I suppose I ought to conclude this thread I opened a little time back. Life’s been too busy of late to pick it up again and I don’t want to blog without thinking about stuff.
So, as I mentioned in part 1, there I am on my way to work
on the London Underground flicking through the latest Lonely Planet magazine, when I was drawn to a piece on the wonders of the small, south-western coastal Indian state of Kerala. It certainly looked a wonder – swooning Coconut Palms brushing powder white beaches under Azure skies…what’s not to like? But what had it to do with me? Looking down the list of Lonely Planet’s ‘must sees’ I saw a place that caught my attention: Jew Town. Jew Town? What an odd name for an Indian city.
Jew Town is part of the
Cochin district of Kerala state and was once home to the oldest Jewish community in India, I later discovered after being engaged to research. ‘Cochin Jews’ or
‘Malabar Jews’ as they were also known, can trace their historical roots back to ancient Israel during the reign of King Solomon. They are one of the first communities thought to have been visited by one of Jesus’ 12 Disciples, ‘Doubting’ Thomas. There are only a handful of Jews left in the region now as virtually the entire population emigrated to modern Israel when it was founded in 1948. I never knew India had a Jewish population – seriously. There I was on the train, my Lonely Planet magazine open on my lap while Googling
‘Kerala….Jew Town….Indian Jews’ on my iPhone. So I discovered India once had
a Jewish population centered on it’s south western coastlands. Wait a minute.
Isn’t Goa near there somewhere???
Such is my ignorance of the land where I was born, that I thought Goa was a city in south-western coastal India. I got the coast right…but Goa is itself a state, India’s smallest and it’s a good deal north of Kerala, but in the same region. The significance of Goa? Well, it’s all I had as a teenager, starved of historical identity and any knowledge of my roots. My mother’s line has been impossible to trace. There was just the vague
glimmer of something on my father’s side because his sister, my Aunt, had also
tried before me when she was young to find her roots and my only ‘knowledge’ of
any direction at all came from several conversations with her when I started my
own search. Her search into her lineage had led her to family origins from the
state of Goa, that we were originally Roman Catholics by religion and to the
Portuguese original family name of ‘Pereira’ (my current surname, I
discovered at the same time was not my ancestral name but was adopted by my line
of the family on my father’s side after cutting up rough with and being thrown
out of the Catholic church).
So then I turned to researching into Goa too and as with what I was finding with Kerala, I started to come across something more and more frequently – The ‘Portuguese Inquisition in India’. The Portuguese gained a foothold in India after the arrival of explorer, Vasco de Gama in 1498. Settlers came to the emerging colony from Portugal but also neighbouring Spain
and from the latter particularly to escape the Spanish Inquisition, which
started in 1478. Many of the fleeing Spanish settlers were Jews escaping the
Inquisitions in Spain aimed at eradicating or converting the Muslim and Jewish
populations. The Portuguese were not originally interested in converting the
local populations in Goa to Catholicsm, but after the the unification of Spain
against the Islamic ‘Moors’ (as airbrushed by Hollywood in the classic movie ‘El Cid’
starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren) but the rout of the Moors and
the re-Christianisation of Spain were formative in the creation of the evils of the Spanish
Inquisition and that then extended to Portugal after their royal family
inter-married with that of Spain. The Portuguese, in defference to the senior
partner in the royal liaison, implemented the Inquisition in their Indian
colonies in Kerala and Goa and torture, execution and the forced conversion of
Jews…but also Hindus and Muslims to Catholicism… began in earnest with brutal consequences. The records of what happened in Goa were destroyed in the 19th Century.
searching of water back to its source as water will always do. It rises from the
oceans by evaporation into the skies to form clouds and then falls as rain when
those clouds reach land and the rain falls on the mountains and the lowlands,
but the water always seeks to run lower and lower until it finds a gulley, a
stream, a river, a waterfall…an inlet…..and then back into the ocean from
where it once came. It’s the word ‘call’ here that speaks most to me. As the scripture describes, the water is compelled – ‘called’ – to seek the deeper places, to return to the place from which it came. It has no choice. That is quite different from the word ‘desire’, which is all about choice. All I can say is that in my life I never chose this path and from what I sense of the way ahead, It’s not one that I would ever choose for want of an easy life. None of this proves anything in terms of a Jewish heritage I may or may not have.
act or believe any different from how I do now.