A school dropout, he documents Goa’s oral tribal history

By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, IANS
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PANAJI - A school dropout is now emerging as the custodian of Goa’s orally rendered tribal history. Too poor to buy a camera, he managed to get one from an NGO to document tales of valour, jungle lore and the importance accorded to the environment among the Velip tribe.

Devidas Gaonkar, 24, who dropped out of higher secondary school in 2003 because of financial constraints, has now started a unique video project of audio-visually documenting the oral tribal history of the Velips — a tribe essentially found in southeastern Goa.

“I live in a village in the Cotigao wildlife sanctuary. I know these people — the Velips. Their oral tradition is rich but fast disappearing,” Devidas told IANS.

Velips, numbering a few thousands, who along with the Gawdas and Kunbis are the original inhabitants of Goa, reside in withdrawn rural pockets in the forest fringed regions of Sanguem, Canacona and Quepem, which are sub-districts in south Goa.

“I had often seen the village elders in Quepem sitting together in the evenings around a bonfire after working in their fields and singing songs about their tribe’s past glories and tradition,” Devidas said, explaining why he was hooked by the concept of oral history.

“One of the tribe elders, Bhiva Gaonkar, once told me that if he really began singing, he had enough stories to go on without a break for six to seven days at a stretch,” he added.

Devidas, who was already dejected after repeated rejections from local newspapers about stories on rural concerns of Goa, then tied up with an NGO, Video Volunteers, which focusses on narrating visual stories of an ‘India Unheard’ and often ignored by the mainstream media.

“I did not have the money to invest in a camera, so I sent my proposal about recording the oral history of the Velips to ‘Video Volunteers’ who gave me a high definition camera and basic editing facilities,” he said.

Devidas explained that oral histories are stories passed on from generation to generation. They convey social practices and traditional values to newer generations.

“Our stories carry our wisdom. It is our stories that tell us that we are the descendants of tribal king Balli,” Mono Gaonkar, a Velip elder in his 70s, told IANS.

Worded in conversational script, the oral stories have a direct connect with the listener, engaging him or her in the narration.

“There are stories about the Balli king and his tales of valour. There are stories about jungle lore and the importance of environment. Almost all the stories are narrated in a local adaptation of the Konkani language,” Devidas said.

He said urgency was essential in documenting the tradition, which according to him could die after a couple of decades.

“As is the case everywhere, the younger generation is embarrassed about this tradition. They feel their elders should get rid of this baggage and move on with the times. Narration of these stories to the Velip youngsters has virtually stopped,” Devidas said.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

–Indo Asian News Service

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