ARPORA-NAGOA-BAGA- QUEER CLUSTER...
Arpora, Nagoa and Baga are palm-bedecked coastal hamlets of North Goa, which are clustered together to rig up a revenue village. This curious cluste r falls near the hub of the tourism swirl engulfing the Anjuna-Calangute belt.
The village of about 6000 souls is skirted by Anjuna, Parra, Guirim, Saligao and Calangute. It is the continuation of the sandy, alluvial belt moving inwards from the shoreline along the Baga river. One could canoe along this tiny river almost upto Mapusa but it’s not possible anymore since river plants block the access.
The tourism upswing in recent years, has affected this agrarian village for better or worse. In the ongoing process, swanky villas, restaurants, hotels and clubs have mushroomed along the beautiful banks of the tiny Baga river, which sews the disparate hamlets into one whole.
One would never imagine that a RCI-affiliated hotel like The Royal Goans Club would find a location in the humble fishing fringe. The Marinha Dourada resort complex, with 3-storey high wall murals, bask by the picturesque saltpans, which provide livelihood from salt extraction and tasty fish called gollxeo and tiger prawns.
At Sankvaddi, where a tributary of the river flows towards Anjuna, the sprawling Sun Village virtually overshadows the bottle-green hill which separates Baga from Anjuna. Scaling the opposite hilltop in Arpora is the posh Nilaya Hotel, designed by Goa’s natural architecture exponent Dean D’Cruz. At the foothills, the Las Viegas Country Club shares the neighbourhood with the beautiful Gonsalves House in the vicinity of St Joseph High School.
The scenic Baga bank of the placid river once accommodated only small tile-topped or palm-thatched dwellings amidst the swaying palm trees. Today trendy eateries jostle with one another near the chapel of St Anne. I like Baga’s warm, riverine ambience because, perhaps, I have been there once to often to visit the late Gracie Dias. Dona Engracia Braganca, a former head mistress of St Joseph High School, has set up a STD telephone booth and her son Michael’s speedboat takes excited tourists along the river sightseeing for dolphins at sea, and crocodiles somewhere else in the upper reaches of the Mandovi river.
Engracia hails from the Fialho family, who owned the largest chunk of land in this picnic village beginning at the Baga Retreat House, built by Fr Adrian Le Tellier in 1952. The Retreat house guarding the Baga hilltop commands a panoramic view of the seemingly endless seascape.
At the foot of the hill is the large black rock called the Chor Baim, in which people believe lies treasures of shipwrecks from the Arabian sea. Old anchors, cannons and even a large bell are visible when the breakers permit one to get a closer view of the rocky trench. Being at the mouth of the river, Baga had its own a Custom House once upon a time.
The locals had to cross the river in a canoe to go to the Calangute side of Baga, the place which was famous for the traditional salt bath for Goans. Today it is sought after by the international tourist. Across the river now spans a strange box- bridge and the unsightly structure has been nicknamed “The Coffin Bridge”.
The river separates the lush paddyfields on the South from the settlements on the North. The locals fish in the river with a variety of nets. Quite often one observes women and girls searching oysters in neck-deep water. Curiously enough, the Pachecos of Parra come to the Baga river with their kan’neo for, what they popularly call, buddavnk . They claim that the river was given to them in dowry and the people of Baga, surprisingly, do not object to this intrusion. Perhaps that all that noise the river-in-laws create there is more of a picnic than a fishing expedition.
People in Baga are quite hospitable and given to entertainment. During the feast of Sao Joao, one witnesses a rare river fest called sangodd, which is a stage rigged up by tying two canoes. On the gaily canopied section sits the brass band, while the local youth sing, dance and joke. The sangodd proceeds merrily along the serpentine course, watched and cheered by a large crowd from both the banks.
But one wonders how long Baga will retain its warm and enjoyable ambience, which picnickers love to no end. Tourism has aided Baga’s brisk browning and virtually altering the Goan ambience. Locals had flown to the Gulf in search of jobs and rented their houses to foreign tourists. The more daring run small eateries and bars but now non-Goans, Europeans included, are establishing themselves in the seaside food and lodging scenario. With their meagre means the local entrepreneurs can hardly survive the second coming of the white man.
Though Baga hogs the limelight today, the real hallmark of the area was the esteemed St Joseph High School, a pioneering educational institution and the renowned alma mater of many illustrious Goans. The pioneering school was founded in Arpora in 1886 by Brother William Robert Lyons <1854-1926>, who had sought refuge in Goa because he suffered from an incurable skin malady. But he was cured with continued bathing in the spring waters in Candolim. Labouring for 14 years, Lyons transformed the school into a leading educational establishment in Goa, which outshone every other school in its standard of education as well as in sports.
Talking of the Hindu past, PP Shirodkar writes, “Chouranguinath, a disciple of Matsyendranath, was venerated in a big shrine at Arpora.” The idol of Chouranginath was taken to Nanora in Assonora about the time of the conversion. Today, the main place of Hindu worship is at Sankvaddi in Baga. The primitive form of panchayat called chovatto was held here in ancient times.
For Arpora, the feast of St Sebastian every January at the chapel opposite the grand Pinto Mansion, where the Siolim- Calangute takes a sharp turn eastward to Mapusa, is a solemn and important event. The largely Hindu population joins their Christian counterparts in the enthusiastic celebration at the crowded Arpora tintto . Incidentally, the dhalo celebration of the Hindus culminates on the night of St Sebastian’s feast.
The Canossa Daughters of Charity established themselves at Arpora in 1972 in the house of the late Dr Acacio Viegas. Dr Viegas was the first Goan mayor of Mumbai before Independence. To him goes the credit of detecting the bubonic plague in Bombay city. Among the eminent Goans honoured by the metropolis figures Dr Viegas. His statue stands near the Bastani Restaurant at Dhobitalao, and at Cavel there is street named after him.
A semblance of aristocracy is evident in Arpora. From here hails Dr Gerson da Cunha <1844-1900>, who was an acclaimed historian in Bombay besides being a Knight of St Gregory the great, Member of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of great Britain and Ireland, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon and Fellow of the Geographical Society of Italy and Lisbon.
An erudite scholar, Gerson da Cunha wrote his first book Introducao ao Estudo da Sciencia da Vida, while he was just 24. Books on medicine, history, numismatics, archaeology, linguistics, literary history and sanscritology flowed copiously from Gerson’s facile pen. He will also be remembered as a protagonist of Konkani, which he believed was introduced into Goa with the Saiva form of Brahmanism by the Saraswats. His great ancestor was a Shennoy from Cortalim, who migrated to Bardez and settled in Arpora.
Among other prominent people of the village, the late Dr Antonio Maria da Cunha gained fame as a journalist, who took over the Portuguese daily “Heraldo”. We also know of adman Gerson da Cunha, theatre director Sylvester da Cunha, educationist Dr Eddie A Pires, and international athlete Eddie Sequeira. The late Baba Kenkre was the principal of another pioneering educational institution Sacred Heart High School, Parra, while the late Peter D’Souza was a lecturer at the Pastoral Institute.
Ananta Chondroba of Arpora was among the batch of illustrious doctors like Jose Camilo Lisboa of Assagao, Bhau Daji Lad of Pernem and a few others, to pass in the 1845-46 batch of successful students of the Grant Medical College in Bombay. Incidentally many people from all over Goa visit Dr J Cajetan D’Souza, a well-known homoeopath.
Cheek-by-jowl with the Canossa convent stands the house of the late Romaldo Viegas, who was known to be the richest landlord of the area. The present generation is of Mendoncas and according to Renato Mendonca, the one-storey house was built even before the Holy Trinity church of Nagoa. Mendonca claims that his earliest, known ancestor was a Hindu by name Balu Naik.
One of the more prominent houses here is of advocate Alvaro Costa e Moniz. Its weather-beaten portico bears the inscription “Raised in homage to the Blessed Sacrament in the year 1736”.
Nagoa is known as Nagvem locally. Nag stands for the deity Nageshwar, whose temples existed here in the olden times. The Dias vaddo was originally diveancho vaddo or devlleancho vaddo, the abode of kolvontam or nautch-girls and prostitutes, who would display a lit lamp in the window as a beacon to guide men to their residence at night. There were also temples of Dattatreya and Mahadeo here.
Though bereft of a rich socio-cultural patrimony, which Goan villages generally boast of, Nagoa stands witness to Christianity down the centuries. The third church, built in Bardez by the Franciscans missionaries, is the imposing church of Holy Trinity built in 1560, and rebuilt in 1679 by the Comunidades of Nagoa, Arpora and Saligao.
As the Franciscan missionaries marched North in search of souls, Nagoa emerged into a significant milestone and the mother parish of Oxel-Siolim, Anjuna-Assagao, Parra, Saligao and Nagoa- Arpora-Baga. In the course of time, people of some of the villages found the distance wearisome to attend the church or for the burials. So they built their own churches and acquired parish status.
Eventually, only the adjoining Arpora and Baga remained with Nagoa. The church, where the feast of the Holy Trinity is celebrated with great pomp in the first fortnight of November every year, was attacked by the forces of the Sultan of Bijapur in 1577 to avenge the Portuguese attack on the ships of the Zamorin of Calicut.
The old association, however, did leave behind an interesting item called dovornem, a raised masonry platform, on which they used to keep the corpse and rest while travelling from the distant villages across hills and dales. The dovornem also helped to keep headloads in the days when even carts were not possible. Scarcely any of these quaint structures are seen in Goa today, and even if there be one, few know their importance or relation to the tradition-filled Goan way of life.
Many other interesting aspects – social, geographic and demographic – of Nagoa-Arpora-Baga are retreating into the pages of history. Even the beautiful Baga river, which once flowed upto Parra and Guirim, spreading its fertile, alluvial soil, has shrunk in the course of time. With the advent of tourism and the government’s ban on non-iodised salt, the Oddfoddcheo ghollxeo and good old Goan salt will soon be a thing of the past. Only colourful sailboats of fibre will float in the agor where the mit-gavddi once toiled and earned his livelihood. And when any traditional element disappear social and other repurcussions often occur.