23 Jan 2023  |   02:11pm IST

Revisiting history through ‘sign’ language

Panjim’s Latin Quarters are home to some of the most distinctive signboards, most of which are centuries-old
Revisiting history through ‘sign’ language

Rohan Shrivastav

PANJIM: One can often see him heading groups of people, locals and tourists alike, on educational walks around the state capital. But while the average guide might focus on popular sights and areas, Vishal Rawlley takes great interest in explaining to his clientele the history and heritage surrounding the centuries-old, Portuguese era signboards that still adorn the entrances of many family-run businesses in Panjim.

The environmental activist and educator is particularly interested in the handcrafted and meticulously painted wooden signboards dotting Sao Tome, mainly around the Tobacco Square. He says these distinctive works of art not only convey the name of the family owning the business but also the type of trade they’ve been involved in, and for how long. The intriguing part is that all the text is in Portuguese, bearing testament to the great influence the culture of those times continues to have in Goa.

“Those who still engage in family-run business in the city have preserved their signage for centuries. Their boards have their own signature style. The fonts and designs are also unique. These are truly one of a kind,” Rawlley says.

A short walk through the city’s Latin Quarters will confirm his fascination. Quaint old shops selling anything from jewellery, hardware and paints to musical instruments and stationery, sport these unique signboards with great pride, virtually taking their customers back in time. This is even more reason why they should be preserved and documented for the future generations, Rawlley says.

“While on a walk, we take routes where we can see many of these signs. I stop and talk about each one. I also give the group prints of different signage that I have photographed around the city. The participants must identify some of them as we walk. We even do some sketching and sticking on some surfaces in the city,” he explains.

Rawlley is of the opinion that just like these unique signboards, graffiti on some of the city’s walls is a more modern kind of iconography that tells Panjim’s story.

“One can find portraits of revolutionary personalities – such as Fr Bismarque Dias and Vishnu Wagh – on the city’s walls. There are also some restaurants that have portraits of activists and contemporary leaders, which is another form of telling the city's story,” he says.

Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) corporator Joel Andrade, who attended one of Rawlley’s city walks recently, was among those who were impressed by the stories he has been unearthing.

“I learnt that everything has a history and it is the responsibility of us, the younger generations, to gather knowledge of our rich culture and history. We should strive hard to preserve our architectural heritage,” Andrade says.