Peranakan Museum: All About The Babas and Nyonyas

When you see “The Peranakan Museum?”, I bet you may immediately wonder,“What does Peranakan mean?”

The ‘Peranakan’ may seems to be foreign to you, if you don’t reside in the Southeast Asia region. It’s foreign to me too, until I discover so much fascinating facts about their people, tradition, and culture!

peranakan museum

 

The Peranakan Museum showcases the culture of the Peranakans, a term used for the descendants of the late 15th and 16th-century Chinese immigrants to the Indonesian archipelago during the Colonial era.They are regarded as part of Singapore’s living heritage. But what’s so unique about them and their culture, that drew so many people to the museum to learn about it?

You’re going to find out here!

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What’s Fun?

Apart from speaking to a Peranakan himself, the Peranakan Museum could possibly be the next best place you can learn everything about the Peranakans.

But there are so many things about them!

The museum has intelligently categorized the huge amount of information into different galleries and exhibition halls.

Now, I won’t spoil the fun of your own trip by revealing everything at the galleries right at this page.

But let me show you some of the exhibition that captivated me!

In a traditional Peranakan marriage, it can be considered one of the biggest event for the people, an event which not only involves the bride and bridegroom, but the whole family!

One tradition for marriage is the exchange of gifts between the bride’s and bridegroom’s family. Look the the picture below…

peranakan museum

 

peranakan museum

 

To name a few items to be given, they include cloth, which will be used to make a full set of clothing, red packets, jewelry, uncooked leg of pork, candles, two bottles of brandy and an auspicious number of oranges (usually in six of its multiples).

Though the items given by each family may look similar, they are different!

Guess: Which items (the first or the second image) are the gifts given from the bridegroom’s family to the bride’s family?

It is known that all Peranankan girls had to learn how to be a good wife, and that means, they have to know how to bead, sew and even walk correctly, to prepare them for marriage!

Look at that piece of beadwork below.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

peranakan museum

 

The beadworks and embroideries come in different design and forms. However, these art works are less common today as more Peranakan women enter the workforce.

Impressed by the Peranakan’s art work? We’re not done yet!

You can see more of the designs on the porcelain hardware they use at home. Look at the picture below. The colorful ‘chicken’ bowls (top image) they used to serve food on the dining table.

If you visit a Peranakan family, you might still see these vibrantly designed bowls in use.

peranakan museum

 

What about the ‘big pots’ below?

peranakan museum kam cheng

 

They are called Kamcheng. At the Peranakan Museum, they do showcase Kamcheng of all sizes, from the small ones, to the biggest one you can ever imagine.

They can be used to contain different kinds of things – from sweets and cosmetics, to food, desserts, and drinking water.

Large Kamchengs were known to be only found in very wealthy Peranakan families, and they are only used during special occasions. Have you thought of buying one home for your own use?

Now look at this pink-and-yellow coloured container. Look closer, they are not just any other container. It’s called a Tengkat, which is the Baba Malay word for ‘story’ of ‘tier’.

peranakan museum

 

The porcelian-made tiered containers are useful for foods like achar (the pickled vegetables). Today’s tiered containers are usually made of metal. The Tengkat, especially the miniature one, can also be used for keeping personal items like jewelry.

Enough of what the hardware the Peranakans use. What is this long dining table doing at the Peranakan Museum? Unless there’s a special way how the Peranakans have their meals?

peranakan museum

 

No. Not just any meal that the Peranakans sit down together at the long table, called Tok Panjang. ‘Tok’ is the Chinese (Hokkien) word for ‘table’, ‘Panjang’ is the Malay word for ‘long’.

The long table is set up not just for a meal, but is specially for feasts or special occasions!

The food served during Tok Panjang are also specially made for the feast, which is usually attended by close relatives and friends of the Peranakan family.

Who are the famous Peranakans in Singapore?

Some of the Peranakans in Singapore made significant contribution to the growth of the nation in its early days, and they include Lee Kwan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, Goh Keng Swee, the first Deputy Prime Minster of Singapore, and Tony Tan Keng Yam, the 7th President of Singapore.

Of course, not forgetting Tan Tock Seng (top image below), famous Singapore merchant and philanthropist who contributed money to build one of Singapore’s biggest hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

peranakan museum tan tock seng

 

And also, renowned Singapore Philanthropist Gan Eng Seng (left image) who set up Gan Eng Seng School, the Thong Chai Medical Institution, the oldest charitable institution in Singapore to treat poor people of all races.

peranakan museum gan eng seng

 

He also contributed to the set up of Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

I believe the Peranankan museum did give you a deep insight to the tradition, culture, and lifestyle of the people. But one thing I felt amiss in this museum, is the lack of food tasting for delicious Peranakan food!

Don’t you think so?

But fret not! I can always find them in food places all over Singapore!

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Visitors’ Information

How to get there?

The Peranakan Museum is just a 10-min walk from City Hall and Bras Basah MRT Station. It is also a 3-min walk from the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

For specific directions from to the Peranakan Museum from where you’re at, click here!

Opening Hours:

Monday: 1pm to 7pm

Tuesday to Sunday: 9am – 7pm (to 9 pm on Fridays)

Admission:

Adult: $6 (#Concession: $3)

*Family: $20

**Joint-ticket: $10 (#Concession: $5)

Friday Night (7-9pm): $3 (#Concession: $1.50)

# Foreigners aged 60 and above or full-time student

* For maximum of 5 persons (Applicable only during special exhibitions)

**Joint-ticket of Asian Civilisations Museum & Peranakan Museum. Must be used within 7 days of purchase.

Notes on Admission:

  • Admission charges may vary during special exhibitions
  • Free admission for visitors aged 6 years and below
  • Free admission for all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents aged 60 years and above (present ID or valid pass for verification)
  • Free admission for all Singaporean and Singapore PR students, teachers and full-time National Service men (present ID or valid pass for verification)
  • 50% discount on admission charges on Fridays, 7pm-9pm.

Guided Tour:

Worry you might be lost among the galleries? Don’t worry! Let a friendly museum guide bring you around the Peranakan museum!

Click here for the timing of the guided tour of different languages.

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Yay or Nay?

The exhibitions uncover the reasons behind some of the Peranakan’s cultural practices. If you ever wonder why some of your Peranakan friends do what they do at home, the Peranakan Museum will explain to you why. It’s easier to go there and learn than questioning your friends!

The exhibition and galleries dive deep into showing all you need to know about the culture of Peranakan communities. This museum also showcases some Peranankan home items, which are scarcely seen in homes today.

However, there seems to be missing something in this Peranakan Museum – No tasting of peranakan food – which forms a big part of its culture! Alright, if you really want to try, there are many peranakan restaurants around Singapore. There’s one just outside the museum too. Also, if you’re not a ‘museum-type’ of person, this might not be the place for you to spend your 2-3 hours! 

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What Say You?

peranakan museum

 

My trip to the Peranakan Museum did indeed opened my eyes to the world of the Peranakans, and let me understand the significance of some of their cultural practices.

Yes, I can say I did increase my cultural intelligence in this multi-cultural Singapore!

How about you? What did you love most about your discover at the Peranakan Museum? Share it with us below!

 

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