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Voices on the Verge: Writing from Southeast Asian Creole Languages

October 2021

Krista Nogueras, Exquisite Risk, 2020, gas-fired stoneware and vitrified china.

Image: Krista Nogueras, Exquisite Risk, 2020, gas-fired stoneware and vitrified china.

Our October 2021 issue is devoted to poetry and prose written in five contact languages, or creoles, of Southeast Asia. These languages, most of which are today at risk of extinction, arose out of both intra- and intercontinental linguistic encounters between different language communities, often in the closely connected contexts of trade and colonialism. The seven texts presented here explore the unique cultures and communities that developed alongside these hybrid languages, and many demonstrate a particular preoccupation with themes of heritage and belonging. Writing in Sri Lanka Portuguese, Magin Mario Balthazaar offers two poems on love, leisure, and music; the late poet Francis C. Macansantos, writing in Zamboangueño Chavacano, traces the desperation of a junk dealer and ponders the human relationship to the ocean. Sara Frederica Santa Maria re-creates a chilling Melaka Portuguese folktale she heard as a child, while poets Nironjini Pillay, Shagina Bhalan, Nadarajan Mudalier, and Mahendran Pillay contribute a traditional pantun in Chetti Malay. H. Miguel de Senna Fernandes pays homage to Macau in a poem written in Patuá, and guest editor Stefanie Shamila Pillai takes readers on a lively tour of the historical trade routes and bustling port cities that gave rise to these remarkable languages. With translations by Sara Frederica Santa Maria, Francis C. Macansantos, Nurul Huda Hamzah, Hugo C. Cardoso, Stefanie Shamila Pillai, and H. Miguel de Senna Fernandes.

The Voices of Contact Languages in Asia: An Introduction
By Stefanie Shamila Pillai
For multilingual writers, choosing to write in their heritage languages can be seen as an expression of agency, an active choice to communicate in a nondominant language.
The Gut Demons
By Melaka Portuguese Oral Tradition
“When you go in search of food, you must do so at night, and you must only go with your head and intestines.”
Translated from Melaka Portuguese by Sara Frederica Santa Maria
Eyes of the Wave
By Francis C. Macansantos
Eyes of blue-green watch you, / Dimpled smiles hidden in water.
Translated from Zamboangueño Chavacano by the author
Mr. Marcos (A Soliloquy)
By Francis C. Macansantos
The moon taunts, smiles, / “Come into my parlor, old man.”
Translated from Zamboangueño Chavacano by the author
By Nironjini Pillay, Shagina Bhalan, Nadarajan Mudalier & Mahendran Pillay
We are known as the Chetti of Melaka, / Guardians of tradition and culture.
Translated from Chetti Malay by Nurul Huda Hamzah & Stefanie Shamila Pillai