Wednesday , 26 September 2018
A flight into the wild west

A flight into the wild west

Tensing Rodrigues

Ignacio Arcamone was a young Jesuit priest posted to Goa around 1651. A master of vernacular languages and a patient negotiator, Arcamone soon found himself alternating between saving souls and bargaining for chilies with the chieftains of Canara. But perhaps his greatest gift to the posterity is his detailed report to his superiors in Rome about the history and geography of Sasti (Salcete), Goa.

In that report titled ‘De Sasatana Peninsula : A commentary on the Peninsula of Salcete’ (1664) Arcamone narrates: “The peninsula of Salcete, as I learn from the ancient Portuguese and Indians, was once known as a desert or sandy region without inhabitants. Later the farmers from the interiori terrae hard pressed by debts or taxes, forsook their land and renounced their king, and fled with household utensils and cattle, and came down to this peninsula of Ganeso that they may be able to cultivate it for their livelihood … .” (Fernandes, 1981: Uma Descrição e Relação de ‘De Sasatana Peninsula in Indiae Statu’ Textus Inediti).

To these our early ancestors it must have been a flight into the wild west. The original human settlement lay probably on the either slopes of the Sahyadri or in the foothills, which formed a single agro-climatic zone: similar climate, similar soil conditions and similar flora and fauna. This becomes amply obvious in Nairne’s introductory remarks in his book History of the Konkan (1894): “This inclusion of the hilly district above and near the edge of the Ghats is very reasonable: for anyone who passes from west to east will see that the country immediately above and immediately below the Ghats is of exactly the same character, although so different in elevation, while it is a few miles further east that the great bare plains which characterise the Dakhan begin.” [Nairne, 1894: History of the Konkan, ix] The coastal plain then became the paradise where the inhabitants of Dakhan could escape from their drudgery.

The movement towards the sea is discernible even in the later centuries, even within Goa; it seems to have been gradual, fording river after river as time passed. However there exist no texts to evidence it. Elders in Salcete villages speak of their roots in interior talukas. For instance some families in Cimconem (Chinchinim) speak of ‘shared trees’ in Kusmanem (Cusmane in QuepemTaluka); and families in Karmanem (Carmona) speak of an ancestral home in Asolanem (Assolna – across the Sal River). ‘Shared trees’ –vamtyamambo (vantteam ambo) orvamtyam ponosa (vantteamponnos) or vamtyam cimca (vantteam chinch) – is a vestige of centuries old ownership system in Salcete where a tree was kept undivided between the heirs of an original settler in the village. All of them down the generations shared in its fruit. The plucking of the fruit brought together all the living heirs and served as a record of the bloodline.

The people who fled their homeland across the Sahyadri and those who remained behind too kept their kinship; for they spoke a common language and worshipped a common God; they married among themselves and preserved the unity of their Konkani heritage.

The Inamagamva (Inamgaon) excavations pertain to a period between 1,600 BCE to 700 BCE. Based on the excavation data, Dutta estimates that around 1,000 BCE was a time of distress or drought. [Dutta, 2006: A Critical Review of the Economy of the Chalcolithic People of Inamgaon, 128;] We have concluded there from that the migration from across the Sahyadri into the coastal plain must have happened around this time. The question that arises now is, was this the only migration? Or, could there have been movement across the Sahyadri during the earlier arid periods?

The settlement of vadukar in the coastal plain seems to have happened in multiple waves.  We have seen earlier that the uplifting of the Konkan coast could have happened over some 8,000 years, between 10,000 and 2,000 BCE; we have no way of knowing an accurate timeline. [Tying The Knots, 09 Apr 17] Personally I have with me some old shells – the type used in windows – which are from the ‘old shore’ and were found encrusted in a seaside hill a few metres above the sea level; it may be possible to date them. Several waves of migrations could have landed on the coast once it became inhabitable. Perhaps the coast was uplifted gradually, more and more land emerging and becoming inhabitable over time. That would explain the perceived movement of people from the hinterland towards the coast. [The Kathiyavadi Chaadd’ddi, 29 Oct 17] There have been some attempts of dating the migrations indirectly – using what the scientists call proxies; we shall see them a little later; for the moment let us look cursorily at what the archaeologists and traditional historians have got to say.

Probably the best sample of such a view is from Dhume. [Dhume, 2009: The Cultural History of Goa, 112] According to Dhume the first to arrive on the coast were the mhara (mhar), around 7,000 BCE. Dhume does not say anything about their origin. Crawford (or rather his informant from Chiplun) seems to partly agree with this hypothesis: ‘The outcaste Mhars, my lord knows, were the aborigines who first owned and peopled the Konkan.’ But there is a slight confusion; just a few sentences before, the informant tells Crawford that the ‘dhangars of the Ghatmala with their buffaloes’ preceded the mhars. [Crawford, 1909: Legends Of The Konkan, 25]

In Dhume’s settlement timeline, the dhangars with their buffaloes follow the mhara; he calls them ‘a pastoral tribe’ from South India, and dates their entry around 4,000 BCE. Could these dhangars with their buffaloes have any connection with the buffalo herdsmen who fled Kanara around 700 BCE –200 CE to settle in the Nilgiri mountains, and came to be known as the toda?

The next to come down the mountains, around 3,500 BCE, were the Asura; Dhume traces their origin to Chota Nagpur, the land of the Munda. And presumes that another three ‘tribes’ followed them in quick succession: the Kol, the Mundari and the Kharwa; also hailing from Chota Nagpur. This, according to Dhume, forms the substratum on which the later migrations landed.


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