December 10, 2003 - GOA Net: RPCV Robert S Newman came to India as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked two years in Lucknow, learned Hindustani, and married into the society

Peace Corps Online: Directory: India: Peace Corps India: The Peace Corps in India: December 10, 2003 - GOA Net: RPCV Robert S Newman came to India as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked two years in Lucknow, learned Hindustani, and married into the society

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Thursday, December 11, 2003 - 12:09 pm: Edit Post

RPCV Robert S Newman came to India as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked two years in Lucknow, learned Hindustani, and married into the society

RPCV Robert S Newman came to India as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked two years in Lucknow, learned Hindustani, and married into the society

Goa, an anthropologist's dream

By Dr Robert S Newman kachhua2 at

During my undergraduate years, I once read an anthropological study of a small tribe of Indians who lived in the jungles of Bolivia. The anthropologist concentrated on the effects of hunger on human behavior. Later, I heard the same gentleman give a lecture on his experiences, as the cold wind whipped through the bare elms of an upstate New York campus in winter. I went to the student cafeteria afterwards and as I ate a comforting dinner of meat, potatoes, and some green beans, swore to God that I would never walk half-starved through an insect-ridden Amazon jungle in the name of "science". Believe me, I have kept this pledge.

Even without considering riding a camel with Tuaregs through the Sahara, freezing with the Inuit in the icefields of Greenland, or trekking for weeks through the New Guinea rain forests to reach a previously-unknown people, I felt that the world, for a young anthropologist in the 20th century, still presented ample scope.

Small tribes never fascinated me that much -- larger, more complex societies, with a written history, classical music, a written language -- these were what beckoned. By chance I came to India as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked two years in Lucknow, learned Hindustani, and married into the society. It's no wonder then, that I decided to follow my anthropological calling in India.

I did my original field work around Lucknow, because I already knew the culture and how to get things done. Courtly old Lucknow, with its flowery Urdu and polished manners, the intense Muharram processions and the crumbling old monuments of Nawabi days, appealed to me greatly.

I worked more out in the villages though, where I helped guard the summer mango groves from thieves and fruit bats, attended marriages where transvestites danced and sang, and sat five months in a village school, interviewing all the parents, then three months in a mosque, observing a small maktab in action. Ah, those dashhari mangoes! But Lucknow's climate left something to be desired. You fried your brains in summer, froze in winter, ate dust in spring, and during the monsoon, getting down those mud roads was nearly impossible.

I decided I needed to switch. Having visited Goa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I thought it might prove just the place. I recalled the palm trees along the rivers, the villages nearly hidden in greenery, the slow pace, the friendly, hospitable people, the un-crowded nature of Panjim, what to say of the countryside?

Goa offered me a chance to delve into a new language, Portuguese, and to study the history of Portugal, about which I knew very little in the early 1970s. The Goan architecture and atmosphere attracted me strongly during my short stay in 1965. It amazed me that one country (India) could contain such different places as Lucknow and Goa.

As I read more about Goa, I realized that people spoke several languages, unlike Lucknow, where everyone spoke Hindustani. Several religious groups lived there, divided into numerous castes, as in Lucknow, but the mix was different. Goa, like Lucknow, had suffered from colonialism, but the historical patterns varied.

So, as I prepared to come to Goa for my first field work there in 1978-79, I had many reasons to look forward to the experience. Along the way, I noticed that not much had really been written about the place from an anthropological point of view.

There were a couple village studies, but they had been done in sociological survey style with no reference to any famous anthropological theories or the body of work that existed already. The Census of India had carried out several studies, but these naturally tended to be highly statistical.

Then, several Portuguese had written on Goa, one of them a half century before. These works divided Goa into innumerable parts, but never said anything about what made it a society, except to add, if not in so many words, that "it was and always would be Portuguese -- completely different from India". I began to realize that little work on modern Goa existed. Whatever I succeeded in doing might be a pioneering effort. I wasted little time thinking about this -- more immediate concerns occupied my time.

Over the next fourteen years, I visited Goa often. I spent many pleasant afternoons in the Central Library, I talked with countless Goans, urban, rural, educated, uneducated, 'upper' caste, 'lower' caste, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, rich, poor, in English, Hindi, and Portuguese.

We spoke about everything from agricultural change to the need for a Konkani-to-Konkani dictionary. I made some lifelong friends. I took an interest in the ramponkars' struggle to preserve their way of life in the face of destructive trawling.

I spent some (difficult) days at Miguel Colaco's Christ Ashram in Nuvem village, I witnessed the swift progression of a miracle at Velim village, I got covered in colored powder and ink at Shigmo, Carnaval, and the Umbrella Procession from Fatorpa to Cuncolim, I attended zatras, feast days, urs' and village events of all kinds, I enjoyed Konkani teatr, mando concerts, Carnaval parades and dances in Panjim, stayed with some hippies at Baga for a few days, visited Rachol seminary, Jesuit House at Baga, Tirakhol Fort, Old Goa, a couple dozen churches and temples, and let's not forget the world-famous beaches at Colva, Palolem, Anjuna, Vagator, Miramar, and Calangute. OK, some of them have seen better days-thank God, I saw them back when.

I drank feni, coming to prefer the 'madd' variety, ate Goan food nearly every day: I treasured all those dear old delicacies hardly found elsewhere.

I look back with nostalgia on those now long-ago hot afternoons when hardly a bird peeped in the coconut fronds, nobody passed in the little street outside our house in Banda, Assolna, but from across the way I heard the muted sound of Goan pop music coming over our neighbor's radio.

I remember a special night when, having stayed at a fantastic performance of 'qawwali' at Adnem village till the wee hours, we hopped off a packed bus at Cuncolim and walked down the deserted old road to Banda. A skyful of stars, silver palms, silver rice paddies, silver roofs, only the sound of our sandals -- we reached our door just as the pre-dawn sky lightened a bit and the first deliveries of hot bread from the bakery started making the rounds.

I readily admit that when I chose to study Goa, I had little idea of the riches I would find. All these things; the whole process of realizing that Goa possessed a wealth of culture, a wealth of tradition unknown in the outside world, and largely ignored-or even scorned-by Goans themselves, took time.

Slowly I realized that in Goa, as in such places as Mexico, Peru, Brazil, the Philippines, and Mauritius, contact between two or more civilizations had created a fascinating synthesis. One that had been steadfastly slighted by anthropologists, who wanted to study "pure" India, whatever that may be! I began to describe this cultural synthesis and put it in the context of Indian culture, for what is India if not a vast synthesis of many cultures? I began to insist-perhaps too shrilly for some -- that Goa was Indian, even typically Indian in its pattern of synthesis.

Is it presumptuous to assert that there is a kind of pleasure to be had from being the first to say something, at least in print? Could I not be glad, at least in my heart, that I was the first to apply the works of such people as Geertz, Turner, Levi-Strauss, Douglas, Babb, and Peacock to Goa? Excuse me if that is too immodest, but everyone likes to feel original. No doubt I got more from Goa than I could ever give back. I wrote articles, even a book eventually. My work in Goa proved to be all that I ever wished.

To paraphrase a certain W. Shakespeare, I never, ever "suffered the slings and arrows of outraged natives". No, I was consistently and forever welcomed and helped, found cooperation in every direction, friends on every side. Goa became a warm, familiar, and beloved place for me. How many beers have I drunk out on somebody's balcao of an evening? How many times did I sit on a night beach with a group of Goan friends talking about everything under the sun ?

I remember a certain February afternoon at Colva. After some sanna and bangra recheado, with sundry side dishes, we retreated to the palms that stretched for miles down the Queen of Beaches. We accompanied a Goan friend of mine from Melbourne and his family. I was just beginning to realize how interesting Goa really was, in cultural terms, but even then, every day came filled with new experiences, I absorbed new ideas constantly.

My friend and I strolled down to the water's edge and sat in the shallow surf, still talking. The velvet-soft sand caressed my legs, small starfish and long shells shaped like screws could be picked up by the handfuls. Tiny fish swarmed about. Betul headland lay pale blue far down to the south. Blue sky, blue water, sunshine, the rows of wooden fishing craft, a fascinating culture, friends, good food, music -- suddenly I began to laugh out loud, it was a moment of pure happiness.

A. asked me why I was laughing, though he started laughing too, just "to keep me company". I said something about suddenly having remembered my poor colleagues back in Melbourne, who usually spent their months of study leave in the cold, gray cities of England or North America, sitting in dim libraries. But really it was more than that. I knew in my heart that I'd found my dream in Goa, the anthropologist's dream. Is that very unprofessional to say ?

Sorry, it's true. -- Bob Newman to his friends, the Marblehead, MA.-based anthropologist has offered fascinating insights through his many writings on Goa. His latest book, on Goa, is 'Of Umbrellas, Goddesses and Dreams' and is published by the Mapusa-based Other India Press.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: GOA Net

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - India; Anthropology



By Anonymous ( on Wednesday, March 07, 2007 - 12:04 pm: Edit Post

Anybody who have Robert S. Newmans email or telephone numbers?

Sinserely yours.
Mr. Ivar Fjeld

Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.