Cunha Rivara 200

Panaji: Herald, 14 Feb. 2009


J H da Cunha Rivara was that rare exception, a Portuguese who
encouraged Konkani

Joaquim Heliodoro da Cunha Rivara was son of a non-Portuguese lineage,
a mix of Italian and Spanish families, but born in Portugal at
Arraiolos, a region famous for its handicraft carpets. Cunha Rivara
has there a road dedicated to him, and, since very recently and
importantly, a complex of primary and secondary schools. Though
trained in medicine at Coimbra, just as was his father, he started his
career as a high-school teacher of philosophy, and continued as
librarian of the public library of Evora. He was elected MP to the
Portuguese Parliament in 1853, and ended as Secretary to the
Government of Portuguese India and Commissioner of Studies at the fag
end of his career before returning to Portugal in 1877. There he died
two years later, in 1879, little recognized and unsung  in his home
country, in keeping with the Portuguese tradition of jealousy and
mutual envy which the celebrated Luso-Brazillian Jesuit Antonio Vieira
described in his inimitable way: “Lusitania que a ninguém deixa luzir”
[Lusitania (Portugal) that does not allow anyone to shine]. This will
be the first of  a series of  columns  in the course of this year to
remember this historian-bureaucrat who left his imprint in Goa,
combining patriotism and scholarship.
Unlike most colonial-minded Portuguese, who believed and still believe
that the Portuguese language can be propagated only by putting aside,
if not despising, the native languages, Cunha Rivara proved to be a
rare exception. He was convinced that Goans would learn Portuguese
better through Konkani and Marathi as medium of public instruction. He
conveyed this conviction soon after his arrival in Goa, in a lecture
he delivered at the inauguration of the Primary Training School in
Nova Goa (Panjim) on 1 October 1856 and published in the Boletim do
Governo, n. 78. Two years later, in 1878 he produced his commendable
Historical Essay on the Konkani Language [Ensaio Histórico da Língua
Concani]. Unlike many other Portuguese texts that have not found
translators, A K Priolkar chose to include a translation as Part II of
his The Printing Press in India: Its beginnings and early development
(Bombay, Marathi Samshodhana Mandala, 1958, pp. 141–236) to
commemorate the centenary of its publication, and as part of the
ongoing 4th centenary celebrations of the introduction of the
Gutenberg press in Goa.
Unfortunately, A K Priolkar sought in it the grist for his mill, to
buttress his ideological claim that Konkani was a dialect or a
corrupted form of Marathi. The opinions of the orientalist Robert X
Murphy and the Italian Carmelite linguist Francis Xavier cited by
Cunha Rivara fitted in well with the expectations of  Priolkar. Cunha
Rivara’s linguistic background in the Iberian peninsula made him
wiser, if not prudent, to respect the similarity and distinctiveness
of Marathi and Konkani, drawing parallels with the Spanish and
Portuguese languages.
Cunha Rivara’s `Essay on Konkani Language’ should have been made
available widely in Goa’s schools so as to make known to the common
public a fairly reliable version of the vicissitudes of the Konkani
language during Portuguese colonial rule. Till about 1684 the Catholic
Church in Goa cherished and actively cultivated the Konkani language
as an effective means of preaching Christianity and sustaining it.
Repeated decrees of the five church councils held in Goa between 1567
and 1606, as well as the Constitution of the Goa Archdiocese and
instructions of the religious orders to their parish priests, are
insistent on the need for producing catechisms, manuals of confession,
vocabularies and grammars that would enable the missionaries and the
native converts to interact. Ironically, it was during this seemingly
positive phase that Konkani absorbed a large dose of Portuguese
influence. While the colonialists may look at it as enrichment of
Konkani, most concerned linguists (including Dalgado in the
`Introduction’ to his Portuguese-Konkani Dictionary, Bombay, 1905, pp.
xv–xvi) saw it as harmful corruption.
Cunha Rivara attributes the change of missionary attitude towards the
Konkani language in the 17th century to their loss of earlier zeal and
adoption of easy-going ways. He, and most of the scholars till date,
including Delio Mendonça in his recent published doctoral dissertation
Conversions and Citizenry (2002),  have failed to see the link between
the growing conflict between the white religious and the increasing
number of the native clerics who clamoured for their rightful place in
the hierarchy and pastoral service. The discontent of the native
clergy and their demand to take over the parishes was seen as a threat
to their  livelihood by the religious orders who fought tooth and nail
to resist the demands of the native clergy. They stood their ground
with appeals to the crown as the legitimate authority over the Church
that belonged to the Crown Patronage (Padroado) over and above the
wishes of the local Archbishops, such as Fr Brandão in 1680, who was
inclined to replace white religious parish priests with native ones.
It is obvious in this context that the Franciscan and the Jesuit
parish priests called for the anti-Konkani legislation of 1684 in
order to deprive the native clerics of their advantage of linguistic
bond with the parishioners. There is unpublished correspondence of the
Franciscan vicars of Bardez with the Portuguese crown preserved in the
National Library in Lisbon, calling the native priests drunkards and
lascivious, haters of the white-skinned (truly racist language even
for the present times) parish priests whom they feared for their
capacity to denounce them to the authorities! The only aim of this
racist discourse was to convince the king that the native priests were
morally and politically unreliable and could not be entrusted with the
charge of the parishes.
Cunha Rivara should have known better this implication of the
anti-Konkani legislation, but his patriotism often made him
colour-blind. He was Secretary of the Government during the turbulent
times of the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) and was worried about the flow-over
of the rebels into the Portuguese jurisdiction of the Estado da Índia.
Goa Archives holds correspondence he maintained with the  British
Indian administration of Bombay in this regard. The telegraph link was
hastily mounted to help coordination of “anti-terrorist” operations of
the two colonial powers. The Portuguese in Goa also collaborated with
the British in sending into exile to Timor many rebel families
(including many of the Rane families). The Portuguese did not want to
hand them over to the British, but the British provided a ship to
ensure that the (un)wanted elements were safely deposited in distant
Timor. The grateful British Indian Administration  showed interest in
honouring Cunha Rivara with a decoration, but that was stalled by the
Portuguese Government.
It is in the context of the Mutiny and the Goans serving in the
Maratha army, such as the Pintos of Candolim, that Cunha Rivara
dedicated himself to the study of the conspiracy of the Goan priests a
century earlier (1757) and named it Conjuração dos Pintos, although
Pintos were not the main protagonists of the conspiracy. More on this
and some other facets of J H da Cunha Rivara will follow. Just to end
this piece, he threw a cat among pigeons when he suggested that Chardo
caste of Goa could be a Catholic version of the Karadhe sub-caste of
Brahmins in the Maharashtra-Karnataka region.

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