On Burying Our Heads in the Sand


Dom Martin


There is a Native-American saying: "Earth does not belong to us, we belong to Earth." One might well rephrase this universal wisdom while referring to the historical edifices in Goa, namely, that they do not belong to us, we belong to them.

The preceding is in reference to the callous manner in which scores of ancestral Goan homes and other edifices of architectural significance, have been irreversibly neglected and/or destroyed in exchange for modern day amenities, profit and social status. This epidemic of cultural retrogression is now rapidly closing in on historical churches and chapels. Perhaps, most distressing is the manner in which banks and other commercial outlets have been appendaged to some of these churches. It is as if God and commerce have finally found a common berth.

Obviously, times have changed, and it goes without saying that we have to keep pace with the drummer or the pallbearer. Where assets exist, profit is the resulting consequence. There is no crime in such materialism. But if culture was founded solely on the icon of profit, we would have been left enormously bequeathed with stocks, bonds and treasury notes. Again, what gives the present day its face in time's mirror is the opulent legacy of the past. Without the past, our cultural heritage would have been as monolithic as our self-centered aspirations.

While the Church of St. Augustine in Old Goa was a victim of circumstances resulting in the Tower of St. Augustine, the tower itself serves as a stark reminder of our place in the realm of guilt and shame, if we assume the ostrich position, i.e., bury our heads in the sand while the legacy of our past continues to be neglected, effaced, or pillaged.

In Goa, it is not uncommon to see ancestral homes of architectural splendor beginning to resemble the nature of the squabbles within the family. A home that once stood solemnly undivided in all its architectural charm and ingenuity, now being divided and subdivided into architectural amenities. Elsewhere, such homes have been razed to the ground and in their place, a multi- storeyed, urban concrete-complex constructed, with the title holder's name emblazoned in towering letters as though it were a family crest.

In the case of ancestral homes, the tragedy becomes when there is an absolute lack of cultural awareness on the part of the disputing members of the household. The scope of this tragedy, however, could be considerably offset if a Society for the Conservation of Historical Edifices (SCHE) were to be set up at state and local levels. The objective of such a society would not be to enforce conservation, but to serve as an educational forum, provide insight, and even act as an arbitrator if called upon.

In the case of historical churches or chapels, the responsibility of conservation rests imperatively on members of the clergy and the faithful. If an existing church or chapel is inadequate to the needs of the faithful, it does not warrant cause for its defacement or dismemberment through the process of wanton reconstruction or architectural vulgarity. Nor do they deserve to be subjected to the pulse of death through neglect or abandonment.

Similarly, if such a church or chapel is in dire need of conservation, the means for same should not be solicited by selling church land in order to construct space for commercial leasing. It is time that a clear separation between church and commerce be mandated, so that where money is to be solicited, such funds should inure wholly to the conservation of the church. Logic would itself sensibly dictate that the goods of the church were primarily intended for the good of the church and not for any other purpose.

In conclusion, it is earnestly hoped that the powers that be, might prevail in bringing to a complete halt the wanton destruction or desecration of historical homes and edifices. Several times in the past I stated that Goans are damned and doomed by their own kind. In the instance of historical churches and chapels, let us not take the dictum one step further by damning the very God who bequeathed us with an unparalleled heritage in all of Asia . . . by finally pulling or selling the carpet from right under His feet! And in the instance of ancestral homes, for every single home well conserved, the sacrifice shall undoubtedly find its immortality in posterity's gratitude.

November 7, 1997