Go Jump in a Well!

by Mel D’Souza

When I was a lad growing up in the village of Saligao in Goa, the first monsoon rains in June were always welcome. They flooded the paddy fields and topped up the village wells that had dropped to a low water level in the preceding dry months. Trees would be cleansed of all the dust accumulated on their leaves, and they would sparkle in their green glory.

Although the term “monsoon” conjures images of incessant rainfall, the rainy season actually had breaks of light drizzles and a fair share of sunny days. However, there would be the odd heavy thunderstorm that would have the village awash in water. This is when the runoff from higher ground would gush into narrow lanes and drain into culverts connected to open storm-water sewers that discharged into the Arabian Sea. The open wells would be full to almost ground level and, if this happened to coincide with the feast day of São João (St. John the Baptist) on June 24th, it would be time for some of the young men in the village to venerate the saint with a big splash!

Feast of Sao Joao. Sketch by Mel D'Souza. Saligao Serenade

These youngsters would don their kashti (the thong covering the thing) and go calling on households that had a well at least wide enough in which to take a plunge. They would then dive in pairs following a pattern that was unique to this festival and a great source of amusement to the divers and the spectators.

The dive would start when one reveller who would hold his nose with one hand, press both arms snugly against his chest, jump feet first into the well and go as far down as possible. His rapid descent would create a large bubble that would rise to the water’s surface. Then, with perfect timing, the second diver would take the plunge, his knees touching his chin, and arms around his shins, landing on the bubble just before it reached the surface of the water. The result would be a loud “bloof” as the bubble burst, echoing against the sides of the well, much to the amusement of the participants and onlookers. A cheer would then greet the first diver as he surfaced exhaling a lungful of air. The divers would then either come out of the well or cling to the sides while another pair of divers repeated the routine.

Traditional gusto

There was almost a carnival aspect to this celebration; it was fun just to watch young adults prancing in the rain and enjoying themselves as if they were little kids. Even today, São João is celebrated with gusto in many Goan villages, and the village of Siolim also has a boat race with colourfully decorated boats and participants with bizarre headgear. For newlyweds the Sao Joao feast has special significance, as the son-in-law is invited to the bride’s house for the celebrations; he is made to don a crown of fruits and leaves and also required to jump into the well.

According to tradition, the jumping into the well is a commemoration of the leap of joy that St John is said to have taken in the womb of his mother St Elizabeth, when she was visited by Mary, who was to become the mother of Jesus. [Luke 1:41]

C Alvares, the famous tiatrist (Konkani stage artiste) from Saligao, also known as the King of Konkani Duets, composed a song for São João that remains popular till today. The chorus goes:

o João, São João

Gumvta mure vatt amkam disona

Aicho dis urbecho konn konnak hansona

Cholre piere tum ilo ghere

Faleam kaim mevonam

Oslim festam vorsak kiteak

Don pauti enam.

Swimming lessons

The São João festival period was also the time for children to learn to swim. The floatation device we used was an abnormal seedless coconut (vanz) that was all husk, lightweight and buoyant. A coir rope would be run through a hole drilled in the coconut and tied around our waist. The rope used for drawing water from the well would also be tied around our waist as a safety line. Then we’d enter the water and dogpaddle frantically to stay afloat. Our swimsuit was the khaki shorts we wore to school.

Girls, too, wore their blue school uniform when swimming. They would tie a knot to the front hem of the skirt with a coir rope, draw the rope tightly between their knees and tie the loose end around the belt behind their back.

Swimming was never a popular sport in Saligao; most villagers were content with just learning how to stay afloat so that they could join in the fun on the feast of São João.

This essay has been adapted from Mel D’Souza’s book Feasts, Feni and Firecrackers. Additional inputs by Val Souza.

3 comments on Go Jump in a Well!

  • Dax Lopes

    Hi Mel

    I thouroughly enjoyed the website and your contibutions.

    my family is from saligao but left in the 1950′s for mumbai…i wanted to connnect and get back to my roots hence i thought i would get aquainted.

    do let me know how i can contact you so i can learn a little more about saligao.

    I am currently in dallas tx tel no. 847-327-1332

  • Ivy De Souza

    Thank you Mel for your contributions. Last year we visited Saligao then went to see Fr Almir in Chorao (to get info on my Dad’s family). He vaguely recalled my Dad but I knew he was on the right track when he mentioned ‘Moetweguer’ (he knew her pet name without my prompting!).
    He remembered an incident when a youngster fell in the well and the villagers all came to help him out. Seems it was my Dad, Thomas! His Mum arrived, furious and dealt him several whacks!!

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