Salt has been an important produce of coastal Goa for centuries, and has been exported from here to countries in Africa and the rest of Asia. But today, the traditional salt sector lies decimated and threatened by extinction, says a new book on the subject.
“Goa once was a hub of salt making. Salt was the currency that allowed Goans to import essential commodities. Today, the very same occupation lies derelict, its spine truly broken by a century and more of official polices, governmental apathy, low social status…,” says a book authored by Benaulim-based sociologist Dr. Reyna Sequeira.
Sequeira, who did her Ph.D. on the salt making communities of Goa and is an associate professor at Quepem, says in the book that traditional occupations must be remembered “not as a tapestry in a museum merely to be viewed, but as a living part of our society”.
Her field work, spread over a couple of decades involving both her Masters and doctorate on this often ignored subject, looks at salt makers in three villagers scattered across diverse pockets of coastal Goa — Agarvaddo (Pernem), Batim (Tisvadi) and Arpora (Bardez).
Besides focussing on the salt making communities, she highlights the “geography, history and politics” of salt in Goa. In the first two, one gets a hint of how the area of salt extraction has shrunk particularly over recent decades, but also since the late nineteenth century and the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty.
In the “politics” of this section, Sequeira touches issues of the salt sector’s legal status. She quotes other researchers like Dr Harishchandra T Nagvenkar who say that steps taken to promote salt production, marketing and competitiveness could have made a huge difference to this sector in Goa.
Salt has figured only rarely in the Goa legislative assembly, though some politicians have made attempts to raise the issue. Sequeira give a detailed description of the salt making process in Goa. While it may seem to be a simple process, has carefully evolved over the centuries as drawings from the field suggest.
Given the sociological approach of her book, Sequeira studies the salt-makers in detail — both from the Hindu and Catholic communities, besides migrants from neighbouring Karnataka. She compares and contrasts festivals, language, religion, marriage and others followed along different parts of the Goa coast.
The changing status of women — a reality in today’s Goa — also throws up some interesting issues. The family involvement in salt work, and social problems, are also covered, as is the economic life of the villages studied.
Sequeira notes age-old unsolved problems in transportation that the salt makers face. Likewise competition, sometimes unfair, from the corporate world also comes up in the 256-page hard-bound book published by Goa,1556 and priced at Rs 400.
In Batim, not far from the Panjim-Margao highway, the local salt farmers coexist with migrants. From here, a number of traditional marriage rituals are documented by the author. Interesting syncretic practises — which cut across the religious divide — are also studied.
Landlords, workers, tenants and migrants feature in the crucial task of creating salt.
In Arpora, says the author, the salt pans have come under immense pressure, due to factors like tourism and the real-estate boom in the locality. At the time of the commencement of her research, there were four operational salt pans in the village, but now just one exists.
Storage of salt and the hurdles to salt making are also studied in the book. Sequeira approached a number of authorities under the Right to Information Act — from village panchayat upwards — whose answers suggest a poor understanding or complete lack of interest in salt making.
Goa needs a deputy salt commissioner appointed for itself, and statistics on salt production should be systematically maintained, says Sequeira. She also suggests a strict ban on the conversion of salt pans, amidst a number of other serious suggestions. The book will be released on coming Sunday, July 21, 2013, at 10 am at Central Library, Panjim. The function is open to the public.
Other suggestions deal with building awareness over the importance of salt pans, badly-needed official support for infrastructure, linking up Goa’s “isolated salt sector” with the national-level infrastructure, upgrading skills and knowledge, training, special schemes for Goa’s salt sector, marketing support, promoting co-operatives, minimum support prices for salt, de silting, reclaiming non-functional salt pans, repairing sluice gates, providing roads for transportation, and vocational training in salt making skills.
Responding via cyberspace to an announcement of the book, Patrice Reimens, Netherlands-based cyber-campaigner who has long followed issues in Goa, commented: “In France, traditional salt makers in Bretagne and Camargue have managed to survive by ‘branding’ their produce into a high class, hyped-up ‘must have’ — and pricey. Maybe some forces in Goa could push in that direction. Of course, this would need some serious investments and savvy marketing…”
“Salt has played an important role across human history. No substance other than water has been used with such regularity as salt,” the book notes. Yet, in our times, it lies devalued and neglected.
As Dear As Salt
2013, Rs 400, hb, 256 pp