: Bā-bā Niû-liá
) and Straits Chinese
(土生華人; named after the Straits Settlements
) are terms used for the descendants of the very early Chinese
immigrants to the Nusantara
region, including both the British Straits Settlements
and the Dutch-controlled island of Java
among other places, who have partially adopted Malay
customs in an effort (chronological adaptation) to be assimilated into the local communities.
The word Peranakan is also used to describe Chinese Indonesians. In both Malay and Indonesian, 'Peranakan' means 'descendants'. Babas refer to the male descendants and the Nyonyas the female. The word nyonya (also commonly spelled nonya) may originate from the Portuguese word dona, which means 'lady'.
Most Peranakan are of Hoklo
(Hokkien) ancestry, although a sizable number are of Teochew
descent. Originally, the Peranakan were part Chinese, part Malay, and part descended from the original inhabitants of Singapore Island. Written records from the 19th and early 20th centuries show that Peranakan men usually took brides from within the local Peranakan community. Peranakan families also frequently imported brides from China and sent their daughters to China to find husbands. Analogous but smaller communities also exist in the region with different ethnic origins, such as the Indian Peranakans (known as the Chitty
) and the Eurasian Peranakans (Kristang
The language of the Peranakans, Baba Malay
(Bahasa Melayu Baba
) , is a dialect of the Malay language
), which contains many Hokkien
words. It is a dying language, and its contemporary use is mainly limited to members of the older generation; this is indicative also of the Peranakan culture at large.
In the 15th century
, the city states of the Malay Peninsula often paid tribute to various kingdoms such as the kingdoms of China and Siam
. Close relations with China were established in the early 15th century, during the reign of Parameswara
, when Admiral Zheng He
), a Muslim Chinese, visited Malacca
. According to traditional accounts, in 1459 CE, the Emperor of China sent a princess, Hang Li Po
, to the Sultan of Malacca
as a token of appreciation for his tribute. The royalty and servants who accompanied the princess initially settled in Bukit Cina
and eventually grew into a class of straits-born Chinese known as the Peranakan. The Peranakan retained most of their ethnic and religious origins (ancestor worship), but assimilated the language and culture of the Malays. They developed a unique culture and distinct foods. Numerous sources claim that the early Peranakan inter-married with the local Malay population; this may might derive from the fact that some of the servants who settled in Bukit Cina that travelled to Malacca with the Admiral from Yunnan were Muslim Chinese. However, the general lack of physical resemblance has led many experts to believe that the Peranakan Chinese ethnicity has hardly diluted. Some Peranakan distinguish between Peranakan-Baba (those Peranakan with part Malay ancestry) from Peranakan (those without any Malay ancestry). The Peranakan often sent their sons and daughters to China to look for spouses. Also, the religion of the local Malay population was Islam which forbids inter-marriage with other religions without conversion first. In the early 1800s, new Chinese immigrants to the Straits Settlements bolstered the Peranakan population.
Over the centuries, the Peranakans have evolved a unique culture that maintains many Chinese traditions, such as celebrating the Lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival, while adopting the customs of the land they settled in, as well as those of their successive colonial rulers. There are traces of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malay and Indonesian influences in Baba culture.
By the middle of the twentieth century, most Peranakan were English educated, as a result of the British colonisation of Malaya, and the natural propensity of these people who were able to easily embrace new cultures. Because the Peranakans readily embraced English culture and education, administrative and civil service posts were often filled by prominent Straits Chinese. The interaction with the British also caused many in the community to convert to Christianity. The Peranakan community thereby became very influential in Malacca and Singapore and were known also as the King's Chinese due to their perceived loyalty to the British Crown. Because of the interaction of the different cultures and languages that Peranakans had, most Peranakans were (and still are) trilingual, being able to converse with Chinese, Malays and the British. Common vocations were as merchants, traders, and general intermediaries between China, Malaya and the West; the latter was especially valued by the British, since the Babas also enjoyed good relations with the Malay community and served as advisors to the royal Malay courts. In fact the term "Baba" is an honorific term in Malay; probably derived from Hindi/Sanskrit [Baba: literally means grandfather or father, and is used as a term of reverence and affection for an elderly gentleman].
Associations of Chinese Peranakan include the Peranakan Association of Singapore and the Gunung Sayang Association, a performing arts group. The Peranakan Association has about 1700 members, and the Gunung Sayang has about 200 members. Although the Peranakan Association consists of a mix of young and old, the Gunung Sayang Association has primarily elderly or retired members. In Malacca, there is an Indian Peranakan Association known as the Chitty Melaka. This is a tightly knit community of . Chitty Peranakans display considerable similarity to Chinese Peranakans in terms of dressing, songs and folk dances.
Historical and cultural items from the Baba culture are displayed in cultural establishments on Heeren Street, Jonker Street and other streets in the same neighbourhood in Malacca
and in Penang
in Malaysia, and at the Peranakan Museum
. There one can find museums displaying furniture, food stuff, and even traditional clothes of the Baba and Nonya. There are also a small number of "Nyonya" restaurants in Singapore, Penang, Malacca, and the West. Free weekly street shows featuring Baba performances, and traditional and pop Chinese cultural performances are found in Jonker Street in Malacca (Melaka
). The shows are part of the night market scene, and are usually crowded with shoppers, both local and foreign.
The Peranakans were partially assimilated into the Malay culture (especially in food, dress, and language), while retaining some Chinese traditions (religion, name, and ethnic identity), thereby creating a fusion culture of their own. For instance, from their Malay influence, a unique "Nyonya" cuisine
has developed using the spices of Malay cuisine (examples are Chicken Kapitan, a dry chicken curry
, and Inchi Kabin, a Nyonya version of fried chicken). The women (Nyonyas) have taken to wearing the baju kebaya
(a Malay dress, seen most notably as the uniform of Malaysia and Singapore Airlines' female flight attendants), and beaded slippers called Kasut Manek
Traditionally these exquisitely-crafted footwears were typically hand-made, and worn by Nonyas. Making kasut maneks required much patience, as in the past they are strung, beaded and sewn onto canvas with tiny facetted glass beads from Bohemia
(present-day Czech Republic
). In modern times, glass beads from Japan
Traditional kasut manek design often have European floral subjects, with colours influenced by the hues of Peranakan porcelain and batik sarongs. They were made onto flats or bedroom slippers. But from the 1930s, modern shapes became popular and heels were added.
Proposals of marriage were made by a gift of a "pinangan", a 2-tiered lacquered basket to the intended bride's parents brought by a go-between person who will speak on behalf of the suitor. However, most of the Peranakans are not Muslim, and have retained the traditions of ancestor worship of the Chinese; though some converted to Christianity. The wedding ceremony of the Peranakan is largely based on Chinese tradition, and is one of the most colorful and fascinating wedding ceremonies in Malaysia and Singapore. At weddings, the Dondang Sayang, a form of extempore rhyming song in Malay, sung and danced by guests at the wedding party was a highlight. Someone would start on a romantic theme which will be carried on by others, each taking the floor in turn slowly dancing in slow gyrations as they sang, It required quick wit and repartee and often gave rise to laughter and applause when a particularly clever phrase was sung. The melodic accents of the Baba-Nonya and their quaint turns of phrase lend to the charm of this performance.
Peranakan culture is disappearing. Without colonial British support for their perceived racial neutrality, government policies in both countries following independence from the British have resulted in the assimilation of Peranakans back into mainstream Chinese culture. In Singapore, the Peranakans are classified as ethnically Chinese, so they receive formal instruction in Mandarin Chinese as a second language (in accordance with the "Mother Tongue Policy") instead of Malay. In Malaysia, the standardization of Malay as Bahasa Melayu — required for all ethnic groups — has led to a disappearance of the unique characteristics of Baba Malay.
The migration of some Peranakan families, particularly the well-to-do ones, has led to a small Peranakan diaspora in neighbouring countries, from to . However, these communities are very small, and with the increasing use of the various languages in their respective countries, the use of Peranakan Malay or Baba Malay will be diluted.
- Tan Cheng Lock (Tun Dato Sir) - Founder and first President of Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
- Tun Tan Siew Sin - Third President of Malaysian Chinese Associotion (MCA)
- Lee Chin Koon: Mrs. Lee's Cookbook. Nonya Recipes and other favourite recipes.
- Mahmood, Datin Sari Endon: The Nyonya Kebaya: A Century of Straits Chinese Costume, ISBN 0-7946-0273-8
- Rudolph, Jürgen (1998). Reconstructing Identities: A Social History of the Babas in Singapore. Singapore: Ashgate. costumes
- Khoo, Joo Ee (1998). The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The Pepin Press.