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A Big Foot of Goan anthropology

Sanjeev V Sardesai

There are many collectors whose passions spread across a rainbow of themes, but a handful of those carried their passions to the horizon. Just like at the Varca, the San Thome Museum, the Benaulim Goa Chitra Museum is a single person’s passion has created a treasury of tangible Goan heritage artefacts conveying the story of rich intangible traditional occupations of Goa.

Goa receives over 35 hundred thousand visitors annually, but sadly, the adventurous instincts of these Indian and foreign visitors, leads them straight to the nature blessed shores of our long coastline and only a marginal percentage of these visitors make their way to such museums.

Goa has been unjustly portrayed as the land of wine, women, sand and song – a destination for a 365 days holiday! But the shores are just the tip of the iceberg. The actual heritage of this land lies in its people and the hinterlands. Neither do the locals take much interest in it. This has led me to believe that “99 per cent of Goans – do not know 99 per cent of Goa”. Despondently, we have to accept that Goans make no attempt in the educational, as well as family entertainment jurisdictions, to bond the ‘Generation Next’, with their land.

The United Nations Organisation has given a call of critical urgency, to all the governments, that there is a crucial need to protect the “intangible heritage” of their own lands, by rejuvenating them and by systematically documenting them, before they are lost in the sands of time. Viewing the status of this call by the UNO, Goa needs to concentrate on ethically preserving, protecting and promoting the original and authentic anthropological history and heritage.

Amongst the efforts put in by some inspired Goans, like those above, we come across another Goan well rooted to the ethos of this land, and has been in the forefront of promotion of the Goan intangible heritage, through tangible displays, spread across a hill side at Loutolim, in South Goa.

Loutolim has been the home to many of the famous temples of Goa, leading to their flight from here from here to safer locations in Ponda Taluka, due to religious persecution of the late 1500’s.

As heard through the folk tales, these lands of Loutolim and the nearby Cortalim (just across Zuari Bridge), have a direct link to the great Indian mythology “The Ramayan”.  Lord Ram and Sita had twin boys named “Lav” and “Kush”. They had grown up in the forest, where Sita was displaced by Ram. Incidentally, the historical and legendary records of Goa region, inform us that the original name of ‘Cortalim’ was “Kushasthalli” or “Kushast-Halli” or the “village of the Kush Clan”. And similarly, the adjacent land belonged to his twin brother “Lav” and hence became known as “Lavasthalli” or “Lavast-halli” – the “village of the Lav Clan”. Just like the Portuguese corrupted the name “Kushasthalli” to ‘Cortalim, there is every possibility that “Lavasthalli” became “Loutolim”. Sounds logical!

And this village, where stands the majestic Church of the Saviour of the World, and is the village of residence of one of the most famous and Goa’s foremost caricature artiste (late) Mario Miranda is also the host to “Ancestral Goa” – more popularly known as “BIG FOOT”.

Though, it cannot be defined solely as a ‘museum’, we can broadly classify this vast conglomeration of contemporary handmade artefacts and clay mannequin displays, spread out under an extremely aesthetic, green canopy of trees, and located in natural surroundings on a hillock side – as a museum of the occupations and other intangible heritage of Goa.

A visit to Big Foot, can offer you an insight into the many occupations that the ethnic Goans took up. Partial modernisation has crept in and besides being accompanied by a Guide; every display has been fitted with an audio narrative in two languages – English & Hindi, explaining the display in detail. Ancestral Goa can be combined by educational institutions for an educational picnic, as a huge tree covered area is offered for school picnics. So also there is a dance floor.

Not only does one get to feast on the displays of colourful enlightenments, but a visitor is also exposed to three other in-house museums – The “Left-Hander’s Museum” – a must see for all those that are left handed; “The Prayer Beads Museum” – which house innumerable prayer beads of various faiths and regions of the world, with brief information. And a very distinctive “The Museum of Crosses”, which has on display about 1800 different crosses, from all over the world. We will visit these museums in the next article.

The theme of this entire collection at the open air “Big Foot” (Ancestral Goa) enterprise and display revolves around a “Foot-like” impression, etched out on a laterite rock. A beautiful legend, with a pertinent morale, is woven around this imprint and explained in the form of caricatures’. In continuity with our legend of “Bannahalli”, we are welcomed with an impressive display of Lord Parshuram, posed on a hillock (Sahayadri Mountain), to let go of his bow string and shoot the arrow to create Goa.

Some of the displays portray the various occupations prevalent in Goa like the ‘sea salt making industry’, the fishing industry, the potter, the carpenter, the bangle seller and even a ‘gawali’ or shepherd, with his flock of sheep. The art of coconut peeling and coir making, the entire operation of feni distillation are shown through the models displayed and explained through display panels. The folk dances of Goa are colourfully displayed in the upper section, where you can also get a glimpse of the old era ‘tile roofed and pillar supported’ Goan market. A ‘dovornem’ – the laterite stones used to rest the head loads stands beside a ‘boia’ carried ‘palanquin’, used to transport the influentials of the past. Do not leave an opportunity to get your photograph, sitting in this.

There is a large collection of birds kept in well ventilated cages or are found moving around. But what takes your breath away is the large rock carving of Sant Mirabai created by the curator himself, single handed – and in just one month. This has won many accolades from national and international magazines and institutions.

Loutolim is just about 26 kilometres from Panaji and about 6 kilometres from Margao. If you have visitors or wish to spend quality time, hop in your vehicle and make a beeline to see all these treasure vaults of Goa!

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