BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
The Department of Tourism is going gaga through social media about celebrating Sao Joao on June 24 on a helipad at Old Goa and not realising that they are a step away from robbing the feast of its old charm.
Sao Joao is a feast celebrated in Portugal and perhaps in many other countries but the celebration in Goa is unique.
Every year, on the feast day, villagers gather with ‘ghumots’ – a clay pot tied with animal skin on one end – and ‘kansallem’, two brass cymbals, and go around the village visiting houses where either a baby has been born or the new son-in-law visits.
The villagers are then offered a ‘dhali’ (tray of fresh fruits); a bottle of feni and “ban” – a donation to the chapel; and a ‘kopel’ – a crown of leaves and flowers. Singing along the way, the villagers march towards the village water hole (read well) where all jump, eat, drink and make merry until they go back to the village chapel to say the litany of Sao Joao.
History has it that the feast was celebrated by each ward of a village but as time passed, celebrations were held jointly. The celebrations normally started in the evening and winded up soon after sunset.
Celebrations have been changing with time and from village water holes, Sao Joao celebrations were held in ponds in villages and in the last few years have been celebrated in swimming pools of hotels. In some places like Campal, Panjim, inflatable pools are created.
Sao Joao has been a feast that has bound villagers. Like feasts of all religions, it is a time where all get together to pray together and enjoy together. It is a time to forget animosities.
Like Sao Joao, Carnival – though introduced by the Portuguese - was enjoyed best when celebrated in villages. The first Carnival float was organised by Vasco Alvares and Timoteo Fernandes.
Through time, the commercial caterpillar crawled through and when the tourism department was roped in the entire focus of Carnival veered towards tourists and for the financial gains of a few.
The Carnival of the old is now remembered by the elderly as the younger generation has been fed on a Carnival that has been totally commercialised, robbing the camaraderie of the past.
Unfortunately, Sao Joao seems to be going the same way and in a similar fashion. After years of celebrating Sao Joao in villages, the Department of Tourism has suddenly decided to step in and in its very first year has made its intent of commercializing the festival.
Sao Joao has never been celebrated in the morning and that too, on a helipad with bands, international DJs and what not from 10 am to 10 pm and streaks of commercialization appear to be seeping through.
What happens in Siolim is a far cry from what happens in some villages of Goa and the more away the villages from tourists, the more pristine the celebration.
A Sao Joao celebration in a village normally comprised people only from the place and that kept camaraderie intact. Then, people donated what they wanted instead of now people being told what they have to give and how much.
It was not a question of give and take but just give, give and give because celebration in the old days was not quantum but quality. We waited for feasts in the old days and did not wait to be called for feasts.
The Department of Tourism advertisement on social media indicates that Sao Joao celebrations are going to be held on a helipad from 10 am to 10 pm. It closes at 10 pm because the government department does not intend on breaking the noise pollution stipulation of the High Court.
Never before has the celebration of Sao Joao begun at 10 am. Siolim might have set the tone for the commercialisation of the festival but the Department of Tourism appears to be trying to redefine the celebrations and most probably do to the celebration what people in the past did to Carnival.
The Carnival of the past is gone and what remains are memories; pictures that show the beauty of the celebrations. The older generation can just dream of those days and the younger dream of what they missed.
The way the Department of Tourism is planning to host Sao Joao this year is scary because it is not meant to help locals enjoy their feast but a call to tourists to come and make merry and in the bargain, make a mess of our tradition.
The Department of Tourism has done it with Carnival and should not try to do the same with Sao Joao.