Giselle Regina Fernandes
SIOLIM: Goa’s rich heritage of flavour has always intertwined with its locally sourced produce. Whether it is the vonn, wedding bol, wedding suji, rice kheer, atol or the tizan; all these familiar favourites have one ingredient native to Goa that makes them classics; and that is the coconut jaggery. This sweet, power-packed delicacy has been in use since the time of our ancestors, often as a substitute, by those who could not afford the high price of sugar back then.
Originally, coconut jaggery makers came from Morjim. These days, coconut jaggery makers are few and far between, not just because of the toil the profession requires, but because of difficulty in sourcing toddy, the main
One of the few people still keeping the profession alive is Frida Rodrigues, a fourth generation jaggery maker from Chopdem. The family business started with her great grandfather, and grandfather both of whom were toddy
They would scale trees, extract toddy sap, or palm nero. This extract is then boiled in a large container on an open flame for several hours before it is transferred to moulds, to solidify.
Once set, Frida’s great grandmother Rosa Maria, and her grandmother Angelina- the ‘sales team’, took charge.
“It may sound simple, but life was anything but,” recounts Frida’s father Consav Rodrigues. “Roads were non-existent, and during my grandmother’s time, she had to carry all our produce in a small canoe across the Chapora river, from Morjim to Guddem Siolim. In addition, the windy weather made the task more difficult during the rains.”
Once the women made it across the river, they carried all that produce in a basket on their heads, walking 10 km from Guddem to reach the final destination- the Friday Mapusa Market.
As age got the better of her, and once his grandmother could no longer bear the task, Consav’s mother took charge of transporting and selling in the market. Thankfully, by then the ferry service from Chopdem to Siolim had started. “My mother was well known for her humility and simplicity.” He says, “People just seemed to flock to buy her jaggery, because of her personality.” As their business began to grow exponentially, they had to double up and soon, Consav’s wife also joined in.
Coconut jaggery was once sold at 6 paise per kilo, Consav recollects his grandfather telling him when he was young. Now, as his daughter Frida has taken over, the market price for a pack of four small pieces is Rs 120, and one large piece is sold for Rs 100.
Wedding season, and the month of August, for the Feast of Assumption, are the most lucrative months for the business. Consav says, “During peak season, we sell about 300 kgs per day.”
Perhaps, because of the tradition of giving wedding Bol as a gift from the bride’s family to the groom’s side in most catholic weddings. House warmings as well, where families serve traditional jaggery for the mandatory ‘bhikarioche jown.’
Consav says, “In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for export of jaggery to Goans living abroad, especially in England, through cargo and door-to-door services, which is good for business too.”
But as we step into the new age, back home, we are losing touch with our roots, and the traditions that our ancestors had been raised on. Consav says, “Traditional jaggery making might die a slow death due to the lack of toddy makers and labour.”
As goan youth are shying away from these occupations, he says there is dignity in toiling for the work one does, so they shouldn’t be averse to taking up these traditional professions. He implores the government to encourage and support professions like his own, so that the culture of our great State survives and continues to be passed down through generations.