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LOCATION: India (Goa state)
POPULATION: 1,343,998 (Census of India, 2001)
LANGUAGE: Konkani; Marathi; some English and Portuguese
RELIGION: Hindu; Christian; small numbers of Muslims
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 4: People of India


Goans are the inhabitants of the former Portuguese territory of Goa, which is located on the west coast of India some 400 km (250 mi) south of Bombay (Mumbai). Although Goa is now an Indian state, Goan culture and religion reflect nearly five hundred years of Portuguese influence.

Goa is mentioned in the Mahâbhârata epic, and the Purânas refer to it as Govapuri, "the Paradise of India." During the third century BC, Goa formed part of the Mauryan Empire. After the decline of the Mauryans, the area was ruled by a series of Hindu dynasties that arose in west central India. The most notable of these were the Satvahanas, the Chalukyas, and the Kadambas. Goa was held briefly by the Muslims during the fourteenth century before it was incorporated into the Vijayanagara Kingdom. The Muslims reconquered Goa in 1469, but in turn they were ousted by the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque in 1510. Goa was the first Portuguese territory in Asia and remained under Portuguese control for the next four and a half centuries. Its natural harbors and location on the shipping routes to the Far East gave it great strategic significance for the Portuguese. Goa eventually became the capital of all the Portuguese territories in Asia.

After Britain's departure from India in 1947, Portugal came under increasing pressure to cede Goa and its other territories on the subcontinent to India. The matter was resolved in 1961, when India's armed forces invaded and "liberated" Goa, Daman, and Diu. Goa was a Union Territory administered by the central government until 1987, when it became a state of the Indian Union.


Goa's population is currently estimated to be just under 1.5 million persons (the 2001 census reported a population of 1.34 million). Sizable emigrant populations of Goans are found in Bombay and also overseas in the Gulf States, Britain, and North America (particularly in Toronto, Canada).

The ethnic makeup of Goans reflects the many peoples that have contributed to the population of the Konkan (the coastal region between Bombay and Mangalore). These include Proto-Australoid tribal groups, Dravidian speakers, and, later, Indo-Aryan peoples. Of particular significance over the last 500 years has been the Portuguese presence in the region. The Portuguese encouraged intermarriage of settlers with local women, and today Fernandes, Pereira, Gomes, and de Souza are common family names in Goa.

Goa is one of India's smallest states with an area, of only 3,702 sq km (1,429 sq mi) and ranks as 4th smallest in terms of population, behind Sikkim, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh. The original Portuguese colony was centered on the estuaries of the Mandavi and Juari Rivers, and today Goa's capital, Panaji, is located on the south bank of the Mandavi. The modern state has 100 km (62 mi) of coast, lined with coconut palms and sandy beaches, along the Arabian Sea. Inland, the coastal plain gives way to rolling hills before rising to the peaks of the Western Ghats. These mountains reach an elevation of 1,034 m (3,393 ft) in the area of the Sahyadri Hills.

The climate is hot and humid. Annual rainfall varies from 240 cm (about 94 in) on the coast to over 400 cm (157 in) in the Ghats, which receive the full force of the summer monsoon. Temperatures average close to 26°C (79°F) through much of the year.


Hindus and the majority of Goan Christians speak Konkani, the language of the Konkan region. Many also know Marathi, which is commonly used for correspondence. Although Konkani is the state's only official language, Marathi can also be used for any official purpose. Both Konkani (which has borrowed words from Portuguese) and Marathi belong to the Indo-Aryan language family and are written in the Devanagari script. When Christians write Konkani, however, they use the Roman alphabet. Many Goan Christians speak English, and members of the older generation of Goans may also speak Portuguese.


Goan proverbs, songs, dance-music and folktales hold the key to the social history of pre-Portuguese Goa. Perhaps the most honored of all artisans in Goa are the goldsmiths. The belief in Goa was that the metal was a representation of the Sun and that the yellow metal also had therapeutic properties. In pre-Portuguese Goa, Brahmans, goldsmiths, and merchants were exempted from being flogged even if they had committed heinous crimes. It is small wonder then that the goldsmiths of Goa became the butt of jokes in Goan folklore. Despite the honor and the ridicule accorded to the village goldsmith, it was simple jasmine flowers that came to be seen as a Goan girl's best friend. Mardol village in North Goa is supposed to be famed for its supply of fresh jasmines. In a folk song from this region a dancer says to her Lord, "I shall buy flowers in profusion, I shall deck my hair with them. I shall sit in front of my Lord. Yes, I shall sit."

In another story titled The Girl in the Straw Hat, a poor girl is on her way from her wealthy husband's house to her grandmother's when she is accosted by three water nymphs who give her a grain of rice each. "Throw this grain of rice on your grandmother's hut and it will turn into a palace," says the forest water nymph. "Throw this grain into your grandmother's room and it will be filled with riches," says the second water nymph. "Throw this grain of rice in the kitchen and it will be filled with a hundred servants," says the third. This is a symbolic illustration demonstrating to the young girls of pre-Portuguese Goa that a good harvest is the only key to a wealthy and prosperous home.

Although Goa has its own folk traditions, it is better known throughout the Roman Catholic world for a historical personage who has attained almost legendary status, St. Francis Xavier. His tomb is in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa. A pupil of Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuit Order, Francis Xavier arrived in Goa in 1542 to begin his missionary work in Asia. After several years in India, he traveled to the Moluccas (now in Indonesia) and to Japan to spread the Christian faith. He fell ill and died on the return journey and was buried in the Moluccas. Later, when his successor opened the grave to pay his respects, the body was still fresh and lifelike. Francis Xavier's remains were sent to Goa, where he was elevated to sainthood, and the body was placed in the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Parts of the body have been removed and sent to Rome and other places for use as relics. It is said that a Portuguese woman who wanted a relic of the saint bit off one toe in 1554. The body of St. Francis is taken out in procession every ten years, the last time being in 2004. An annual festival is also held in Old Goa every December 3, the anniversary of St. Francis's death in 1552.


Goans are mostly Hindu (about 66% of the population) and Christian (27%) and there are a small number of Muslims (under 7%). Whatever their religion, Goans tend to be orthodox in their beliefs.

Goan Christians are Roman Catholics, like their Portuguese conquerors. The Inquisition vigorously stamped out any of the older "heathen" customs that converts tried to bring into their new religion. Like all Catholics, Goans believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, worship Mary as the mother of God, and revere the Christian saints. They worship in churches and attend confession and Mass. The many churches and cathedrals of Goa, some active today but many now abandoned, bear witness to the piety of the Portuguese and their subjects in the past.

The Hindus are largely followers of Shiva, although they show the characteristic diversity of beliefs and practices identified with Hindu peoples.


Goan Hindus observe all the major Hindu festivals, but perhaps the most important for them is Ganesha Chaturthi, the birthday of the god Ganesha. Known in Goa as Chovoth, this festival can last up to nine days, and it is a time for worshipping Ganapati (Ganesha) and his parents Mahadev (Shiva) and Gauri (Parvati). Shigmo is the Goan counterpart of the Holi festival.

The Christian community celebrates Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, and the feast days of various saints. Carnival (the equivalent of Mardi Gras) is an important Christian festival held just before Lent. The first day, Sabado Gordo or Fat Saturday, is marked by a parade of floats in Panaji, headed by the character King Momo. People dress in costumes, wear masks, and indulge in three days of revelry and excitement. The Procession of the Saints, when images of twenty-six saints are carried through the streets, is held in Old Goa on the first Monday of Easter week. The Feast of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa, is celebrated every year on December 3.

Muslims, as elsewhere in India, keep the festivals of Muharram, 'Id ul-Fitr, and 'Id ul-'Adha'.


Certain social customs appear to be observed by all Goans, whatever their religious community. It is not unusual, for example, for a Christian woman to be sent to her mother's home for the delivery of her first child. This practice is widespread among Hindus in India. Similarly, Christians announce the birth of a child with firecrackers—two for a girl, three for a boy—as do Hindus. In their rites of passage, however, Goans follow the rituals prescribed by their respective religions. These include baptism, the first Holy Communion, and confirmation for Christians; various samskaras (e.g. the naming ceremony, the head-shaving ceremony) for Hindus; and birth ceremonies and circumcision for Muslims.

At the time of death, Christians are given the last rites, a funeral service is held in the local church, and the deceased is buried in the cemetery. Masses are held periodically for the soul of the departed. Hindus cremate their dead, except for the Gavli (milkman) caste, who claim to be Lingayats and bury their dead in a sitting position. Their funeral customs conform to those of other Konkani Hindus, with a period of mourning, a sraddha ceremony, and the offering of food and gifts to Brahman priests. Muslims bury their dead with rites similar to those of other Muslims in South Asia.


Hindus use the "Namaste" to greet each other while Christians, especially in the better-educated upper castes, follow the custom of shaking hands when meeting. In general, social relations are determined by caste status. Even among Christians, who are more flexible in such matters, the upper castes tend to keep the lower castes at a distance.


Living conditions in Goa vary according to locale, caste, and economic status. The old parts of towns such as Panaji preserve much of their Portuguese character, with narrow winding streets, white-washed houses with overhanging balconies, and red-tiled roofs. Wealthy Christian landlords of uppercaste standing have spacious one-story mansions, with antique furniture, mirrors, and European-style chandeliers, and sometimes even a private chapel. The walls of their houses are often tiled, a typically Portuguese custom. By contrast, houses of lower-caste villagers, whether Hindu or Christian, are likely to be much more modest, built of mud with thatched roofs, and more sparsely furnished.


Goan Christian society has a caste system very much like its Hindu counterpart. The high-caste Christians are the Bamonn (converts originally from the Brahmans), the Chaddhe (Ksatriyas), and the Gaude (banias). The Christian equivalent of the sudras or artisan castes are the Sudir, while Christians of aboriginal heritage are called Kunbis or Gaudas. Christians, just like Hindus, are required to marry within their own caste. A Bamonn will marry another Bamonn, a Chaddho (singular of Chaddhe) will marry another Chaddho, and so on. Marriages are not arranged; most young men and women select their own partners. Once a suitable match has been found, however, details of the marriage proposal, acceptance of the proposal, negotiation of the dowry, and so forth are left to the families. Marriages are performed in church according to the Catholic rites. The ceremony is usually followed by a Western-style reception and dance. Newlywed couples may live with the groom's father although the joint family is increasingly giving way to the nuclear family structure.

Goan Hindus and Muslims follow the traditions of their own communities.


Christians dress in Western clothes, with men donning pants and shirts for everyday wear and dark suits and ties for formal occasions. Women wear blouses and skirts or dresses, but for special occasions they use the elegant Indian sari or long formal gowns. Young girls keep up with the latest in Western fashion. Only Christian women of the laboring classes wear the sari as their usual clothing. Hindus wear clothes similar to those of their neighbors in Maharashtra. For men, this is the dhoti, or loincloth and shirt. Most men do not wear hats, but some members of the older generation still wear "Gandhi caps," the type of folding cap that Mahatma Gandhi made popular earlier in this century. Many men have adopted the Western-style pants and shirt. Hindu women wear the typical dress of the Konkan—the short-sleeved bodice or blouse (choli) and a sari tied in the Maharashtrian fashion (pleats tucked in at the back of the waist, and the end of the cloth drawn under the right arm, across the chest, and over the shoulder). Both men and women seem to enjoy wearing jewelry and ornaments.


The staple food of Goans, both Catholics and Hindus, is fish. A typical lunch consists of a prawn or fish curry eaten with rice. The meal is often accompanied by fried fish or shrimp and green vegetables. However, the similarities end there. The Hindu diet appears to have been little influenced by the European tastes, while the food of Catholics shows a strong Portuguese influence. Catholics eat both beef and pork, which are taboo in most Hindu households. Pork vindalho (a type of spicy pork curry) is a typical Christian Goan dish and sarapatel is considered a Goan classic. It is thought to be derived from two Portuguese dishes, sarrabulhada (a pork stew) and cabidel (pork giblets). Another Goan specialty is chouriço, or pork sausage. Sanna are rice cakes that are soaked in palm toddy (liquor made from the fermented sap of palm trees) before cooking. Prawn balchao is a type of spicy prawn condiment that may have originated in Southeast Asia. Goans brew a liquor called feni from cashew nuts or coconuts. Christians drink alcohol at their social gatherings.


The literacy rate among Goans seven years and older stands at 82% (as of 2001). The figures for males and females are 88% and 76%, respectively. This rate is second only to Kerala and Mizoram among all the Indian states. There are many private schools in Goa, many of them affiliated with the Catholic Church. Most of them hold their classes in the English language. The benefits of education are apparent to even the lower-caste villagers, who enroll their children in free, government-run primary schools. English and Konkani are the languages of instruction, and Marathi is sometimes being taught as a third language. Most students in Goa, however, complete their high school using English as the medium of instruction. Primary schools, on the other hand are largely run in Konkani. As is the case in most of India, enrollment for vernacular media has seen a fall in numbers in favor of English medium education.

Goa University is the sole university in the state located in Taleigao and all Goan colleges are affiliated with it The state of Goa contains four engineering colleges and one medical college. In 2004 BITS Pilani university (the Birla Institute of Technology and Science is located in Pilani in Rajasthan and consistently ranks among the top 5 engineering schools in the country) started its first Indian satellite, BITS Pilani Goa Campus near Dabolim. Unlike other Goan institutes, BITS Goa admits students through a nation-wide aptitude test that it shares with its parent institute. Because of this BITS Pilani Goa Campus is the only college in the state to have a regionally mixed student body.

There are also two national oceanographic science-related centers in Goa, the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), located in Vasco and Punjim, respectively.


Portuguese heritage is seen in religion, architecture, place names, language, food, and many other aspects of Goan life and culture. There is often a blending of the European and the Indian in Goa. Christians, for example, have borrowed the caste structure of Hindu society. On the other hand, Carnival has become a Goan celebration rather than a specifically Christian religious festival. There is a body of historical literature in Konkani, the local Indian language, but it is mainly of Christian inspiration and is written in the Roman alphabet—a practice introduced by the Portuguese. Even though Konkani is not one of the languages recognized in the Indian constitution, it has the status of a modern literary language in India. Although Goans never developed any classical forms of dance or music, there are many local traditions of folk music and dance-drama. Mando—not quite a waltz and not quite a Portuguese fado (popular romantic song) but with elements of both—is a dance popular among Goan Christians. The Khel is a form of folk-drama that entertains villagers through criticism and caricature of socially prominent people such as the village landlord. Hindus have their own repertoire of Konkani folk songs and dances.


Agriculture continues to be the main activity of Goans. Christians are involved in cultivation, but they are also found in a wide range of other occupations: office workers, government employees, accountants, hotel workers, and the tourist industry. Some Goans are engaged as cooks and crewmen on ships. Many Goans work abroad, and the money they send back to their families helps to raise the standard of living of many people.

In addition to the tourist industry, Goa is developing as a center of the high-tech industry. It has been selected by the Union government to be the location of a high-tech park, no doubt based on making use of the educational facilities found in the state. The Info Tech Corporation of Goa Ltd. is setting up the software park on 75 acres of land at Dona Paula, about 30 kilometers from the Goa Airport and about 8 kilometers from the capital, Panaji. The Hi-Tech Habitat is proposed to be a modern, state-of-the-art and high quality IT software park and services unit with necessary infrastructure including roads, services, satellite connectivity, captive power supply, "plug and play" facilities, Internet cafeteria, health and recreational center, and landscaping. It will also have a conference center.


Young boys play with toys such as rattles, pipes, and whistles, while girls have their dolls. As they grow up, children play tag, hide-and-seek, and similar games. Kaji is a popular game in which boys line up cashew nuts (kaju) and try and hit them from a distance with a heavier cashew nut. Team games include kabaddi (wrestling) and khokho (team tag). Modern sports such as cricket, field hockey, and basketball are played, but soccer is by far the most popular sport.


Modern entertainment in Goa includes movies, radio, and television. Goan Christians have followed Western trends in music, and some have their own rock bands. Many of the hotels have modern discos for tourists. In the villages, however, recreation still centers around festivals and folk traditions.


The main handicrafts of Goa are pottery making, wood carving, and making lacquer ware and brass articles. Goan artisans are also skilled in ivory carving and silver work. A government-run store has been set up in Panaji to promote the sale of local handicrafts.


With its blend of Portuguese and Indian culture, Goa is unique among the states of India. While many Goans would have preferred to remain independent in the post-colonial era, it was always likely that India would eventually annex Goa. Liberation in 1961 brought many Hindus to Goa from nearby areas. Goa's relatively small size and population help keep to a minimum some of the social and economic problems that are found in other parts of India. Many Goans have left to pursue opportunities in other places, but they continue to send money back to their families. Goa is an important tourist center, and this not only brings in the tourist dollar, but also provides jobs for the local people. During the 1960s Goa's magnificent beaches were a magnet for the hippie generation from the West. While this era is long gone, drugs (although illegal) are still readily available and something of a problem.

Tourism is still a big part of Goa's economy, but often brings increased levels of crime, prostitution, and drug use into local communities, negatively influencing local cultural norms. For instance, in March 2008 the Minister of Tourism in Goa accused local Indian police of trying to cover up the murder of a British girl. Scarlett Keeling was found dead on a beach in Goa in February 2008. Police initially said she had died after drinking too much and a local man, Samson D'Souza, was charged with rape but not with murder. The statement by the government official was made after the dead girl's mother pressed the issue, the cover-up clearly being an attempt not to impact tourism negatively. Goa's indigenous culture is deeply conservative. But many Westerners think India's poverty and tolerance of outsiders frees them to behave in a way that would be tasteless in London, let alone elsewhere in the developing world. The Times of India said 126 foreigners have died in Goa over the last two years—many from drug overdoses—while Western women have been attacked, sexually assaulted, and even murdered. Goa is also a Mecca for pedophiles with an emerging, though unwelcome, reputation as a center for child sex tourism.

Goa's BJP government is said to be the most corrupt in a long time—corrupt but effective. "Better to have a corrupt government that gets things done than a corrupt one which does nothing," was a philosophical Goan's observation. Talk has it that key figures in the opposition Congress party, too, have been bought off. A construction boom is underway in Goa and where there is construction and developers, payoffs are inevitable, at least in India. Apparently, the amount that developers have to pay to the concerned ministry has also been fine-tuned. India's National Security Council also claims that the Russian mafia, which is heavily involved in drugs and prostitution, is laundering money by investing in real estate in Goa.


The Christian Anglo-Indians of Goa are regarded as "loose" by many Indians, largely because of their Westernized lifestyle However, ever since the neighboring state of Maharashtra closed its "dance-bars" in early 2005 because they were viewed as a breeding ground for crime and prostitution, there has been a migration of women (mostly Hindu) from Bombay (Mumbai) to Goa where they work in the vice trade.

In May 2005 a national conference on women's issues was held in Goa attended by some 400 registered participants. This reported that rather than being "victims" of the technological development that has focused on fisheries, many Goan Catholic fisherwomen, in contrast to their Hindu counterparts, have made an economically successful transition from "barefoot, headload peddlers" in the villages to market entrepreneurs. However, the Kharvi caste of fishers (the women do the fishing) have not made the transition so successfully. Though their average working hours are very high, the returns are insignificant. They lament that they "have lost their hold over their traditional occupation." Surprisingly, this closely knit and vociferous community of fisherwomen has neither institutionalized itself nor claimed minority rights, although the Kharvi are classed as a "backward" Hindu caste.

Christian Goanese women are generally freer than their non-Christian counter-parts, Hindus and Muslims usually being subject to the restraints of their religions. Given the relatively high rates of literacy and excellent educational system, the main issues for women in Goa arise out of poverty, limited access to health care and traditional cultural values.


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Phal, S. S. Society in Goa: Some Aspects of Tradition and Modern Trends. Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1982.

Rodrigues, Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa. Feasts, Festivals, and Observance of Goa. Tiswadi, Goa: L. & L Publications, 2004.

School Education in Goa: Status, Issues, and Future Perspectives. New Delhi: National Council of Educational Research and Training, 2004.

—by D. O. Lodrick