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20 Indonesian Words that Actually Come from Portuguese


20 Indonesian Words that Actually Come from Portuguese

Before the Dutch, Indonesia was a melting pot of cultures. People from all walks of life anchored their boats around the archipelago to trade with this resource rich country. 

Travellers and traders from many countries could be found, including Arabs, Indians, Chinese. However one nationality seemed to dominate with their presence before the Dutch arrived: the Portuguese. That’s right, from the start of the 16th Century, the Portuguese with their advanced navigation and seafaring skills found their way to the East Indies and settled in the east of Indonesia, rich with the valuable spices! 


The Portuguese brought a number of things to the Indonesian isles, these include Christianity and, randomly, ‘keroncong’ – inspired by Portuguese sailors playing their small, braguinha, or small ukulele-like guitars. It could even be argued that it was the Portuguese that eventually brought the Dutch to Indonesia; Holland grew jealous of Portugal’s success in the spice trade and sought to take a piece of the pie, so to speak. 

Anyway, one of the lasting legacies of the Portuguese time in Indonesia was their words. Bahasa Indonesia was a language made, of course, of many langugages, the root language being Malay of course but it borrows words from Hokkien, it has Arab words and of course many Dutch words. But, because Portuguese was the lingua franca (common or bridge language) for traders in Indonesia back in the 16th century, many words became part of Bahasa Indonesia as a result.

Here we present 20 Indonesian words that came from Portguese words : 

1. Mentega

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘manteiga’ , or butter in English.


2. Keju

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘queijo’, or cheese in English.


3. Bendera

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘bandeira‘, or flag in English.


4. Meja

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘mesa‘, or table in English.


5. Jendela

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘janela‘, or window in English.


6. Gereja

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘igreja’, or church in English.


7. Sepatu

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘sapato’, or shoe in English.


8. Kemeja

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘camisa’, a looser translation. Meaning shirt in English.


9. Minggu

Comes from the word ‘domingo’, the root taken from the second part of the word. Meaning Sunday in English.


10. Flores

This is a Portuguese word meaning ‘flowers’; whilst it doesn’t translate to ‘flowers’ in Indonesian, it was in fact the Portuguese that named is Flores Islands in East Nusa Tenggara, the Flower of Indonesia!


11. Belanda 

This word comes a string of different words the Portuguese used for the Dutch, which included Holanda, Olanda, Wolanda and also Bolanda, which eventually became Belanda, meaning Dutch or Holland in English.


12. Gudang

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘gudão’, meaning storage. This was actually the same word that became the root for English’s ‘godown’, meaning warehouse.


13 . Inggris

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘Ingles’, meaning England in English.


14 . Kampung

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘campo’ , which has several meanings which could have influenced the use of the word kampung today. Whilst originally meaning ‘field’ in English, more likely the definitions of ‘countryside’ or ‘camp’ were the reasons it became the word it is today.


15. Kereta

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘carreta’, or train (literally chariot) in English.


16. Natal

Coming from the same word ‘natal’ in Portuguese, this is the word for Christmas. Bahasa Indonesia also took on the Portuguese word for Easter, Paskah or Páscoa in Portuguese. This makes sense considering the Portuguese were one of the first to introduce Christianity to the region, so Christian-related words would naturally make its way into the language. Others include: Paderi (padre, Father or Priest), Santo or Santa (same in Portuguese, words for saint), previously mentioned Gereja (igreja, church) and Misa (missa, or Catholic Mass).


17. Palsu

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘falso’ , meaning false / fake in English.


18. Pesta

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘fiesta’, similar to Spanish. Means party in English. 

19. Sabtu

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘Sabado’, meaning Saturday in English.


20. Tolol

Comes from the Portuguese word ‘tolo’, meaning fool in English.



There are in fact many more words that we use on a daily basis in Indonesia that stem from the Portuguese language. Seeing them is just a great reminder on how much our history has influenced the culture identity of Indonesia today. The archipelago was once a melting pot of many foreign cultures; today, those cultures have imbedded themselves deep into the people, creating the many interesting cultures we can see around the country today. The evolution of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika through the ages!

Why not read about 12 Important Indonesian Words That Originate from Hokkien.

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