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Life in Melaka’s Portuguese settlement

The villagers work hard throughout the day and enjoy some light moments afterwards despite their concerns over looming development and the future of their settlement.

Djohan Shahrin
3 minute read
The Portuguese settlement in Ujong Pasir, Melaka, has been home to the community since the 16th and 17th century.
The Portuguese settlement in Ujong Pasir, Melaka, has been home to the community since the 16th and 17th century.
A map of the area is carved on a monument stone saying that it has been gazetted under the Preservation and Conservation of Cultural Heritage Enactment 1988.
Most of the settlers are fishermen, whose main problem now is the development in the area, including the Melaka Gateway project which has caused a major drop in their catch.
An aerial view of Portuguese Square leading out to the sea shows how the water has become more shallow, especially when the tide goes out. There are also concerns that the Melaka Gateway project will obscure the ocean view.
Some 1,500 people live in the Ujong Pasir Portuguese settlement, which started out with just 180 houses in 1930.
The shallow waters have forced the fishermen to build new docks at Sungai Parit Cina.
There, they moor their small wooden boats which they use to bring back their catch each day.
One of them, Baboi, removes his day’s catch from his nets while chatting with his friend Martin Theseira, who has long spoken out on behalf of the settlers about their troubles.
Other fishermen do the same in their boats, carefully removing each fish and prawn from their nets.
A customer leaves with a bag full of fish which he has bought fresh from the fishermen at the pier.
Back on dry land, a fisherman sorts through his catch to fulfil a customer’s order.
Theseira helps him lift a crate full of fish onto the back of his motorcycle to be delivered to his waiting customers.
Villagers spend a quiet afternoon enjoying a cold drink and a chat with their friends.
Outside, another settler hangs flags along a fence ahead of the Melaka state election this weekend.
Soon, entire neighbourhoods such as this are festooned with the flags of the various political parties contesting the election.
Billboards featuring the faces of candidates also go up, an important part of the campaign this time as physical events have been banned due to Covid-19.
An elderly man cycles beneath a small army of flags which have been put up in the Portuguese settlement.
Children play a game of futsal at a field in the settlement area.
At a small coffee shop in town, a customer enjoys a quiet meal after the lifting of restrictions on dine-in activities.
At another table, a woman sorts through vegetables to be chopped up and cooked for the next meal.
Theseira chats with a handful of villagers about the current events and developments in their community.
At other eateries in the area, customers are sparse as concerns remain high over Covid-19.
Eager to attract more customers, restaurant staff armed with menus have a friendly squabble over new arrivals at the car park.
Back at the square, Theseira gazes out over the water as he worries about the future of his small community.
As night falls, the scene becomes more lively as villagers greet their friends at coffee shops.
Some settlers looking for dinner opt for the local bistro where Christmas decorations are already up. There, they also enjoy alcoholic beverages and Western music.
The owner, Andrew De Mello, also entertains his customers with live music. In addition to running the restaurant, he like so many others is a fisherman as well.
The bright lights overhead lend a festive mood as the music continues and the settlers enjoy a brief respite from their daily concerns.