Some (Not So) Lost Aquatic Traditions: Goans Going Fishing in the Indian Ocean

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Gupta, Pamila


Interventions, Volume 16, Issue 6, p.854–876 (2014)



Every year on 29 June members of an immigrant Goan fishing community living in the port of Catembe (Mozambique) gather for a religious ceremony at a designated spot on the shore overlooking the Indian Ocean with Maputo's skyline as a backdrop. They pray to São Pedro (Catholic St Peter) to bless their boats for the coming fishing season. Afterwards, they take out their highly decorated vessels, very often dedicated to Catholic patron saints, into Maputo Bay for a maritime procession. This essay takes as its entry port this ritualized annual event to look more closely at religious connectivities between India and East Africa, via Portuguese colonizing and conversion processes, and across the Indian Ocean. That this rite of passage has endured over four generations for this ‘littoral’ Catholic Goan community, one that largely relies on commercial prawn fishing as a way of life, suggests the power of religious practices, including the Catholic pantheon of saints, to migrate alongside persons. That this feast day celebration takes place at the oceanfront, the place they originally arrived as migrants from Portuguese India by ship at the turn of the twentieth century, suggests the ways in which Catholic religiosity is used to commemorate Goan migration and culture simultaneously. Lastly, that this maritime parade is dedicated exclusively to St Peter, the Catholic patron saint of fishermen the world over, suggests the importance of fishing – not only as a means of economic livelihood, but also as a source for community solidarity and social reproduction – in the daily lives of this dynamic diasporic group that presently numbers approximately one hundred families. Ethnography, literature and photography are used as forms of postcolonial intervention in carving out old and new (Indian) oceanic geographies.

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