The Cult of Fish

Fish is an integral part of the Goan diet, and fish-curry-rice in all its varieties defines the standard meal in Goan homes. Almost everyone, including the Gowda, Saraswat Brahmins, consume fish as part of their daily diet, and as many preparations are m ade from mangoes and curry, the same if not more variety can be found in ther Goan consumption of fish. Dried salt fish, ravafried fish, fish rechado, fish-in-curry, fish ambor tik, fish masala, and fish vindaloo are several of the preparations involved in the consumption of fish.

Mackerel, Kingfish, and Pomfret’s are popular varieties and prawns, crabs, mussels, and oysters are also popular fruits of the sea. Fishing is an occupation in Goa which dates back from time immemorial. The original tribal settlers in Goa were fishermen a nd hunters, and villages were constructed near the sea and inland rivers. Even today all along the coast and inland waterways, fishing is a major occupation and a stronghold of the fishing community.

The life of a fisherman, like most traditional occupations in Goa, is determine by the rhythms of nature and involves the entire family. among ancient marriage tradition, a newly wed couple in the fishing community would together catch a fish symbolically from a water tub in the centre of the room as the part of the ritual celebrations.

Goenche-RamponkarIn the daily occupational routine, the men first take to the sea in the early morning hours before day break in order to set their nets in the water. As the sun rises and the fish begin their daily search for food, the fishermen relax in their boats and wait. By 8 a.m. they pull up their nets and return to the shore with the days catch. After being helped on shore by other village fishermen, the nets (made out of clear nylon of late and fine twine in the days of yore) are then opened and the fish and crus taceans are removed into baskets with help from the women and younger family members.

While the men drag the boats higher onto the shore above the high-tide line, the women carry the catch to the market in a neighboring town where they bargain with customers to reach a suitable price. The family also keeps aside enough fish for their own c onsumption and in some instances may trade it locally with other villagers. In the afternoon, the men return to the seas and again repeat the process of setting the nets and waiting as the sun sets to bring in their nets.

In many villages one boat will be owned by five or six men who work as a team, or one man may own several boats which he then gives out on rent to fishermen for specified rates. A traditional boat is usually 8 to 10 feet in length and made of wood.The bot tom is constructed from the trunk of a coconut tree and the sides are made with ply wood bought in town.The planks are stitched to the bottom with a heavy twine, and the whole boat is coated in a thick water-proof black tar which strengthens the wood and increases the life time of the boat [which is usually around 25-30 years]. A wooden balance is then attached to the body of the boat by thin wooden tree poles in order to provide stability and balance to the boat. In olden days fishermen fastened their ow n nets from finely woven twine, but today most are capable of purchasing synthetic nylon nets from the town stores.

betul1As in most of Goa’s traditional occupations, the monsoons play a key role in the occupational cycles of fishermen. By mid-to late june, the rough seas and rainy weather prevent fishermen from continuing in their daily routine,thus substantially decreasing their catch and the availability fish in the market. The majority of Goans, therefore, in the last week in may and early weeks of june,purchase cosiderable amounts of dried salt fish which can last throughtout the monsoon season.This preparation can be e aten plain or in curries and other spicy dishes,and from november through may visitors can see and smell fish drying in the hot sun outside of fishing communities. If a visitor intends to buy fish in the local market,however,be prepared to haggle determin ably at any time of the year!