause of violence.11 The other triggers a lack in us. The lack becomes object a, that Lacans call the cause of our desire.12 We are naturally attracted to the economy of the same. The other becomes a mirror for us and we draw our standards of being from him/her. One can never shed over one’s otherness and has to become the other of the same. Trapped in this logic of equivalence, we are destined to become copies and never can be our original self. Thus, there is a discursive production of the Goan Christian as the other of the same. We as Christians seem to have borrowed sanskritized models of what is thought to be the most original way being Goan or Indian. In this manner, we end up becoming the others of the same as those that are regarded as original, pure and fully national and provide benchmarks for our imitation. This is why our subject positions do not allow us to be original. All copies are counterfeit and hence, a Christian is framed to become less of an Indian as a result of the discourses that populate our writing of history. Hence, it is important to reject these borrowed models and stick faithfully to our otherness or uniqueness that would enrich each of us and our country. Thus, we have the challenge to ride the waves or lines of flight that would open us to possible futures to be different and other and yet be an authentic Indian as well as Goan.

Conclusion

Our study has exposed how writing of history is fixated and is afflicted by the trauma and pain of the past. This trauma and the voids of the past has nurtured a sense of loss and triggered a dynamism of recovery that has pushed the force fields of the asignification to swell into semiological flows that have crystallized into a the order of things that animate our society as well as lead our writing of history in Goa. This does not mean that we are to resign ourselves to the fate of being objects of history. There are alternate arrows of time erupting from the voids of our past and can open new waves and flows that we can ride and open the lost pasts that are silenced so that we can enrich our being as both Goans and Christians in India.

The Thomas Cross | Image Source: Navrang India

Sources

  1. Link accessed on 1-2-2019.
  2. Link accessed on 1-2-2019.
  3. Victor Ferrao, Being A Goan Christian: the Politics of Identity, Rift and Synthesis (Panjim: Broadway Publishing House, 2011), 41-43.
  4. Victor Ferrao, “Reversing, Displacing Ultranationalism” in Johnson J. Puthenpurakal, Enhancing Our Home: Re-reading and Re-living Gandhian Thought (Banglore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2016), 236-246.
  5. Victor Ferrao, Being A Goan Christian, 92-105.
  6. Luis de Assis Correia, Goa through the Mist of History from 1000 BC-AD 1958: a Select Compilation of Goa’s Genesis (Panjim: Grafica (Goa) Dourada, 2006), 160-162.
  7. Gilles Deleuze and Fellix Gauttari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).
  8. Felix Gauttari, Machinic Unconscious: Essays In Schizoanalysis (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) 2011), 9-1
  9. Link accessed on 1-2-2019.
  10. Link accessed on 1-2-2019.
  11. Link accessed on 1-2-2019
  12. Link accessed on 1-2-2019

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao