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Say 'teng bong' to S'pore's first Kristang language festival

SINGAPORE — The first Kristang Language Festival, which takes place this weekend, aims to celebrate the language’s heritage while also showcasing what it means to be Eurasian in Singapore.

Say 'teng bong' to S'pore's first Kristang language festival

The organisers and volunteers with the promotional material for Singapore's first festival for the fast disappearing heritage language of the Portuguese-Eurasian community known as Kristang. Photo: Sandra Galistan

SINGAPORE — The first Kristang Language Festival, which takes place this weekend, aims to celebrate the language’s heritage while also showcasing what it means to be Eurasian in Singapore.

The event, to be held this Saturday and Sunday at the Asian Civilisations Museum, is helmed by National University of Singapore linguistics student Kevin Martens Wong, 24, who has been on a mission to increase use of the Kristang language here.

Kristang, which dates back some 500 years, is the heritage language of the Portuguese-Eurasian community. Passed down by oral means, it was likely created when Portuguese settlers in Malacca married local Malay residents.

The Kristang festival will feature talks on the history of the language from experts from around the region, and detail the wider efforts to revitalise the use of Kristang in the region.

Panellists include Dr Chua Ai Lin, president of the Singapore Heritage Society; Ms Sara Santa Maria and Ms Elisabela Larrea, representatives of the language’s revitalisation efforts in Malacca and Macau; and Ms Joan Margaret Marbeck, one of the last authors who write in Kristang.

“We chose to organise a festival celebrating the language’s history and place in Singapore in order to raise public awareness and consciousness about languages like Kristang, and develop in all Singaporeans an awareness of and respect for the value of the heritage of our different races and ethnic communities,” said Wong, who is Eurasian-Chinese.

Kristang was once commonly used in Singapore around the Katong, Joo Chiat and Frankel Avenue areas. However, because it was considered a “broken” language, it began to die out around the 1930s, Wong said.

He shared some phrases in the language, such as “teng bong” for “hello”, “bong pamiang” for “good morning”, and “fikah bong-bong” for “stay well”.

For Wong, the beauty of Kristang lies in its status as a hybrid language that arose from interactions between the Portuguese and Malay people, and one that reflects the histories, traditions and world views of two different groups of people.

Other highlights at the inaugural Kristang festival will include a Eurasian Stories segment, in which Eurasians will offer their opinion on their “different experiences of what it means to be Eurasian in Singapore”.

According to Wong, “many Singaporeans still do not really have a good idea of who Eurasians are”. Almost all of the people featured in the stories have had their citizenship or their ties to Singapore questioned in the past, and that “occasionally results in a sense of alienation and dissonance from society”, he added.

“Through Eurasian Stories and the festival, therefore, we are trying to bridge that gap and help more Singaporeans gain greater clarity about what it means to be Eurasian, (and get to know about) the community’s longstanding place in Singapore’s history and multicultural fabric,” he said.

Participants will also be able to explore Singapore’s wider linguistic diversity in the Languages of Singapore Trail, which will host speakers fluent in more than a dozen community languages such as Boyanese, Bugis, Hainanese, and Malayalam.

Language reflects our diverse heritage, said Wong. “I want people to recognise the beautiful stories the generations before us have to share; and for people to recognise why these stories should be preserved and reinvigorated for the generations that will come after,” he said.

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