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The Study Of Konkani

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

One sometimes wonders how Christian missionaries managed to converse with the foreigners they encountered in different parts of the world and convert them, as, almost invariably, the local language was totally different from the languages that the missionaries might have been familiar with. This of course applied to the Portuguese missionaries in Goa as well.

In his Brief of 23 March 1567, Pope Pius V declared that the Religious could exercise the functions of Parish Priests under condition that they were conversant with the language of the country. The Brief was directed to the King of Portugal. Further at the Fourth Provincial Synod of Goa, convened in 1592, the Fathers legislated that no priest could be appointed pastor of a church unless he knew the local language. Finally, the King of Portugal seems to have written in the same vein, for it is to the King that Frei Jeronymo do Espirito Santo, the Custos and Commissary General of the Franciscans in India, referred when in 1595 he enjoined the friars to study the local languages:

“Since His Majesty has ordained, the Very Rev. Custos and Com. Gen. orders all those who have the care of the country where they are residing, concerning which he will enquire on visitation and in accordance with the degree of guilt, punish.”

Due to this Order the Franciscans attained proficiency in the Konkani language so as to be at ease while communicating with the locals. Among those Franciscan friars who was prominent in Konkani was Frei João de S Matias (Nagoa Rector between 1602 and 1605). The outstanding work of this illustrious Konkani scholar was the translation of Cardinal Belarmino’s Symbolum Fidei (Profession of Faith).

In the province of Bardez there were also experts on Konkani such as Frei Gaspar de São Miguel. He was Parish Priest of Mapuça in 1648. Frei Gaspar wrote a Konkani Grammar book as well as a Konkani-Portuguese Dictionary. Another expert was Frei Manuel do Lado. He was the Franciscan Provincial from 1662 to 1665 and later Parish Priest of Penha de França Church from 1666. Frei Manuel composed a Konkani Catechism book, which was widely used in Bardez. There was an outstanding scholar called Frei Domingo de S Bernadino, Rector of Revora and Commissary of the Holy Office. He wrote an explanation of the Credo (“I Believe”). Then there was Frei Mestre Jubilado Manoel Batista (1653), Parish Priest of Revora, who reviewed the third print of Purana of Father Thomas Stephens, SJ.

The Franciscans started the study of Konkani very early upon their coming to Goa, heightened its course after the private decrees of their Province and of the IV Provincial Council of Goa, led it to the apex of perfection into the middle of the seventeenth century. However, the interest in and study of Konkani plummeted in the second half of the seventeenth century. Indeed, one of the reasons the Franciscans were evicted from the parishes of Bardez in 1776 and replaced by the Diocesan Parish Priests was their ignorance and negligence of the Konkani language.

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