Tracing Goan roots via DNA, ancient records

Updated: May 03, 2011, 13:26 PM IST

Panaji: Where did the ancestors of today`s Goans come from? Which routes did they take to arrive at this tourist paradise? A new book authored by a Switzerland-based Goan scientist answers these intriguing questions while searching for the roots of people from here.

Titled "The Last Prabhu" and published by Goa,1556, the book is authored by 65-year-old Bernardo Elvino de Sousa who traces his roots to the village of Aldona in Goa along coastal western India.

Sousa, who has worked as a scientist for three-and-a-half decades in the chemical industry, says today it is easy to carry out DNA tests for haplogroups, which indicate one`s ancestral migration routes, starting as long back as 60,000 years ago.

Common ancestors going back eight or more centuries can also be identified.

Sousa writes: " origin can be traced an African, the common male ancestor of the world`s population whose descendants started migrating from northeast Africa, in the region of the Rift Valley, perhaps in present-day Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania, some 60,000 years ago."

He also looks at the DNA tests of half-a-dozen other Goans, whose results are available, and what this could mean.

"The first inhabitants of western India were those of haplogroup C, the seafaring coastal people who undertook the first migration out of Africa. With its accessible coastline, Goa would certainly be an optimal candidate for them to settle," he was quoted as saying in a press note.

He says whether the Mhars, traditional basket weavers, or the Kharwis (fishing populations) better fit the description of seafarers and were therefore the first inhabitants of Goa could be resolved by determining the haplogroups of these communities.

He traces the entry of the influential Saraswat Brahmins into Goa, and narrates how DNA testing helped him locate a relative, Errol Pinto, from the same clan from Aldona village but who had migrated to the southern coastal city of Mangalore, today in Karnataka, generations ago.

Sousa traces the ancestral names of some families in Aldona village in Goa, and relies on 17th century "comunidade" meeting records to find out pre-conversion names of families now turned Catholic.

"Comunidades" is the term the Portuguese gave to the traditional `gaunkari` system which ran agriculture on communal lines even before the 15th century, here as in some other parts of India.

"The Last Prabhu" suggests the religious conversion process might have also been strategic. Following the advent of Portuguese rule in Goa in 1510, changes in religion, a contentious subject, occurred here in subsequent centuries.

Sousa writes: "Some families chose a Solomonic path - half the family converted and the other half migrated to (what today is) Karnataka or other more welcoming destinations."

Other surprises emerge in this book.

"Brahmins all over India belong to quite different haplogroups and share these haplogroups with other varnas (castes) and in a lesser frequency with tribal populations," writes Sousa, who has studied at St Xavier`s College in Mumbai and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

"We can unambiguously conclude that there is no genetic basis whatsoever for the caste system in India and its origins must be attributed to other historical factors or possibly even just to happenstance," he says.