In this little village of South Goa, people gather every year to preserve a centuries-old tradition – one that instills faith and a sense of togetherness.
Following the nine days of novenas, today, Goans celebrate the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus). Devotees flock to churches to offer prayers and seek the blessings of Our Lady, and many churches as well as smaller shrines along the streets, are decked up with flowers and lights for the occasion.
The parishioners of Mae de Deus Church, at Majorda, celebrate this feast with a Eucharistic celebration no different to that practiced across Goa. However, a specific tradition that’s characteristic to the parish are boats that are uniquely made of palm leaves.
LEGEND HAS IT…
In the olden days, for the ten-day celebration, villagers from Majorda would bring flowers from their gardens or fields with a beautifully decorated basket made of palm leaves, called banjetio. Back then, many hailing from Majorda belonged to the seafarer community.
On one occasion, tragedy struck as a boat got caught in a very bad storm. While panic and anxiety filled the air, those onboard feared that they would go down along with the boat. At that moment, they called to Mother Mary to save them. They vowed to take the flowers for the feast on a boat, instead of the banjetio, if they reached land safely. They survived, and kept their promise.
From then on, on the feast day, flowers are brought inside the church right up to the main altar on boats decorated with palm leaves. After the high mass and offering of flowers, which was usually done in the morning, villagers take their boats to their respective wards, burning crackers all along the way.
REVIVING THE TRADITION
Today, the oldest person from the village who has been decorating these boats, is in his late 80’s and in fact, learnt the art from his dad. So, this tradition that dates back to more than a century, has been followed for a long time.
But, for reasons such as leaving Goa for better prospects, old age of the boat-makers/decorators, financial constraints etc, the tradition was discontinued.
Some years ago, an attempt was made to revive this tradition by a village club, called 'Active Youth Association'. And, for the past ten years, the villagers have managed to carry on this one-of-a-kind tradition without a break, except for the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The villagers put in long hours of work to make these boats. Prior to the feast day, they gather every evening to weave palm leaves for the boats, which are then decorated with some flowers and lights.
They believe that, back in the day, these boats were decorated with palm leaves as it was a material that was readily and locally available. Today, they've strictly continued the use of palm leaves, as they are environment friendly, too.
Earlier, there were only two boats from Majorda and Calata, however in recent years, people from Dongorim de Majorda also build one.
In the past, there was also a kind of competition between the villagers of Majorda and Calata, but presently there is no competition. All the participants come together as one community, sharing their ideas, displaying team spirit and making an effort to continue this good old tradition that prevails uniquely at the Majorda Parish.
The boats today, are all displayed in front of the church on the feast day, and the flowers that are bought, are offered at the beginning of the mass where devotees walk in a procession and place them at the feet of the statue of Our Lady.
Like the palm boats at Majorda, there are many unique traditions that are safeguarded in the distant villages of Goa. Traditions that root people to a heritage and a culture of the bygone days and also somehow help to strengthen their faith.