A glimpse of the East
Visit Macau and Southeast Asia through the eyes of a Portuguese diarist
5 September 2016
Have personal websites and blogs become the 21st century equivalent of writing a diary? Perhaps I’m very old fashioned, but somehow they don’t have the same resonance for me as someone sitting in front of a journal, pen in hand, recording their thoughts and experiences. Or even better, carefully pasting in mementoes of the places they’ve seen or things they have done, perhaps with some sketches illustrating a particular highlight. These little pieces of ephemera or unique hand-drawn impressions can often provide fascinating insights into a location or event, and tell us not only about the individual recording it, but the social and cultural milieu from which they came. This information, rather than the ‘hard facts’ of history, can be a treasure trove for later researchers and a delight for all of us.
The facsimile edition of a diary recently acquired by the Library has become one of my personal favourites for exactly this reason, and also due to its connection with one of our very significant formed collections, the Braga Collection. It is the diary of Filipe Emílio de Paiva, an officer of the Portuguese navy who served for several years on the gunboat Diu during its voyages through Southeast Asia. The Diu travelled from Lisbon in 1901 via Gibraltar, Palermo, Port Said and Aden, arriving in Goa in early December. It stayed there until the end of March 1902, with two brief visits to Bombay. The ship then sailed to Colombo, Singapore and Surabaya, and on to Dili, on the island of Timor at the end of April. After three weeks at Dili the Diu resumed its journey, sailed to Singapore and finally anchored in Macau on 18 June. Three weeks later it sailed through various port cities in China and Hong Kong, returning to anchor in Macau in mid-October. It was then based for some time at the Macau Naval Station.
During the period from 1903-1905, Paiva wrote a diary of some of his experiences in the colony of Macau and in China and Southeast Asia. The diary was of course written in Portuguese. However for non-Portuguese speakers such as myself, there is still much to appreciate because of the other material Paiva included in his journal. There are fascinating pieces of ephemera, photographs, postcards and Paiva’s own original drawings of scenes and people in Macau, China, Singapore and India.
It is apparent that the duties of the Portuguese naval officers and sailors left them plenty of time to enjoy the sights and entertainments of their host city. Paiva’s diary is a delightful collection of “local colour” that provides an historic insight into both those communities and also to how they were viewed by the Portuguese colonisers. It is obvious that Paiva had a particular interest in theatre, spectacle and the performing arts, because many of his drawings and photographs depict actors in costume, processions and performances. I particularly like Paiva’s photo of the procession in honour of Kuang-Tai, and then on the following pages Paiva’s original colourful drawings of the same scene. You can tell he really enjoyed the event and was inspired to record his impressions in his diary. I can almost hear the music playing and see the colourful parade passing by with banners and streamers flying in the breeze.
The visiting cards of Portuguese officers and other expats and dignitaries, the programs, flyers and dinner menus for events attended by Paiva, are a wonderful glimpse into the Portuguese social scene in their Asian outpost.
My particular favourite is a menu that appears to have gravy stains splashed across it – obviously snatched up as a souvenir by Paiva after a good time was enjoyed by all.
While this material shows that the Portuguese retained their love of Western style food and entertainments, Paiva’s drawings and also the photographs he took and postcards he collected indicate that he was intrigued by the ‘exotic’ East—the gambling houses, the street performers, the costumes, the bazaars and also the architecture.
Paiva’s diary was donated by his widow to the Geographical Society of Lisbon, in 1957. Nearly 40 years later it was ‘rediscovered’ by two people doing background research related to the establishment of the Macau Museum, which was opened in 1998. The diary thus came to the attention of the Director of the Museu Marítimo de Macau (Macau Maritime Museum), and they published this facsimile edition of the diary in 1997. The facsimile is a transcription of the original handwritten text, with all of the ephemera, photographs and drawings faithfully reproduced.
Paiva’s connection with Macau didn’t cease when the Diu departed the Macau Naval Station. Several decades later, in 1928, Paiva wrote a novel set in Macau under the pseudonym Emilio San Bruno. Interestingly there is another link here to the Library’s Braga Collection as a copy of this novel O caso da rua Volong : scenas da vida colonial is included in the Braga Collection, and there is a handwritten note on the title page saying that Emilio de San Bruno is the literary pseudonym of Filipe Emílio de Paiva.
Given Paiva’s obvious attraction to the sights and sounds of the East experienced during his time in Macau, China and Southeast Asia, the novel is particularly significant as it demonstrates one of the characteristic traits of colonial literature, that their heroes often had to reconcile a desire for adventure and a certain fascination for the new culture they were in, with their ability to preserve their own cultural identity and authority as representatives of the imperial power.
The plot involves a complicated love triangle, told through the eyes of Paulo, a Portuguese naval officer. The enigmatic Miss Grace, an American, followed a man who had spurned her to Macau with the intention of regaining his love. Once there, Miss Grace falls for the attractions of Mansilla, an elegant gentleman from Macanese high society, who is masquerading as Spanish-American but in reality is a Filipino nationalist and arms smuggler. Danger, intrigue and unrequited love everywhere! I have a feeling there might be more than a little touch of the autobiographical in this novel—perhaps Paiva too was enchanted by the charms of a lady in Macau. I was intrigued to see that one of the drawings in Paiva’s 1903 diary is of the interior of a house at no. 7 Rua do Volong, which depicts a mysterious lady in black and a rather shady looking gentleman.