A CODE OF GOVERNANCE
Maria de Lourdes bravo da Costa Rodrigues writes about the first Indo-Portuguese document that codified the local laws, customs, and taxes and was adopted by the rulers to govern Goa.
The Foral de Goa or what is commonly known as the ‘Foral de Afonso Mexia’, as he headed the committee responsible for the codification, is the first Indo-Portuguese document issued by the Portuguese document issued by the Portuguese in Goa and conceded by King D Joao III to the gaoncares, tenants, residents and settles of the villages and islands of the city of Goa. It was issued by royal orders on 16th September, 1526, by Afonso Mexia, the Vedor of Fazenda (inspector of the revenue office).
The objective of the foral was to find out the rights, traditional uses and customs which the people followed and the rights and privileges which the Portuguese crown should maintain. It also sought to know what the people paid to the rulers of the territory before the Portuguese took over, especially in relation to inheritance, taxes, obligations and other duties.
The foral was meant for the citizens of islands under the Portuguese which consisted of Tissuari, Divar, Chorao and Jua. Amongst these, the island of Goa was the biggest and the most important. In Portugal, the foral was a royal charter conceded by the king, or any other lay or ecclesiastical authority, to a certain territory, containing norms that discipline the relations of its settlers or inhabitants between themselves or with the crown, and to fix the contribution to the royal treasury.
When Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa there were various usages and customs under which the territory was administered by the rulers before the arrival of the Portuguese. They decided to continue with them, not to displease the people, and to codify them. They invited important and knowledgeable people in Goa and with their help recorded them.
The foral has 48 clauses in which the most important and significant usages and customs are recorded. When the need arose, the government added to the clauses the necessary amendment or addition. For example on 14 August 1534, the first correction was made with additions at the request of Goans, by Nuno da Cunha, governor of Goa, in settlement of case of Sinay brothers.
In the first clause, the foral tells us that in the organization of the islands each village of those islands had certain number of Gaoncares. Gaoncare means governor, administer and benefactor. Although the foral does not give us the correct origin of Goa it mentions in the same clause that four men were the first settlers of the land who were known as gaoncares for having cultivated, administered and governed well the territory. Clause two gives the list of villages that are part of the Islands of Tissuary. Since the structure of the foral also has as its objective to guarantee collection of rents, clause two to seven is on taxation.
At large it is a study of Goan society. It tells us about administration, politics and economics of the society. It describes the day-to-day life and the important roles exercised by the gaoncares in social affairs. They had privileges in relation to the other members of the comunidade. These were not only in decision making and power but also in public functions as well as in the day-to-day matters. They behaved as if they were the rightful owners of the comunidade. For example, they had to be served first the betel leaf for social functions. Even when the government honored them with a pachori – a white coloured tunic, thrown on the shoulder of the one honoured – the important gaoncar had the privilege to be the first one. Dancers too performed first at the main gaoncar’s house and harvesting started at his field. It was a male-dominated society with woman’s role relegated to the house, with no right to voice any ideas in public. In judicial matters the gaoncares were heard by local authorities and decisions taken accordingly.
Though the gaoncares had a number of privileges they were responsible to collect the taxes on behalf of the king and send it to him, and those from the island of Tissuary, Divar, Chorao and Jua (St Estevam) had to annually, at their cost, clean the wall and city of Goa of grass and other growth as well as undertake other services that came up from time to time.
The foral also mentions at clause 39 penal punishment in case of some sins. For example, if gaoncares of the island of Chorao or other islands ran away to the Muslims, their land and movables would be auctioned to the people as well as the right to gaoncarias. The rules for lending money and recovery of the loan are mentioned from clauses 22 to 24. Clause 25 listed those who could not be witnesses in matters wherever required. Other important points in the foral include inheritance and partition, the abuses of the royal officers and the gaoncares, the fines and action against culprits.
Though the foral does not give in detail the social life of others besides the gaoncares and does not speak about the Muslims who must have been in Goa, it throws light on the lifestyle and governance of Goa not only in the beginning of the Portuguese rule but prior to it as well.
Times of India, September 16, 2009, Panaji