MOCIDADE PORTUGUESA

We didn’t have a Boy Scout movement in Goa in the late forties, as far as I know. The alternative was the Moçidade Portuguesa, a cadet corps that every school was required to organize as a show of patriotism and loyalty towards the Portuguese motherland.

I was a member of the Moçidade for two years when I was ten and eleven years old. My uniform was a khaki short-sleeved safari shirt with epaulets, a pair of khaki shorts, and a khaki side cap. Stitched to the shirt’s left pocket was an embroidered badge of Portugal’s court of arms.

dnaspOnce a month, we would participate in a military drill that started with a rousing rendition of the Portuguese national anthem. We sang with gusto “Heróis do mar, nobre povo Nacão valente, imortal…” to the glory of a period when Portugal was a maritime power. Then we’d do some drills like learning to stand to attention, turn right, turn left, about turn, and march.

The marching always irritated me because of the way the other kids marched. They’d raise their knees like harness ponies and thump the ground flat-footed whereas I marched like the soldiers of the King’s African Rifles back in East Africa. And I’d be told that I was not marching properly!

Part of the uniform was a pair of knee-high khaki stockings worn with a regular pair of shoes that would otherwise be worn only on special occasions such as church feasts, weddings and funerals. Footwear was an expensive commodity, and some kids did their drills in bare feet.

But there was one kid who had everything! He was Milo Pinto, and he grew up in an affluent family that spoke Portuguese at home. Milo was friendly and outgoing, and he loved to dress well. When Milo came to the parade ground, his uniform was immaculate; shirt and pants pressed, shoes polished to a spotless shine, and cap worn at a rakish angle. Needless to say, he was appointed the comandante de castelo (platoon commander). He barked out his orders in Portuguese, and made sure we all marched in step. Sometimes he’d get our attention by blowing a whistle that he carried in his shirt pocket. The whistle was attached to a lanyard that was looped around his right shoulder. Milo was later promoted to comandante de bandera (standard bearer), and got to wear a distinctive dark green shirt that went with the new position. Milo exuded confidence, and he enjoyed his leadership role as much as we enjoyed watching him perform his duties with Latin flair.

Then there was another kid, Jose ‘Zezito’ Lobo, from Donvaddo who also dressed like Milo, but led an older group. He took his position seriously, and eventually made a career in the police force and the military.

One year, President Antonio Salazar came to Goa on an official visit. As part of the fanfare, the Moçidade Portuguesa cadets were required to line the waterfront avenue all the way from Campal to the Secretariat building in downtown Panjim.

The organizers in Panjim assigned two bicycles to each school contingent, and I hustled to be one of the cyclistas, thinking that I would get to ride the bicycle in the parade. Instead, I had to march along with the other boys while pushing the bicycle by my side. I cursed as I slogged through the parade while my friends who thought  at first that they had lucked out as cyclistas swaggered along with smug looks on their faces.

But my strenuous experience at the parade was soon forgotten when we all had a refreshing sharop at a soft drink stand near the ferry before returning home.

If the Mocidade Portuguesa was intended to have any political overtones, I wasn’t aware of any, and I don’t think I would have cared, either. To me, the Moçidade Portuguesa was just one more of the many activities that made my schooldays in rural Saligão so enjoyable and interesting.