Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Henrique de senna Fernandes, a Macanese institution

Posted by Kimberly on August 13, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
August 13, 2007, page 4 (1,023 words)

Dr Henrique de Senna Fernandes is an institution in Macau. The 83-year-old Macanese lawyer is uniquely poised as a bridge between the Portuguese and Chinese cultures. He is also the only living literary voice in the Macanese community, having published several texts, the most recent of which is A Trança Feiticeira or The Bewitching Braid.
It tells the story of a romance between a Macanese boy, Adozindo, and a Chinese girl, A-Leng, using 1930’s Macau as the historical backdrop.
But more significant than any of that, is the language of his youth, patuá.
“We are all familiar with the language,” he said, adding that it’s a common language among Macanese throughout the world. Even those that speak pure Portuguese can understand patuá, he says.More…
The Macanese that left to live in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other parts of Mainland China have their own patuá.
“Some words are different but as whole we understand each other through that language,” he said.
The language is no longer spoken though, with very few people left in Macau that speak it fluently.
But it’s more than a language, according to Dr Fernandes, who said it’s easy to recognise who is Macanese and who isn’t.
“The way of speaking, the accent and some ways to say the vowels or the consonants,” are all hints to pick up a person’s locality.
According to Dr. Fernandes, the original patuá was the language of women.
He recalled that when the “port navigators” went to Africa and the Orient, they were initially alone. But once established on the coast of Africa, India and Burma, they brought along with them women as slaves.
So while the Portuguese men spoke their native language, so did the women their own, whether it be Indian, Burmese and so forth.
When they spoke to the men, their pronunciations and accents modified the language, distorting the sounds.
As a result, the language spoken to their children was also a melting pot.
“She thinks she’s speaking in Portuguese but its not Portuguese,” said Dr Fernandes.
He added that in the 19th century, every woman in every house spoke patuá, with the men speaking Portuguese as the official language, although they did resort to patuá when at home.
But it wasn’t to last, with the beginning of the 20th century bringing a necessity for learning Portuguese as more and more Portuguese women came to Macau.
“The government in those times were like kings with the protocol and so on,”’ said Dr. Fernandes.
“If you got an invitation to the government house you felt distinguished, you felt elevated,” he said, adding that soon everyone wanted to learn pure Portuguese, slowly erasing patuá.
“Even the Macanese felt ashamed to speak it,” he said, adding that patuá lost its prestige, that people felt embarrassed to speak only that language and so began to forget it.
Asked whether patuá will ever be resurrected as a modern language, Dr Fernandes admitted this is unlikely, because “patuá is not practical.”
“But the interest [in studying the language] is coming, little by little,” he added suggesting that since the transition, the local Macanese are fighting to regain their world.
“Patuá was basically one of the strong foundation of our identity so we can’t forget it,” he said.
Interest in and study of the language has been renewed and revived by the Macanese society, with the Macanese cuisine also being revived.
Dr Fernandes recently went on a trip to Portugal in the hopes of establishing relations with the gastronomic society and assist in the preservation of the cuisine.
“We can’t lose this identity. we are trying now and we can survive,” he said.
“We don’t have 20,000 Macanese here speaking Portuguese or speaking patuá. We are a small community,” he added.
But, said Dr Fernandes, Macau without this community would be the same as Mainland China.
“For me, I love this place. I am 83 years old but I love this place. I think it’s the best city in the world!” he said, adding that everything is nearby and everybody knows everyone else.
He plans on having a party this year to celebrate his next birthday, sometime in October.
“I want to have a big party! I like big parties!” he exclaims.
Asked what he thought about the transition in 1999, he replied that “it was the saddest day of my life,” that the Portuguese flag would no longer be risen again.
“I stayed at home two days. I couldn’t face it…but everything was the same,” he said.
“The transition was so smooth.
“You will never know…what it is like, changing the flag, changing your way of living,” he added.
But he believes that Macau is a miraculous place, recalling how they survived the war.
“The Japanese were surrounding here, making trouble. We had 100 soldiers to defend Macau with a population of 100,000. How could we have survived?” he asked.
He also recalls two years ago, when bird flu struck China and Hong Kong, among other countries.
“Not one case in Macau! How can you explain this?? It,s amazing,” he said.
According to him, even the Chinese believe that Macau is a special place.
So what does the future hold for Dr Fernandes?
“I have a book that I haven’t finished…that’s a pity,” he said, adding that the lapse had been mainly due to the transition and his wife passing away some years ago through a long illness.
“I lost the inspiration and I’m trying now…my sons and daughters are always calling me to finish,” he said.
The book has five chapters so far, but despite the guilt he feels about the lack of an ending, nothing has eventuated.
Such is his popularity though, that a visual book on his life has been produced in Portuguese with images supplied by the lawyer himself.
Asked his thoughts on whether he feels such things make him an important man, he said, “no, but I think some people in Macau, they consider me as a very important man, a representative of the Macanese.
“I enjoy very much this position,” he said.

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