His heart really will go on. Apologies to whoever wrote the saccharine lyrics to the Titanic hit song by Celine Dion. But I am referring here to an actual heart, the embalmed heart of Dom Pedro I (1798-1834), nicknamed “the Liberator”, the first Emperor of Brazil.

September 7 marked the bicentenary of Brazil’s Declaration of Independence from Portugal, or more precisely the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves.

To mark the occasion, the former emperor’s heart was flown from Portugal to Brazil and received a ceremonial welcome usually accorded to a visiting head of state.

Brazil’s colonial history is inexorably tied to Goa’s, as Ernestine Carreira’s exhaustively-researched (and thankfully translated into English) book Globalising Goa (1660-1820): Change and Exchange in a former Capital of Empire underscores.

To quote one instance, emphasising “Goa’s place in the vast trading chain across the Portuguese empire”:

“Since the 1660s, the government of Lisbon had allowed vessels from the Carreira da Índia on their annual voyage to India to call in at Salvador de Bahia [Brazil’s capital then]. It even set up a customs-house there in the 1730s, with plentiful supplies of pepper from the Malabar coast, [later to become one of the essential ingredients in local cuisine and called pimento do reino] and cotton textiles needed to clothe a constantly rising population and also as trading currency in African slave markets.”

Spices and cotton textiles as “trading currency” for slaves. I baulked the first time I read about it, but it comes up repeatedly.

Also: “We can suppose that the development of exchange with Brazil brought in large amounts of piasters and precious or semi-precious stones, which would also explain the boom in the jewellery business in Goa after the 1780s.”

With the independence of Brazil in 1822, the repercussions of the “loss of the consumer markets across the Atlantic” (soon followed by those from East Africa, which were absorbed into Brazilian economic activity from the 1820s onwards) altered for better or worse the fortunes of those across “the vast trading chain of the Portuguese empire”.

It “broke up the circulation of monetary flows”, reducing Goa to “a modest Asian suburb, a marginal figure within the globalised banking network which was as anachronistic in monetary terms as were its former dependencies Mozambique and Macau.”

“Goa’s monetary destiny was always linked to the fortunes of the sea and the incoming supplies of metal. After 1822, links with East Africa became less frequent”, and there was complete severance of links with Brazil by 1826.

Anyway, back to Emperor Pedro and his embalmed heart. Many historians are sceptical about the ceremonial fuss over it, as it seemed like the exploitation of a historical relic and an appeal to nationalism by incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. The Brazilian president is campaigning for re-election and the first round of voting for the general elections was held on October 2.

“This is …..a farce by Bolsonaro, welcoming this heart like a visiting dignitary. We should ask ourselves what kind of way this is to think about history – a dead history stuck in time, like the stopped organ of a deceased emperor,” said historian Lilia Moritz Scwarcz to The Guardian.

The heart of Portuguese monarch Dom Pedro I on display at the Itamaraty Palace on August 24, in Brasilia, Brazil. Credit: Reuters

Schwarcz has written several books on Brazil’s history, its independence era and Pedro I.

I found an English translation of one of her books, Brazil: A Biography. The chapter “The Father leaves, the Son remains” deals with a convoluted period due to a succession crisis in the history of Portugal and its largest overseas colony Brazil. The father was Dom João IV and the son, Pedro (who would become Pedro I of Brazil and IV of Portugal). As the chapter title suggests, the father left for Lisbon while the son remained in Brazil.

But by 1821, matters had come to a head. As Schwarcz analyses in her book: “If he [Pedro] left, Brazil would declare independence; if he stayed, it would remain united, but would no longer accept orders from the Portuguese Courts.”

The clamour for independence only grew. When the Cortes, or Portuguese Courts, dissolved the central government in Rio de Janeiro and ordered Pedro’s return, he was presented with a petition containing 8,000 signatures that begged him not to leave. He acquiesced, “Since it is for the good of all and the general happiness of the Nation, I am willing. Tell the people that I am staying.”

When Pedro got word on September 7, 1822, that the Cortes would not accept self-governance in Brazil and would punish those who defied its orders, he is famously said to have mounted his bay mare and uttered dramatically before those assembled, “Friends, the Portuguese Cortes wished to enslave and persecute us. As of today our bonds are ended. By my blood, by my honour, by my God, I swear to bring about the independence of Brazil. Brazilians, let our watchword from this day forth be ‘Independence or Death’!” The date is celebrated by Brazil for this reason.

Dom Pedro I of Brazil. Credit: National Library of Portugal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I happened to tune in recently to BBC Radio3, devoted to classical music, and was surprised to hear Portuguese (in the unmistakably nasal Brazilian accent) being sung to a marching tune played by a wind band. It turned out to be Hino da Independência, an Independence anthem, not to be confused with Brazil’s national anthem. It is a Brazilian official patriotic song commemorating the country’s declaration of independence from Portugal and was composed in 1822 by Emperor Pedro himself, with lyrics by poet Evaristo da Veiga.

The radio station had prepared a programme celebrating Brazil’s bicentenary, and the rest of the segment was devoted to more popular Brazilian music.


The presenter Sean Rafferty (who incidentally visited Goa some years ago) wryly commented that the only other composer-monarch (at least in European history) was England’s Henry VIII, who evidently found the time to write songs and instrumental pieces when he was not marrying, divorcing or beheading his six wives.

To add insult to injury, one of his song lyrics goes: “I do no wrong; I love true where I did marry.”

Pedro’s anthem has ten verses (of which only four are usually sung) with a chorus between each verse and an eight-bar introduction preceding each verse. The music is catchy, jaunty and stirring, in short everything you’d want in an anthem.

The poet must have exhausted most of the Portuguese words that rhyme with “Brazil” in the lyrics. One verse (usually left out) even has “viril” (virile) referring to Pedro, and perhaps apt, given his reputation as “incorrigible womaniser”.

Pedro’s express request was that upon his death his heart be removed and preserved in Portugal (where it found a home in the Church of Our Lady of Lapa, Porto), while the rest of his body would remain in Brazil (where it is interred with his two wives at the Monument to the Independence of Brazil in São Paulo).

The tomb of emperor Dom Pedro and his wives Dona Leopoldina e Dona Amelia. Credit: Zé Carlos Barretta from São Paulo, Brasil, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Pedro was an ardent champion for the abolition of slavery, terming it not only “an evil, and an attack against the rights and dignity of the human species” but “a cancer that devours the morality” of any nation. The line in Pedro’s anthem, banishing “temor servil” (another rhyme with “Brazil”), driving away fear of slavery was “heart”-felt and no empty platitude.

Luis Dias is a a physician, musician, photographer and writer who lives in Goa. He is the founder of Child’s Play India Foundation, a music charity that aims to impart teaching the playing of orchestral instruments to disadvantaged children.

This is a lightly edited version of an article that first appeared in The Navhind Times, Goa. It has been reproduced with the permission of the writer.