Saudade: the love that remains

It’s one of the hardest words to translate, yet it says a lot about the Portuguese culture. What exactly is saudade and how is it linked to fado and fishermen? Enjoy the Algarve investigates. 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017


First of all: saudade doesn’t mean you’re sad. It’s more complicated and encompasses a whole range of other feelings. Yes, you’re missing something or someone, longing for past experiences, experiencing melancholy, feeling nostalgia and desire for what is, or may be, lost. But because of all that, it’s also a sign of how good something has been. It shows that you’ve loved someone so much or had such a good time in the past. If persons or experiences weren’t very important, thoroughly impressive or particularly nice, you wouldn’t care about them so much, sometimes even to the point of feeling incomplete without them. Saudade is considered one of the hardest words to translate into English – the prettiest translation we could find was: the love that remains.


Left behind on the Portuguese shore

Although the exact origins of the word saudade are unclear, it’s believed it has its roots in Portugal’s maritime culture. Being on the edge of Europe, bordering with the sea, meant that Portugal was home to lots of sailors and fishermen. Hence a lot of journeys into the deep blue unknown, with the goal of exploring new territories, or catching tuna and sardines. Adventurous, but also hard and dangerous work with many fishing boats ending up as ship wrecks. On their maritime explorations, and also when having arrived at their destination, these sailors felt saudade, for their home country and their family. As did their wives, left behind on the Portuguese shore, longing for the return of their loved ones, yet knowing there was a possibility they’d never come back. A traditional way to depict saudade is in the form of a person looking at the sea, suffering the absence or mourning the loss of a friend or family member.

A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy

Still, that doesn’t automatically mean it was all doom & gloom. Not back then and also not nowadays. Because the Portuguese see the beauty in sadness; it’s almost like they’re content with being sad at times. Despite being the third most peaceful country in the world according to the 2017 Global Peace Index, Portugal only holds place 89 when it comes to happiness, as can be seen in the United Nation’s World Happiness Report 2017. Accepting your fate, your destiny in life, even if this isn’t always a very joyous one, is a very Portuguese way of life. No need to plaster on a fake smile if you don’t feel like it. The 17th century Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo once described saudade as ‘a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy’.

Also called the Portuguese blues, fado is the musical expression of saudade. It’s impossible to separate one from the other, and both are intimately connected to the Portuguese culture. Literally translated as ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’, fado is poetic, often melancholic music which puts the feeling of saudade into words. The mournful lyrics of Portugal’s folk music tell stories of its seafaring past, love affairs gone wrong and waiting for sailors to return; a good fado song is full of saudade. (Other popular fado themes include jealousy, the daily suffering of the poor and life in the city). However, just like saudade, fado isn’t only sad. It can be happy and beautiful, yet nearly always with a melancholic twist.





The etymology of saudade remains controversial. Most believe it derives from the Latin word solitate, which means loneliness or solitude, others claim it’s originally Portuguese, and there are also people who think it comes from the Arabic saudah. The word’s origin is almost as disputed as its exact meaning in English. Oxford Dictionaries explains saudade as ‘a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament (especially with reference to songs or poetry)’. Look in a different dictionary, though, and you’re likely to read a different description. A survey carried out by 1,000 linguists considered saudade the 7th most untranslatable non-English word in the world.

Saudade also exists outside of Portugal, especially in Galicia (the northern part of Spain, located just above Portugal), Brazil, Goa (India) and Cape Verde, where it’s called ‘sodadi’ or ‘sodade’. The Spanish have the word morriña (longingness), which goes hand in hand with homesickness and is often used by Galician immigrants when talking about their homeland. In Goa, there’s a street called Rua das Saudades; on this road you’ll find the Hindu cremation ground and both the Christian and the Muslim cemetery. In Brazil, however, saudade is also something that’s celebrated. Although it has the same meaning of melancholy and nostalgia as in Portugal, January 30th is Brazil’s Dia de Saudade. This is the day to remember people who have gone, moments that have past and childhood experiences that will never happen again.

Nowadays, saudade goes further than fado and fishermen. It’s the theme of films like Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo (see side note in the magazine for the trailer), it’s quite a popular word to tattoo on your body and there’s even a Portuguese chocolate range, invented in Lisbon, that’s called saudade. Although we haven’t tried these chocolate bars yet, if the taste is anything like the meaning of the word, they must be bittersweet.



See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017


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