Translated from the Portuguese by Maria Flavia Ribeiro
“They would describe in detail the houses they had lived in: the rooms with carved rosewood furniture and the pictures of their ancestors on the walls, the balcao where the mando would be sung, the veranda where one would have his siesta on an Indo-Portuguese chair, the oratory or the throne of light where the rosary would be said before dinner, the kitchen blackened by the smoke of the sorpatels, baked behincas and steamed sannas; the well, the paddy fields, or even the mango, chikoo or jackfruit threes known for the quality of fruit they produced. The house was an inextricable part of their life, heritage and history.’
The courtyard house of Goa harks back to a long tradition of dwellings with a central space open to the skies circumscribed by rooms on all sides, a model as much functional in keeping the house cool in the hot climate, as of sacred inspiration. Along the famed Konkan coast, we find references to courtyard houses from the late medieval period onwards. Indeed, in order to find a suitable precedent to the patio house 0f Goa we need look no further than the domestic and monumental architecture of Vijayanagar. While the churches and sacred buildings of Goa have been the focus of a majority of studies on the built heritage of Goa, in more recent times, there has been increasing awareness that the resplendent houses of Goa are as deserving of careful attention. For visitors returning from Goa, images of the houses with colourful façades and romantic porches are as evocative of their Goan sojourn as those of the magnificent, whitewashed churches.
However, today the distinct domestic architecture of historical Goa faces a deep threat. Once the symbols of prosperity, many have today fallen into disrepair. In this lovingly detailed and thoroughly documented new book, Angelo Silveira takes us on a journey through the form of the Goan courtyard house, and the traditional techniques and materials which contributed to the construction of this unique dwelling.
He also makes us aware of the need for a more concerted programme to conserve the courtyard house of Goa, and leaves us with a few tips on the same. This is a book as much for the student of architecture, or practising architect, as it is for anyone who has ever visited or plans to visit Goa. Illustrated with more than 100 colour and black & white photographs, it is a treat for the eyes, as well as an important comment on the need to save a unique built heritage of India.
Angelo Costa Silveira is a conservation architect of Goan origin based in Lisbon, Portugal.
I try September, but it’s still raining, the monsoons being late. Perhaps December, but with so many festive celebrations, weddings, family arrivals and departures there is no time for another look. January is cold—they tell me—and I ask myself what that means in this part of the work In March temperatures rise and the weather is already announcing the dog-days of April and May. The sky darkens in June and the water, scarce in the last two months, pours signalling the beginning of the monsoons.
Eventually, on my research visits, and later when I visited just to keep in touch with the place and the extended family I had found, I landed in Goa in all these months. I treasured the intense green of the paddy fields, the dark grey of the heavily charged clouds amidst strong lightning, the brown sludge left by the rains as it was carried away by the rivers, the red of the soil emerging from under the dense vegetation dotted by palm trees and the deep white of the sand. I treasured the colours of a daring road crossing, of a running rickshaw, a languid waiting queue, a crowd spilling over when the ferry ramp lowers, and a procession on a feast day. I treasured images of the people and of the land, images captured by my eyes like a camera, trans- forming them into lasting impressions with the memory of their sounds and smells intact. Here and there the white dots of the churches, the mark of the ‘difference’—the punctuation of a long history that marked people and landscapes for ever.
It was with the family I found in Goa and with friends from Goa and Portugal that I reconstructed my history, like many others spread over the five continents: the youth decolonised. In the beginning by sea, and later by air, they would bring in news of the Diaspora, and travel back with news from Goa—of marriages, births and deaths. With them would travel across the seas delicacies like bebinca and dodol, alphonso and fernandina man- goes, coconuts from Seychelles, bacalhau, olive oil, ‘ball’ cheese, olives and tins of sardines. There were many such who made the journey to Goa and back to where they currently resided, and not just because the families were large, but because all, though distant in terms of where they lived or their relationship to the family, everyone was warmly announced, greeted and welcomed in Goa. Whether they lived in Goa or not, were born there or not, they were all Goans! ‘Do not call me Senhora Dona. Aren’t we cousins?!’ said a 70-year-old matriarch, a second cousin of one of my grandmothers, when introduced to me in Margao, in South Goa. When I visited Goa for the first time I remember thinking that it was as if I was coming back to a space I had once inhabited—a land of warm feelings. At last I was able to attribute faces to the genealogical trees I had been hearing of since I was just a boy! In them I discovered fruits and flowers, some of them in bloom, others having already shrivelled and wilted away.
The older people spoke of their own lives and told me of their history’. Along with them I revisited the past. They contested modern life and were eager to speak about their own times when people, in spite of difficulties in mobility and resources, shared common feelings, respected principles, and felt more secure. Their strong faith in gospel convictions was embellished by popular folk traditions infused with religiosity their conduct reflected an old-world blend of acquiescence, pride and irony. They expressed themselves in Portuguese trampled by expressions from English and Konkani.
The stories they narrated were situated in time and in space. I hey would describe in detail the houses they had lived in: the rooms with carved rosewood furniture and the pictures of their ancestors on the walls, the balcao where the mando would be sung, the verandah where one would have his siesta on an Indo Portuguese chair, the oratory or the throne of light where the rosary would be said before dinner, the kitchen blackened by lie smoke of the sorpatels, baked bebincas and steamed sannas; lie well, the paddy fields, or even the mango, chikoo or jackfruit nets known for the quality of fruit they produced. The house was an inextricable part of their life, heritage and history.
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