When the Portuguese conquered Melaka in 1511 and ruled for 130 years, a few stayed behind and formed a fishing community that has lasted till today. As devout Catholics, they celebrate various festivals dedicated to their religion which can be witnessed throughout the year in their settlement the Portuguese Square.
Over the years, the Portuguese intermarried with the local population and are now collectively referred to as Portuguese-Eurasian or 'Kristang', but they still maintain their traditional surnames such as 'Sequiera' and 'Lopez'. Usually, they speak a distinct language which is a Creole (fusion of two languages) based on Portuguese and Malay.
The Portuguese community in Melaka are a merry bunch, often celebrating with loud dances, music and song. Their most famous tune is the 'Jinggling Nyonya', a happy dance-song routine. They've also brought their food; Devil Curry or 'Curry Debel' is among the most famous of their dishes.
In June, the Portuguese Suare becomes abuzz with activity as the villagers celebrate a feast in honour of their patron saint. It is truly a sight for visitors to behold and a great chance to get to know this special 3,000-odd group of people in Malaysia.
The Portuguese Settlement is a Kristang community in Ujong Pasir, five km from Malacca City, Malaysia.
The Kristang are a Malaysian ethnic group with mixed Portuguese and Malay and for some possibly Indian or Chinese ancestry, which arose during the Portuguese colonial period (16th to 17th century).
In 1933, 11 hectares of land at Malacca were purchased with the purpose of creating a haven for scattered Kristang and their culture. The swampy land was cleared and 10 wooden houses with earth floors and attap roofs were built. Saint John's village, as that simple fishing village was originally known, soon attracted additional Kristang from all over Malaysia, and grew to become one of Malacca's main tourist attractions, improving the standard of living of its villagers.
Like many other Portuguese-speaking communities around the world, the Portuguese Settlement holds a yearly "June festival" that opens with Festa Senjuang ("Feast of Saint John", June 24) and closes with Festa San Pedro ("Feast of Saint Peter", the fishermen's patron saint, June 29). This festival is attended by about 100,000 visitors from Malaysia and abroad.
At the festival one can hear Kristang folk songs and watch dancers in colourful costumes perform to the rhythm of branyu music. An important event in the festival is the blessing of the local fishermen's boats, specially decorated for the occasion, to assure good catch.