The other day at the Chapora jetty, I saw this colorful crab with red markings topping the days catch. It seemed familiar, then I remembered seeing photographs of it…it was the Crucifix crab (Charybdis feriata ).
It is in fact, quite a common species of crab that is found in shallow, sandy or rocky coastlines along the tropical water of the Indo-Pacific. From the eastern coast of Africa, all along the Persian gulf, the Indian coast to Java and Sumatra, Crucifix crabs are part of the regular crab catch.
What makes them special is the tale that has got woven around their unusual markings, if you look closely you can make out a cross shaped mark, on the carapace. Well, legend goes that the Jesuit missionary, St Francis Xavier had lost his crucifix,while attempting to calm a stormy sea while on board a ship bound for Indonesia. In the morning , when they had landed safely, a crab marched out of the ocean carrying the lost crucifix and handed it over to the saint. Since then, the Crucifix crab and it’s descendants have had the cross marked on their carapace, as a mark of the saint’s gratitude .
Sadly for the crab, being considered holy did not excuse it from being a regular part of the diet of people along these coasts, though some devout Catholics do save their carapaces, as good luck charms. I have seen these crab carapaces tied under the eaves in village homes and had wondered if they were put there in remembrance of a particularly good meal, but now I know better.
By the way , the tableaux was part of a larger set up, put up in the Siolim village around Christmas.
St Francis Xavier’s body, believed to be ‘incorruptible’, lies in state in the Bom Jesus basilica in Old Goa and this year an Exposition was held when millions of devotees flocked to catch a glimpse of the relics . Hence , the local newspapers and media were full of reports even trivia about St Francis, who is considered ‘Goencho sahib’ or Goa’s patron saint and so I had run into the story of the Holy crab.