The Peranakans are an integral part of Malaysia’s ethnic landscape. They are known for a rich cultural past and also for their unique architectural styles that incorporates several aesthetic aspects.
It is important to know who exactly these Peranakans are and to get a broader perspective of their culture, cuisine, and traditions.
The term ‘Peranakan’ is often referred to as ‘local born’ or ‘local descendants’ and is thought to have been used by the people of the Malacca Strait to address foreign immigrants who established families and businesses in the Straits of Southeast Asia.
The word comes from the Malay language of the local natives of the Malay Archipelago with the root word “Anak” meaning “Child” and hence, “Peranakan” means “Child of local descent”.
The birth of the Peranakan culture in Malaysia dates back to the early 15th century when Malacca was ruled by a Malay sultanate kingdom. During that time, the kingdom of Malacca was also a prosperous and strategic trading port for herbs and spices and had enjoyed a very strong relationship with Imperial China.
During the late nineteenth century, Chinese communities who settled in Southeast Asia adopted the term Peranakan to distinguish themselves from the new immigrants, whom they referred to as “Sinkeh” (new guest).
The Peranakans are usually the descendants of the early Chinese, Indians or Portugese settlers who were likely to have married local Malay wives. The Chinese Peranakans (Baba & Nyonya) are the largest community of Peranakans. The male descendants were called “Babas” and female descendants “Nyonyas” while senior females were recognized as Bibiks. The Chinese Peranakans can be found throughout the Malay Achipelago – Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, and Indonesia.
Thanks to the mixing of foreign and local traditional arts and customs, Peranakan antiques, cuisine, and language are distinctive and are still very much evident in Georgetown, Penang today.
If you spend a day with a Peranakan family you will be able to understand and learn about the culture and appreciate the richness and diversity of the Peranakan culture.
The unique blend of Chinese and Malay traditions, the Peranakan culture is matriarchal in nature which means, women are the head of the family and hold a respectable position.
Their cuisine has been developed with Malay influences but has a unique touch that defines the Nyonya cuisine with use of Malay spices.
If you want to delve deeper about their culture, arts, architecture and everything about them, the best place to visit would be the Peranakan Museum in Georgetown, Penang, which showcases their customs, traditions and the different Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia.
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