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Teotonio- A historian with a scientific outlook

Nandkumar M Kamat

In the death of one of Goa’s internationally most famous post liberation Indo-Portuguese historian Teotónio Rosário de Souza (affectionately known as Teo) (18 February 1947 – 20 February 2019) in Lisbon, scientists have lost a friend, an ally, and a staunch supporter.

The Society of Jesus to which he belonged to will always be proud of him because it knows how much the Spanish Jesuit priest Indologist Henry Heras had done in India in archeological research and how Teotonio was following in his footsteps while getting lot of encouragement from another legendary intellectual Jesuit scholar Jose Pereira teaching at Fordham University, USA.

Very few people know him in Goa as a champion of scientific historiography and application of science and technology in all realms of studying and teaching history. In the early days of email and internet, Teotonio advocated the use of cyberspace for scholarly communications and with like-minded persons launched Goa Research Net bulletin board. Goa Research Net became a beehive for young and old historians in the first decade of this century when Facebook was not so popular.

Influenced by Marxist historian D D Kosambi’s approach to study Indian history, he urged young researchers to develop microhistory. Microhistorians need to adopt a very scientific methodology and go to the very roots of a historical subject. He himself demonstrated this approach when he was just 25 in his research article, ‘A study of Indo-Portuguese coinage and the working of Goa Mint’ in 1972 and again in 1975 in his much discussed chapter, ‘Xenddi-tax’.

He was one of the first Indo-Portuguese historians from Goa who was very active on the internet and his Facebook presence was much valued because of the high level of scholarship and intellectualism. In fact we don’t find any match to him in using the power of internet so effectively to promote worldwide interest in history of Goa and remove misconceptions about Goans. He was one of the four founders of the prestigious series of annual local history seminars by Goa University. I still remember his appreciation when I presented a research paper on ‘Gopakpattana’, the former capital of Goa Kadambas using an overhead projector. With easy access to computers, he insisted that we must present statistical data using graphics – something historians hardly care for. On completion of his 60 years, Jesuit historian Charles Borges along with M N Pearson published a volume in his honour, ‘Metahistory, History questioning History’ which showed the positive appreciation of scientific, objective, and rational thinking of Teotonio to the world. It is ironic that a highly multidisciplinary subject like history is taught in Goa more like literature, and mythology and legends are passed around as historical ‘facts’.

Teotonio paid a lot of attention to archival material. His most important contribution to Goa was the conceptualisation and foundation of the Xavier Centre For Historical Research (XCHR) at Porvorim. Due to his serious interest in microhistory he understood the importance of scientific accession, classification, and preservation of precious family records. His interaction with archivist and an expert on Portuguese-Maratha history Shankar Kamat Mhamai led to the preservation of the entire Mhamai Kamat family archive at XCHR. His paper in 1980 on ‘Mhamai House records, indigenous sources for Indo-Portuguese Historiography’ revealed the importance of studying old trade correspondence. Because of his meticulous research the world came to know about Goa-based Indo Portuguese trader Rogerio de Faria’s Chinese links. In another paper, he provided rare glimpses of the diamond mines in the Deccan. His interest in scientific museology was useful for the church of Goa to establish the Museum of Christian Art. Self-taught historian Percival Noronha told me how meticulously Teotonio had insisted on scientific documentation and cataloguing of the priceless Christian art. The illegal trade in antiques of Goa pained him. He was constantly in search of new ideas and by 1992 predicted birth of a new world order due to revolution in transportation and communication technologies. He saw the 500th anniversary of Columbian discovery as a turning point in world history due to opening of trade and communication barriers and rapid march of information technology.

Historian and scholar from Abrantes, Portugal, Joaquim Candeias Silva in his Facebook homage recently wrote, “I met Teotónio in May 1998, on the way to Paris, where the international conference ‘Vasco da Gama and India’, was organised by the Gulbenkian Foundation in association with the chancellery of the universities of Paris and the support of the orient foundation. Now, on the basis of this very important event, where some of the greatest historians from all over the world participated, the minutes of this memorable event were published in 1999, by the said foundation, in three thick volumes, and it was a special fruit of its organisational labor. We made lasting friendship and in July 2005, at the recall of the ‘500 years of the foundation of the Portuguese state of India’, held in Abrantes.”

As rich tributes continue to pour in from every part of the world it is time to acknowledge the scientific outlook of such a great Goan historian.

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