Peranakan and Baba-Nyonya are terms used for the descendants of late 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Nusantara region during the Colonial era. It applies especially to the ethnic Chinese populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who have adopted partially or in full Nusantara customs to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities.
They are the elites of Singapore, more loyal to the British than to China. Most have lived for generations along the straits of Malacca. And not all of them married with the local Malays. They are usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese or the Chinese and Malays or vice versa. They almost always have the ability to speak two or more languages. Though later some of them lost their ability to speak Chinese and they become assimilated to the Malay Peninsulas culture and started to speak Malay fluently as a first or second language.
The word of Peranakan, is also used commonly to describe Indonesia Chinese. In both BM & Bahasa Indonesia, Peranakan” means descendant. Baba refer to the male descendants and Nyonya the female. Most Peranakanare of Hokkein ancestry, although a fair denomination of them are of the Teocheww or Cantonese descent. The language of the Peranakan, Baba Malay (Bahasa Melayu Baba), is a dialect of the Malay Language which contains many Hokkein works.
The Nyonya Baba were partially assimilated into the Malay culture, especially in food, dress and language used, while retaining some of the Chinese traditions and culture, like religion, name, folk medicine and festival celebrations, thereby creating a new kind of mixed culture of their country of origin with local, among those, like “Nyonya cuisine “ has developed the spices of Malay cuisine, examples are curry recipe cooking, Inchi Kabin, Chicken Kapitan, fried or cry chicken & sea foods, with local spicy & spicery. Wearring the Baju Kebaya. Most of the Peranakan are not Muslim, but have retained the ancestral worship tradition of the Chinese, especially of their wedding ceremony is largely based upon the Chinese tradition.short summary
While the term Peranakan is most commonly used among the ethnic Chinese for those of Chinese descent also known as Straits Chinese, there are also other, comparatively small Peranakan communities:
- Indian Hindu Peranakans (Chitty)
- Indian Muslim Peranakans (Jawi Pekan)
- Peranakans (Kristang = Christians)
- Cambodian Hokkien (descendents of Hoklo chinese)
Baba Nyonya Dance style
The Peranakan also have their own culture and customs including dance.This is the dondang sayang by Briged Seni Group Tourism Promotion Unit featuring baba nyonya dance. As you can see the dancers wearing sarung kebaya panjang which is unique to the Peranakan womens. The outfits also worn with decorative brooches with beaded shoes, a mixed malay and chinese motifs.The slow move reflect the Chinese Emperor lady-in-waiting, servant for the princess or queen.
These movements are inherited from Hang Li Poh lady-in-waiting, a Princess from Ming Dynasty. Hang Li Poh was famous name in the history of Melaka who married with Sultan Mansur Shah in 1459 to strengthen the diplomatic ties between two countries. The dance won 1st place in the Dance Festival 2007.
Nyonya dancers were wearing their traditional costume of short jackets called kebaya, with tight batik sarongs. Complete with embroidered slippers sewn with tiny beads.
In this Nyonya cultural show, they were doing a slow dance called "sapu tangan". It means handkerchief in Malay. Yes, you are right, they danced with colorful chiffon handkerchiefs. Later, sapu tangan was followed by tarian kipas, a dance using Chinese fans.One thing unique about this dance was, it was performed by mature ladies. Even though some of them were senior citizens, they moved with grace.This group of dancers call themselves Nyonya Belles.
These Nyonyas dance traditional dance which has a lot of influence from the Malay culture. They danced to the music chosen by Johny. He has a long list of tunes that bring back the nostalgic moments when life was more laid back.
The Nyonya Belles are always invited to special events and ceremonies to perform. Last year, I got to see them at Little Penang during the celebration of the inscription of Penang as a heritage city.They have a large repertoire of choreographed moves. They use many props that remind you to the life of the Nyonyas back then.
They dance with handkerchiefs, tiffin carriers, Chinese fans, embroidery frames even mandarin oranges.The names of the dance are mostly Malay: For example "tarian kipas" and "sapu tangan" refer to the items that they use while dancing (the Chinese fans and handkerchiefs).
Ceramics are objects of heirloom in Baba and Nyonya families. This paper is a study of the designs and symbolic meanings of motifs found on special Nyonya porcelain ware known as Famille Rose. Famille Rose ware differ from other Chinese ceramics as they are multi-coloured and have special motifs painted on them. Unlike the common blue and white ceramics which were exported from Jingdezhen, Famille Rose porcelain ware were sent to Guangzhou to be painted and then exported from Shanghai for the use of the Straits Chinese. This study shows that several specific motifs such as flowers and animals found on the Famille Rose porcelain ware are connected to the social cultural beliefs of the Baba and Nyonya. Repeated themes which appear on the fine polychrome enamelled porcelain such as bowls, teapots, cups, spoons, and basins include the Phoenix and the Peony.