Chandor village in Salcete, Goa, is where you will come across the picturesque two-storey Braganza House. Neighbouring the 17th century Church of Nossa Senhora de Belém, this stately colonial mansion was once home to one of the largest landowning families in Goa. (Image: Bust of Luís de Menezes Bragança in Margao’s Municipal Garden)
Sometime in the 19th century, this family was conferred with the name of the last royal dynasty of Portugal, Braganza, for their dedicated services to the Portuguese colonial enterprise. Ironically, however, this was the same family that would go on to produce a man who many consider Goa’s fiercest proponent of independence from the Portuguese.
His name was Luis de Menezes Braganza (also spelt as Luis de Menezes Bragança).
Born on 15 January 1878 in Chandor, his mother had named him after the reigning Portuguese monarch Luís I of Portugal (1861-1889). Growing up with wealth, he studied at the illustrious Rachol seminary, following which he excelled at the Lyceum (Liceu de Goa) school in Panaji.
This education and the wealth of books at home helped Luis develop a mindset, which allowed for critical thinking and a greater understanding of the society around him. Passionate about science, he had initially enrolled into medical school. But his plans were derailed after suffering from a bout of typhoid, which forced him into missing his first-year examinations.
This decision to give up medical school was a turning point in his life and the history of Goa. Mind you, in the early 20th century, Goa was a quiet colony of the Portuguese empire with very few prospects for residents who would often travel to cities like Mumbai for better livelihoods. Leveraging his family’s wealth, Luis engrossed himself in books and magazines from around the world, keeping abreast of the major global conflicts and social issues of the day.
His readings had inspired ideas of freedom, pride in one’s own culture and revolution. More importantly, however, his education at the Lyceum and voracious extra-curricular reading had made him an excellent writer. He was one of the few among Goa’s elites who resented colonial rule and wanted to bring drastic changes to conservative Goan Catholic and Hindu society.
A Career in Journalism
Given his writing skills and desire for reform, it wasn’t any surprise when he began his career as a journalist. Barely 22, Luis got together with Goan writer Professor Messias Gomes to establish Goa’s first Portuguese language daily called O Heraldo in 1900. About 87 years later, this was renamed The Herald, which stands today as one of Goa’s leading English newspapers.
In 1911, Luis started another newspaper called O Debate (The Debate). He then began to employ his writing skills, passion for journalism and sterling wit to raise political consciousness among his fellow Goans and further the spirit of rebellion against Portuguese rule.
A couple of years later, he went on to establish another Portuguese daily Diario de Noite (The Evening News), which carried news of the pan-India freedom struggle underway against the British to Goans and also brought to light a series of social and cultural issues in local communities as well.
A regular contributor to Pracasha (The Light)—a Marathi-Portuguese bilingual periodical—Luis would often write on subjects like freedom against subjugation and free speech and expression.
Akin to Bal Gangadhar (Lokmanya) Tilak, who was urging Indians to challenge British rule through the pages of his publications like Kesari and Maratha, Luis also did the same with his writings speaking out on causes like self-determination, secularism, and independence. Little surprise that Luis has sometimes been referred to as the ‘Tilak of Goa’.
A Secular Goan Identity
Through his writings, there were certain common recurring themes.
Replace Portuguese with Konkani as Goa’s official language: In his essay ‘Why Konkani’ (1914), he writes, “It suffices for me that Konkani is our mother tongue and that no other will do for us as a mother tongue, however much we may learn them for culture’s sake or business’ sake.”
Secular education: Schools in Goa were largely run by the church, but Luis was a serious advocate of the Escola Neuter or ‘Neutral School’, which placed notions of liberalism, tolerance and secular education above the limitations set by faith-driven education. This was the only way he believed that Goan society could be both tolerant and liberal. There are many books he wrote, where he articulated his ideas for Goan society, like ‘The Comunidades and the Cult’ (1914), ‘The Castes’ (1915), ‘India and her Problems’ (1924) and ‘About an Idea’ (1928).
Congresso Provincial: This was a local organisation inspired by the writings of Luis, who sought to foster a different kind of political consciousness in the region. Established in 1916, it contained prominent citizens of Goa who would voice the issues and concerns of Goans to the Portuguese establishment in Lisbon akin to the early days of the Indian National Congress.
Against Caste: Despite the promise of equality before God, he felt that the caste system had spread its tentacles into the Goan Catholic Church. “Deep down in the Goan soul painted with a varnish of Christianity, has remained encrusted with what is worst and nefarious in the caste system-repulsion. The divine grace conveyed through baptism was capable of eliminating the dressing style and the food habits but did not succeed in tempering the Goan soul in equality nor did it root out the caste prejudice which still held firm roots in everyday social life,” he wrote.
Challenging Portuguese Rule
After nearly two decades of prolific writing, he also got into active politics.
As freelance journalist and science writer Veena Patwardhan writes in her blog, “After joining politics, Luis de Menezes Braganza was elected to high positions in different organisations. He was President of the Municipality of Ilhas, President of the Provincial Congress of Goa, leader of the Opposition in the Government Council and Legislative Assembly, and was appointed as Portuguese India’s delegate to the Colonial Conference in Lisbon in 1924.”
His standout moment came when Portuguese dictator Antonia Salazar imposed the ‘Acto-Colonial’ (Colonial Act), which was deeply racist. Before enacting this piece of legislation, Goans shared the same rights as Portuguese nationals. This changed when the Act essentially deemed Goan residents to be second class citizens. Going further, the Act also proposed to ‘civilize the indigenous population’ of Goa, which was an even bigger insult.
In 1930, on the floor of the Legislative Council in Panaji, he issued an impassioned and powerful appeal against the declaration of the Colonial Act by the Portuguese government. Besides condemning the Act, the resolution spoke of the Goan people’s right to self-determination.
Among the few to challenge Salazar, he said in the assembly: “Portuguese India refuses to renounce the right given to all nations to attain the fullness of their personality until they can constitute units capable of guiding their destinies since this is an inalienable birthright.”
The position he took not only endeared himself to the people of Goa, but residents of the Portuguese-speaking world with some local intellectuals referring to him as ‘O Major de Todos’ or the ‘greatest of all’, while the Indian press called him the ‘Tilak of Goa’.
Naturally, the colonial establishment wasn’t very happy and hit back hard. Salazar’s Estado Novo regime shut down all his publications in 1937. By the following year on 10 July, he passed away after a heart attack, which some believe was induced by all the stress and harassment caused by the government. He was only 60 years old at the time.
Following his death, the colonial administration stationed Portuguese troops around his grave to prevent any attempt by the Goans to pay their final respects and stir up nationalistic protests.
Goa would find liberation 23 years after his untimely passing. Following independence from Portugal in 1961, the Instituto Vasco da Gama, a cultural institution that promoted Indo-Portuguese literature, journalism and texts in historiography and poetry, would soon change its name to Institute Menezes Bragança, named after Luís. One can also fund his bust in the Municipal Garden in Margao, and another in a garden near the North Goa Collectorate.
Ultimately, what Luis did was open the floodgates with a relentless campaign to ensure one day Goa would rid itself of colonial rule and walk into the warm embrace of freedom.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)