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Customs, superstitions and traditions in Saligao - I

[Editor's Note: This essay has been compiled by Fr Nascimento Mascarenhas from old documents, magazine cuttings, jubilee souvenirs, and myriad other sources. If you recognize an unacknowledged source, do let us know and we will rectify the lapse.] 

A tradition, superstition or a custom is at home in a place, like a plant. It draws vitality and life from a certain fertile environment and will not grow or flourish anywhere else. And in Goa, including Saligao, with her brooding beauty and peaceful atmosphere, has been the responsive soil and setting for some very picturesque folklore. Probably the hard and lonely but contented life some of the peasants lead, worked on their imaginations and endowed the little-known and the remote with grand importance. The village folk were in every respect sons of the soil, with pliant and impressionable minds. With their hopes sown in the fields; their fears fanned by every passing wind, superstitions and legends formed an essential part of  their everyday life. At least, this was the prevalent scene while I was a young lad growing up in Saligao in the early 1950s, before I decided to become a priest and joined the Seminary of Saligao towards the end of that decade, at the age of 17.

For the birds!

In the Middle Ages the owl may have provided many an ingredient for the witch’s cauldron, but its eerie call is still considered an evil omen and the emissary of sickness or death by many people in Saligao. The cry of a natuk (female owl) in the form of “whank-whank” indicates that someone is bitten with jealousy for some other. It might also indicate that a girl-child has been born or is about to be born to an expectant mother in the neighbourhood. It could also spell a bad omen, presaging the death of somebody or imminent ill fortune coming upon someone in the neighbourhood.

The cry of the ghughum (male owl) in the form of ‘hum…huum”, a moaning sound or cry, forebodes the birth of a boy in the neighbourhood or death or evil to somebody.  The usual reaction to such a cry, from the people of the Catholic faith who hear it in the village at night, is to say the “Apostles’ Creed” or a short prayer in silence, and reverently and mournfully then pray to God at the oratory and throw salt into the fire, to avert the impending evil.

A  crow  coming  near the house and cawing loudly is however supposed  to  bring good  tidings, either a letter by the morning post or a guest for the day.  The cheerful response of the housewife toiling in the kitchen or backyard is a short song:

Kaulea kiteach roddtai daran

Konnui marit tuka faran

Mhojea potichi khobor addleai re daran

Uddon voch rê borean

 

(Oh crow why do you caw near the door?

Anybody may fire at you

Did you bring the news at my door from my hubby

Good, now fly away safely)

If a crow or a bird happens to bless someone with droppings from above, on the body or particularly on the hand of the person, that person is considered to be lucky.

Animal harm

Neither the cry of a hyena nor the wail of a dog heard at dead of night is considered to be a welcome augury. If she hopes to be happy, no married daughter must take a cat or a broom from her father’s house into her new home. You are virtually invoking calamity on a person, if when she is lying down, you cross over her, and on a house if you get in by the backdoor and then leave by the front.  Either you must go out the way you entered or not go at all!

After the Angelus bell had tolled and the oil-lamp lit, no house would open its doors to lend or receive anything, especially money and salt.  You could  either call again at dawn or go away disappointed.

Too many daughters in a family are believed to be a curse, and if after the birth of three boys in succession a girl is born, she is supposed to bring misfortune both on her parents as well as on the man she marries.  Hence a girl who is tiklem (girl born after three boys in succession) must have a substantial dowry if she hopes to win a husband, or else she remains an old maid for life. If such a girl has been happy at her parents’ home, she is expected to bring misfortune to her family of procreation and vice versa. But if after three girls a boy is born, he is a boon and a blessing to all, and an incarnation of good luck.

A certain couple had eight girls in the family but no son.  The ninth child was on the way and the elderly of the house were storming heaven and asking for a baby boy, but as luck would have it, a girl was born.  At the baptism ceremony she was given the name Tolerancia, which means this girl is tolerated. The family wanted a boy by any means, but after two years another girl was born.  She was named Basta, which in Portuguese means “that is enough.”

Circle of life

The strange old custom of holding a wake (sotti) on the 6th day after the birth of a child on whom the Goddess of Destiny is said to bestow her gifts, is still a ceremonial vigil the nurse or midwife (oizin) and the members of the family observe with religious exactness and solemnity in certain homes. The child is not laid to sleep on a bed or in a cradle, but is rocked in the arms of an elderly person who hugs it closely and murmurs incantations to ward off all evil influences until the wake is over. Meanwhile the mother is placed in the darkest room in the house and far away from any noise that might frighten her in any way.

No one is allowed to enter the room except the oizin, who keeps a silent watch near the bedside.  If the mother has the slightest of dreams, she has to tell the midwife all she fancies she heard and saw in the darkness, after which she is undressed and helped into a change of clothes; even the bedding and the pillow are shifted.  Only when the wake is over is the mother removed from the dark room to one of light and her clothes are left behind, until they are washed by the oizin when they are said to be purified and fit for use again.  Soon after the child is born, the village is informed of the event by the firing of crackers – three salvos if it is a boy and two for a girl. A metal vessel is also loudly struck near the new-born; this is done to chase away “evil spirits” and knock all fear out of the infant.  Surprising as it may seem, this pandemonium does not startle the babe who sleeps through the cacophony unconcerned.

On the day of the sotti children of the age of two or below (with or without teeth) should not approach the sottiekar house, not even draw water from their well on that date. At the end of that day, the midwife is given a coconut, a podd (measure) of rice, which has been kept on the altar during the day. After the evening Angelus, she leaves the house with the coconut and rice. While on her way home nobody is expected to speak to her.  It is believed that if they do so, they may come to some harm. Obviously these customs are rarely seen these days. There is however a saying in Konkani that states: “Sottin boroil’lem ‘sotti?‘” This is symbolic of the irrevocability of fate.

It was also customary for married daughters to be sent home to their parents for the first confinement; on the journey thither the expectant mother must not look back or like Lot’s wife some misfortune would befall her. At the boundary of every new village she entered, her husband’s relatives who accompanied her, would throw a sour lime, betel nut and some paan by the wayside. The same procedure is followed by every bride or groom when they leave home to be married.  This custom, known as xiristo is done to appease any evil spirit lurking around with the sole aim of endangering the happiness and success of the people concerned.

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