Macau, China – Portuguese in China (and the World)? The Lusophonia Festival in Macau – by Marin Ekstrom. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[A Brazilian mannequin dressed similarly to national icon Carmen Miranda]
[The brightly lit entryway to Lusophonia]
Macau, one of China’s key special administrative centers that is nestled close to the country’s southeastern Guangdong Province, is most famous (or infamous) for its behemoth gambling industry. Yet beside the glitzy façade of being China’s answer to Las Vegas, Macau has a deeply complex yet fascinating history. It had actually been under Portuguese colonial rule for hundreds of years, and the influence is still heavily visible on the city’s make-up. Bilingual Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese language signs dot the city streets. Plus, with Macau’s narrow cobblestone streets and countless cafes serving olive tapanades and wine and cheese platters, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that you were not in Lisbon.
[Statues and carvings at the Mozambique booth]
[My friends Abi, Tony, and I at Lusophonia]
Macau further displays its Portuguese heritage with Lusophonia, an annual celebration of all things Portuguese and/or Portuguese-influenced. The event features a series of activities, such as music and dance shows and tug-of-war competitions, to create a festive yet relaxed atmosphere. My friends and I first toured an early 20th century Macanese house museum, which showcased the combination of Cantonese and Portuguese cultural influences in small, mundane details. For example, the house featured several displays of saints and religious figures arranged and decorated on small tables in several rooms of the house. While this is not an unheard of practice in Catholicism, the way that some of them were arranged in the Macanese house, along with the side decorations (i.e. fruits, candles, etc.), seemed reminiscent of the numerous Cantonese and Chinese traditional ancestral shrines that I had previously encountered. After checking out the museum and musing on what it showed about the history of Macau, we headed to the biggest draw of the event: the food and craft vendors. They represented a spectrum of goodies from Portuguese-speaking nations all over the world. Like most people, I easily recognized the Brazilian stand, but was really surprised to see the geographic range of countries represented. The booths included everything from Mozambique (a country situated on the east coast of Africa), Sao Tome and Principe (an island off the west coast of Africa), and Timor-Leste (a Maritime Southeast Asian nation that only gained sovereignty from Indonesia in 2002). We circled around and took in the sights, smells, and tastes, munching on Macanese egg tarts and Brazilian chocolate truffles while we admired Mozambican wood statues and Timorese batiks…and making one too many pilgrimages to the free sangria being offered at the Portugal stand. After thoroughly checking everything out, we made our way back to Zhuhai and Mainland China, having felt sufficiently satisfied to learn a bit more about Macau and its identity.
[A more traditionally Cantonese/ Chinese home shrine]
[A more traditionally Portuguese Catholic home shrine]
[The exterior of the Taipa-Houses Museum]
[Interior of the Taipa Houses-Museum, a turn-of-the-century Portuguese-Macanese home]
Looking back at the event, I harbor a bit of mixed feelings. At first I thought it was a fun and frothy way to honor Portuguese culture. Afterwards, I realized that Lusophonia could be seen as a celebration of colonialism. Despite the potentially negative implications, the plain reality is that many of these countries have been historically influenced by Portugal (by both force and free will), and that interaction is heavily visible in their cultures and practices today. Thus, I think the event wanted to emphasize the countries’ contemporary identities and introduce people to places they may have never known much about otherwise—thus serving as a springboard to learn more about all the facets of these nations as a whole. All in all, the event not only served as a light history and socio-cultural lesson, but also was probably a better way to get acquainted with Macau than losing all of our money at the slots machines. And for that, we extend a hearty “Obrigado (Thank you)”! to the Lusophonia experience!
[The iconic Ruins of St. Paul in Macau]
[A more traditionally Cantonese/ Chinese home shrine]
Marin Ekstrom serves as senior editor for The North Star Reports
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