Ask anyone in Goa or South India for that matter what or who a Goan Shippie is and they will tell you – someone who works full time on a ship, usually a Merchant Navy ship.
But unlike in England where it was the lure of the sea and the big, bad world out there, Goan Shippie’s were forced to leave their homeland in search of jobs, due to lack of employment opportunities in Goa. With no single major industry in the territory and agriculture producing rice that was insufficient for even 4 months of the year, many Goans were forced to leave their homeland in search of a career at sea, especially if they wanted to feed their families.
Thus Goans, mostly Christians, began to leave Goa for nearby Mumbai (then Bombay), Poona, Calcutta and other places in India, and for Africa, the Arabian Gulf, and former Persian Gulf areas, Burma and Malaya, then the British Empire.
With their easy going “susegaad” nature, natural intelligence and knowledge of English and Portuguese, Goan’s were a popular choice as seamen.
Both being Christians, the British employers were also partial to Goan seamen or shippies and hired the educated as clerks, and the uneducated as butlers, cooks, waiters in their homes, clubs and hotels. Goan shippies were also much in demand as chief stewards, barmen, cooks, and saloon and cabin crew of big and luxurious cabin liners.
But most importantly, Goan shippies were known for their hard work and positive attitude to work. Willing to work for many months at a stretch without a break, Goan shippies were known as being reliable, honest and hard-working.
These qualities are hard to come by in today’s Goan youth, one old-timer tells me. “Today, the youth in Goa is only interested in drinking, partying and having a good time. They don’t have the work ethics and respect for work that we had. Probably because of easy money coming from tourism and mining and sale of ancestral homes and land, they don’t have to work hard any more. In our time, it was different – work was worship” he wistfully recalls.