Isabel Leonor da Silva Diaz de Seabra


This project aims to study the constitution of the population of Macau diachronically, including its economic, social and institutional relations, paying attention to the role of women in the local society, from the outset of Portuguese settlement. A particular aim is to consider the development of the Luso-Asian component of the population, the ethnic elements that contributed to it, and also how the economic evolution of the City interacted with demography.

In the early times of Portuguese expansion in Asia, not many women travelled from Europe. The Portuguese men were generally accompanied by slaves and occasional adventurers. Also the commerce of muitsai (girls sold by their parents for housework, for a fixed number of years, generally forty, or permanently) contributed to the creation of a marriage market that became vital in structuring Euro-Asian kinship and the development of mercantile families. Data concerning the women of Macau can be collated from the reports of travellers to Macau between the 16th and the 19th centuries, and also the correspondence of missionaries. Religious Orders played an important role in Macau, starting with the Jesuits, as well as the other Orders – Dominicans, Augustinians, etc. – coming over Manila, spreading later all over South-East Asia. Their correspondence (“cartas ânuas”) contains information on the life of the city and its population.

In mid-17th century, with the bankruptcy of the trade with Japan and subsequent decay of Macau, many Portuguese men left the City, abandoning their families to economic hardship. At the same time, outlaws and adventurers fleeing Goa began to arrive. It is likely that poverty led many women, mainly creaturess (enslaved women of different ethnic non Chinese groups) to prostitution in this period. In the 18th century, Macau was considered a “city of women”, because

there was a great number of women among the population, partly because Chinese mothers of female children would abandon undesired daughters after birth or deliver them to the Hospital of the Exposed (part of the Holy House of Mercy). Due to lack of shelter space, the foundlings were given to poor adoptive mothers, who received a small monthly subsidy to take care of the children until they were seven years old. After that age the Holy House of Mercy no longer provided care for the unprotected, and the adoptive mothers would send their children to beg for alms. Most of them became prostitutes. In the 18th century, with commercial decay, Timor became one of the new sources for supplying slaves. By this time, the City was poor and lived from the voyages to Timor and to some ports of India, Insulindia and Indochina, a far cry from its former wealth. Moral and economic misery was so deep in Macau that men are said to have offered their women and daughters to foreigners in order to obtain some profit.

In order to undertake a socio-demographic study of the Macanese population, we must take into account that the first inhabitants of Macau did not mix with the Chinese population and the women they lived with were Japanese, Malay, Indonesian and Indian The women that came to Macau were slaves who were bought in markets from the Orient by the Portuguese. Some African and numerous Timorese slaves were imported later. The considerable Chinese substrate in the Macanese community results, to a large extent, from the cohabitation of the Portuguese and Euro-Asians


with their muitsai. It is the purpose of this project to identify the exact ethnic elements which contributed to the formation of a Luso-Asian community in Macau.