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Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Flying The ‘Sorngo’
By Tony Fernandes

A popular sport during the Portuguese era in the 1950’s was known as ’the flying of the sorngo’ (sorngo soddpak).

The 'sorngo' consisted of a framework made of bamboo ribs fastened together with coir rope and lined with tissue paper all around. It’s shaped resembled an elongated oil drum. It was open at the bottom with a hole at the top. The base of the ‘sorngo’ was held together at the bottom by cross wires across its circular framework. A lump of cotton rags was tied to the bottom centre.

The art of getting this contraption aloft was based on the rustic know-how and ingenuity of the ace innovators of our village during the 1950's. The ‘sorngo’ was entirely a home-made innovation based on the generally accepted principle that hot air inside a balloon causes it to rise aloft.

Multi-coloured craft tissue paper was applied to all sides and the circular top of the bamboo ribbing framework, leaving an open hole at the top for the hot air to escape. Making it colourful meant that it could be easily spotted once it soared into the sky. In my opinion it soared to a height of at least 300 feet depending upon the duration of the burning of the flame from the rags (Konkani: 'kankaddo').

After the completion of this ‘flying drum’, a small fire was lit by burning a small cluster of dried leaves from the mango tree. The drum was held over the fire by 2 persons over the flames of this fire that in turn ignited the cotton rags that were soaked in kerosene. And voila in a jiffy we had lift-off to the cheers of the folks gathered around the bonfire. It brought great joy and satisfaction to watch it finally soar into the sky after a days anticipation.  Houston would have been proud!

The hole at the top let the smoke escape, while the cotton rag drenched in kerosene acted as a ballast or stabilizer keeping the balloon upright and steady.

As the ‘sorngo’ gradually lifted upwards, the westerly winds pushed the gadget over and towards the fields east of Guirim, towards Bastora. It was very exciting to see it soar up into the sky although the joy was momentary. The senior boys ran in the direction of ‘sorngo’ keeping it in sight looking momentarily upwards toward the skies as they ran. The best fun and excitement was the task in retrieving as the 'sorngo' fell to the ground after the cotton rag had burnt itself out. 

As it was considered a fire hazard this sort of sport and entertainment was eventually banned by the Portuguese, in order to prevent fires that could have been caused when these contraptions descended on thatched huts, houses and other property while the embers from the cotton rags still smouldered as they came down.

Those were the days, but now, I think it is absolutely illegal to send this sort of thing into the skies by any means. This write-up is meant for keeps for posterity. You can make it, but do not fly it under any circumstances. The reason for its ban is that it is a huge fire hazard once it falls to the ground after the cotton rag has burnt itself out.

Once the 'sorngo' soars into the sky it is entirely at the mercy of wind with no definite direction or pattern of its own. It is beyond human control and there's nothing one can do about that.

1 comment:

Joel's Goa Scene said...

Hi Tony, thanks a lot for recalling memories of the age-old Sorngo, Goa's own hot air balloon. By the way, another version of Sorngo is available nowadays in Goa... though in a different shape and with the sticks. It has been popularised by the foreign party folks along Goa's coast. Cheers.