Memory of century-old virus springs back to life
PANAJI: Outside the expansive cemetery at Raia village in south Goa stood a stone structure covered in moss, overgrown by weeds and creepers, and due to be demolished to make way for road widening as part of the expansion or a highway between the towns of Margao and Ponda.
Little was known or spoken about the stone structure, but its engraved inscription bore testimony to its true purpose. “E M (Em Memória) das vítimas de gripe de 1918” (in Memory of the Victims of the Flu of 1918) read the plaque.
Until earlier this year, the stone monolith that once contained a cross at the top, which
collapsed for lack of care, was long forgotten and received little attention. It all changed in July-August, when people began flocking to the memorial as soon as Covid-19 cases began to emerge in the village, praying for the survival of their relatives and friends. On Sunday, October 11, work on restoration of the cross was completed, and it was reconsecrated in a simple ceremony, after which the memorial has been receiving a steady stream of visitors who light candles and pray for the recovery of those ailing from Covid-19. “The Regidor (village administrator), with Olivo Costa and village elders, got together to build the memorial in memory of those who had died,” recalled Margarida Tavora e Costa, whose family traces back to Olivo Costa.
Legend has it that the village of Raia and the neighbouring village of Rachol, which is host to a Portuguese-era fort and military garrison, were hit particularly hard by the Spanish Flu of 1918, and as the bodies began piling up, filling the cemetery, the villagers had to expand the burial grounds into what resembled a mass grave. The cross was built atop that in the memory of those who had perished. Locals say that 318 people are believed to have died in and around the village on account of the Spanish flu. “If not for the events of this year, who would have thought about this memorial? Even I didn’t know it existed,” Margarida, in her 60s, said, adding that she was inspired to take the initiative to restore the memorial with help from her extended family.
Figures of how many succumbed across the former Portuguese colony are hard to come by and all that remains of the 1918 pandemic are two memorials that have stood the test of time.
A memorial for victims of the 1918 Spanish flu in Goa.