Damian S. L. Yeo & L. C. Goh (DSLY)
No. 2007, Lorong Sidang Omar, off Jalan Penghulu Abbas, Bukit Baru, Hang Tuah Jaya, 75100 Melaka

Tel : 06-2347011
& 06-2347012
Fax: 06-2347022


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Embarking on the Portuguese Settlement Act...a preliminary working paper

Me, presenting my piece before the Representative from
the Portuguese Parliament

Dr Carlos Pascoa receiving a gift from YB Goh

Malacca Today and why a visible project for the sustainability of the Malacca Creole Portuguese Culture is imperative

Our Guest from the Kingdom of Portugal, the Right Honourable Dr. Carlos Pascoa, member of the Portuguese Parliament in charge of Portuguese Communities abroad

The Right Honourable Mr Sim Tong Him, Member of Parliament for Kota Malacca

The Right Honourable Mr. Goh Leong San, State Assemblyman for Kesidang, Opposition Leader the State Assembly of Malacca and Chairman of the Democratic Action Party

The Right Honourable Mr. Tay Kok Kiew, State Assemblyman for Banda Hilir

Esteemed friends and colleagues

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to all of you. It is an honour and a pleasure for me to be here this afternoon. I would like to thank the organizer, Joan Marbeck for giving me the opportunity to address this special gathering. I was asked to present a work paper titled, “Malacca Today and why a visible project for the sustainability of the Malacca Creole Portuguese Culture is imperative”

Before I begin, I must first be very honest that I have very little knowledge in addressing this issue but I must say that with the little knowledge I have combined with a strong passion in seeing greater protection towards ethnic minority in Malaysia and the preservation and conservation of heritage and culture among this ethnic minority, I hope I am able to be of assistance to the Portuguese Community in Malacca and Malaysia.

I must say with such protection, preservation and conservation, it does not only make the people happy but at the same time the State can continue to benefit from the long standing economic viability as Malacca is still known to the world as a large historical city in Malaysia liken to the city like Kyoto in Japan and Al-Qādisiyyah in Iraq.

Today, Malacca is rich with historical richness. Malacca has a long standing historic culture and heritage for each and every community. Examples of such would be the Peranakan culture also known as Baba-Nyonya which I myself is part of. It is a term used for the descendants of the very early Chinese immigrants to the Malay peninsular region, including both the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of Java among other places, who have partially adopted Malay customs in an effort to be assimilated into the local communities. The other smaller ethnic minority is known as Chitty, a distinctive group of Tamil people found only in Malacca, who are also known as the Indian Peranakans and as of today, their population stands at about an estimation of 2,000 people.

Now let us now move to the Malacca Creole Portuguese to see how we can sustain the culture and heritage of the Portuguese Community in present Malacca. However, before that let us take a step back to look at the rich history of this community.

The Portuguese Settlement is a Kristang community in Ujong Pasir. Located five kilometres from Malacca, Malaysia. The Kristangs is a Malaysian ethnic group with mixed Portuguese and Malay or Indian ancestry, which arose during the Portuguese colonial period from 1511 to 1641.

The idea for a Portuguese Settlement was first mooted in 1926 by Rev Father Alvaro Martin Coroado and Rev Father Jules Pierre Francois who were concerned for the future of the Malacca Portuguese community. They suggested to the British Government in Malacca to create a settlement in Malacca to help the poorer descendents of the Malacca Portuguese community so that the cultural heritage of the group could be preserved for future generations. The community was then living in Praya Lane and Tranquerah and other parts of Malacca.

Plans for a Portuguese Settlement received a tremendous boost when the British Resident at that time, Reginald Crichton was quoted by saying, “No doubt that this community is going downhill, something must be done to help them and put them in a place where they could be saved and guarded for future generation”. The British Resident’s remark signaled the government’s support for the establishment of the Portuguese Settlement.

In 1933, 11 hectares of land in Malacca were purchased with the purpose of creating a heaven for scattered Kristangs and their culture. Swampy lands were 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 Kristangs from all over Malaysia, and grew to become one of Malacca's main tourist attractions, improving the standard of living of its villagers.

Throughout the years, many and grave uncertainties arose, surrounding the community. Such uncertainties were like land lease, loss of income by fishermen, the unnecessary reclamation of land, building of structures that are incompatible to the heritage and culture of the Portuguese community and others. Over the years, many promises that were made by the state government to protect the last bastion of the community turned out to be empty promises with a lackadaisical attitude of such leaders.

The local community of leaders, through the appointed regedor and it’s panel have shown no remorse or regret in failing to protect the community welfare, heritage and culture. As an outsider, though I may not have a voice in the community, I am perplexed of such attitude. People outside the community actually wonder how such omission and failure which result to the state government unilateral action in deciding against the interest of the community.

The Malacca State government in 1988 tabled and passed in the Malacca State Legislative Assembly on the 6th September 1988 an enactment called the Preservation And Conservative of Cultural Heritage Enactment. This enactment gave powers for the establishment of a Preservative and Conservation Committee with a responsibility to advise the State Authority on matters of policy, administration and management of cultural heritage and conservation areas with the Malacca Chief Minister as its Chairman, the enactment also empowered the committee to include the State Secretary, State Legal Advisor, State Financial Officer, representative of the Director of State Public Works Department, and not more than five other persons who in the opinion of the State Authority have wide experience and expertise in the field of the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage.

Section 4 (1) of the stated enactment clearly expressed the powers given to the State Authority to declare any area which, on the advise of the Local Authority and the committee by notification in the gazette should be selected for Preservation and Conservation. All records of area or buildings that had been declared for Presevation and Conservation are kept by the Local Authority by maintaining a record book registering all cultural heritage or conservation areas.

This is just a general enactment that does not specifically preserve the Settlement. What about the rich heritage and culture of the Portuguese community? So what if the Settlement is declared as a Preservation and Conservation area by the authority? Even if it is declared, nothing would prevent the State government from changing the status quo of the Settlement. If it is preserved by so-called this enactment, why were there unnecessary reclamation of lands by the State Government? Why was the sea front being taken away from the Portuguese people.

As we know since the Portuguese time, 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.

This would mean that we are at the mercy of the state government. Whatever we do, we would have no choice but to bow down to the state government’s demands. I was told that during the election campaign, the state government might build a church in the settlement PROVIDED that the settlement voted for the Barisan Nasional government. Although there may be an enactment, it does not give total protection to the people of the settlement.

A Visible Project?

I was a candidate in the recent general election for the state seat of Duyong. I was invited by Mr. Tay Kok Kiew who was then the candidate for Banda Hilir to give a political speech in the Portuguese Settlement to the settlement people. While I was preparing the said speech, it drew upon me the need for total protection and preservation of the community land, heritage and culture.

The Portuguese Settlement is a thriving Kristang community in Malacca, with the goal of gathering the dispersed Kristang community and preserving their culture. A simple village of poor fishermen for many decades became a major tourist attraction of Malacca, thus improving the income of its population. Unfortunately, due to personal greed and ‘kow-towing’ to the present state government, the glory that was once there became dim. In addition, the threat of globalization and the non-interest among the younger community.

So should we have the Portuguese Settlement Act?

The legal advisor to the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and the Trustees of the Temple allowed me to politicize and campaign on the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple issue during the recent general election. (I was a candidate for the state seat in Duyong, where Bukit Cina is situated) as there were some under currents that threatened the Trustees to surrender their rights to govern and manage especially Bukit Cina, to the Federal Government under the National Heritage Act. Of course if the Trustees were to surrender, it would mean that the government will be in control over this beautiful heritage. We, of course together with the Trustees objected to these under currents as we do not want history to be repeated.

The Cheng Hoon Teng temple trustees role and obligation is governed by the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (Incorporation) Act 1949. This means that there is a private Act of Parliament guaranteeing the temple's future and its role as guardian of the community's spiritual and cultural heritage. The prime mover, Tun Sir Tan Cheng Lock, became one of the first trustees under the Act. This Act empowers the Trustees as the guardian and as such is not at the mercy of the state government. So any move against the Act will be ultra vires.

What about the Portuguese people and their settlement? I was informed that the Settlement historically covers the area of Tranquerah (Tengkera). Unfortunately the Settlement is now hovering an area of about 40 acres or so. Over the years, their land was taken over by the state government, their income through fishing activities were diminished due to the reclamation of sea front, the hotel (Lisbon Hotel) which was not run by the people of the Settlement and sooner or later, the rich heritage of the the Malacca-Creole Portuguese will one day become non existence.

So what is the future then for them and where the Malacca-Creole Portuguese is heading?

As such I felt that it is so important for the introduction of an Act of Parliament that would benefit the minorities called the Malacca-Creole Portuguese. It will not only govern the Portuguese people but at the same time preserves and uplifts the fading culture of the Kristangs, to promote, develop, strengthen and sustain the customs, traditions and Heritage of the Malacca-Creole Portuguese and the ultimate self-governing not at the mercies of the state and federal government.

There must be an Act of Parliament that will not just governing the people but to empower the people and the community to be self sufficient at least to include in a provision for funds and the development of their social and economic stature.

Let us look at the structure of the CHENG HOON TENG ACT (INCORPORATION) ACT 1949


1. Short Title

2. Interpretation

3. Incorporation

4. Office

5. Membership of the Corporation

6. Register of Members of the Corporation

7. Termination of membership

8. Expulsion of members

9. Rights on incorporation

10. Objects and purposes

11. Standing Committee

12. Employment of Secretaries, Treasurers, etc.

13. Meetings of Standing Committee

14. Charges of funds of the Corporation

15. Advisory Committee

16. Annual Meetings

17. Extraordinary General Meeting

18. General Meetings

19. Chairman of the Corporation

19A. Vice-Chairman of the Corporation

20. Proceedings at General Meetings

21. Notices

22. Seal of the Corporation

23. Documents of the Corporation

24. Vesting of properties

25. Investment of Corporation funds

Having seen the Act, do allow me to read the Object and Purpose of this Act at section 10:-

The objects and general purposes of the Corporation shall be:-

(a) the promotion, propagation and observance of the doctrines, ceremonies, rites and customs of the Buddhist and other religions (including Confucianism and Taoism, but not including the Christian or Islamic religions) commonly professed or maintained in Malacca by the Chinese Community;

(b) the maintenance, administration and improvement of and, if necessary, the enlargement and rebuilding of the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and other Temples which may belong to or be acquired by or under the care or control of the Corporation;

(c) the maintenance, administration and improvement of and, if necessary, the enlargement and development of all burial grounds and other property of whatever description belonging to or acquired by the Corporation whether by way of gift, surrender, purchase, or in any other and the development for building or other purpose any land belonging to or under the control of or acquired by the Corporation as aforesaid and the rebuilding or improvement of properties belonging to or under the control of or acquired by the Corporation which is not required for use as a burial ground;

(d) the establishment of a register of Chinese marriages; the provision and maintenance of a place to be set part for the solemnization of marriages in accordance with Buddhist of Chinese practice; the establishment and maintenance of a crematorium for use in accordance with the doctrines of Buddhism, or any other religion commonly professed by the Chinese Community in Malacca;

(e) such other charitable, humanitarian and religious purposes or objects for the benefit of the Chinese Community of the Federation and the Republic of Singapore including the relief of distress among the Chinese Community of these territories and the provision of adequate facilities for burial of the dead as shall be considered desirable by the Corporation.

After 50 years of Independence, it is time for bigger and more visible Projects to show off the rich cultural tapestry of Malacca. Merging the old tradition and the new era of technology will definitely enrich Malacca as a whole. There must be some preservation of the rich heritage of the Portuguese people. Their heritage cannot be forgotten as they will contribute greatly to the tourism industry of the state and Malaysia.

As such, the state government and all concerned must rally together to cause a success of what I would call the Portuguese Settlement Act. I hope we will be able to push through this agenda and I hope by 2009, and in commensurate the 500th Anniversary of the coming of the Portuguese people to Tanah Melayu a new Act of Parliament be introduced.

As far as I am concerned, this is not a political ploy or gimmick. Sincerely, my side and the DAP would like to see a tremendous growth and revival of the community that will always enrich the vast and rich heritage of history in Malacca thus making Malacca a glorious state once again.

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