The shades of Being Eurasian and Its Reverberations among The Community in Malaysia

Authors: Tan Raan-Hann (Institute of Malaysian & International Studies, The National University of Malaysia, Malaysia)
Silvio Moreira De Sousa (Macau University of Science and Technology, Macau)
Speakers: Tan Raan-Hann, Silvio Moreira De Sousa
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


This paper is an attempt to unravel the complexities of terms and notions that concern the people of mixed European and Asian descents in Malaysia. The Portuguese arrival in the Malay Archipelago in the sixteenth century gave birth to the first Eurasian community in the region. Historically, they were referred to by different terminologies and were categorized under different categories. The communities now have labels such as ‘Kristang’, ‘Serani’, or ‘Eurasian,’ all commonly used interchangeably in academic publications, whereas their heritage language has been known as “Bahasa Serani”, “Papia Kristang” or “Malacca Creole Portuguese”. However, these designations referring to the people and/or their language have been object of debate among the Eurasians in Malaysia, with various individuals and groups from different regions (e.g. Melaka, Penang, Selangor, and Kuala Lumpur) holding different point-of-views, thus raising questions like: How the colonial legacy shapes (or shaped) the usage of the terms? In what way can a rebuttal of these terms be considered as a counter-colonial reaction or a more nationalistic view? The discourses point to the larger issues, such as social-economic class, ethnicity, language, and (national, religious, cultural, social) identities.

Combining historical linguistics, online research of social media discussions, and social anthropological perspectives, this paper argues that these terms act as xenonyms and autonyms that have evolved over time and varied according to different geographical contexts; thus, there are different shades (or nuances) to what makes an Eurasian.

Keywords: Eurasian, Linguistic Anthropology, Kristang, 19th-century dictionaries, Malaysia