THE VILLAGE OF SALIGAO
Saligão is a village in the district of Bardez, and it covers an area of approximately ten square miles. The residential areas, comprising nine wards, circle a sprawling carpet of paddy fields that form the core of the village.
The southern part of the village borders on a hill that separates it from the villages of Candolim and Pilerne. The wards in the north overlook rice paddy fields that separate them from the villages of Nagoa, Parra and Guirim. The villages of Calangute and Sangolda flank Saligão on the west and east respectively.
When I went to school in the early fifties, the population was said to be around 4,000, which I always felt was on the high side. Perhaps the number included the hundreds of domiciled villagers who actually lived and worked in other cities in India and overseas in East Africa.
The villagers of Saligão were called Foxes by other Goans. This label goes back to a time when Saligão, originally an agricultural community, turned to growing sugarcane on a large scale. The venture was so successful that neighbouring villagers dubbed our villagers uxelantlé kolé, meaning ‘foxes from the cane plantations’.
However, during my schooldays,the mainstay of Saligão was the rice fields and cash remittances from those working abroad. There was no industry to provide factory jobs for the villagers. The only fulltime jobs that existed were those for one post master/mistress, two mailmen, a regidor (Justice of the Peace), an escrivão (clerk), two church sacristans, three sextons, and about a dozen teachers for the two schools. There were openings for a vicar and his curate in the village church, and for chaplains in the four chapels. But a hometown priest would have to be lucky to get one of these postings that were assigned by the Archdiocese in Panjim.
With the strong influence that the Church had on the community, villagers generally stuck to the straight and narrow, and stayed away from any serious criminal activity. Consequently, there were no policemen.
The few businesses in the village were family-operated. There were three general stores, three liquor stores, three goldsmiths, two barbers, one fireworks supplier, one bottler of carbonated water, two bhajia (lentil fritters) outlets, a couple of dhobis (laundrymen), and a few bidi (Indian ‘stogy’) makers. Two private schools could also be included in this group – Mater Dei, which was founded by a dedicated educator and great benefactor, Anacleto Lobo, and Lourdes Convent run by the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King.
The homeowners in Saligão were mainly Catholic, and they were generally better off than their Hindu fellow villagers as a result of having inherited many social privileges from their ancestors who chose to convert to Catholicism after the colonization of Goa by the Portuguese in 1510. Some owned ancestral paddy fields while others leased their fields from the comunidade (communal land). A few owned ‘properties’ (tracts of land) that provided an income from produce such as coconuts, mangoes and other tropical fruit.
The farm workers were mainly Hindu. Most of them lived in a gotó situated within the grounds of the Catholic homeowner. The gotó was a stone structure standing on its own, apart from the main house. It would have been used in the past for the storage of firewood, clay pots, old furniture or just about anything for which there was no immediate use. But during my schooldays, most of the Catholic breadwinners lived and worked abroad, leaving their retired parents with lots of room to spare in the main house. Consequently, the gotó would be leased to Hindu labourers free of rent in exchange for their commitment to sow and weed the homeowner’s paddy fields, and reap it for a share of the harvest. This was not slavery, but a business transaction that was fair to the landowner and the tenant.
We had a gotó that was occupied by Pandu and his family. He owned two bulls and one cow. The bulls were used in ploughing the fields and drawing the ghadó (open cart for hauling heavy items) and the ghadi (covered cart that seated six passengers). The cow’s milk was sold to us and a couple of our neighbours
Despite this social disparity, the Catholics and Hindus got along amicably. We all considered ourselves as belonging to the village of Saligão and, oddly enough, as equals in an unequal society.