Between 'Percalços' and 'Namoxins': Law and Lands Administered by the Jesuits in Goa and Bassein (c. 1550 - c. 1660)

Patricia Souza de Faria

This Project aims to analyze the relationship between law and land, focusing on land administration by the Jesuits in Goa and Bassein, between the 1550s and 1660s. Goa and Bassein belonged to the Goa Province of the Society of Jesus, part of the Portuguese Assistancy. The cases of Goa and Bassein are analyzed concomitantly due to the interdependence among different contexts of Jesuit activity in India. While in Brazil the land administered by the Society of Jesus used to be close to its colleges, the pattern was different in Asia, with the land dispersed among its different Provinces and Vice-Provinces (of Goa, Malabar, Japan, China). The mission in Japan enjoyed, for example, income from villages located in the vicinity of Bassein. Similarly, Combarjua Island in Goa provided income for the mission in Mozambique. The analysis of the contexts of Goa and Bassein also seeks to provide elements for comparing the forms of land administration in regions that had different land and fiscal regimes prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in India, and that experienced different processes of conquest, evangelization, and reconfiguration of the local political powers in the investigated period.

The study of land administration by the Jesuits in India refers, among other matters, to the namoxins, to the lands that were reserved for the maintenance of non-Christian temples in Goa, which were demolished some decades after the Portuguese conquest of this region. The income associated with these lands was transferred to finance local evangelization actions. In addition to namoxin lands and other royal grants, the Society of Jesus received endowments from private benefactors and negotiated land with local communities. The lists of its assets included palm groves, hortas, marinhas, chãos, that is, a varied range of land typology.

In their daily experience, the Jesuits issued opinions on whether the contracts, the foros (land revenues), and the customs that regulated relations with lands had to be considered fair, as was the case with the examination of percalços (contributions paid by residents) in the Bassein’s villages. This research pays attention to the role of the Society of Jesus as corpora that played a role in the regulation of relations with the lands within the framework of a broad normative complex –of a religious matrix– which sought to integrate the various social orders and corporate bodies, as well as discipline society.

The starting point of the research, the 1550s, refers to the royal confirmation of the donation of income from the lands of the demolished temples to the College of São Paulo of Goa, directed by the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus acquired other goods and land revenues in India from the 1550s to the 1660s, a period crossed by dynastic changes in Portugal, which altered the trend to grant it favors and confirm its lands. Additionally, the political and economic challenges of the Estado da Índia led governors and viceroys to adopt more significant restrictions regarding the economic benefits enjoyed by religious orders. In addition to these general trends, it is essential to focus on how disputes and controversies regarding land administered by the Jesuits were decided locally. The chronological excerpt (the 1550s-1660s) allows us to follow the dynamic processes linked to the endowments, confirmation, purchase, or confiscation of the lands administered by the Jesuits in Goa and Bassein, considering the different agents (donors, magistrates, colonial officials, settlers, leaders of local communities, priests-rectors and procurators of Jesuit colleges) who participated in this process of defining ownership, as well as the arguments that each agent mobilized in the context of land disputes.


Image: Detail of the lands of Salcete, Pedro Barreto de Resende e António Bocarro – Livro das Plantas de todas as Fortalezas, Cidades e Povoações do Estado da Índia Oriental, 1635, Biblioteca Pública de Évora (Portugal).

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