Enriching the Cosmopolitan Nature and Fabric of the Country
The Eurasian community in Malaysia is tiny by comparison to the other races. A Eurasian is someone of mixed Asian and European ancestry. The Malays form the majority with over 60 percent, the Chinese now make up about 25 percent and the Indians about 8 percent. There are close to 30,000 Eurasians in the country which has a population of about 30 million.
Types of Eurasians
Even though they are a tiny community, there are a number of divisions within this community. Some much prefer to position themselves as Portuguese Eurasians and are proud of their roots. Many of these older Portuguese Eurasians speak Kristang at home and with their relatives. Closer home, my wife’s late mother, a Portuguese Eurasian used to converse with ease in Kristang with her sisters, brothers and children. My wife too still retains that ability to speak this language.
Descriptions over the Ages
Initially, when the Malays first saw the Portuguese soldiers, sailors and administrative officials, they called them, ‘Benggali Puteh’. I will leave it to you to make an educated guess as to how this came about.
Some of these Portuguese officials married local women and their offspring were called Nasrani. This was a clear reference to the people of Nazareth because of their Catholic faith. Much later and still in use is the local Bahasa Malaysia term ‘ Serani’ meaning Eurasian.
Other Eurasians were known as Dutch Burghers and still others were once known as Anglo-Indians. Dutch Burghers are actually of mixed Dutch, Portuguese and Sri Lankan descent. Some of these Eurasians are trying, to some extent, to maintain links and association with Holland. I do know that some individuals and their families meet for social events with Dutch Embassy officials in Malaysia. This is most understandable because it is an intrinsic human desire to trace and thereafter appreciate your roots, especially as you grow older!
These individuals first came to then Malaya from India during the British colonial period. They were at that time known as Anglo-Indians. Today, most of these people are simply classified as Eurasians. The descriptions Dutch Burgher and Anglo-Indian are not in vogue these days.
500th Anniversary of the Coming of the Portuguese to Malacca
The Portuguese Eurasians celebrated in a grand manner the 500th Anniversary of the coming of the Portuguese to Malacca from 26 to 29 October 2011. The celebrations were held in Malacca and drew many attendees from Singapore, Australia and all over Malaysia.
The Portuguese Eurasian community in Malacca has an elected leader. He is known as the Regedor. Regedor actually refers to the settlement headman. He has an administrative role as well as a role as a cultural leader.
The Portuguese Eurasians at that time in the settlement were mostly fishermen eking out a living. It was a tough, risky and demanding job but they somehow managed to survive and carry on. This was, in part, due to their strong faith as Catholics.
However, there was much dissatisfaction within the community at a particular period in time not too long ago and many turned to an opposition party for support and assistance. The Portuguese Eurasians felt that their interests and welfare were being neglected.
Facility to Invest
The Malaysian government recognised this trend. In an effort to make amends, the government belatedly recognised this tiny community as worthy of special attention and granted them the privilege of investing in a fund meant for only bumiputras. Bumiputra means son of the soil.
All Portuguese Eurasians could apply to invest in this fund if he or she could provide proof of ancestry. For this, the individual concerned had to obtain a certain form from the regedor, fill it up and then get the regedor’s confirmation of his / her eligibility. Many Eurasians did take advantage of this facility.
What Has Been the Eurasian Community’s Contribution to Malaysia
Although the Eurasians are a tiny community, they have and continue to make a significant contribution to the nation in a number of fields.
The Shepherdson brothers, the legendary Mike and his younger brother Christie, both double internationals in hockey and cricket, and Olympians to boot, have had a chequered career in these two sports. Other members of the family were also great sportsmen.
You may also remember Olympians like Lawrence Van Huizen, his son Stephen, Brian Sta Maria and Colin Sta Maria and Kevin Nunis all from that venerable St Paul’s Institution in Seremban.
These are just those individuals that come to mind. There are many other Eurasians who have made a similar contribution.
1.There is that well known Kristang former teacher and prolific writer from Malacca, Joan Marbeck now living in Singapore. Kristang is a Creole language. Food for thought: more than 90 per cent of Portuguese words come from Greek and Latin. A similar local language also exists in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Macau where the Portuguese once ruled.
Joan has published many books especially on Kristang. Two of her books are titled: Ungua Adanza ( An Inheritance ) 1995 and Linggu Mai ( Mother Tongue ) 2004. What is amazing is that Portugal only ruled in Malacca for 130 years but left such a rich legacy. I understand that academics from Portugal and Brazil visit Malacca from time to time to research on these matters.
2.Joan’s sister, Celine is also a well known former teacher, hotel manager and now a renowned Kristang chef. Celine has given many cooking demonstrations and classes in Malaysia and Singapore. Celine has also been invited to give cooking demonstrations in Amsterdam, Holland. She has also, to her credit, published two well-received cookbooks.
3. Music Ambassadors: Here the Eurasians have certainly made a huge contribution. They seem to be musically gifted and there are numerous singers, musicians and bands that come to mind.
From the unforgettable, late Jimmy Boyle, Rudy and George Baum, James Rozells, Katherine Rodrigues, Coleen Read, Bonnie and Homer Jeremiah of Penang to the current sensations, the Zarsardias Brothers, country and western band Os Pombos, Yellow Jackets from Klang and Tres Amigos from Malacca have all made a significant contribution. I am sure that there are many other Eurasians who have left their mark in the music world.
Malacca Portuguese Eurasian Cuisine
There are many of these dishes. They vary from family to family. The main idea here was to make bland European food more delicious and palatable with the infusion of spices. The Malacca Portuguese Eurasians have over the years perfected this to a great degree. One can find a few Malacca Portuguese restaurants both here in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya as well as in Malacca.
These are some of the dishes that come to mind: Easily the most famous and much loved is Curry Debal (Devil Curry). The others, in no fixed order of preference, are: Ambiler, Abarjaw, Pongteh, Prawn and Pineapple Curry, Fish and Mango Curry and Eurasian Chicken Stew.
The Eurasians have also garnered well-earned praise for their expertise in the baking of Sugee cakes. This is usually baked for special occasions like Christmas, weddings, baptisms and even funerals. During the Annual Penang Eurasian Festival, for instance, there is even a Sugee Cake Making Contest.
Teachers and Administrators
The early Eurasians, during British colonial rule, naturally gravitated towards the teaching profession. They also entered the civil service as administrators. Their fluency and command of the English language and their understanding of English customs and traditions made this a good fit.
Much later, and after Malaya gained independence, the Eurasians were also attracted to the armed forces. Quite a number rose to senior military positions i.e. colonel, brigadier general, first admiral etc.
In addition, there are also a few Eurasians who have made it to the big time, business-wise. These individuals have chosen, quite prudently, to operate under the radar and have remained low key by choice. A few have also left their mark as academics in local and foreign universities.
A Matter Bedevilling the Community
I have attended a few events hosted by Eurasians both here in Kuala Lumpur and even in Penang. What struck me as quite poignant and sad was the way a senior Eurasian leader, in his late seventies, spoke about the recurring lack of unity within the community in Penang a few years ago.
He wondered why this was so and commented that this lack of unity was really holding the community back from achieving its lofty goals. I subsequently spoke to a few Eurasian friends in Penang and inquired if this was really the case. Both of them confirmed the matter. This was re-confirmed by another Eurasian friend in Petaling Jaya.
The Eurasian male and female in Malaysia is generally perceived to be someone who is comfortable in social situations. Eurasians love to sing, enjoy good music and are musically inclined, love to go clubbing, delight in having a drink or two and are generally quite adept on the dance floor. In short, the Eurasian is seen as someone who yearns for a slice of la dolce vita. Isn’t that what we all want?