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IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA: SOME REFLECTIONS ON SYNCRETIC WORK

ANTROPOlógicas Nº 9 Porto UFP 2005 IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA: SOME REFLECTIONS ON SYNCRETIC WORK Professora Associada Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas
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ANTROPOlógicas Nº 9 Porto UFP 2005 IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA: SOME REFLECTIONS ON SYNCRETIC WORK Professora Associada Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas Resumo Sem negligenciar a importância da reflexão antropológica em torno de noções como hibridismo, creolização, sincretismo, etc. subscrevemos o insight de Peter Van der Veer quando afirma que tais conceitos se tornam bem mais interessantes quando utilizados, reinterpretados ou reavaliados pelos discursos veiculados por actores sociais, em contextos históricos concretos. É neste sentido que me proponho analisar um conjunto de narrativas mobilizado por hindus portugueses na definição e negociação das suas fronteiras identitárias, bem como na avaliação do seu grau de permeabilidade, fluidez, incorporação e mistura face aqueles que, ao longo de uma longa vivência migratória multifaseada e multifacetada, configuraram como «outros». Abstract While believing that the anthropological reflection on notions such as hybridity, creolization, syncretism, etc. continues to be valuable, I will subscribe Peter Van de Veer's insight, according to which such concepts become far more interesting when they are mobilised, reinterpreted, or reassessed through the discourses conveyed by social actors in actual historic contexts. It is in this sense that I will analyse a number of identity narratives presented by Portuguese-speaking Hindus in the definition and negotiation of the limits of their identity, as well as in the evaluation of their degree of permeability, fluidity, incorporation, and mixture towards those who, during a multiphased and multifaceted migratory experience, they configure as «others». 177 Introduction In the concluding remarks of his recent article on the keywords of the emerging transnational anthropology, Ulf Hannerz (1997) emphasises how notions such as hybridity (Bakhtin, 1968; Bhabha, 1994; Young, 1995), creolization (Hannerz, 1987, 1996), syncretism (Droogers, 1989; Stewart e Shaw, 1994; Mary 2000) etc. constitute anthropological constructs that are not necessarily validated or invalidated by native categories and interpretations. He therefore acknowledges that there is much work still to be done on the ways and strategies in which subjects, in an interconnected universe, define and redefine boundaries and interpenetrations between their identity representations and practices. While believing that the anthropological reflection on such notions continues to be valuable, I will subscribe Peter Van de Veer s insight (1994:208), according to which such concepts become far more interesting when they are mobilised, reinterpreted, or reassessed through the discourses (religious, national, cultural, ethnic, etc.) conveyed by social actors in actual historic contexts. It is in this sense that I wish to analyse a number of identity narratives presented by Portuguese-speaking Hindus in the definition and negotiation of the limits of their identity, as well as in the evaluation of their degree of permeability, fluidity, incorporation, and mixture towards those who, during a multiphased and multifaceted migratory experience, they configure as others. The identity narratives in analysis result from the multi-situated fieldwork I have been carrying out with the descendants of Gujarati Hindus who settled in Mozambique since the second half of the XIX century. 1. Migration history Contemporary historical research demonstrates how, since the late seventeenth century, commerce in the North of Mozambique was mainly carried out by traders from Diu. Following the creation of the Company of Banyans of Diu in 1686, they had made the small Island of 178 ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, 2005 IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA ( ) Mozambique (Ilha de Mozambique) their base. We also know that, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, a significant part of the Hindu population (vanias or, in Portuguese, baneanos) active in commerce moved to the southern part of Mozambique, in particular to the provinces of Inhanbane and Lourenço Marques. The migration of Hindus of various castes (fudamiá, khania, kori, vanja, suthar, mochi, dobhi, etc.) from Diu to these same regions also increased substantially, in particular after the implementation of the Liberal regime in Portugal in 1820 (Pereira Leite, 1996: 2001). Additionally, in the late nineteenth century, the implementation of legislation restricting Indian settlement in Natal, especially in the Transvaal, while Portuguese policies considered the presence of Indians indispensable to the economic development of Mozambique, influenced the arrival of groups of British Indians (Pereira Leite, 1996), in particular of Gujarati Hindus (of lohana, patel, bhatia, surti, brahman and other castes), the majority of which originated from Porbandar, Rajkot and Surat. The main strategies for the professional insertion in the Mozambican context for this group lay in trade, both the trade between the interior regions and urban centres and especially for those who arrived in the 1930s investment in traditional commerce, while the castes of Diu masons mostly became employed in the construction of infrastructures. However, a small number of families took advantage of the economic boom of the 1960s to expand their activities to the industrial sector (mainly in textiles). At the same time, a number of subgroups invested in the secondary and university education of the youngest generations, thus laying the foundations for a diversification of professional opportunities. Established in a Portuguese colony, Mozambican Hindus belonged to a polynuclear spatial organisation. The networks they maintained allowed the circulation of people, goods, capital, information, etc. between their regions and groups of origin in Gujarat on the one hand, and the various groups of Gujarati Hindus settled in the British colonies of East and South Africa on the other. Indo-Portuguese Hindus gradually established small satellite communities in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. In much the same fashion, the British-Indian Hindus in Mozambique maintained strong ties with the larger «communities» ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, based on caste (lohana, patel, and bhatia) or on origin settled within the British colonies and protectorates of East and South Africa. The expulsion of all holders of a Indian passport (ordered in 1961 by Salazar) as a retaliation for the Indian invasion of the then-portuguese colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu; and more importantly the decolonisation of all Portuguese colonies after the revolution of 1974, forced a significant part of the Gujarati Hindus living in Mozambique to migrate once again. The nationalisation process implemented in Mozambique, as well as the high political instability of the country and the civil war that broke out in the mid 1970s led to a peak in emigration in the early 1980s. Most of these Hindu families chose Portugal as their destination. They already had the experience of religious and «community» reconstruction, mostly travelled in family groups and had professional experience, the majority in construction and trade. They also had an intercontinental network of contacts and support, all of which enabled them, once established in Portugal mainly in Lisbon, the capital city, but also in smaller nuclei in the Northern cities of Oporto and Coimbra to enjoy rapid but not uniform socio-economic progress. The economic strategies to which Gujarati Hindus resorted to in Portugal were similar to those deployed in Mozambique. Therefore, men from Diu belonging to castes of masons (fudamiá, khania, kori) and carpenters (suthar) soon became active in construction, both in Portuguese firms and in firms owned by same-caste Indians; they also invested in hawking (in street markets across the whole country), while Gujaratis of lohana, vania, darji, and other castes became active in traditional commerce, often in the same branch as previously (mostly ready-to-wear and the sale and import of Far Eastern products). Many of those whose activity had extended to industry, banking or various learned professions were also able to resume their previous occupations. In Portugal, ties with the places of origin and with the Hindu population still residing in the former Portuguese colony are maintained. In addition, connections with Mozambique have been intensified by resorting to a strategy of family-unit fragmentation (part of the family stays on in Mozambique, while others emigrate to neighbouring African countries or to Portugal, in order to sustain and strengthen the family business), and through the resumption of investment policies in Mozambique, made possible by the accumulation of capital during the 180 ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, 2005 IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA ( ) years spent in Portugal. The exchange especially of people, information and symbolic capital with the surviving communities of Gujarati Hindus in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, or South Africa is also maintained. Finally, a number of Portuguese Hindus have also established trade and matrimonial relations with co-religionists currently residing in various areas of the United Kingdom, thanks to previous ties with the Gujarati Hindus who migrated from East Africa to the United Kingdom since the late 1960s (Baumann, 1998; Vertovec, 2000). The integration of Portugal in the European Community in 1986 and the numerous opportunities for professional and status improvement offered by the United King, together with a migratory culture transmitted down through the generations, led many Portuguese-speaking Hindus to emigrate for the first, second or a third time in the early 1990s. Contrary to expectations, those who did choose to do so were not among the Hindu subgroups that already had a network of contacts and support based on caste and family relations. In addition, the competition observed in the Portuguese construction market, resulting from the arrival of thousand of immigrants from Eastern Europe, significantly increased the number of Portuguese-speaking Hindus settled in the UK between 1998 and In 2001 and 2002, the migration continued at the same or even higher levels thanks to the global context of economic crisis and labour market contraction, the effects of which were more marked in Portugal than in many other EU countries. Since the majority of those originating in Diu and emigrating from Mozambique to Portugal had reprised there their traditional activity as masons, it is not surprising that this was the group that most profited from the job opportunities offered by the expansion of the British market. The salaries offered in the construction sector in the Greater London and Leicester areas were approximately three times as much as those earned in Lisbon; however, the sector offered no job safety, and this led many to seek factory jobs instead. This option was usually accompanied by investment in the education of the younger generations, and by the insertion of women in the job market outside the home, in full- or part- -time employment. After some years, a number of these migrants are able to leave their salaried employment in factories or warehouses and invest their hard-earned savings in a small independent commercial activity. Among those who did do so, however, many express the aim to ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, sell their activity and return to a salaried job, since the latter offers more certainties and shorter working hours. This aspiration which so far has been attained by a very small number is usually also justified by the increasing disinvestment of the younger generations in commercial activity, made possible by the qualifications in engineering, computer science, accounting etc they have attained in the UK. 2. He thought that he would come back even more powerful : the Indian appropriation of the identity powers of the sea Portuguese-speaking Hindus form a limited polynuclear network, and they also maintain contacts with other diasporic groups of Indian origin. Complex transnational flows of images and messages (thanks to their gradual access to the Internet and the widespread presence of Indian TV channels in their homes) made it possible for a series of miraculous events to be witnessed in Maputo, Inhambane and Xai Xai (Mozambique), as well as in Lisbon or Porto (Portugal). These include the milk miracle in September 1995 when significant quantities of milk were absorbed by murtis (the icons of gods) in Hindu temples across the world (in London, Leicester, Birmingham, Leeds, New York, Delhi, Hong Kong, Bangkok, etc.) and the Shiva Lingam miracle that is, the miraculous apparition of the Om symbol atop the Shiva lingam (after this had been aspersed with water and milk), also witnessed in various parts of the world. The story of the Indian from Chibuto (Mozambique) who went to the bottom of the sea to get a doctorate in witchcraft had a far more limited circulation only involving Maputo, Lisbon, Porto, London and Leicester but is especially significant to us, since it has generated a new space of (re)interpretation (Tarabout 1999: 331) of the inter-ethnic experiences of Portuguese-speaking Hindus. Everybody in Chibuto and Xai-Xai knew that he frequently met with the witches and medicine men because he wished to learn more. One day, he told his wife I m going to be away for some months, and headed towards the Xai-Xai beach. His son (who was with him) later reported that he had seen his father enter the sea with a cutlass in hand. He then waded in and 182 ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, 2005 IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA ( ) out a few times, but then disappeared. Worried with the absence of her husband, the wife consulted an African medicine man to learn what had happened. He explained to her that in that area (Vilanculos, Maboine, Chibuto, Xai-Xai, etc.) there were many spirits of people who died in the water and remain there. These spirits enter the bodies of certain people and call them. This is why they walk to the sea and dive in. They go there to become doctors in traditional medicine. It seems they have to sit a number of exams, and if they fail, they die. Others return. After advising the woman not to carry out any funeral ceremonies, he predicted that the vanished husband was alive and that when he came out of the sea, even his wife would not recognise him, he would not be able to speak, but then everything would go back to normal. (Extract from field diary) The subject of this extract was born in Fudam (Diu) in the time of the Portuguese, and migrated to Lourenço Marques (Mozambique) in the 1960s, to work as a mason. Unlike most of his fellow-countrymen, the majority of which migrated to Portugal after the independence of Mozambique in 1975, Kumar (the pseudonym which I will be using) stayed in Chibuto, where he made a lot of money. His well-known post- -colonial wealth and political influence, associated with the management of a network of personal influence, met with the suspicion that he knew much about witchcraft (as did a number of his consanguineal and affinal relatives). It is possible to say, paraphrasing J.-F. Bayart s expression, that Kumar reunited in himself all the tactics of the politics of the belly (Bayart, 1989) to impress, take care and be generous in order to later be able to eat the «other», that is, to consume his vital force (by causing illness or death), to take possession of his material goods, and to use his political support to obtain more and more power. According to several co-ethnics: The first time, he would perform a miracle to impress, and he asked so much for his services, then he only had to eat the others. He did the same in his business. The accusations of witchcraft directed at Kumar however are not to be interpreted as resulting in his transformation into an eminently negative and anti-social character. His initiation to witchcraft (which began within his microfamiliar environment, and was subsequently enlarged to local African witches) was, just as many times, seen as an accumulative ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, source of intertwined powers which allowed him to obtain that which many co-ethnics could not. In fact, in the late 1980s, Kumar mobilised his political and economic resources, as well as the strong symbolic production originated by the war, 1 to save his family, kidnapped by the RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana Mozambican National Resistance) movement. Other than the lunches he offered the leaders, he was not indifferent to the thousands of people who moved from various parts of the Chibuto and Manjacaze districts, in the province of Gaza, to the village known as of the Mungoi spirit (approximately 70 kilometres from the provincial capital Xai-Xai), where a well-known witch (possessed by the Mungoi spirit) promised full protection against armed men with bad intentions and collaboration in handing over people who had been kidnapped by RENAMO. Following the narrative of a family member (currently living in Leicester), it was on that very occasion that He met a witch 2 who made some spirits appear in dream to one of the leaders. Africans fear the spirits of the dead very much, because their religion is mainly that. ( ) So the leader, fearing punishment, freed dozens of people who had been kidnapped, among which, his wife and numerous daughters. He left them just outside their home. 1 The ideological stance of FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique Mozambican Liberation Front, the political party that established Mozambique as a new independent country in 1975) led this organisation to reject the symbolic and material systems that supported ancestor cults and the phenomena of healing and witchcraft. However, the emphasis on the opposition between tradition and modernisation and, as a corollary, the lack of articulation between symbolic and political power led to a significant fall in its popular support, in particular in periods of deep economic and social crisis. In order to win the war (and popular trust), FRELIMO was forced to reconsider the role of magico-religious authorities and traditional chiefs, attributing them a far more central position in the new socio-political arena. Besides restoring the dignity of traditional symbolic systems, FRELIMO recognised the dynamic and/or regenerating character of those same systems (when they did not clash with the implementation of other programmes economic, social, political, etc.) in the redress of all sufferings caused by the war (Honwana, 1996). Even the most sceptical interviewees regarding issues of witchcraft told me that to win the war, both FRELIMO and RENAMO used those beliefs. 2 The use of African witchcraft on the part of Gujarati Hindus is not however, to be interpreted as an unprecedented event, typical of the post-colonial period in Mozambique. Even during the time of the Portuguese, and despite measures against medicines and witchcraft taken by the colonial authorities (Honwana, 1996), many Hindus went to african medicine men. They asked them to look, at shells, at little bones, to know why something bad happened to them. However, back then, we could not speak, as we do now, of these matters. 184 ANTROPOlógicas, Nº 9, 2005 IDENTITY POROSITY IN THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING HINDU DIASPORA ( ) But Kumar did not resort to the use of this most effective resource only to solve his own microfamiliar crises in wartime. Years later, he acted like a tinyanga or apprentice nyanga (diviner, medicine man, medium) who studied under these xicuembos, that is, in a culturally codified way for the older population in Chibuto, who still have memories of the education (on the bottom of the sea in Xai-Xai) that brought fame and material profit to Mukhomi Txawuke. Uncle Pandhe, talking to the younger generations in Chibuto about what his father, uncles, aunts, and many other old people had told
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