Thursday, February 7, 2008

Our point of view: Tribal Voices from Goa

Durgadas Gaonkar[1]
Pandurang Kukalkar [2]

Goa as you know is referred as the Rome of the East and known for western culture but the government of India and Government of Goa projects the Goan culture before the world in the form of folklore, folk art and folk dances. These belongs to aborigines of Goa. While the State has been projecting these their rightful possessor- the Gawdas, Kunbis, Velips and Dhangars continues to live the subjugated lifestyles – oppressed by developmental models followed in the past five centuries. Though tribal population of Goa as per 1991 census constitutes 30% of the population the state Government claims[3] it as 12%. Ironically though School textbooks continues to hold that the tribal population of Goa as 30%.

The Popular history of Goa very cleverly erases any tribal presence for thousands of years. This is because the history Goa is full of myths propogated by the Dominant hegemonic classes. It’s chief myth is the shooting of Arrow by Parshuram from the top of Sahyadri Hills and descend of Arabian Sea; there by causing rise of rich fertile Goa’s Coast[4]. While the fact is that these land are fertile as they form due to evolutionary process of millions of years. Goa’s plains between Western Ghats and Arabian Sea are natural evolutionary processes. There was no role of Parshuram’s Arrow. In fact land was formed millions of years even before the birth of Parshuram’s Ancestors in human form- leave aside Parshurama.

The history of tribes in Goa is unwritten. The knowledge is passed through oral form from one generation to another generation in the form of folklore such as Jagor, Dhalo, Fugdeo, Shigmo and other folk dances.

There are four tribal groups in Goa: Gawdas, Kunbis, Velips and Dhangars. Pandurang Kunkalkar and Durgadas Gaonkar belong to Gawda Tribe and are both active in various tribal movements directed towards tribal protection and welfare over the past 25 years. Gawdas are the original inhabitants and first settlers of Goa who founded villages. Infact the word Gawda itself means in Konkani ‘Gaon vosoupi ani Gaon Gaddo choloupi’ meaning the one who establishes the village and administers it towards prosperity. The Gawda tribe are of Mundari origin coming from Chottanagpur.

The village administration system was in the handled by Gaonkars in some places and by Budhvonts in other places. Jalmis were the priest along with the Velips. There is a meeting place in every tribal village called as mand. All the member of the tribal community from the village used to meet at Mand and decide on important community matters. The collective decion was taken after listening to the entire community and everybody was bound by the same. At the Taluka level all the heads of the villages and the priests used to meet at the place called Barazan. The place called Barazan is identified at Dhulapi of Corlim Village in Tiswadi Taluka, In Bhatti village of Sanghem Taluka , Usgao village of Ponda Taluka and Bhirondem village in Sattari Taluka. Here the decisions of the Taluka along with the village level were collectively taken to bound by tribal villages. The third level of decion making after village and the Barazan was called Varg. Those decisions cannot be taken at Barazan level used to be decided in Varg. One such Varg is identified at Bambolim plateu in Curca village. The meetings conducted on democratic principles.

Velip tribe is the priestly class from Gawdas. Kunbis and Dhangars shared close relationship with Gawdas in the past. These tribes- most hard working and sturdy in themselves inhabited forest areas for their dwellings. During the times of conquests in history they went on moving towards the interior of forests. They had their stable settlements in different regions with independent administration based on oral tradition. The repeated conquerors in the history of Goa left land relations untouched. It is only with the Portuguese Colonial rulers that the land relations began to change as the Portuguese undertook codification exercise where in the concept of private property was introduced and implemented. Prior to this there has never been private ownership of property in Goa.

Contemporatry Communidade system as was known by the tribals as Ganvponn was the system of the original tribals of Goa. Its membership was restricted only to those who till land for agricultural purposes. As all the tribals were tilling the land they were all the members of the Ganvponn. The system of cultivation was on co-operative basis. There was no private ownership of land. Communidades system was a trade off for conversion introduced by the Portuguese rulers supported by the local elites. Tribes during the codification exercise lost its land in written records due to illiteracy and Portuguse colonial State entering in the pact with those newly converted to Christianity[5] . Tribes also lost to Hindu and Christian conversions due to force and ignorance.[6] Gawdas were devided into Hindu Gawdas and Christian Gawdas. The Hindu Gawdas were again devided into Hindu Gawdas and Nava Hindu Gawdas (After re-conversion to Hinduism from Christianity) . The Christian Gawdas were devided into Christian Gawdas[7] and Kunbi Gawdas[8]. Religions have played vicious role to keep the tribes devided on religious lines. Further there is inroads of religious fundamentalists amongst the tribal communities seeking to promote de-tribalism. These tendencies must be fought and efforts needs to be made to retain tribal culture along with scientific temper. Tribals were nature worshipers and never idol worshipers.
The post independence period saw one good thing happening – because of establishment of good network of schools throughout Goa, particularly in rural areas- level of literacy has picked up. It also contributed to the emerging of Tribal movements for self assertions. The movements of tribes in Goa found strongest support from a Catholic Priest Joaquim Fernandes in the decade of 1970’s. He trained first generation activists from the tribal community. He had formed Gawda Vikas Mandal in 1974 for promotion of tribal welfare. However, prior to that in 1962 Gomantak Goud Maratha Samaj was formed. In 1980 emerged Gawda Kunbi Velip and Dhangar Federation. In 1984 Goan Organising Association (GOA) was formed. On 10th June 2001 Goa State Schduled Tribe Action Committee (GAKUVED) was formed. On 7th January 2003 Tribal Welfare Organisation was formed.

Mass movement started from 1998. on 1st March 2001 2,500 people participated in tribal morcha in Panjim. On 26th January 2001 hunger strike gave ultimatum to government to demand inclusion of names of Goa’s tribes in the Constitutional Schedule list. On 10th June 2001 in Ponda GAKUVED was formed which brought all tribal organizations in Goa and tribal leaders together in the history of the tribal Movement in Goa.

On behalf of GAKUVED speaker of the Lok Sabha was petitioned to demand inclusion of Goa’s tribes in the Schedule list. Parliament committee visited Goa to examine the issue in detail. In December 2002 SC & ST Amendment Bill 2002 was passed in the parliament Goa’s Gawdas, Kunbis &Velips was included in the Scheduled Constitutional list. President gave his Assent to this bill on 7th January 2003. After repeated pressure Goa Government notified the same on 22nd April 2003. In spite of all this there is no benefit to the community in terms of Government employment.

Geographically tribes are spread out in the hilly, forested and minerally rich Talukas such as Sattari, Sanghem and Cancona. There are also tribal settlements in Tiswadi, Quepem, Ponda, Salcette and Bicholim. The communities are particularly at the receiving end from the development projects such as Salulim Dam, Konkan Railway, mining and Wild life sactuaries. Most of the Goa’s Industrial estates are located in the tribal settlements. Cudka, once tribal Capital of Tiswadi is venue for one of the biggest Garbage dump in Goa, besides being the site for new Jail. Driking water sources of the tribes are polluted due to pollution of Konkan Railway in Balli, Quepem.[9]

Wildlife sanctuary at Cotigao, Canacona is designed to prevent traditional tribal access to forest. Though this sanctuary was declared in 1964 the settlement claims in terms of providing alternate venue is not yet met. While these are enough burdens State declared two more sanctuaries- Mhadei and Netravali Sanctuaries in 2001 thus putting more pressure on the tribals residing in the Wildlife demarcated areas. On the one hand state is engaged in clearing the forest of the tribes, on the other hand it is handing over the houses belonging to tribes to eco-tourism purposes i.e Nandran in bhagwan Mahawir wildlife Sanctuary, Sanghem, Goa.

Mining has destroyed agriculture and life support in Sattari, Quepem, Bicholim and Sanghem Talukas. On the one hand due to encroaching of Agricultual land and on the other hand due to silting of Agricultural spaces. The depletion of ground water in in these talukas has caused tremendous water shortage even for the drinking purpose. Ruthless bulldozing of forest has played havoc with tribal dwellings i.e. Colamb, Sanghem. The health of these communities has suffered due to dust pollution caused due to mining attracting various lung diseases such as Bronchitis and Tuberculosis. The agricultural dependent communities have lost important grazing grounds for their cattles.

The irrigation disaster of Goa called Salaulim Dam was thrust upon the locality of 90% tribal inhabitation in the 1970’s the massive re-settlement exercise that was initiated then is yet to be completed. The people occupying agriculturally rich areas are resettled on dry bare Rocks i.e. Curdi village now renamed as Vadem in Sanghem is so backward by any parameters that they have no drinking water, though they gave way for dam, no agriculture and they are re-settled on barren hill top, so interior that teacher want to join the local government school and every yearly SSC result are 0%.

The story of village of Corlim in Tiswadi is equally gory. The co-operative farming lands were forcibly transferred to Christian missionary organisation – Santa Monica soon after the onset of Portuguese Colonial rule. After the Annexure of Goa to India in 1961, one part of these lands was transferred to local communidade and the remaining to the multinational company- CIBA GEIGY in 1968. This company was renamed after the corporate merger as NOVARTIS. There is no employment to the Tribals in the company. On the contrary this Swiss Multinational is tickling time bomb to the Tribals in the vicinity. Tribals had to even rob the grass meant for their cattle from the land under the capture of the corporate that is now called as SYNGENTA.

To face the challenges before tribes in Goa we seek collaboration and co-operation from all the tribal groups and individuals concerned across India.


Sebastian Rodrigues for his facilitation to write this paper.

Presented at 8th annual conference of Nature Environment Society and Transformations (NEST) on the theme Indigenous People from 16 – 18 November 2004 at Social Development Centre, Ranchi, Jharkhand, India.
[1] General Secretary, The Goa State Schedule Tribe Action Committee
General Secretary, Tribal Welfare Organisation.
[2]North Goa Convener, The Goa State Schedule Tribe Action Committee
Vice President, Tribal welfare Organisation.
[3] The claim is based on the survey conducted by Goa State OBC commission in 2002-03
[4] Refer to Sahyadri Khand
[5] Treaty with the Afonso Albuquerque in 1510…. which was accepted and honoured by then King of Portugal and stands confirm by the Foral of Afonso Mexia dated 16.9.1526.(letter addressed to the delegates of world Social Forum by Association of Componentes of communidades of Goa, Panaji, dated 18.1.2004.)
[6] Portuguese carried on the conversion exercise through symbolisms of Bread and Water and well as use of State forces.
[7] Those who has given up tribal traditions.
[8] Those retaining tribal characteristics like rituals, names etc.
[9] Milagrine Ferrao (2004) unpublished study.

No comments: