THE FORGOTTEN TRIBE – MHAR – PART 9
Church bells are believed to have been imported from Europe, especially from Italy,
during the Portuguese rule in Goa. Mostly, each Church has two towers. While one of
them houses bell(s) the other one is a show piece.
In the olden days, Church bells ruled everyday life in the villages. They announced
marriages, births and deaths. Laborers woke up to the Angelus bell at dawn to start their daily chores. Long distance journeys like a pilgrimage to Old Goa, shopping trip to Aronnem (Aronda) on foot began at the stroke of morning Church bell.
In Anjuna, there is a steep staircase built into the tower, which leads to the top where bells are located. In the olden days, each Church had at least four pede, who besides other Church-related duties also rang bells.
The Anjuna Church has two bells - one gives bass sound and the other a little lighter sound. The pede employed in our Church in those days were expert in ringing these bells.
Two pede were required to ring these bells. They stood on a wooden platform, which was placed in the middle of the staircase well next to the bells. They pealed the bells thus:
Ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv
Ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv
Ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv
Tttanv-ttanv-ttanv-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv, tti-ttanv; ttanv, tti-ttanv, etc.
Our pede had such a good ear for the music that even the pealing of bells was done
Fr. José Leandro de Abreu, served Anjuna Church as a Parish Priest from 1923-37. He
hailed from Saligao and carried an ancestral nick name - “Kombo Padr Vigar”.
Obviously, his home was known as “Kombeager!” He knew solfas (music notes) and
The above-mentioned ringing style of Anjuna Church bells was created by Kombo Padr
Vigar. He taught Anjuna boyyas to ring the Church bells rhythmically on ‘do-re-mi’
Just out of context, here is an incident that took place in Anjuna Church while Fr. José
served as a parish priest, as narrated by Epifanio D’Souza, colloquially known as Efulo,
who though 85 years old, still goes about everywhere on his bicycle.
The daily nustekarn brought fish to the Church. Kombo Padr Vigar asked her: “Aiz
nustem kitem haddlam gho?” (What fish did you bring today?) She replied: “Kombe,
Padr Vigar!” The moment the parish priest heard this he was furious because he thought
the nustekarn was teasing him by his nick-name.
So, he went inside, brought his “rot” (walking stick) and started beating the nustekarn
mercilessly until Church cook came to her rescue and told Padr Vigar she did not mean to
tease him but that the name of the fish she had brought was “kombo.”
The parish priest felt sorry. He put his hand in his pocket and gave her Rs.20 and asked
her not to tell anyone what had happened. Keep in mind that Rs.20 was a very big
amount in those days.
The warmth of money was so much that the nustekarn told everyone what had happened
placing emphasis on the gift of money rather than the beating she received. Thus, the
news spread all over Anjuna like wild fire.
Every week, pede kept on rotating their place on the plank while ringing bells in order to
avoid striking them in the same place, thus extending their lifeline.
The rhythmic ringing filled the midnight air on Christmas Eve, New Year and Easter; at
baptism ceremonies, at nuptials, at the end of salvi, at vespers, at the feast Solemn High
mass, etc. Our Church bell-ringing sounded the best and may have been one of the best in
rhythmic ringing in Goa. I thoroughly enjoyed ringing of our Church bells.
Today, there are no pede in Anjuna Church to ring bells. A long rope is tied to each bell
and bells are pealed by a Church servant or a sacristan from next to the Church “roz-
angnnem” (inner church garden.)
There is a saying in Konkani: "Te poder mele, te undde kabar zale" (With the passing
away of bakers from those days, came the end of their bread). Similarly, “te pede gele ani
teo ghantto marpachem kabar zalem” (those grave diggers went away and with them the
rhythmic ringing of bells was silenced.)
Children were forbidden to go to the tower housing the bells but sometimes when we
found the pede sleeping in their niches in the afternoon during our Catechism classes, we
would quietly climb the stairs and enjoy the view from atop the Church tower. Since we
were small, we couldn't reach the window opening. So, we sat on each other's shoulders
and watched the view by taking turns.
Once, one of our stupid friends struck the bell which awakened the pede. We were caught
running down the staircase. Pede asked us as to who rang the bell. We had no alternative
but to name the friend who received a tight slap from the pedo with a warning never to do
that again. Thank God, he did not report us to the Padr Vigar who would not only pinch
us but would also hit us on the head with a big door key!
At the end of nuptials or christening of a child, the Church pede would hurriedly
approach the groom or parents/godparents of the child and plead thus: “Baba/Baie, hea
khoxechea nadar amkam kiteim diat re/gho!” (Sir/Madam, please give us something at
this happy occasion!)
Mostly, people gave them generously and they quickly thanked them in the Goan way:
“Baba/Baie, Dev borem korum, Dev tumcher bessanv ghalum!) (Sir/Madam, thank you –
may God bless you!)
But there were others who were “imtte” (miser.) When pede approached them for tips,
they spoke to them roughly: “Chol, voch!” (Go away or get lost!) To them the boyyas
quietly murmured: “Tumchem padd poddonv” (May you be cursed!)
If a child’s parents/godparents resorted to the above-type of rough behavior, they would
murmur among themselves: “Tuka dista hanchea bhurgeachem borem zatelem? (Do you
think their child will prosper?) His partner would reply: “Kednanch nam!” (Never!)
Every year, Maundy Thursday was a special begging day for the Church pede. They
would place a white handkerchief on the stairs on the North and East entrances of Anjuna
Church compound and expect people to place alms for them on their handkerchiefs,
which most of us did.
After a Church feast was over, some women from the Mhar community and even Church
pede were seen begging alms, especially at the North and East entrances of Anjuna
Church compound from where people exited and went to the feast fair to buy chonne,
kaddieo-boddieo, mana’a, laddu, khajeacheo biyeo, etc.
Most people gave them generously, as it was an opportunity to serve the poor at the end
of a feast.
We are grateful to the boyyas for bringing joy into our lives by ringing our Church bells
We are grateful to the boyyas for bringing joy into our lives by ringing our church bells
HOW PEDE MAINTAINED A TRIM AND SLIM FIGURE
The pede always maintained slim-and-trim figure – none of our pede had a paunch. Do
you know why? It was because every time they were required to ring Anjuna Church
bells, they had to climb up two long staircases.
The first staircase has 28 stairs – it starts on the ground floor and ends by the choir door.
The second staircase has 32 steps – it begins outside choir door and runs through the well
of the bell tower.
The Catholic Church reminds us through Church bell to pray to God five times a day as
per the following timings:
(1) The first Church bell rings at 5:00 a.m. - MATINS - reading wake-up. It is a wake up
call to parishioners. As children we woke up at the sound of the Church bell, thanked
God for giving us a good night sleep and for helping us to wake up, said our morning
prayers and began our morning studies.
(2) The second Church bell rings at 6:00 a.m. - LAUDS - morning prayers. It is a
reminder to people to begin their day with prayers; attend holy mass. Most people in the
olden days went to Church for 6:00 o'clock mass.
(3) The third Church bell rings at 12:00 p.m. - SELT - mid-day prayers. It is a reminder
to people for mid-day prayers followed by lunch. Most people in the past ate their lunch
soon after the mid-day Church bell rang. Laborers stopped their work to have a meal
followed by the mandatory Goan siesta.
(4) The fourth Church bell rings at 7:00 p.m. - VESPERS - evening prayers. It is a
reminder to people for evening prayers which is usually followed by the Angelus. When
the Angelus bell rang, all stood and prayed.
In the days of yore, movement outside one's home came to an end at the stroke of the
Church/Chapel Angelus bell. Children stopped play, came home running and the family
gathered at the ‘oratorio’ or olotor.
Children had only 5 minutes grace time to report home after which they were punished as
soon as the Angelus was over. This is when we used all our energy to sprint 100 to 500
meters or more, depending on the place where we were at the time of the bell.
“Petrolache dive” or kerosene lamps, which were later, substituted by chimney lamps,
followed by Aladdin lamps and in some houses by petromax, and candles were lit, and
the Angelus was said.
Well before the Angelus bell rang, the domestic animals would have been gathered and
put into their respective places “kombieancho, dukrancho gudd,” (chicken’s coop,
pigsty), “gorvancho, bokddeancho gotto” (cattle, goats stable) for the night.
(5) The fifth Church bell rings at 8:00 p.m. - COMPLINE - night prayers. It is a reminder
to people for night prayers. People prayed for the departed souls at the stroke of this bell.
Most people ate their dinner soon after the bell rang.
The ringing at the above-mentioned five events was with a single stroke of the bell –
dong; dong; dong!
Besides, pede were also required to toll the bell for the dead. For this purpose, they used
each bell alternatively - ttanv, ttanv-ttanv; ttinv, ttinv-ttinv and so on.
If the Church bell rang continuously and unusually, it meant that something had gone
wrong with the Church premises or its staff - remember there was no telephone or any
other mode to communicate with parishioners.
In my life, I witnessed such bell ringing only once when I was about 6 years old. It was
when Padr Kur's (curate's) room was robbed. As for St. Anthony's Church in Vagator,
people there have had many chances to witness such bell ringing because, to my
knowledge, that church was burgled many times since its inception in the mid 1950s!
The above ringing as well as ringing of the bells at the daily three masses (presuming
three priests were available in a Church, as sometimes there were as many as five priests
in a Church) resulted in boyyas climbing up the stairs at least 480 times (60 stairs X 8
times); they climbed down the stairs that many times, plus they tolled bells for the dead
as well as at masses for the departed souls. So, on an average a boyya climbed up and
down around 1080 (540 + 540) stairs every day – a feat none of us were and are able to
do in our daily life!
They also engaged themselves in cleaning and mopping the Church every day, plus dug
No wonder, they were able to maintain a trim and slip figure! Weren’t they some of the
most tough people?
I attribute our childhood upbringing to the pede because had it not been for their pealing
of bells, we might not be what we are today!
Today, people hire a hearse van to carry a dead person’s body from a hospital morgue to
his/her home and from there to the Church cemetery.
In the past, two pede, who were also known as boyyas, carried a dead person from his
home to the cemetery.
They pulled an empty carriage from the Church to the dead person’s house and brought it
back to the Church with the dead person in a coffin.
Mind you, in those days mud roads were full of pot holes. Poor boyyas, they walked
bare-feet and pulled the loaded carriage like two bullocks tied to a “boilancho ghaddo”
(bullock cart) or a “zot” (yoke of oxen.)
In those days, if the Mhars had gone on a strike, nobody would be buried since doing a
pedo’s job was considered below dignity and nobody was prepared to do it.
So, don’t you think we should be grateful to them for doing the job for us?
To be continued …………….
To be continued ........
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