Learning from Goa’s fests

Dr Jason Keith Fernandes said that Celina Almeida’s book ‘The flavour of a unique culture’ performs Goa
'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' has been written by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida
'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' has been written by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida PHOTO: Arti Das

On June 24, the day on which Sao Joao is celebrated in Goa, Fundacao Oriente, Panjim, released a book titled, Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida.

This book lists the feasts and festivals of Goa which are unique, peculiar to Goa and that bring all communities together. It notes 16 festivals, mainly Catholic feasts and also Hindu festivals like Chikal Kalo of Marcel, Anant Chaturdashi celebrated at Mhamai Kamat’s residence at Panjim, Shigmo at Surla-Tar which is a beacon of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony in Goa. And, not-so-known fests like—Kelleam (bananas) Fest, Handi Fest, both held at Curtorim; Tisreanchem (clams) Fest at Nerul or the Kot’tianchem Fest (Feast of coconut shells) at Pilerne and the last chapter is on the ladainhas of Goa.

WHAT’S IN THE BOOK

The book doesn’t merely give out information about when, where and how these fests are held, but also shares historic information behind these feasts, their connection to that particular place or community, their current status and how these fests bring people of all faiths together.

'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida was recently launched at Fundacao Oriente, Panjim
'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida was recently launched at Fundacao Oriente, Panjim Gomantak Times

Speaking about the book at the release function, researcher at the Centre for Research in Anthropology in ISCTE: University Institute of Lisbon, Dr Jason Keith Fernandes described it as a “performance,” as the performance is at the heart of the social activity and there are a number of performances of great value.

He said, “This book performs Goa; it maps out Goa in terms of places, regions, communities. This is critical because through such mapping, places are produced and persist. The moment we stop performing this Goa, stop writing about Goa, this Goa will be gone.”

He described Celina Almeida as an amateur ethnographer as she has captured the time 2022, when this harmonious Goa still exists even though it is under threat.

'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' has been written by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida
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He suggested that we need new tools to secure Goa from destruction, and this book is one such tool.

Dr Fernandes also gave some examples from the book, such as the Feasts of The Three Kings at Cuelim, where flags associated with kings and waved in a certain motion at each of the standing fallen megaliths, is similar to the practice at Siena, in Italy, during the procession at the Feast of Corpus Christi, where the flags are waved at an altar.

Another example from the book is that of people passing under the horses used for the three kings at the Feast of The Kings at Cuelim; this, is similar to the custom of passing under Duldul (a mule) during the Muharram procession.

He then mentioned the Handi Fest at Curtorim. A handi is a traditional dyke which is the main part of the khazan system of Goa. It involved a ritual of slaughtering of cockerel, and smearing the blood on the spot where this handi had to be built.

'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' has been written by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida
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Dr Fernandes mentioned that much before the Portuguese rule in Goa, there was a custom of human sacrifice, which was stopped during the Islamic rule in Goa, and instead, animals were sacrificed for the same. But, when Catholicism came in with Portuguese, this practice was stopped too, due to the Sacrifice on Calvary, and that’s the reason we find crosses in Goa, especially at the site of a manos (sluice gate).

PASSING THOUGHTS

He concluded by adding that this book should be translated into the Portuguese language. “It should be in Portuguese for a diverse audience, and above all, to assert that Portuguese is our language, a Goan language that is still alive and most importantly, it must be alive if we are to be alive.”

In her address, the author, Celina Almeida mentioned that she spent more than three years study these feasts and festivals. She attended almost all these fests, interviewed and interacted with locals to understand them better.

'Feasts and Fests of Goa—The flavour of a unique culture' has been written by Celina de Viera Velho e Almeida
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She pointed out that the indigenous community of Goa gave great importance to nature, and thus, we have festivals where water, soil, forests or even a tree are venerated. She explained that these festivals represent and respect all forms of life, which is the foundation of Indian culture.

She spoke about the Zagor festival, which speaks about syncretic traditions that revere both Hindu gods and Catholic saints.

Almeida also spoke about the Devchar (guardian spirit) and how she had heard stories of it residing on a tree, in a forest or on a sluice gate, etc. She said that all this hinted at preserving such places and our forests. She hoped that the Devchar really lived there as there is a need to save Goa from rampant ecological destruction.

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