The Kristang of Malaysia and the burying of their heritage

The Kristang fisherfolk sing about the sea while the reclamation projects and white elephant projects of Melaka continue to erode their culture and identity away
Stanley Chin and Martin Theseira

The Kristang is a unique 500-year-old Portuguese culture in Melaka, Malaysia, which has been slowly drowned by reclamation and development projects by their shores since the 70s. In the last few years, however, another megaproject called Melaka Gateway has driven the nails into their coffins. Led locally by Malaysian company KAJ, in partnership with state-owned Chinese energy firm PowerChina, Melaka Gateway was touted to be “the forefront flagship in support of the One Belt, One Road Initiative initiated by the People’s Republic of China,” according to China’s Minister of Transport

The Kristang community protested due to the negative impact of the project on the marine environment, the fishing community, and cultural heritage of the Kristang – many of community’s sea-based rituals can no longer be performed. They fought against the project on the ground that there was no proper Environmental Impact Assessment and Social Impact Assessment done. Towards the end of 2020, the state government halted the project. However, talks have restarted recently about possibly reviving parts of it.

The Kristang of Malaysia and the burying of their heritage (2021)


This video illustrates the livelihood, rituals, and nature that the Kristang community used to enjoy before the sea reclamation for Melaka Gateway. Accompanied by Kristang songs, we sense the sadness and loss experienced by them as their culture slowly dies.

(With English and Chinese subtitles)

This illustrated story is commissioned by Innovation for Change – East Asia. It is part of the project ‘Stories of the Impact of China’s BRI’, which features eight stories about communities who are severely impacted by projects that fall under China’s BRI or other Chinese-led development. For each story, we brought together a local community partner and an artist/storyteller. The local community partner did the research and analysis of the issues at stake for their community. After that, the artist/storyteller, with the guidance of a story curator, turned the research into a story. Featuring stories from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, this project aims to show the range of adverse impacts brought on by developments that do not listen to the concerns of the affected communities. In amplifying their voices, we hope they can be heard.


Video & Art by Stanley Chin

Story & Research by Martin Theseira


视频及艺术: Stanley Chin

调研及故事撰写: Martin Theseira

Stanley Chin is an Architecture Design graduate who works presently as a graphic designer. He is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

Martin Theseira is a Kristang fisherman, guide, and activist of the Portuguese Community of Melaka, Malaysia. He is also the chair of Save the Portuguese Community Action Committee. Since 1974, when he was only 18, Martin has been vocal in protesting against land reclamation projects of Melaka that are threatening his Kristang heritage and its 500-year-old history.


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