Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Of the Portuguese characters who had their lives linked to Macau and Cambodia, the best known is the poet Luiz Vaz de Camões.

After a mandatory internship in the militia, Camões is appointed principal ombudsman in Macau. He is in charge of inventorying and provisionally managing the assets of deceased or disappeared persons. There are those who admit that in Macau, in the grotto of Patane, the poet has written part of Os Lusíadas, a work that portraits the epic journey of Vasco da Gama and other tragic-maritime heroes filled with mythology, passion, adventure and greed.

Accused of appropriating other people’s money, Camões would be sent to Goa to answer to justice. On the return, the ship that transported him ends up being shipwrecked at the mouth of the Mekong River in Cambodia. The feat has never been proven, but the historical annals show us the image of Camões with the Os Lusíadas in one hand (that he keeps above the water), swimming with the other until he reaches safe land. Thus, he saves his life and the manuscript that would make him immortal.

Dinamene is supposed to be the Chinese woman who was shipwrecked with Camões on the Cambodian coast. Is Dinamene a real woman or just a poetic name to which Camões dedicates some of his many poems, namely the famous sonnet “My dear soul, you’re gone”? If doubts persisted as to the recipient, in some of its lyric creation, they are annulled when the poet himself names it: “Flee again. And I am shouting: Dina …, / before I say anything, I wake up, and I see / that I can not even make a brief mistake.” As a character, Dinamene is above all exalted for her moral qualities, rather than for her physical attributes. As the following verses confirm: “A soft and pious eye move, / (…) a sweet and humble gesture / (…) A shrunken dare; a softness; / a fear without guilt; a serene air; / a long and obedient suffering”.

Rodrigues Lapa, in his work “Lyrics”, argues that for Camões, Dinamene “was one of the mildest things of his life, a note of loving meekness in his turbulent existence.”

The poet portrays a sweet, patient, and submissive woman, qualities that would lead many Portuguese to marry Orientals. The Spanish Jesuit Alonso Sanchez, who was in Macau in 1582, states that “the Portuguese would rather marry Chinese women than Portuguese women, for the many virtues that adorn them.”

To conclude, we recall the story of Kun Iam, the Goddess of Mercy, deeply venerated in Macau and one of the most complicated divinities of the Buddhist pantheon. There are different versions about its origin. One of them ensures that the goddess has come from India to China. The name Kun Iam in Sanskrit is Padma, which means Born of the Lotus. And, in reality, the goddess is often presented sitting on a bud of lotus flower.

The monk Pu Chan, who lived during the Sung dynasty (60-1272 BC), in his version, does not make reference to India, stating, however, that Kun Iam was the daughter of a prince of the kingdom of Cambodia, and that her baptismal name would be Miao Shan. The story goes that the two sisters of this young girl obeyed their father, marrying with representatives of the local nobility. Miao Shan, a rebellious spirit, on the contrary, refused to marry, claiming that she would spend the rest of her life in Buddhism. The decision provoked in the father an excessive fury, that forced her to flee to China, where she was locked in the convent of White Sparrow.


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