Peranakan Culture

November 22, 2009 / Culture, Media Events / 19 Comments

I realized I spent a lot of time being fascinated by other peoples’ cultures but have never really mentioned my own – and I don’t mean Chinese culture.

As with many Chinese people in South East Asia, I am not purely Chinese by descent. My paternal grandmother is Peranakan from the Indonesian Riau Islands and my maternal ancestors were Peranakan from a coastal province in Malaysia called Penang.

Peranakans are descendants of Chinese immigrants who married Malays. Together, they formed a unique heritage – a sort of melting pot of Chinese, Malay and later, colonial (i.e. Dutch or British) influences.

Despite my ancestry, I didn’t grow up practicing the Peranakan way of life, which is quite a pity since the last practicing Peranakan in my family is my grandmother, who’s about 90.

peranakan museum

But last week I was given the perfect opportunity to learn about my culture by the nice folks of the Peranakan Association, who invited me for an evening at Singapore’s Peranakan Museum.

And here’s a snapshot of my experience.

Peranakan Architecture

peranakan architecture

The museum is styled like a typical Peranakan home. Peranakans are very fond of pastel colors and intricate designs. When I first saw the building, I was quite shocked. It is strikingly similar to my old WordPress theme, Springley. It made wonder if it is possible for art to be passed down by blood…

Peranakan Wedding

peranakan wedding setting

This is the setting where lap chai occurs. Lap chai is a gift-exchange ceremony that takes place one day before the wedding day.

peranakan lapchai

And here is an example of the gifts the groom will bring to the bride’s family.

peranakan teh kuan

During lap chai, the bride and groom are to serve each other’s parents with tea as a symbol of filial piety and symbol of being accepted into the family.

peranakan wedding bedroom

This is the newlywed’s bedroom. So pretty! But the bed sure looks uncomfortable. :S

peranakan wedding procession

And here’s part of the wedding procession. I would like to point out that the groom’s clothes are very reminiscent of Chinese zombies. For the longest time, I’ve wondered why Chinese zombies are always portrayed with Qing Dynasty clothes. Do shed some light, if you know!

But I digress.

Peranakan Superstition

peranakan tangkal

Talking about zombies, Peranakans were highly superstitious people, which isn’t too surprising since they were heavily influenced by their Chinese ancestors. They had all sorts of amulets to protect themselves from evil. These amulets are called tangkal.

Peranakan House

peranakan house

Peranakans had a penchant for naming their houses. As an aside, this could be my house since that’s my last name on the nanyate-esque lanterns.

Peranakan Tableware

peranakan tableware

Here’s a shot of Peranakan tableware. As with their houses, most of the tableware are in brightly colored shades of pastel with patterns dominated by flowers, butterflies, phoenixes and dragons.

closeup of peranakan tableware

This is a closeup of a Peranakan kamcheng lid. The detail is amazing! Peranakans meticulously pay the same attention to detail in everything they do. I marvel at their patience and at the same time wonder how bored one must of been to design everything with such intricacy.

These people clearly have never heard of Facebook. 😛

Peranakan Fashion

As with Chinese women of long ago, most Peranakan women were not allowed to leave the house. So they killed time by embroidering and making gorgeous wallets, shoes and clothes.

peranakan embroidery

Here are some Peranakan purses made with beads.

peranakan shoes

Here is more hand-embroidery to be later turned into shoes.

peranakan fashion

To save the best for last, this is how Peranakan women dressed. It’s a fancier version of the traditional Malay attire Kebaya. For the rich, it’s made of imported Chinese silk and hand-embroidered with all sorts of flowers.

My grandmother still dresses this way whenever she goes out. It’s very elegant. I really wouldn’t mind a modernized version of this as my future wedding dress.

But my hubby sure isn’t going to wear that Chinese zombie-inspired monstrosity though.

Anyway, I hope you found this entry enlightening. There are lots of more of the museum that I did not cover since the entry is already getting way too long. (It’s also taking me forever to resize, watermark and saturate those photos!)

So head over to my Picasa album to look at the rest of the 150+ photos I took.

There was an exhibit that I thoroughly enjoyed but wasn’t allowed to take pictures; it’s where all the bling’s at. So if you have some time, I encourage you to check it out yourself at the Peranakan Museum before it ends on December 13. There are also a bunch of interesting festivities going on from November 27 to December 6 – including a visit to a true Peranakan home.