1583 Goa revolt challenges 1857 Meerut uprising as country’s first war-cry against colonists

Sepoy Mangal Pandey-inspired Meerut uprising of 1857, reckoned in history as the first revolt against colonial rule, may well have competition.

According to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, a revolt in 1583 by villagers of Cuncolim in South Goa, then a flourishing hub of trade, which inspired a several years’ long boycott of tax payments to the Portuguese regime, would soon find its place in history books in schools of Goa as the first such revolt against colonists.

“While celebrating the 60 years of India’s independence, it is time that the Cuncolim revolt, which occurred in 1583, should feature in textbooks. People should remember the braves of Cuncolim. The Cuncolim revolt should not not just be recorded in Goan history, but in Indian history too, as the first uprising against British or Portuguese (colonial) rule ” Sawant told a function in Cuncolim late on Friday.

Known as the Cuncolim revolt of 1583, villagers from Cuncolim killed proselytizing Roman Catholic priests and their armed escorts, who were in the process of converting villagers and desecrating Hindu temples in the region.

One of those killed was European Jesuit priest Rodolfo Acquaviva, who had served in the Court of Emperor Akbar just before he was posted to Goa.

The massacre resulted in swift retaliation by the Portuguese, who connived to execute a dozen chieftains from Cuncolim and the adjoining villages of Ambelim, Assolna, Veroda and Velim, without trial, after luring them for a peaceful parley. Four chieftains escaped the massacre and lived to tell the brutal saga, which took place at the Assolna fort.

In her research paper “No Taxation without cessation of religious persecution: Agrarian protests against the colonial religious policy in Goa, 1559-1583” noted Goan historian Pratima Kamat details the account of the brutal encounter.

“On the morning of July 15, 1583 the party (led by Acquaviva) reached Cuncolim amidst heavy downpours. Here in order to escape from the rains they built a makeshift shelter and awaited the Hindu leaders of the village with whom they intended to hold parleys. The villagers were inflamed by the sight of the priests measuring the ground near their temple, and by the appearance of a crude cross at the site of the makeshift shelter of the delegation which was looked upon with dread as the precursor of a church,” Kamat says.

The massacre of the village elders, referred to as chieftains, fuelled further anger among the villagers who refused to pay tax to the Portuguese rulers for nearly eight years in defiance.

Apart from historians, lawmakers across political lines in Goa too have backed the line of argument, that the Cuncolim revolt was the first real uprising against colonial rule in India, predating the Meerut uprising by nearly three centuries.

In 2012, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had assured the state assembly that he was keen on appointing a panel of historians to study the issue, after then BJP MLA late Vishnu Wagh said that the Goa government should refer to the revolt as the first such in India.

Oscar Martins, who heads the Cuncolim Chieftains Memorial Trust, told IANS that the martyrs of Cuncolim deserve the right place in history. “The chieftains of Cuncolim who put down their lives deserve to be accorded the status of leading the first revolt against a European colonial power in India,” Martins said.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has now assured that the revolt would feature in Goa’s history textbooks soon.

“As Chief Minister and Education Minister, it will be my endeavour to include it in Goa’s history and Cuncolim’s history by next year or year after next it will be a part of history (curriculum),” Sawant said.