On the precipice of ruin: Consumption, sumptuary laws, and decadence in early modern portuguese India

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In the Indo-Portuguese context there is much that can be learned about the social order and mentalities through “sumptuary” discourses, and there is still much work to be done. Menezes’s 1715 polemic knowingly echoed the economic, social, and moral denunciations of Távora and Cota in the 1680s-which, in turn, were evocative of both the language and objectives of pragmáticas in Portugal. Where sumptuary discourses in India diverged significantly from the rhetoric in Portugal was in relation to religion. Vigilias, and to a lesser extent the use of palanquins and andoras, came under scrutiny because, aside from the exorbitant spending and unnecessary public displays of wealth, they were also perceived by Portuguese authorities as native and even specifically “Hindu” practices that had been misguidedly adopted by crown vassals. Their dubious nature was couched in economic and moral terms, further evidence of Portuguese decadence and dangerously conflating the parameters that divided Catholics and Hindus. Although upholding the social hierarchy among the Portuguese themselves was essential to preserving order, maintaining religious boundaries was even more crucial for assuring colonial authority. The failure to do so revealed the cracks in the colonial edifice-the very difficulties of governing such a far-flung empire-and the widening gap between mere imperial rhetoric and the reality in Portuguese India.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-384
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of World History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


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