Waving a flag at Goa's Bonderam festival, a personal experience

Waving a flag at Goa's Bonderam festival, a personal experience

Rhea D' Souza tells Avril-Ann Braganza about her first experience amidst floats, traditional parades and revelry at Divar's annual Flag Festival

It's the fourth Saturday of August and as the annual tradition goes, the island of Divar in Goa comes alive with the Bonderam festival. Approximately 10 minutes from Panjim, you can reach Divar by ferry from Old Goa or Ribandar. We reach the island and head to main square in the village of Piedade. We battle our way through the crowd for a good-enough spot to catch the vibrant floats and colourful costumes as they pass by. Locals perch on their balconies or gather on their terraces for a far better view.

People try to get a better view from their terraces and balconies

Also known as the 'Festival of Flags', its origin dates back to the days when the Portuguese ruled Goa. Frequent disputes and fights over property issues between the villagers of the island led the Portuguese to introduce a system wherein they put up flags to demarcate boundaries. The locals, however, would knock down these flags in protest. To protect the borders of two villages nd their fields, the ancestors would shoot Teflam (berries) with fotash 'guns' made from bamboo stems. This custom was mimicked till a few years ago, but is now banned as it was declared unsafe. While in the past, flags would be carried around the village in a procession and villagers dressed in colourful clothes danced to the tunes of a brass band, of late residents believe that the festival has become more commercialised.

The float parade begins

Practices start almost a month in advance and the village club organises everything with the help of sponsores. Today, it begins with a procession in the afternoon; young boys carrying flags from the major Divar junction accompanied by a Brass Band and then the festival is declared 'open'. Little children and adults dressed in different take part in a fancy-dress competition and the parade of floats. As the floats went by based on four themes–waves and fishing, environmental change, São João and the traditional occupations of Goa–I was reminded of the larger and grander Goa carnival. Floats of crabs and fish drive by and women in rubber chappals, dressed in saris carrying baskets of thermacol fish, men carrying fishing nets, little fishermen and women dance past us. Young locals who are part of the float themed around climatic and environmental change in Goa and boys and girls adorning copels on their head follow them. Children and the elderly alike dressed in traditional attire, depicting the traditional Goan occupations form the rear of the parade.

Food stalls serve delicious barbecued food

What's nice is that the island is really picturesque and all the all the villagers–from juniors to seniors–dress up in traditional clothes and take an active part in the celebrations. The sun sets and it's time to party. Youngsters shake a leg as the DJs and the live band pump up some catchy tunes and after a while as our stomachs start to rumble, we decide to grab a bite from one of the few food stalls stalls selling alcohol and other beverages as well as barbecue chicken and pork. A few of the other bars sell samosas and patties.

The next day the people of Divar will attend mass in the church and the first harvest will be blessed, which is called Novidade. But for us, as the music dies down, we make our way back to the ferry. And another Bonderam celebration goes by.

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