Festive fever

On Goa’s famed island, Divar, a quiet, narrow road slightly inclined and flanked by Portuguese-style bungalows in wondrous hues leads to a pristine white house.

The next thing that grabs your attention is the cozy porch, a balcao, and seated Goa’s best-known Goemcho Festamkar Marius Fernandes in his trademark shirt and shorts welcoming one and all with open arms.

The Festival Man of Goa, as Marius is known across India’s smallest state, has been working tirelessly for more than 19 years to introduce Goans (goenkars) to their roots and revive

Goan culture through festivals. Excerpts from our conversation...

What inspired you to take up the cause of festivals in Goa?

Originally from Goa, Divar Island in particular, I was born in Africa and raised for most part in Europe. I must thank my mother who brought me to Goa from Kenya as a child so I could learn Konkani, my mother tongue and understand Goan culture.

I spent five years as a teenager in Divar Island. The place gave me immense freedom where I loved interacting with people and even as a kid would organise local events for village youth at the drop of a hat. However, after that I had to return with my mother, this time to Europe where my father had moved.

I spent most part of my adult life in London, started working there, got married, raised a family and was living the ‘perfect’ life. However, those two years spent in Goa stayed with me and kept calling me back. So, on my 40th birthday I decided to go back to where I belonged.

In 2000, after completing 20 years of service with British Telecommunication, I moved with my family to my ancestral house in St Mathias, Divar Island.

I realised Goans were struggling to identify with and be proud of their culture, their roots in the wave of external influences. Also, the few festivals that were being held were more a display of wealth and power by ‘lobbies’ and not what Goa really stood for.

During my stay at Divar as a teenager, I experienced village events, community gatherings and festivals such as Bonderam (a famous Divar festival of flags), Potekar (a carnival where the youth disguise themselves with papier mache masks and costumes, celebrated during the start of Lent), etc., sowed that seed that grew into a tree soon after I returned to Goa and resolved to revive the music, songs, food, dances…the traditional ethos of Goans.

What have been your takeaways from these festivals?

I realised that something had to be done soon before it’s too late and came up with the idea of organising ‘local festivals’ to bring people together and reintroduce them to their origins.

Festivals are a great medium to gather people in large numbers and cultivate a bond through a common thread. I have seen the enthusiasm with which people came together and participated in these festivals.

My motto — No Sponsor, No Politician, No Chief Guest, No Alcohol, No Prizes, No Plastic, No Competition — is still intact and probably the reason why people are in love with these festivals.

Over the past 20 years, I have organised festivals in Goa for anything and everything. For example: Patolleanchem Fest where against the backdrop of live performances of traditional songs and dances, food items and delicacies are on display; Poderachem Fest that celebrates the baker (poder) and varieties of Goan breads; Cajuchem Fest displaying caju sweets, food items, juices, etc.; Ramponnkaranchem Fest that celebrates the ramponnkars — the fishermen who fetch fish for their people, and more.

What do you see yourself doing in the future?

I have always aimed to create low-cost festivals that are eco-friendly, multi-cultural and involve community volunteers. I am approached by Goans in Goa and from all over the world who want to replicate similar festivals in their areas.

I wish to take these festivals all over to revive and celebrate what Goa really stands for: its food, drinks, music, dances, arts and crafts, indigenous plants and traditions!