Before we continue any further, it would be good to become familiar with some Goan words, terms and understand goenkarponn (being Goan). Plus, some of these words and phrases will help you sound like a local, men!
Goa, over the centuries, has been home to Maratha kings, Portuguese colonisers and Muslim sultans. Now, of course, it is home to independent citizens of India.
The roots of its name come from an interesting mythological tale. The Hindu god Parashurama (the sixth avatar of Vishnu) shot his arrow into the sea and commanded the sea to recede. The corner (kona) and piece (kana) that receded came to be called Konkan.
The official language of Goa is Konkani, which is spoken in a particular dialect depending on where in this tiny state you are, with more than a smattering of Portuguese. The word “konkan” comes from the Kukkana tribe, who originally inhabited this coastal region of India.
Goans are proud of their mother tongue and many movements exist to keep it alive and kicking. The language borrows words freely from English, Marathi and Portuguese. Here are a few words that can be useful to you if you are ever in Goa. And if you’re not in Goa, then adding foreign words to your vocabulary is a fun thing to do.
The Portuguese word for boss, it is now used casually when talking to someone you don’t know too well, but also as a mark of kind respect.
A shopkeeper at a Goan flea market might solicit you by saying, “Patrao, how much you want to pay?”
Literally translated as “men”, it is a more casual greeting than “patrao”. It is used between two people who may have some familiarity with each other.
You’d probably say this to your friend while returning from your fishing trip, “No bangda [mackerel] at all, murray.”
One could say this is the feminine term for “murray”. Repeating the above disappointment at no mackerel in the market, one woman might say to another, “Aago, no bangda at all today.”
Meaning “much obliged”, or what we all know as ‘Thank you’. Goans tend to use it liberally, even as a form of warmth and gratitude. When leaving a friend’s home, they will say, “Obrigado, thank you for coming.”
This is one of the few “bad” words I learnt from my nana. It means “naughty person” and is used to scold someone, mostly kids when they are not exactly being susegad!
Dev Borem Korum
“God bless you” is used frequently by people you know or don’t. Whether it’s a casual interaction between family or friends saying goodbye after a meeting, the farewell ends with “Dev borem korum”.
One of the best Goan proverbs I recently discovered is “Aiz maka, faela tuka”, which can be seen etched in the stone archway at the entrance of St Thomas church graveyard in Aldona village. It kind of summarises life in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The proverb means, “Today for me, tomorrow for you.” In other words, we’re all going to meet the same fate.
The great thing about proverbs is that they are instant and entertaining time machines. With just a few words, you get to download the wisdom of ancient cultures, and learn more about a way of life and the lifestyles of people. Goan culture too has some superb proverbs that have been handed down from generation to generation.
Given the state’s multicultural history, Goan proverbs are born from many languages and lifestyles. They reflect and reveal a rich mix of Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese and even Urdu. The expressions trace their roots to the lifestyles of people, how they worked, their jobs in the fields or climbing coconut trees.
To really enjoy the proverbs, one must hear them in a Goan dialect. If a word ends with an “m”, it is normally not pronounced; you just sort of leave the word hanging at the preceding vowel. As in most languages, Goan proverbs too use rhyme and alliteration to make them memorable.
Many of these proverbs are stinging one-liners, with sharp humour and tongue firmly in cheek. In the pithy turns of phrases lie stories of resilience, patience, the virtues of hard work, and sometimes just the ability to be content in a given situation.
The one I remember most is a phrase my nana used often, “Kaam zaale, voiz melo”. It meant, “Once the work is done, the doctor is dead”. As a kid, I thought it was immensely funny and didn’t understand why the doctor had to die once the work was done. My nana then explained its real meaning: “Do not forget about the person who has helped you once your work is done.”
Here are some more Konkani proverbs. I’ve found that the lilting tones are not just pleasing to the ear, but can also make you appear worldly-wise in conversations.
1. “Xita adi mit giloo naka.”
Don’t eat salt before rice.
The lesson: Do things in the proper order.
2. “Moddlelea khursac resped na.”
No one respects a broken cross.
The lesson: Keep your things in order.
3. “Kaxtti bhizleabogor nustem dhorumnozo.”
You can’t catch fish if you don’t wet your loincloth.
The lesson: Hard work requires getting your hands dirty.
4. “Sunnean chablem mhunn, sunneak ghans marop?”
Should you bite a dog because it has bitten you?
The lesson: An adequate response is better than an exaggerated reaction.
5. “Ang udkan nitoll, mon sotan nitoll.”
The body is cleansed by water, the mind by truth.
The lesson: Cleanliness is important for both, the mind and the body.
6. “Ordhea maddar choddun hatsoddche nho.”
Letting go after climbing halfway up a coconut tree is disastrous.
The lesson: Giving up halfway can be disastrous.
7. “Aplo koito hatar boslear, nal’lak kiteak gaali?”
If a blade cuts your hand, do not blame the coconut.
The lesson: Don’t blame others for your mistakes.
8. “Aavle vikun ail’le duddukhorzukhainant.”
Money earned by selling amla does not irritate the throat.
The lesson: Hard work is never below your dignity.
9. “Baim suktoch, udcacho valor collta.”
When the well dries, you understand the value of water.
The lesson: Learn to value things before you lose them.
10. “Nachunk kollona, angonn vankddem.”
If you can’t dance, the floor is crooked.
The lesson: Do not blame external factors for your own weakness.
11. “Lojek ani pejek poddona.”
Shyness and rice water don’t go together.
The lesson: Don’t be shy to do what needs to be done even if it “looks” embarrassing.
12. “Faleam mortolo mhunn aizuch fonddatt poddchem re?”
You may die tomorrow, but you don’t need to fall into your grave today.
The lesson: Celebrate your life while alive.
13. “Goenkarank udarponn fokot ek utor nhoi – ti amchi ek porompora.”
Hospitality is not just a word for Goans, it’s a tradition.
The lesson: Goans are a welcoming people.
14. “Hi sogle bhaji kator re bhaji!”
They’re just vegetables, cut the vegetables!
The lesson: Chill. Just do it.
Though No. 14 is not strictly a proverb, this famous line was said by a father to his hypnotist son in front of the Portuguese queen and it deserves to be added to the list of Goan proverbs.
Excerpted with permission from Susegad: The Goan Art of Contentment, Clyde D’ Souza, Ebury.