Herald: The (New)-man who learnt and taught how Goa became Goan

The (New)-man who learnt and taught how Goa became Goan

08 Feb 2019 04:09am IST

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Nicole Remedios

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08 Feb 2019 04:09am IST

Report by
Nicole Remedios

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After years of research and understanding Goa, American anthropologist Robert Newman presented his two new books ‘Goan Anthropology – ‘Festivals, Films, Fish’ and series two ‘Mothers, Miracles, Mythology’ earlier this month. In conversation with Café, the author speaks about his research and what drives him

“Goa fascinated me… its beauty and calm, its mix of Portuguese and Indian culture, the classic cuisine and the polite orderly people…” says American anthropologist Robert Newman, who first visited Goa in 1965 as a young Peace Corps Volunteer during his early ‘20s and fell in love with the state’s beautiful appearance and culture. As time passed by, Newman began studying and researching on the culture of Goa and Goan diversity. This led him to write his two famous books, ‘Goan Anthropology – ‘Festivals, Films, Fish’ and series two -‘Mothers, Miracles, Mythology’.  “Growing up in Marblehead, a small New England costal town, Goa could not have been further from my consciousness,” expresses Newman. 

When he visited Goa as a young lad, he survived with fewer pennies and was unable to even afford the only available hotel in Panjim. However, he found a place to live with some kind people here. Gradually he witnessed the growing population, prosperous inhabitants, development and commercialisation of the state. He was also there when Goa became a state in 1987 and Konkani becoming the official language.

 While writing the book on Goan anthropology, Newman travelled from the fort at Terekhol down to Palolem beach; he visited the temples of Ponda and mines of Bicholim and even made a trip to Quepem. His main efforts were in the old coastal talukas. Though considered de rigueur among anthropologists, he had no plan in mind to organise a proper data research. In fact, he was interested in finding out what made Goa ‘Goan’. He was mesmerised by how the people feel ‘Goan’ in a land where three religions, several scripts, many castes and languages seem to divide the inhabitants into smaller groups. 


Goan Anthropology - Festivals, Films and Fish Through the first series of his book, ‘Festivals, Films and Fish’, Newman writes many aspects of Goa’s transformation as well as Goa’s contemporary image in the wider world. These images and ideas have explained the reason behind millions of tourists visiting Goa. He compares Western Hippies with Goan religious pilgrims, and talks about Goa’s image on the conflict between trawlers and traditional fishermen along the coast. There are theories of a faith-healing cult with links to both Hindu and Catholic traditions, the colourful religious festivals in Goa and beyond. Newman argues, “Goa is not just a land; in Goa, there is a contact between two or more civilisations creating a fascinating synthesis.”

 Goan Anthropology - Mothers, Miracles and Mythology ‘Goan Anthropology - Mothers, Miracles and Mythology’ provides knowledge on the in depth culture and statehood of Goan land. Newman named the first part of his book ‘Mother’, referring to it as the Konkani ‘Mai’ ascending the throne, technically the culture basis of Goan statehood and the study of Goan identity.  

 With regard to the topic ‘Miracles’ in his book, Newman states, “Just like beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, I say, Miracles lie in the eyes of the beholder.” He narrates an incident in the book, titled ‘Vision at Velim’, of a man named Antonio Fernandez (the village drunkard), who witnessed a bright vision of Mary, Mother of Jesus, with a baby in her arms. Antonio kept staring at the vision, and called two boys to confirm what he saw. The vision had then imprinted on the tile of his ceiling and faded away gradually. The incident had spread like wildfire around the village. Although, whether it was a hallucination or a vision is left as a mystery, just like Newman said that Miracles lie in the eyes of the beholder. 

Newman keeps travelling to Goa and has discovered how things have changed from the time he first set foot in Goa. Though greying away, his memory is sharp and he remembers the days spent at different places in Goa. He reminisces of his unforgettable experience at the Calangute beach, which was earlier a quiet and peaceful area for walks, picnics and meditation. However, over time, Calangute beach has become the most populated and polluted beach.

 He concludes, informing, “Through my books, I want people to know and understand that Goa is a sacred gift that has stood the storms and the rainbows. At any time, there should be a positive change, not destruction, and it depends on each person to be responsible. Goans still have the spirit within them to keep their bond intact.”

 Robert Newman, clearly has the heart of an ‘insider”. And he has left his soulful imprint on this land, through his books.

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