THE FORGOTTEN TRIBE – MHAR – PART 12
COOKS & WAITERS
Today, a contract is given to a caterer to provide the required food items for a wedding, which are transported to the wedding hall and served to the crowd by the caterer’s waiters & waitresses.
In days gone by, people did not order catering from outside; they hired a cook, who
prepared all the required food at home.
Dishes were prepared in a “randpacho mattov” (cooking shed), which was arranged
behind or adjacent to the house from where they served dishes to the crowd in the mattov by forming a human chain of helpers - boys/men, girls/women and children.
We had the famous Diogo João cook from Parra village at the time, who was one of the
best cooks in the whole of Bardez. He and his helpers/waiters belonged to the Mhar
community. He was the cook of the masses - except bhattkars!
He prepared the following items and served them at weddings:
As soon as the first dance was over, “Letri ani olive ghalun gaiechea haddancho sop”
(beef-bone soup with macaroni alphabets and olives) was served in a soup plate.
Although a spoon was provided, many people preferred to drink soup directly from the
plate as if they ate “kunji” (soft rice) in a “vattli” (brass plate.)
After the third dance was over, a cheese plate containing one each of beef-roast
sandwich, pork-roast sandwich, chutney sandwich, a croquette and a chicken patty were served.
If a spoon or fork or a dry item like croquette or patties fell down, it was simply picked up from the ground and placed back in the plate; even if somebody saw, it didn’t matter.
What mattered was the service; without missing anyone. Children then never threw away anything that fell down; we just picked it up, blessed and ate it.
After the fifth dance was over, chicken “ixttuv” (stew) followed by pork sausage pulau with “kismis” (raisins) was served. Although a fork was provided, most people preferred to eat the pulau with hand, just as they ate the rice at home.
The basmati rice used then was so good that the moment it was cooked, its aroma filled the whole house as well as the mattov and beyond! During the Portuguese rule, the best basmati rice came from Pakistan.
Diogo Joao’s every dish was delicious but his specialty was ixttuv! People just loved it!
As soon as the last dance was over, Bebinca and black coffee was served in a “chikr-pir” (cup-n-saucer.) A cup of black coffee early in the morning was fantastic, especially if one had too many rounds of drinks.
Diogo João Chef also gave crockery on hire. His waiters went around with a wooden tray containing wine cups with pedestals embossed with beautiful grape designs, which were filled with red wine.
The bridal couple was given one each large glass. They cut the cake followed by the
“saud” (toast), which was raised mostly by a parish priest or by any other
dignitary/educated person from the area.
The toast was mostly raised in Konkani but well-to-do people, including bhattkars, had it in Portuguese. A local singer would come on the stage and offer to sing a “saudichem kantar” (a toast song) in the traditional Goan manner.
How can we despise the Mhar community when they have exuded wonderful dishes for
As I mentioned earlier, nobody was ready to share a meal with a Mhar. Not only that,
nobody would eat anything prepared by a Mhar.
Until the beginning of the last century, priests in Goa came from two main
communities/castes – Brahmin and Charddo. Both castes were well off.
A poor man was not considered for priesthood, even if he wished. It was only towards the middle of the last century that boys from poor and middle class families joined
seminaries and became priests.
Although the Mhar community members were experts in cooking food, priests who
mostly came from the above-mentioned two castes were reluctant to employ them as
By the second quarter of the last century many Goan cooks shifted to greener pastures in other parts of India as well as the Gulf, thus creating a vacuum of cooks in Goa.
This is when the priests in Churches hired cooks from the Mhar community. As a matter of fact, they were over-utilized i.e., they were made to do all Church-related work, including pealing of the bells, digging of graves, and in addition they were required to cook for the priests – minimum three members – parish priest and two curates.
Sometimes, a Church had five or more priests – parish priest and four-five curates, plus guest priests.
Speaking of food, we had an obese parish priest in our Church in the mid 1950s, Fr.
Caetano José Orneias de Sta Rita Colaço from Curtorim. He was so fat that he had
difficulty in entering the palanquin, which is why the pede always cursed him, and so did the “kuzner” (cook), who belonged to the Mhar community, because he was asked to cook a variety of dishes throughout the day.
Most priests then served the parish on foot - very few made use of machila or palanquin; we have two of them in our Church – one was used for the local priests and the other for the Church dignitaries like the Bishop, etc.
But this particular parish priest was lazy to walk and insisted to carry him in a palanquin even on the “Festa de Novidades” or ‘Noveachem Fest’ in Konkani, to the place where the new paddy sheaves are blessed, which is hardly one hundred and fifty meters away from the Church.
Well, there are always exceptions. Luckily for the pede, Fr. Caetano lasted in our Church only for three years from 1956 to 1959.
The harvest festival is held every year in the month of August. In Anjuna it was always held on August 6 but now it is held on August 15, as per the wishes of parishioners, which also includes Hindu community.
MUSIC, WRITERS AND SPORTSMEN
The Mhars provided the traditional music bands in the village for the Hindu marriage
procession and religious festivities amongst Hindus and Catholics.
As we all know, during pre-liberation era, every village in Goa had a Parochial school attached to a Church, where village boys were taught music notes as well as basic schooling, which enabled them to read and write.
In the past, the formal teaching of music was very important, especially in the Parochial schools first established in 1545 by the Viceroy Dom João de Castro, and in the elementary schools first established in Goa in 1831 by decree of the Portuguese government. Access to these elementary schools was, however, very restricted, granted only to families of the Goan social elite.
For commoners the Church School known as Parochial School was part of the life. This
type of schools lasted till the end of the Portuguese rule.
Goan Parochial schools were called nurseries of music, musicians and agents of cultural synthesis of East and West. It is here, around five hundred years ago, that the Goan talent for music became acquainted with the concept of harmony.
Goans then made valuable contributions to the Church music as composers and
performers, and later developed their own secular music forms - the Mando being the
best known of them.
Besides Konkani in Romi or Roman script, students were also taught to read and write
Portuguese but more time was devoted for singing, music learning through Arte (Music
Book) and learning and playing the Violin.
Most of our yesteryear Tiatrists were the product of Parochial Schools in their respective villages.
To undergo schooling in Parochial schools, one had to be good if not very good in music either thru written Solfa Notes or Reading Solfa Notes or just through hearing.
In Parochial Schools, participants were taught how to sing, how to adhere to the timings and how to sing in different voices. A student schooled in Parochial school had to acquire mastery in singing if not in reading, writing and playing musical notes.
The Mhar community had a fine ear for music; so much so, some of the best Goan
musicians come from the community. They excelled in the brass section, especially the trumpet. They were also very good at the drums.
No wonder, whenever an Alvorada, a signal to wake up in the early morning, was to be
played, they were summoned and they did justice in playing it. The band mainly
comprised of a dhol-tax (drum) and a cymbal and two bugles.
Many of the yester year brass bands had players who belonged to the Mhar community.
Had it not been for them, the brass band would have vanished long ago.
Many villages had seasoned tiatrists who belonged to the Mhar community. It seems
music ran in their blood. The best comedians of the Konkani stage came from the Mhar
The Parochial school was run by a ‘mestre’ or a mistir (choirmaster) who had to be good in music. He was required to attend a “Concurso” – kind of music contest at the Music Institute in Old Goa, where he was trained and certified.
Many yester year mistir belonged to the Mhar community. Not only that we also had and still have outstanding writers who hail from the community.
We are grateful to the Mhar community for improvising Goan music and for taking it to world class heights. Had it not been for them, our music might have still been below standard!
Furthermore, every village had very good football players who hailed from the Mhar
community. They were tough and possessed excellent stamina just like the Brazilians and Africans!
Weren’t the Mhars a God-sent gift to Goa?
To be continued …………….
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Read the earlier parts of this MHAR series at: