The first impression we make of Casa Menezes Bragança is that the term property it was far from doing him justice.
From the edge of a green lawned garden, we find ourselves facing the facade of a portentous tropical manor house, with two floors covered with an eave and a roof, both made of weathered Portuguese tile.
If, as expected of a country house, the height is measured, its length amazes us. On the first floor alone, we have twelve tall, cut-out windows, each with its own ocher balcony to match the tiles.
On the ground floor, many more, smaller, closed by shutters in a more Hindu than Portuguese way.
We must also say that we could only admire a segment stretched between a trio of coconut trees and an Asian pine tree, all taller than the top of the roof. We walked a little further.
We noticed that the pine tree hid the service entrance, located in the middle of the symmetrical façade of the building, which is to say that, from the entrance onwards, the windows and everything else were repeated.
The interlocutor's look and tone make us apprehensive. The shot, in particular, disarms us. For a short time.
We didn't want to accept that we had covered that 20km (not counting the distance to Portugal) in vain. Therefore, we respond with all the arguments and more, from nationality to professional purpose.
When the lady maintains her block, we pulled a higher trump card up her sleeve: if the problem was that she didn't have instructions to make an exception, then let us talk to the owner.
Two minutes later, somewhat annoyed, Dª Judite hands us a paper with a phone number. There was no cell phone network anywhere in the house, so we told him that we would call from outside and return to communicate the result of the call.
We installed ourselves in an extension of the mansion, between the end of the garden and the Church of Chandor. For a good half-hour, either we can't call due to lack of network or no one answers. In a last and desperate attempt, finally, the call is answered by Aida Menezes Bragança. He was telling us about Bangalore.
We repeat the arguments already explained to Dª Judite. We add a few more. The interlocutor became aware of the importance we gave to our visit and work and agreed. “Wait just ten minutes for me to call home and talk to Dª Judite. Then go upstairs and take the photos you need.”
We return. Guided by a housekeeper, we investigate the successive rooms and halls, one of them a ballroom, in any case, with centuries-old fillings intact: Belgian and Venetian crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Large tables, chairs and armchairs, rosewood and teak dressing tables, shelves from one of the largest private libraries in Goa with around 5000 books in various languages. Canapés, palanquins and love seats.
Desks, knickknacks, Macao porcelain, an East India Company dinner service and even an old man coconut-do-sea brought from Seychelles they subsisted, arranged in the style of a home museum, on floors made of large planks or tiled floors with very distinct patterns, forming independent sub-spaces.
Dozens of family photos and some paintings mirrored the family tree of the residents and part of the prolific history of the family and Casa Menezes Bragança.
Before the arrival of Vasco da Gama to Goa, like almost all Goans, the ancestors of the Bragança were Hindus, one of the most powerful in the region. They belonged to the superior Brahmin caste and were part of the pacayat (county) of Chandrapur, the capital of Goa in the XNUMXth to XNUMXth centuries. At that time, they used the surname Desai.
After the Portuguese domination, from 1542, the Jesuit mission of São Francisco de Xavier, later also the Inquisition, determined the destruction of the Hindu temples. The Desai were forced to adhere to Christianity, to integrate Portuguese society and to emulate its aristocratic ways.
Due to the economic, intellectual and social supremacy they already had, during the 300 years that followed, some Desai occupied top positions in the Portuguese administration.
Pleased with the contribution of this family and in justice for the dominant position they occupied, the Portuguese gave them the name of the last Royal House, then written as Braganza. The Casa Menezes Bragança de Chandor was built in the XNUMXth century and increased and improved in three successive phases, over three hundred years.
In the XNUMXth century, the Braganças reached their apex. Francisco Xavier Bragança, lawyer, Goan aristocrat, owner of rice and coconut plantations installed in lands forfeited by the Portuguese Crown, received from Fernando II and Maria II, kings of Portugal the titles of knighthood and the royal coat of arms from the Lisbon Council.
António Elzário Sant' Anna Pereira, cousin of Francisco Xavier, was awarded the same title. From the XNUMXth century onwards, the architectural transformation of the mansion and its decoration was mainly due to the pomp and pomp in which these two personalities moved.
Reaching the last decade of the XNUMXth century, Francisco Xavier Bragança died. Without children, he named his first grandson Luís Menezes de Bragança as heir. Luís Menezes de Bragança also revealed himself to be literate and influential and, the more educated, the more active in contesting Portuguese colonial rule.
Associated with other intellectual figures, he founded the first Portuguese-language newspaper in Goa, “The Herald”. Shortly thereafter, he created his own periodical: “O Debate” and a biweekly called “Pracasha”. In all three titles, but not only, he made public the criticisms he reserved for the Portuguese colonial regime. From then on, nothing would be the same.
The Bragança family broke up. The house gave rise to two, each belonging to two sister heirs of the Braganças, occupying opposite wings of the palace.
We left Menezes Bragança's side without even seeing Dª Judite again, too confused with her judicial affairs. We said goodbye and returned to the atrium where the mansion was divided. We rang the bell next door.
A maid from the Bragança-Pereira house welcomes us, who hurried to call one of the owner's children. Armando, our guide, spoke little Portuguese: “I don't speak, but my mother does. She is always happy to have Portuguese visitors. I'll get her.”
After a few minutes, Dª Áurea Bragança Pereira, emerged from the confines of a room. Áurea was the only survivor of the 14th generation of the Braganças. Since 1948, he had lived in the wing of the mansion he had inherited with fifteen descendants and consorts.
Conversation starts, we agreed to take a picture of the family present. However, the old woman confesses to be more fatigued than usual. Armando resumes the tour.
It takes us to the chapel and to a somewhat surreal secret of the house. Alongside the countless objects around, the chapel preserved what is said to be a nail of Saint Francis de Xavier, a keratin removed from the remaining body that lies in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, in old goa.
Four hundred and thirty-three years after the founding of the Portuguese colony of Goa, Salazar became prime minister of the newly imposed Portuguese republic, with constitutional promises of civil freedom and expression.
Accordingly, Menezes Bragança, already a member of the Portuguese parliament, proposed a motion to the Council that aimed at the self-determination of Goa. Salazar refuted it without appeal. He closed the Menezes de Bragança newspaper and ordered that its activities be monitored.
Salazar's intransigent posture generated a deep depression in Menezes that led to his death in 1938. Tristão de Bragança Cunha (1891-1958), Menezes Bragança's brother-in-law, followed in his footsteps until he became the Father of Goan Nationalism.
He founded the Goa National Congress Committee and published a pamphlet entitled Denationalization of Goa which criticized the Estado Novo for, among other sins, wanting to exterminate the use of the Konkani dialect. Both publications proved to be serious denunciators of Portuguese oppression.
At that time, Tristão de Bragança Cunha, Bertha de Menezes Bragança and other members of the Committee held meetings at Casa Menezes Bragança, where they frequently uttered the cry Jai Hind who praised the Victoria of India. Such meetings aroused the increasingly frequent and emasculating appearance of the Portuguese police.
Even so, the efforts of Bragança and followers sensitized several influential Indian politicians and independenceists to the Goan Question, among them Nehru, future minister of India.
India declared its independence from Great Britain in 1947. For the various reasons and controversies that the revered Nehru is still accused of, Goa remained in Portugal's possession until 1961, when the Indian army released it.
Just a year before the end of the British Raj, Tristão de Bragança Cunha was arrested and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in the Fort of Peniche. His entire family was persecuted by the Portuguese authorities which led to his flight to Bangalore, the now technological capital of the state of Karnataka.
Tristão da Cunha returned to India in 1953 but died in exile in Bombay in 1958, just three years after the emancipation of Goa. When Aida returned to Casa Bragança, in 1961, only a few servants lived there.
Much of the most valuable stuff was gone and monsoon rains damaged the roof and part of the rooms. The Indian political reforms of 1962 took away from the Bragança the lands cultivated by the Portuguese crown who until then had ensured the manor's sustenance.
With little or no support from the Indian or Goan governments for the costly reconstruction and maintenance – only six men and women work on the Menezes Bragança side from Monday to Saturday – but aware of the historic value of the house, both families opened their doors to the public.
According to Dª Áurea, the Bragança-Pereira side has been accepting voluntary donations for over 50 years. The Menezes Bragança wing, during the 80s, charging fixed entrance fees.
As long as he only depends on Dª Áurea, his part of Casa Menezes Bragança, too full of emotions and memories, will never be sold.