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Kristang (Cristão)
Spoken in: Malaysia
Region: Southeast Asia
Total speakers: 5,000
Ranking: not in top 100
Genetic classification: Portuguese Creole
Official status
Official language of: none
Regulated by: none
Language codes
ISO 639-1none
ISO 639-2cpp
See also: LanguageList of languages

Cristão or Papiá Kristang, Português de Malaca (Malacca Portuguese), or simply papia is a Creole language based in Portuguese in a Malay grammatical structure spoken in Malacca, Malaysia.

As a large part of Portuguese are practicing Catholics, Papia Cristão - the name of the language and culture - means both "Roman Catholic" (papia kristang can be alluded to mean "Papist Christian") as well as "to talk christian". Other synonyms for the Portuguese community are "Serani" (short for Malay "nasrani") - meaning followers of Jesus the Nazarene; and "Gragok" (slang term for Malau "Geragau" or shrimp) - as the Malaccan Portuguese were traditionally fishermen who fished shrimp. The community is known, by themselves, as Gente Kristang (from broken Portuguese: Gente Cristão, Port. Gente Cristã, Eng. Christian People).



One common misconception is that the Portuguese first arrived in Malacca in 1511. In fact, an expeditionary party first landed in 1507. It is recorded in the "Sejarah Melayu" that they were mistaken to be "Bengali Puteh" (White Bengalis). The story goes the landing party insulted the Malaccan sultan by placing a garland of flowers over his head, and had them detained. The second wave came in 1511 in an armada of ships from India to free the landing party. Currently, the Malaccan Portuguese enjoy the status of being "semi-bumiputra" - which means they are half-natives, one step lower than the indgenous Malays.

Another misconception is that all the Eurasians in Singapore came from Malacca: some also came from Goa, which was then still Portuguese, while others have Dutch or British ancestry.

Following the take-over of Malacca (Malaysia) in 1511, the Portuguese were encouraged to marry local women, under a grand design set by the Viceroy of India, Afonso de Albuqurque (pronounced "Al-ber-kerk") almost 500 years ago. {In Portuguese, the title of "Viceroy" or "Vice-Rei", meaning "Vice-King" suggests that the powers of Afonso was second only to the King of Portugal}

A bull released by the King of Portugal gave a bigger incentive for Portuguese males to relocate - those who ventured overseas (known as "casados" or "married men") and married the local women were to be freemen and released from paying taxes to the crown. Portuguese women were barred from travelling overseas due to supersition. But as the old Portuguese saying goes, "there are no sins south of the equator" suggests that there may have been exceptions to the rule.

A Portuguese-based Creole, Papia Kristang, was shaped and is still spoken today by more than 5,000 Christians. The uncanny semblance of Kristang to other Portuguese patois, such as the "Patua" in Macau and "Kriolu" in Cabe Verde, suggests that the language was slowly developed along Portuguese trade routes. (International relations in 16th century South-East Asia were defined by trading communities rather than state-relations.)

Portugal lost Malacca to the Calvinist Dutch burghers in 1641, coinciding with a civil war in Portugal that saw the end to an 80-year period known as the "Union of the Crowns" (1580-1640) that saw Portugual joined to Castillan Spain by political marriage. Almost all contact with Portugal ended, but trade relations with the now-former Portuguese outpost of Macau continues to this day.

The Gente Kristang (Portuguese people) maintained its traditions, religion and language almost unharmed, which is a curiosity and unique in the world; the cultural and linguistic link with today's Portugal (especially, Minho region), is astonishing. Because of some aspects of their language and culture, some Malaysians still refer to the Portuguese-Malay Eurasian community as 'Portuguese'.


Kristang music and dance, known as the "Branyok" can be easily mistaken for the Malay "joget", but rather the adoption of western music instruments and musical scales in traditional Malay and Indian orchestras suggest a strong Portuguese influence.

Incidentally, modern Hawaiian music and it's instruments, such as the ukelele, were developed by Portuguese immigrants who were the first Europeans to settle there.


The only Portuguese structure to be found in Singapore is Saint Joseph's Church (along Victoria Street) which was also a Portuguese mission up till 1979. Painted tiles known as "'azulejos"' adorn the outside walls of the Church.

The most famous Portuguese structure in Malacca is perhaps the old "formosa" or fortress. The site was almost demolished by the British in the 19th century but was saved from destruction by the appelations of a Lord Minto ("Minto" suggests a Portuguese name).

The "Misericordia" or "House of Mercy" was a charitable home established by the faithful Catholics in old Malacca. The invading Dutch forces used the building for the interrogation and torture, and forced conversion of Catholic Portuguese into Calvinism. Oral traditions say the wailings and moans heard from the tortures were so extreme that the word "Misericordia" came to be understood as the word for "torture" in the Malay language.

Classification and related languages

Creole - Portuguese-based

Kristang is very close to Malay in its grammatical construction, but its vocabulary is 95% derived from Portuguese. Conversely, it is safe to say that most western nouns in the Malay dictionary are derived form Portuguese, such as "sekolah" ("escola" for school) and "meja" ("mesa" or table). Portuguese nouns such as "Cartas" (meaning "letter") have made their way into langauges as far north as Laos and Cambodia, as well as Indonesia.

Although vernacular Kristang is based on Malay grammar and has many Malay words in it, it could be understood by speakers of Portuguese, and Cape Verdean Kriolu. Due to this, some people do not consider it a creole, but rather a Portuguese dialect.

The most related creoles are Patuá, and the Indo-Portuguese Creoles of India and Sri Lanka. The extinct creoles of Indonesia, and the East Timorese "Tetum" language are also directly related.

In linguistics, a creole is defined as a mother tongue learnt at home as compared to a patois which is picked up in the streets. A counter-argument could be said that kristang 'was' a patois that was also picked up by non-native Portuguese speakers along it's trade routes to facilitate communication.

However, their language is not taught in schools, although in there are still some church services in Portuguese.

Geographic distribution

About 80% of the older residents of the Portuguese settlement in Malacca regularly speak Kristang. There are also some speakers in today's Kuala Lumpur and Singapore due to emigration, although in Singapore it is virtually extinct.

It is also spoken by some immigrants and their descendants in the former colonial power, the United Kingdom, where some settled after independence, and also Australia, in particular the city of Perth, which is a popular destination for retirees in the community.

In Pulau Tikus there were more speakers in 1997 than in 1987.


Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Pulau Tikus and Singapore.



Another feature is the word "ja" (i.e. already) to indicate all past tenses, and "ta" (from 'esta', which means "is") to indicate all present continuous tenses and "logu" to indicate future tense. These simplified forms correspond with their equivalents in Malay "sudah", "sedang" and "akan" respectively.

A peculiarity of the language is the pronoun "Yo" (meaning "I") which is used in Spanish and Sicilian.

The leading expert in this field is Monsignior Manuel Texeira (also known respectfully as the "Old Man of Macau"), who has written some volumes on the subject.


One feature of the kristang language is the inverted "r". For example, the Portuguese word "Gordo" (meaning "fat") is pronounced "Godro" in kristang.

The digraph "ch" is pronounced as in "cheese" to accommodate and be inline with a host of malay words that begin with "ch". Thus the soft "ch" in "chegar" and "chuva" is prounounced "chegak" and "chu" in a malay way. This way of pronunciation occurs in Northern Portugal dialects and related Portuguese Creoles, and it could be the real origin. Many Portuguese words have been simplified in kristang to avoid confusion and to accommodate a peranakan/malay speaking environment in old Melaka. Thus "Padrinho" and "Madrinha" (Godfather and Godmother) in Portuguese is simplified to "inyu" and "inya" in kristang.

Writing system

As there were no proper schools, kristang was passed down orally and attempts at a kristang orthography began in the 1950's by the efforts of a Jesuit priest known as Monsignior Manuel Teixeira (A Grammar of Kristang).

In Singapore, a failed attempt to teach the Portuguese language was conducted at the old Saint Anthony's Boys School (1950-1953). The venture failed when financial support from the Portuguese government never reached the school.

In the 1990's, Joan Marbeck's book "Ungua Andanza" (available in Malacca) was published, with the orthography written in a luso-malay context. To contact the author for a copy of her latest book "Linggu Mai" (US$21 + postage), which includes a reader, a Kristang phrasebook, and a CD, please email:


Thank You: Mutu Merseh (Port. Muito Obrigado)
How Are You?, Teng Bong? (From Port. Estás bom?)
Good Morning, Bong Pamiang (From Port. Boa Manhã)
Good Afternoon: Bong Midia (From Port. Bom Meio-dia)
Good Evening: Bong Atadi (From Port. Boa Tarde)
Good Night: Bong Anuti (From Port. Boa Noite)
Me: yo (From Port. eu)
You (singular): bos (From Port. vós)
You (plural): bolotudu (From Port. vós todos, vocês todos)
Mother: mai (From Port. mãe)
Father: pai (From Port. pai)
Wife: muleh (From Port. mulher)
Husband: maridu (From Port. marido)
Old Women: bela (From Port. velha)
Old Man: belu (From Port. velho)
Little one: Quenino or Kenino (From Port. Pequenino)
Fat: godru (From Port. gordo)
Beautiful: Bonitu (From Port. bonito)
Party: festa (From Port. festa)
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, teen: ungua, dos, tres, kuatu, singku, sez, seti, oitu, novi, des (From Port. um, dois, três, quatro, cinco, seis, sete, oito, nove, dez)

Poem of Malacca:

Keng teng fortuna ficah na Malaka,
Nang kereh partih bai otru tera.
Pra ki tudu jenti teng amizadi,
Kontu partih logo ficah saudadi.
Ó Malaka, tera di San Francisku,
Nten otru tera ki yo kereh.
Ó Malaka undi teng sempri fresku,
Yo kereh ficah atih moreh.

Portuguese translation:

Quem tem fortuna fica em Malaca,
Não quer partir para outra terra.
Por aqui toda a gente tem amizade,
Quando partir logo fica a saudade.
Ó Malaca, terra de São Francisco,
Não há outra terra que eu quero.
Ó Malaca, onde tem sempre ar fresco,
Eu quero ficar até morrer.

English translation:

Who has wealth stays in Malacca,
Doesn't want to go to another land.
In here everyone has friendship,
When one leaves, stays saudade.
Oh Malacca, land of Saint Francis,
There is no other land that I want.
Oh Malacca, where there's always fresh air,
I want to stay here until I die.

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