Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Family History - Vitorino Saldanha

I love how close I am to my American family.

Let's back up. For those that haven't known me from birth - well, it's a long story. One I hope to capture here so that my kids, grandkids, and anyone else that follows and has interest can come back to. I guess not everyone is as sentimental or grounded in their roots as I am. But for me, well - knowing my family history matters. It really, really matters. And half of it has been missing for a long time.

My short story version is that I was born in Switzerland to an American woman and an English man (who had been born and raised in India). We moved to Iowa in 1987, I was 7 at the time. Shortly after, my parents split and my dad moved to California. I grew up surrounded by, and very close to, my mom's family - grandparents, two uncles, one aunt, and six cousins.

There is a long version of that paragraph, but that will be reserved for another day.

I know where my mom came from. I've grown up surrounded by the people that knew her growing up, I've heard their stories and anecdotes, I've slept in the bedroom that she grew up in, ran through the cornfields on the farm where she lived.

What I don't know is my Indian heritage. There is this magical, mystical, vague story that I know little about. I knew my grandmother on my dad's side as a child, and I did see her once after we moved to the US (I think I remember her coming and visiting us at my mom's house), but don't have much memory of her. More of a feeling, and a picture in my mind. My grandfather died before I was born. I have met my uncles, when I was very young, I can't even picture them. And then there's India. I can only imagine.

So it felt a bit like an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" when my dad forwarded me an email the other day. A cousin of his has spent some time in India tracking down the family history. What he sent were some stories of my great-grandfather, Vitorino Saldanha.

What touched me most was reading the comments, the family relations to this man......these are my distant relatives. I've watched that show a few times and never understood the excitement as they discovered these relatives that they didn't know existed - but as I read through this, I started to feel the same way.

I have sort of a standing joke with Chad - that Indian people are "my people". It's really only half-joking, in a way I want to feel the connection to this group of people, because despite it being 50% of me, I know so little about it. So, reading through these comments, I kind of felt like these really were my people.

The businessman in East Africa

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

I got to know Vitorino Francisco Saldanha, a prominent personality from the village of Saligao, when he finally returned to Goa from East Africa. I felt good when he affectionately tapped my head and spoke sweetly to me on a fine Sunday in May in the early fifties.

Vitorino Francisco Saldanha
Vitorino Saldanha : Saligao Serenade

He wore a sun hat, his attire was elegant but simple, he sported a moustache and walked in a stately manner. He looked a gentleman to the core. In the later years of his life he moved about in his Ford car, one of the few four-wheelers we saw in those days.

His son-in-law, Hubert de Sousa, described him as follows:

“To amass wealth in business requires a high degree of intelligence, shrewd business acumen and a tremendous capacity for hard work, and Mr. Saldanha had all these characteristics in abundant measure. He displayed his intelligence in his ability to handle finances without having had the knowledge of accounts and banking. His shrewdness was shown in his foresight in buying land and plots in Nairobi, which in a few years became gold mines of that fast-growing city as far as their location was concerned, and became worth many times the price he paid for them.

“Vitorino Saldanha’s hard work in the building up of his three business houses in Mombasa, Nairobi and Nakuru was shown in the long hours he spent in his shops and estates in putting up edifices that were modern in design and construction for that time and which were eventually sold for five times their original investment.

“He hardly had any education except in music at church school, where he learnt to play clarinet and reading music. Thus when he was in Ceylon he played the clarinet in an orchestra, mastered sufficient English to deal with the government and other officials in connection with his business and properties.

“Vitorino was very generous. He was the benefactor of Saligao Church, Saligao Institute as well as the Seminary of Saligao-Pilerne. At that time his contribution to the seminary was large. His portrait is displaced in the parlour of the seminary. He always had a ready helping hand for those who approached him. His life was calm, methodical, serene and always busy. His food and drinking habits were also good, hence he lived a long life of 87 years to see his sons and daughters well placed in life.”

Hubert de Sousa says: “Vitorino Saldanha was an excellent card player and excelled in that skill-cum-bluff game of Trook, which was widely played in Goa until a few years ago and which has now lost its attraction. He had a real poker face and it was extremely difficult to guess whether he was bluffing or was in earnest with the cards. In the end it was usual for his side to win.”

Source: http://saligaoserenade.com/2011/11/the-businessman-in-east-africa/


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I know I've told you, your family history is fascinating. Sounds like the Portuguese are your people too, considering the names.

Bridie Sellers said...

Perhaps - but the main reason I have heard is that the Portuguese settled parts of India and baptised whole villages into the Catholic faith with the same last name. So there are lots of Indians from these regions with the same Portuguese last name, even though they are native to India.

Ashley Saldanha said...

Saldanhas in Iowa...wonderful. Here's a fairly recent photo of Vittorino's house in Goa, where your paternal grandfather grew up. http://gfx101.com/pics/saligaohouse.jpg. Cheers from cousins in Maine!

Bridie Sellers said...

Ashley - so glad you "found" us! We are actually now in Nebraska, we just moved for my job this summer. Would love to stay in touch - bridie.sellers@yahoo.com