Portugal: Lisbon museum plan stirs debate over Portugal’s colonial past – The Guardian UK

‘Museum of the Discoveries’ would glorify slavery and other historical abuses, critics say

Painting depicting the landing of the Portugese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral in Brazil, 1500
 A painting depicting the landing of Portugese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral in Porto Seguro, Brazil, 1500. Photograph: Alamy

A campaign pledge to build a museum in Lisbon dedicated to Portugal’s colonial history has sparked a debate over Portuguese national identity, the nature of historical memory and the question of collective guilt.

The controversy centres on the so-called Age of the Discoveries – the period starting in the 15th century when expeditions by Portuguese navigators helped the country lay claim to territories stretching from Asia to South America.


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  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 09/30/2019 at 3:07 pm

    The reader will note that just in the last week there were already 4 articles dealing with India: Modi in USA, BBC Modi/toilet issue, Nat Geographic on the worlds largest Co. (BEICo); then Viv Richards’ daughter turned up again. Now a fifth, in this article,

    Note that it was India that the Portuguese were after, as one pic shows Vasco da Gama arriving in India. Similarly, it was India that Columbus was after thus lending its name to West “Indian” and the native peoples “Indians” from Canada down to, at least, Guyana.
    All I do is to lend some valuable context or elucidation.

    In the BEICo one I quickly sandwiched Portugal’s hegemonic role in India (along with the Muslim and British hegemonies for over 1,000 years). I will expand a tad here.

    The New World Encyclopedia states: “Originally purely a commercial venture, Portugal’s mission quickly became baptizing India into Roman Catholicism. Lax with admission requirements, the Church installed an Inquisition Board in 1561 that continued almost unbroken until 1812 [250 years] in an effort to conform Indians to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Portugal’s control of colonies ended in 1960 with an armed attack by the Republic of India and the reincorporation of Goa into India.”

    Dowry & Caste

    It would surprise many readers to learn that modern dowry (where the bride parents give monetary and other valuable gifts to the groom) was introduced into India by the Portuguese; who also have the little known infamy for introducing the word “caste”, meaning race or lineage, to describe Indian society. In other words, they were a “caste”-based society, Little known also is that Bombay (Mumbai) was under Portuguese rule (1534-1661) having been acquired in treaty from the Gujarat Sultanate which was worried about another rival Muslim takeover – by the Mughals (A foreign religion-based, Muslim ruler, fearful of a competing sect, the Mughals, gave away India)

    Here is a very little known application of said dowry, as evidence of its prevalence in Europe. In 1661, the British concerned about Dutch power in India wanted a base in western India so they signed a treaty with the Portuguese. As part of the deal, Portugal gave Bombay (Mumbai) as dowry to the British monarch Charles II in marriage to the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. Here is another Muslim foreign power giving away part of India to a different foreign power.

    (In the BEICo case, I similarly mentioned how a foreign hegemonic Muslim religious ruler, Mughal emperor, Jahangir, gave away carte blanche trading rights to the British in 1610 to do as ‘her majesty pleased’; Which then led to the British taking over India from the said Mughals, sucking much of the riches out of India)
    Catholic Church in Goa.

    Historian and traveler, Paul William Roberts, writes in The Empire of the Soul: Some Journeys in India (1997):
    Just like the mullahs who had marched into Goa two hundred years before with the Bahamani sultans, these Catholic clergy were prepared to go to any lengths to spread their faith. Initially they pestered the Portuguese king for special powers, and then they pestered the Pope to pester the king on their behalf.

    The first of these powers arrived in 1540 when the viceroy received authority to ‘destroy all Hindu temples not leaving a single one in any of the islands, and to confiscate the estates of the temples for the maintenance of the churches which were to be erected in their places’.

    St. Francis Xavier
    The Goans, who saw the best side of Xavier, knew nothing of the huge role he played in Portugal’s Inquisition, nor did they know he had pleaded with the monarch, Dom Joao, to ‘order the establishment of the Inquisition in Goa.’(p82).

    “This holy terror” was intended for back-sliding (revertidos) converts from Hinduism; but “to be fair” the Inquisition was also interested in any Hindus discovered “indulging in their beliefs” – considered by every Portuguese as ‘magic and witchcraft’ (not unlike how they viewed other native peoples’ religions). Under the Inquisition, “culprits would be tracked down and burned alive. Auto-da-fe – Act of Faith – was the lofty title given to this inhuman practice by the Portuguese Catholic orders.
    Roberts describes what went on in the Inquisition’s Goa court that had been housed in the Sultan’s old palace and had a huge plaster image of Christ overlooking the scene:
    • Children were flogged and slowly dismembered in front of their parents, whose eyelids had been sliced off to make sure they missed nothing. Extremities were amputated carefully, so that a person could remain conscious even when all that remained was a torso and head. Male genitals were removed and burned in front of wives, [women’s bodies were similarly desecrated with swords] while husbands were forced to watch…. And it went on for two hundred years. [Italics added], (p87).

    So, aside from African slavery and the destruction of ‘New World’ native peoples and their cultures, to add fuel to the controversy these more unspoken “crimes committed in the service of Portugal’s colonial project” and the Catholic Church evangelization project are what the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, finding India led to.


    • Emanuel  On 09/30/2019 at 4:29 pm

      The article is about Mayor Fernando Medina’s campaign promise to build a museum in Lisbon dedicated to honour Portugal’s colonial history which has sparked debate. But you, as expected, feel compelled to turn the debate to a matter about India.

      Portugal, during 600 years of colonialism, laid claim to a vast area, spanning more than 50 countries from every continent, with Brazil being its main possession. But you have to turn it into a discussion about your fatherland.

      The article mentions India only referentially, for example, Antonio Costa’s family’s origin. But you must turn it into lecture about India, and not the proposed museum in Lisbon.

      Gawd, you need help.

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