Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Salt of the Land

Salt of the Land

Published on: April 17, 2011

More in: Panorama

By Vinayak Khedekar

Salt is a prominent part of our diet. The Gawda community is mainly engaged in producing salt through traditional means. The place where salt is produced is known as Mithagar.

The historical document illustrates that during earlier times, salt from Goa was exported to Thailand, Burma and even African countries, while in 1855 Goa dominated the Asian market with regard to salt export. In 1964-65, there were 200 salt pans operational in Goa, in 13 villages of four talukas of Pernem, Bardez, Tiswadi and Salcete, which produces around 25,000 metric tones of salt annually and by 2002, the number came down to around 16. Further, salt pans located at a stretch, from Agorwaddo in Morjim to Cavelossim in Salcete, are either non-functional or used for pisciculture related activities.

The production of salt was sufficient for the entire Goan population besides its export. In Goa, salt was transported to the villages near the river and then carried in big bamboo baskets called Vajem which were mounted on the head. The news regarding the arrival of the Vhadem spread and the locals collected it hurriedly before it was sold out, simply because one had to store enough to last the entire year as the next batch of salt would only arrive the following year.

The annual storage of salt without it melting was a major worry. After bringing it home, the salt was dried in the sun’s heat by spreading it on a bamboo mat in the courtyard. Different methods and means where adopted for its storage. A big size vertical pot known as doan was generally used by most families; these were maintained by generations together. A tree trunk having a sufficient diameter, normally of a jackfruit tree, which was hollow inside was called doan. Every traditional house, from the Kulwadi to the Gawda community possessed two doans. After filling the doan with salt it was covered by a piece of wood and was positioned near the kitchen. It was placed not on the mud floor but on a wooden plank or on pieces of fully dried coconut tree trunk to avoid dampness.

Before the plastic container entered Goan life, people practiced an unusual mode for preserving salt. A big bamboo basket with a lid is procured from the traditional occupants, which made use of fully seasoned materials. This basket known as patem was then plastered with fresh cow dung both inside and out. Once the dung dried, salt was put into it and this basket was placed at a place safe from moisture. The salt remained fresh for at least a year and the Patem lasted for a minimum of five years.

Preservation of salt among the Kulmi community in Ganvdongrem is as follows - people bought salt in large quantities and before preserving it, it was dried in the sun. After that Gadeli leaves were placed in and beneath by vlache vaye in a betachem paate - cane basket or goti.

After putting Gadeli leaves, then the salt was placed and at last it was tied with a vaye. The second method is called hudo. Here, muruli hudo was bought, out of this kondul – a sort of a basket was prepared, the salt was filled into it and it covered with a tight fitting cover- zakan.

Several beliefs and superstitions are associated with salt and are still adhered to by the country folk. If the stock of salt was ruined or was exhausted, people borrowed some from their neighbours.

This system was acceptable for all other items but certain norms were observed in the case of salt. In the Bhat Brahman community if salt had been borrowed it had to be returned, whereas in the Gawda community, salt that was lent was not taken back. Borrowing salt was unacceptable in the Bhavin community and if it was needed it was taken on the sly and was overlooked by the members of the family. Salt is indeed carried by the housewife during the ceremonial entry into a newly constructed house.

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