POOR PRICELESS PIG
Every household in Saligão owned its own pig. The pig in a Goan village was a vital waste disposal system with the capacity to far exceed the capability of most modern disposal systems.
Unfortunately, its services would be rewarded with a sad ending.
When it came close to the annual feast of the Church of Mãe de Deus, the pig became the equivalent of the North American turkey at Thanksgiving; it’s days were numbered, and it was time for villagers to enjoy Goa’s specialty dish – sorpotel.
Sorpotel is a dish that is made up of lightly roasted diced pork and liver and cooked in 12 different spices. Sorpotel is to Goan cuisine what Susegad is to a Goan’s pace of life – something to be savoured slowly and with complete disregard for the trials and tribulations of the world around us… But I digress.
The task of catching the pig for slaughter was that of the pig catcher. He came from Marvod, a ward on the fringe of the village that housed villagers who engaged in most of the menial work in the community. I can’t remember his real name, so I’ll just pick João from the many colourful names I remember like Bostiao, Caetano, Zuzulo, Salvador and, of course Xavier (pronounced ‘Shavi-air’).
João had a mangy tick-infested dog that snoozed most of the time. Whenever it stood up to walk, it would droop its head and just amble along seemingly in pain. But “Shuga!” would completely change its demeanour.
“Shuga” was the command to attack. This followed a routine where the lady of the house would call out to the pig with a “Yeh, yeh, yeh” until it would be seen nimbly trotting towards her and grunting in expectation of a nice feed. This is when João would take over. He’d point to the pig yelling “Shuga”, and the dog would charge his target with an uncharacteristic burst of energy, sink its teeth into the pig’s ear and tip it on its back. At the same time, João would rush in to tie the hind legs to the front legs like a calf roper would do in a rodeo, before slipping a bamboo pole through them to transport the critter to the owner’s back yard for slaughter.
The next morning, the pig would be put out of its misery, and the mest a hired cook from Marvod would burn off the skin and bristles with a torch of dried palm leaves before cutting up the meat. He would then put aside the meat required by the homeowner, and have the rest sold in the tinto to pay for his services which involved cooking the sorpotel and any other pork dishes for the festive lunch, and preparing coils of chouriço – Goa’s piquant sausages.
The staple food of villagers was rice and fish curry, but the specialty pork dishes that featured on feast days were products of Goans’ culinary skills for which Goan chefs were renowned in many colonies of the then mighty British Empire.
The pig played an important role in traditional village life, and it can rightfully claim its place as one of the icons of rural Goa of bygone days