PERANAKAN MUSEUM

Yesterday afternoon, I went on an interesting and educational cultural exploration at the newly opened Peranakan Museum.

Located at 39 Armenian Street, the Peranakan Museum presents a South-east Asian-wide view of the Peranakan culture. It houses the world’s finest and most comprehensive collection of Peranakan artefacts in 10 galleries within the 3-storey old Tao Nan School Building that has been beautifully renovated.

At the time of my visit, the museum was considerably quiet with only some individual visitors, and two small guided groups of visitors. However, it seems that this is more popular than Chinatown Heritage Centre and Hua Song Museum that I could hardly see any other visitors when I visited a few months ago! I wonder if there has been lack of public interest or publicity in such places?

One of the group of visitors (non-westerners) was guided by an English-speaking westerner. I am not sure if she were a volunteer of the museum but I was very impressed by her explanation and knowledge of Peranakan history and cultures. In fact, if not for the very detailed explanation in the Museum, I would still have the wrong idea that Peranakan means descendants of mix marriage between Malays and Chinese only. The word “Peranakan” means “child of” or “born of” and is used to refer to a person of mixed ethnic origins. Although the Museum focuses on the Peranakan Chinese who form the biggest number of Peranakans in Southeast Asia, I have learned that many different communities are recognised as “peranakan” as well and examples are Jawi Peranakan (descended from Indian Muslims), Chitty Melaka community (descended from Hindu traders), Baba community (descended from the Chinese) etc. This was indeed an interesting discovery!

In Gallery 1 : Origins which showcases portraits of many Peranakans by multiple-award winning photographer Geoff Ang, I saw this very familiar face of Singapore – Dick Lee, a Malacca Peranakan.

Of the 10 galleries featuring the various aspects of Peranakan cultures and traditions, I find the section on Weddings (Galleries 2 -5) most interesting. The extensive account on this part of Peranakans’ cultures and rituals (although many are no longer in practice today) is very impressive.

Surat Kawen (Betrothal Letters)

Display of common gifts used for the Lap Chai Ceremony (Wedding Gift exchange Ceremony) between the families of the bride and groom before the wedding. These gifts can be jewelleries pig trotter, auspicious fruits, a pair of red candles, dowry (money), clothes, etc.

Display of Wedding Trousseau (Jia Zhuang) presented to the daughter of a Peranakan family by her parents. The gift items varied from family to family, depending on the financial situation of the parents. In those days where family assets and heirlooms were inherited only by sons, these gifts were a way of distributing some of the family wealth to the daughters.

The wedding bed fully decorated with hangings and accessories, and ornately carved with fertility motifs like birds, flowers, insects, sea creatures, etc. The embroidered bed cover, pillow cases, beadwork bed runners, are also designed with fertility motifs. This wedding bed is from Penang.

Detailed explanation on ceremony on the twelfth (and the last) day of Peranakan Wedding. For ease of reading, please click on the image and view it on a larger size.

The Peranakans are known for their intricate art of beadwork and embroidery. I learned that during those days, the Nonyas were trained for married life from young and they were expected to learn and perfect their skills in this area. This wall (below) in front of the galleries on Level 1, showcases lots of such gorgeous works!

The other galleries like Nonya (Gallery 6), Religion (Gallery 7) and Food and Feasting (Gallery 9) also give an interesting insights into the Peranakans.

I am glad that I have spent a fruitful afternoon at the Peranakan Museum. 🙂 I find that Peranakan Museum a lot more interesting than our National Museum although it is much smaller in size. One negative point about the museum though. Many of the displays are enclosed in glass panels which understandably, is for the purpose of preserving the displays. However, this really makes it impossible to have a closer and better appreciation of the beautiful peranakan work. Reflections by the glass panels is another problem.

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