2013 Macanese Survey – Early Results

September 13th, 2013 2 Comments

(Revision: Since the completion of this survey in 2013, we have revised the population estimate based on a large number of Macanese family names that have recently been discovered by genealogists. As a result, the 2012 and 2013 surveys will be used as indicators of family size based on the responses of Macanese who answered the question about the number of extended family members. See the new population estimate HERE.)


The 2013 survey was designed to estimate the size and assess the profile of the Macanese community by using the responses as a representative sample of the total number of registered Casa de Macau members, which club presidents reported to be approximately 5,000.[1] Here’s some early results.

Defining “Macanese”

As we review the responses, it is important to understand the reasoning behind some key questions. The first one allowed us (my colleagues and I) to define what we mean by “Macanese”.  It reads:

1.This survey is designed to assess the size and profile of the “Macanese” population around the world. We define “Macanese” broadly as: Anyone who is a descendant of mixed-race Portuguese from Asia with roots in China and India, and specifically in Goa, Macau, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Canton, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Timor. Your ancestors need not be from Macau, but there should be an ethnic connection in your family to the Portuguese in Asia during the last 500 years.

Yes, this description fits …..          No, I’m not in this group …..


The statement outlines a more historically accurate definition of “Macanese” than has appeared in the past. It is based on linguistic and anthropological evidence which suggests that by 1600 (about 50 years after Macau was settled) most Portuguese in Asia were not ethnic Europeans, but racially-mixed Portuguese with family ties in China, India, and other Portuguese trading ports in Southeast Asia. This was a direct result of the way trade developed in the region.

When Macau became a trading center (and a gateway to the Chinese interior), the passage of ships between Macau, Malacca (modern day Malaysia and Singapore), the Philippines, Timor and Japan also created a regular migration of people between these ports. The result was a high degree of cultural exchange. One of the most significant developments was the emergence of the Macanese language in both Macau and on the Malaccan peninsula, which is still evident today in Malaysia. This suggests that several hundred years ago Macanese descendents may not have only lived in Macau, but also in other trading ports we listed.

In 2013 the identification of “Macanese” as only those whose ancestors were from Macau may ultimately be a decision made by governments. But if we take the long view, cultural and ethnic origins are not defined by politicians or borders. Instead many other factors have historically tied Macanese together, including trade, language, religion, and family. Each of these variables was incorporated into the definition we used.

Results: Despite one reservation, nearly everyone (98.8%) who filled out the survey agreed that the description we use fits their particular ethnic origins, checking the first box above. In fact, some respondents indicated in other parts of the survey that their ancestors settled in other trading ports, including Malaysia and India, suggesting that the broader definition may be accurate.


Family Size and an Estimate of the Population

The next question is less controversial, but critical to obtaining an estimate of the Macanese population today. Realizing that Macanese families have always been large, the survey asks each respondent to tell us the size of their own families. Here’s the question we asked:

6. How Many Living Relatives Do You Estimate are in Your Current Immediate and Extended Family?   5-10…  11-15…  16-20…  21-25…  26-30…  31-35…

If more than 35, please give an exact number (box included)

This question is used for two reasons. First, it would be difficult and expensive to conduct a traditional census with such a far flung population over multiple time zones and continents. Secondly, the assumption was that Casa de Macau members are best suited to estimate the number of their own immediate and extended family members. Lacking other means, we chose to use family size as a multiplier to reach our estimate of the population.[2]

Results: Based on family size as reported by Casa de Macau members, we ultimately surveyed 183,415 Macanese around the world, allowing us to estimate a population of about 1.5 million. This estimate includes descendants of Macanese members of Casa de Macau diaspora organizations, but does not include others outside of these organizations who remain uncounted.[3]  Interestingly, 81% of the Macanese we counted have between 28 and 91 living family members, which seems to conform to current perceptions.

Other results from the 2013 survey suggest more surprising developments within the community.


Age: Responses by Generation

There is an indication that more 3rd generation Macanese (42% with an average age of 44.5 years) are responding, in contrast to 70% over the age of 55 in 2012 who completed the  survey. This new development may be the result of better awareness. It also could suggest that those who left Hong Kong and Macau following the Communist riots in 1966 and 1967 are becoming more active in the community.

Results: Overall, the number of younger members who responded is greater than in 2012. That is, the combined number of 3rd and 4th generation respondents [4] (51.8%) is now more than the number of the 1st and 2nd  generation (48.2%) who answered. In the 2102 survey, the older generations accounted for 68% of the responses, as opposed to 32% among younger respondents. This may indicate that a generational shift is occurring within the Macanese community through an expression of interest in learning more about their history and culture. Another indication of higher interest may be use of the Macanese patua by community members, as we see below.


Speaking or Understanding “Lingu Maquista”, the Macanese Patua

Amid reports that the Macanese language is almost extinct, it seemed prudent to inquire how many people currently speak or understand it. We were given some indication that those reports may be inaccurate based on the high number of “hits” to two videos on Far East Currents.com by Professor Armando (Pinky) da Silva, who spoke in the patua. A question about the Macanese language and the number of users also may indicate whether it is being transferred to younger generations.

So, a new question was introduced in 2013:

7. Do you or any of your relatives speak or understand the Macanese patua (“Lingu Maquista”)?  If yes, please tell us how many. (box included)

Results: Respondents reported that 62.7% of their family members, or they personally, speak or understand the Macanese language. Moreover, a tally of those who gave a specific number indicate that at least 443 Macanese are able to speak or understand the Lingu Maquista. While we cannot project this number to the larger community, the results may support an argument that the reports of the language’s demise have been exaggerated. Whether this holds true in later years remains to be seen.

Finally, let me outline three other responses.


Cultural Identification

In the 2012 survey we asked “To which cultural group do you most identify ?”. The choices were admittedly a little redundant: Portuguese, Macanese, Portuguese-Macanese, Chinese, Eurasian, and Other. Most people (84%) chose one of the first three, but were probably confused by the “Portuguese-Macanese” label. This year we eliminated that choice and added others according to our definition of Macanese in question #1. The new selection included: Portuguese, Macanese, Chinese, Eurasian, Indian, European, and Other.

Results: The majority of those responding (69.4%) chose “Macanese”, in contrast to 2012 when only 39% selected this option. This year we also noticed that 23.5% chose “Portuguese”, while 12.9% chose “Eurasian” as a cultural identification. In 2012 the percentage of “Eurasian” was 15%, while 11% identified as “Portuguese”.  Also, this year a small number (1.2%) identified themselves as “Indian”, suggesting that some in the community continue to have roots in the sub-continent.

It will be interesting to see if those who selected “Macanese” are in the younger generations, which we can verify in the final results. If this turns out to be the case, it would confirm that there is a change occurring among some Casa de Macau members. Many more could now be identifying themselves culturally as Macanese, which is a marked change from years past.


Country of Origin

Family ties to Asia and Europe also seem to be strong. In 2013 we ask “From which country did your parents or grandparents originate ?”, and provide a number of choices: Portugal, Goa, Macau, Hong Kong, China-Shanghai, China-Canton, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Timor. Again, this is in line with our broader definition of “Macanese”.

Results: The majority answered: Macau (39.8%), Hong Kong (34.9%), and Shanghai (14.5%). However, a small number (1.2%) selected Malaysia, suggesting once again that Macanese may have migrated to this region of Southeast Asia.[5]


Technology: Ways to Stay Connected

The last results are the ways Casa de Macau members communicate. This was another new question for 2013, which asked: “Which do you have access to? “: E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Smartphone. The purpose of this question is to assess the potential for maintaining contacts within community, which we suspect is changing along with the Casa de Macau membership. We also want to determine the impact of social media and internet-ready smartphones. The results suggest new methods of contact that Casa de Macau organizations may consider in the future.

Results: As suspected, the great majority (98.8%) use e-mail. However, many also use Facebook (71.1%), which has crossed generational lines. Less than a majority (42.2%) now use smartphones, which makes sense because instant messages can be sent from social media sites to new phones. A smaller group (22.9%) also uses Twitter, a short text (140 characters) social media site popular with younger generations.

The use of each platform is probably skewed toward younger groups, but it will be interesting to see how many respondents use them all. Our guess is that most members of the community who use Facebook and Twitter also have smartphones, but not everyone with a smartphone uses all three. Having the capability to reach Casa de Macau members in all four groups is probably the best strategy going forward



As you can see from the early results, the 2013 survey is yielding some very rich data, providing important insights about our community across the globe. And despite the distance of time and geography, many Macanese remain interested in their culture.

[1] Prior to distributing the survey, fourteen (14) Casa de Macau presidents and Macanese organization directors were asked to provide a count of their members. The ten who responded and others who I contacted later were able to estimate the number of missing members, resulting in a total membership of 4,991 in 2013. Accounting for additions during the three months in which the survey was on-line, we rounded the number up to 5,000. This count only includes registered members and does not include the immediate and extended members of each respondent’s family, which we used to estimate the number of Macanese world-wide.

[2] The method we chose takes the percentage of the responses for each selection of family size and multiplies the average within each range (for example 5-10: 7) by the percentage proportion of 5,000 Casa de Macau members. We concede that double counting by members of the same family could have occurred, but this was minimized by survey software that limits responses to single IP addresses and filters by domain. Individual requests to members were also sent by chapter presidents. Since no method using on-line surveys is without its drawbacks, our results can provide only an estimate and may not be statistically accurate.

[3]  Macanese in other Southeast Asian countries have not been counted in the last two decades. These populations were not included in the survey.

[4] We define the 3rd generation as 35 to 54 years old, and the 4th generation between 19 and 34 years. The 2nd generation is 55 to 64 years old, while 1st generation Macanese are over 65.

[5] Whether their migration to Malaysia or other ports beyond Macau occurred many years ago or was more recent cannot be determined at this point. But the existence of family ties to Malaysia, India, and other countries suggests that cultural links with other Macanese had been established and continue to exist. For a contemporary example, many pages accessed on FarEastCurrents.com, a web site focusing on Macanese history and culture, for the period August 10 to September 10, 2013 list the following countries of origin: Singapore: 96, Japan: 31, Indonesia: 22, India: 21, Malaysia: 18, Thailand: 17, Philippines: 10. According to linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, and historians, each country was a trading partner with Macau from 1600 forward, with periodic gaps due to social turmoil and wars between European powers.


  1. Keith Reis says:

    nice and new read, thank you
    glad to learn so much:-)

  2. chwilowki says:

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: