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Macau History Articles


The following is a transcript of the paper given by Frederic A (Jim) Silva at the Macau Encontro, 3 December 2004.

what | where | how | work | patua | accent | history | future

We Macanese

Whoever said “East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet” had obviously never met a Macanese. In the Macanese there has been the perfect blending of East and West.

What then is a Macanese ?

A short answer is that a Macanese is someone from Macau or else a descendant of someone from Macau. Another accepted definition is that a Macanese is a Eurasian of Portuguese and Asian blood. Portuguese and, say Chinese, Goan, Malay or Japanese ancestry – perhaps more than one of these.

What do we look like ?
My wife tells me that my particular brand of good looks can come from anywhere East of Suez.

On the way to the last Encontro I travelled with a group of delegates to Macau via Seoul, Korea. We met up with a group of Casa de Macau members from Vancouver to make our joint way flying across the Pacific. We had a great re-union on board. On this same flight were a group of American service wives returning to their husbands in Korea. They were intrigued with our chatter and looks and finally asked – “Excuse me - but who are you ? We replied “Guess”. They consulted and pondered and finally decided – “You are a group of Hawaiians.”

Truly, our Macanese looks defy description. Some of us look absolutely European and some look 100% oriental, with most of us somewhere in between. Because of our tangled roots we are a cocktail mix. Even within the same family there are darker skinned children amidst lighter skinned brothers and sisters. Our European, Goan and Chinese background adds to the mix.

Over time there has been more interesting intermarrying with other non Portuguese Europeans, especially in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong we had large Macanese clans bearing the names of Hyndman, Osmund, Brown, Gardner, Yvanovich, Demee and Danenberg.

In Shanghai there was a Macanese family with the name Lubeck. From Goa two family names came to Hong Kong and are the Alvarez and Figuereido clans. They are all said to be descendants of young Goan men who settled in Macau many years ago and intermarried with Macanese women.

We have Spanish blood too with Macanese families bearing names like Gutierrez, Alarcoun and Alonco. Then there is that large Castro clan. The story is that three Spanish brothers settled in Hong Kong and Shanghai and intermarried with Macanese women producing numerous offspring.

All this goes to show that the racial component for this mix was established earlier and this mixing of mixtures continued on and on.

There is a further complication which is peculiar to Macau only, and not seen in Hong Kong or Shanghai. This has to do with the racially pure Chinese adopting the Catholic faith and then taking a Christian first name on baptism – as in say – Carlos Chan. He can then even adopt a Portuguese last name as well – perhaps the last name of his godfather and become say, Carlos Pereira. This was a common practice in other Portuguese colonial territories of Goa, Africa and Ceylon.

By changing his birth name, of say, Chan Kwok Hung to Carlos Pereira on baptism would indicate that the person readily accepted the language, religion and culture of Portugal and may at the same time have some social and economic advantages on reaching adulthood – both by employment opportunities and quicker social integration. These converts would seamlessly intergrate and intermarry with others of similar background or within the larger Macanese Eurasian community. Thus the mix continues.

When one considers that this and other mixes have continued for over 400 years one can appreciate the diversity.

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Where did the Macanese live?

We lived in Macau, Hong Kong and Shanghai – but we always considered Macau as our roots. After 1841 when the British took over Hong Kong in the wake of the Opium war against China – the Macanese immediately followed. They sought jobs with the British Government, trading houses and Banks. Employment was never plentiful in Macau and Macanese youth only aspired to clerical white collar jobs. Educated Macanese youths speaking some English and Chinese were among the pioneers of Hong Kong and readily found employment in the newly established business houses and banks.

Later they moved further North to Shanghai as it opened up to trade and settlement. The flow from Macau never stopped. As recently as the 1960s there were vacancies for Portuguese bank clerks at the HSBC. These vacancies could then not be readily filled with Hong Kong Macanese youth. They were then leaving to migrate to the USA, Canada and Australia. Bank officials had then to recruit Portuguese youth directly from Macau. More and more Macau Macanese men and women continued the pattern of leaving home for working Hong Kong.

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Where and how did we live?

In Macau life was lived around the various parishes. Macanese lived in the Christian city along the rim of the outer harbor, leaving the Chinese along the Porto Interior. The Macanese then were a somewhat insular and socially stratified group – depending on economic circumstances and family connections.

The genealogist Dr. Forjaz was commissioned by the Fundacao Oriente to draw up a genealogy of Macanese everywhere. He arrived in Macau and informed an establishment matron of what he was trying to do. He was told “Why bother – in Macau only six families are worth tracing – others do not matter”.

In Macau some 80% of the Macanese worked for the Government – the Police, fire brigade, treasury, public works, hospitals, post office etc. There were only a few family commercial firms such as Rodrigues and H. Nolasco & Co. There were the utilities - the electric company and waterworks. There were only one foreign bank – the BNU. Employment opportunities were thus very limited and migrating to Hong Kong was the only other option. Macanese never considered working with their hands at trades such as cooks, bakers, carpenters and electricians and only white collar desk jobs were sought.

The steady flow of Macanese from Macau to Hong Kong never stopped. Initially all lived in a self imposed ghetto know as “Mata Moro” in the mid levels of Hong Kong island. This was an area around a Moslem Mosque on Mosque Junction, Mosque St. Caine, Rd., Shelly St. It was a convenient area. Arrivals came from Macau by steamboat and moved right into this area.

Rents were reasonable. The working men could get to their central business offices easily. School children could get to St. Joseph’s College and the Canossian school for their education and families considered the nearby Roman Catholic Cathedral their parish. It was a comfortable cosy area. Everyone knew everyone else and also their business. My mother was born in this district. She tells of a lady with a large family being always hard up as her husband was a habitual drunk who could not hold on to a job. To augment family income she had a small business making and selling a delicious curry to other Macanese households in the area. Her husband considered this demeaning and a slur on himself. To ruin her business he would – when drunk – run around the streets of Mata Moro and shout – “Nunca Bom comprar Caril de Bina – usar tudo galinha morto suh”.

The Macanese of Mata Moro considered themselves a cut above another group of Macanese living along the city’s waterfront in the lower rent area of Wanchai. These were Macanese of more modest means and were referred to as “Wanchairada” or “Cachivachi de Wanchai”.

Macanese women in Wanchai often intermarried with Englishmen of a lower economic order – say low ranking soldiers or security guards. Mata Moro Macanese referred to these unions as “Casar con Ingles Sujo”.

Somewhat later – say the 1910s and 1920s there was a movement away from Mata Moro to cross the harbour to Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a quiet peaceful area and a homeowners purchase scheme there met with some success. Macanese now lived on the little avenues to the East of Nathan Road with two storied houses and little gardens. Granville Road, Austin Avenue, Humphrey’s Avenue, Cameron Road were all Macanese areas. Later Macanese moved further inland to form small communities in Ho Mun Tin and the Tung Cheong Bldgs. Again there was a tendency to live around Catholic Church parishes and schools – Rosary Church and St. Theresa’s Church.

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Where did Macanese work?

Perhaps as many as 60% were bank clerks with the rest working for big British “Hongs” (Trading conglomerates) such as Jardines, Dodwells, Shewan Tomes, Gibb Livingstone, Gilmans etc. Employment opportunities were limited to the mid-level range as higher executive positions were reserved for the expatriate British. Some Macanese were a little better off working for American firms – Banks and the Oil companies. There were few Macanese businesses – some were Botelho Bros. (tung oil exporters,) Cruz, Basto & Co. (rice and general merchants) and Colonial Trading Co. Best off were the few Macanese who were doctors and lawyers – most of whom did quite well.

There existed at the time a somewhat secretive and small British organisation called the “Employer’s Federation”. This was a union of large employing firms that agreed among themselves on how to regulate and limit employment opportunities and salaries of local employees. Females were not much in the work force until the 1930s when young Macanese ladies entered the work force too with shorthand and typing.

In Shanghai life and working conditions were much like HongKong. If anything it was less restricted by British colonial stuffiness. Shanghai was more international in outlook as other national business – French, American, Japanese and Chinese were more prominent.

Shanghai Macanese lived I the International Settlement and the French Town. They had their own Lusitano Club and had a somewhat broader general outlook.

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Much has been said about our Macanese Patua...

May I add my bit? If you were in downtown Lisbon today and said to a native “Azinha tomar Mezinha” – he would surely not understand you. Yet these two words “Azinha” and “Mezinha” are genuine Portuguese words. The only trouble is that they are three hundred years old and no longer used in modern Portugal – they can only be found in Macau’s patua now. Some words of this archaic Portuguese can still be found – much as if one were to speak Elizabethan English today.

Other linguistic streams also come into our patua. For instance there are words we use from the Malay of Malacca – Choler; Chipi; Chubi; Chuchu; Gungdoong; Booyao; Sayao; Balichao. English and Chinese words also have a tendency to creep in. It is a colourful language with no discernable grammar and no plurals. It is a great tongue for satire and slang-for making fun of others and ourselves.

If you spoke the patua and came to this Encontro and met an old friend – this is what you must not say:-
“Ay Jose – nunca olhar voce vente for a anos. Cusa ja sosede ? Ja fica assim velho. Onde ja vai tudo cabello? Onde ja vai tudo dente? Cara pindurado; Andar vagar vagar-cote-cote. Costa-bonco-bonco. Qui ramede”.

Another bit of patua. A lady wanted to learn some Portuguese. She said that in English one replies “Don’t mention it” or “you are welcome” when someone says “Thank You”. In America a reply to a “Thank You” can sometimes be “You Bet”. In Portuguese how does one reply to “Obrigado” ? The answer was that is someone said “Obrigado” the proper reply would be “Ay Numseeza meh”.

Fortunately there have been persons who have studied and passed on our patua. The late Dr. Graciete Batalha took a scholarly approach and methodically recorded pronunciation and etymology for so many words. The late Ade Fereira – a great humorist – took a lighter approach with verses and plays. He was a great asset to preserve some of the old speech. Today’s Miguel Senna Fernandes also makes a study of the patua as he fills the gaps of his predecessors. We own them our thanks.

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Is there such a thing as a Macanese accent when speaking English?

Well, Yes and No. When Macau people speak English they have their own Portuguese accent. When Shanghai Macanese speak there is hardly any discernable accent. Bu when HongKong Macanese speak they can come up with a whining, sing song accent which is so typical. When I first heard a recording of my own voice I could not believe it was really me. That accent was there.

Try saying this with a HongKong Macanese accent:-
a) “Wear boyscout hat want to be Cowboy-say”
b) In one short sentence use 3 languages: - “Eat Ramata the Soong Yuh”.
c) “All the American in the Bank say I speak with Breeteesh accet-say”.

Even names said with the proper Macanese accent can immediately identify a person. Say “Julio Lima”, “Gussy Lus”, “Carlos Soares”, “Ange Vas”.

Where and how did this accent come about ?
I say St. Mary’s School of Kowloon. My theory is that the accent came to be when shiploads of Italian nuns fresh off the boat from Italy arrived in HongKong to teach English to Macanese girls. This could lead to weird results.

Let me now say something about our food. Food is an integral part of our Macanese culture. Fortunately we have inherited this Far Eastern concept of eating “Rice and Soong” like the Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Malays.

We eat our white rice and accompany it with a delicious array of dishes which have evolved from all over – Portugal, China, Goa, Malacca. We adapt, blend, and modify dishes from other parts and make it our own. For instance the Portuguese Cozido has been added to with some trotters, dried pork rind (pele), Chinese sausage and balichao to become our own tacho.

At the risk of making mouths water I list:-
Diabo, chourico vinho alho, chourico sutate, porco balicahao tarmarinho, Ade capidella, Capella, Chau chau chilli, Miso Cristao, Harmonica, and to quote the illustrious bard “Nobody don’t like Minchy”.

We have fabulous desserts. Many derived from Malacca Nhonya food. Glutinous rice, glutinous rice flour, eggs and coconut and brown palm sugar. Alua, bajee, moochy, ladoo, bebinca leite. All rich and hearty and guaranteed to cure any cholesterol deficiencies we may have had.

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Now for some Macau history...

Having been established in 1557 there are nearly 450 years behind this settlement. Little has been written on early origins because there never was a treaty or anything in writing to record events. There are actually two versions on beginnings. The Portuguese version was that they were invited to settle and trade in Macau out of gratitude for the fact that they cleared the whole area of pirates. The Chinese version was that Chinese merchants and Portuguese traders bribed the Canton mandarins to allow for a settlement. No approval was ever given by the Emperor in Peking. A Chinese custom post was to be established on Praia Grande and an annual rental payment to the Chinese was required. This certainly did not indicate any change of sovereignty.

The truth probably lay somewhere between the two versions. In any case the loose arrangements appealed to both sides and there were enough subsequent profits arising which helped to seal things. A permanent city soon grew on this little peninsula.

Another historical incident in Macau’s past was the Dutch invasion of 1620. This was during a period when the Spanish crown rled over Portugal. The Dutch hated the Spaniards and coveted Macau as a trading post. They wanted a footholdin China to take over the lucrative China/Japan trade. A fleet of 17 warships appeared off Macau– two were from the non-combatant English. The 15 Dutch ships landed 800 men on Cacilhas beach near Porto Cerco and started to march to the city around Guia. The Portuguese were at a great disadvantage as a small Portuguese garrison was away on expedition in China. Only 300 defenders could be found. Women, slaves, Macanese and metropolitans all got together to put up a spirited defence. The defence plan was to retreat and ambush. A Jesuit priest manned a canon on Monte Fort and luckily made a direct hit on the Dutch gunpowder carriage – blowing it up. This demoralised the invaders who now lacked gunpowder and faced a fierce charge of Portuguese defenders. The disorganised invaders were thrown back on to the beach where many were drowned as they fled. It was a great Portuguese victory. Moreover the battle impressed the onlooking Chinese as an example of Portuguese valor.

Another great event in Macau history was the defence of the city in 1849 when Chinese soldiers threatened the city with a blockade. Just outside of Macau and beyond Porta Cerco was a Chinese fort with 500 men who manned the heights of a hill called Pak Shan Lan (Passaleao). The guns of the fort threatened the Portuguese garrison at Porta Cerco and prevented the movement of goods, people and food. Macau was under threat and siege and would soon be starved out. A young Macanese Lieutenant – Nicolau Vicente Mesquita volunteered to attack the fort and lift the siege.

Calling for 36 volunteers he fired his one canon into the heart of the fort and then mounted a charge against a confused and demoralised enemy. Fortunately the Chinese canons on the fort could not be made to fire down the hill at the attacking 36 soldiers. By evening the fort was captured. The threatening guns were spiked and a great victory was proclaimed.

In the 1930s the Portuguese communities of Macau, HongKong and Shanghai contributed to the erection of a great bronze statue of Mesquita in his full uniform. This was placed on the Leal Senado Square as a symbol of victory and patriotism.

A symbol of victory for one side can also be a symbol of defeat for the others…A follow up on this statue’s story was the 1966 destruction of this symbol by rampaging Red Guards who toppled it (a la Sadam Hussein) during a city rio. The city later replaced the stature with the present fountain.

In 1960 Macau entered into a period of long lasting depression. Three events occurred that caused this. Firstly – the Portuguese sister colony of Malacca fell to the Dutch. Malacca was then lost as a trading partner, and moreover, the seas around that area were henceforth threated by Dutch ships. Secondly, Portugal regained her independence from the Spanish crown. Spanish trading connections – Manila and Acapulco could no longer be used by the Portuguese. Thirdly and most importantly – Japan expelled all Portuguese traders and missionaries. The lucrative China (silk) to Japan (silver) trade ceased. Catholics were expelled to Macau and the profitable Japan connection was over.

Let us come back to the present. Where are the Macanese now ? There has been this diaspora to all over the world but there are still many Macanese in Macau and HongKong.

Portuguese speaking Macanese have settled back in Portugal and Brazil. English speaking Macanese have gone on to the USA, Canada and Australia. Nearly all over the world there are now are some Macanese.

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Will these Macanese groups continue as a distinct community?

Well, Yes and No. For the short term they will surely survive. For the longer term it is questionable. Let us examine how some other small ethnic groups have done around the world. The Armenians of Singapore are no more. All the exists is an old Armenian church. The burgers of Ceylon – a mixture of Dutch and Ceylonese Eurasians have dissipated as they migrated to Australia. Only the old Portuguese settlement of Malacca still exists after 500 years as an identifiable group with customs, culture and religion much intact.

For most Macanese there has been this great dispersal and intermarrying outside the group. Leaders of these dispersed communities try to encourage a Macanese consciousness with Clubs and Casas.

We have a unique culture and an interesting heritage and we are now brought together by this Enonctro. We are not just here to see old friends and to overeat – but we are here to celebrate our historical background – thanks to the Macau Government and the people of APIM).