By Roland Francis
Born in Colva, Salcette in a Portuguese speaking family, Samson had an idyllic, carefree childhood during the last decade of the Salazar rule in Goa and the early years of the new Indian rule. Goa was not yet corrupted, the land and water was still virgin and paradise was the word that could truly describe it. There was one flaw in Eden. There was no work to be found for all who needed it.
With the help of a village friend who was the Manager of the Volvo agency in Dubai, he packed his bags and set off like others had done before him. Soon after a stint in Volvo, he came across a better opportunity in Sedco, an American oil drilling company in Muscat and in quick succession he was offered because of his Sedco experience, a warehouse position in ELF the French oil company which had just been invited into the country perhaps to break the Royal Dutch Shell monopoly of many years.
His French bosses saw potential in Samson and commenced training him in oilfield instrumentation technology to American Petroleum Institute standards, first sending him to Paris and then to Amsterdam for North Sea experience. Along the way, he did an advanced language program and picked up French. Samson now spoke four languages fluently – English, French, Portuguese and Konkani, and in the next few years grew into a skilled and capable Special Instrument Analyst. When the company entered new markets in Qatar and then in Nigeria, Samson was counted along with ELF TOTAL’s French senior techs and engineers.
Qatar despite the heat, was a good posting. With a large and fabulous villa provided in Doha city and no expense spared for luxury, Samson and his family were well treated but when a Nigeria posting came up, he applied for Canada immigration, and having got it, sent his family to settle there.
Nigeria is a trouble prone country. Oil has been a curse on the land, multiplying poverty, and making rich people fabulously richer. Violence was never far, but Total protected its staff well in fortified, armed camps. Samson was 4 weeks on duty and 4 weeks off to Canada, flying business class and in the top exec’s own jet when local flights were grounded. When he got his transfer papers for Angola, another violence prone country, Samson decided that after 30 odd years of an oilman’s life, it was time to join his family for good.
Samson Santimano is a true Goan at heart. Despite being a high earner all of his life, well treated on account of his skills and value to his employer, enjoying the best food cooked by chefs brought in from Paris for the company’s chosen few, Samson in a heartbeat would give it up for a simple Goan rice and fish curry, a tiatr now and then, life as it was when he left his native Goa.
His tiatr life started as a young boy given minor roles, trained and encouraged by the parish curate to act in local plays and comedy acts. In his teen years he starred with Roseferns and Christoper Leitao, the latter a young man famous for his cross-dressing acting. Leitao was famous all over Goa, but when he died, Samson took it as an omen to take the opportunity to work overseas.
In Canada, his first Konkani play was Poder (Baker). He revelled in acting the role of a Goa village baker, bicycle, horn, basket, dark glasses and all, throughout his life, though he was adept at various character acting roles like a pro. Flourishing under the wing of directors like Joe Vaz, Marshall Fernandes and Jr Menezes, Samson took to sometimes producing skits on popular aspects of Goan life. Assisted by his actors Serah, wife of novelist Silviano Barbosa, Agnelo and Yolanda Gracias, these skits are increasing in popularity and demand, going to full houses. Before the movie Nachom Ya Kumpasar’s start of the first showing in Toronto, Samson and Serah as Chris and Lorna, did a crowd thumping mime to one of Lorna’s songs.
Samson Santimano and his peers have been continuing a tradition of tiatr in Toronto that was nourished by the East African Goans who started trickling and later flooding into the country in the post 1960s. These were people in their 40s who almost to a man (and woman) spoke Konkani and never lost their culture. Today’s performers are a little older than those were, but the audiences are still a healthy mix of young and old.
As long as Samson and other Konkani lovers continue to entertain Toronto audiences, Goan-ness here will never be lost.