|Regions with significant populations|
|Indonesia (6,000,000), Thailand (1,000,000), Malaysia (500,000), Singapore (500,000) |
|Chinese languages, Malay, Indonesian, English|
|Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity
Confucianism, Taoism, Sunni Islam
|Related ethnic groups|
|Chinese people in Southeast Asia, Jawi Peranakan|
Peranakan Chinese and Baba-Nyonya are terms used for the descendants of late 15th and 16th-century Chinese immigrants to the Indonesian archipelago and British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore).
Members of this community in Melaka, Malaysia address themselves as "Nyonya Baba". Nyonya is the term for the women and Baba for the men. 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 Nusantara customs — partially or in full — to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities. Many were the elites of Singapore, more loyal to the British than to China. Most have lived for generations along the straits of Malacca and most have a lineage where intermarriage with the local Indonesians and Malays have taken place. They were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because they were mostly English educated. Because of this, they almost always had the ability to speak two or more languages. In later generations, some lost the ability to speak Chinese as they became assimilated to the Malay Peninsula's culture and started to speak Malay fluently as a first or second language.
While the term Peranakan is most commonly used among the ethnic Chinese for those of Chinese descent also known as Straits Chinese (土生華人; named after the Straits Settlements), there are also other, comparatively small Peranakan communities, such as Indian Hindu Peranakans (Chitty), Indian Muslim Peranakans (Jawi Pekan) (Jawi being the Javanised Arabic script, Pekan a colloquial contraction of Peranakan) and Eurasian Peranakans (Kristang) (Kristang = Christians). The group has parallels to the Cambodian Hokkien, who are descendants of Hoklo Chinese. They maintained their culture partially despite their native language gradually disappearing a few generations after settlement.
Both Malay and Indonesian use the word Peranakan to mean "descendant" — with no connotation of the ethnicity of descent unless followed by a subsequent qualifying noun, such as for example Cina (Chinese), Belanda (Dutch) or Jepang/Jepun (Japanese). Peranakan has the implied connotation of referring to the ancestry of great-grandparents or of more-distant ancestors.
Baba, a Persian loan-word borrowed by Malay speakers as an honorific solely for grandparents, referred to the Straits-Chinese males. The term originated with Hindustani speakers, such as vendors and traders, and became part of common vernacular. Female Straits-Chinese descendants were either called or styled themselves Nyonyas. Nyonya (commonly misspelled nonya) is a Javanese loan honorific word from Italian nona (grandma) meaning foreign married madam. Or it is more likely from the word Donha, from the Portuguese word for lady. Because Javanese at the time had a tendency to address all foreign women (and perhaps those who appeared foreign) as nyonya, they used that term for Straits-Chinese women, too. It gradually became associated more exclusively with them. Nona in Javanese means "lady".
Straits-Chinese were defined as those born or living in the Straits Settlements: a British colonial construct of Penang, Malacca and Singapore constituted in 1826. Straits Chinese were not considered Baba Nyonya unless they displayed certain Sino-Malay syncretic physical attributes.
Most Peranakans are of Hoklo (Hokkien) ancestry, although a sizable number are of Teochew or Cantonese descent. Originally, the Peranakan were mixed-race descendants, part Chinese, part Malay/Native Indonesian.
Baba Nyonya are a subgroup within Chinese communities, are the descendants of Sino-indigenous unions in Melaka, Penang, and Indonesia. It was not uncommon for early Chinese traders to take Malay/Indonesian women of Peninsular Malay/Sumatera/Javanese as wives or concubines Consequently the Baba Nyonya possessed a mix of cultural traits.
Written records from the 19th and early 20th centuries show that Peranakan men usually took brides from within the local Peranakan community. Peranakan families occasionally imported brides from China and sent their daughters to China to find husbands.
Some sources claim that the early Peranakan inter-married with the local Malay/Indonesian population; this might derive from the fact that some of the servants who settled in Bukit Cina who traveled to Malacca with the Admiral from Yunnan were Muslim Chinese. Other experts, however, see a general lack of physical resemblance, leading them to believe that the Peranakan Chinese ethnicity has hardly been diluted. One notable case to back the claim is of the Peranakan community in Tangerang, Indonesia, known as Cina Benteng. Their physical look is indigenous, yet they dutifully adhere to the Peranakan customs, and most of them are Buddhist. Some Peranakan distinguish between Peranakan-Baba (those Peranakan with part Malay ancestry) from Peranakan (those without any Malay ancestry).
Nowadays intermarriage in Malaysia occurs more frequently between Peranakan and people of Indian and Portuguese ethnicity rather than Malay because of endogamous religious laws. These require non-Muslims intending to marry Malay-Muslims first to convert to Islam. Peranakan are not always willing to alter their religious and cultural identity in this way. In earlier centuries, Chinese and local Malays were able to marry without such conversions, because such religious laws did not exist.
The language of the Peranakans, Baba Malay (Bahasa Melayu Baba), is a creole dialect of the Malay language (Bahasa Melayu), which contains many Hokkien words. It is a dying language, and its contemporary use is mainly limited to members of the older generation. English has now replaced this as the main language spoken amongst the younger generation.
In Indonesia, young Peranakans can still speak this creole language, although its use is limited to informal occasions. Young Peranakans have lost much of their traditional language, so there is normally a difference in vocabulary between the older and younger generations.
In the 15th century, some small city-states of the Malay Peninsula often paid tribute to various kingdoms such as those of China and Siam. Close relations with China were established in the early 15th century during the reign of Parameswara when Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho), a Muslim Chinese, visited Malacca and Java. According to a legend 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 nobles (500 sons of ministers) and servants who accompanied the princess initially settled in Bukit Cina and eventually grew into a class of Straits-born Chinese known as the Peranakans.
Due to economic hardships at mainland China, waves of immigrants from China settled in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Some of them embraced the local customs, while still retaining some degree of their ancestral culture; they are known as the Peranakans. Peranakans normally have a certain degree of indigenous blood, which can be attributed to the fact that during imperial China, most immigrants were men who married local women. Peranakans at Tangerang, Indonesia, held such a high degree of indigenous blood that they are almost physically indistinguishable from the local population. Peranakans at Indonesia can vary between very fair to copper tan in color.
Chinese men in Melaka fathered children with Javanese, Batak and Balinese slave women. Their descendants moved to Penang and Singapore during British rule. Chinese men in colonial southeast Asia also obtained slave wives from Nias. Chinese men in Singapore and Penang were supplied with slave wives of Bugis, Batak, and Balinese origin. The British tolerated the importation of slave wives since they improved the standard of living for the slaves and provided contentment to the male population. The usage of slave women as wives by the Chinese was widespread.
It cannot be denied, however, that the existence of slavery in this quarter, in former years, was of immense advantage in procuring a female population for Pinang. From Assaban alone, there used to be sometimes 300 slaves, principally females, exported to Malacca and Pinang in a year. The women get comfortably settled as the wives of opulent Chinese merchants, and live in the greatest comfort. Their families attach these men to the soil; and many never think of returning to their native country. The female population of Pinang is still far from being upon a par with the male; and the abolition therefore of slavery, has been a vast sacrifice to philanthropy and humanity. As the condition of the slaves who were brought to the British settlements, was materially improved, and as they contributed so much to the happiness of the male population, and the general prosperity of the settlement, I am disposed to think (although I detest the principles of slavery as much as any man), that the continuance of the system here could not, under the benevolent regulations which were in force to prevent abuse, have been productive of much evil. The sort of slavery indeed which existed in the British settlements in this quarter, had nothing but the name against it; for the condition of the slaves who were brought from the adjoining countries, was always ameliorated by the change; they were well fed and clothed; the women became wives of respectable Chinese; and the men who were in the least industrious, easily emancipated themselves, and many became wealthy. Severity by masters was punished; and, in short, I do not know any race of people who were, and had every reason to be, so happy and contented as the slaves formerly, and debtors as they are now called, who came from the east coast of Sumatra and other places.
John Anderson - Agent to the Government of Prince of Wales Island
Peranakans themselves later on migrated between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, which resulted in a high degree of cultural similarity between Peranakans in those countries. Economic / educational reasons normally propel the migration between of Peranakans between the Nusantara region (Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore), their creole language is very close to the indigenous languages of those countries, which makes adaptations a lot easier.
For political reasons Peranakans and other Nusantara Chinese are grouped as a one racial group, Chinese, with Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia becoming more adoptive of mainland Chinese culture, and Chinese in Indonesia becoming more diluted in their Chinese culture. Such things can be attributed to the policies of Bumiputera and Chinese-National Schools (Malaysia), mother tongue policy (Singapore) and the ban of Chinese culture during the Soeharto era in Indonesia.
In old times the Peranakans were held in high regard by Malays. Some Malays in the past may have taken the word "Baba", referring to Chinese males, and put it into their name, when this used to be the case. This is not followed by the younger generation, and the current Chinese Malaysians do not have the same status or respect as Peranakans used to have.
The Peranakan retained most of their ethnic and religious origins (such as ancestor worship), but assimilated the language and culture of the Malays. The Nyonya's clothing, Baju Panjang (Long Dress) was adapted from the native Malay's Baju Kurung. It is worn with a batik sarong (batik wrap-around skirt) and 3 kerosang (brooches). Beaded slippers called Kasot Manek were a hand-made with much skill and patience: strung, beaded and sewn onto canvas with tiny faceted glass beads from Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic).
Traditional kasot manek design often have European floral subjects, with colors influenced by 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.
In Indonesia, the Peranakans develop their own kebaya, most notably kebaya encim, derived from the name encim or enci to refer to a married Chinese woman. Kebaya encim was commonly wore by Chinese ladies in Javan coastal cities with significant Chinese settlements, such as Semarang, Lasem, Tuban, Surabaya, Pekalongan and Cirebon. It marked differently from Javanese kebaya with its smaller and finer embroidery, lighter fabrics and more vibrant colors. They also developed their own batik patterns, which incorporate symbols from China. The kebaya enicm fit well with vibrant-colored kain batik pesisiran (Javan coastal batik), which incorporated symbols and motives from China; such as dragon, phoenix, peony and lotus. For the Baba they will wear baju lokchuan (which is the Chinese men full costume) but the younger generation they will wear just the top of it which is the long sleeved silk jacket with Chinese collar or the batik shirt.
Baba Nyonya subscribed to Chinese beliefs: Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, celebrated the Lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival, while adopting the customs of the land they settled in, as well as those of their colonial rulers. There are traces of Portuguese, Dutch, British, Malay and Indonesian influences in Baba culture. A certain number of Baba Nonya families were and still are, Catholic. However in this modern society, lots of young Peranakan community have been embracing Christianity. Most notably in Indonesia, Country with the most significant Peranakan where most of the Chinese are Christians.
From the Malay influence a unique "Nyonya" cuisine has developed using typical Malay spices. Examples are Chicken Kapitan, a dry chicken curry, and Inchi Kabin, a Nyonya version of fried chicken. Pindang bandeng is a common fish soup served in Indonesia during the Chinese new year and so is a white round mooncake from Tangerang which is normally used during the Autumn Festival. Swikee Purwodadi is a peranakan dish from Purwodadi, it is a frog soup dish.
Nyonya Laksa is a very popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia, as is Kueh Lapis, a type of multi layered cake, most often eaten at Chinese New Year to symbolize a ladder of prosperity.
"Pong-Teh" is also another popular and savoury dish of the Peranakan community. The main ingredient is onion, chicken and fermented bean sauce. The Malacca Nyonyas are well known for this dish.
A small number of restaurants serving Nyonya food can be found in Singapore; Penang and Malacca in Malaysia; and Jakarta, Semarang, Surabaya in Indonesia.
It was not uncommon for early Chinese traders to take Malay women from Peninsular Malaya or Sumatra as wives or concubines
Consequently, the Baba Nyonya possessed a synergistic mix of Sino-Malay cultural traits.
Written records from the 19th and early 20th centuries show that Peranakan men usually took brides from within the local Peranakan community. Peranakan families occasionally imported brides from China and sent their daughters to China to find husbands.
Marriages within the community and of similar stature were the norm. Wealthy men prefigured to marry a chin choay: or matrilocal marriage where husband moved in with wife's family.
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 who speaks on behalf of the suitor. Most 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 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 begin a romantic theme which was carried on by others, each taking the floor in turn, 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 particular turns of phrase lead to the charm of this performance.
Historical and cultural items from the Baba culture are displayed in cultural establishments on Heeren Street, Jonker Street and other streets in the same neighborhood in Malacca; the Pinang Peranakan Mansion in Penang, Malaysia; and at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore. Furniture, food, and even traditional clothes of the Baba and Nyonya are exhibited. 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 (pasar malam) scene, and are usually crowded with shoppers, both local and foreign.
In Indonesia, a large population of Peranakans can be found in Tangerang, West Java.
Baba Nyonya were financially better off than China-born Chinese. Their family wealth and connections enabled them to form a Straits-Chinese elite, whose loyalty was strictly to Britain or the Netherlands. Due to their strict loyalty, they did not support Malaysian nor Indonesian Independence.
By the middle of the twentieth century, most Peranakan were English or Dutch-educated, as a result of the Western colonization of Malaya and Indonesia, Peranakans readily embraced English culture and education as a means to advance economically thus administrative and civil service posts were often filled by prominent Straits Chinese. Many in the community chose to convert to Christianity due to its perceived prestige and proximity to the preferred company of British and Dutch.
The Peranakan community thereby became very influential in Malacca and Singapore and were known also as the King's Chinese due to their loyalty to the British Crown. Because of their interaction with different cultures and languages, most Peranakans were (and still are) trilingual, being able to converse in Chinese, Malay, and English. Common vocations were as merchants, traders, and general intermediaries between China, Malaya and the West; the latter were especially valued by the British and Dutch.
Things started to change in the first half of the 20th century, with some Peranakans starting to support Malaysian and Indonesian independence. In Indonesia three Chinese communities started to merge and become active in the political scene.
They were also among the pioneers of Indonesian newspapers. In their fledgling publishing companies, they published their own political ideas along with contributions from other Indonesian writers. In November 1928, the Chinese weekly Sin Po (traditional Chinese: 新報; pinyin: xīn bào) was the first paper to openly publish the text of the national anthem Indonesia Raya. On occasion, those involved in such activities ran a concrete risk of imprisonment or even of their lives, as the Dutch colonial authorities banned nationalistic publications and activities.
Chinese were active in supporting the independence movement during the 1940s Japanese occupation, when the all but the so-called "Overseas Chinese Association", or residents of Chinese ancestry (traditional Chinese: 華僑中會; pinyin: Huáqiáo Zhōnghuì) were banned by the Japanese military authorities. Some notable pro-independence activists were Siauw Giok Tjhan and Liem Koen Hian, and Yap Tjwan Bing, a member of Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia, who in the 1960s became a citizen of the United States.
Peranakan culture has started to disappear in Malaysia and Singapore. 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. Singapore classifies the Peranakans 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.
In Indonesia, the Peranakan culture is losing popularity to modern Western culture, but to some degree Peranakans try to retain their language, cuisines and customs. Young Peranakans still speak their creole language, although many young women do not wear the kebaya. Marriages normally follow the western culture because the traditional Peranakan customs are losing popularity. Only three communities of Peranakan still uphold the traditional Peranakan wedding customs, Tangerang (by the Cina Benteng people), Makassar and Padang. Of the three communities the Cina Benteng people are the most adherent to the Peranakan culture, but their number are dwindling.
Cina Benteng people are normally poor people and many seek, or have sought, opportunities in other areas. Some organizations do try to ease their burden of living. As of May 2012, 108 Cina Benteng families are facing eviction from their traditional homes, the reason given by the Tangerang government being that the area they occupy is actually meant as a green space for the city. Most of these families are low income and have nowhere to move to, as the government is not providing enough money for them to relocate. Several traumatic eviction attempts at 2010 and 2011 ended in violence.
The migration of some Peranakan families, particularly the well-to-do, has led to a small Peranakan diaspora to neighbouring countries, from Vietnam to Australia. 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 has been diluted.
Associations of Chinese Peranakan include the Peranakan Association of Singapore, Aspertindo (Asosiasi Peranakan Indonesia) and the Gunung Sayang Association, a performing arts group. The Peranakan Association has about 1,700 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 Saivite Hindus. Chitty Peranakans display considerable similarity to Chinese Peranakans in terms of dressing, songs and folk dances.Eg.pantuns
- Agnes Monica
- Chris John
- Kwik Kian Gie
- Rudy Hartono
- Liem Swie King
- Susi Susanti
- Mari Pangestu
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- Tan Cheng Lock: Founder and first President of Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
- Tan Siew Sin: Third President of Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
- Baba Charles K. K. Chua: Architect and Historian, Malacca
- Nyonya Chuah Guat Eng: Novelist
- Goh Keng Swee: First Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
- Lee Kuan Yew: First Prime Minister of Singapore
- Lee Hsien Loong: Third Prime Minister of Singapore, son of Lee Kuan Yew
- Lim Kim San: Minister of Finance
- Wee Kim Wee: Fourth President of Singapore
- Dick Lee: Celebrity pop singer, composer and playwright
- Pierre Png: Mediacorp artiste
- Tan Chin Tuan: Chairman of OCBC
- Toh Chin Chye: Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
- Tony Tan Keng Yam: 7th President of Singapore
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- Malaysian Chinese
- Overseas Chinese
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- Cambodian Hokkien
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|Library resources about
- "Benteng Chinese: Barely Indonesian" in "Invisible People: Poverty and Empowerment in Indonesia
- Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David, Phuket's Historic Peranakan Community
- Interactive 360 X 360 degree VR preview of The Peranakan Museum
- The Peranakan Association of Singapore
- Singapore's Mother Tongue Policy
- Petition for a Peranakan Town in Singapore
- Pinang Peranakan Mansion
- Review over one of the peranakan in Penang from photo-outing.com
- Some Articles On Peranakan Communities in Java