'Land of the Sal Tree' is a book promising "stories of the history, legends and traditions" of this "typical Goan village". Saligao is located a short distance -- three to four kilometres -- from the North Goa coast. But unlike some of the beach villages which have speedily turned into concrete jungles, this one has still retained some charm.
This book is authored by Fr. Nascimento J. Mascarenhas, a priest from the village who has served in diverse parishes across Goa. Fr. Mascarenhas has an abiding passion for Goa's history -- specially Church history. So much so that he has authored half-a-dozen books so far.
The book's goal, says the author, is to provide "readers with an enlightening snapshot of the history, culture and traiditions of Saligao". Saligao lies somewhere in between the prominent former fishing-village turned tourism-hotspot of Calangute, the North Goa commercial capital of Mapusa and state-capital of Panjim.
"Saligao abounds in dustry lanes and naorrow pathways which will take you to quaint shrines and half-hidden gardens, old crumbling houses next to brightly painted modern structures or well maintained so-called 'Portuguese' houses," says a foreword to the book by Yvonne Vaz Ezdani. Also a villager, Vaz Ezdani has authored her own book (on the history of Goans in Burma) some four years earlier.
Offering a good amount of local history, the book keeps its style informal and catchy, and intersperses its text with attractive illustrations. It talks about unusual institutions and individuals that make up the village.
For instance, the village-crier of the yesteryears was called the 'parpoti'. Way back in the 1920s, expat villages took the initiative to set up a local club that took care of the locals' entertainment and intellectual nourishment. Today, in distant regions -- Bombay, London and Toronto -- expat villagers keep their flag flying by organising events and cultural get-togethers, as do expats from some other villages of Goa.
Saligao has had its traditional schools, before the Portuguese, early colonisers in South Asia, reached Goa in 1510. Later on, besides parochial and Latin/Portuguese schools, this region and its neighbourhood was also one of the first to play home to English-medium schools in Goa. This perhaps explains why so many of the people from around here migrated to the English-speaking world, earlier in East Africa and more recently to North America, Australia, or the UK.
For instance, the Mater Dei Institution, a school still actively running, was founded in 1909. Another local school, Lourdes Convent, was started in the 1940s as were a crop of some other English-language schools in Goa.
One interesting section looks at the 'house names' used in the village to describe local families. These are in the Konkani language, but translate into quaint meanings such as 'the house displaying flags', the home of the 'goat', the 'kind villager', the family that blabbers, or those with large bottoms and even a broken toe!
The book looks at the indigenous people of the village, modes of transport of the past, the beggars of the yesteryears and how these were dealt with locally, or traditional forms of coping with a dark road in times when Goa lacked electricity.
One section looks at the games played by local youth. These were simple times when tiny marbles, cashew seeds, cracked tiles, stones or bamboo slats could entertain local kids for hours on end. One game called the 'atto sori' comprised simply of a use tyre metal rim, which was pushed across the roads by boys between the age of seven to ten years!
Saligao, though just one of the small villages in the State, has a number of prominent names linked to it. These include the prominent ophthalmologist in Portugal Dr Claudio da Gama Pinto, educationist Anacleto Lobo, the doyen of Indian cricket Anthony de Mello, the Goan pioneer in Karachi Cincinatus F. D'Abreo, noted musicians like the Goan nightingale Lorna and folklorist Oslando, religious leaders like bishops and the Karachi-based Mother Bridget Sequeira, a number of military men, and prominent writers and professors.
Its author has had space for a number of sections to the book myth and earlier history of the area, the etymology and religious evolution of Saligao, the village in its earlier years, individuals the author himself admired, local temples, chapels and the church; wards of Saligao; trivia about the village; its folklore, superstititions, traditions and customs.
Prior to Saligao's inhabitants converting to Catholicism, its denizens were Hindus. Fr Mascarenhas tracks the "trail of the Hindus of Sal village", the post-conversion name changes, and current temples in the village. A separate section looks at the Mae de Deus church, perhaps Goa's only Gothic-style shrine, and details of who built it and at what cost.
Like other Goan villages, this one too is divided into various wards (or 'vaddos'). These are described -- starting with Salmona, where the Sal trees grew, Arrarim, Sonarbhat which gets its name from the goldsmiths, Morodd or the home of the aboriginal population, the administrative and commercial centre of Cotula, and Mollembhat named after its flower gardens. There's also Tabravaddo, whose denizens changed their names away from Tavora for an unusual reason, Donvaddo, and the hamlet on the knoll called Mudd'davaddi.
Aiming to inform and enterain too, this book does contain some quaint stories from the village of the past. Buffaloes, village boundaries, old-style coconut shell lamps, are among the subjects featured.
No story on Saligao would be complete without referring to the foxy-legend which rubs off onto the villagers too. Likewise, a supposedly haunted tree on the village hilltop linked to a pretty female spirit has been the source for many stories here.
The author calls Saligao a "benevolent village" and focuses on its homes for the aged. He devotes a chapter to pay tribute to some of the humble folk who made up the village in their times. The book also looks at the changing structure of the village, as more old timers migrate the globe, and new residents enter.
Today, Saligao is the home for other prominent names too, such as 'The Idea of India' author Sunil Khilnani and Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Katherine Boo (author of 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers'), artist Subodh Kerkar, top photographer Dayanita Singh, painter Francis Souza and sculptor Verodiana Ferrao, among others.
Fr Nascimento's earlier books deal with Goan priests who served in Portugal, a pioneering ophthalmologist who traced his roots to the village, the port area of Mormugao, and three books on the parishes and priests of Bardez, Ilhas and Salcete, all regions within Goa.
Illustrations for this book are from the Canada-based villager from Saligao, Mel D'Souza, who went to the same school (Mater Dei) as the author. His charming illustrations, over 85 in number, add depth and insight. "His drawings [specially of past times] are as culturally accurate as one could get," says the author.
Land of the Sal Tree
Stories of the history, legends and traditions of Saligao, a
typical Goan village
Fr Nascimento J. Mascarenhas firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustrated by Mel D'Souza email@example.com
Pp 312, Pb. Rs 350 in Goa.
Order via mail from firstname.lastname@example.org