Religion and Empire in Portuguese India: Conversion, Resistance, and the Making of Goa, Angela Barreto Xavier (Permanent Black, April 2024)
Religion and Empire in Portuguese India: Conversion, Resistance, and the Making of Goa, Angela Barreto Xavier (Permanent Black, April 2024)

How did the colonization of Goa in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries take place? How was it related to projects for the conversion of Goan colonial subjects to Catholicism? And how did these contribute to the making of Goan identity?

There’s a popular folk hero in Puebla, Mexico—Catarina de San Juan, who Mexicans hailed as a devoted religious figure after her death in 1688. She’s credited with creating the china poblana dress, a connection of dubious historical veracity made several centuries after her death. But Catarina is one of Mexico’s most famous “chinos”—despite the fact that she was likely from India, not China. In fact, any Asian that disembarked in Mexico, whether from China, Japan, the Philippines, India, or even further away, was called “chino”. It was not a particularly beneficial classification: “chinos”, under Spanish law, could be enslaved; “indios”, or indigenous populations, could not.

Diego Javier Luis hardly bothers explaining to his readers that of course there were Asians in the Americas centuries before the California Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. But given the common and almost automatic conflation of the United States with “America”, it can nevertheless come as a surprise that Mexico had entire Asian communities before the Pilgrims even set foot on Plymouth Rock.

It is a battle that has been called “the Stalingrad of the East”, but a more accurate description might be“India’s forgotten battle of World War II”. The Battle of Kohima, which was fought between British/Imperial and Japanese troops during 4 April through 6 June of 1944, according to author Mmhonlümo Kikon, “shaped world history”. It marked the end of Japan’s effort to invade India and join forces with the Indian independence forces against the British Raj. Kohima, Kikon writes, “saved the British empire and the Allied forces from defeat and brought them out from the jaws of death into an uncertain glory carved into their history books.”

Knowledge is power. This is a statement often made to reinforce the relentless pursuit of data, information and know-how to get ahead in business and technology. Scholarship or studiousness is seen as a virtue that can give one an edge over the others in the face of tough competition. With such a celebration of knowledge, it appears that anything can be legitimized if it is connected with knowledge creation or dissemination. In The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge, Joshua Ehrlich examines a much stronger, to the point of being literal, historical connection between knowledge and power. 

The story of the British Empire in India is not about battles and conquests alone. There were quite a number of cases in which the East India Company maintained a grip over individual kingdoms through what roughly translates into rule by proxy. This other side of the story of the consolidation of the Empire is that of Residency, the institution that operated through the deputation of a British official, generally an army official, to kingdoms such as Hyderabad, Mysore, Pune and so on.