Three Museums, One Location
498, Near Auxilium High School,
Benaulim, Goa 403716
Victor Hugo Gomes dons many hats- that of an artist, musician, actor, researcher, collector, and restorer, and has single-handedly brought all of his passions under one roof with a larger purpose to preserve and share Goa’s rich culture and heritage. His fascination with the age-old traditions and tools, and the realization that it would one day be irretrievably lost has culminated into this 30-year labor of love that houses over 40,000 priceless cultural artifacts he has personally collected.
With his Lalit Kala Academy scholarship in 1992, he studied “Experimental transitions in the world of art” and returned to Goa to set up the Museum of Christian Art in Rachol. In 2009, he set up his flagship Museum- Goa Chitra, which immediately received international acclaim. Soon after, 18 European Museums extended recognition to Victor and Goa Chitra and he was offered the opportunity to display his collection of Goa’s costumes and jewellery at the University of Lisbon.
Some of the prominent awards and accolades conferred to Victor Hugo Gomes are Man of Excellence, 2021, Pride of India, Goa Edition, 2021, DKA-cho Delgado Sonvstha Puroskar, 2017, The Felga-Gracias Award, 2015, Business Goa Award, 2014, For corporate excellence in conserving Goa’s heritage and culture, The V.X. Verodiano Award (USA), 2009 - For the commitment to conserve and showcase Goa's ethnographic past for posterity's benefit and realization.
Impressed with his work, the British Council appointed him to the extensive task of mapping Museums in Western India – a project that influenced his ideas. Through his research, he concluded that the Museums needed special reform, with proper documentation and with narratives that people could connect with. This manifested in his unique style of displaying his collections at his Museums to make it a “laboratory for learning” culture, heritage and history
With his world-class exhibits and his deep knowledge on heritage, tourism, environment and more, he has often been invited as a key-note speaker at various events including ”Death of Architecture ” by IIID (2018), PFA Art Festival (2017), “Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO (2015),and selected for several professional workshops organised by The Met, The British Museum and more, and has his own TED Talk and his documentary “Portrait of a Goan Collector”.
Victor’s desire to preserve the past extends beyond the material culture and extends into the “intangible culture of Goa”- the art, music, language, food and more, which he believes is gradually slipping away. His passion and appreciation for art, beauty, music and for Goa drives him to create unique experiences for visitors at workshops, exhibitions, concerts and other events.
Victor’s knowledge comes more from instinct, understanding and experiences, than from books, which is also how ancestors learned. His mission is to share their knowledge and inspire people to utilise their wisdom to enrich the future and shape a better world.
Growing up in Goa in the 70s and 80s, I became aware that I was part of a “sandwich” generation, caught in the middle of a transition in Goan society. The social structure was being eroded by increasing consumerism, the abandoning of traditional implements and practices, and loss of self-sufficiency due to an increasing dependence on technology and mass-produced goods.
In our house, kerosene lamps, cow dung and red oxide flooring were replaced by electricity and china mosaic tiles. In the kitchen, wood-fire stoves made way for gas cooking ranges, stone grinders were replaced by electric mixers, earthen pots and cane and wooden containers were thrown onto the rubbish heap or bonfires. In the village you would see tiled roofs were being knocked down to make way for concrete slabs and the palm-leaf mats that protected mud walls from the monsoon rain were replaced by plastic sheets.
There was a drop in farming activity and fields were converted to football grounds, housing plots and so called public development, which caused flooding that made going to school difficult.
Country taverns that dispensed quick shots and which once were places meant for leisure activity after a hard days work- where the farmer would have a drink and catch up with village gossip and play a game of tabullam or gangifo, became bars where local craftsmen, unemployed because their services were no longer needed, sat idly and slowly turned to drink to drown their sorrows. These makers of tools and utensils who once made the village self-sufficient, the keepers of know-how and skills handed down from generation to generation, would be the last of their kind.
The church angelus bells which were once very audible were drowned with noisy motorized vehicles. The baker’s pestle with metal clappers (mussol) was replaced with a loud rubber horn and the village crier had to change his drum to a loud bell. The village feast fares which were meant for local sweet makers and artisans were replaced by commercially made produce from across the state.
This passage of “progress” first became clear to me by looking at the cupboard where my mother carefully stored her six children’s toys after they had outgrown them, one shelf dedicated to each child. I could see how, within the span of twelve to fifteen years that separated the eldest and youngest, the materials used changed from wood to metal to plastic.
The most neglected and untouched corners of people’s houses like our house were the storeroom (loz) and the wooden loft (malo). Off limits to me as a youngster, I found these places for broken and discarded things to be stores of treasure when I first got to explore them as a teenager. Different types of clay pots and baskets neatly preserved and stacked, tools, old altars and wooden chests filled with clothes from a previous generation – like my grandfather’s shark-skin coat.
I collected these old things that had been thrown away because my fascination with them persisted even after they were considered obsolete, starting with tools and gadgets of various kinds, like valve radios that were discarded for transistor radios.
Sometimes I used to pull out some of these implements and stare wistfully at those old tools, thinking how incredible it would be to examine them more closely someday. I would like to identify the wood, find out how old they really are, whether there is pollen embedded in the wood that could reveal what plants were growing in the fields when the tools were used, whether there is wear or polish on the blades that could confirm their function, or other marks that could tell us more about how they were made and find out the makers of these tools.
Despite my lifelong interest in traditional Goan implements, I only realized their true value while based in Lucknow as a painter. While there, I got the chance to accompany a researcher from M S University in researching tribal art and lifestyles in various places in North India. My interaction with the creators opened my eyes to the hard work and skill that went into creating such items, and the understanding of materials it required. I realized that the things I had seen discarded in Goa had similar stories behind them, and I began to wonder about their makers and their history.
As the founding curator of the Museum of Christian Art, I approached churches across Goa, did inventories of their artefacts, shortlisted and negotiated those that should be part of the museum display. It was fun to restore these objects and know the material that was used to create these priceless works of art. I saw the shift of artisans from doing Hindu artifacts to Christian depictions.
Initially, I began collecting artifacts as a passion but over the last few years, it was with the sudden awareness that a heritage was being lost without documentation the passion turned to an obsession. The importance of collecting data and facts to support my collection was realized as there is a dearth of research being done about our ancestry and the information that is available is incomplete.
The importance of showcasing such information arose and hence came the idea to set up Goa’s ethnographic museums.
While planning the museum I wanted to accurately represent the implements, tools and the material culture that were used in the Goan homes to tell a story about the people of Goa. The collection significantly highlights the various trades of the Goan people. The final Implements for display are chosen to represent the people with different vocations like agriculturist, weaver, potter, homemaker, religion, metalsmith, goldsmith, tailor etc.
I was shocked to find that artefacts of artistic and historical value were being neglected in churches around the state. Some priceless pieces were even used as door and window stoppers. Travelling from village to village, I not only got to witness different activities and rituals that made up part of village life, but also how traditional implements were being thrown out or left to decay. This focused my passion for collecting items of cultural and heritage value, with the determination to save whatever I could of Goa’s heritage.
My collection increased greatly after I began restoring old Goan houses in 2002. As in my own home, I saw how people had lost all value for the things of old. House owners who were moving out after selling their homes would take with them commonplace items like plastic chairs and aluminium pots and leave behind broken furniture, clay and woven household implements, tools, weights, measures, altars and that are now irreplaceable and priceless.
It became a major obsession for me to visit lofts and neglected storehouses of relatives, friends or whoever allowed me to explore. There were times where I had to clean and organize peoples store rooms hoping to find something of relevance to my collection. These mostly broken, half eaten implements I collected and restored.
Restoring some items to their authentic original state meant I had to consult elders who were familiar with them and had actually seen them in use. Because finding such people was not easy in urban areas, I accompanied friends on trips to remote parts of Goa where the knowledge I needed had not yet been erased by the march of modernization. These trips also helped to widen and complete my collection, especially of farming and household implements.
Sadly, changes in Goan economy and society had rendered them obsolete in these areas as well. All this information, knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors was going un-recorded and I was scared of a threat of these things being replaced by modern or things brought from other places becoming true facts about Goan artefacts to the future generation.
My collection now includes agricultural tools, tools used by different artisans, household implements, kitchen implements, furniture, clothing, jewellery, music and musical instruments, and modes of transport that once were in common use but can no longer be found, either because they have fallen out of favour or because the skills needed to make them have died.
While collecting the agricultural implements that form the major display at Goa Chitra, I realized that Goans were losing much more than historical artefacts – they were losing evidence of the wisdom that informed the lifestyles of their forefathers. Despite professing a passion for fish curry and rice, few Goans nowadays could tell you much about how either are obtained. And the knowledge that went into the making of farming and fishing equipment – the most suitable material to use, different designs for different applications – was also something that most people were completely ignorant about. The threat was obvious with misinformation being taken as truth and no sources for references.
This knowledge is the invisible heritage that we are discarding today. In the space of a few decades, modern technology has usurped what has benefited us for centuries.
One unique aspect of Goa is the harmony in which its people lived, regardless of religion or social position. Every village also had its own barber, baker, cobbler, tailor, goldsmith, tinsmith, tanner, washerman, miller and fruit pluckers. The social fabric was woven from inter-dependence, a reliance on each other’s skills, knowledge and labour.
The bhatkar would consult his farm hands to decide which fields to cultivate and with which crops, and they knew how to get the best results. The farmer might know how to plough, but he needed a carpenter to make and repair it. How would the farm worker get his mid-day tipple if it were not for the toddy tapper? And the toddy tapper needed the damone from the potter to collect the toddy. Both farmer and toddy tapper went to the ironsmith (lohar) for their sickles. Weavers supplied the baskets (petaro) in which farmers’ mid-day meals were carried to the fields in small clay pots (podgo) again made by the potter, the cane mats on which they slept and the fans used for winnowing.
Besides the social integrity there was also the skills, the constant search for newer inventions. But was Goa ready for the change?
Trees were cut, sand dunes flattened to make space for hotels and housing to service tourism. Traditional Goan houses were brought down to replace with ugly concrete structures. The local fish and vegetable vendors were replaced by vendors from across the country who would exchange melamine and plastic ware in exchange for implements of antique value like brass and copper utensils, old furniture which were being considered as waste or rubbish. Plastic was increasingly replacing our old implements and within a short span of 15 years our youth were losing on what was their age old tradition.
I became aware of the vast impending changes not only in my own immediate environment but all over the world. Technology advancement, economic, life styles and work changes over the years slowly meant losing out on our traditions.
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