Kristang people

Kristang people

The "Kristang" are an ethnic group of people of mixed Portuguese and Asian descent, which arose in Malacca (Malaysia) between the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of them speak a distinctive Kristang language, a creole based on Portuguese and Malay.

The Kristang community is believed to have originated in part from liaisons and marriages between and local native women and Portuguese men (sailors, soldiers, traders, etc.) who came to Malacca during the age of Portuguese explorations. The community probably was immigration of people of mixed Portuguese and Indian ancestry, coming from Portuguese-held possessions in India, chiefly Goa.

The name "Kristang" appears to be incorrectly used occasionally also for other people of mixed European and Asian descent presently living in Malaysia and Singapore; including people with Portuguese descent who are not part of the historical Kristang, and people with other European ancestry, such as Dutch or British.

The name comes from Malay "kristang" ("Christian"), itself from Portuguese "cristão". Other synonyms for the Portuguese community are Serani (short for Malay "Nasrani", meaning followers of Jesus the Nazarene); and "Gragok" (slang term for Malay "Geragau" or shrimp, referring to the fact that the Malaccan Portuguese were traditionally shrimp fishermen). The community is known, by themselves, as Gente Kristang ("Christian People").


Portuguese expeditions

Malacca played a major role in the great wave of sea expeditions launched by Portugal, around the turn of the 16th century, which eventually led to the Portuguese Empire. The first Portuguese expedition to reach Malacca landed in 1507. It is recorded in the "Sejarah Melayu" ("Malay Annals") that they were mistaken to be "Bengali Puteh" ("White Bengalis"). The story goes that the landing party insulted the Malaccan sultan by placing a garland of flowers on his head, and he had them detained. In 1511, a fleet came from India with the purpose of freeing the landing party.

At that time, Portuguese women were barred from travelling overseas due to superstition as well as the substantial danger of the sea route around cape Horn. Following the colonization of Malacca (Malaysia) in 1511, the Portuguese explorers were encouraged to marry local women, under a grand design set by the Viceroy of India, Afonso de Albuquerque. A bill released by 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. Mixed marriages flourished with Albuquerque's encouragement, and some 200 had been recorded by 1604.

The Dutch takeover

Portugal lost Malacca to the Calvinist Dutch burghers in 1641, coinciding with a civil war in Portugal that saw the end to an 80-year period known as the "Union of the Crowns" (1580-1640) when Portugual joined to Castillan Spain by political marriage. Almost all contact with Portugal ended, but trade relations with the now-former Portuguese outpost of Macau continues to this day.

Even after Portugal lost Malacca and almost all contacts in 1641, the Kristang community largely preserved its traditions, religion and language, and still has surprising cultural and linguistic similarities with today's Portugal (especially with the Minho region). Some church services are still held in Portuguese, and the community is sometimes called 'Portuguese' by Malaysians. However, their language (Kristang) is not taught in schools, and is nearing extinction.

Present status

Currently, the Kristang in Malaysia has the status of "semi-bumiputra". The Kristang community in Singapore is part of a larger umbrella group known generically as the Eurasian community, which has also spread to Perth, Western Australia through emigration 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 of Malaca, improving the income of its Kristang population.

Kristang culture


Since Portuguese times, the Kristang have been living by the sea, which is now 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 fishing is done in small wooden perahus, or pushing the langgiang, a traditional bamboo poled shrimp net through the shallow.


A large fraction of the Kristang are still practising Catholics.

Christmas ("Natal") is the most festive occasion of the year when many Kristang families get together to celebrate by eating season dishes, singing carols and branyok, and revelling in saudade.

Like many other Portuguese-speaking 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 June 24 and closing with St. Peter ("San Pedro"), the fishermen's patron saint, on June 29. The June festival of St. John's village is a major tourist attraction of Malacca.These festivals have become major tourist attractions despite the fact that they are religious based.

Music and dance

Kristang music and dance, known as the branyok, can be easily mistaken for the Malay joget, but rather the adoption of western music instruments and musical scales in traditional Malay and Indian orchestras suggest a strong Portuguese influence.

The most popular branyo tune is Jingkli Nona which is regarded as the "unofficial" anthem for Portuguese Eurasians in Singapore.

Incidentally, modern Hawaiian music and its instruments, such as the ukulele, were developed by Portuguese immigrants who were the first Europeans to settle there.

Portuguese fado music is not part of the Kristang culture, since it originated in the 19th century, after cultural links with Portugal were cut off. Moreover, the characteristic melancholic mood of fado does not find echo in the joyful Kristang culture.


Influenced greatly by other local ethnic cuisines and vice verca kristang food is similar to malay cuisine with the additions of stews and the inclusion of pork in the diet. Portuguese style cuisine is evident in kristang food however appears to have more of an eastern not western style. With the limitations and lack of availability of ingredients early kristang adopted the same ingredients used by the locals. Many Kristao also eat with the hand like the malay.typical Kristang dishes include devil curry and pang su sit cake.

Portuguese influence on Malay language

The Portuguese ruled Malacca from 1511 to 1641, so it is not surprising that about 300 Portuguese words found their way into 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"); "meja" (from "mesa", "table"); and "nenas" (from "ananás", "pineapple").

Notable people

* Tony Fernandes
* Jeremy Monteiro
* Jeanne Abdullah

ee also (Related ethnic groups)

*Eurasian (mixed ancestry) – various ethnic groups of mixed European-Asian ancestry
*Anglo-Burmese people - related ethnic group from Myanmar
*Burgher people - related ethnic group from Sri Lanka
*Eurasian Singaporean - related ethnic group from Singapore
*Filipino mestizo - related ethnic group from the Philippines
*Indo people - related ethnic group from Indonesia


* [http://www.geocities.comTheTropics/Paradise/9221/ Portuguese Eurasian Association]
* [ Joan Marbeck's Kristang Language Page]
* [ Paipia,Relijang e Tradisang]
* [ penang eurasians]

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