UJONG PASIR, July 2 — After a hiatus of two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Festa San Pedro is back… and the Eurasian community here are ready to party!

It got off to a roaring start last Wednesday with Portuguese-Eurasian delicacies, drinks, and dancing to music performances by Eurasian bands.

The mood was celebratory and cheers loud enough to challenge the music blasting from the stage speakers could occasionally be heard from the games stalls.

Line-dancing is a must-have activity for the Eurasian community at the Festa San Pedro in Melaka, June 29, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Youngsters like Tasha Erika,18, look forward to it for the entertainment provided.

“It’s a day where everybody has fun,” she said, describing how she gets together with her friends to check out the stalls and to give the DJ song requests.

Her favourite Festa San Pedro memory is dancing in front of the open air stage with her friends.

In the pre-pandemic years, outsiders and tourists would often arrive at the Portuguese Settlement in throngs to join in the party but the elders of the community are cognisant of the festival’s origins as a religious and cultural event.

A procession from the Portuguese Settlement chapel after the Catholic mass officially starts the Festa San Pedro in Melaka, June 29, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

“Most of the Portuguese who settled down here became fishermen. The seas here were so abundant that some even became wealthy as fishmongers,” explained Michael Singho, 67, a long-time president of the Melaka Portuguese-Eurasian Association, which is now under deregistration preview.

The celebration of St Peter, the fisherman patron saint to all fishermen, is a favourite of the mostly Catholic community here but is distinct from other religious observances as it is more of a social event compared to Christmas, for example, which is usually celebrated with close family and friends.

The Portuguese-Eurasian community, also called Kristang, was originally made up of fishermen and the San Pedro celebration emphasises this with traditions such as the blessing of the boats by a priest and the much-awaited boat decoration contest.

The three entries for the Festa San Pedro boat decoration contest in Melaka, June 29, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

“I hope everyone has fun,” Marina Danker, 56, chairman of the Portuguese Settlement Kampung Development and Security Committee said.

The crowd that turned up for the first day of celebrations was bigger than she expected, considering it was a Wednesday.

More people are expected for the rest of the festivities over the weekend, with tourists coming from all over the country to join in the party.

However, she expressed hopes that people remember the festival is ultimately a religious one.

Yet others, such as John Dias, 66, also see it as a day to celebrate the fishermen in the community.

Dias, a part-time fisherman, said that he looks forward to the traditional fishermans’ dinner, an event organised by committee members to provide a free dinner for fishermen and their families.

He especially enjoys the traditional dances during which the fishermen get to dance with their wives — an event that comes along only once a year during this festival.

John Dias portraying St Peter in the boat decoration contest during the Festa San Pedro in Melaka, June 29, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

He was dressed in a robe holding in one hand a golden key — symbolising the key to heaven — and a Bible in the other, representing St Peter as part of the boat decoration contest.

Some of the fishermen wait all year long for the boat decoration competition and spend up to a month in advance planning.

Unfortunately, this year saw only three boats participating in the contest, when previous years saw around 20 boats.

Community activist Martin Theseira speaks about the land reclamation project and its impact on the Melaka Portuguese settlement, June 29, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

The reason for this, according to community activist Martin Theseira, 66, is because of the land reclamation project Melaka Waterfront Economic Zone, which caused the waters along the coastal settlement to be choked with mud, making it hard for the fishermen to bring their boats up to the car park along the shore, where the contest is usually held.

So, it all comes back to the sea, Singho clarified.

He said that the reclamation project has caused the community a host of problems, pollution and water flow issues among them, and it has also forced the fishermen further out to sea to seek their livelihood.

“San Pedro is all about our connection to the sea,” he said. “Without the sea, the spirit of San Pedro will be lost.”