Kristang people

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Kristang people
Orang Kristang
Tony Fernandes.jpg
Jeanne Abdullah née Danker.jpg
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore
Kristang, English, Malay
predominantly Roman Catholic, minority Muslim
Related ethnic groups
Eurasian, Bumiputera

The Kristang (otherwise known as "Portuguese-Eurasians" and "Malaqueiros") are a creole ethnic group of people of mixed Portuguese and Malaccan (Malay) descent based in Malaysia and Singapore. People of this ethnicity have strong Dutch heritage, some British as well as Chinese and Indian heritage due to intermarriage, which was common among the Kristang. In addition to this due to the Portuguese Inquisition in the region a lot of the Jews of Malacca assimilated into the Kristang community.[1] The creole group arose in Malacca (Malaysia) between the 16th and 17th centuries, when the city was a port and base of the Portuguese Empire. Some descendants speak a distinctive Kristang language, a creole based on Portuguese. Today the government classifies them as Portuguese Eurasians.

The Kristang language is formally called Malacca-Melayu Portuguese Creole, made up of elements of each.[2] The Malay language, or Bahasa Malaysia, as it is now called in Malaysia, has changed to incorporate many Kristang words. For example, garfu (Portuguese: garfo) is Kristang for "fork" and almari (Portuguese: armário) is Kristang for "cupboard"; the Malay language incorporated these Kristang words whole.

Scholars believe the Kristang community originated in part from liaisons and marriages between Portuguese men (sailors, soldiers, traders, etc.) and local native women. The men came to Malacca during the age of Portuguese explorations, and in the early colonial years, Portuguese women did not settle in the colony. Nowadays intermarriage occurs more frequently between Kristang and people of Chinese and Indian ethnicity rather than Malay because of endogamous religious laws. These require non-Muslims intending to marry Malay-Muslims first to convert to Islam. Eurasians are not always willing to alter their religious and cultural identity in this way. In earlier centuries, Portuguese and local Malays were able to marry without such conversions, because such religious laws did not exist.

The name "Kristang" is sometimes incorrectly used for other people of mixed European and Asian descent presently living in Malaysia and Singapore. This includes people of Portuguese descent who were not part of the historical Kristang community, and people with other European ancestry, such as Dutch or British.

The name comes from the Portuguese creole kristang (Christian), derived from the Portuguese cristão. A derogatory term for the Portuguese-Malaccan community was Gragok (slang term for Portuguese geragau or shrimp, referring to the fact that the Portuguese Malaccans were traditionally shrimp fishermen). The community historically called themselves gente Kristang (Christian people).


Portuguese expeditions[edit]

Malacca was a major destination in the great wave of sea expeditions launched by Portugal around the turn of the 16th century, and it eventually was controlled as part of the Portuguese Empire. The first Portuguese expedition to reach Malacca landed in 1507. The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) noted that the Malays first called them Bengali Puteh (White Bengalis), as the Portuguese brought to mind traders from Bengal but were more pale skinned. In the early years, the Malays called the Portuguese Serani (a Malay contraction of the Arabic Nasrani, meaning followers of Jesus the Nazarene.)[3] A story was recorded that the Portuguese landing party inadvertently insulted the Malaccan sultan by placing a garland of flowers on his head, and he had them detained. In 1511, a Portuguese fleet came from India to free the landing party and conquer Malacca.

At that time, Portuguese women were barred from travelling overseas due to superstition about women on ships, as well as the substantial danger of the sea route around Cape Horn. Following the Portuguese colonisation of Malacca (Malaysia) in 1511, the Portuguese government encouraged their explorers to marry local indigenous women, under a policy set by Afonso de Albuquerque, then Viceroy of India. To promote settlement, the King of Portugal granted freeman status and exemption from Crown taxes to Portuguese men (known as casados, or "married men") who ventured overseas and married local women. With Albuquerque's encouragement, mixed marriages flourished and some 200 were recorded by 1604. By creating families, the Portuguese men would make more settled communities, with families whose children would be Catholic and loyal to the Crown.

The Dutch takeover[edit]

A powerful sea power, the rising Dutch nation took Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641. This coincided with the Portuguese Restoration War in Portugal that ended the 60-year period known as the "Union of the Crowns" (1580–1640), when the crown of Portugal was joined with the crown of Spain by personal union. Almost all political contact between Portugal and Malacca ended, large number of Portuguese descent in the city were evacuated to Batavia, the VOC headquarter as war captives, where they settled in an area called "Kampung Tugu".[4] Portuguese trade relations with the former colonial outpost of Macau have continued to this day.

Even after Portugal lost Malacca in 1641, the Kristang community largely preserved its traditions, practising Catholicism and using Portuguese and Kristang language within the community. Some Dutch crypto-Catholics were also absorbed into the community during this time.

Present status[edit]

The Kristang community still has surprising cultural and linguistic continuities with today's Portugal, especially with the Minho region, from where many early settlers emigrated. The Kristang continue to hold some church services in Portuguese, and Malaysians often refer to the community as "Portuguese". As the Kristang language is not taught in schools, it is nearing extinction, with the exception of within the Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir Malacca.

The Kristang people in Malaysia do not have full bumiputra status, a status which applies to indigenous ethnic groups. However they have been given the privilege to apply to be members of a trust scheme known as Amanah Saham Bumiputra. This is a privilege shared by Malaysians of Thai descent. The government sponsored this program to help the Malays increase their participation in the national economy. The Kristang community in Singapore is part of a larger umbrella group, known generically as the Eurasian community. Some members have emigrated to Perth, Western Australia over the past three decades.

The Portuguese Settlement is a thriving Kristang community in Malacca, established in 1933 with the goal of gathering the dispersed Kristang community and preserving their culture. A simple village of poor fishermen for many decades, it has recently become a major tourist attraction. This has helped to improve the income of the Kristang population.



Since Portuguese times, the Kristang have been living by the sea. It is still an important part of their culture. Even today, with only 10 percent of the community earning their living by fishing, many men go fishing to supplement their income or just to relax with their neighbours. Traditionally men fish from small wooden perahus, or by pushing the langgiang, a traditional bamboo-poled shrimp net through the shallows.

Music and dance[edit]

Kristang music and dance, known as the Branyo, can be easily mistaken for the Malay Joget, which is believed to have developed from the Branyo. The adoption of western music instruments and musical scales by traditional Malay and Indian orchestras suggests a strong Portuguese influence. The most popular branyo tune is "Jingkli Nona", regarded as the unofficial "anthem" for Portuguese Eurasians in Singapore.

Portuguese fado music is not part of the Kristang culture, since it originated in the 19th century, after most cultural links with Portugal were cut off. The Kristang culture tends to have more joyful expression than the characteristic melancholic mood of fado.


Influenced greatly by other local ethnic cuisines, Kristang food is similar to Malay cuisine, with the additions of stews and the inclusion of pork in the diet. Some roots of Portuguese-style cuisine are evident in kristang food; however, it has more of an eastern than western style, related to years of local influence and ingredients. Early Kristang and other colonials adopted the same ingredients used by the locals. Many Kristao also eat by hand like the Malay. Typical Kristang dishes include curry dabel, porku tambrinu (pork tamarind stew) and pang su si cake.


The Kristang people have traditionally used Portuguese and Christian first names. This is to identify and differentiate between the individual members of the family, all of whom have similar surnames.


In general the Kristang practice Roman Catholicism. Christmas (Natal) is the most festive occasion of the year, when many Kristang families get together to celebrate by eating seasonal dishes, singing carols and branyok, and revelling in saudade. Like many other Portuguese-speaking Catholic communities around the world, the Kristang also celebrate a string of major Saints' days at the end of June, beginning with St. John (San Juang) on 24 June and closing with St. Peter (San Pedro), the fishermen's patron saint, on 29 June. The June festival of St. John's village is a major tourist attraction of Malacca. Tourists come to observe the festivities, which are religiously based.

Portuguese influence on Malay language[edit]

The Portuguese ruled Malacca from 1511 to 1641. About 300 Portuguese words were adopted in the Malay language. These include:

  • kereta (from carreta, car);
  • sekolah (from escola, school);
  • bendera (from bandeira, flag);
  • mentega (from manteiga, butter);
  • keju (from queijo, cheese);
  • gereja (from igreja, church);
  • meja (from mesa, table); and
  • nenas (from ananás, pineapple).

Notable Kristang people[edit]



  • Jeremy Monteiro - Singaporean jazz pianist, singer, composer and music educator.
  • Andrew Lim - Television star, actor, popular radio broadcaster and Sephardic Jew.


See also (Related ethnic groups)[edit]


External links[edit]