The Goan Experience, c. 1890 – 1980
Author: Margret Frenz
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Reviewer: Anna Petkova-Mwangi
Community, Memory, and Migration in a Globalizing World offers an impressive, theoretically grounded and comprehensive enquiry into a range of key issues that endeavours to trace and document the migratory tendencies from India across the Indian Ocean to East Africa and onwards to Europe and North America. Although the focus of the investigation is on the Goan experience, comparisons are made between the migration movements of Goans and those of other South Asian groups. The author takes a combined anthropological, historical and sociological approach to unwrap, layer after layer, a variety of intricately woven and intersecting factors and actors that, in their own time and space, shaped the destiny of generations of Goans and moulded them into what Alberto (one of the respondents of the study) calls a ‘family of the world’. Multiple migrations have spread Alberto’s family on all five continents of the world, which is a common characteristic of Goan migration. However, the members of the families continue to cultivate a connectedness that is beyond the borders of any country that may separate them.
The book has quite a lengthy (46 pages) Introduction, followed by six chapters that pursue causes, events and their consequences in a fairly consequential and logical order, interspersed with refreshing quotes from the respondents and relevant references from various authorities on the subject. The Conclusion is brief and poignant. The exhaustive 30 pages Bibliography and thorough Index will be of great use to the researcher in finding areas of interest.
The Introduction serves as a background to the study where the author sets out the scene and scope of the study and the reasons that necessitated it. She then reveals the purpose and delineates the three main concerns of the study as migration, community and memory and the interrelationships between them. Next she offers a very well-referenced literature review which has been presented in four sub-sections: Goans in Space and Time; Imperial History, Goans and Subaltern Perspectives; Goans and Other South Asians in East Africa; Migration, Community and Memory and Researching with and about Goans. The last one of these sub-sections deals with the methodology used in the research, emphasising the multi-sited and inter-disciplinary approaches used to follow this highly mobile group of respondents. The multi-disciplinary enquiry was carried out through different techniques and sources of enquiry such as (archival) library search of various official and private publications and records, oral history interviews, informal discussions and participant observation. Since the interviews are based on semi-structured, open ended interview schedules, they provided a ‘gateway into the thoughts, perceptions, and memories of multiple migrants, contributing to gaining an in-depth understanding of many sensitive and complex issues’.
As I mentioned earlier, the Introduction makes reference (with footnotes) to a very wide variety of authoritative sources. However, I was surprised that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak? wasn’t one of them, especially with regards to the subaltern perspectives.
The chapter entitled Crossing the Ocean takes a historical and geographical perspective of the migration of Goans from India, across the Indian Ocean and to the East African Coast, dispersing eventually into the interior. The next chapter Making a Living examines how the Goans fitted in once they found themselves in East Africa – their occupation, interaction with other ethnic groups, such as African and Europeans as well as with other South Asians and the interconnectedness of relationships at different levels that paved the way for the emergence of global networks and ‘world families’. Creating a Community looks into the life of the Goan emigrants in East Africa, how they adapted to the new environment, created a social infrastructure through clubs, the church and the school, while continuing to maintain links with the homeland. Engaging in Politics highlights what Moyez Vassanji calls the ‘in-betweeness’ of the Goans, being Portuguese citizens, working mostly in the civil service of the British Empire and finding themselves ‘the “in-between” layer between colonizer and colonized [who could] be characterised as ‘subaltern elite’”.
The migration of Goans out of Africa is the focus of the next chapter Moving on: Making New Lives. The policies of nationalisation and Africanization of the newly independent African states greatly affected Goans who were mostly employed in the civil service and pressured them into another transformative migration, mostly to the UK and Canada where once again they had to adapt to and cross-pollinate with another different environment, establishing new links and social infrastructure.
Inn the final chapter, Remembering East Africa, the author analyses the complexity of individual and collective memories of East Africa as their former home.
The concluding chapter starts with a quotation of the first two verses of the poem Brown Man, Black Country by John Maximian Nazareth which reflects the feelings of the East African Goans, which is that they regarded East Africa as their home and if they had the choice they would have stayed. Yet, influenced by a variety of socio-political and economic forces at different times and spaces, this multiple migration has honed the adaptability of the Goan emigrants, enriched their life, work and experiences and forged unbreakable links across the oceans.
The language of the book is quite high level academic. The book will be a great resource to academics and students, especially those engaged in social sciences, humanitarian work and politics. Naturally, historians will also find topics of interest. The issues raised are of interest not only to Goans but to the general public as well, so long as they are prepared to read a high level academic work.