In the summer of 1872, a series of articles about the small Portuguese colony of Goa appeared in the Lisbon newspaper O Partido Constituinte. Written by the celebrated Goan lawyer and member of the Portuguese Parliament Bernardo Francisco da Costa, under the pseudonym Um Canarim, these texts addressed some of the problems faced by the colony in the mid-nineteenth century. The most pressing of these was the never-ending state of upheaval that seemed to plague the rugged and densely forested uplands of Goa. Collectively known as the New Conquests (Novas Conquistas) because they had come under Portuguese control in the second half of the eighteenth century, these regions comprised roughly two-thirds of the total area of Goa and their annexation had a profound influence on its territorial identity. However, as Costa pointed out, nearly a century later the colony was still divided into two very different parts: the Old Conquests and the New Conquests.

Reflecting on the origins of this division, Costa began by stating that the two regions comprised ‘the same people, the same race, and the same castes’.2 The differences had to be sought in the different periods in which the two parts of Goa had been brought under Portuguese control. These diverse histories of colonial rule meant that while in the Old Conquests most of the population had converted to Christianity during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the New Conquests remained largely Hindu. And while the first were ruled according to Portuguese laws, the latter still kept their ‘native uses and customs’. History, religion and law were decisive factors. But for Bernardo Francisco da Costa the main explanation was to be found in the landscape itself. The Old Conquests, he remarked, ‘are cultivated with palm trees and paddy fields, without any jungles, while these [the New Conquests] are hilly and their soil is wild’.

According to Costa it was precisely this ‘wild’ landscape that had to be ‘tamed’ if the New Conquests were to be civilized. Born into a wealthy Brahmin Catholic family in the city of Margão, in the Old Conquests, Bernardo Francisco da Costa was one of the leading spokesmen for political ambitions of the native Catholic elites.3 Therefore, he imagined this process as a gradual conversion of the New Conquests into a replica of the coastal heartlands of the colony. The jungles had to be transformed into fields, the ‘hordes of human beasts’ into ‘peace-loving people’ and only then would the ‘light shine on the New Conquests’.4 By the mid-nineteenth century these ideas had become widely spread among both the colonial administration and the Goan elites. As a result, to quote Deborah Sutton’s work on the Nilgiri hills, the New Conquests were often perceived as the ‘other landscape’ of colonial Goa.5 The temples and forests set them apart from the whitewashed churches and coconut groves of the Old Conquests. Even their name betrayed this otherness, marking them as a late chapter in the long history of the colony.

These images have contributed to the relative invisibility of the New Conquests in the wider histories of both colonial Goa and Portuguese empire-building in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And yet, as Lauren Benton argued recently, an analysis centred on the ‘imperfect geographies’ that lay within the colonial empires can lead us to a richer understanding of the complex interplay between the colonial state, the local communities and the natural environment.6 In fact, her concepts of ‘places of imperfect rule’ or ‘zones in perpetual transition’ can be fruitfully applied to areas like the New Conquests, whose role in the colonial order was debated well into the early-twentieth century. Described sometimes as a ‘wild’ and ‘untamed’ landscape, and others as a future El Dorado, the place of the New Conquests in nineteenth-century Goa was, therefore, comparable to that of the sertão in the Brazilian imagination or of Siberia in the Russian Empire.7

This article traces the development of these images of the New Conquest’s landscape, addressing the roles played by different agents at different times and inquiring into how they shaped colonial rule in the region. This research agenda is inspired by the countless studies that have been dedicated to the environmental history of British colonialism in India and, in particular, to the tense relationship between colonial power and the hilly and forested landscapes that stood on the margins of empire.8 Nonetheless, I will argue that the small Portuguese colony of Goa can provide us with some interesting variations on this well-known theme. In the first place, as Rochelle Pinto has suggested, the place of Goa in the debates about modern colonialism is framed by the long chronology of Portuguese presence in the region.9 As a result, colonial understandings of the New Conquests were shaped by almost two centuries of encounters that resulted in an extensive body of knowledge about the land, the people and the natural world. Moreover, as Pinto also argues, they were likewise shaped by the contested place of Goa within the narratives of colonial modernity defined by the British Raj.10

Secondly, the contested place of the colony within these narratives was reflected in the diverse voices that emerged from the complex social and political dynamics of nineteenth-century Goa. The growing importance of the Goan Catholic elites in the local administration and in the public life of the colony, particularly after the Liberal Revolutions that swept Portugal and its empire in the 1820s and 1830s, means that some of most thought-provoking descriptions of the New Conquests were produced not by European-born administrators, but by these elites.11 In their eyes, the New Conquests appeared as a space of possibilities, where projects of development and modernization could be enacted. Inspired by the neighbouring example of British India, many of these projects would never leave the pages of the newspapers and pamphlets where they were written.12 Nonetheless, they had a profound influence in shaping an image of the colony and its landscapes.

By bringing to light the role of various groups in nineteenth-century Goa, this article seeks to expand the universe of agents involved in the production of discourses about the colonial landscape. Nonetheless, it remains centred on the ‘colonial gaze’, be that of the Portuguese officials or of the Old Conquest’s elites.13 The analysis could certainly be enriched by an understanding of how the people of the New Conquests looked at these processes. But, outside of the elite groups, the sources for their points of view are rare. As a result, the following pages consider three different but interrelated sets of discourses about these regions, reading them ‘along the grain’ of the colonial archive.14 The first of these represented the New Conquests as a place of unexplored wealth, whose fertile lands and rich forests could be a source of considerable income, if only they could be improved through thoughtful administration. The second, on the other hand, portrayed them as an impenetrable and hostile land, where outlaws and wild animals preyed upon the unwitty traveller. Finally, the third set of discourses concerned itself with the links between the natural environment and the local people. Far from being mere discursive constructions, these images had important material consequences, helping to bring about policies that sought to consolidate the integration of these regions into the territory of Goa, but that paradoxically entrenched the idea of their inherent difference.

The Making of the New Conquests

Occupying a narrow strip of land, roughly 105 km long and 60 km wide, along the western coast of India, the Portuguese colony of Goa was bounded by the Arabian Sea, to the west, and by the Western Ghats or Sahyadri mountains, to the east. The local climate was influenced by the southwest monsoon which hit the coastline between the months of June and September ensuring a high annual rainfall above 2000 mm, draining into a myriad of small rivers that flowed westwards into the sea. Until recent times, these rivers played a decisive role in the economy, not only as a source of irrigation but also as a primary means of transporting people and goods across the region. This area was roughly divided into three different ecological zones.15 The first, comprising the coastal plains and alluvial lands along the course of the main rivers, included the island of Goa (Tiswadi) and the adjacent areas of Salcete and Bardez, which had been in Portuguese hands since the early-sixteenth century. These had always been the most densely populated and fertile areas of the colony and their landscape was dotted with paddy fields and coconut groves.16 Further inland, into the regions that made up the New Conquests, the terrain became progressively hilly and the population grew sparser, with the rice fields giving way to the growing of various millets, legumes and fruits like mangoes, jackfruit or areca nut. Finally, the uplands of the Sahyadri were mostly covered by moist deciduous forests, with some evergreen and semi-evergreen patches. These regions were populated by nomadic communities like the dhangars or goulis, who practiced shifting agriculture (kumri), raised cattle, and traded in forest products like firewood, spices and honey.17

Figure 1 

Map of Goa (ca. 1800).

Isolated from the rest of the subcontinent by the steep peaks and deep ravines of the Sahyadri, the history of this area was nonetheless deeply shaped by the changing political tides of Western India. Under the nominal rule of the Sultanate of Bijapur until the second half of the seventeenth century, the areas that would later be known as the New Conquests were successively claimed by the Mughal Empire and by different Maratha lineages in the decades that followed the demise of Bijapur.18 On a local level, however, control over these regions was mostly held by two smaller polities: the Bhonsle Sawants of Wadi and the Nayaka Rajas of Sonda.19 From their stronghold of Wadi, on the edge of the Sahyadri, the Sawants had risen to the hereditary office of desais of Kudal under the Bijapuri sultans and in the following decades managed to stretch their domains to the northern borders of Goa. Further south, the Rajas of Sonda were among the Nayaka lineages that emerged in the wake of the collapse of the Vijayanagara state. Based on the uplands of the Malnad, in the Sahyadri mountains, the Rajas owed their wealth to the pepper trade and by the early-eighteenth century they had extended their control to the borders of Goa.

The power which these polities exercised over the territory was, however, far from absolute. On the one hand, both the Sawants of Wadi and the Rajas of Sonda were forced to pay tribute to larger polities, such as the Mughals or the Marathas, whenever their armies threatened to cross the Sahyadri.20 On the other, their hold on land and revenue was intertwined with the claims of hereditary officials and landholders (desais) who held large tracts of land, predominantly in the northern regions of Pernem and Satari, and with the traditional rights of the village elites (gaunkars). These elites held shares in the lands held in common by the ‘village body’ (gaunkaria) which were particularly significant in some parts of the provinces of Ponda and Bicholim.21 As a result, much like in other areas of the subcontinent, political and economic power was moulded by the fluid alignments between the different holders of vested rights.22

As we have seen, up until the mid-eighteenth century, Portuguese rule was confined to the coastal areas of Tiswadi, Salcete and Bardez, which would later be known as the Old Conquests. Over the second half of the eighteenth century, however, a series of military campaigns and diplomatic manoeuvres gradually extended Portuguese rule into the interior. These movements were explained, in part, by the need to reaffirm imperial power after a string of defeats at the hands of Indian and European rivals, which had reduced the Portuguese Estado da Índia to the small enclaves of Goa, Damão and Diu.23 But, in some ways, this process was also a reflection of wider changes in the geographical and political landscape of the subcontinent in this chronology, with the emergence of new regional polities like the Sultanate of Mysore and the progressive ascendancy of the East India Company, and of a broader drive towards the physical and intellectual appropriation of colonial territory in the Portuguese Empire during the mid-to-late eighteenth century.24

By 1763, therefore, the Portuguese received the areas of Ponda, Canacona and Panch Mahal (or Zambaulim) from the Raja of Sonda, in exchange for protection against the armies of Haidar ‘Ali of Mysore, whose marauding armies had overrun the southern part of his domains. To the north, the regions of Pernem, Bicholim and Sanquelim (or Satari) were conquered in the 1780s with the help of the local desais, after decades of back-and-forth fighting.25 The impact of this expansion on the territorial identity of Goa cannot be overstated. In fact, from a mainly coastal region of 150 villages, where Portuguese rule and Catholic Christianity had become entrenched over the course of 250 years, the colony almost trebled in size with the annexation of roughly 2000 km² of rugged and wooded terrain, containing around 280 villages and some 100,000 people.26

From the onset, Portuguese rule was shaped by the political and logistical difficulties of integrating these areas into the colonial territory. Notwithstanding the profound social, linguistic and familial connections between Old and New Conquests, the different periods in which they came under Portuguese rule and the ecological diversity of the latter meant that there were also considerable differences. To begin with, the negotiated character of Portuguese expansion into the New Conquests, the scarcity of means at the disposal of the colonial authorities and the broader changes in the administrative culture and practice of the Portuguese Empire resulted in a form of rule that relied on the recognition of the local customary rights and religious practices.27 This juridical and political dichotomy between the two parts of the colony would be reflected on the landscape itself. Therefore, while the Old Conquests assumed the character of a Christianized landscape, dotted with hundreds of whitewashed churches which dominated the centre of the villages, the New Conquests remained almost completely a Hindu space.

This dichotomy had long term implications in shaping the colonial imagination of the New Conquests and was compounded by the difficulties that the Portuguese authorities had in finding a coherent set of images to make sense of this landscape. In fact, although the annexation of the New Conquests was accompanied by a considerable effort to gather information about these regions, the results of this effort were far from uniform and many parts of the newly-conquered territories remained a blank space in the map of Goa.28 As a result, by the end of the eighteenth century, colonial sources revealed a growing anxiety about the inadequacy of this knowledge. In part, this anxiety built on pragmatic concerns with revenue collection and with the success that local rebellions had had in fighting off Portuguese troops during the previous years. But the emergence of modern forms of statecraft, the growth of reformist ideas in the Portuguese Empire from the late-eighteenth century onwards and the expansion of British rule over the surrounding regions shaped a new vocabulary through which these concerns could be expressed. By the mid-nineteenth century, then, complaints about the lack of adequate information and statistical data about these vast but under-exploited regions had become almost a mantra to the colonial authorities.29

To go back to one of the concepts used by Lauren Benton, the New Conquests were increasingly seen as a ‘zone in perpetual transition’ within colonial Goa.30 Emphasizing the differences between these territories and those of the Old Conquests, which in contrast appeared ever more familiar, colonial discourses cemented the identity of these regions as a landscape of alterity. This meant that those aspects that distinguished them from the coastal areas, such as the forested backdrops of the Sahyadri or the warlike and ‘feudal’ desais, were likely to be stressed, while the villages and paddy fields faded from view. In a sense, what defined the New Conquests was precisely what set them apart from the rest of Goa. As the following pages will argue, this signified that, throughout the nineteenth century, colonial policies wavered between an urge to refashion this landscape in the likeness of the Old Conquests and an insistence on its intrinsic difference.

Visions of Imaginary Wealth

Stirred by the need to re-establish the prestige lost after the defeats of the previous years, Portuguese interest in the borderlands of Goa was also driven by the possibility of solving the colony’s chronic deficit of foodstuffs. This deficit had become more acute after the loss of the Northern Province (Província do Norte) a pocket of fertile lands to the north of Goa, in the modern state of Maharashtra, which had fallen in the hands of the Marathas in the late 1730s. Even before the definitive annexation of the New Conquests, therefore, these regions began to be described as a place of ‘imaginary wealth’, rich in arable land and natural resources like spices and timber.31 Hence, in a letter written in 1752 in which he defended his project for the territorial expansion of Goa, the viceroy Marquis of Távora avowed that the annexation of this ‘great extension of lush and fertile lands’ could bring significant revenue to the depauperated treasury of the colony.32

These opinions reflected a mounting concern with the agricultural ‘improvement’ of Goa in the second half of the eighteenth century.33 This theme was not, in itself, new. As Ângela Barreto Xavier and Ines upanov have suggested, from the mid-sixteenth century onwards Portuguese officials and missionaries in Goa compiled extensive notes on matters related to land use and agricultural production.34 Nonetheless, in the wake of the sharp downturn in the fortunes of the Portuguese political and mercantile networks in India, between the mid-seventeenth century and the early-eighteenth century, and of the subsequent territorial expansion into the New Conquests these concerns grew ever more pressing. Moreover, although they were meant to respond to the specific conditions of Goa, many of the arguments deployed during this period echoed the development of the conceptual corpus of political economy and the emergence of what Richard Drayton has defined as the ‘government of Nature’.35

In recent years, studies about the Portuguese Empire in the eighteenth century have shown that the late 1700s were marked by a series of empire-wide reforms. Paralleling the developments that were taking place in the Spanish Americas, these reforms attempted to address the perceived backwardness of the Portuguese Empire vis-à-vis its British and French rivals through administrative reorganization, territorialization and the production of ‘useful knowledge’ about the colonial world.36 Inspired by a newly-found attention to the natural sciences after the reforms of the University of Coimbra, in 1772, and by the establishment of scientific societies, like the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, founded in 1779, many of these reforms focused on agricultural ‘improvement’ (melhoramento) as the foundation of ‘good policing’. Be it in the colonies or in the interior of the metropole itself, rural peripheries had to be developed and their natural products described through scientific voyages and the gathering of collections.37 Directed mainly at Brazil, by far the most populated and profitable of the Portuguese colonies, these efforts gave origin to a burgeoning literary production about these issues.

By that time, Goa had become a relatively peripheral place in the Portuguese Empire. Nevertheless, the final decades of the eighteenth century were marked by a number of initiatives that echoed these reformist projects. Some of these initiatives, like the attempts to establish a botanical garden in Goa in the image of those that were appearing in the British and French colonies or the visit of the Brazilian-born naturalist Manoel Galvão da Silva in the 1780s, originated in Lisbon.38 Others, however, were initiated by the colonial authorities in Goa or by local individuals, like the native Goan Francisco Luís de Menezes who became a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon. From 1776 onwards, these initiatives were supported by the Department of Agriculture (Intendência Geral de Agricultura). Created in that year, as part of governor José Pedro da Câmara’s programme of political and economic reforms, this institution presided over an effort to reorder the agrarian landscape of Goa.39 Accordingly, under the aegis of the Department there was a major push to increase the cultivated area of the colony and to introduce cash crops like coffee, cotton, and cashew nuts.

The unsettled status of the regions that were becoming known as the New Conquests, of which only the southernmost part had been acquired at the time of the creation of the Department of Agriculture, meant that most of these initiatives were restricted to the more familiar scenery of the Old Conquests.40 But this did not mean that the newly-conquered areas were ignored by this reformist impetus. On the contrary, pervasive images of a land ruined by war and of potentially fertile fields laying in waste for lack of cultivation played on the colonial imagination, underlining the need to ‘improve’ this landscape. Traveling through Ponda and Zambaulim in 1779, the director of the Department of Agriculture, the artillery colonel Gustavo Adolfo Hércules de Chermont reported that these provinces abounded in ‘fertile fields’, ‘springs of crystalline water’ and ‘woodlands full of pepper’. Nonetheless, decades of warfare, compounded with the inherent ‘laziness’ of the local peasants and their persistent adherence to ancient practices, meant that these rich lands lay almost completely ‘abandoned’.41 As a result, Chermont’s depiction was that of an underexploited landscape, which could only reach its true potential through the expansion of settled of agriculture under the guidance of the colonial authorities.

Framed in both economic and moral terms, these arguments led the Revenue Board of Goa (Junta da Fazenda) to call in 1781 for the granting of fallow lands in the provinces of Ponda and Canacona to poor families from the Old Conquests, who were to be exempt from the payment of taxes during the first ten years of the grant.42 And these improvement projects were not the sole preserve of the colonial state. In fact, the most successful experiment in this period was conceived by a private individual, José Paulo de Almeida, dean of Goa’s Cathedral, who in the late-eighteenth century established a thriving colony in Quepem, in the province of Zambaulim.43 When the British Lieutenant James Garling travelled through the region in the 1810s, Quepem had grown into a town of some 500 houses divided ‘into distinct compartments for the respective castes, who beyond the limitation imposed in Salsete on all castes but Christian enjoy a toleration which with the liberal terms of the Dean has so soon attached the large population above stated’.44

The turn of the century was a difficult time for Goa. Under British occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, the colony was subsequently engulfed by the political turmoil that preceded the triumph of Constitutional Liberalism in the Portuguese Empire in the 1830s. This sequence of events inhibited further investments in these improvement programmes. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, they would be taken on by a new generation of colonial officials inspired by the political language of Liberalism. With its emphasis on freedom of property, the abolition of seigneurial exemptions and the role of the state as a key agent of modernization, Liberalism provided a new vocabulary through which these programmes could be refashioned.45 From the 1850s onwards, therefore, the Portuguese authorities in Goa introduced a number of administrative reforms in the New Conquests, which were accompanied by road-building projects, forestry surveys and by attempts to establish new agricultural colonies in the region.46

The most well-known of these experiments were the colonies of Uguem and Collem, in the province of Embarbacem (formerly part of Zambaulim), and the coffee and cotton plantations of Satari. The first of these had been established in the 1820s by a society, the Sociedade Patriótica dos Baldios das Novas Conquistas (Patriotic Association for the Wastelands of the New Conquests), under the auspices of viceroy Manuel de Portugal e Castro.47 Counting among its members several prominent Luso-Descendants and native Catholics, the Sociedade leased some fallow lands from the local village communities of Embarbacem, but soon fell victim of the political turbulence of the 1830s. Reformed in 1841 by governor Lopes de Lima, the Sociedade received a series of exemptions from the colonial administration and initiated a programme of house building and irrigation works. By the end of the decade, the colonies of Uguem and Collem housed around 600 colonists and a small aqueduct had been built to irrigate their fields.48 Nonetheless, progress was sluggish and by 1865 the Luso-Descendant and member of the Parliament Caetano F. Pereira Garcez referred in harsh terms to the lack of development in the lands leased by the Sociedade, which laid ‘for the most part abandoned’.49

By that time these experiments were overshadowed by the plantations established by British and American investors in the far-flung province of Satari. Located on the edge of the Sahyadri range, Satari had long been plagued by successive rebellions. But by the 1860s the province caught the attention of Bombay-based investors for its potential as a coffee and cotton-producing region. The Revenue Board of Goa leased ca. 10,000 hectares of land in Satari to these investors, whose plantations were soon being heralded by the colonial authorities as a symbol of ‘industrial agriculture’.50 Surveying the bungalows and plant nurseries of the plantations of Satrem and Cotorem, in 1863, the Portuguese agronomist António Lopes Mendes reported admiringly: ‘today, hundreds of natives who lived by the zuranty and the caitoca (firearms) are in the service of the colonists, tilling the famous wastelands. It was only after these colonists obtained rich rewards from their plantations, that the natives convinced themselves of the beauty of Satari, of which until now they had only known the rigours’ (Fig. 2).51

Figure 2 

‘Carta de Satary’, in António Lopes Mendes, A Índia Portugueza (Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional, 1886), vol. 2, xii.

In spite of António Lopes Mendes’s enthusiasm, these initiatives had mixed results. The plantations of Satari were badly affected by the fall in the price of cotton that followed the end of the American Civil War and by the subsequent Bombay banking crisis of 1865, soon falling into disrepair. In the meantime, the Sociedade Patriótica alternated between moments of crisis and attempted reforms, stumbling on until the twentieth century in a much-reduced state.52 Nevertheless, these setbacks did little to thwart the idea of the New Conquests as a potential El Dorado. On the contrary, this image was increasingly adopted by the Catholic Goan elites as part of their own political discourses. Recent work by Luís Cabral de Oliveira and Sandra Lobo has highlighted the ascendancy of these elites in the public life of the colony in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of the 1820s.53 Some, like Bernardo Peres da Silva, Francisco Luís Gomes and the aforesaid Bernardo Francisco da Costa were even elected to Parliament and used their mandates as a means to defend the status of their group in the Portuguese Empire.

Equally at ease in Goa and in Lisbon, men (for they were almost invariably men) like Bernardo Peres da Silva or Bernardo Francisco da Costa were up-to-date with the current debates around agricultural development, land reform and the right to property and these framed their vision of the future of the colony. The case of Peres da Silva is particularly interesting, since he had a long political career encompassing Goa, Portugal and Brazil in which he briefly held the post of prefect (equivalent to that of governor) of the Portuguese territories in India in 1835, after the triumph of the Liberals in the Portuguese Civil War (1832–1834).54 Some years earlier, when he first arrived in Lisbon to take his place in the Constitutional Assembly, Peres pursued a nomination as director of the Department of Agriculture and ideas about agrarian reform, particularly in the New Conquests, played a major role in his political thought. In several of Peres’s letters, therefore, the enterprising spirit of the Old Conquests proprietors was presented as the key ingredient in the quest to bring progress and civilization to much-maligned areas of the New Conquests.55

In a later pamphlet, written during his exile in Brazil, Peres would elaborate on this theme, exposing his vision of the prosperous future that awaited Goa: ‘I saw the immense and fertile meadows of Goa, particularly those the so-called New Conquests, cultivated with coffee plants, cotton, orange trees, sugar-cane, pepper … and a multitude of people occupied in various functions, showing in their faces the signs of contentment’.56 This powerful image of ruined wastelands turning into luxuriant fields was illustrative of a set of discourses that would become increasingly common as the nineteenth century went by. Much like the Lisbon elites looking down on the metropolitan backwaters of Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes as spaces of ‘internal colonization’, the upper caste Goan Catholic elites presented themselves as the agents of modernity in the New Conquests. As a result, by the end of the century, the editors of the newspaper A Convicção could liken their own role to that of the Portuguese officials in the interior of Angola and Mozambique, stating: ‘we have our own Africa in the New Conquests’.57

‘Rugged Hills’ and ‘Impenetrable Jungles’

By the time Bernardo Francisco da Costa wrote his texts about the New Conquests these ‘civilizing’ projects were entrenched in colonial discourses and practices. But, alongside with the visions of agricultural reform exposed by the colonial administration and by the Goan elites, there was another set of narratives that underlined the inherent ‘wildness’ of the New Conquest’s landscape. Much like the African colonies to which they were often compared, these provinces appeared to be the ‘heart of darkness’ within colonial Goa. As such, colonial perceptions of this landscape were fraught with ‘environmental anxieties’ about impassable forests, deadly diseases and wild animals.58 Altogether, these elements seemed to present insurmountable obstacles to colonial rule and were determinant in the formation of the colonial imagination of these regions.

Colonial officials who travelled through these provinces sometimes alluded to their romantic beauty. Visiting the ‘magnificent forests’, ‘picturesque waterfalls’ and ‘superb mountains’ of Satari, which echoed with the memories of the ‘ancient times of heathen feudalism’, the aforementioned Lopes Mendes could not help but describe them as ‘wild and romantic places’.59 However, more often than not, in the reports of district collectors and military officers this romanticized image gave way to the entrenched idea that this was a hostile place. This vision went back to the first Portuguese campaigns of the 1740s, when the viceroy Marquis of Alorna described these regions as a ‘rugged country, full of woods and ravines, and paths where only the goats can tread’, but remained remarkably consistent throughout the following century.60 In the early 1900s, therefore, the military engineer Gonçalo Cabral used similar words to describe Satari, where the colonial troops had a hard time subduing rebellious subjects since ‘only they and the wild beasts that live in this country can move through these almost impenetrable jungles’.61

Along with the ‘impenetrable jungles’, the climate was another element that seemed to pose a threat to the power of the colonial authorities in the New Conquests. Both military operations and land surveys were restricted by the monsoon, which made most routes impassable from June to October. Even in the dry months, work was conditioned by the onset of extreme heat in the weeks prior to the monsoon. But mostly it was the climate’s influence on human health that troubled colonial officials. As several authors have argued, neo-Hippocratic medical ideas about the environment and its impact on the European body were a determining factor in the imagining of colonial landscapes.62 In this context, the New Conquests were usually depicted as particularly unhealthy regions, where diseases like malaria, smallpox and dysentery were widespread.63 The risks to the colonial officials were highlighted by the severe bout of fever that forced Gustavo Adolfo Hércules de Chermont to cut short his survey of Ponda and Zambaulim in the 1770s. And that was far from the only instance where disease put colonial projects on hold. Almost ninety years later, the first attempt to survey the forests of the New Conquests was halted after its supervisor, Lopes Mendes, fell ill with an ‘acute dysentery’.64

The situation was even more difficult during the recurrent conflicts that engulfed the New Conquests. As a matter of fact, throughout the nineteenth century hardly a decade seemed to pass without some major or minor episode of rebellion, the most important of which were only put down after the arrival of military assistance from Portugal. The main protagonists of these uprisings were the Ranes, a group that claimed Kshatryia descent and which had formerly held semi-autonomous power as desais of Satari. Combined with the Portuguese anxieties over a hostile environment and climate, this created a heightened sense of vulnerably. As Ricardo Roque has argued, this sense of vulnerability led many colonial officers to consider that they were fighting the landscape as much as the Ranes and that nature itself conspired to assist their enemies.65 Writing in 1913 therefore, in the aftermath of another rebellion, a Portuguese military officer commented that: ‘one cannot conceive of a region more suited for bandits and wrongdoers. It is necessary to have seen it and travelled through it to have any idea of the difficulties of pursuing an enemy that runs away and hides in those seething jungles’.66

These anxieties had a profound influence in shaping the colonial imaginings of the New Conquests. In an immediate sense, as the words of Bernardo Francisco da Costa at the beginning this essay suggested, they could be used to justify the transformation of this landscape. As an example, in that same year of 1872, the district collector of the southern provinces of the New Conquests ordered the clearing of forests along some of the main roads, to prevent them from sheltering rebels and tigers.67 But they also cemented the idea that this collusion between a hostile environment and a backward population meant that the New Conquests could not be governed according to the same set of rules that applied in more ‘civilized’ regions. This state of ‘perpetual transition’, in which these provinces were never fully on par with the Old Conquests, gave rise to a never-ending debate about the advantages of extending Portuguese laws and the right to vote to the New Conquests, which raged throughout the nineteenth century.68 More importantly, it brought about a governing routine that was based on the pragmatic recognition of local particularisms, but also on militarized forms of rule and endemic violence.69 By the end of the century, this exceptionality would be institutionalized through the establishment of military commands (comandos militares) in the provinces of Satari and Sanguem, whose ‘peculiar conditions’ warranted the enactment of measures which ‘although strange in the light of our common legislation, are most adapted to the environment where they are to be executed’.70

In some ways, the emphasis put on the inherent intractability of the New Conquests seemed at odds with the discourses that highlighted the fertility and the potential of these regions. Not surprisingly, then, figures like Bernardo Francisco da Costa were among the fiercest critics of the exceptional and violent measures used by the colonial authorities in the New Conquests.71 However, in many ways, the two sets of discourses were mutually reinforcing. On the one hand, because the measures implemented in these provinces were legitimized by the idea of their future conversion into a ‘civilized’ space. But, on the other hand, because it was precisely this uncertain status, never fully equal to that of the Old Conquests, that turned these areas into the perfect stage for the colonizing dreams of both the Portuguese officials and the Goan elites. Moulded by these diverse but interrelated ideas, the image of the New Conquests remained, moreover, a contested space of multiple perceptions. Not only the creation of military in some regions, and not in others, pointed to this diversity, but even the same elements of the landscape could sometimes generate opposing images in different times. A case in point are the forests, which were lavishly described by colonial foresters as rich in valuable timber trees, but just as soon could turn into ‘impenetrable jungles’ in times of conflict.

Landscapes and People

The ambivalence of colonial discourses about this landscape also extended to the people that inhabited it. Well into the twentieth century, both among the colonial administrators and the local elites, most authors were unanimous in describing the population of the New Conquests as backward, semi-savage and alienated from the values of modernity.72 In the words of the Portuguese military commander of Satari in the early 1930s, this province, where the entire livelihood of the peasants was in the hands of the ‘feudal’ Ranes, seemed to be like ‘the Middle Ages in the twentieth century’.73 Moreover, many of these authors also concurred in identifying a close link between the ‘wildness’ of these people and the landscape where they lived. As Bernardo Francisco da Costa contended in the text that opens this article, the ‘hordes of human beasts’ that set out to form groups of outlaws in the New Conquests were inextricable from the ‘jungles’ that covered these provinces. However, as for who exactly were the people of the New Conquests and what should be their role in the future of Goa, the opinions diverged.

This difficulty in nailing down a definitive image of the New Conquest’s population derived, at least in part, from the long history of Portuguese colonialism in the region and from the particular dynamics of the colonial state in nineteenth-century Goa. As Rochelle Pinto has argued, the centuries-long engagement of the Old Conquest’s regions with both Portuguese imperial governing practices and Christian universalism moulded the ways in which religion, race, hierarchy and caste were conceptualized. In this context, the Hindu population was regularly ‘constructed by default, without a coherent positive conception of their position as recipients of colonial rule’, vis-à-vis the Goan Catholics which were the ‘primary subjects of colonialism’.74 As we have seen, Portuguese recognition of local ‘uses and customs’ in the aftermath of the annexation of the New Conquests reinforced this dichotomy and even after the triumph of Constitutional Liberalism, in the 1830s, the ‘constitutional citizen’ was often assumed to be the Goan Catholic of the Old Conquests. Furthermore, as Rochelle Pinto also argues, although there were some attempts to compile the ‘uses and customs’ of the New Conquests, up until the twentieth century Portuguese colonial rule in Goa did not produce the kind of heavily theorized ethnographic definitions of tribes, castes and ethnic communities that would become ubiquitous in the British Raj, particularly after 1857.75 In their absence, the place of the New Conquest’s inhabitants in the colonial imagination was that of a largely undefined indigenous ‘other’.

The vagueness of this image did not mean, however, that they were an absent subject in the political arena of nineteenth-century Goa. On the contrary, as the words of Bernardo Francisco da Costa showed, the people of the New Conquests were very much present in the discourses of the Goan Catholic elites. The relative ease with which these upper caste Catholic elites moved between Goa, British India, Portugal and the Portuguese colonies in Africa resulted, as we have already mentioned, in a self-representation as agents of ‘civilization’.76 Describing the population of the New Conquests as ‘the same people, the same race and the same castes’ of the Old Conquests, Bernardo Francisco da Costa could therefore follow in the steps of Bernardo Peres da Silva in calling for the opening of these regions to the investment and settlement of the industrious people of the Old Conquests. Much like the landscape of the New Conquests could be remade in the image of the Old Conquests through the expansion of agriculture, so too could its inhabitants be gradually ‘civilized’ by the influence of their ‘peace-loving’ countrymen.77

Strikingly similar to the arguments that, as Eugen Weber has shown for the French case, dominated contemporary debates about the need to civilize the ‘barbarians’ of rural Europe, these ideas were repeated in the Goan press throughout the nineteenth century.78 On the one hand, this paternalistic discourse served to reinforce the position of the Goan Catholic elites in the socio-political hierarchy of the colony. But they could likewise be used to criticize the Portuguese colonial authorities and to draw attention to their failings. As an article published in 1881 in the Margão newspaper O Ultramar, owned by Bernardo Francisco da Costa’s family, proclaimed: ‘conquering lands to leave them in a state of degradation does not legitimize the act of dominating them’.79 By the early-twentieth century, with the growing role of the Goan Hindu elites in the public life of the colony, similar arguments began to be expressed by these groups in Portuguese and Marathi newspapers like Prabhat or A Opinião Hindu.80

Widely present in both the local press and in the reports of the colonial administrators, this civilizing idiom coexisted, however, with another set of discourses that portrayed the people of the New Conquests as ‘savage’, but also as ‘noble’, as if their ‘wildness’ made them in a sense admirable. Particularly common among European-born officials and men of letters, these notions were rooted in the broader orientalist and romantic tropes of forest and mountain-dwelling people which were common in British India and that, in some ways, were as decisive in shaping the colonial imagination as the idea of ‘improvement’.81 In Goa, these ideas were present in the colonial discourses about the warlike nature of the people of the New Conquests, taught from an early age to endure the harsh conditions of the mountainous landscape, which influenced the recruiting patterns of native soldiers for the colonial forces.82 But they were also used to produce a romantic view of some groups, like the nomadic goulis, which were considered particularly close to the ‘natural world’. Travelling through what he described as the once mighty forests of Goa, António Lopes Mendes could not resist to think of the ‘nomadic tribes of the goulis, which we can find in the steepest mountains of Satari, who live a wandering, savage and independent life, deep in the forests, apart from civilized society’.83

During the second half of the nineteenth century, these images were also popularized by the political discourses of the Luso-Descendant elites of Goa. This group, which once had enjoyed a dominant position in the colony, saw much of its power decline throughout the century, in the face of the ascendant trajectory of the Goan Catholics. Accordingly, for many in the Luso-Descendant circles, racialized arguments played an important role in their increasingly strident denunciation of the growing influence of the Goan Catholics. While the latter, following Bernardo Francisco da Costa, were inclined to declare that all Goans belonged to the same race, Luso-Descendant authors like Frederico Diniz de Ayala tended to emphasize the differences between the people of the Old and New Conquests. Therefore, in his polemical history of Goa, published in 1888, Ayala wrote in lavish terms about the New Conquest’s landscape, ‘virgin in nature and civilization’, where the ‘race was still pure’.84 In his eyes, the ‘semi-savage’ people who lived in these ‘rugged hills, crisscrossed by deep gorges and ravines, shadowed by dense forests’ were physically and morally superior to the Catholic elites of the Old Conquests, of whom he was particularly spiteful. Ironically, their obvious ‘otherness’ appeared more comfortable to some than the cultural and social proximity of the Goan Catholics.85

By the late-nineteenth century, these discourses increasingly tied in with wider debates about the place of Portuguese Goa in a colonial narrative dominated by the example of the British Empire, with the developing vocabulary of the racial sciences and with the contemporary experiences of Portuguese empire-building in Africa. In some cases, as Ricardo Roque has noted, this led to the production of ethnographic and anthropological descriptions of the people of the New Conquests.86 But, more often than not, it resulted in a kind of ‘banal orientalism’, in which the reports of colonial administrators were increasingly filled with vague references to anthropological ‘types’ and ‘races’. Therefore, in the 1920s, the service report of the military commander of Satari classified the local population in the following way: ‘the fair types are found among the bôtos [Bhatt Prabhu Brahmins], of Brahmanical origin, whose roots can be found in the Indo-Afghan race. The common Dravidian types are found among the gauncares and goulis, while the Ranes – of Maratha origin – are the result of the mixing of these two races’.87

Final Remarks

This essay has delved into nineteenth-century ideas about colonial landscapes by focusing on the representation of the New Conquests as the ‘other landscape’ of colonial Goa. By considering how these mountainous and densely forested areas were repeatedly imagined as both landscapes of ‘imaginary wealth’, in whose potential rested the future as a modern colony, and as essentialized spaces where a hostile environment and a ‘savage’ population concurred to reveal the vulnerabilities of colonial authority, this article follows in Gunnel Cederlöf’s steps to argue that that ideas about landscape, climate and its links to human populations helped shape colonial rule in India.88 In fact, nearly 60 years after the end of Portuguese rule in Goa, similar images are still reproduced by the tourism industry, with the coastal regions of the state imagined as a ‘lusitanized’ space of sandy beaches and ‘Portuguese houses’, while the interior, scarred by intensive manganese and iron mining since the 1940s, is being reinvented as a place for ecotourism.89

However, it is important to point out that colonial images of the New Conquest’s landscape were not set in stone, even if they seemed to be built on recurring topics like the ‘impenetrable jungles’ or the ‘semi-savage people’. On the contrary, they were fraught with ambiguities and their meanings were widely debated. In many ways, it was precisely this plasticity that allowed the diverse groups that made up the complex social world of nineteenth-century colonial Goa, from the Portuguese military officers and administrators to the upper caste Goan Catholic elites, to appropriate these images and use them in their own political discourses. In this respect, the role played by the ascendant Goan Catholic elites in these debates cannot be overstated. Working within the constraints of the colonial situation, they were able to shape a discourse about this landscape in which they were to be the primary agents of its modernization. Their history, therefore, presents a challenge to the common analytical tropes of ‘colonial mimicry’ and ‘go-betweens’.

Finally, the discourses about colonial landscapes in nineteenth-century Goa can offer some stimulating points of comparison with the better-known case of British India. Even though this dimension was not fully explored in this article, there was a constant flow of people and knowledge between Goa and the neighbouring British territories. The shadow of the Raj loomed large in the political and intellectual circles of the Portuguese colony, usually as a paradigm of modernity to which colonial Goa was often compared and nearly always found lacking. Accordingly, British colonial practices and images produced about the landscape in other parts of India influenced the debates about the New Conquests and their example was often cited, whether in regard to forest policy, agrarian colonization or to the most effective ways to subdue unruly subjects. However, as we have seen, the long history of colonial presence in Goa, the particular conditions of the territory and its social dynamics and the limits of the Portuguese colonial administration make the differences between the two cases worthy of attention. As a result, looking at how the New Conquests were depicted in contemporary sources can provide us with a richer understanding of the history of colonial imaginings of India’s landscapes.