Camilo Pessanha, a Portuguese poet who came to Macau at age 27, has become the focus of a book that goes beyond merely praising his poetic achievements but also retells the human stories of his life .
Christopher Chu and Maggie Pui Man Hoi, who have previously published the book ‘Macau’s Historical Witnesses’ to tell the stories behind 22 locations in Macau, launched their new book about Pessanha at the Sofitel Macau yesterday.
It all started when they discovered a government document about the poet, Hoi said yesterday. The document was about the poet’s work, which inspired the couple to conduct further research on his life, which they discovered was very interesting.
For instance, she noted that, Ana Pessanha, the poet’s earlier love interest, was a feminist when evaluated by today’s standards. However, the poet had two mistresses in Macau, the older of which was a retired “flower girl” – a euphemism for a sex worker – and the step daughter of the poet. Hoi also noted that during their research, they discovered that historically, it was common for older sex workers to merely listen to their customers. The couple speculated that this was the reason behind the connection between the self-exiled poet and his first mistress.
When asked if the poet’s descendants were contacted for the project, Chu said that they had attempted to make contact via email but did not receive a response.
Chu and Hoi are correct that most existing documentation about Camilo Pessanha – like that relating to all historic Portuguese figures associated with Macau – are written in Portuguese. Despite being one of the two official languages, Portuguese is not widely spoken in the Chinese community, except for certain creolized references such as ‘tai-ma-di’ for ‘tomate’ (‘tomato’ in Portuguese) and ‘for-ga’ for ‘folga’ (‘day off’ in Portuguese).
In fact, the existing Chinese community in Macau may not have the slightest awareness of the poet despite there being a street named after him. Instead, the Chinese community often (if not always) uses another reference for the street – ‘Lou Sek Tong.’ This is also the reason why they have chosen to write a book on the Portuguese poet, which they reemphasized should not to be read as a history book.
The story of Pessanha has been documented before. In 2018, Portuguese filmmaker Rosa Coutinho Cabral was in Macau to shoot her documentary on the poet, entitled ‘Pe San Ie,’ which is the Romanization of the poet’s name in Chinese.