All good cities usually have an interesting origin tale about their name and history and Macau is no exception. It seems our city, which is said to be protected by the petals of a magic lotus, has always been immersed in tales and legends of goddesses and magic. Read on and meet the goddess A Ma and find out how Macau got its name.
Once upon a time
On a sunny morning by the coast of Fujian, a poor girl begged for a ride from the many fisherman about to set off. She was dressed in rags, with her hair tied in a long, black braid—as was the custom of the time—yet her face was young and beautiful. She went from one boat to the next without any luck. No one was interested in giving her a ride to the other side of the coast, even when the girl explained her mother was sick. Exhausted, she heard a faint voice calling her. An old man had a junk so old the girl did not think it was still able to move. He smiled and invited her inside. Grateful for his kindness, the girl boarded along with the man’s family and set sail.
As soon as all the other boats were crossing the sea, the cloudless sky turned into a dark haze. A storm was brewing on the South China Sea and it promised to be tremendous. Around the old junk, the other boats struggled and failed to stay afloat. Desperate measures were taken by the fishermen to save themselves and their friends, but there was no salvation possible – this storm was brutal. The old junk was up against terrible odds and yet remained on its course, the sailor never even noticing the troubles surrounding it. Inside, the beautiful girl smiled as she looked at the magnificent waves forming on the black sea. Then, she took the helm and steered the boat to safety. Arriving at her destination, she quickly stepped out of the junk, climbed the hill nearby, and disappeared into the clouds.
Legend says that a few days after the ordeal she showed herself once more to all the fishermen of the little town. Her beautiful face remained the same, but this time she was dressed in gold and silk. A Ma was her name and she was no poor girl, she was a goddess of the seas. The fishermen wasted no time in building their goddess an appropriate temple near the site of her appearance. Visitors can still see it today, in vivid red and sumptuous woodcraft. There is also the world’s tallest statue of the goddess A-Ma in Macau on the mountaintop of Coloane Island, with A-Ma Cultural Village cultural complex nearby as well.
Naming the City
Nearly 100 years after the incident, a strange, great ship arrived on the same port. Men of different dress and manners came off it, entering the town. They had come from a distant land, a world a way from a country known as Portugal.
When, still a little confused, they asked the name of the curious small town, and the townsfolk were quick to reply “A-ma-gao” (port of À-Ma). Foreigners being foreigners, they took what the name sounded like as the real name and Macau was born. That dear readers, is how the story of how our city was named.