Historical Archives of Goa

A review of the Historical Archives of Goa (Panaji, Goa). 

The Historical Archives of Goa is one of the greatest repositories of documents relating to Portuguese expansion in Asia and Africa during the last 500 years with a particular relevance to those interested in Indo-Portuguese history. It also has the advantage of being located in one of the more pleasant cities to visit in India. The primary archival holdings are housed in the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology building along the Rua de Ourem in Mala, Panaji, adjacent to the Bhandare Hospital. Any rickshaw driver will likely know the location, or one can take a short 10 or 15 minute walk from the central Kadamba bus stand in Patto. If walking, make sure to take the more direct route via the pedestrian bridge spanning the creek between Patto and the Mala/Fontainhas neighborhood. For scholars staying a short time, there are many reasonably priced hotels within a short walk from the archives (the Panjim Inn is quite nice and serves excellent food). For those staying for longer periods, reasonably priced guest houses that charge monthly rates can also be found in the area.

The archives are open to researchers Monday through Friday with the exception of holidays. In Goa, the ‘siesta’ is still practiced and you will find that many businesses will be closed during the afternoon heat. This includes the archives. The hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. (record retrieval halts at 12:45 and 4:00 p.m.). However, many restaurants are within a short walk and remain open during this time. A particularly nice place to work and/or eat is the nearby Gitanjali art gallery, which also provides wireless internet for a nominal fee. While the archives are open to the public and free to enter, foreign researchers will need to fill out a short form and provide a letter of introduction from their sponsoring University or institution. This letter will provide you with access to a separate, semi-private reading room reserved for scholars. The public area is typically quite busy and often very noisy, so the separate room is a useful accommodation. In addition, it often facilitates meetings between scholars working on similar material. Unfortunately, the archives are not air-conditioned, so dress in culturally appropriate yet light-weight clothing. English is understood by much of the staff, although Portuguese is not widely known. Of course, Konkani is widely spoken and much of the staff will likely understand some Hindi and/or Marathi as well. All records are retrieved by the archive staff after submission of a hand written form. In my experience, the staff was fairly efficient and wait times are usually no more than a few minutes. However, if the archives are particularly busy wait times may increase.

The single most important guide to the archives is the Roteiro dos Arquivos da Índia Portuguesa written by former director of the archives P.S.S. Pissurlencar and published in 1955. This work represents perhaps the most complete and well-organized description of the archival holdings. Scholars are given a copy to use upon entering the reading room and it is the primary means for locating pertinent documents. Other bibliographical publications about the archives can be very useful as well (e.g. “A Glimpse of the Goa Archives” by C.R. Boxer), but if possible the Roteiro should be consulted before arriving in Goa to familiarize yourself with the archive’s content and organization. Also of note is Cunha Rivara’s Archivo Portuguez-Oriental. Recently republished by Asian Educational Services in 1992, this 10-volume set represents the great effort of the author during the mid-18th century to transcribe nearly everything contained in the archives dating prior to 1600. Finally, there is a large single entry, master list of archival holdings that researchers can access to find relevant material; however, this list can be rather difficult to use as it contains many errors and lacks any organization.

The vast majority of documents in the archive (including the Roteiro) are in Portuguese but a few other languages are represented including Marathi, Sanskrit, Persian, English, and French. Most unfortunately, the archives have suffered from a lack of funding, and many documents are degrading and becoming illegible—even fairly recent ones. In addition, there are no real procedures in place to protect historical resources from damage by researchers themselves, so each individual scholar is responsible for proper handling of fragile documents and these practices vary widely. The staff, however, seem very dedicated and have done what they can with the money that is available. They are also generally knowledgeable and very helpful with all requests. In addition to the archival material, the building houses a small library that contains various published works of relevance to Indo-Portuguese history. These works are typically in either Portuguese or in English. Hopefully as more scholars learn of and become interested in this amazing collection—a collection that houses many unique documents not even available in the colonial archives in Lisbon—more funding will help with ongoing preservation efforts.

Once you have located and received the documents you require, you can take notes either by hand or with a laptop computer. However, make sure any electronic equipment is well-charged as power outlets are not easy to find or unavailable. Photography of any kind is strictly prohibited in the archives. The staff will gladly take a list of folio and page numbers from you and take photographs on your behalf. The cost for foreigners is quite high, and you must plan for a few days of processing time. At the time of this writing (2013), the price is 40 rupees per page/photo for digital images. Digital images are copied onto a CD, which the staff will present to you upon payment. Digital prints cost 80 rupees per page and Xerox copies cost 6 rupees per page. The price of photography for Indian scholars and public is significantly less. If you do have photos taken for you, make sure to double check the quality and page numbers for each document. The staff will happily correct any errors on an expedited basis.

Overall, the experience of conducting research in the Historical Archives of Goa was very pleasant, although it is often disheartening to see the state of preservation of many of the documents.  However, the friendly staff, location in the beautiful historic neighborhood of Fontainhas/Mala, and the archival holdings will make a trip well worth it for any scholars interested in Indo-Portuguese history and Portuguese colonial expansion. The location of the archives is further enhanced by its proximity to another excellent, complimentary repository for historical documents, the Goa Central Library. The library is in a new, air-conditioned building directly across Ourem creek in Patto, and it should not be missed.

Brian Wilson
University of Chicago
bcwilson@uchicago.edu

Image: Fontainhas/Mala Neighborhood, Kite Photography. Photo by Author.

 

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