Call the chilli by any other name!!

Portuguese-based Creole of Damao came closest to Standard Portuguese in the seven years or so preceding the liberation in 1961 during the time the Portuguese troops camped in Daman. This is also the period when the Indo-Portuguese culture leaned more on the European side, again, as a result of the influence of the troops and their families.
Further, this happened more in Small Daman than Big Daman as most of the troops and their families lived there. Also, almost all of the elite of Damanense society lived in Small Daman. It was the elite of that time that interacted most with the ‘White’ officers and their families. Hence the slight difference in the Portuguese of Small Daman and Big Daman.

Even the same dishes are named differently in Small Daman and Big Daman, eg., a common fish dish is called, ‘Coco manteiga’ in Small Daman and ‘Caldo doce’ in Big Daman; a Christmas sweet is called, ‘Teia de aranha’ in Small Daman and ‘Aranha do ceu’ in Big Daman; a blossom is called, ‘flora de ice cream’ in Small Daman and ‘Coco ralado’ in Big Daman; a roadside flower is called, ‘Flora de ardoza’ in Small Daman and ‘Flora de Virgem Maria’ in Big Daman. (Excuse the spellings:)

When the Portuguese left in 1961, there was an exodus of the locals too, mostly from Small Daman when most of the elite left. Big Daman became the new seat of Indo-Portuguese culture by default – it had more catholics and it’s original creole and Indo-Portuguese culture was not affected much during the last seven years of the Portuguese as Small Daman was.

But the language is certainly not dying despite the convent school discontinuing Portuguese as a second language and more and more Goan priests who do not know the language being posted in Daman not to mention the large numbers of south Indian Christians in Small Daman. The number of people speaking Portuguese as their mother tongue may be declining for the simple reason that they’re migrating to the UK and definitely not because they’re switching to another language as has happened in other parts of India where P’guese based creole was spoken. Not only that – quite a few traders/shop-keepers in Big Daman who migrated to Daman (Rajashtanis being the most prominent) as recently as five years ago, speak Portuguese with their Portuguese-speaking customers!

Well, for good or for bad, Damanense Portuguese says it best – people feel they heard a ‘real’ mass when it’s said in P’guese and nothing could give them more satisfaction than using a P’guese swear word… the English SOB is a sob before it’s P’guese translation. And there’s a variation that was used by the Pguese to name a local chilli!!

3 replies
  1. yasho
    yasho says:


    Suneetha here… nice meeting u again.

    My mother tongue is Malayalam, and recently, on a research spree for an article on the Portuguese-built forts in Kerala, I hit upon several Malayalam words we commonly use as of Portuguese-origin. It was a real surprise because these words are so common that one cannot imagine them to be any other language.

    I just wanted to check this with you. Starting with verandah usedc

    Here is a list
    English Portuguese Malayalam
    Jackfruit Jaka Chakka
    Mango Manga Manga
    Onion Cebola Sabola
    Orange Narinja Naranga
    Cashew Caju Cashew
    Teak Teca Thekk
    Almirah Armario Alamari
    Window Janela Janal
    Table Mesa Mesha
    Chair Cadeira Kasera
    Sugar Asucar Sarkara ( actually molasses rather than sugar)

    Is this right? I mean are the Portuguese words right counterparts of the English ones?


  2. Jose Horta
    Jose Horta says:

    Most of the words quoted by yasho and other Portuguese languages are used in other Indian languages like Bengali, where bucket is baldi.

    Don’t forget that Portuguese lexicon creole of Cabo Verde became the lingua franca in India and East Asia during the XVI to XVII centuries. After São Francisco Xavier, Dutch and English missionaries had to learn it.


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