Goa and Portuguese Asia

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Goa and Portuguese Asia

Goa, Daman, and Diu—all located in India—Malacca, the Moluccas, Macau, and Timor were the most im-portant Portuguese-controlled territories in Asia. Portugal was the major European commercial power east of the Cape of Good Hope during the sixteenth century. After 1650 Portugal maintained only a minor position in Asia as Brazil became the principal source of investments and profits.


A Portuguese possession from 1510 to 1961, then a territory of India until 1987, Goa became an Indian state in the latter year. Located on the Arabian Sea about 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Goa has two distinct areas: the Old Conquests, with a strong Catholic presence and including Ilhas, Bardez, and Salcette; and the New Conquests, with a predominantly Hindu majority, including the outlying districts taken from the Marathas between 1746 and 1782. Goa is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) in length and 40 miles (65 kilometers) in width at its widest point with a total area of some 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers). The highest elevations, between 3,400 feet (1,035 meters) and 3,825 feet (1,165 meters) occur in the Western Ghats on the border with Karnataka. Three distinct climates mark the seasons: hot in April and May at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees to 35 degrees Centigrade); cooler and humid from June to September during the monsoon, with temperatures in the 80s Fahrenheit (26 to 31 degrees Centigrade); and cool and dry in the winter with temperatures ranging from 68 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 29 degrees Centigrade). The soils, though below average for fertility, are well watered and receive between 110 and 130 inches (280 and 330 centimeters) of rain annually. The major crops are rice, cashews, areca, mangoes, and coconuts. In the twentieth century, iron ore and manganese were mined and exported on a large scale. Since the late 1980s, tourism has emerged as the primary industry, hosting between approximately 20 percent of all tourists to India in 2007.

Hindu Saraswat Brahmins, who were granted exclusive control of both internal and external state monopolies in the sixteenth century, have dominated Goan commercial life ever since. Catholic Saraswat Brahmins have been important landowners since the sixteenth century. Catholic Goans can be found living throughout the world; reportedly there are more Catholic Goans in Mumbai than in Goa itself. Konkani is the state's official language; other languages spoken in Goa include English, Portuguese, Marathi, Urdu, and Hindi.

The population of Goa totaled 266,000 in 1810, passed 1 million in the early 1990s, and reached 1.4 million in 2005 due to governmental barriers to non-Goan Indians entering Goa being diminished after 2000. Approximately 67 percent of Goans are Hindu, 30 percent are Catholics, and 3 percent are Islamic or Protestant. Goans enjoy the highest per capita income in India.


Daman is a port city 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) in extent, located on the Gulf of Cambay in Gujarat State, approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Mumbai and 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Surat (the major port of India in 1700). Daman was conquered by the Portuguese in 1559. The nearby districts of Dadra and Nagar Haveli were taken from the Marathas in 1780 and thereafter administered from Daman until 1954, when the Indians ousted the Portuguese from the inland areas. A flourishing port until Portuguese sea power declined in the seventeenth century, Daman nevertheless remained a major port within Portuguese Asia. Daman continued to be a major exporter of cotton textiles to an area extending from Goa to Hormuz and Mozambique until 1820. The port enjoyed a brief boom from 1815 to 1840 while exporting Malwa opium to the Far East. The city's population was 32,000 in 1810 and 65,000 in 1995.


About 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) in total area, Diu consists of a fortified island, a larger island, and a narrow strip of land at the end of the Kathiawar Peninsula on the Saurashtra coast of Gujarat State, about 165 miles (265 kilometers) northwest of Mumbai. After seizing the area in 1534, the Portuguese constructed a fort at Diu, which thereafter served as a critical link in their control of the Indian Ocean. Diu's commercial ties extended from the Gulf of Cambay to the Red Sea area and East Africa. Cotton textiles were the major export in an economy dominated, like Daman, by Banyans. In the 1820s and 1830s, Diu shared in the export trade of Malwa opium to the Far East. Few Portuguese ever resided in Diu. The city's population was 9,500 in 1810 and 40,000 in 1995.


A city in present-day Malaysia on the Strait of Malacca, the port is located about 120 miles (190 kilometers) northwest of Singapore. Prior to 1500, Chinese, Indian, and Arab merchants made Malacca the major commercial emporium for spices in the Far Eastern trade. Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered the city for Portugal in 1511, after which the Portuguese made huge profits in the spice trade. The Dutch expelled the Portuguese from Malacca in 1641.


The Moluccas are a group of approximately 1,000 islands comprising about 28,750 square miles (74,460 square kilometers) of land, located east of Celebes, west of New Guinea, north of Timor, and south of the Philippines. The Moluccas are a rich agricultural zone famous for abundant spices such as cloves, nutmeg, mace, and pepper. Christopher Columbus was seeking a quicker way to the Moluccas when he "discovered" the New World. The Portuguese established a presence in the islands in 1511 and thereafter fought almost continuously with the Spanish, English, and Dutch to maintain control of the area's spice wealth. The Dutch finally succeeded in expelling the Portuguese in 1612.


Macau consists of a small, narrow peninsula projecting from the Chinese mainland on the western side of the Pearl River estuary, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southeast of Hong Kong, and the two islands of Taipa and Coloane. Macau has a total area of 10 square miles (26 square kilometers) and has expanded approximately 50 percent in land size from the 1970s to 2007 due to reclamation projects that continue at a steady pace. The southwest monsoon dominates the area's climate from April to September, and most of the annual rainfall of 80 inches (200 centimeters) falls during these summer months, which are also the warmest, with temperatures ranging from 84 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 34 degrees Centigrade). The winter months of December to February enjoy cooler temperatures, from the upper 50s to the 70s Fahrenheit (about 14 to 26 degrees Centigrade).

Like Hong Kong, Macau owes its existence to its proximity to the key Chinese port of Guangzhou (formerly Canton). The Portuguese established Macau as an outpost for trade with China in 1557 and thereafter paid tribute to the Chinese emperor until 1849. From Macau, Portuguese merchants also developed links with Japan, the Philippines, Timor, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. In 1784 the Portuguese built a new customhouse to handle increasing trade. From 1770 to 1840 Macau enjoyed an economic boom due to its middleman role in the opium trade from India (Calcutta and western India) to Guangzhou and other areas of China. As the opium trade declined in importance in Macau due to the rise of Hong Kong, Macau prospered anew from shipping Chinese coolies to Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. During World War II Macau served as a refuge from the Japanese, who never attempted to seize the city (Portugal was a neutral state during the war). Casinos, tourism, manufacturing, and the re-export of Chinese products were the mainstays of the economy since the 1950s. This situation altered dramatically after 2000, and in 2006–2007, Macau passed Las Vegas as the most important gambling center in the world, catering annually to millions from the entire world, especially Asians, principally Chinese. On December 20, 1999, Macau reverted to China within the framework of a Special Administration Region (SAR) and will retain, in theory, considerable autonomy until 2049.


Timor is the easternmost island in the Lesser Sunda chain and is situated about 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Bali and 400 miles (640 kilometers) northwest of Darwin, Australia. The entire island of Timor is 600 miles (960 kilometers) long with a maximum width of 60 miles (95 kilometers). The island is divided between Indonesia and East Timor, the latter occupying less than half of the island with 5,640 square miles (14,610 square kilometers). East Timor has a mountainous terrain, with its highest elevation slightly above 9,700 feet (2950 meters). Timor has a long dry season and an irregular monsoon season from December to April.

The Portuguese began to trade with Timor between 1513 and 1520, seeking sandalwood, honey, and beeswax. Missionaries arrived between 1562 and 1585, with permanent Portuguese settlers following in 1586. The Portuguese lost the western half of Timor to the Dutch in 1651. Thereafter, Macau dominated the Portuguese trade with Timor. Dili, the major port and capital of the Portuguese eastern half of Timor, sent sandalwood and slaves to Macau from 1769 to perhaps as late as the early 1900s. Opium, imported from Macau, was introduced into western Indonesia via Timor in exchange for agricultural products. Slavery, due to the gradual enforcement of the law, continued up to World War I. An insurrection just prior to World War I took the lives of approximately 14,000 Timorese and 500 Portuguese soldiers.

Coffee was the major export from the 1860s until the first decade of the twenty-first century. Oil exploration since the 1970s has resulted in significant discoveries of offshore oil and natural gas in the Timor Sea. Starting in 2006 oil by ship and liquefied natural gas have become the major sources of foreign exchange for East Timor. A liquefied natural gas pipeline operates 500 kilometers from the Timor sea to Darwin, Australia, where the liquefied natural gas is stored in two huge tanks prior to loading on ships bound to China and Europe. Hydrocarbons have replaced agriculture as the major exports since 2006.

The Japanese occupied Timor during World War II. Destruction was widespread, including the loss of the island's archives. The Portuguese Revolution of 1974 led to East Timor's unilateral declaration of independence from Portugal. Indonesia, with the tacit agreement of the United States of America, shortly thereafter invaded East Timor and annexed the entire island. From 1975 to 1999 East Timor encountered fierce guerrilla warfare and a campaign of genocide encouraged by the Indonesian government. These developments led to the "reported" mass killings (but these figures appear to be grossly exaggerated) 100,000 and 250,000 inhabitants. United Nations peacekeepers, numbering 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers, occupied East Timor from 1999 to 2002. East Timor gained full independence on May 20, 2002. The population of East Timor was slightly more than 900,000 in 1850, 550,000 in 1980, and was more than 1 million in 2005.

See alsoPortuguese Empire .


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                                        Rudy Bauss