- 2007/12/03 Kristang musical in effort to preserve the language

During Malacca's heyday as one of the major centres on the global spice route in the 16th century, no less than 80 languages were spoken there. Five hundred years after the Portuguese rule in the state, a creolised version of the language is still being used.

However, Kristang is in danger of dying out as increasingly fewer descendants of the Portuguese speak or write it. It is estimated that only 5,000 people in Malaysia are able to.

Joan Marbeck, however, has made it her priority to revive interest in the language by promoting Kristang songs and dances, especially among children. She has even written plays in the colourful language.

Afbeelding: Children of all ethnicities singing together in Kazamintu la Praiya, a Kristang musical performed at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca.
Children of all ethnicities singing together in Kazamintu la Praiya, a Kristang musical performed at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca

Recently, 60 children between the ages of nine and 16 participated in the first ever Kristang musical entitled Kazamintu la Praiya (Wedding on the Beach). The musical is based on a traditional Kristang wedding and led by Marbeck, a Portuguese-Eurasian born in Malacca. The retired music teacher is one of DiGi's five Amazing Malaysian 2007 award winners.

"There was a time when even Chinese shopkeepers in Malacca spoke Kristang. That's how popular it was," said Marbeck, remembering her childhood.

The children who participated in the project came from three schools in Malacca – SMK Canossa Convent, SMK Bukit Baru and SMK Infant Jesus Convent. Although some of them did not have Portuguese roots, they still enjoyed learning about the culture and how to speak the language.

The one-night-only Kristang musical kicked off in splendid fashion on Nov 24 at the Portuguese settlement, Ujong Pasir, with well over 500 people turning up to enjoy a performance celebrating their culture, dance and music.

The one-hour show started with two popular Kristang dances, the branyo and farapeira. The branyo is a flirtatious dance in which couples advance and retreat, but never touch. The farapeira is a very lively dance.

The three-act musical focuses on the marriage of Rosalinda and Paulinho, which takes place in Praya Lane, a seaside village not far away from the Portuguese settlement.

The story begins with Rosalinda's father, Miguel De Costa, confiding to a friend that his eldest daughter has yet to receive any marriage proposals. Soon enough, a formal proposal is made and a wedding date is set.

Later, as both families prepare for the wedding on Christmas eve, the voices of a young boy and girl break the solemnity of the night as they shout “Stangi-Wangi” (a potpourri of light incense and camphor wood) and slowly make their way to the VIP table to hand out the fragrant items.

As the play continues, children holding candles sing carols as they gather around the Christmas tree.

The final scene sees Rosalinda and Paulinho being married in church as the community celebrates, in festival style.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who was the guest of honour at the event, led the applause for the splendid musical.

Thomas Ang, 35, an electrician from Padang Temu, was delighted with the performance and the level of detail in the musical.

“It was excellent. I am sure if we showcased this overseas, it would be a big hit. With the children's level of professionalism, they could even win awards,” he gushed.

Afbeelding: Kristang expressions.
Kristang expressions

Settlement resident Jeremiah Johnross Hendriks, 15, who participated in the musical, had learnt Kristang from his father and felt proud that people of other ethnicities were taking the initiative to learn to speak his language.

Another participant, 16-year-old Amiirah Nadiah, could not speak a word of Kristang until four months ago when she started training for the musical. Now, she has gained some proficiency in the language and hopes one day to fully master it.

"At first, it was scary and difficult to learn a totally new language. But after a while my confidence grew and I was so happy to be able to converse with the other participants in Kristang," she said.

Mother K. Achee, 47, fondly remembered her two Portuguese school friends and how enjoyable it was to be around them.

"I fully supported my daughter joining this programme from day one. I wanted her to experience the fun I had in my youth with my Portuguese friends."

"I love their (Portuguese) culture and fun-loving spirit and I will remember this experience for the rest of my life," said Kok Mei Lin Devi, a 16-year-old of Chinese and Indian descent who speaks five languages, including Kristang.

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