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A tidal wave in Colva, Goa ... a long time ago




Salcete in Goa has a coastline of about 20km.  Colva happens to be on this coast.  Towards the latter part of the 19th century, a violent monsoon storm barrelled towards the shore.  The low-lying areas of Colva provided a ready-made conduit for the raging waters to move inland, relentlessly, past paddy-fields, in the direction of the church of Menino Jesus.  All indicators called for the worst outcome.  The villagers were overwhelmed.  If the destructive waters reached the church and encircled it, the clay walls of the church would get soaked and collapse in a pathetic heap.  In a panic, it was all hands to the pump.  Neighbouring villagers were asked to help.

My grandfather and his five brothers, who lived on the periphery, in Betalbatim,  pitched in without hesitation.  These were subsistence farmers with only a very scant idea of how to tame a turbulent ocean.  However, they felled Pau-de-rosa (rosewood) trees and, armed with logs and hoes, rushed to the rescue. ( As an aside, it should be mentioned that pau-de-rosa was a hardwood, and “Y” shaped branches were used to prop up leaning shallow-rooted coconut trees in danger of getting uprooted during the monsoons).  At the vulnerable site, a breakwater had to be erected.  A long and deep trench was dug parallel to the ocean.  Logs were buried upright in the sand on the landward side and reinforced by coconut trees laid horizontally behind.  The excavated sand was tossed behind the barricade.  The dam held and the raging waters were diverted.  The local parish priest hastened to visit the fortification and sprinkle holy water on it and all and sundry.

Before long, to express their gratitude to the Betalbatim clan, the Communidade (Commune) of Colva decreed that they be accorded the same rights as the Gaunkars (real residents) of Colva.  They were dubbed Hore Hondkar (true diggers).  Thenceforth, every year, for the feast of Menino Jesus a drummer and others from Colva were sent to Betalbatim to bring the helpers and their successors, back in procession, to the rat-a-tat of a kettle-drum, for the celebration. The helpers wore white gowns topped by a white cape.  After High Mass, they were treated to a feast of food and drink. The foregoing narrative was passed on to my dad who was born in 1896, and then down to his progeny.  Its veracity was evidenced by me and my brother Placido, on occasions when we participated in the ritual, in our teens, appropriately robed.  In time, fervour for the sentimental practice dissipated.

 Over the decades, wind and tides have deposited silt in the gully, sufficient to make it unrecognizable.  However, after well over a century, vestiges of the historic trench still exist to the left of the restaurant at the end of the road leading to the Colva beach.  Satisfy your curiosity if you are so inclined.


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