Lands of Village communities

All land in the village was jointly and collectively held by the village community. The community allotted land for farming and residential purposes. some lands were allotted to the service personnel of the temple as well as that of the commune. The land allotted to the service personnel was rent-free and was called nomos/namas/ namoshi (plural) and allowed only the enjoyment of the usufruct. Such lands were given priority to the temple and its priest and other service personnel including dancing women and attendant Mhar as well as other service providers like the barber, blacksmith, carpenter, washerman etc. In return, these service providers were to offer free services to Gaukars who offered them voluntarily a contribution from the surplus of his harvest. It said that these lands that were given free of rent were misappropriated, especially by the temple priests.

There were other kinds of lands, particularly in the new conquests that were known as inam or awards given for the professional services rendered to the temple or the commune. Thus, for instance, inam was given to Joshi, the Brahmin priest who read the calendar and set the auspicious and inauspicious time for tilling, sowing, harvesting, marriages, feasts and other occasions. It is said that inam was also given to Mahars who kept a watch over the village but lived away from the village in land called mahrodd. In some village communities, inam was replaced by a fixed pension called voton. There were also lands that were given on long term leases on rents that were flexible. These lands were called aforamento by the Portuguese. These lands are said to have been lost as they are appropriated by those who had received them. Foral or the charter of 1526 exhibits two kinds of land lease contracts: provisional given for 25 years for tilling and developing virgin lands ( siristo) and definitive that took effect at the end of the first contract. The initial virgin land that was tilled did not carry any burden of tax but once the land began giving fruits, it was reassessed for the tax that was called shidav.

When we look at ‘the land bank’ of Goa, we can see that biggest owner of lands in Goa are private land lords owning about 176,606.6525 hectares (53.964%). Private owners own most of the land. After them is the Government who owns 103,083.2667 hectares (31.658%). Next is the temple land which comprises 9,391.1299 (2.875%)hectares, Chuch land is much less and amounts to 926.17733 hectares ( 0.283%). This means village communities who were owners of the entire land are left with 36,522.7440 hectares (11.176%). This forms a mere 11% of the total land (326, 6863.6863 hectares) of Goa. Here we have not considered other lands that owned by Mucipalities, Charitable institutions as well those lands under litigation in our calculus.

We can trace a common structure of organization of land in all villages under the village communities in Goa. Lowlands that had soft sand and had great water resources ( rivers streams) were set apart for paddy cultivation. Alongside was the temple of the village deity (gram dev), the centre of all activities of the people. Near it was an open space for gatherings and was called mandd. Land on higher ground was given to the families to build houses. A number of houses formed a Vaddo which was named after a caste, clan, or tree-grove that stood out etc. Other cultivable land that was less softer ground was called morodd and they were used for paddy as well as cereal and vegetable cultivation. The less promising ground for cultivation was called bhorodd which was used to cultivate legumes and millets. The Kher lands closer to the rivers and others on the upper ground were used for plantation of coconuts. Villages away water sources like the river or the sea, depended on springs and lakes for irrigation and mostly manifest what we know as kullagor that is mainly cultivating arecanuts. A part of kullagor is used to cultivate fruit bearing trees and is called antoll while another part is left wild and is called vissoll.

Maybe along with several lessons, the Gaunkarias or the village communities teach us planned development of our villages. We can draw several lessons to what we call sustainable development today. Besides, there is a lot of room to research about the way village communities have lost their lands. Maybe this research might rock the ship and produce nothing less than a revolution. If the Portuguese destroyed the village communities to a large extent, we may ask what is our government doing to save them?

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao