The President of the Harvest Festival

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

Like all Goan feasts and festivals, the harvest festival during the month of August is celebrated with colourful gusto in many villages of Goa. The harvest festival goes by different names, including Festa de Novidades, Novem, Konnsanchem fest, etc. Different villages have different festivities, but they invariably include harvesting of the first sheaves of paddy which are then carried in a procession to the church to be blessed, after which the villagers give thanks to the Almighty for the bountiful harvest. There used to be very specific stipulations regarding the persons empowered to carry out this symbolic harvesting action.

Back in the days of my youth in the nineteen thirties, my friend Caetano Antonio Remedios belonging to the 4th vangodd (clan) of the community of Saligao, was selected one year to be the President of this harvest festival . In the olden days, the village was administered solely by the comunidade, an ancient institution of village administration retained by the Portuguese. Under it, the common land of the village was vested on the ganvponn, the corporate entity of the village. On questions affecting the interests of the whole village, the ganvponn decided by vote. The 12 Christian Brahmin vangodds had one vote each.

Some few families of the first five vangodds of the community of Saligao, had, to the exclusion of the other members, the right to celebrate the Festa de Novidades.  Though it was a small feast in comparison to the Mae de Deus feast, the Remedios household was all geared up to celebrate it in a big way. They wanted the best for their little mordomo – Caetano Antonio.

Harvest festival in Goa : Saligao SerenadeOn the morning of the harvest festival day Caetano woke up with a start — the sexton’s band from Bairro Alto de Saligao was playing close to his bedroom window, and the continuous bursts of firecrackers added to the din. The band consisted of two buglers, a big drum and cymbal player and a skinny drummer. So, smartly dressed in his new opa e mursa (okmus) and accompanied by the band, and followed by the ward folk and his family, Caetano Antonio walked in a grave and stately manner from Tabravaddo-Mollembhatt to Mae de Deus Church. The senior sacristan with his colleagues had been tending a paddy field in the church compound since the month of May. The plantation with the new grain just appearing, seemed golden in the morning sun as they gracefully swayed with the breeze welcoming the worshippers to the spot.

At the appointed time during the harvest festival, the vicar, impeccably dressed in his surplice, stole and a long, white, flowing vestment and wearing a black biretta with the Ritual was escorted by the sacristan (sprinkler in hand), along with the members of the confraternity, and brought in procession to the place of blessing. The vicar said an appropriate prayer in a loud and clear voice over the rice plants, sprinkled holy water and cut a few new sheaves. He handed the first sheaf to the president who was then led by other confrades to the church and given a prominent seat befitting the president. The solemn high mass was sung, and at the end the paddy sheaves were distributed to the faithful. All returned home happy, but young Caetano Antonio seemed the happiest of all, as he was the cynosure of all eyes at the day’s religious ceremony and also at lunch on this happy day of the harvest festival.

The harvest festival invitees feasted on a few select Goan dishes at the president’s house, but melgor, the special dish of the season, was given pride of place. In the evening the local boys arranged some marble games like boddeannim and milamnim, while the elders played a game or two of tablam. Pattoio were relished by all and sundry. Young girls played konxeamnnim while the elderly ladies recalled the day’s event and shared their experiences of the weeding done in the village fields during the past week. The harvest would be a good one this year.

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