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Mervyn Maciel

Frederick Noronha interviews Mervyn Maciel
Source :Goa Messenger. 1st July 2003.

Mervyn Maciel sees himself as a Kenyan-born Goan. This septuagenarian loved the African bush, and had a "particular fascination" for the tribes. Some years back he penned 'Bwana Karani' (Merlin, UK, 1985), a personal narrative of two decades in East Africa. The title literally translates to 'Mister
Clerk', the humble capacity in which he started his working career in Kenya.

He himself joined the Kenya Civil Service in 1947 and worked my way up from a junior clerk to a senior executive level. When his family (wife Elsie and four children) moved to the U.K. in 1966 following the Africanization of his post, he worked here in various managerial capacities in the private sector.

"In retirement my days are taken up by doing social work for various charities; I still enjoy and do a fair bit of writing and believe it or not, even cooking some of our Goan specialties," says Maciel. After their golden wedding anniversary, they grow their own produce.

Wife Elsie was the first Goan to have her "Goan Cookery Book" published in the U.K in 1983. His brother Wildfred was an avid writer and freelance journalist. Elder brother Joseph is a Jesuit, retired at St Xavier's High School in Bombay.

More recently, Maciel was speaking at a luncheon hosted at Henley-on-Thames reminding former British colonials, who ruled Kenya, that Goans too played a role in Kenya.

"Why we, former members of the Administration were excluded from membership (of the elitist Kenya Administration Club) for nearly 30 years is something I find difficult to understand. You obvious had your reasons, but with so few of us in the U.K., I can assure you, you wouldn't have been swamped, nor would there have been any take over bid," he told them.

"Unfortunately, our (the Goan) contribution in the civil service, more particularly the Provincial Administration, although verbally acknowledged in speeches by former Governors, senior officials and even politicians, has only recently, save with a few exceptions, merited a mention in some of the
published works," he pointed out.

Maciel spoke to FREDERICK NORONHA, outlining this issue. Excerpts:

FN: What do you see as the Goan role in colonial East Africa?

I have always felt that scant recognition was given for the tremendous Goan contribution in the civil service. It was as though the successes attained were the work of the Europeans only.

To set the record straight, I felt my opportunity had arrived when, in 1997, I was invited by Sir John Johnson to contribute a chapter to the book, "Colony to Nation". But because of financial restraints it was not published until this year!

FN: Why did the Goan role go un-noticed?

As I said earlier, all memoirs by former white Colonial officials spoke only of the European achievement as though the Goans hardly existed.

Many, it seems, chose to forget that during their early service careers, it was the Goans who 'showed them the ropes', even though we had no training ourselves!

FN: From the chapters of colonialism -- a problematic period, to say the least -- how do Goans emerge?

By and large, the Goans do come out in a positive light. But as mentioned earlier, any tributes were all verbal with nothing recorded for future generations.

FN: How many Goans would there have been in Kenya and East Africa at any point of time? Do you have estimates?

I'm not really sure, but I would say something between 18-20,000.

Of this number some 500 were in the Administration; others worked for the various government departments. Many more worked in the private sector i.e. banking, commerce etc.

There was a small number who went into business, grocers, tailors. Professionals (were there too) included doctors, teachers, lawyers, musicians etc.

FN: For someone wanting to look at this field, which resources would you suggest?

The excellent opus by my good friend and author, Cynthia Salvadori, provided me with most of the information. Her two tomes, "Through Open Doors" (first published in 1983) and "We Came in Dhows" (three masterly volumes published in 1996) were a real asset.

FN: Where have the East African Goans since reached?

Many emigrated to Europe (chiefly the U.K.), Canada, Australia and even the U.S.A. Some retired to Goa. Those, like me, who emigrated, left more because of political changes following independence and for the betterment of their children's future.

FN: How did Goans do elsewhere in Africa?

I have no experience of the other E.A. States, but imagine that the Goans were well respected and regarded in whatever territory they served.

FN: There were very few Goans who took the side of the Africans in the de-colonialism struggle. How do you read this?

Pio Gama Pinto, like his brother Rosario (a good friend of mine), had veins 'flowing with political blood'. They risked all to further the cause they believed in and, as in the case of Pio, sadly, paid the price.

Most Goans of that era, with a few exceptions were not political animals. Besides, those of us in the civil service could not join any political party or express our views.

I think it was the Indians, rather that Goans, who agitated about being given a voice in the Legislative Council. Fritz D'Souza and Oscar Fonseca are two others who had political leanings.

Jomo Kenyatta did include some Goan blood into his first Cabinet by appointing as his right hand man none other than Joseph Zuzarte, son of a Goan District Clerk (Peter Zuzarte).

Conforming to the political correctness of the day, Joseph Zuzarte chose to go as Joseph Murumbi -- serving in Kenyatta's first cabinet as Foreign Minister, Minister of State in the P.M's office and even Vice-President.

FN: You had some blunt words for the British administrators at their recent meet in the UK. What did you remind them?

(There's no need for an) apology for highlighting the Goan contribution especially since the majority of posts in the Administration, especially those of Cashier, were filled almost exclusively by Goans.

(This was) much to the annoyance of the other Asian communities as can be seen from comments made by that distinguished Q.C., J.S. Mangat. In telling how Goans in particular dominated the Administration, he cites Sir Charles Eliot who, in an official report in 1901 had this to say: "The District officers were usually assisted by a Goan or more rarely European clerk; in the Coast towns there is also a Customs official, usually a Goan; even the Germans envied the British Administration for their Goan staff who they observed 'have enough experience to avoid incurring the distrust which so many of our members inspire'."

Mangat then went on to quote from a D.C.'s report which spoke of the trust one could place in the Goans. Needless to say, Mangat added, "All the names mentioned by the D.C. are Goan (Fernandes, Ferreira, Braganca, Menezes)." He must have forgotten the D'Souzas.

(Others too were not) happy with the Goan involvement in Government service. I understand that when Winston Churchill visited Kenya in his capacity as Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, a delegation of White settlers protested against the employment of Goans in the Administration.

No notice was taken of their protests, but in 1934 a Committee was instructed to look into the possibility of employing European clerks, and this is briefly what they had to say:

"We have given consideration as to whether increased economy and efficiency could be attained by the more general employment of European clerks, and our opinion is in the negative. We have been favourably impressed by the dedication with which the majority of Goan clerks do the work required of them, and also of their conspicuous loyalty and willingness to work overtime, and their fixed determination to finish at all costs, the work that has to be done. It would be out of the question to employ in District offices, European clerks other than those of the highest integrity and proven ability, and in any case the salaries they would demand would be much higher than those paid to the Goans."

So (I told the Kenyan administrators) "you got us on the cheap!"

(I mentioned that) while some of us may still harbour memories of the injustice within the service, now is not the time for "if only's". We were privileged to work under men of quality and distinction, from some of whom we learnt much, and to whom I hope we were also able to leave behind memories of the valuable Goan contribution towards the building of the Kenya Nation.

The speech was before some 100 former Administration (men who ruled Kenya) and their wives. (ENDS)

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