The Peranakans are the descendants of ethnic Chinese who migrated to Southeast Asia between the 15th and 17th Century. While they retain many Chinese traditions, they also adopted many of the local traditions and customs. The Peranakan marriage tradition is largely based on Chinese tradition. Like the Chinese, the Peranakans also believe that good things come in pairs.
Early Chinese traders took Malay women from Sumatra or Peninsular Malaya as their wives or concubines, which led to a synergistic mix of Sino-Malay cultural traits in the ‘Baba Nyonya’. The written records of Asia’s history and culture imply that the Peranakan men usually took brides inside of their own community while the women were sent to China to find husbands. Marriages within the community and of similar stature were not uncommon. Wealthy men usually preferred matrilocal marriages or “Chin Choay” – where the husband moves into the bride’s family.
Usually, a 2-tier basket called Bakul Siah in Malaysia, or Tenong Keranjang in Indonesia, is presented to the bride-to-be’s parents by the suitor from a go-between person as the proposal. Since most Peranakans are not Muslim, they have maintained the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship, though some of them converted to Christianity.
Chinese tradition dictates a Peranakan marriage, which is one of the most colourful celebrations in Malaysia and Singapore. The important wedding rites, according to Peranakan wedding tradition, are commenced based on the “Pek Ji”, the eight Chinese characters annotating one’s birth date and time, which helps decide the most auspicious days and times for performing the rites. The taboos are given particular importance during the marriage rites and the wedding ceremony has to be legitimised and witnessed by ancestors, deities, and elders.
A Peranakan wedding is an exquisite experience in itself. One particular highlight of it is the Dondang Sayang, a form of rhyming extempore song in Malay, which the guests sing and dance to. The performance is a charming one. While the potential bride and groom are consulted, the parents and elders have the final say in the match that is to be made. The prosperous colours of red, pink, orange, yellow, and gold are used for the wedding items and also are engraved with special motifs to cast-off any additional bad charms to ensure a good marriage.
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