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Guilherme Dias: Blacksmith using Japanese technique to make toddy tapper’s Katie (Scythe)





















Cuncolim-based artisan the last of his kind to be found in Goa

 

By Armstrong Vaz

 

Have you heard of anyone making a toddy tapper’s Katie (Scythe) using a Japanese technique in Goa. Then hold your breath. Cuncolim-based blacksmith Guilherme Dias is one of his kind to be in Goa.


Guilherme’s family have been Goa’s traditional blacksmiths for generations and over the years have produced various implements for farmers, bull cart owners, toddy tappers and other tools which are used for household works and also which come handy in the paddy fields.


Koito (cleaver), Khore (spade), Kudol (pickaxe), Kurad (axe), Dantro, Piskati (knive) , Katie (Scythe) some rake and knives are some of the common things which Guilherme and his family sells in the village feasts and zatras.


A rare breed of Goan blacksmith which will be soon be lost forever as Guilherme’s son is not following in his father’s footsteps and he is the last of the family who is toiling hard in the Camarchi Sal’l (Blacksmith Foundry) in Comba Paricotto Cuncolim.


Businessman Hansel Vaz of Cajulo fame, who traces his roots to Cuncolim, and who has done a lot of research in the field of Goan coconut and cashew Feni, Vinegar and other Goan subjects says Guilherme is one of his kind.  


“My neighbour (Guilherme), he is no ordinary blacksmith,” says Hansel.

 

“This is the last black Smith who makes the Kathie using the sandwich method. A carbonised steel on the outside and a soft steel on the inside. This is a Japanese technique only practiced in Goa,” he adds,


Guilherme has not been to any engineering college or for that matter to any technical school. All that does not matter much to him. He has learnt his trade from his father and he says his Kamarchi Sal is 150 years old. 


A trade, technique and expertise which has been passed from one generation to another.

Give him a piece of solid iron block and in a few minutes of heating, he beats on the anvil to the required shapes turning into different tools which are used by most people in everyday life.

Ask and he has it. Some tools he prepares with a day’s effort while others will require a painstaking effort of many days, he says as he picks up a piece of solid iron block to make his next tool.


A lot of tools are kept in his store-room-cum-foundry, which is situated close to his house, and are sold to people who come looking for tools.


Occasionally he and his assistant Antonio Dias, who is also his relative from the neighbouring village of Assolna, visit most of the fairs and zatras to sell the tools.


A visit to the Kamarchi Sal gives one a peek view of what Guilherme and his forefathers worked on and supported the various trades and occupations which were prominent in once agrarian village of Cuncolim.


A village, which was once a temple town before the Portuguese invasion, the pre-Portuguese era which attracted many an artisan from across the Western Ghats. The artisans stayed put in Cuncolim during the Portuguese rule in the state.


Outside the Kamarchi Sal you can find an iron rim of a discarded wheel of a bullock cart or ox cart. Four decades back, Guilherme and his two, now deceased brothers, were called to make two large iron rims for the wooden-spoked wheels of the bullock cart.


But with bullock carts having faded into oblivion with moderation and lack of paddy field cultivation. Guilherme’s services are no longer needed to make one.


Guilherme and his brothers’ services were also hired to castrate the bulls.


The castration of bulls was with no anesthesia. In this, two to four-year-old bulls were forced to the ground, tie all four of their legs together, and then a crude tool was used to crush the testes’ vessels and nerves—all without any pain relief whatsoever.


The castration was to tame oxen for draught purposes and prevent mating, making them work in the tilling of paddy fields and on the bullock cart.


Guilherme’s Kamarchi Sal also needed the services of a cobbler for his Batto (Blacksmith Bellows) which is part of the Blacksmith Foundry. Not any longer.


The Batto was earlier made of animal skin and it was made in Cuncolim itself but now no one makes it in Goa.


The cobbler used to make in Cuncolim from the locally slaughtered animals, not anymore, and the trade has gone into oblivion.


If people want to buy the Batto, Guilherme says they have to go to Belgaum.


The Batto is a blower to light up the charcoal and keep the fires going.


The Batto is tied to a string and the string in turn to a thin Bamboo stick and one person pulls the string and air gets sucked inside the chamber and helps in lighting up the charcoal in the Blacksmith Foundry.


While Guilherme pulls out the red-hot iron from the burning charcoal and goes on constantly striking the piece of hot metal, placed on the anvil, with a hammer to attain the final desired shape to his liking, Antonio is pulling the string to keep the fires burning in the foundry.

Blacksmith classified as Other Backward Class


 The blacksmiths of Goa are classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC) and have reservations, benefits and schemes for them in terms of government jobs and as elected representatives in local self-governing bodies.


But they seldom knock on the doors of the government administration to get those benefits. The few who knock on the doors face hardships.


A slew of new government schemes are also on the horizon to help them revive the art and give it a boost.


The crunch of the matter is how to get the required caste certificate/s, which states that he or she is not from “non-creamy layer and non-migrant” in the prescribed Proforma from the Deputy Collector of the area concerned.


The caste certificate from the Deputy collector is one step which requires a lot of documentation. For one they have to get a caste certificate letter from some organization in Vasco, family members of Guilherme said.


So, the government administration literally does not recognize them when it comes to government schemes and benefits.


I have got to hear that a few youths from the community have been running from pillar to post to get the required caste certificates.


Need to streamline the system and the local self-governing bodies can step in and do the needful.

Most of the local self-governing bodies did not have data of such artisans and their Blacksmith Foundry in their respective jurisdiction.


In the Portuguese-era the administration worked closely with these people right from licensing the trade to certificating them as expert craftsmen.


Are any of the local self-governing bodies or Skills Development Centre of the Goa government authorized to certify this Goan artisans as expert craftsman and saved the kith and kin of the blacksmith family in making endless trips in search of the letter from some organization and caste certificate from the Deputy collector.


Sometimes it is worth turning the wheels back to history and putting them back into practice in recent times, with modifications. One which serves a good purpose and a cause.

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