MEMORIES: Leopoldo da Rocha shares with us stories that are only partially fictional. Most are based on his experiences and memories in what may be a walk down memory lane for many readers
Leopoldo da Rocha is a respected historian who has also authored “As Confrarias de Goa”, Casa Grande e Outras Recordações de um Velho Goês, and other books
By Teotonio R. de Souza
It is a compilation of 44 short texts grouped into four sections covering 213 pages. Only apparently fictional at times, most of these essays recover the memories of the octogenarian author. They are linked with his personal experiences in Goa, Rome and Portugal. In some of them the author shares several tragic incidents connected with some close friends and contacts that left deep impressions upon him.t is my pleasure and a near-compulsive response to present to GRNetters and my other regular readers in academic platforms a new arrival, just out of print and still awaiting an official release. It is authored by my old seminary professor at Rachol and a respectable senior research-historian of Goan issues, Leopoldo da Rocha, author of the classic book on “As Confrarias de Goa” (Lisboa, 1973).
The book title is borrowed from the opening essay about Manel, an acquaintance of the author in Portugal, and a victim of postcolonial trauma, undergoing psychiatric treatment in Lisbon, following his return from Mozambique. Manel was further traumatized by the fact his wife, interned for cancer treatment, could not get any benefit from his military award for bravery (or savagery) in colonial war.
The two following essays are of a more entertaining nature about “retornados” from Angola. In these and other pieces of this section the author exposes the conservative traces of the Portuguese colonial culture as greatly responsible for difficulties in adaptation to the post-colonial changes in Portugal.
The story about D. Maria Augusta, a Goan settler in Mozambique, until her coming to Portugal with three grown-up children, is one such case drawn from personal acquaintances of the author. The old lady messed-up the lives of her children with her cultural hang-ups, but had enough faith to call the parish priest to give her viaticum and extreme unction. She even served the priest a Porto with her pious gratitude before she died that same night. Her sons met with an equally tragic end, greatly influenced by the cultural values of their mother.
This presentation is a quick sampling of some of my impressions. It does not exempt my readers from drawing full benefit from the personal touch of the author and his characteristic style, permeated by many tit-bits and details that are intimate and autobiographical. It must be admitted that Leopoldo da Rocha does not leave easily off the hook someone he senses to seek cover in denial of history for personal or political motives.
In this context, an essay covering six pages (125-129) are dedicated to the Goan-Hindu artist Vamona Navelkar. We read about some little known facets of his family background and artistic career in Goa and Portugal as known personally to the author, who even paid the artist to produce a picture of Shiva Nandi for his personal collection. Doubts are raised about some recent attempts by the artist to hide some information about his links with Portugal and about his sojourn in Mozambique.
What has always impressed me and also intrigued me in Leopoldo da Rocha, is his erudition and cultural baggage woven into a provocative logic that need not be viewed always as directed to the subjects or objects of his references, literary criticism or otherwise.
Quite often his criticisms are a veiled self-critique, directed to himself as an expression of difficulty in forgiving himself for some of life’s cultural impositions. Perhaps, he finds it easier to go through the self-forgiving process by finding “companions in disgrace”, viewed as victims of human karma. These include myself, and a few common friends / acquaintances, like Frs Lagrange Fernandesand Caetano Cruz Fernandes, J. Venâncio Machado, Selma Carvalho.
As no one tends to be harsh with oneself beyond limits of self-appreciation, Leopoldo da Rocha blends subtly his likes and dislikes. I have been a privileged target of his comments, which have been usually positive, when favourable to the author, or when overcome by old affective memories, but not entirely free from some barbed hits.
In the last two sections of book reviews and notes on Goan history, the author comments on the writings of Vimala Devi and his sister Elsa, and also about the published travel accounts of Burton, Waugh and Green to Goa, with some interesting personal asides. An author who gets six pages (151-156) of attention is Selma Carvalho. Her book In the Diaspora Wilderness (2010) is presented as a research inspired by Goan Voice, a digital newsletter edited by Eddy Fernandes.
“In the Diaspora Wilderness” is viewed globally as a good effort to inspire further research, but starting from the title, which is qualified as weird and meaningless as applied to the Goan emigration, the reviewer sees the 35 chapters of the book as too short, and some of them as unnecessary and opinionated. In the overall appreciation of the reviewer the book lacks the weight of historical research or even as a good sociological analysis of Goan emigration.
The review points to the total avoidance of handling the issue of Goan racial distancing from the blacks as far as intermarriages were concerned, and questions the information on p. 248 about Zuzarte, vice-president of independent Kenya, as belonging to a family owning a palatial house in Guirim.
The little recent book of J.Venâncio Machado about the “Fama” of the Child Jesus of Colvá (2013) gets four pages (160-163) of encomiastic comments from the reviewer, but without failing to point out that the archbishop involved belonged to the Augustinian Order, and was not a Dominican, as wrongly stated by the author.
Teotónio R. de Souza is a Goan historian and the founder-director of the Goa-based Xavier Centre of Historical Research, at Alto Porvorim. Based in Portugal since 1995, Souza was Head and Chair, Department of History in the Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias from 1999-2014. He has been a fellow of the Portuguese Academy of History since 1983, and of the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa since 2000.