The Forgotten Tribe – MHAR – Part 6
By Domnic Fernandes
Until the Fifties and the Sixties, most Goans in the villages lived in the 'Stone Age'. I say so because I witnessed people starting a fire by rubbing two stones together. Keep in mind the first non-poisonous match was made available for public use since January 28, 1911!
Similarly, paddy was husked at home in a “varn” (round hole in the floor - hand mill to husk paddy or corn) with the help of a “musoll” (life size pestle.)
The husking job was undertaken by two women. At every thrust of the musoll, each woman would utter: Shov, shov – shov, shov – shov, show … Do you remember the following lines from one of the Dekhnnis?
Shov, shov Juana
Modlea varnant far poddonam
Shov, shov, shov kanddtta gho
Kannpinnincho mathro ghov!
(Shov, shov Juana
The stroke doesn’t get into the middle of the varn
Shov, shov, shov - the husking goes on
It’s the husker’s old husband!)
Few villages had rice husking and flour mills by the mid of the last century. Until then, people ground all types of cereals at home on a “dantem” (millstone) and produced flour at home. Here are two lines of a dantem-related Dulpod:
Apttun-dhopttun gho, cheddvan dantem manddilem
Doilolem pitt sogllem, kombien xinvravn uddoilem
(With great difficulty, the girl set the grinding stone)
But all the ground flour was strewn around by the chicken.)
In the olden days, for every day breakfast people ate “gonvacheo bakreo” (hand made wheat bread) and “nachneanchem tizan” (a sweet dish made from the millets.) For this, they needed “gonvanchem ani nachnneanchem pitt (wheat and millet flour,) which they ground on a dantem.
In the days of yore, practically every household owned a set of dantem. They ground rice and cereals on it every day - it was a daily task.
At Christmas time, besides “churnancheo nevreo” (nevreo filled with grated coconut mixed with jaggery,) people also made “chonneanchea pittacheo nevreo” (nevreo from gram flour.)
Chonneanchi dal (gram lentils) was fried and ground on a dantem. Sugar was also mixed along with chonnenachi dal and ground together. When grinding was in session, children would visit the dantem or millstone every now and then, pick a handful of sweet ground powder, place it in their mouth and walk away.
Although most villagers were uneducated, they were particular about hygiene. Whenever rice and other cereals were to be ground on a dantem, they would place it on a “khanddiem” (a kind of flat, square mat with elevated sides approximately 6” high.
In order to avoid spill of ground flour on the khanddiem, a cloth was placed underneath the dantem. The khanddiem was to avoid surrounding dust particles from getting into the flour. With the khanddiem in place, people walking about the house could not step into it and the contents were protected from the dust.
The Mhar community manufactured this little protective item – the khanddiem!
There was no electricity supply in Goan villages until the early Seventies. In Anjuna, we received electricity supply in 1974. Today, every household has ceiling/pedestal fans and/or air conditioners. How do you think people cooled themselves and survived in those days?
People used “hatan kel’lo mancho ain’no” (hand-made bamboo fan.). Almost every house had a couple of bamboo fans, which they used during their leisure time and in the summer. They also used them while making the first fire in the morning.
People sat either on a “sopo” (a bench of stones) or an “umbro” (ridge outside a door), conversed with each other and fanned themselves. People also carried these ainn’nne to the Church, weddings and other functions.
These ainn’nne were sold at main feast fairs like St. Francis Xavier’s feast at Old Goa, Milagres feast in Mapusa, Holy Cross feast at Santa Cruz, Our Lady of Assumption feast in Panaji, Holy Spirit feast in Margao, etc.
The ainn’nne were manufactured in attractive colors i.e., they used at least 3-colored hevam (layers) – green/blue, red/violet, yellow.
Who do you think manufactured the ainn’nne? Of course, the Mhar community!
Some other fragrance smelling fans were also sold but they were more of a delicate nature, whereas the ones made of bamboo lasted for a long time. People used them carefully so as to last for at least a year – they would buy new ones at one of next year’s above-mentioned fairs.
During the Portuguese regime, shopkeepers imported fancy Japanese fans, which were made of fine wood and cloth and had beautiful designs printed on them.
Whenever a wedding took place, common girls and women carried “manche ainn’nne” (fans made from bamboo), whereas the elite and well-to-do carried imported fancy ainn’nne.
Once a dance was over, girls and ladies returned to their seats, opened their fans and fanned themselves. They then waited for the boys/men to approach and pick them up for the next dance.
When approached, girls/ladies usually obliged them without any fuss. When they were picked up for the next dance, they left their ainn’nne with their mothers or sisters or relatives.
Shouldn’t we be grateful to the Mhar community for providing us comfort when there was no electricity supply?
A famanchi maddi is a straight pole like a betel nut tree announcing a forthcoming feast.
In the past, celebration of a church feast in Goa consisted of three parts: (1) Fama or fam’ (fame); it always took place on a Thursday, (2) nine novenas, inclusive of vesper, and (3) the feast. The whole process lasted eleven days.
Presently, due to shortage of priests, a Tridium is held i.e. only three novenas are held followed by the feast. Here we shall talk only of the first part – the fam’.
On the day of the fam’ a famanchi maddi announcing the forthcoming feast is erected in front of a church or chapel. Villagers gather and prepare the maddi, which needs the following:
“Ek lamb ubhi man” (one straight long bamboo), “ek maddachem tornem chuddeth” (one raw leaf of a coconut tree), “manchi mandd” (bamboo-woven halo), “sumb” (coir rope), “santacho regist” (holy picture of the saint) and a “paroi” (crow-bar).
At first, chuddtteo (palm leaves) are removed from a chuddeth and they are tied all around the bamboo pole in the form of bows – these are tied about five feet above the ground so cattle can’t reach and eat them. The tip of the bamboo pole is slightly slit and the pointed end of the halo is inserted into the slit bamboo tip, which is then tied tightly with a coir rope. A holy picture is then pasted on the halo.
The presiding priest says prayers and blesses the maddi, which is then fixed into a hole dug in front of the church or chapel making sure that the picture faces the road so people know which saint’s feast is being announced.
Sometimes a maddi is fixed without a priest in attendance. Simultaneously, church/chapel bell is rung followed by a barrage of “fogotteo” (firecrackers), “gornal” (hand made grenades) and even “fozne” (mortars), which is another form of announcing the beginning of a feast.
Usually, a famanchi maddi was prepared by village boys but whenever a feast was celebrated by an individual or a president, one of the members from the Mhar community prepared it for him/her.
The bamboo-woven halo was fabricated by the Mhar community. It may have been a small item but it was of great significance, especially in the olden days when celebration of a feast consisted of three parts - after all, the Mhars had a good sense of decoration!
We still have a bamboo-woven halo, which we bought for our St. John’s chapel in Anjuna over two decades ago. Every year after the feast is over we remove it from the maddi and store it carefully in a safe place.
REPAIR OF BAMBOO-WOVEN ITEMS
Every year in the month of April or May, Mhar families, mostly women, were brought at home to repair damaged dalieo, soviim, supam, panttleo, panji, konnkeo, konndde, etc. They also prepared “virlim” at the customer’s place and/or made them on order.
Before they could start work, they would visit the house a couple of days in advance in order to assess the material needed to repair worn out items.
Accordingly, people arranged for fresh “okondd man” (whole bamboo) on the previous day and kept them ready for the next day.
They worked from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, inclusive of one hour lunch break.
Upon arrival, they would say: “Bai gho, il’li chav asa zalear diat.” (Madam, please give us some tea [if you have any left.]) They were so humble that we would give them not only tea but also “bakri” (chapattis) or anything else that we had – after all they were our guests for the day(s).
Once they had their breakfast, they would take a “koito” (machete) and begin to split bamboos into two halves and then proceed to peal off “hevam” (strips/layers of bamboo) according to their need and repair torn portions of the items listed above.
They were jolly in nature; they always hummed tunes of Zoti, Goan Mandde and Dulpods while they worked. They were experts in singing “zoti” and “vovieo” - special songs sung at ‘Ros’ and other wedding-related ceremonies.
Today, cricket players, especially bowlers, plaster their fingers to get a better grip of the ball. Poor Mhar women tied pieces of cloth to their index and middle fingers to avoid cuts while cleaning hevam.
At around 10:30 am they were provided a “marnon” (earthen container) full of kanji (soft rice) along with “chepnnenchea toranchem lonnchem” (pressed raw mango pickle) or “kalchi koddi” (yesterday’s or stale curry). For lunch - rice, fish-curry, fried fish and pickle were served, and for dessert mangoes or bananas or any other fruit that was available from the home garden was served.
While they worked at our place, as children it was an opportunity for us to collect as many bamboo pieces as we wanted, which we used not only to play the “Koinnddo Bal” game but also to play “marini” – a game similar to that of Koinnddo Bal in which shorter, blunt pieces of bamboo are used.
People, especially middle class, treated the Mhar workers nicely and they in turn worked sincerely. Today, we don’t come across sincere workers.
All the products prepared by the Mhar community were sold at the weekly Mapxencho (Mapusa) Bazaar on Fridays, at the Congottcho (Calangute) Bazaar on Saturdays and at Siolecho (Siolim) Bazaar on Wednesdays.
The products were also sold at main feast fairs – Our Lady of Milagres feast in Mapusa; the feast of the Holy Cross in Santa Cruz, the feast at the Holy Spirit in Margao, etc.
Weren’t the Mhars a craft-oriented community? No wonder in the past they were referred to as the ‘artisans’ of Goa!
APPLICATION OF XENN
Today, it has become a fashion to have an attractive floor with tiles. People even go through the trouble of traveling as far as Rajasthan in order to buy the best of marble tiles for their houses from there.
Pre-liberation, most houses in Goa had “xennanchi zomin” (cow dung covered floor,) which was made from a mixture of mud and gravel; it was soaked and beaten with a “pettnem or bato” (a flat wooden piece shaped like a cricket bat but much thicker and heavier; a pounder) until a flat surface was achieved. It was then covered with cow dung which kept it tidy.
It was a practice to treat the floor with cow dung at least once a month but it was repeated whenever there was an occasion like blessing of a house, a birthday party, engagement party, relatives' visits, local feast celebration, weddings, etc.
People from the poorer class did the job themselves but the middle and upper classes hired the experts in the job from the lower class. And, who do you think those experts were? They were none other than our Mhar community!
The job may seem low and dirty, but the Mhars were instrumental in keeping our houses tidy.
To be continued …………….
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