The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 3
By Domnic Fernandes
Not too long ago fish vendors, especially “nistekarni” (fisherwomen), were a common sight in Goa, but not anymore.
Fisherwomen bought fish from “ramponnkar” (fishermen who catch fish by casting a net – now it is caught in mechanized trawlers) and transported it in panttleo to the village tintto on foot.
Some went around visiting every household with a panttli on their head calling out loudly: “Nistem zai ghe?” (Do you want fish?) Now men bring fish on motorcycles and use the “puku-puku” horn to notify customers that they have brought fish.
Just yesterday, I witnessed a new method of selling fish in villages. A man now comes in a second-hand Maruti 800 car with his lady partner sitting next to him on the front passenger seat. The rear seats have been removed to accommodate plastic containers with fish. He uses the same “puku-puku” horn from the driver’s window to attract and invite customers’ attention.
Since the sale of fish from automobiles is a new method, most people don’t know about it. So he stops his car approximately every 100 meters, exits the vehicle and sounds the horn. He then opens the back door of his car and displays fish. His fish is a little more expensive than the motorcycle fish-seller; obviously his car consumes more petrol!
If there were no panttleo to carry fish, what would have happened to our fish requirement then?
Of course, basket weaving by other communities continues and fisher folks still use nisteacheo panttleo, but keep in mind, in those days, there were no migrants in Goa to do the basket weaving job!
All those born prior to the Eighties surely remember the Goan "poder" (baker), who was also known as a "mest" (chef.)
Every morning, he dutifully carried on his head a “poderachem pannttem” (large bamboo-woven basket) filled with crispy, aromatic, traditionally leavened, “khornan-bazlele” (oven-baked) Goan “pão” (bread), “katreanche pão” (bread with four corners – do you remember “katreanche vistid” (girls’ dresses with a side or back cut?), kunddeachi poyi (bran bread) and children’s most favorite “unddeachim kanknnam” (bread-bangles).
He visited each house barefoot. For his support, he carried his trademark in his right hand - the poderacho danddo. He also made a second round in the afternoon.
Every morning "lok dollean tel ghalun poderachi vatt polletalo" (people anxiously waited for the baker) to arrive with hot-hot bread, etc. which they consumed immediately before they lost their warmth and aroma!
The Fifties and the early part of the Sixties were the era of the bicycle. The poder was tired of walking. So, he grabbed the opportunity and bought a bicycle for himself.
He fitted a large steel carrier over the rear wheel of the bicycle and fixed a poderachem panttem on it. He was fortunate then because he could still reach each house on his bicycle through “paim-vatt ani bidi” (foothpath and path with rubble-fence) on either side, as most compound walls separating properties came into existence from the Seventies onwards.
During summer and winter, he covered the bread in the panttem with a thick cloth. But during monsoon season he closed the top of the panttem with a plastic cloth, which was held tight around the basket with an old bicycle rubber tube.
I say hats off to the Mhar community for coming up with a specific basket to carry and serve bread to the Goan community!
Today, we may not get the old traditional toddy-leavened bread but the trend to carry bread in a poderachem panttem on a bicycle continues.
The Mhar community also made a special, extra large “narlanchem panttem” (coconut basket) to carry coconuts. These were made using the external epidermis (green) of bamboos, i.e., they did not shave off the skin, which for all other weaving purposes was pealed and thrown away.
In order to strengthen these baskets, they were made of thicker layers of bamboo and the top edge was woven in a twisted manner – it gave a good grip, especially while lifting the panttem up with loaded coconuts. Unlike a standard panttli, the weaving of a narlanchem pannttem all around and even at the bottom was spaced out with little windows.
In the olden days, bhattkars chose one of their trusted munddkars (tenants) as a “mukdom” (in-charge/supervisor) of their properties. He was responsible to look after their properties, hire coconut pluckers, pluck coconuts and then store them in a “loz” (derived from the Portuguese word ‘loja’ meaning shop - coconut storage,) which was usually built in a mukdom’s plot. If there were no such narlanchim pannttim, how would a mukdom carry thousands of coconuts to the “loz?
The bhattkars may have despised the Mhar community but they are the ones who helped store their coconuts in the loz!
A panttulo is a small basket. It, too, was a multi-purpose item. All builders, including our Kunnbi brothers, used panttule to fill and carry mud and other material. Panttule were used extensively for road construction work.
Mud, sand, gravel, etc. were filled in trucks with the help of panttule. Even when wells were cleaned, the dirt was filled in panttule and brought up with the help of a “razu” (coir rope) via a pulley. “Potreacheo/plastikacheo/roboracheo kaili” (corrugated metal/plastic/rubber pans) arrived at a much later date - sometime in the Seventies.
A ghaddekar always carried and still carries a panttulo with him to fill his ghaddo with “mitt, mati, xenkaro, renv, bhat, adi” (salt, mud, gravel, sand, paddy, etc.) A panttulo is a measure for the ghaddekar to fill his ghaddo.
At home, a panttulo was used to store “kande, bottatte, tamottam, alem, losunn, torkari, adi” (onions, potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, vegetables, etc.)
In the past, many parents sent their children early in the morning to neighbor’s “gotto” (stable) with a panttulo to collect xenn for application on cow-dung floor.
Those who tried to steal dung from stables got hind-kicked by cows/oxen, suffered injuries and also lost the panttulo in their struggle to run away from the cattle - it got crashed under cattle’s feet!
DEVACHE MATHECHO PANTTULO
Every year, the novenas of Mount Mary began on Sunday, August 30; the feast took place on September 8. We just celebrated the feast on last Tuesday!
During our childhood, these were the best novenas besides “Salvi”, which preceded “Advogad Saibinnimchem fest” (Our Lady of Advocate feast) in Anjuna, when few children were selected to dress as “anj” (angels). Unlike Salvi, at Mount Mary’s novenas, all the children got a chance to participate in “Devache Mathe!”
Although we had a lot of flowers in our garden and vases, we still wanted to have a variety of flowers in our little basket at each novena. So, every evening during novenas we would go to neighbors’ house(s) and request them to give us flowers. Nobody ever refused because they knew the purpose very well.
We would bring flowers and immerse them in a container so that they remained fresh until the next morning. If we didn’t find time to collect flowers in the evening, we would wake up early next morning and go to our neighbors’ house(s) to ask them for flowers. Here again, they did not mind our disturbance. On the contrary, they sometimes thanked us for waking them up.
Most important was a flower-carrying basket, which the Mhar community prepared for us. It was tapering and round in shape and had a small “argol” (handle) to hold. It was weaved with a little spaced out weaving all around so we could tuck flower stems from inside out.
As soon as we woke up, we would first fill the base of the basket with natural confetti (May-Flower branch leaves) and then meticulously arrange flowers and croton/ferns leaves in the basket by tucking them to its sides.
When we finished dressing and wore white tennis shoes, we would finally place white crepe paper flower crown on our head. Once it was on our head, we looked in the mirror and got that majestic, angelic feeling!
Those who had received the first Holy Communion would have saved their crowns for use at these novenas and it would be used until it lasted or did not fit one’s head. Others had to buy new ones.
We would then leave home for the Church. We walked to the Church slowly but briskly making sure that the basket was held tight in our hand and flowers did not spill on the road. For that, we had to stop the usual swinging of our hands.
When the novena mass came to an end, children would get up from their benches and stand in two parallel rows in the main isle of the Church with baskets in their hands.
This was the time when church-goers took notice of flower arrangements in our baskets and complimented us after the novenas.
Finally, while the “igorjecho mistir” (church master) began to play the tune of “Virgem Mãe de Deus” (Devache Mathe) on his violin, children held the panttulo in their left hand, placed their right hand into it and got ready to toss up the contents of the basket.
Everyone began to sing the hymn. Every time ‘Virgem Mãe de Deus’ line was sung, we tossed up the flowers and natural confetti. Similarly, we tossed natural confetti at each other across the isle.
We always saved the best flowers for last. Children then proceeded to the statue of Mount Mary and placed the best flowers at her feet, thus bringing an end to the novena ceremony of the day.
Boy! Did we enjoy carrying the flower basket to the Church? We surely did! Unfortunately, this tradition has been discontinued in our churches and the present generation misses the spiritual fun and excitement we had.
As children, Mount Mary’s novenas meant a lot to us; they were some of the happiest moments in our lives. Yes, those were the angelic days to which we belonged and which now remain only memories in our minds.
Once the feast was over, we would save the paper crown in a box. Similarly, we would hang the Devache Mathecho panttulo at the end of a "dannddi" (clothes hanger made out of a bamboo bar) where it remained safe until next year.
I am indebted to the Mhar community for bringing joy in our childhood!
A vorli is a sort of square container with a round opening and a little bulge in the middle on all four sides. It came in several sizes.
It, too, had a multi-purpose use. It was mainly used “chunancho ros kaddunk” (to extract coconut juice) to prepare Bebinca, Dodol, etc.
There were no electric grinders or strainers in the olden days. So, how did our ancestors extract coconut juice?
Well, they grounded grated coconut on a “ghonnsunno” (round, granite stone with a hole in the middle), placed it in a vorli and pressed it hard with hand resulting in juice, which was collected in a container.
A vorli was used to wash rice at big occasions like weddings, feast celebration, etc.
But it had a specific use by the randpinni while preparing a bhikreanchem jevonn. Usually, “tandull” (rice) is washed indoors at a wash basin in containers or in buckets. But at the preparation of a bhikarenchem jevonn, according to Goan tradition, rice is placed in a vorli/vorleo and taken to a water well where one of the randpinni draws fresh water from a well and pours it directly into the vorli/vorleo, and another randpinn washes the rice!
A vorli was also used to serve “od’de” (fritters of flour) and cooked rice at a bhikarenchem jevonn.
Home-grown fruits like chickoo, custard apple, papayas, etc. were placed in a vorli to get ripe there.
A container similar to vorli was also used by “pagi” (a fisherman who fishes with the help of a “pager” [a sweep/casting net.]) He always carried a long bamboo stick on his shoulder. At one end of the stick, he placed his ‘pager’ and “buthi” (food pack) and at the other end he fixed the “guddvo” (vorli-type container) in which he placed freshly caught fish, mainly “sungott-burantto” (shrimps and miscellaneous small fish.)
Do you remember the good old Konkani saying: “Vorlenui doronam ani supanui doronam?” (Can neither be contained in a vorli nor in a winnowing fan?) This expression is used mostly on mischievous children who don’t sit in one place and are always on the run!
There is yet another vorli-related Konkani saying: “Bhagacho vantto vorlen kuso!” (Joint share would rot in a vorli!) A vorli was used to carry items of vojem like doce, bol, bathk, etc. A joint share was kept in a vorli but neither of the two parties would decide on its distribution. As a result, the share would get rotten in the vorli.
To be continued …………….
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