The following is an extract from the talk given during the 2007 Macau Encontro by Frederic A. (Jim) Silva at the ‘STDM’ Auditorium, International University of Macau

Macanese Language – Dia de Patua – 30 November 2007

This “Encontro” serves a few purposes. It is a chance for “Encounters” – a meeting of Macanese from all over the world with friends, relatives and acquaintances. A gathering again of our far flung communities to renew old friendships.

At the same time it is also a chance to celebrate our heritage and our history.

Our history is that we are the direct descendants of Portuguese who from 1557 settled on the coast of China and intermarried with natives of the Far East – especially natives from China—and thus produced our mixed culture and race.

Among other things we celebrate is our background, our religion, our food and our patois.

Our Patois is what I want to talk about today.

There are two words in the English language which sound very similar. Entomology and etymology. Entomology is the scientific study of Insects. We will not go into that now. Etymology is the study of the origins of words and phrases. This is what we will discuss as it relates to our Macanese patois.

I list a few words:-

  • AZINHA (quickly, rapidly). This is a genuine Portuguese word that has gone out of use in the mother country today. Perhaps in the 17th and 18th century it was still used. However, it is much used in our patois today.
  • ANCUSA (some thing) It is a corruption of the Portuguese-Alguma Coisa.
  • AH MUI (A young Chinese girl) The word is from the old Chinese practice of adopting young girls for servitude – the Mui Tsai system.
  • ARRAVIRO (Mischievous and naughty) – a word from the Malay-Hara-Biro.
  • ADE SALGADO (Salted duck). The preferred word for a duck in Portugal today is Pato, although Adem is sometimes used. Pato Salmoirado is the Chinese Larp Arp.
  • ALUR (Sweet Christmas candy) Adapted from the Indian Halwa. The Chinese version is Chu Yao Ko.
  • BONCO (hunchback) A Malay word.
  • BEBINGA (A pudding – as in bebinga de leite or as a savoury – as in bebinga de nabo). The Indians use Bebinga for sweet layered pancakes over which a sweet sauce is poured. The Filipinos have a bebinga pancake as a breakfast food.
  • BAGATE (a love spell). An Indian word to denote a spell on someone of the opposite sex.
  • CACOOSE (lavatory, latrine) Originally a Dutch word which was used by the Malays and then by the Portuguese of Malaca. The Dutch – “Cack Huis” – literally means S _ _t House.
  • CHACHA (a sweet drink – usually with sago and coconut juice as in Bobo Chaccha.) A Malay word.
  • CUSCUS (To steam cook) A methos of cooking from the Portuguese territory of Cape Verde.
  • CHUBI, CHIPI, CHOLER (To pinch, squeeze, prod with a utensil) All three are Malay words.
  • CAVA (later, afterwards) From the Portuguese – Acabar
  • CHONCAR (To collide) From the Portuguese – Chocar
  • GUNGDOONG (A swelling of a body part). For instance “Bate cabeca sai gungdoong”, from the Malay.
  • KARA (black streaks of dirt on one’s body) A Malay word which was originally used to describe black burnt rice at the bottom of a cooking pot.
  • LALALA (clams) A Malay word.
  • LA LEE LOONG (A robber, a thief) Derived from the Portuguese Ladrao. This word is more often used when speaking to a Chinese and not used among Macanese.
  • OLHO DECCA (anus, rectum) Derived from the Portuguese “Olho de Cu”. A somewhat less vulgar rendering of ‘’asshole”.
  • STRIKA (To iron) A Dutch word later used by the Malays and passed into our patois. In Portugal they say “passar ferro”.
  • SIPUTE (a type of edible snail) A Malay word.
  • SAYANG (a pity, a nostalgic longing) A Malay word – now much used in our patois.
  • TOC-TOC (crazy, demented) Derived from the Portuguese “Toque” i.e. touched.
  • TANKAREIRA (a Chinese boatwoman) Derived from Chinese and Portuguese. As in “Tanka” – a small boat and reira – a female.

More information on Macanese Patua can be found at the Macanese Library website. Click here


About the Author

Frederic (Jim) Silva is a Macanese living in California after migrating to the USA some 30 years ago with his wife and family. Both sides of Jim’s family were part of the early Macanese pioneers who settled in Hong Kong after moving over from Macau shortly after the British settled there. Jim has lived through interesting times; as the Japanese invaded Hong Kong after Pearl Harbour, he spent four years in Macau as a refugee finishing his high school education. Jim continues to be active in Macanese affairs in the Bay Area and was president of UMA in San Francisco, as well as State Board President. He is the author of: We Macanese (2005), All Our Yesterdays, a booklet that tells of the Macanese past, as well as two other booklets: Things I Remember, a series of nostalgic essays on the Macanese life, and Portugal — Some Tales From Her Past.