Portuguese Influence in the Christian Community.

Velgean Fernando

The Christian community occupying the coastal area south of Tuticorin have been seafarers right from time immemorial. A visit to the habitat of this community will reveal even to a casual visitor of the peculiarity of the environment in which they live. The old houses still have remnants of the nuances of Portugal architecture, and the community has adopted portuguese customs, words etc.

But how this community came under the influence of Portuguese culture is shrouded in mystery, even -though there are sporadic evidences here and there. Unlike in the western hemisphere where right after the Dark ages, written history is available, here in India , written history on a regular basis originates only after the advent of the Europeans in India. We do not know the name of the architect who built Taj Mahal which was built a few hundred years ago, while the original plan, the name of the architect and the cost of expenditure in detail for the construction of Westminster Abbey in England is available even now which was built much earlier.

The evidences are not much. But St.Francis Xavier had traveled extensively in this southern seaboard for spreading Christianity and along with him other missionaries. It is also true in the initial bouts of coloniolisation of India by the Europeans, the British, French, Portuguese and the Dutch had played a Great role in bringing in European customs and habits. Who did what has not been explained in the history books, which were mainly written by Britishers who showed scant consideration for the contributions made by other European nationalities.

However personal writings, diaries written by the administrators of the various coastal towns show that apart from the missionaries there was also contingents of Portuguese soldiers and traders settled in the coastal areas. These foreign nationals not only brought their culture to the locals, but also married the robust girls belonging to the fishermen community, since girls belonging to higher castes were not given in marriage to Europeans. Some even ended as concubines! Marco Polo himself had observed in his log book that the girls in the coastal villages were very attractive and desirable! This intermixing of the races resulted in very healthy and attractive offsprings and the children born of these marriages excelled in the field of education, art, sports and science. Even now one may come across men and women in the community who were very fair and had distinctive European features. The writer in his earlier days (1957) had seen an old woman named "Paluppina" in St.George Street , Tuticorin ,who had the skin color of the fairest European and she also smoked a cigar ! One does not come across women smoking even now, but this European custom was in vogue in Tuticorin long back.

When these folks baptized their children the Godfather was called as "Cum-Padre" and when they married they sang " Lautha jerusale dominum.osana, osana dominum" when the bride and groom were closeted for the nuptial, in the best Portuguese tradition. Before the marriage, after the banns were read they also had to obtain a "Buena Marie" (genuine marriage) certificate. These customs are not followed anywhere in India except in Goa and other Portuguese settlements. But here in the eastern coastal belt even though there never was a Portuguese administration, the customs are rampant.

A visit to the coastal towns like Manapad, Idintha karai, Tuticorin will reveal that the old houses had a "Hacianda" type architecture and the front doors of the houses had double doors horizontally divided so that during day time half the lower portion of door can be closed to keep away stray animals and strangers while the upper half can be opened for ventilation, a very practical adoption imbibed from the Portuguese. During the younger days of the writer, he had come across the affluent of this community moving about in a "Hanson" type horse drawn carriages instead of the "jutka" vehicle used by others. These box like wagons looked like the miniatures of the western stagecoaches and they had chair like seats and the traveler did not have to squat! The carriages had "rothai" (wheel) which is corruption for the Portuguese "rota" -rotation in English. There were also other words.

A typical day passed when the women folk cleaned the "vasi" (plate) in which they served "pastal" (puffs) and the men folk polished their "sapatos" (shoes). The daughter in law had to light the "lanterna" (lantern) when the "peeris" (glassware) glistened in the soft light of the lanterna. But one had to be careful about the "veethar" (broken glass-piece) lying about in the dark. You cannot try any mischief in the night as the "gosthop" (policeman) was always around! (Remember <gestapo> in Germany?)

Now these customs are dying with the old and the young who are living all over the world away from their roots may at least come to know of these customs if they do not practice them. Remember young man you had a hoary past!