Between the Village and the Norm: Land Relations in Goa (1510-c.1650)

Roger Lee de Jesus

The conquest of Goa (India), on the island of Tiswadi, in 1510, which until then had been under the control of the sultanate of Bijapur, gave the Portuguese a new territory different from the places where they had been settled until then in Asia. In fact, for the first time, the Portuguese Empire came to administer all social, economic, and legal questions of access to land in that small territory of c. 166 km2. This territorialization began to play a central role from the 1540s, with the incorporation of the Old Conquests (Velhas Conquistas) or Firm Lands (Terras Firmes) of Goa (Salcete and Bardez), bringing a new dimension – legal, political, and economic – to the Estado da Índia and, consequently, new duties of defence and administration of the territory. In total, they added almost 500 km2 to the area under Portuguese jurisdiction, thus accounting for c. 660 km2 of direct administration.

However, the issue of land relations remains unique in Goa, since there was a pre-Portuguese system, which was accepted and adapted in the territorialization process – similar to the situation in Mexico where the Spanish administration had to contend with a pre-Colombian layer, which is also a case study of the IberLAND project. There, the village (also called Comunidades (community) or gancaria, locally coordinated by gãocares, i.e., the leaders of each of these communities) was the central organisational unit of the local communities. Instead of importing a European model of land exploitation, the Portuguese protected the local practices, changing only some parts of its administrative structure. Therefore, ownership rights were connected to native norms, merging with external influences.

This project aims to analyse the process of territorialization in Goa, trying to understand how it evolved between 1510 and c. 1650, how it was managed by the Portuguese administration and by the local communities, what impact it had on the native practices, and why some of them were preserved. Crossing normative, economic, and social sources, this project is in direct dialogue with IberLAND’s objectives, proposing a comprehensive analysis of the social and legal dynamics of land tenure, distribution, and exploitation in a colonial context and the construction of Iberian empires.


Image: Goa and the Terras Firmes, Manuel Godinho de Erédia – Plantas de praças das conquistas de Portugal, 1610, Fundação Biblioteca Nacional (Brazil).

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