--------- CHAPTER IV ---------
THE TIMELESS MALACCAN PORTUGUESE VILLAGE
Voices. The sound produced by humans, the faculty of culture and history. A proclamation of identity, and a testimony of an existing humanity. But how many of these 31 million voices are heard, when even they cannot hear their voices among themselves?
Malacca: the State of History
ARRIVING AT MALACCA
"Hey Eugene, could you take a photo of me over here? This place is absolutely beautiful. The architecture, the colours, the sky, the people - I want this to moment to be recorded forever.
. . .
We then spent two and a half days in the Malacca City. The coach ride to Malacca was strangely uneventful, for everyone had fallen asleep due to sheer exhaustion from being so engrossed in their own projects. We arrived at mid-point transit with a fruit stall selling rambutans and durians. In sheer unadulterated joy, the durian fanatics scrambled off the coach for the sweet, hearty fruit. Slightly rejuvenated (at least for the fruit eaters), they continued on their journey. It was almost 3 when we arrived, and we had our lunches in a local food market. As any (good) field trip, we were given time to explore the city and do some sightseeing.
After visiting the Christ Church, we transited to a village of modest homestay apartments. Not only were our groupings entirely random, we would be staying together with our UM buddies too. As we started talking to our new UM housemates, the awkwardness dissipated. Sure, we had talked to them about school and exchanged cultural knowledge before, but it was our first time interacting with one another on such a personal, intimate level.
Ah, Jonker Walk, good old Jonker Walk. We went from stall to stall, store to store, buying everything that caught our eye -- from jiggly coconut drinks, fried sausages dripping with sparkling delicious grease, to alien blue butterfly pea drinks ("Thank you Eugene!" "Okay fine, I'll pay"). With our reckless tourist spending, it was no wonder that tourism contributes that much to the Malaccan economy. Gosh, the durian sweet dumplings were truly exquisite though.
We got to visit two museums during our stay in Malacca, namely the Portuguese Settlement Heritage Museum and Chetti Museum. As their names suggest, the former one displays cultural relics belonging to the Portuguese Malaccan people, and the latter the Chetti people*. Despite exhibiting different contents by nature, both museums had a lot of ethnocultural relics and costumes on display, which we explored with the thorough and entertaining explanations of the museum guides.
(*) Note that the Chetti identify as Hindus while also giving a nod to facets of Malay culture and Chinese ancestral worship. (Lim, 2019).
While we were visiting the Chetti Museum, right next door in the Library Room was a join-the-conversation conference on Chetti cultural heritage hosted by a community organization named Melaka In Fact. It was hosted by P. Nadarajan Mudaliar, a member of the Chetti community. We were entranced by the fascinating anecdotes and customs of the Chetti Melaka people. What should a woman do post-wedding if her fiancé follows a different religion? Why are vow rings put on the toes of the bride, and not on their fingers?
FROM OUR WAYFARERS...
“The most remarkable part of the trip was our visit to the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca where the speakers of Papia Krsiatng live. The whole visit was intriguing and rewarding, but something really bothered me. It saddened me to know that a once vibrant culture and its language are slowly dying in front of my eyes. Sometimes, it isn’t that no one is making an effort to sustain it, but rather the limitations and obstacles are inhibiting people from doing so. Thankfully, with the help of many passionate members, NGOs and linguistics experts in the country, at least Papia Kristang was documented and promoted before it becomes extinct.“ - Aurora, HKU coursemate
The Timeless Village
THE MALACCA PORTUGUESE SETTLEMENT & PAPIA KRISTANG
"Which school are you going to, my dear?" "Tadika Sacred Heart Kindergarten!" Can you say good morning to me in Kristang?"
"Yes! Um... pamiang bong (good morning) ...!"
. . .
On the second last day of our field trip, we were brought to the Malacca Portuguese Settlement. Most of the houses there were single-storey and neatly spread out. There was a river round the edge of the village, and we were told that it was were some of their people fished -- yet it thrived nowhere as strongly as before, for the rivers became more polluted. Everyone leaned on the edge, staring at this scene of serenity. ("Imagine losing your one and only job as a fisherman", one of us murmured.)
We then arrived at a semi-open establishment with a front porch called the Livio Learning Centre. "This is where you'll meet Auntie Philo and Sara, everyone. They're native speakers of Papiá Kristang and are super friendly," said Sheena as she gestured for us to enter. True to her words, Auntie Philo and Sara greeted us with gleaming smiles on their faces.
While we were not working specifically on Papia Kristang, for we only had a day to carry out our elicitations with Auntie Philo and Sara, Kofi encouraged us to still elicit linguistic data from them as well to sharpen our elicitation skills and collect data for potential future use. With a few swift motions, our laptops, phones and notepads were set-up. As with other informants, we presented them with the Frog Story and video stimuli.
On the other side with Auntie Philo, we brought out our field recorder. Our teachers took this opportunity to explain how the recorder works while demonstrating how they would have approached the elicitation process. After some primary data collection, Auntie Philo shared with us her past efforts in preserving Papia Kristang. She showed us a book she co-authored titled Beng Prende Portugues Malaká ("Come, Let's Learn Portugues Malaká"), which was one of the first native-developed guides on learning Papia Kristang.
Auntie Philo also showed us her own Facebook page "Linggua de Mai - Bibe Sempre". The page is dedicated to teaching users one Kristang word a day with sentential and pragmatic context. On each video is Auntie Philo's gentle smile, and her voice clearly enunciating each and every single word. The page is updated everyday, and are well supplemented with explanatory notes in the descriptions. The word of the day was "malsinadu", which meant "rude". We then reached out to Auntie Philo to learn more about her journey to save Kristang.
Auntie Philo recalled animatedly how her worries after the initial noise surrounding the book prompted her to start her Facebook page. She introduced to us the Kristang dictionary app BibePortMal developed by UM with the help of theKristang community.
"Kristang is not much spoken in the modern family. We decided that something must be done to preserve this language, because as the saying goes -- if it’s not used, it’s lost. We have always hit brick walls—there’s been no help from any direction that we have moved. Fortunately, here comes Prof. Stefanie Pillai from the University of Malaya. She approached us, she says 'Look guys, why don’t we do something about this?'".
"With this, we are hoping to reach out to the younger ones. That is what the little they are learning, and it’s improving every day. That is how we reach out to the community, and in fact, to the whole world: through the videos, through the app, and through the book."
MS. PHILOMENA SINGHO - Co-author of Beng Prende Papia Kristang, host of Facebook Page “Linggua de Mai – Bibe Persempre”. Native speaker of Kristang.
Meanwhile at the LIVIO Learning Centre, a group of young children surged in. There was no animosity in their voices -- these Kristang children were genuine, affectionate and trusting. They were elated as some of us donned the traditional Kristang outfits Sara handed to us. They began to tell us about their daily lives and the cultural knowledge they learn at the centre.
"I wanna be a YouTuber in the future!" a spectacled boy told us. "My dad died from cancer, so now I'm the big guy in the family. I'm good at making people laugh!" he chirped as he held his little sister closer.
When everyone had returned to the centre, Sara told us she had something prepared for us. The children got in formation briskly as a Kristang folk song started playing in the background. Front, back, shuffle step. Clap, jump, turn around and stop. We broke into applause and cheered for them as they completed their finishing pose. Another rondo started playing in the background, and Sara ushered us to learn the dance with them. Shyly, we joined the circle. The children extended their hands to us, gesturing for us to hold their hands.
As the music went on, so did our footsteps. Twirling simultaneously to the rhythm of the piece, we looked like hibiscuses blooming in the summer heat. We knew that eventually, as with all things beautiful, this dance would come to an end. Yet, this fleeting respite would forever be etched in our memories. You may never know what will become of the Kristang culture and language in the future -- but somehow, we believe that everything about this village will remain timeless in this haven of bliss.