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Animal talk

by Mel D’Souza

Although Konkani is the language widely spoken in Goa, in the old days there was a separate vocabulary that was used by villagers to communicate with their pets and domesticated animals in the villages of Goa.

“Bish, bish, bish” was a way of calling out to a dog if one didn’t know it’s name. As soon as the dog got closer, the caller would stretch out the right hand and rub the thumb against the other fingers to simulate a handout of food. Although they understood the call, not all dogs responded spontaneously; they preferred to keep a safe distance from people they didn’t know.

animaltalk

On the other hand, if there was a need to get a dog to go after a squirrel or scare away a bull, the command was “shuga, shuga, shuga!”. The dog would immediately lunge forward, barking furiously to scare away the intruder. When the coast was clear, the dog would do a victory lap and then slink away for a snooze.

Dogs in Goa were reared mainly as guard dogs rather than pets – something I always found hard to understand because crime was almost non-existent in the villages of Goa. Perhaps their bark was meant to alert the lady of the house (who was usually way back in the kitchen) to a visitor. Such dogs in Goa had colourful names such as our next-door neighbour’s Poolees (police), and my aunt’s Tanki (an army tank). They barked loudly, but were not ferocious. They were more ‘chicken’ than dog.

For cats, the call was “bil, bil, bil”. The cat would immediately come to the caller in anticipation of a hand-out of fish bones or other scraps of food. Cats in the villages of Goa never seemed to have names; they were just addressed as “mazor”, which is “cat” in Konkani.

Chickens were a common sight in open spaces as they went about pecking at anything edible on the ground. Once a day, their owners would call out to them with a “bah, bah, bah”, and feed them a fistful of rice grain. At sunset, the chickens would wander grogilly into the kitchen or the shed behind the Goan village house. The owner would then catch them and place them under a large bamboo basket for the night.

As for the pig, that vital garbage disposal machine of every village of Goa in olden times, the call was a loud “yeh, yeh, yeh”. A pig roamed all over the place, but as soon as it picked up the call, you’d hear it grunting in the distance before trotting nimbly towards its stone trough.

And then there was the cow and/or bull. As far as I know, there was no call to get them to come to you. They were just ushered into their stall with a firm pat on the rump by whoever attended to them. However, there was a command to get bulls that were hitched to a cart to pick up the pace. It was “hiri, hiri, hiri”. But the call had to be combined with a sharp twist of the base of their tails by the gariwalla ( the cart’s driver), and the use of his toe to prod the bull between the hind legs.

In the villages of Goa, pets and  domesticated animals were members of the community in that we all spoke the same language. As long as they responded to “bish”, “shuga”, “bil”, “bah” or “yeh”, they were just one of us – like any Tom, Dick and “hiri”.

[This item is from the book Feasts, Feni and Firecrackers by Mel D'Souza. His e-mail is mel.dsouza at sympatico.ca]

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