CHURCH BELLS AND FIRECRACKERS
In the late forties and early fifties, Saligão did not have electricity or the telephone. Homes were lit with kerosene lamps, and local news was passed on by word of mouth. The latter was, however, preceded by the tolling of church bells or the staccato explosion of firecrackers to alert the villagers to a noteworthy news item. The “Mãe de Deus” Church had two bells, with the tone of one bell two notes higher than the other. And the bells would be rung in a set sequence to convey particular messages to the faithful.
A three-beat knell, with a pause after the first set, announced a death. If the deceased happened to be a local resident, the two bells would alternate in sounding the three-beat knell, in a series of three or four sets. If the deceased happened to be a villager who had died abroad, the three-beat knell would be rung on only the bell with the higher note, again in a series of three or four sets.
The bell also tolled for a villager whose death was imminent. There’d be just one set of a five-beat knell of the main bell whenever the vicar or curate set out from the church to administer the last rites to that person.
On the joyous side, the peal of bells at the end of a church wedding or high mass of the church feast would be a lively three strokes with two strokes rung on the bell with the higher note, and one on the other. The ringing would go on for about thirty seconds with the tempo rapidly increased towards the end of the sequence.
Then there was the aimori bell that was rung every evening at 7:00 o’clock to invite the faithful to recite the ‘angelus’ – a set of prayers dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This was when all activities came to a halt and every Catholic stood still, facing the church, reciting the ‘angelus’. It was also the signal to return home and retire for the night.
Other non-religious news was announced with a bang – firecrackers!
The firing of three packs of firecrackers in series, with a two or three second break between packs, would signify the birth of a baby boy. Two packs would be fired if it was a girl. One pack would be fired to announce that a student had passed the state-run matriculation (high school) exam or if a relative had just gained a university degree in Bombay.
At the very first sound of church bells or firecrackers, villagers would enquire of a neighbour or just anyone they met as to who died, who was getting married, who had a baby, or who passed an important exam. The most reliable source of information was the post office because of its proximity to the village market and its telegraph line by which all important news from abroad was received.
Municipal proclamations were made by the town crier. She was a tall scrawny woman who walked through the village and made official announcements, usually once a year. She’d stand in designated spots in the various wards, fold her hands on top of a bamboo staff that reached to her chin, take a deep breath and wail the announcement in a ululating voice.
Any news from sources other than the foregoing was gossip… and subject to exaggeration or entertaining village humour.
We did not have radio, television, the internet, and all the hype of today’s media. Church bells announced all the news that mattered, and firecrackers were bang-on with good news.
In the rural environment of my youth, poor communications insulated us from the problems confronting the rest of the world, and gave true meaning to the saying that “no news is good news”.