Morjim – The Wonder Wavelength …

Morjim comprises a picturesque portion of Goa’s 103-square metre long shoreline in the North. The swish and rustle of the waters of the Arabian sea and the Chapora river bestow on it a bountiful catch of choice fish and coconuts as well as beautiful vistas. Hedged by hillocks, which chase the habitated plains and gently dissolve on the pristine beach, Morjim offers gorgeous viewpoints from sea-level upwards.

Morjim interests different people for different reasons. For sure, it’s a rural place shrouded in quaint customs and traditions like most Goan villages. It boasts about one of the loveliest beaches. Moreover, it’s the home of Goa’s traditional folk-dance ghoddemodni and maddachem godd (coconut jaggery). It’s also known as the “feni cellar” of North Goa and harbours 10,000-odd hardworking, quick-witted and exuberant inhabitants.

The village vibes to the rhythm of the breakers because its mainstay is the sea for fish and the shoreline palmgroves for toddy-tapping. Even their goddess Bhagwati sprang from the sea and being fished out by the morjes (fishermen) came to be called Morzai. Some Morjekars believe that she came riding on a mhor (peacock) and hence mhor-jim. Nobody hurts the peacocks which frequent the hillocks amidst the cashew plantations.

The skin tone of the weather-washed fishermen has turned rich ebony. Back ashore, they recount legend after legend while they mend the fishing nets. One such legend claims that the village was being gobbled up by the sea. But a satpurush (a holy person) implored mother nature and she saved the land. The grateful villagers erected the Satpurush temple at the foothills, venue of the divzam – a festival in which people dance with burning torches on their heads.

The colourful render (toddy-tapper) has had an eyeful of the village outdoors and the sea yonder while atop the wind-rocked coconut tree, to collect toddy (coconut feni). His is a popular silhouette with a dudkem (a toddy container made of gourd) dangling by his waistband. Climbing up and down the tall coconut tree consistently tones their muscles and singing vigorously to tide over tedium while at work, develops their vocal chords. No wonder there are such good Konkani singers and soccer players here.

Morjim being predominantly Hindu, celebrations come thick and fast. The poorer the people the more is their propensity to celebrate. The feast calling for special mention, however,  is  the  month-long kollos held once in seven years at the 250-year-old five-temple complex. Devotees from the neighbouring villages of Maharashtra drop in for the festival. “At this time, a wild boar is tracked down and caught. To the beat of the drums, the animal is ushered into the village from the hills. It’s the killed as a religious sacrifice; each household is given  a meat fragment as prasad. Those who don’t eat meat, hurl it reverently on the roof top,” says Balkrishna Naik, Morjim’s oldest grocer.

Where there is a village, there is a ritual. In one annual event called Bokddo, a he-goat is taken to the every ward limit to the beating of the drums. Another sacrificial killing takes place, which the locals believe, safeguards the village against all vignam (evil) and sickness. Hartul is one more local ritual preceding the kollos. People here give credence to queer rituals. If any article is robbed or lost, the villagers burn a candle and sing a litany at the cross at the mandd. Miraculously, the stollen or lost items are traced.

milagresAfter a prolonged tug-of-war with the Marathas and Muslims, Portuguese secured complete control over Pernem somewhere around 1801. Christians form just a 36 per cent slice of  the population of Morjim because by the time the Portuguese regained supremacy over Pernem, conversions was already a thing of the past. Vithaldas vaddo, Temba, Vhoilo vaddo, Modhlo vaddo and Bhattir are the major Catholic areas. People from Agarvaddo, in Chopdem, also come under the Morjim parish. Until 1902, they attended the services at the Arambol church. They have their own parish since 1902, the year in which  the chapel of Our Lady of Miracles became a church.

Community size, however, hardly matters as far as pomp and pageantry is concerned during the Christian feasts. Morjekars spread everywhere return to their village for the feast of Our Lady of Milagres. The feast of São João too brings lot of cheer to enliven the wet monsoons. In pouring ran, youngsters wearing colourful coronets jump in the wells and the river. They dance and sing cheerfully on a flower-bedecked sangodd (a decorated pontoon of two countrycrafts) in the river. They chant Viva Sao Joao. Much feni flows around all the while. Good-humoured guys like Dores D’Souza are much in demand at such merry occasions. Dores, a sturdy render, strums his Spanish guitar and sings Elvis’ songs to glory.

“In August, we celebrate St. Roque’s feast. This feast is full of religious fervour. More penitents line up at the confessional during this feast than in Lent,” says  the parish priest Fr. Lawrence Rodrigues. Morjekars hold Our Lady of Vailankani in great fervour. Goans are hardly given to touring except for the pilgrimage to Vailankani. But every Morjekar who can afford, visits the shrine of Vailankani in Madras. Others attend the novenas  of Our Lady of Vailankani at the  Bamon Vaddo chapel in Siolim.

madachemMorjim’s closest neighours are Chopdem on the  East and Ashvem-Mandrem on the West.  One has to cross the Chapora river either by the rundown Colvale bridge or by the Siolim-Chopdem ferry. Once the bridge acorss the Chapora river gets ready, access to Morjim will be faster. Until that time the ferry will be the main mode for travel for the vast tourist traffic headed for Arambol beach via Morjim and Mandrem.

Maddachem godd (coconut  jigger), compulsory for traditional Goan sweets, comes from Morjim’s Agarvaddo. You know when you arrive at the goddkar’s house from the strong smell that greets one while driving past it. From here it’s just 4-kilometre drive to Morjim’s picnic beach, the first on Pernem’s picturesque shoreline. Beautiful is the pot-bellied beach when watches from the dilapidated Chapora fort guarding the river mouth. The sands are highlighted by the casuarina woods. Beyond the bend hides the more picturesque rock-lined stretch where the fishing canoes are moored. It is here that most of the kite-fish is caught.

Goan xit-coddi grows in taste as one travels northwards. Pernem’s chicken xacuti and kalvamchem dish is really tongue-tickling due to the special chillies and onions, plus abundant coconut. However, one hardly gets to see murdoxeo (lady fish), mackerals, tiger prawns, etc. like before. The catch used to be so heavy that the bulk would go for manuring the palmgroves, which gratefully yielded ample coconuts.

vivareHem burantteachem iug!. Lokak khavunk nistem mellonam tor maddank khuim melltem? (We are in the age of the burantto (tiny, bony fish). Where there is not enough fish for people, what will be left to manure the coconut trees?)” moans an elderly canoeman. But despite the trying times, a stiff one of feni is never too far in Morjim. Aren’t we in North Goa’s ‘feni cellar’? Several render households help distill Goa’s staple spirit, which is sold in the wholesale  liquor marts at Siolim, Mapuça and elsewhere.

Modern amenities like telephones with even optical fibre have invaded rural households here. That telephones don’t work is another story altogether. But it’s a fact that the late Hiru Baba Naik had done the spadework for telecommunications in Morjim during the telegram times. But the Second World War dunked his dreams, and few poles still tell the tale. Anyway, Morjekars are very engaging conversationalists, whose twangy Konkani bristles with idioms and expressions coined by the adventurous seafarer or the jovial  toddy-tapper. It’s out and out rustic.

Pernem taluka comprises 18 panchayats and one municipality. Morjim is the one of the largest panchayats, where the fruits of freedom trickle in – a bank, rural development schemes, trysem classes for girls, etc. But very few of the simple and hospitable folk own land in this backward region. Land generally belongs to the bhattkar. The people still respect bhattkars like Ratnakar V. Shetgaonkar, whom they have retained as sarpanch  since 1972. His ancestor, the late Ravalsheth Gaonkar, was the village headman during the Maratha period.

Despite a largely secluded beach, tourism hasn’t caught on here. Though neighbouring Arambol is a scene where tourist throng and the famous beach parties are held. A couple of  hotel  projects have been planned but will employment materialise sufficiently for  the local youth? One prays that hotels and tourism may not marginalise the locals further, or push them back into rural professions or to seek fortunes in the Gulf. They are talented and some of Goa’s finest stonecutters hail from here. But who cares for their talent except when it’s Ganesh time and clay idols are needed.

Only a few locals ventured into trading, the late Hiru  Damodar Naik having no peer. Morjim being the port of call for the Bombay-Panaji coastal ship, Naik established a thriving trading post. In 1935, his floor mill processed ukdde tanddull from paddy collected from Karachi to Kerala. Along with rice, he sold roofing tiles and essential commodities throughout the taluka and beyond it. His son, Baba Hiru Naik (77), pioneered the co-operative banking movement  in Goa and along with like-minded entrepreneurs set  up the Mapuça Urban Co-operative Bank.

Morjim, however, has come a long way from the time when classes were held in cowsheds. In 1925, Hiru Damodar Naik Bandodkar, Bhiso Shankar Shetgaonkar, Vinayak Atmaram Sansgiri, Kashinath Sadhashiv Zoixy and Atma Vithu Shetgaonkar founded the Vidhya Prasarak School to teach Marathi. It is an English medium high now. Education has been on the rise since then. Peter Alvares  High  School was set up about 10 years. There are seven primary  and middle schools in Morjim. Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery have recently bolstered  the educational field with a  KG  school  at Bhattier. Fr Lawrence Rodrigues, the local parish priest, will add another primary school soon and perhaps some kindred soul will support his endeavour with help.

Being a coastal village, football  and dhirio (bullfights) excite Morjekars. A recent legislation has done away with dhirio on the count of cruelty to animals. Football, of course, carries on and there are five clubs dedicated to this game. Outstanding footballers like David D’Souza (Dempo),  Bharat  Morje (Salgaocar) and Vishwas  Gaonkar (Sesa Goa) have represented their teams and Goa too.

Says  Laxmikant Naik, “The ghoddemoddni in reality  is horses on parade for the kings, who were Raut Dessais, when the beautiful mouth of Chapora (Shahapur of yesteryears) river was a flourishing trading centre. Arabs dhows landed horses at Chapora.”

Traces of Muslim occupation are evident in property names. The original residents were Maratha Kshatriyas, and  there was only one house of Kulkarnis. They were Kushasthali Brahmins from Cortalim, known as Sansgiris. Says their descendant, Gajanan Bicaji Sansgiri, “The Muslims used to harass the Marathas. Hence the latter with the help of the Bhandari  samaj drove away the Muslims from the village. In this fight several Hindus lost their lives,  became local martyrs, in whose memory was raised the structure  at “viranchi bhatti”. Viranchi bhatti is visited by every newly wed couple of Morjim.

The small Comunidade of Morjim is virtually the fiefdom of the Shetgaonkars. It collects merely about Rs.1000 in annual income. Time and development, however, work to transform the village though very slowly. The youngsters are anxious and curious, and even their girls are not the normal, shy types. They come into their elements during any marriage in the village – usually a whole night scene. There’s no end to the dancing, to the rhythm of the brass band belting out  vintage music. A multi-dish, sumptuous dinner carries on and drinks flow incessantly. These are the right occasions to read the barometer of traditional Goan joy de vivre, which still thrives in the nooks of the serene and beautiful countryside.

Joel D’souza