Goans away from Goa
Migration to the Middle East
The present paper gives a brief historical perspective of Goan migration. It attempts to examine the push and pull factors that have contributed to Goan migration to the Middle East in recent times. The paper will show also how a Goan abroad attempts to preserve his heritage in terms of culture, which includes religion, food, dress, attitude, habits and other influences.
Goans have been migrating through the ages from their land either to settle permanently or for short period of time. There is a reference to sporadic migration of Goans from early period. M.N. Pearson says that “ Goa had always, even in pre-Portuguese times, been open to the Arabian sea and its littoral ”. The first recorded wave of Goan migration can be traced back to the sixteenth century – the first century of the Portuguese rule in Goa.
Goan migration has never been uniform. It took shades. We may classify Goan migration into three main phases : The early initial migration to the neighbouring kingdoms, migration to British India and Africa, and the postcolonial migration to the Gulf, the West (Europe and America), Australia and New Zealand.
Migration to the Neighbouring Kingdoms
The first phase covers mainly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this phase Goans migrated primarily to the neighbouring kingdoms. It was the aftermath of Christianisation of some parts of Goa and the religious policy of the Portuguese drove Goans away from Goa.
Large number of Hindus left their homes in the early centuries of the Portuguese rule. They settled outside the Portuguese territories, in areas such as Mangalore, Kanara and other places in order to escape conversion. These Goans, were followed by the new converts who fled to escape the zeal of the Holy Inquisition established in the sixteenth century. A number of well to do Hindus settled in the neighbouring regions due to religious intolerance of the Portuguese. For instance, the Portuguese imposed restrictions on public celebration of the Hindu religious rites and other functions of the Hindus.
Goans migrated also to the neighbouring kingdoms to escape making payment to the State by way of taxes. Insecurity caused by the Dutch blockade, threats from neighbouring rulers and repeated attacks of epidemics were also responsible for migration in the early centuries of the Portuguese rule.
During the first phase, Goan Christians also migrated to far away land. Available literature points out that they migrated to Portugal, East Africa, Timor and Brasil. Goa had a vast trade with the Gulf region – Ormuz, Muscat and other places. Some Goans including couriers and interpreters visited the Gulf region in this period.
Historical evidence also reveals that women from Recolhimento de Maria Magdalena were sent in the naus da Carreira da India to Brazil, Malaca, Pegu and Colombo as prospective brides for Portuguese soldiers or others who were working there.
Numerically, overseas migration was just a trickle in the early centuries of Portuguese rule in Goa. For example, about 48 Goans migrated to Portugal in the eighteenth century for further studies in medicine, law and theology at the University of Coimbra (Portugal). The early migration across the sea was confined mainly to Christians. Customs, tradition, religion and food habits imposed restriction on Hindu migration. The Dharmashastras imposed a ban on travel outside India for Hindus of upper classes. Travel across the salt seas was also considered polluting.
British India, Africa and West Asia
In the second phase (nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century) Goan migration was of socio-economic nature. It was the outcome of many factors. Among these was the British occupation of Goa and the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1878.
During the Napoleonic wars Goa was occupied by the British. Their ships were anchored there and Goans went to work on them. When these ships left Goa for British India, the Goan staff went along. As result of Anglo-Portuguese Treaty, the British took the responsibility of building railways linking Goa with the rest of India, which improved the means of communication and transport and made traveling easy and fast. In addition, high cost of living, unemployment, better job opportunities abroad, social problems and lack of educational facilities can be cited as some factors that forced Goans to migrate.
Goans migrated in large numbers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and they did so mainly in two directions – to British India and Africa. In India, Goans migrated primarily to Bombay, Karachi, Calcutta and Pune. Those who went to Africa concentrated around East Africa. A small number went to Burma. A large number of Goans worked also as ship hands, sailors, stewards and cooks in passengers and cargo liners.
In 1880, about 29,216 Goans, predominantly from Old Conquests left Goa. By 1910 their number had gone up to 47,334. In 1935 around 38,788 Goan Catholics were absent from their homes. Various events in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provided impetus to the migration of Goans from Goa. According to an estimate of 1954 about 180,000 Goans were away from their home.
Goans who migrated during this period to British India were both Hindus and Christians. Women migrated independently to British India. They were mostly unmarried women or widows from lower classes. Among independent female migrants were bailadeiras (dancing girls). Large number of women who migrated worked as domestic staff at the homes of Parsi and British families, while others worked as nurses and secretaries. Men generally migrated to the rest of India without their families. They were engaged in skilled and unskilled manual jobs. A small number took up white-collar jobs or worked as musicians. Some proceeded to Bombay for further studies in medicine and other fields.
In Africa, Goans were involved in pioneering
work in many fields, including medicine.
They belonged to all classes of the society. Goans who migrated to Africa
sometimes took their families or returned home to take a bride. They did not
settle permanently in Africa, but eventually returned home to provide their
children with western type of education and culture.
The majority of those who went to Africa were Christians. Goan Christians were more westernised than the non-Christians. They knew one or more western languages and western music. This helped them to acquire jobs in Africa, as already mentioned earlier. Hindus were more traditional, caste bound and influenced by food restriction. Immigration of Goans to Africa came to end when African colonies gained their independence in the late 1950s and in the 1960s.
The Portuguese Government did not stop the flow of Goan migration. It appears that the State was in favour of such migration on account of economic conditions in Goa. The Santa Casa da Misericordia de Goa provided funds to its members and their families who wished to migrate to Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Cabo Verde. Goans also went to Portugal and other parts of Europe for further studies in medicine, law, engineering and other fields. Some stayed permanently while others returned when they had completed their studies.
Goa had contacts with the Gulf region from early colonial period. We also know Goans from Goa, Bombay and some parts of today’s Pakistan sailed to Aden and Oman at the turn of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries respectively. Early migrants to Oman worked as domestic help, musicians and tailors or were employed in the British army stationed there during World War I. The number of Goans who migrated to the Gulf in the early decades of the twentieth was limited. However, their number had gone up to 20,000 by 1954.
The Post-Colonial Period
The third phase of Goan migration started (1960s) in the post-colonial period and is mainly of economic nature. Goan migration to the Gulf comes under this category. Goans have also been migrating to the West (Europe, Canada, USA and Brasil) as well as to Australia, New Zealand. Migration to the west is generally a permanent one. It is a result of socio-economic factors – to avail of better job opportunities, living conditions and educational facilities.
In Search of Petro Dollars
In the last thirty years of the twentieth century, Goans have been moving to the Gulf States. The migration of Goans to the Middle East has assumed large proportions, during the 1980s and the early 1990s. Several factors are responsible for this migration to the Middle East.
· The desire to improve one’s fortune and to have a better standard of life compelled large number of Goans to migrate. In Goa there was a lack of comparatively well paid jobs and opportunities. The conditions in the Gulf countries, due to discovery of oil, provided good job opportunities for Goans and others to migrate.
• Construction boom and development fuelled by petro-dollars provided a veritable gold mine to many Goans. The price hike of oil in 1973 and consequent earning of large revenue accelerated a process of industrialization which required the services of large number of unskilled and skilled workers. There was a shortage of such labourers among the Arab states. The local inhabitants were yet to acquaint themselves with the various skills required by a country that was going through large-scale development.
• The 1960s closed the doors of Africa to the Goans when African countries became free from colonial rule. Independence brought uncertainty to the Goans. The newly independent nations discouraged immigration. In 1971, Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda issued a decree ordering the Asians to leave his country within a short period of time. In Kenya, the government started a policy of “ Kenyanisation ” – indigenous Kenyan had to be entitled to employment before others. There were fewer employment opportunities and incentives for Goans in Africa. As a result many displaced Goans migrants from Africa moved towards the rich Gulf countries.
• Furthermore, after the Portuguese left Goa (1961) many institutions of higher education were established in Goa. The graduates from these educational institutions found it difficult to secure employment in Goa, due to lack of job opportunities. In the 1970s, the educated class from Goa began to migrate in considerable number to the Gulf countries. Goans in the Gulf were known for their honesty, efficiency and good work.
• In addition, by the early 1970s there was also an influx of non-Goans into Goa. People from the rest of India and mainly from the south came looking for job opportunities. This further contributed to shortage of jobs for the growing number of people. Unemployed Goans and those who wished to have a better standard of life for themselves and their families turned towards the Gulf.
• Many families sent their unemployed, drunkard or errand sons and husbands to the Gulf, believing that a strict life without alcohol will reform them. Some use Middle East sojourn as a stepping stone towards migrating permanently to the West (Europe, USA, Canada, Brazil), Australia and New Zealand.
• Unmarried women migrate to the Gulf countries to earn and save for dowry. Others go there to supplement family income or even to support a large family, particularly when the husband is unemployed or a drunkard. Yet, others migrate because of some social-problems such as a broken marriage. For some Goans, it is an obsession as well as a status symbol to secure jobs in the Middle East.
The pattern of Goan migration to the Gulf is different from permanent Goan migration to the West, Australia and New Zealand. Goans migrate to the Gulf for certain periods of time. They cannot settle there permanently because of local laws that do not encourage permanent migration. Goans go to the Gulf as “ guest workers ” on contractual jobs for a definite time period and return after the expiry of the period. Sometimes it is extended up to the entire working years of men’s life and other times to 2 to 15 years. When their work is over, they generally return home to Goa, while others settle permanently elsewhere.
Goans who have migrated in recent times to the Gulf belong to all classes. The majority of those who migrate are from the age groups of 18 to 35 years. Unlike earlier migration to Africa, those who migrate to the Gulf countries are all communities of Goa. However, in the early stages of migration to Middle East, it was confined primarily to Christians. This could be due to reasons mentioned earlier, connected with restrictions imposed on them. The Goan Christian was less caste-bound than the Goan Hindus. In addition, even as late as 1960s the large number of Hindus lived in joint families in which all their needs were met. Therefore, they may not have found the necessity to migrate. Those who migrated in the 1960’s to the Gulf, were mainly Christians of lower classes. Usually during their abroad, they left their families behind in Goa.
Goans who migrated to the Gulf for employment were looked down upon by the upper classes. These classes referred to Goans in the Gulf as “ Kuwaitcars ” or “ Gulfies ”. However, the attitude began to change in the 1970s, when the middle class and some of the upper class people too began to migrate to the Middle East, attracted by the riches of that region.
In the first half of the twentieth century, those who went to the Gulf where from Old Conquest region of Goa, but at present times people from different parts of Goa have been migrating to the Gulf.
Today, migration to the Middle East is not gender restricted. Both men and women. Goan women who migrate go there to work as maids in the homes of Arab and European families. Some take up white-collar jobs and others accompany their husbands. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, women are not permitted to take up certain types of jobs. They are mainly engaged in nursing and teaching jobs. Interestingly, they are not permitted to drive a car. There are instances when a few Goan women in the Middle East have married natives and converted to Islam.
Major destinations of Goan migrants to the Middle East have been Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Sharjah and Saudi Arabia. A major share of male workers who migrate to the Gulf are construction workers or construction related workers, including skilled workers like masons, carpenters, fitters, electricians, mechanics, while others work as drivers, site supervisors and gardeners. With their familiarity with western music and instruments, many Goans found employment as musicians too. Hotel industry employ Goans as managers, chefs, receptionists, housekeepers, room boys and waiters. According to a recent report about 250 gold artisans (goldsmiths) from Goa are working in Kuwait. Some Goans take up administrative and professional jobs, such as doctors, engineers and educationists.
Goans invest big sums of money to secure the relatively highly paid jobs that will enable them to improve the quality of their life. Many have sold their family assets such as jewellery, or put in request for bank loans to secure jobs abroad. There are cases when people have lost their investments to unscrupulous agents. They secure also jobs through friends and relatives.
The migration of Goans to Middle Eastern countries has helped to solve problems of employment and poverty. The “ guest workers ” in the Gulf leave behind their families in Goa and send regular remittances back home, a factor which has had an impact on Goan economy. We do not have data regarding remittances sent by the migrant workers, it has enabled the families of the migrant workers to have better standard of life. A sizeable part of the earnings is spent on ostentatious living and to provide better education to the children. Most of the Gulf Goans have bought an apartment or built a house. They use their savings also to build compound walls, repair existing house or to redecorate their homes. Others have invested their savings in building hotel and other business.
Goans from the Gulf return home at regular intervals – every two years –, while some come less often. They time their holidays to coincide with a wedding in the family, religious festivals, exposition of the remains of St. Francis Xavier, or to attend to some family matters. Others come home to choose a bride and get married. The bulk of migrants cannot take their families along, particularly those earning low salaries. However, there are migrants of the upper class who have taken their families to the Gulf.
Goans in the Middle Eastern countries face many problems in regard to the alien culture. They have to follow Islamic rules and guidelines. In states such as Saudi Arabia there are restrictions on certain kinds of food such as pork, and alcoholic drinks are not permitted. There are also some dress codes, for instance in Saudi Arabia, especially on women, that has to be followed by foreigners as well.
Goans, particularly those who had migrated in the early period, had to leave a well-established social life for a new land, where life at times could be lonely. In the earlier period, the social life of the Goans in the majority of the Gulf States was restricted to close friends. There was very little public socialising. Nevertheless, life began to change in the 1970s, when Goans began to migrate in numbers and felt the need to meet and socialise with their own people.
Goans living in the Gulf countries have always remained very close to Goa. A Goan remains always a Goan at heart and has strong attachments to his family, land and culture. They maintain ties with their land through various cultural activities in the place they work, various means communication and regular visits to Goa.
A young woman engineer working in Bahrain says that Goan culture is very much alive among the Goans in that state. Goans in the Gulf states have formed their own associations and clubs in that region to provide outlet for the community, as well as to preserve their Goan heritage. A rich heritage that is a blend of various cultures : Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jains and Portuguese. In some places they have formed village-based clubs-association of people belonging to the same villages.
Goan clubs and associations in the Middle East are registered with the embassy of India in respective countries. A majority of these clubs have no premises of their own. In Kuwait, Goan registered clubs hold their functions at the Indian Embassy auditorium. When it is not available functions are held in private halls, hotels or church hall. Most of these clubs are not registered with local government.
Goan clubs and associations celebrate religious feasts and non-religious festivals. Besides Christmas, they celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier. The Hindu festival of Diwali is also celebrated in some Gulf region. Among the non-religious festival, Carnival is organised in Bahrain, Kuwait and other places.
The Young Goan Club at Bahrain and Goan Cultural Society at Dubai are well known for their sports and cultural activities. The former established in 1953 with fourteen football players was the hub of social activities for a long time for sizeable number of Goans in Bahrain. The latter founded about twelve years ago has over five hundred members. One of the conditions for membership in this association and many other similar ones are that the member should be a Goan, or of Goan origin. Non-Goan women married to Goans are also entitled for memberships of these associations. There is hardly any information available about the activities of non-Christian communities. Some non-Christian are members of the Goan clubs but few play a major role in the activities of various clubs.
Soccer is very much a part of Goan life, and is one of the most evident forms of leisure activity among the Goans in the Gulf. Several clubs organise football tournaments. The Goan Cultural Society in Dubai conducts an annual Sports Festival for members and families during the Muslim month of Ramadan. On average, 14 to 15 teams participate. Each team is named after a Goan village. In fact, village clubs have been set up to promote soccer rather than any other activities.
Goans in the Gulf have strong attachment to their villages. Village festivals and feasts of patron saints are celebrated regularly by associations of Goan villages. For instance, the Colva United Center at Kuwait holds the traditional Fama and Feast of Menino Jesus (Baby Jesus) every October, which is also celebrated in the month of October at Colva, a village in South Goa. The Guardian Angel Club of Sanvordem-Curchorem, at Kuwait celebrates the feast of their patron Guardian Angel. Dinner and dance normally follow such functions. To recreate the Goan festive spirit, traditional Goan food is served.
Goan Welfare Society (GWS) of Kuwait together with other clubs observes the annual “ Goa Day ”. This organisation awards also scholarships to best Goan students in Kuwait on the Goa Day. In 1998, ten Goan clubs and associations participated in the Goa Day celebrations.
The Kuwait Konkani Kendr, established in 1984 to promote Goan culture, organizes among other functions the annual Mando Festival. In 1996, 8 groups participated in this unique form of Goan art. Besides these activities, the Kendr is also involved in social service and looks after the interest of the Goans. In December 1998, the St. Mary’s Konkani Community at Dubai organised a cultural evening with mandos, Portuguese and other folk dances. This association also organises beauty contest, fashion shows and dramas. Such functions provide opportunity to experience Goan heritage through food, dance and drama.
Occasionally, Konkani Tiatr (plays) are staged by local groups of enthusiastic artistes, or at times a visiting troupe from Goa which brings in the nostalgia. Konkani Tiatr is very popular among Goans and other Konkani speaking people of Mangalore and Karwar living in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. In addition, these events provide Goans a chance to interact and keep in touch with happenings at home. Konkani plays are a good source of entertainment to a large numbers of Goans in the Gulf.
Village associations in the Gulf region also conduct Ladainhas in Latin, with Portuguese and Konkani hymns. These Ladainhas are attended by Goans as well as by people of different nationalities. Many Goans in their spare time are involved in activities that help to maintain Goan traditions. For instance, the Holy Family choir at the Kuwait City church during weekly English mass sing hymns in Konkani that awakens nostalgic feelings.
Newspapers, magazines and other means of communication such as the recent web sites on Goa, keep Goans informed on happenings in Goa, Goans in the Gulf and their activities.
Goans in the Gulf, mainly the labour class speak and greet each other in Konkani language – the mother tongue of the Goans. However, some Gulf Goans I have interviewed regretted that most Goan children in the Gulf are not encouraged by their parents to speak in Konkani.
Portuguese language is also kept alive among a few Goans. Those who speak this language at home in Goa continue doing so when they meet fellow Goans. Others consider speaking Portuguese language as a status symbol. Many have opted for Portuguese nationality, which have helped them to obtain better employment and subsequently to migrate permanently to Canada, Australia and the USA. Goans in the Gulf follow a western style of life and wear western style clothes.
There is a sizeable number of Goans in the Middle East today. Unlike Kerala, accurate data related to Goan out migration and return flow are not easily available. The number of Goans in Kuwait during the 1990s Iraq- Kuwait crisis was estimated to be around 25,000. According to the information provided by the government at that time, only 8,000 Goans returned home during the crisis. Another estimate says that there are over 20,000 Goans at present in Kuwait. Over 55,000 Goans are in other Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, UAE (Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Umm Al-Qaiwan), Oman, Bahrain and other places. There is a large concentration of Goans in Bahrain and UAE.
Goan migration, which began very early, still continues. Today, practically every other family has or had a member or a relative in the Gulf countries. In some villages in Goa, a sizeable numbers of women folk both married and unmarried are working today as housemaids in the Gulf. However, the migration to the Middle East suffered a set back during the mid 1990s for several reasons. The Kuwait-Iraq crisis and more recently the new migration laws passed in UAE has affected Indian migration. In addition to this, there is the completion of big projects, drop of oil prices and local workers taking up an increasing number of jobs. Goans were retrenched from their highly paid jobs when the big companies began closing down. There has been repatriation of migrant workers from UAE due to introduction of new migration regulations. The situation in other Gulf states is not any better. With Oman government stressing on “ Omanisation ”, a good number of Goans are forced to leave the country. Their jobs are being taken up by local workers. However, professional in certain trades and Goan domestic staff are still in demand.
Goans strive to preserve their culture in the Gulf states, although they are also influenced by new ideas, other cultures and restrictions imposed by the “ host ” countries. Some of these influences have helped to enrich their culture. Work and work related commitments, distance and other conditions do not permit Goans to meet often and interact with their compatriots, except on some week ends at the club to attend a cultural activity or for a mass at the church. The activities of the clubs are generally restricted to middle and upper strata. For the majority of Goans, social life is limited or non-existent besides meetings at the church.
24th February 1999
Fatima da Silva GRACIAS
Research Institute For Women, Goa
. M.N. Pearson, The Portuguese in India, Hyderabad, Orient Longman, 1990 : 156. (“ The New Cambridge History of India ”, I. 1).
. F. da Silva Gracias, “ The Impact of Portuguese Culture on Goa – A Myth or a Reality ? ”, in C. Borges & H. Feldmann (eds.), Goa and Portugal : Their Cultural Links, New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company, 1997 : 48.
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. D. Couto-Potache, “ The Commercial Relations between Basrah and Goa in the Sixteenth Century ”, Studia (Lisbon), 48, 1990 : 145 ; J. Aubin, “ Le Royaume d’Ormuz ”, in Mare Luso-Indicum. II, Genève, 1973 : 168 ; F. da Silva Gracias, Health and Hygiene in Colonial Goa, 1510-1961, New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company, 1994 : 122. Among various goods oil, and betel were sent from Goa, while Persian silks, horses, dry fruits, spices and drugs were brought from Ormuz (Hormuz) to Goa.
. A. Disney, “ The Gulf Route from India to Portugal in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries ”, in A Carreirada India e As Rotas dos Estreitos, Actas do VII Seminário internacional de História indo-portuguesa, Açores, Angra do Heroismo, Barbosa & Xavier Lda, Braga, 1996 : 532 ; Antonio de Souza Manasse visited Ormuz in 1540 on his way to Lisbon. Another Goan courier, Antonio Jorge da Cruz was in Ormuz in 1608 and spoke several languages, including Persian.
. F. da Silva Gracias, Kaleidoscope of Women in Goa, New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company, 1996 : 1.
. L.F. Thomaz, op. cit., Among these, forty-two were native Goans and six of Portuguese descents. Only two returned back to Goa after completing their studies.
. We know, in spite of the ban that, many Gujaratis and others migrated during that period. Apparently they did not bother with the restrictions.
. A large number of Goans who migrated were from Bardez (north Goa) which had a high literacy rate.
. J.B. Pinto, Goan Immigration, Panjim, n.d. : 1 ; R. Khan Haward, “ An Urban Minority : The Goan Christian Community in Karachi ”, in K. Ballhatchet & J. Harrison (eds.), The City in South Asia – Pre-Modern and Modern, London, Curzon, 1980 : 299-318 ; S. Mascarenhas-Keys, Migration and the International Catholic Goan Community, unpubl. Ph. D. Thesis, London, University of London, 1987.
. Paco Patriarcal (Patriarchal Archives), Rois de Cristandade : “ Rois de Ilhas, 1870-1889 ” ; “ Rois de Bardez, 1870-1889 ” ; “ Rois das Novas Conquistas 1870-1889 ”.
. Paco Patriarcal (Patriarchal Archives), Rois de Cristandade : “ Rois de Ilhas, 1934-1941 ”, “ Rois de Salcete, 1934-1941 ”, “ Rois das Novas Conquistas, 1934-1941 ”.
. Among these 80,000 lived in Bombay, 20,000 in the rest of India and about 10,000 in Karachi.
. F. Da Silva Gracias, Health and Hygiene in Colonial Goa, 1510-1961, New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company, 1994 : 186. In Africa, the graduates of Goa Medical school made important contribution in the field of medicine, including the eradication of several epidemics.
. Santa Casa da Misericordia de Goa, Relatório e Contas da Gerência da Pia Mesa, 1924-1925, Nova Goa, 1926.
. S. Mascarenhas-Keys, “ International Migration – Its Development, Reproduction and Economic Impact on Goa up to 1961 ”, in T.R. de Souza (ed.), Goa Through the Ages – An Economic History, New Delhi, Concept Publishing Company, 1990 : 242-262.
. L.F. Thomaz, op. cit. : 285.
. B.A. Prakash, “ Gulf Migration and Its Economic Impact ‑ The Kerala Experience ”, in Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai, XXXIII (50), December 12-18, 1998 : 3209.
. M.N. Pearson, op. cit. : 157.
. Goa Today (monthly magazine), Panjim-Goa, Goa Publications, October 1988.
. Goa-World (Internet), Weekly Post Newsletter, XIII, 25th Nov. 1998.
. Goa-World (Internet), Weekend Post, XI, 1st Nov., 1998.
. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Sultanate of Oman.