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By Fredric A. “Jim” Silva, Extract from “All our Yesterday’s / Todo O Nosso Passado”, 1996.


If there is one thing that sets the Filho Macao apart from others it is his secret tongue – the patois of the Sons of Macao. He has this unique ability to communicate verbally with another of the tribe in language that fewer than perhaps 10,000 other people in the whole world can understand. The word shibboleth is defined as “a word or custom or principle regarded as testing a person’s nationality or social class”. Among other things, the patois is a badge of this community. It has been our enduring shibboleth. Filho Macao’s patois evolved. It is not, as generally thought, peculiar to Macao, though no doubt it reached its culmination there, both geographically as the Portuguese travelled East and in terms of its development. It was also known as papiamento, and those who spoke it were said to papia Christao (Christian jabbering). It originated as a sort of pidgin Portuguese and grew in the outposts and settlements as Portuguese explorers and later traders, developed simple basic communication with natives sufficient for their needs. As the Portuguese moved down the settlements on the West Africa Coast and across the Indian Ocean to India, Ceylon, Malacca and beyond, the language travelled and developed and was enriched along the way with a larger vocabulary. Native words were added for newly found Eastern products and processes that could not readily be described otherwise. Though the Portuguese language accounts for a significant part of the patois, it was by no means a one way street because patois in its turn fed back into Portuguese. Both the Portuguese and English languages have been enriched by native words through patois words like, sampan, typhoon, bamboo, catty, amah, coolie and garoupa are among many words that came from the patois.

Basic vocabulary was mainly Portuguese, and it is interesting to find words that are now being used in this patois that are from an earlier age and have since ceased to be used in Portugal. The word azinha meaning hurry is one of these. However the basic difference this patois bears from Portuguese is the simplification of the somewhat complex grammatical system inherent in a Romance language. The careful conjugation of verbs in their tenses in relation to their pronouns has been done away with by the addition of some basic qualifier just as in Chinese. Take for instance the word comer (to eat). Rather than the Portuguese comi and comerei to indicate the past and future tenses, it uses instead Já comer for the past and logo comer for the future. Although English does not share the complexities of conjugated verbs, I like to think that the “already” so beloved by peoples East of the Suez is a similar linguistic ploy to avoid complications. Another interesting grammatical device within the patois is in designating the plural. Simply repeating the singular makes it the plural. This is very common in the Malay language. For instance homen for man and homen homen for men, Of course there is a world of difference in pronunciations. In matters of pronunciation the patois always take the easy way out. There must be compromises in usage to suit native tongues from Malacca to Macao.

There are shades and degrees within the patois. These range from what could be called the broad basics of Filho Macao chapado to more refined efforts that tend to gravitate closer to the original Portuguese.

Members who are interested in patois can hear it preserved and spoken by native speakers on the Macanese Families website and Macanese Library website Members interest in access to this website can email editor and founder Mr Henrique “Quito” d’Assumpção at

On the website are extracts from Papiá Cristám di Macau, José “Adé” dos Santos Ferreira, including some of these playful examples.


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