Early female migration from Goa, by Dr Teresa Albuquerque

By Dr Teresa Albuquerque

During the thirties, as the general exodus from Goa gathered momentum, over 60,000 individuals left home. The majority were Roman Catholic, Hindus and Muslims comprising just about a tenth of that number. It was out of necessity, but it was largely a discomanised movement; as one contemporary writer described: “It was like the water of a river whose banks overflow in all directions, irrigating the fields but also, at times, causing considerable damage.” For many were like moths drawn to a burning lamp to their own destruction.

By this phase the women, who formerly had stayed behind to keep the home fires burning, were drawn away. Those who had the good fortune to come with a Goan family were liable to enjoy a measure of protection. But most of the women, being uneducated and unfamiliar with the way of life in a large city, were more vulnerable to its enticements. A few very enterprising ones opened “pusadas” or eating-places in Horta Baixa, a certain quarter of the Goan enclave, which became in time disreputable on account of the ready patronage of passing Filipino sailors in the port.

But a vast majority found employment as domestics in private homes. Opulent Parsis and Khojas were very willing to keep Goan “ayahs” and quite often good treatment was generously meted out to these servants. There were, of course, cases of cruel exploitation of these hapless women at the hands of profligate employers. Such trials sometimes left a scar that was difficult to heal, and worse still sometimes created a sense of despair which gripped these unfortunates to stoop lower into the morass of prostitution.

Some of the women who came out were adept at picking up a smattering of English which gave them easy entry into the homes of Europeans as ayahs or, better still, as nannies. Moreover, their exposure to western norms made it easier for them to merge more harmoniously into the household than would their non-Christian counterparts. The famous writer Rudyard Kipling, who spent the first six years of his childhood in Bombay while his father was absorbed in the School of Art, has left this recollection: “My first impression is of a daybreak, light and colour and golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder. This would be the memory of early morning walks to the Bombay fruit market with my ayah and later with my sister in her perambulator…Our ayah was Portuguese Roman catholic, who would pray–I beside her–at a wayside cross.”

A number of English writers refer to their children being entrusted to “Goanese” ayahs and; even more significantly many an epitaph on gravestones in some of the cemeteries in Bombay testify to the fidelity of these old and trusted family retainers.

It must be noted that it was the meagre savings of these devoted women that often sustained their families in Goa, and their presence in Bombay sometimes served as a means for their sons to follow, and to secure remunerative occupations on the recommendations of their mother’s employers. Thus their humble endeavour served a noble purpose and made for future progress.

The Goan ayahs in Bombay were quite an alert set. This is apparent from the fact that when the Emigration Commission was preparing its Report, in order to solve problems created by the economic conditions in Portuguese territory, Goan World of March 1930 mentions: “Three of these suffragettes who sign themselves as ‘loving sisters’ have issued a handbill vehemently protesting against their exclusion. They are Idalina Gomes, Maria Francisca Pereira and Maria Mascarenhas–leaders of Goan ayahs in Bombay!”

While we are on the subject of early female emigration we might refer to an interesting note by Ino Godinho appearing in “In the Mission Field” published in 1927. We quote: “Times were when annually brides would be brought from Malvan, Vingurla and also Goa for the purpose of marriage in Bombay and Salsette. These lasses were much appreciated for the thorough training they had undergone in their Konkan homes n agricultural and industrial pursuits. The agents engaged in this business received handsome commissions for the interesting bevy of maidens they brought from Goa and the Blue mountains about the beginning of every year. These agents who roamed from village to village about the Konkan in quest of brides, were the trusted individuals of either party. A comfortable home was thus found in Bombay and Salsette for the superfluous females of the lower classes. This discovered the high road to Bombay. Not long ago there was a colony of families of the type described above at Matunga before the Development Board acquired their ancestral homes and dispersed them. These women roaming about the streets of Bombay with wide baskets full of vegetable on their heads, could easily be identified by the Concanim they spoke when addressed by Goans.”