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Festival Man Brings Back the Good Ol’ Cheer To Goa

Manu Shrivastava | Goa

On Goa’s most 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 most-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 the Goan culture through festivals. The most recent being the ‘NRI-NRG-NRD Fest 2019’ that concluded on 28 December 2019 at Divar Island, Goa where the Non-Resident Indians, Non-Resident Goans and Non-Resident Divadkars got together over a fiesta of live music, films, workshops and lots of talk over authentic Goan food! There is something, indeed, that drives Goemcho Festamkar to pursue his unique initiative. Excerpts from an interview:

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. My mother got the news that a steamer ship SS Haryana was sailing from Mombassa harbour in Kenya to Mormugao in Goa and without blinking an eye decided to sail aboard with me and my four siblings.

I spent five years as a teenager in Divar Island and got enrolled in Our Lady of Divar High School, a local school. The place gave me immense freedom where I loved interacting with people and even as a kid would organise local events for village boys and girls 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 by then.

Marius Fernandes discussing about a festival with mother Antoinette

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, Goa. 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. And there was no looking back. I am the only one from my entire family living in India. All the other family members are scattered across the world in different countries. Even my children live in the UK now and visit me often.

Festival Man Marius Fernandes sitting in the Goan Balcao

I realised that Goans were struggling to identify with and be proud of their culture, their roots in the wave of external influence that has gripped the state. Goa has been in a state of influx for some time now and the intermixing of cultures and communities has been making the preservation of the Goan culture difficult. 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. It’s almost like they were just waiting for something like this to happen and left no stone unturned to help organise and be part of these festivals.

Ponsachem Fest or the Jackfruit Festival

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 and continue to make them a success.

Over the past 20 years, after returning to goemchi matti, I have organised festivals in Goa for anything and everything Goan. For example - Patolleanchem Fest where in the backdrop of live performances of traditional songs and dances, traditional food items and delicacies are at 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 many more.

Ramponnkaranchem Fest that celebrates the fishermen who fetch fish

What obstacles did you face in organising the festivals?

It took me some time to make locals understand the significance and need of holding small, village festivals free from vested interests of motivated entities. My festivals are completely for the people, of the people and by the people. There were the usual initial hurdles of finding volunteers, venue, material, getting necessary permissions, etc., but as the word spread and people saw the amount of joy and togetherness the festivals brought, more and more people started contributing their own ways - by bringing food, drinks, chairs, posters, people and volunteering themselves.

Marius pointing to a signage at the entrance of his home detailing his family history and their legendary tryst with Divar

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. These festivals have struck the right chord with the Goan heart and in their own unique way are saving Goa. 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!

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