The memory of a long forgotten battle, held more than four hundred years ago in far away India, was evoked in Saint Lawrence’s Church in the first weekend of the month, but hymns, prayers and the tender melody of a violin were heard instead of the guns of a bygone era.
Macau’s small Damanese community came once again together on February 2nd to celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Candelaria (known locally as “Nossa Senhora das Candeias”), the patroness of their hometown. Located 170 kilometers south of Mumbai, Daman was under Portuguese administration until the end of 1961, when it was incorporated in the Republic of India following a successful military intervention.
Now an Indian union territory and the smallest administrative division under New Deli‘s direct rule, Daman was a Portuguese colony for more than 450 years, after Constantino of Braganza – 7th Viceroy of Portuguese India – reconquered the then burgeoning town on the 2nd February 1559. One of the first decisions Braganza took as the new self-appointed ruler of Daman was to hold an outdoor Mass in the city center, a tradition that has been re-enacted every single year ever since: “I am 54 years old and as long as I can remember, a Mass was always held in the stairway of the Municipal Council building,” recalls Óscar Noruega, a prominent member of the local Damanese community. “Nowadays, Daman’s governor is a Hindu, but he realized how important this celebration was. He embraced it and he made sure it wouldn’t disappear. The feast of Our Lady was always seen as a cultural trait of the Portuguese community and this is one of the reasons why I think this acknowledgment is extremely important,” Mr Noruega remarks.
The reverence with which the Virgin is taken in Daman is visible throughout the small coastal territory in more than one way. Since 2012, the feast of Our Lady of Purification and “Nossa Senhora das Candeias” has become the centerpiece of a cultural and religious revival that has gained traction under the banner of Daman Day, a celebration of the unique way of life of the people born and raised in the former Portuguese colony. The festival – which includes concerts, gastronomic displays and traditional folk dance performances – was embraced not only by Catholics, but also by Muslim and Hindu faithfuls alike: “There’s a statue of the Virgin in one of the main gates of the Fortress of Nani Daman. On the 2nd of February there are candles everywhere, not only in the square where the outdoor Mass is held, in front of the Municipal Council building, but also on the Fortress and in most of the private abodes,” explains José Colaço, the doyen of the Damanese community in Macau. “There’s an interesting aspect about this celebration. It’s no longer exclusively a Catholic feast. It’s also celebrated with an increasing sense of respect by the Muslim and Hindu communities that consider Daman their home,” Mr Colaço – a Macau resident since 1965 – adds.
The Daman Day celebration gained a particular momentum since 2012 when the organizers of the festival teamed up with the Daman Municipal Council to celebrate the event jointly, reinforcing the acceptance the municipal authorities of the former Portuguese colony had already shown towards the traditions of the local Catholic community. The Council had already been sponsoring the traditional annual Mass commemorating the feast of Our Lady of Purification and “Nossa Senhora das Candeias,” held every February 2nd at the Daman Municipal Council Square.
The event starts with a high Mass in honor of the patroness of the city, followed by a cultural program that usually showcases Damanese folklore and dance performances conducted by local artists and musicians and a theater play in Portuguese, a language that is still spoken by about 12,000 people in Daman.
A byproduct of a long lasting reverence, the feast of the Virgin of Candelaria came also to be, in Daman and elsewhere, the perfect excuse to invite the community to the table. Bebinca, sorpotel, vindaloo and other indo-portuguese delicacies are as much a part of the celebration as the religious ceremony itself.
The high esteem with which the city residents hold the Virgin of Candelaria is not restricted to the beginning of February and not confined to the small Indian territory. Wherever there is a Damanese, Mr Colaço assures, there’s also a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary: “In Daman there’s always a candle burning in front of the image of Our Lady and we see the same kind of fondness, the same kind of affinity elsewhere in the world. Among the Damanese, there’s still a strong connection both to the Catholic religion and to Portugal,” the doyen of Macau’s Damanese community asserts.
In Macau, the feast of the Virgin of Candelaria was first celebrated in 1990, one year after Óscar Noruega arrived to the then Portuguese enclave. Thirty years on, faith is still the key driver of the celebration, but the festivity has become an excellent opportunity to display the vitality of a small, but heartful community: “The feast of Our Lady helps us to consolidate our sense of communion and our sense of belonging. The number of Damanese in Macau is not very substantial. We are talking about six to eight families,” explains Mr Noruega. “This celebration is no longer only about ourselves, about all those that have their roots in Daman. It has become an important feast for other communities. We don’t need to notify or invite many of our Macanese friends because they will show up by themselves. Nossa Senhora das Candeias has already won their hearts and minds,” Óscar Noruega, an enthusiastic amateur musician, says.