Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 2
The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 2
By Domnic Fernandes
Generally, human nature is “bodmas” (ungrateful). We usually tend to forget the good done to us by fellow humans. The Mhar community has done a lot for which we should be grateful.
Here are some of their services without which life in those days would be difficult.
Today, we have stainless steel strainers to strain rice but in the days of yore almost everyone strained rice with the help of a “kurponn” (a round bamboo-woven plate used to support the buddkulo while straining rice water.)
Once the rice was cooked, the xitacho buddkulo (rice pot) was tilted and “nis” (rice water) removed. A kurponn was placed on a “mandd” (a round flat wooden lid with a small handle) and then both these were placed on the opening of the buddkulo with the kurponn on the inside.
The buddkulo was then tilted and placed in a slanting position on a “konnfo” (a 4-legged rectangular wooden stand), thus enabling the remaining nis to fall into a poop-shaped earthen container, also known as konnfo; sometimes a small kodem (earthen basin) was also used to catch the falling nis.
Do you remember the good old saying “Tempa pormonnem mathear kurponnem?” (Keeping pace with the times?) The last word is derived from the word “kurponn”, which was available in different sizes.
Were these not intelligent people? I thank the Mhar community for giving us the kurponn to strain rice.
Today, we sleep on a single, double, king and queen size beds and use soft/hard mattresses and also use different size quilts. In the past, most Goans, except, of course, most bhattkars, slept on a cow dung floor on a ‘dali’ (bamboo-woven mat), which was fabricated by none other than our Mhar community.
Just like a mattress, a dali came in different sizes – single, double, large and extra large. People mostly slept on it directly but some spread a cloth sheet to minimize the discomfort from its roughness.
When we woke up in the morning, a dali was rolled up and kept in a corner of the house. If several “dalieo” (mats) were used, they were placed on each other and bundled up into a roll; a “sumbacho kuddko” (piece of coir rope) was tied in the middle of the roll to prevent the “dalieo” from unwrapping.
Whenever a big occasion like a bhikareanchem jevonn or a wedding took place, the randpinni (female cooks) made use of a dali.
Rice was cooked in an anddo or caldron and it was emptied with the help of a large brass ladle which had holes. With every scoop, rice got strained. Strained rice was emptied on a dobrad-dali (bamboo-mat meant for two people) until a heap was formed. Per tradition, the randpinni then planted a crucifix on the peak of the rice heap.
According to a Goan custom, prior to a newly wedded couple’s entrance in the groom’s/bride’s house, a dali is spread out below the orator or altar in the home and it is covered with a bed sheet and two cushions are placed on it.
“Novreachi maim” (groom’s mother) leads the couple straight to the dali and makes them kneel on cushions. The village mestir then sings the ‘Tedeum Laudamus’ accompanied by the band. This formality is called “vor bhitor kaddop” (bride & groom’s entrance in the new house.)
In the olden days, people celebrated their honeymoons at home on a dali. If in the feat of excitement, the couple forgot to place a cloth sheet on the dali, after the honeymoon was over, with profuse sweating, the groom felt a burning sensation on his knees.
The next day, when people noticed bruises on his knees, they couldn’t resist asking him: “Kitem re Pedru, rati dimbieo zorovn kam’ korchem poddlem?” (What Pedru, did you have to work hard on your knees last night?) The word ‘honeymoon’ was hardly heard of then. It’s not only common now but the honeymoon itself has become very cheap.
When a person dies, his/her body is now kept on a table. In the past, a dead person’s body was placed on the floor on a dali in the entrance of a house.
Spreading out of a dali is called “dali antrunk.” There is an old Konkani saying: “Anturna pormonnem paem soddche” (stretch yourself according to [the size of] bedding.) In the past, the main bedding was a dali, hence, it was applicable to dali.
Dalieo used on a daily basis were washed with soap and water every 3-4 months and dried in the sun, except during the monsoon season.
Don’t you think we should be grateful to the Mhar community for providing us a mat to sleep on?
Since most Goans cultivated paddy fields, each household had a “soviem” (extra large bamboo-woven mat), which was used in the fields at “movnni” (thrashing of paddy by feet) during harvest time.
The soviem was used to dry harvested paddy before it was stored in a barn. It was also used to dry boiled paddy.
When harvesting and drying of paddy was over, the soviem was rolled up and an “addem” (thick, whole bamboo stick) was placed inside the roll. Sonn’nnam (coconut husks) were placed/pressed at both ends in order to seal the ends to avoid rats entering into its inner cavity.
The ends of “addem” as well as middle portion of the soviem were then tied to the rafters with “sumb” where it remained safe until the next harvest season.
An Addem was used at a movnni. Two “kelkeacheo khunttieo” (wooden poles with ‘V’-shaped tops) were planted on each side of the soviem in the field and an addem was placed in ‘V’-shaped gaps. “Movpi” (Thrashers) stood on the soviem opposite each other, placed their hands on the addem and then began to thrash a bundle of paddy sheaves under their feet.
In the past, most weddings took place at home. People mostly prepared a “mattov” (wedding pavilion usually made of bamboo and covered with coconut palm leaves.) The area inside the mattov was watered and then beaten with a “pettnnem/bato” (pounder) and converted into a dancing place. It was then covered with a “soviem-ator” (bamboo mat) to prevent dust rising from the floor.
Whenever a mattov was big, one soviem-ator would not fit its length and breadth. So, they would borrow additional soviim-ator from neighbors and join them together.
Of course, the Mhar community members were summoned to do the joining job and they did it so thoroughly that it was difficult to locate the seams.
People who had a large hall at home used it as a dancing hall for weddings. One or more soviem-ator would be joined and placed on the cow-dung floor.
Bits of wax were strewn on soviem-ator so as to make its surface smooth. It was delightful to dance on a waxed soviem. It was also fun for children to see women with pointed high heel shoes sometimes trip or get trapped in torn portions of a soviem.
Whenever there was a wedding or an occasion in a family, people used a soviem as bedding. They spread it in a hall so that as many as a dozen or more people could sleep on it.
Whenever a wedding takes place in a Goan village, everyone looks forward to the happy occasion, but none more than those classified as poor.
A couple of days before the wedding, preferably on a Tuesday, these otherwise unfortunate folk are treated to a lavish feast known as “bhikareanchem jevonn” (beggars’ lunch.)
A bhikareanchem jevonn is a sumptuous lunch given by the soon-to-be bride or groom at their respective homes where friends, family and neighbors are invited to partake in the traditional meal. It involves almost the entire ward of the village.
A bhikareanchem jevonn is also offered a couple of days before a newly ordained priest celebrates his First Mass. After all, that is one of the Seven Sacraments of Catholicism.
A soviem-ator played a vital role at a bhikareanchem jevonn. The special guests sat on a large soviem-ator placed on a “jevnnanchem angonn” (luncheon floor) either cross-legged or with legs tucked behind. But today, people grumble about knee and back problems unlike our elders who were very energetic even in their old age.
With a set menu of almost seven dishes – “ukdde tandull” (brown rice), “sukim sungttam ani suke ambeache padd’dde ghalun bazlelea sambarachi tik koddi” (fried massala curry of heavily spiced aromatic concoction that is often quite pungeant with dried prawns), “kallea chonneancho melgor” (vegetable dish of black grams), “dudieacho melgor” (vegetable dish of pumpkin), “tenddlieancho melgor” (vegetable dish of gerkin,) “bazlelem nistem” (fried fish) and pickles to go with it, and, finally, a sweet local dish called “on’n” - a dessert served since time immemorial, cooked in a traditional manner. Additionally, one slice of mango/one or two pieces of jackfruit grain can be placed on the potravolli.
All these are placed on a soviem-ator. The randpinni (female cooks) are the chefs for the day.
The food served during this ritual is eaten on a potravolli (plate made of jackfruit leaves woven together with “vir” or sticks from coconut tree leaves), which is placed before each one of the guests.
Though as per the tradition, the people invited used to sit on the floor and enjoy the meal served to them, the practice has now changed to self-serve buffets with guests sitting on chairs with potravolleo under their plates.
In the past, “bankinam” (small wooden stools) or “sonn’nnam” (coconut husks) were kept on the border of a soviem-ator for use of those who could not squat on the floor.
Guests are first served bread and banana on the potravolli and then the meal with water mango pickle.
Traditionally, food was served with kott’tteche dovle, which are ladles made out of coconut shells and bamboo sticks, and “on’n” was served in a clean-shaved “kotti” (coconut shell) instead of bowls.
The presiding bride or groom ladles out the food onto these potravolleo as many times as required, and finally “on’n” is served. For the bhikareanchem jevonn besides on’n, “soji” was also served.
Generally, the ‘beggars’ are selected carefully to correspond in sex and age to recently departed members of the family and the respective times of their death. Thus, through the ‘beggars’ at the lunch, the departed forebears of the family make their presence felt.
For the beggars’ lunch, seven or nine persons (always an odd number) are invited from among the poor of the village, although there are as such no objective criteria to determine who can be classified as poor, but the Mhars were certainly considered as one of the poor from the village.
The bhikareanchem jevonn has special significance among Christians and the intention behind the ceremony is to remember and pray for the dead ancestors of the family.
Hardly anybody believes in such a “bhikareanchem jevonn” these days. However, whenever something goes wrong with a marriage, people start gossiping thus: “Zannaim mungo Ispu, tea Girgolache cheddeak ani sunek bilkul poddonam; hanvem aikolam tim doxim zavpak asat mhunnon. Boro ugddas ailo; tanchea kazarak bhikareanchem jevonn ghalunk naslem; dekunuch mista hem sogllem ghoddta!” (Do you know Espy, that Gregory’s son and daughter-in-law do not get along well; I heard they are about to get separated. That reminds me; they didn’t offer a luncheon for the beggars before their wedding; maybe that’s why all these things are happening.)
Bhikareanchem jevonn and “meleleanchem jevonn” (luncheon for the dead) is the same kind of lunch with the exception that meleleanchem jevonn is offered on the death anniversary of a family member while bhikareanchem jevonn is a meal given before a wedding dedicated to the souls of departed family members to bless the bridal couple in their married life. The Mhars were also invited for the latter jevonn.
The Mhar community members prepared the priceless soviem-ator. They were considered poorest of the poor. Hence, they were ironically invited for a bhikareanchem jevonn and made to sit and eat on a soviem-ator that was crafted by them.
In the days of yore, most Goans were self sufficient – they produced most everything needed for a home – rice, onions, chilies, vegetables, coconuts, etc. After making provision for their homes, they sold their home produce in the market.
In order to carry their produce to the market, they needed “panttleo” (baskets) which were again fabricated by our Mhar community.
A “pantli” (basket) had multi-purpose uses. People used it to carry their produce to the market and to bring home products from the market; to drain boiled paddy and to carry it to put it to dry; to transport dry leaves, to carry “khobrem” (dry coconut) to a “ghanno” (mill,) etc.
In the olden days we did not use chemical fertilizers; we used natural fertilizers. Since people cooked food and heated water by burning firewood, dry leaves, every house produced plenty of ash, which was removed from a “chul” (fireplace) and shifted to a “gobri” (ash dumping place.) It was then transported to the paddy fields and other properties in panttleo just like other organic manure. For e.g. “xennamchi gobri” (cow dung powder), “bokddecheo lennddieo” (goat droppings), surplus dried fish cut into pieces, etc.
People also used a panttli to carry salt from an “agor” (salt pan) to their home(s.)
In the past, a “mittkarn” (female dealer in salt) collected salt from an agor in a large panttli, carried it on her head and went around selling it by calling out loudly: “Mitt zai ghe?” (Do you want salt?) She always called out ‘ghe’ – the female head of the family and not ‘gha’ – the male head of the family.
Men/women walked to saltpans with empty panttleo, which they placed on their bhendd (waist) and held them tight with an arm inside the panttli. Some simply placed them on their head and balanced them. They bought salt from the saltpan and walked back home with loaded panttleo on their heads.
Most people used a “dovornem” (large stone stand used to place head load.) These dovornim were specifically designed to assist in loading the panntli on one’s head without anybody’s assistance.
“Rampnnichem nistem” (Fish caught in a net) was collected in panttleo and transported from the shore to a “tintto” (commercial market place in a village).
A panttli was also used for “rov kaddunk” (to sprout paddy). Dry hay was placed at the bottom of a panttli and over that fresh mango tree leaves were spread. “Bhatachem bim” (Paddy seeds) were then filled almost to the brim of a panttli and over that again fresh mango tree leaves and dry hay was spread.
The process usually began in the evening. The contents of a panttli were sprinkled with “udkacho xinvor” (water shower) and then panttleo were placed upon each other. Water sprinkling was done thrice a day – in the morning, afternoon, and at night. On the third morning, rov was taken to a field in panttleo and sown.
“Torvo” (rice saplings) was also carried from one field to the other in panttleo.
So you see, even the agriculturist depended on our Mhar community’s creation – ‘panttli’ – to sow his paddy fields!
As mentioned earlier, families in the past were self-sufficient. They cultivated fields and stored enough rice in paddy barns for a year. As far as chillies, onions and vegetables were concerned, every November “tim porsum laitalint” (they would go for an orchard plantation.)
When porsum (orchard) was ready with a “paro” (rough wall) all around, Gaumvaddy women would place empty panttleo on their bhendd and walk to Chinvar ward to buy “mirsangacheo rompieo (young chili plants), “ul” (onion saplings), etc.
Once the plucking of saplings was over, they placed the saplings in a panttli and carried them home. Before retiring to bed, they sprinkled water on the saplings. Early next morning they transported them to the orchard in panttleo and planted them.
Here again, our Mhar community had a helping hand in everyone’s life.
To be continued …………….
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