SCRIPT: Saving Patua, Macau's dying language [March 13, 2020]


Patua is a critically endangered language that is unique to the former Portuguese colony

Doris Wai |

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[1] Presenter: Meet Aida de Jesus. She’s 103 years old.

[2] Aida de Jesus: I don’t like to feel so old. I like to feel only 80.

[3] Presenter: Aida is from Macau, a Chinese city that was formerly colonised by Portugal for 400 years. She and her daughter, Sonia, are among the few people who still speak Patua, a critically endangered language that is unique to Macau. Here’s a local music video with subtitles in four languages: Patua, Cantonese, Portuguese, and English. You can see how Patua mixes the languages of places along the Portuguese trade route in the 16th century.

[4] Sonia: When I was in school, in our days, they didn’t like us speaking Patua because they used to say that it’s not real Portuguese.

[5] Presenter: Aida and Sonia are Macau locals of mixed Portuguese-Chinese ancestry. They are the Macanese, and they make up less than 1 per cent of a city that is over 90 per cent Chinese.

[6] Sonia: You can say it’s a dying race.

[7] Presenter: To understand Aida’s community, we first have to understand her city, Macau, which is an hour’s ferry ride away from Hong Kong. It has rapidly developed over the last few decades and is now known as the world’s largest casino town, raking in five times as much money as Las Vegas. This is thanks, in part, to the Portuguese legalising gambling in the 1800s. So when Portugal returned Macau to China 20 years ago, it became the only place in the country where gambling was legal.  

[8] Presenter: Many Portuguese left after World War II and an anti-Portuguese riot in the 60s, but you can still spot signs of Portuguese influence all over the city. Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages, and colonial buildings are protected UNESCO heritage sites. And just outside the city centre is Aida and Sonia’s traditional Macanese restaurant.

[9] Sonia: When the Portuguese married Chinese wives, they tried to cook as close as possible to Portuguese food. But in those days, they didn’t have so much Portuguese ingredients, so they tried to put some Chinese ingredients into it, and that’s how Macanese food started. In our restaurant, our signature dish is minchi. It’s a very simple dish. It’s made of minced pork. Another signature dish is pato cabidela. In Portugal, they also have cabidela. It’s made of duck blood mixed with vinegar.

[10] Presenter: UNESCO calls Macau the “home of the first ‘fusion food’”, and also recognises the Macanese language, Patua, as a dying language with only 50 speakers left.

[11] Aida: Patua, before, my grandmother spoke it more. Young people don’t speak much Patua.

[12] Presenter: Although there are only 4,000 Macanese left in Macau, one study suggests there could be over 1.5 million of them around the world.

[13] Roy Eric Xavier: It’s a hidden population because they’re scattered. With the rise of social media, many of them have maintained their ties.

[14] Presenter: The diaspora is even invited to visit Macau every three years. But those who remain in Macau feel they have to fight to preserve their culture and identity. They have been in Macau for generations, but are often mistaken for foreigners in their own land.

[15] Sergio Perez: For me, every single day, I get people saying, [Cantonese translated into English] “Wow, you speak Cantonese really well.”

[16] Presenter: That’s Sergio Perez, a 39-year-old Macanese filmmaker, who made the video you saw earlier. That music video features an amateur theatre troupe that’s trying to preserve the language by staging a Patua play every year.

[17] Sergio Perez: Old Macau people definitely know about the Macanese. Sometimes, you know, they might think I’m a foreigner, but the moment I start speaking, they’re like, “Okay, this guy’s Macanese.” I do feel the younger generation, they don’t know much about the Macanese.

[18] Presenter: Sonia, who co-founded the theatre troupe in the 90s, says she’ll keep it going.  

[19] Sonia: I think we’re doing something good. Although it’s a dying language, we kind of preserve it for 25 years, and we hope to continue.

[20] Aida’s helper: You’re going to do your nails?

[21] Sonia: She’s going to do her nails.