Friday, July 11, 2008

Festa San Pedro held with great revelry at Portuguese Settlement

TRUE to its billing, the recent Festa San Pedro (Feast of St Peter) at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca was an event filled with tradition, religiosity, gaiety and colour.

The annual, week-long festival, which began with the Festa San Juan on June 23 and culminated with the Festa San Pedro on June 29, offered outsiders a glimpse into the life of this unique community which continues to thrive.

Celebrative: Reverend Father Moses Lui performing the blessing at the recent Festa San Pedro at the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca.

Over 10,000 people, including sons and daughters of Portuguese-Eurasian descent residing in Penang, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Australia, made their way to the village in Ujong Pasir to observe and enjoy the centuries-old feast.

It was a time of music, song, dance, food and merriment with the festivities taking on a carnival-like atmosphere.

Besides the food and souvenir stalls, the event's highlights were the decorated fishing boat contest, the feast-day religious celebrations and the procession of St Peter's statue.

Heritage: Gaily decorated boats lined up to be judged.

The procession and blessing of the boats is a religious event practiced by the community since the early 1930s.

According to the settlement’s regedor (headman) Peter Thomas Gomes, the event was recognized by the state and Ministry of Tourism as a major tourist attraction.

Said Gomes: “The festa upholds St Peter, who is described as the patron saint of fishermen. Its significance dates back to the time when fishing was the main livelihood of residents here, and in Kampung Praya and Kampung Tengah off Jalan Banda Hilir, from the 1930s to the 1960s.

He said in the 1930s and 1940s, three quarters of the settlement’s adult population was involved in fishing and related activities.

He said that things had changed as many younger residents were now working elsewhere.

However, Gomes said there were 20 to 30 die-hards who continued to live off the sea.

“The festa became part and parcel of our lives after our ancestors wholeheartedly took to fishing in the old days. We have a duty to see that the event is kept alive,” he said.

Cultural: Boats lined up for the Best Decorated Boat Contest.

The blessing of the boats is of great significance to the community. Boat owners take pride in cleaning, oiling and decorating their vessels with flags and buntings.

Biblical quotations on scrolls, life-size plywood and cardboard figurines, electric lights, candles and fishing paraphernalia are tastefully used.

The boats are blessed and judged on the final day and cash prizes and hampers are given out.

For the fishermen, the candles signify the light of Christ, which guides them through the storms of life, whether at sea or on land.

The blessing and procession demonstrate a request for God’s grace for a good catch those who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

Long-time resident Alfred De Costa said: “The festival directly or indirectly brings relief to fishermen.

“It is a time to forget their daily grind. During the revelry, the humble fishing folk put aside their grim lives and relive the glory days of their ancestors.”

Besides fishing, trades originating in the settlement include the making of cinchalo (fermented shrimp), karing-karing (dried fish) and belacan (shrimp paste). These appetisers are in great demand around the country and in Singapore.

As Gomes eloquently put it: “During the 130 years of Portuguese rule, the local community inherited a priceless jewel, a heritage beyond monetary value, this being the Portuguese culture and traditions of which Festa San Pedro is part and parcel of.”


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