Friday 12 October 2012

Land, Mining and adivasis in Goa - Part 1

Sebastian Rodrigues, May 2008 
Goa’s geography was shaped by tribes particularly the Gawdas. They are the first settlers of Goa. Belonging to Proto Astroloid race they trace their origin to Khunti region in Chotanagpur, in Northern India relating to Mundas. Originally hunters, Gawdas settled in dense forest what is today known as Western Ghats. This might have taken place as early as 5,000 B.C[1]. Rock carvings on the banks of Kushavati river in Rivona, in South Goa belong to this period. At that time there were no plain lands in Goa. Arabian Sea directly touched the mountains. Existing plain lands were claimed from beneath Arabian Sea over the next thousands of years. The movement of sea water was regulated in a complex network of sluice gates all over Goa. This network regulated the salty water flow during the high tide and low tide. This created predictable water flow and the rest of the land was gradually brought under cultivation of various kinds such as rice, coconut etc. Some of the wild trees such as Jackfruit were domesticated[2] and fruits used to cure hunger.

Over the thousands of years new lands were claimed from the Arabian Sea and brought under cultivation. Goa perhaps known in various other names such as Gopakkapattnam, Goavapuri, Gomantak, etc, became very prosperous region. It soon became the envy of many and the efforts began to establish rule of the few over the tribes in this region. Thus the era of state rule began.

Goa’s hinterlands, hilly regions were shaped towards cultivation too. Natural water flow was carefully observed over generations and cultivation was organized as per the land gradient[3]. Inside the fresh water rivers like Mhadei was Puran Sheti, cultivation of rice and other vegetables inside the river during non-monsoon season. This was done by specially preparing soil for the purpose and then cultivating every year. On the banks of rivers, depending upon the landscape, agricultural paddy fields would be established. Rice and other vegetables would be cultivated twice a year – Rabi and Kharif cultivations. In some places only one crop a year. Khazan lands adjacent to salty water rivers are also claimed lands that act as buffer between mainland and salt Water Rivers. Next to paddy fields were Kulagars, horticultural garden of spices. Later beetle nuts, pineapples and sugarcane were added to the list of items cultivated inside Kulagars. Next adjacent cultivation space is Bhat that is predominantly coconut plantations. And further lies dongar, mountains. On mountain too there are cultivation spaces for other variety of crops that do not require high quantity of water. It is called Kumeri cultivation.

Undoubtedly tremendous labour has gone into shaping Goa’s Geography and making it highly prosperous place. Besides labour it is the communities’ geniuses that have been at work across so many generations. The painstaking work was possible only because of tremendous spirit of co-operation amongst tribes. They are emotionally, spiritually one with the nature as it is evident from various rituals that they undertake. Some of these rituals are documented in ‘Goa Kulmi: paryavarniy sankskritiche janak, rakshak’[4]. Gawda tribe are pioneers in founding and administering the villages. They derive the name Gawda chiefly from their function, ‘Ganv vosoupi ani ganv gaddo choloupi ho Gawdo’ goes the saying in Konkani. It means ‘Gawda is the one who founds and administers village’[5].

It is this geography of Goa that led to the beginning of history gradual exploitation over of tribes and ultimately wresting of control over land from their possession. Prosperity of this land attracted number of people, some as migrants whom the community accepted while others also came as migrants but gradually began skimming as to how to establish their control. Due to organic links of the founders with the earth, the option of outright decimation could not be exercised. Instead the communities were gradually subjected to attempt towards taming for labour supply. Prior to Portuguese colonial rule that began in 1510 these attempts were in oral form[6]. Methods then included raiding of communities and forcefully taking over control of the village community lands. Very often these things did not work out well for the invaders such as Brahmins like Desais and Marathas like Ranes. Communities abandoned their villages and fled to new areas in the forest and founded new villages. Invaders did not possess the skills to cultivate the land as the Gawdas would be doing; instead they had to arrange labour from Gawda tribe from some other village to cultivate the conquered villages. This was not easy as each village would have their own cultivation to undertake. Some villages did get into the control of these marauding violent bands of gangs and de facto established their control over the lands. Large tracks of lands did come under control of these gangs chiefly because Gawda tribe are mainly non-violent in nature and chose flight rather than fight the invaders. Brahmins asserted their control over conquered lands with violence and shrewdness. However they were not in a possession to align with the State and legitimize their conquest till arrival of Portuguese.

Gawda institution of land holding was known as Gaonkary. It collectively administered the village. The whole community was the owner of village lands. There was no absolute private property in land ownership. This gaonkary system got transformed into Communidades during Portuguese rule.  Tribal deity is known as Devchar. It is without form and shape having organic ties with nature and with members of Gawda community. Devchar was most powerful public spiritual entity that symbolically protected villagers and their lands. Devchar have been target of attack both from the Brahminical forces as well as from the Church that accompanied Portuguese during colonial times. Church in fact has historically engaged in negative brainwashing by equating Devchar with theological entity in Christianity called ‘Devil’. Konkani translation of Devil is given as Devchar to the mass of people. Theological contest in western Christianity between God and Devil, after transplantation in Goa was translated as contest between Dev and Devchar. So the target was clearly indigenous people, their deities and their land.  Brahmanical forces term it as ‘daitya shakti’ meaning evil power that is meant to be eliminated from the face of earth. Symbolically this tribal community must be snatched off its most volatile symbol of identity that is linked to community land and its defenses. Devchar is also known as Rakhandar and as Ajoba. It’s habitat is known as Raim or sacred grove.

Portuguese colonialism benefited these marauding gangs looking for control over tribal lands. Portuguese conducted their business of rule in written form aligned with these gangs and legitimized their control of tribal lands though State Patronage.  Goa’s Geography is a root cause of attraction of various categories of People to tribal lands.

[1] Vinayak Khedekar, Lok Sarita, Goa Kala Academy, Panjim, 1993. Pp.114.
[2] Discussions with Ram Velip of Colamb, Sanguem, Goa.
[3] Order of cultivation was pointed out by Venkatesh Prabhudesai of Quinamoll, Colamb, Sanguem, Goa.
[4]Vinayak Khedekar, 2004.
[5] Dugadas Gaonkar.
[6] My discussions with Ram Velip of Colamb, Sanguem, Goa.

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