At work, we take turns to share things which are interesting with our fellow colleagues every Monday morning. Last week was my turn. Pressing my brain for what might be of interest, it struck me that I had been brought up amidst a very unique culture, so unique that it is only found in Southeast Asia, and is mostly concentrated in the former Straits States of Melaka, Penang and Singapore.

It is the Peranakan culture.

The Peranakan “race” was born from the intermarriage between local Malays and foreign traders from China, India, Arab, etc. The Peranakans found in the Straits States are predominantly of Chinese/Malay descent. The males are known as the “Babas” while the females, the “Nyonyas”. They mostly speak a mix of Hokkien and Malay in a very unique set of vocabulary, and later, English also.

The Peranakans were very wealthy, at least up to World War Two, when they were forced to flee their homes. Their wealth might have resulted in their elaborate customs, intricate gold jewelry, home furnishings and beautifully embroidered costumes and shoes. This article is a good read to learn more about the Peranakan culture.

Although I am no Peranakan, I am very familiar with (mostly!) the food, lol. According to my mom, my maternal grandmother (who I’ve never met) used to wear the sarong kebaya everyday and made delicious nyonya cakes. My mom’s family lived in a kampung (Malay village) and hired fellow Malay villagers to help with rubber tapping and other businesses. Such was the the symbiotic relationship between the immigrant Chinese and the local Malays that resulted this is wondrously colorful culture that is uniquely ours, that I will share with you below.

My sketch of the lovely Nyonyas.

The following pictures are selections from the Web. If they are yours and you would rather they not remain on this blog, please contact me to have them removed. Thanks!

The beautiful sarong kebaya.

The beaded slippers, or kasut manek, are a test of artistry and craftsmanship. Each pair takes up to 100 hours to finish, according to one Singapore-based artisan.

The kasut manek (beaded slippers)

The Peranakan houses. This row is in Emerald Hill, Singapore.

Due to the Malay influence, Peranakan food is gloriously spicy. Yummy!

Not to worry, there’s also the non-spicy and equally delicious choice.

The Nyonya Kueh – not to be missed!

Nyonya kuehs are easily my favorite Peranakan cuisine!


About transez

Design researcher: curious about people, passionate about life.
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