Roman Catholic Brahmin

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Roman Catholic Brahmin
Roman Catholic Caste System in India.png
Total population
approx 95,000
Regions with significant populations
Goa 20,000
Mangalore 5,000
Rest of India 1,000
Konkani and Portuguese
Roman Catholic
Related ethnic groups
Other Hindu Brahmins

The Roman Catholic Brahmin, also referred to as Bamonn (Devanagari: बामण, Kannada: ಬಾಮಣು; IAST: Bāmaṇ; pronounced /baməɳ ~ bamɔɳ/) in Konkani, is a caste among the Goan[1][2][3] and Mangalorean Catholics,[4][5][6] of modern-day descendants of Konkani Brahmin, predominantly Goud Saraswat Brahmin converts to Roman Catholicism.


In Goa, the Brahmins were originally engaged in the priestly occupation, but had taken up various occupations like agriculture, trade, goldsmithy, etc.[7] The origins of this particular caste can be traced back to the Christianisation of the Velhas Conquistas (Portuguese: Old Conquests) that was undertaken by the Portuguese during the 16th and 17th centuries. It was during this period that the Jesuit, Franciscan and Dominican missionaries converted many Brahmins to Christianity.[8] The first mass conversions took place among the Brahmins of Divar, and the Kshatriyas of Carambolim.[9] In his Oriente conquistado a Jesu Christo pelos padres da Companhia de Jesus da Provincia de Goa (1710), Portuguese Jesuit priest, Fr. Francisco de Sousa gives an account of the mass conversions of Brahmins in Divar:[10]

All converts from Brahmin sub-castes such as the Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Padyes, Daivadnyas, etc., were lumped into the Christian caste of Bamonn.[11][12][13] Since the conversions of Brahmins of a particular area became instrumental in the conversions of members of other castes, such converts were highly valued and esteemed by the church and Portuguese authorities alike.[8] They were even allowed to wear the Yajnopavita (sacred thread) and other caste markings by special dispensation of Pope Gregory XV in 1623, on the condition that these were blessed by a Catholic priest.[14] Historian Charles Ralph Boxer observed:[15]

"The converted Brahmenes retained their pride of caste and race, and they very seldom intermarried with the Portuguese and never with their Indian social inferiors. Similarly, the lower castes who became Christians did not lose their ingrained respect for the Brahmenes, and they continued to venerate the latter as if they were still their 'twice-born' (dvija) and natural superiors."

The Bamonns in general, consider their caste system to be an Indian class form of social categorisation.[16] Since their concept is divorced from all the religious elements associated to it by their Hindu counterparts, they tend to justify their maintenance of caste as a form of social stratification similar to the Western class concept.[16] Traditionally, they are an endogamous group and have refrained from inter-marriage with Catholics of other castes.[16][17] However, while the Bamonns never inter-married or mingled with the low caste Sudirs (Konkani: Shudras), Mahars, and Chamars, the statutes and norms of the Roman Catholic church restrained them from discriminating against the latter.[18] Although most now carry Portuguese surnames, they have retained knowledge about their paik (ancestral pre-conversion surnames) such as Bhat, Kamat, Nayak, Pai, Prabhu, Shenoy, and Shet.[19][20] The konkanised variants of these surnames are Bhôtt, Kāmot, Nāik, Poi, Porbų (Probų), Šeņai, and Šet.[20][a] Mudartha is a unique surname to be found among some Bamonn families that hail from Udupi district in Karnataka.[21] Bamonns constitute the largest caste in the Mangalorean Catholic community.,.[4][4][5][6] Most Mangalorean Catholic Bamonn families trace their patrilineal descent to Goud Saraswat Brahmins, with a small minority to Daivadnya Brahmins.[22][4][5][6] There were a few historical instances in the Mangalorean Catholic community, wherein some Anglo-Indians were admitted into the Bamonn fold by Catholic priests.[23] Their descendants are known as Pulputhru Bamonns (Pulpit Bamonns).[23]

A 1976 genetic analysis study conducted on three groups of Saraswat Brahmins and one group of Goan Catholic Bamonns in Western India, confirmed the historical and ethnological evidence of a relationship between Goan Catholic Bamonns and Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins.[24] The study further revealed that intergroup differences between the subject groups suggested a genetic closeness, with genetic distance ranging from 0.8 to 1.5.[24]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In her poem entitled de Souza Prabhu, the Goan poet Eunice de Souza muses about her Bamonn heritage:[25]

"No, I'm not going to

delve deep down and discover,
I'm really de Souza Prabhu
even if Prabhu was no fool
and got the best of both worlds.
(Catholic Brahmin!
I can hear his fat chuckle still.)"

  • The main protagonist of Mangalorean writer Richard Crasta’s erotic novel The Revised Kamasutra, is Vijay Prabhu, a small town, middle class Bamonn youth living in Mangalore during the 1970s.[26] Filled with erotic longing and a deep desire to flee staunchly conservative Mangalore, he embarks on a sexual and spiritual odyssey that eventually lands him in the relatively liberal United States.
  • The protagonists of Konkani novelist, V.J.P. Saldanha’s novels such as Balthazar from the novel, Belthangaddicho Balthazar (Balthazar of Belthangadi), Sardar Simaon and Sardar Anthon from Devache Kurpen (By the Grace of God), Salu and Dumga Peenth from Sordarachim Sinol (The sign of the Knights) are Bamonns. A few characters such as Jaculo Pai and Monna Kamath from Sordarachim Sinol,[27] Sardar Simaon Pedru Prabhu, Sardar Anthon Paul Shet and Raphael Minguel Kamath from Devache Kurpen have evidently Brahmin surnames.[28]
  • Antonio Gomes' debut novel The Sting of Peppercorns (2010) focuses on the trials and tribulations faced by the de Albuquerques, a Bamonn family from Loutolim in Salcette. The family is headed by its patriarch Afonso de Albuquerque, a namesake of the conqueror of Goa to whom the family is linked through legend. Apart from him, it consists of his wife Dona Isabella, their two sons Paulo and Roberto, their daughter Amanda, an aunt Rosita noted for her cooking skills, ayah Carmina, and several servants who live on the de Albuquerque estate.[29]
  • Shakuntala Bharvani's novel Lost Directions (1996) features a minor Goan Bamonn character, Donna Bolvanta-Bragança. She is a fervent Catholic who takes pride in her Brahmin heritage, scornfully reprimanding the protagonist Sangeeta Chainani for mistaking her to be an Anglo-Indian.[30] When Chainani innocently inquires as to how she can call herself a Brahmin while adhering to Roman Catholicism, her inquiry is contemptuously dismissed by the character.[31]


a ^ In his A Konkani grammar published in Mangalore by the Basel Printing Press in 1882, Italian Jesuit and Konkani philologist Angelus Francis Xavier Maffei stated that Mangalorean Catholic Bamonn families then were still referred to by their paik surnames.[20] In the book, Maffei also gives a Konkani language grammar exercise:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France) & Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses 2001, p. 638
  2. ^ Risley & Crooke 1915, p. 80
  3. ^ Rao 1963, p. 45
  4. ^ a b c d Silva & Fuchs 1965, p. 6
  5. ^ a b c Prabhu 1999, p. XV
  6. ^ a b c Fernandes 1969, p. 246
  7. ^ Gomes 2004, p. 176
  8. ^ a b de Mendonça 2002, pp. 39–40
  9. ^ Gomes 1987, p. 64
  10. ^ Pinto 1999, p. 166
  11. ^ Gune & Goa, Daman and Diu (India). Gazetteer Dept 1979, p. 238
  12. ^ Gomes 1987, p. 77
  13. ^ Shashi 1996, p. 117
  14. ^ Manrique & Collis 1995, p. 47
  15. ^ Boxer 1969, p. 254
  16. ^ a b c Westin et al. 2010, pp. 227
  17. ^ Silva & Fuchs 1965, p. 15
  18. ^ Sinha 2002, p. 74
  19. ^ Pinto 1999, p. 168
  20. ^ a b c Maffei 1882, p. 217
  21. ^ D'Souza 2009
  22. ^ D'sa 1965, pp. 71–72
  23. ^ a b D'Souza 1996, p. 58
  24. ^ a b Bhatia et al.
  25. ^ Mehrotra 1992, p. 119
  26. ^ Crasta 1992, p. 12 (Stream of consciousness narration by the protagonist) "When I was born, many years later, there was the problem of naming me, a Christian descendant of Brahmins – and earlier of colonizing Aryans from South-eastern Europe."
  27. ^ D'Souza 2004, p. 64
  28. ^ D'Souza 2004, p. 52
  29. ^ Gomes
  30. ^ Bharvani 1996, p. 50 "She hissed aloud, 'I'm no Anglo! I'm Donna Bolvanta-Bragança and I'm a Catholic Brahmin from Goa. That infidel lick-spittle of the British, that toad, that nanoid Negritic Nirad Chaudhuri who calls Goans half-caste Meztizos, may his body and soul burn in hell-fire!'"
  31. ^ Bharvani 1996, p. 50 "'I studied at a Convent in Bombay,' said Sangeeta, in an attempt to calm the eyes pouring forth fire and brimstone, 'and I have the greatest respect for the Catholic community. I go to Church quite often – sometimes even to the Novenas at the Mahim Church on Wednesdays. But how is it, I don't quite understand, since you are a Catholic, can you still call yourself a Brahmin? I thought only we Hindus were plagued by this shameful caste system?'... Miss Bolvanta-Bragança wiggled a snake-like finger threateningly at her. 'Has somebody put you up to this, my girl? Has Belial been at it again? I'm a Brahmin Goan and I'm not here to listen to any of your nonsense, Miss whatever-your-name-is!'"


Further reading[edit]

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