Southern Pioneers

South  Goa’s seaside  village of Majorda draws pride due to her pristine beach, famed musicians, enterprising bakers and tasty watermelons. Majordekars brought “pao” for Bardezkars.

mbb2From the silvery coast inwards, the extensive Salcette village, a leaf green, unending palmgrove, throws up variegated views of its lovely landscape. Blame it on the South Central railway set up in 1885, if the Majordekars have migrated away from home in large numbers, and populated the cities of the world with talented musicians, gourmets and bakers. They travelled to Bombay and from there signed on luxury ocean-liners as tarvottis (sailors).

Those with a smattering of English sailed to East Africa and the more qualified, educated in Portuguese landed jobs in Portuguese Africa. Somewhere around the third generation, when the East Africans began extricating themselves from colonial tentacles, Majordekars could have returned to the waiting embrace of their motherland. They didn’t. They jetted still further to the chillier climes of England, Canada and Australia in search of bread, butter and better pastures. The orderliness and prosperity the home front displays, therefore, isn’t the fruits of development brought about by any government–colonial or otherwise. But it mirrors largely the money order economy.

In 1985, approximately a century from the laying of the South Central rail tracks, the Konkan Railway, despite vehement local opposition, preferred to pass through Majorda. The train doesn’t halt here to pick up any Majordekar, who lives 7 kms from Margao and 22 kms from Vasco da Gama. But the train truncates the thickly populated village further, holding up the villagers several times a day or night at the level crossing, with no hopes of any overbridge.

“Majorda was known for watermelons, particularly Utorda. But watermelons are virtually extinct now due to the excessive use of chemical fertilisers,” says the suave Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo, whose engrossing short stories drip with poignant vignettes of his beloved village and its rustic lifestyle. Mauzo bagged the covetted Sahitya Academy Award for his novel Carmelin.

If the Majorda melons are extremely tasty, the secret is the carcass of a cow dumped into a well and the plantation irrigated with its water. The unbearable stink also keeps away any prowlers anxious to steal the melons, a Majordekar told me in confidence(!).

“Do what you may but the melons won’t grow bigger than a football anymore. It’s a matter of concern that the water table has gone down terribly, and many of the local ponds have dried up. Ker, Majorda’s long extensive cultivable track, would be sufficient to feed the entire population of South Goa if water of the Sal river is managed wisely.” “Ganv amcho xar zata,” (our village is getting urbanised) Mauzo says poetically. Due to the Birla Zuari Agro Chemicals plant at neighbouring Sancoale, many outsiders have settled in Majorda, where concrete buildings keep coming up. “Once upon a time, we used to take our guests to the beach. We used to meet known people all along the way as we walked leisurely. Things have changed and tourism has brought largely unknown faces. The traditional fishermen, on the beach, have been displaced by mechanised trawlers,” he adds.

mbb4On Sunday, May 3, 1998, the Mae de Deus church front was decorated with colourful buntings for the feast of the patroness. Stalls of traditional kaddio-boddio (Goan sweets), balloon sellers and the  usual  eats-stall added traditional colour to the village fair. In the  dusty compound  by the railway tracks, a wooden stage had been readied and rows of metal chairs laid out for a tiatr.

The ceremonial procession of the High Mass celebrants and altar-servers stood at the main portal. The choir, led by young choirmaster Teles Rodrigues, sang the welcoming hymn mellifluously. Excitement and the smell of bursting crackers filled the village air on the festacho dis, a nostalgic occasion for all to return home for the sannam-vodde ani sorpotel.

When we asked directions to the residence of former Loutulim MLA, advocate Radharao Gracias, people eagerly told us that he’d be at home it being a feast. Radharao is worth talking to because he keeps track not only of birds (being an avid birdwatcher) but of all things and events worth noting. Keeping up the spirit of rustic hospitality and tradition, Radharao served us with kaddio-boddio. His wife greeted us with soft-drinks.

Radharao said, “Demographically, Majorda is comprised of two Catholic castes–the Chardo and Sudra. The Chardo community is sub-divided into the landed gentry, which comprises just about 40 houses, while the majority is made up of bakers. There is a sprinkling of Hindus but Brahmins are virtually non-existent as gaunkars.”

“Calata, Majorda and Utorda used to be separate revenue villages under one parish. Now Utorda has its own parish under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes. The main parish is under the church of Mae de Deus of Majorda. The handsomely large area falls in a single panchayat with a population of around 9,000. As for the etymology, Calata stands for khala which lies in the South. Majorda is the maz (middle) and Utorda is the ut’tor(north). Orda probably stands for a section on the side,” Radharao adds.

The village is made up of the comunidades of Utorda, Calata and Dongerim. The earliest gaunkars of Majorda consisted of 12 vangors, generally of the Chardo caste and bore the Hindu surname Vangari (Vangddi) and Garo (Gadd). Brahmins, of course, are virtually non-existent among the original gaunkars all over coastal Salcette, except in Benaulim. Utorda gaunkars were generally Naiks while those in the Calata comunidade included surnames like Shetyes, Naiks, Mauzos and Garos.

“From the original list of gauncars, we (Mauzos) are the only ones to survive conversion,” he says when asked about the principal Hindu households of the village. Utorda has the Contocos. There are Hindus like goldsmiths, masons and others, but they came from elsewhere and settled in Majorda much later.

Following conversions, Majorda came to be filled with Godinhos. By 1588, the church of Mae de Deus was built under Jesuit leadership. The church celebrated the fourth centenary on May 5, 1988. It was the first church to be built in Salcette. The foundation holds a wooden statue of Mae de Deus beside the xenddis (tufts of hair) of the new converts. They chopped and buried the tufts bidding adieu to their Hindu past.

mbb5The hardy folk continued with the agrarian occupations of growing rice in the monsoons and water-melons during the dry season. No one likes to work in the fields nowadays. They all prefer government jobs. “Farm labour comes from Castlerock during the farming season. There are so many coconut trees but there are no paddekar (coconut pluckers) anywhere,” Mauzo says.

Radharao says that Majordekars were bullies of sorts and hence neighbourhood villagers would avoid interfering with them as far as possible. However, one finds them cultured, and hardly as rugged as they are made out to be. Is it because of the effect of education provided by two high schools: St Aloysius High School built in 1924 and St Anthony’s (Diocesan) High School established in 1941 by the then parish priest Fr Basilio Andrade from Velim? The very conservative priest is remembered well past his death for his long, dedicated service to Majorda. In course of time, the Carmelite nuns set up the Mae de Deus convent, where girls major in home science.

If music runs in Goan blood, it’s virtually a river in spate in Majorda-Calata-Utorda. Suffice to mention the name of Antonio Trindade Gonsalves, the aging maestro who gave birth to Indo-Western fusion music. Remember the popular Hindi song “My name is Anthony Gonsalves”? It’s him. Gonsalves composed music for Hindi movies and then migrated to the US to score music for Hollywood films.

Terezinha Gonsalves is a much respected classical musician in Singapore. Leslie Godinho, a veteran percussionist, and Monseratte brothers–Blasco and Bosco–rank among India’s jazz greats. Leslie’s son Lester, an ace drummer, is a chip of the old block. Among the younger classical musicians Alvaro Assumcao Pereira of Utorda is a violin virtuoso.

On the intellectual front, Majorda has given birth to the likes of Fr Maximo Godinho, the first Goan rector of the Rachol Seminary. Antonio Bernardo Braganca Pereira was a noted historian and judge whose jurisprudence is still held in awe in Goa as well as in Portugal.

Fr Antonio Bernardo Pereira, sj, was a linguist par excellence besides being a missionary and a writer, Alexandre Jose Braganca, a Papal Knight, Fr Antonio Joaquim Jeronimo Pereira, former editor of Konkani weekly Vauraddeancho Ixtt, and Fr Nicolau Pereira was the principal of St Xaviers College, Mapusa, and used to edit church monthly Renovacao. Today we have Fr Sergio Mascarenhas, SFX, graduated in Canon as well as Civil Law, editing V. Ixtt, which appears on the internet.

In Uganda, Norman Godinho was the richest man, owning nearly a third of the country’s theatres and several sisal estates. His daughter was the Queen’s Council and his son owns a manufacturing unit in the Silicon Valley in the States. Among the rising stars is Jose Pio Gracias Pereira, chief executive of Synopsis (US) in India.

Talk of soccer and they have Anthony Baptista, a prolific footballer who captained the Indian under-21 team. The Associacao Academica de Majorda, Utorda and Calata shines in football.

Advocate Claude Moraes from Utorda was the chairman of the Labour Party Immigration Cell in the UK and the party candidate during the last elections. Radharao Gracias seems to be the sole Majordekar politician to date besides Joao Manuel Vaz, the Mormugao MLA. Radharao would also be the right person to find out if there are anymore eminent Majordekars anywhere else

In front of the church stands a statue raised in honour of Joaquim Fernandes. This promising young athlete had won a gold medal at the Republic Day cross-country race in Delhi. Unfortunately, while Majorda was preparing to felicitate him for the grand success, Joaquim took ill within a fortnight of his return with the medal, and breathed his last.

P. D’Mello was a popular tiatrist once. The villagers figure among the best entertainers in Goa. Probably it has something to do with their mellifluous vocals coupled with the highly musical way of speaking Konkani. Does it echo the rhythm of the waves or swaying of the coconut trees in the village, blessed with one of the most beautiful beaches of Goa?

The early Hippies introduced the pristine Majorda beach to international travellers and in course of time it has emerged into a virtual Baga of Salcette. Bang on the powdery, white sands stands the reputed five-star Majorda Beach Resort. Utorda has the swanky Renaissance resort. Along the shoreland have sprung up numerous bars, restaurants, fast food shacks and stalls catering to the tourists.

mbb6Taxis and motorcycles for hire too have increased substantially here. In the interior, there are several grand mansions, among which the house of Triofonio Jacques merits a mention in almost every tourist brochure. Worth a second look are the haciendas of Barros Pereira and Braganca.

Majordekars are surely the most prominent Goan migrators followed by the Carambolkars, who built bunds and dykes in villages with khazan fields and waterways. Majordekars have spread to every nook and cranny of Goa. All the Godinhos, however, seem to have taken the ride by the harbour train to Mormugao. They were attracted by the employment potential of the shipping companies, the Mormugao Port Trust and Goa Shipyard. They are found settled at the Mangor Hill and Buttea Bhatt in Vasco.

The first face a Bardezkar sees before breakfast is that of the Majordekar poder (breadman), the clever guy who shifted the Bardezkar from his morning bakor (chapatti) to pao (bread). Once upon a time, the baker (generally a Braganca) would move in the village almost at dawn with a large basket of bread on his head and a thick bamboo staff with pieces of metal in it. The unusual jingling sound that the staff created, summoned people out of bed to buy bread.

Though Majorda is predominantly Catholic now, it must have been a spiritual home for many Hindus once because historians tell us that Majorda had several ancient Hindu temples, enjoying the most prominence was the Mahamai temple. There were other temples dedicated to Sidnatha, Canno, Betall, Santeri and Jogue Balgondar in Majorda (Rui Gomes Pereira, Hindu Temples and Deities). In Utorda there were temples dedicated to Betall, Vagro, Mahadeva, Ekallovio and Grampurusha. A Nandi bull discovered in Utorda now stands in the Archaeological Museum.

Though most of the Majordekars in Bardez are Bragancas, in their native Majorda one rarely encounters people with this surname. Besides pao (bread), there is another important thing which they smuggled into Bardez. Have you heard about the famous tambddim kallangam (red watermelons) of Parra in  Bardez? You do! But few know that these are the special seeds of the famous watermelons of Majorda, which the Pachecos took to the fields of Parra.

One just doesn’t know what a versatile Majordekar can take to which place to keep himself consistently amidst the pantheon of successful, Goan entrepreneurs and pioneers.

Joel D’Souza