Galgibaga

Tradition and Transformation

In Galjibaga, one first feels as if he has entered into a secret enclave, passed over completely by the sands of time. Arriving in an old wooden canoe propelled by an even older sun-withered man, this small village on Goa’s southern-most shore seems totally isolated from the influence of modern society.

The village is nestled between the Talpona River to the North,the Galjibaga River Inlet to the south, forest and farm lands in the East, and an empty beach lined by wispy fir trees to the West. Yet the serene beach, quaint white-washed church, paddy fields, and sleepy village belie the modern activities rapidly transforming the identity of this small coastal town.

Located in the far South-West corner of Canacona taluka, virtually on the border with Karnataka, Galjibaga is one of Goa’s most Southern settlement. “Bag” in the Konkani language means ‘garden’ and the lush forests, fertile plains, and flowing rivers that surround this coastal hamlet sustain that image. Prior to the Portuguese conquest the region fell under the jurisdiction of King Sonda, who was a feudatory of the Southern Hindu Vijaynagara and earlier Kadamba dynasties. The ancient culture of Galjibaga and other village settlements in the extreme South were thus intricately linked to Northern Kanara in a variety of ways including the evolution of the Konkani language, the worship of certain deities and the observance of certain folk festivals and traditions.

A small coastal village of roughly sixty houses, Galjibaga is a relatively isolated village in comparison to others in Goa. Distanced from the National Highway 74 by nearly 15 kilometers, separated on the South by the River of Galjibaga, and serviced by only one small single-lane road, discovering Galjibaga is no small task indeed. As in Agonda, the majority of people living in Galjibaga are sons of the soil belonging to the Sudir and tribal communities. There is one primary school in Galjibaga and one high school until the 10th standard, after which time students must commute to neighboring towns to continue their studies. Toddy-tapping, fishing, and farming have been since time immemorial the primary occupations of villagers, though urban office employment and overseas shipping jobs have significantly detracted from the numbers of youth choosing to enter into the occupations of their fathers.

Following the transfer of the region of Canacona to the Portuguese administration in 1788, Franciscan missionaries and the Portuguese troops were stationed in the newly annexed territory for religious conversion and protection, respectively. In 1807 a chapel was built in Galjibaga on the beach front, as the sea was the center of village life. The chapel fell under the Karwar diocese, however, (the first city after the Goa-Karnataka border in Karnataka) and initially it remained locked as there were no priests in residence. By 1824, however, St.Anthony’s Chapel became St.Anthony’s Church and a residential quarter was attached to the main pulpit of the Church. The Largest festival in Galjibaga today is the feast of St.Anthony’s on the 19th of January. The feast draws a large crowd from the neighboring villages at which time old alliances are renewed, new friendships are formed, and often marriage proposals are discussed between parents of prospective couples. Sweets and souvenir stalls gather outside the church and the people attend mass dressed in their Sunday best. Following High Mass at noon, many families who have traveled from neighboring villages have picnics on the beach while their children play along the seashore.

Although, Galjibaga is situated in a remote part of Goa separated from the main part of the state by the Western Ghats, her residents are hardly touched by the modern world. In Galjibaga, more so among Cathlolic population, at least one member of every family has worked or is currently working in one of several Gulf countries like Kuwait, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. Advertised both thru’ local newspapers and returning fathers and brothers, children in Galjibaga grow up with the idea that they too will one day set of for an overseas adventure combined with gainful employment. As a consequence, St.Anthony’s school has adopted an English-language medium following liberation where Portuguese had been the language of instruction.

Children thus begin learning English at a young age, a skill as valuable to them as mathematics and science. Without mastery of English, the future job prospects in the Gulf are slim, as knowledge of this language is essential. Only recently, since the 1970’s, villagers from Galjibaga have continued this tradition of working abroad, bringing home fortunes relative to the profits made from traditional occupations like fishing and toddy-tapping.

riverOverseas influence, however, are hardly new to the villagers living in Galjibaga. Prior to liberation, Galjibaga, like most villages in the New Conquests, experienced the presence of the Portuguese.

Though neither colonial administrators nor soldiers had their permanent homes here, the village was frequented by officers from the nearby outposts in Canacona, Maxem, and Poinguinim. Accounts of this occupation vary among villagers, the Catholics who enjoyed the presence of the Portuguese and the Hindus who found their rule oppressive and stifling. Fortunately today, villagers adhering to both Catholic and Hindu ways of life practice them side-by-side peacefully and with equally whole-hearted devotion.

Thus from toddy-tapping to televisions, from Portuguese to English, and from wading through water to waiting tables in Kuwait, the villagers in Galjibaga have successfully mastered transition while keeping the same village atmosphere.

All this seems set to change however, because in 1982 government officials arrived with plans to construct a National Highway which would pass directly through the sleepy town of Galjibaga. Similarly, just a few hundred meters in the distance, the infrastructure has already been finished for the path of the Konkan Railway, whose path cuts directly through the village.

Hardly the mage of a romantic, sleepy future of Galjibaga, yet her residents at least seem to have accepted the situation in stride, and not without a bit of foresight. Yet although residents of Galjibaga welcome a prosperous future, they do so not without considerable caution.

In the early 1990’s a business-minded local began plans to construct a luxury hotel directly on the beachfront. However, the community under the leadership of the parish priest opposed this hotel, arguing that it was illegal to construct within 100 meters of the seashore.

After a few letters to and appointments with government officials, the hotel was stopped, demonstrating that although villagers in Galjibaga are involved in modern society in a variety of ways, tradition, tranquility, and timeless All this seems set to change however, because in 1982 government officials arrived with plans to construct a National Highway which would pass directly through the sleepy town of Galjibaga.

Similarly, just a few hundred meters in the distance, the infrastructure has already been finished for the path of the Konkan Railway, whose path cuts directly through the village. Hardly the image of a romantic, sleepy future of Galjibaga, yet her residents at least seem to have accepted the situation in stride, and not without a bit of foresight. Yet although residents of Galjibaga welcome a prosperous future, they do so not without considerable caution.

In the early 1990’s a business-minded local began plans to construct a luxury hotel directly on the beachfront. However, the community under the leadership of the parish priest opposed this hotel, arguing that it was illegal to construct within 100 meters of the seashore.

After a few letters to and appointments with government officials, the hotel was stopped, demonstrating that although villagers in Galjibaga are involved in modern society in a variety of ways, tradition, tranquility, and timeless occupations also remain strong among forces in Galjibaga.

By Karin Larsen – Full Bright Research Student
Excerpt from “Glimpses of Goa