Lingering issues at Portuguese Settlement

Lingering issues at Portuguese Settlement

by Michael Singho

coastline at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca has been transformed by the implementation of its urban renewal development programme (URDP) since 2003.

With the bulk of its RM38 million funding coming from

federal funds (RM28 million from the Tourism Ministry) and the rest from a loan agreement with the Malacca Government, the Portuguese Settlement literally grew by another 6 acres (2.4ha), with land reclaimed from the sea. Of this, 3 acres now house the Hotel Lisbon and the rest a car park, a food court and a playground. The funds also covered upgrading of the Portuguese Square.

The main purpose of the URDP was to enhance the settlement as a tourism attraction and further top its potential in this industry. This in turn could bring further benefits to the community in terms of jobs and business opportunities.

There are, however, two glaring situations that need to be looked into seriously. One sticks out like a sore thumb and serves as a spoiler to the otherwise good reception of the URDP, while the other longs for the realisation of what is inarguably long overdue.

The first revolves around Hotel Lisbon. The building initially planned as a cultural complex, housing bazaar lots and a budget hotel, is designed like a “Fortelezza” (Portuguese port). It has the required features and elements that blend and fit with the “Portuguese” concept of the surroundings.

It is the main feature of the URDP of the Portuguese Settlement and anticipated to be one of the major areas of participation from the Portuguese community, considering the general purpose of this programme, that is to provide job opportunities (to the members of the Portuguese community) through provisions and activities radiating from their own turf and from the marketable traits of their own living heritage.

They possess the natural priorities to be the main beneficiaries of this programme and its spin-offs and deserve the right to enjoy the major portion of this particular cake.

The chief minister during the groundbreaking ceremony announced the purpose of the URDP, aimed to benefit the residents and the members of the Portuguese community in general.

The Hotel Lisbon, however, tells another tale.

To start with, when the cultural complex metamorphosed into a hotel, opportunities to run the intended bazaar lots/stalls disappeared altogether.

What followed was the acute alienation of the community, in the ownership, equity, management or operation of this hotel.

Even as employees their participation was minimal and fell along the ranks of kitchen helps, receptionists or security guards even though they possess a natural flair and a wide spectrum of talents in the hospitality business.

With such a pool of talent, experience and skills, there should hardly be a shortage of the human resources required to run a budget hotel.

The Hotel Lisbon with its name explicitly in tow, and situated in the cradle of the Malaysian Portuguese Eurasian Society, is managed by a nasi kandar entrepreneur and of course serves as its main cuisine, nasi kandar.

Though exquisitely appetising this Penang speciality sits agonisingly out of sync in such a clearly defined theme and setting. It is like offering Punjabi cuisine as the main spread in a Minangkabau themed hotel in the middle of Rembau.

To add insult to injury the hotel restricts the sale of beers, wines and alcoholic beverages.

This is offensive as it imposes upon an inherent social feature where wines, beers and alcoholic beverages find fond indulgence, and are regarded customary within the context of Portuguese culture.

Capitalising on the Portuguese theme but altering the portrayal of some of its social characteristics and mannerisms is rather disrespectful and subjugatory even.

In fact whatever is relative about the hotel ends with its name and its building. Beyond that, it serves as an indignation that does not complement the overall surroundings except to, perhaps exploit it.

If the operator (of the hotel) is restricted by certain obligations that may collide or do not permit him free and total observance of the complexities and intricacies of Portuguese culture especially so when set within a conceptualised design and corresponding environment, then he should not have involved himself in such an endeavour.

Besides, the powers that be should have had the common sense of rejecting his offer and awarding the job to the party that deserves it most and make the most of it, that is the pedigree themselves; the Portuguese community. If a certain degree of affirmative action is required to assist them in this endeavour, then it is only fair and obligatory that they receive such assistance from the party concerned, and in this case, the state government itself.

Things have to be put right before the Hotel Lisbon descends into the depths of a mockery and becomes a subject of ridicule to its supposedly intended markets (ie tourists, both domestic and foreign) as well as to simmer down the growing feeling of resentment and disillusionment within the community towards this portion of the urban renewal programme that has engulfed one third of their coastline but leaves them reduced to a legion of mere bystanders on matters associated with it.

Though this string of development appears to transform the Portuguese Settlement into a tourism-friendly cultural village there is still one fundamental even compulsory feature that is conspicuously missing.

This incidentally is the other situation that needs to be highlighted. The feature concerned is a church. A church in the settlement is long overdue. Sunday Mass and other religious activities are held at the community hall, where its small capacity and nearness to restaurants, pubs and food outlets made it an inappropriate venue for religious services.

This author through his administration of the Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Association, has pursued this issue, for a long time. After years of an awareness drive and the eventual support of the regedor and his administration, it then came to the attention of the chief minister. Then at a political ceramah held last year, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Ali Rustam gave an encouraging response towards having a church in the settlement.

A long lull followed after the elections, then unexpectedly, earlier this year, a report appeared in the southern edition of the Star quoting Cheek Choon Sin the former head of Japerum that a RM10 million project for a church in the settlement was on the cards and awaiting approval from the federal government. Then, that was it. There has since been no news on the matter.

During that span, the settlement saw the building of the food court and a walk-way. Why is it that the realisation of a church in the settlement does not enjoy the same kind of attention and action? The settlement without a church is an anomaly that requires serious and urgent attention. Being staunch Roman Catholics many of the community’s cultural and traditional observances revolve around the church and carry age-old religio-cultural significance.

Besides nourishing and strengthening these (religio-cultural) pulses the church with its serene tranquillity provides the spiritual sanctuary, moral guidance and inculcation of social values, to face, withstand and place in check whatever negative influences or social challenges that may come.

The best location for the church should be along the coastal fringes on the left, away from the noise and busy goings-on of the commercially featured right. This location will accentuate the serenity of the church, with an atmosphere soothing to both mass congregation as well as quiet reflection. It should also be equipped within its surrounding perimeters, facilities for religious classes, counselling and fellowship and sufficient space for parking.

A church with Iberian designs, located by the sea will fit into the enclave’s historically and traditionally imbued identity and will be a fitting completion to a Portuguese cultural village.

This ample RM38 million urban renewal of the Portuguese Settlement is a valued opportunity. It is only proper that this programme does not deviate from its intended objectives and hijacked of its main purpose to uplift the lives of the community and sustain, conserve and enhance its unique and intangible heritage.

The federal and state governments, I believe had the best interests of the community in mind and should be commended for this development programme. Their good intentions should not be allowed to suffer any form of adulteration, that may result in their losing precious support and appreciation.

Michael Singho is president of the Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Association.

***********************This is a classic case of a typical White Elephant*******
During my stay in Melaka for about 45 days, I have never seen a customer staying in the Lisbon Hotel. It is a freaking Joke!!!
I’ll be taking my walk almost every day and I passed thru the Hotel and all the doors are closed . The architecture settings of the hotel is so poorly configured. There is a middle court, big enough to hold a freaking circus but so under-use–so wasteful.
As the article said and I have talked to many of the Portuguese folks, the owner of the hotel does not give a “shit” to the community-“the acute alienation of the community”–
This is a classic case of the Govt knows best but in fact knows shit ….FOR GOD SAKE, let the Portuguese community run their own show and let them run the Hotel!!


  1. All your observations are correct…however the problem or malaise is deeper and more complex. In simple terms some members of the government would like to see the end of the Portuguese culture and what better method than the current application of a slow but methodical elimination of their identity and self determination.Beginning with the reclamation of the land, the elimination fishing as a way of life, their cultural heritage and the promise of the land they have occupied for countless years [care of the British Government]as free hold. I have observed these changes since 1971…how do you cook a frog? Oh yes this year is their 500 anniversary, Kampung Baru in KL is 111 and they are celebrating I won’t bother quoting the entire news article however Ishak stated [in part] “to remember the struggles of the people in defending a village that had once administered by the colonialists”. Nothing has been planned for the Settlement who played a very large part in establishing trade in Malaysia. Great care must be taken that history does not become stilted and monopolized…bet that won’t happen.

  2. Pingback: Rhymiaq
  3. Generally I do not read article on blogs, but I would like to
    say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do it!

    Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thanks, quite great post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *