The Kristang heritage, a culture unique to Malacca, arose between the 16th and 17th century when the city was a port and the base of the Portuguese Empire. A creole ethnic group of people of mixed European and Malaccan descent, the Kristang community largely originated during the age of Portuguese exploration. Malacca, then Portugal's main hub of commerce on the lucrative spice route, welcomed weary travellers, mostly sailors, traders and soldiers, many of whom married local native women. Their descendants marked the beginning of the Kristang community, mainly of Portuguese descent though many also have a strong Dutch heritage, as well as some British, Chinese and Indian ancestry; over generations creating their own culture, language and customs.
As a coastal city and thriving port, cross-cultural marriages were not uncommon and as generations passed, this not only resulted in the Kristangs but also the Peranakans. These distinct communities are a legacy of another time; of entwined cultures; of intermingled religions, languages and customs; of cuisine combining the best of several worlds; of ceremonies, feasts and festivals that live on in family scrapbooks and through stories passed down over the centuries to today's descendants.
The locally popular love ballad, Dondang Sayang is perhaps the quintessence of Malacca's unique intermingling of cultures. Originating in the city several hundred years ago, Dondang Sayang is a traditional Malay form of entertainment influenced by Portuguese folk music. Informal, light hearted and often humorous, Baba (male) and Nyonya (female) Peranakan singers exchange improvised Malay poetry against a melodic live instrumental backdrop.
A walk through Malacca will transport anyone back to the golden age of this colonial town that served as a link for East and West all those centuries ago. Its succession of rich cultural influences are still evident in its city centre, a vibrant testimony to its unique living multi-cultural heritage that continues to thrive to this day.