11 Apr 2021  |   05:47am IST

What is in a name?

Names mean so many different things and come from so many different places. While zahar means poison in Hindi, in Romanian language it means sugar. When humans travel from place to place, often the words they use also change their meaning. RADHARAO F.GRACIAS explains how some words have developed different connotations with time and change


In these days of COVID, I mostly sit at home read and relax with music, in the background. The music depends on the season, gospel for Lent, carols for Christmas and assorted rest of the time. Kumbaya is a soft toned hymn that I have often heard and wondered what the word could mean. This Maundy Thursday it is late Peter Seeger whose version I hear on You Tube.  He sings, Kumbaya my lord, Kumbaya…...and breaks off after a few notes to narrate:

The history of this song is very interesting. It confounds all the folklore. There is a missionary who came back from Angola, West Africa and he said here is a song which is sung all around the mission. People asked him where did it come from? And he says, I don’t know. A friend of mine a Methodist preacher, who is singing it in North Carolina, says oh, this is not Kumbaia. This is not an African song. This is an old song “Come by here Lord, Come by here”. Somehow it got changed when it went across the ocean to West Africa. Who is to say which the right version is?

So there is my answer. Come by here has melted in the African sun, rolled on the Angolan tongue and emerged as Kumbaya! It has remained so, to this day.

Young Francisco Higinio Craveiro Lopes grew up among the mountains of Portugal, which he loved to climb and enjoy the vistas that unfold. It was less than three decades since the Wright brothers had flown the first aeroplane. And a desire grew in him to fly above the mountains rather than climb them. He enrolled in a flying school and obtained a pilot’s licence.  But his dreams of a career as a flyer were shattered, when his influential father was appointed as Governor General of Estado de India and had to accompany him as aide-de-camp. Restless for his passion, he began a campaign for flights from Portugal to Goa. The campaign bore fruit.

A three seater Havilland was purchased in London. The services of Captain Manuel Moreira Cardoso and lieutenant Francisco Saramento Pimental were hired. Francisco Higinio named the plane Marao after the sixth highest mountain in Portugal which had inspired him to be a pilot. The name was painted in bold letters on the sides. The flight took off from Amadora near Lisbon on October 31, 1930. It flew via Spain, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Gaza, Baghdad, Karachi, Diu, and Bombay before landing not far from the present airport at Dabolim, to a tumultuous welcome, nineteen days later. 

There followed a gala reception at the ‘airport’ attended by whoever mattered, including the Governor General, businessmen and local dignitaries. Thousands of ordinary Goans too had gathered to ogle at the aviao. Crishna Quenim from Taleigao was among the businessmen present. Those of you who are senior citizens will recall, a long bar of yellowish cake of washing soap, sold as a whole or in pieces, cut from it. The soap was manufactured by Crishna Quenim, who impressed, by what he had seen named it after the plane.  And thus ‘Sabao Marao’ was born. And that is how Serra do Marao in distant Portugal ended up as a soap, washing dirty linen in Goa! 

The ancient Romans had carved up an empire extending from Europe through West Asia and North Africa, centuries before Christ. They called the people of North West Africa (present day Morocco and Mauritania) as ‘Moro or Moura’ after the region. Seven centuries after Christ most of North Africa succumbed to Islam. The Ismlamised Moro quickly crossed over into the Iberian Peninsula and conquered what is now Spain and Portugal. They remained for seven centuries spreading Islam but were gradually forced out, culminating in their final defeat in 1492 at the hands of Ferdinand and Isabella. During their stay the term ‘moro’ lost its geographical connotation and instead came to signify a Muslim. Moro travelled to Britain and became Moor. The Spaniards later conquered the Philippines where they again encountered Muslims and naturally called them Moro. Today the Muslims in that country too call themselves Moro. The Portuguese brought the Moro to Goa where it has metamorphosed into moir! Thus moro actually a geographic indicator has taken a religious connotation. A similar thing has happened with the Hindu in India.

The Portuguese monks in Goa, among other things busied themselves in trying to improve the quality of the mango and created so many varieties. Two well known varieties are Afonso named after their leader who conquered Goa and Malcorado meaning poorly coloured in Portuguese. The Malcorado though visually poor has thrived because it is delicious but its sister variety Bemcorado has virtually disappeared despite its pretty colour, due to its poor taste.

But if you cross the Goa borders to the North, Afonso has been altered by the Marathi manus into Apus. No more can you find malcorado in Goa unless you ask for mankurad. And in the markets the vendors will offer you another mango and call it mangilal as if it is some North Indian breed. Actually the mango is Manga Hilario created by and named after Hilario Fernandes from Siolim. Raul Fernandes who was Calangute MLA and minister for education in the last MGP government in Goa (1977 to 1979) under Shashikala Kakodkar was the son (or was it grandson?) of the creator of Manga Hilario.

Hilario whose creation continues to delight our taste buds belongs to the same powerful clan as Remo Fernandes who is delighting our ears with his music and song.


Iddhar Udhar