Nyonya Kebaya: A Peranakan Tale

04 Dec 2019 / 18:08 H.

GEORGE TOWN: The unique culture and traditions of the Baba and Nyonya community comes to the fore in Penang, courtesy of the community’s first and only museum here.

Since its inception in the 1990s within the Peranakan Mansion in Church Street, the museum has become one of the main attractions in Penang’s list of Unesco World Heritage Site landmarks.

Inside, there are over 1,000 antiques – preserved and conserved over the past three decades under the watchful eyes of its curator Lillian Tong.

The affable Tong is the museum’s personality in some parts but overall, she is the epitome of the community’s unique food, fashion and customs here.

She is the reference point for everything to do with the community, which traces its root back to the British Straits Settlement States of Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

Such places are now home to the Baba Nyonya colourful customs, attire, cultural performances and most importantly its mouth-watering cuisine.

Tong took pains to recruit her friends to showcase the traditions of weaving the kebaya – a nyonya signature outfit, the tiffin carriers which is en vogue now, as people ditch plastic containers.

The Baba Nyonya, whom people now also refer to as Peranakans, are an ethnic group whose original ancestors were Chinese from the southernmost provinces, who migrated to Malaya for work and better fortunes.

They can be found in Malaysia and Indonesia where over time, they have fused their culture with the local Malay and Indon influences from the cuisine to the culture and fashion.

It has created a unique sense in their food, customs and fashion wear.

But as Tong would point out, they are also inherently proud of their background, and this is best demonstrated at the museum here.

Tammy Yeoh spotting a nyonya style hair clip
Tammy Yeoh spotting a nyonya style hair clip
Sweet girl Kebaya Outfit, a product of distinctive sewing skills. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Sweet girl Kebaya Outfit, a product of distinctive sewing skills. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Cheng Hooi Yen holding the flowers trays together. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Cheng Hooi Yen holding the flowers trays together. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Cheng Hooi Yen, with the tiffin carrier set which is a traditional method to store food which is now regaining popularity. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Cheng Hooi Yen, with the tiffin carrier set which is a traditional method to store food which is now regaining popularity. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Audrey Lim and Melinda Song using a traditional device to scrap the coconut skin. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Audrey Lim and Melinda Song using a traditional device to scrap the coconut skin. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Lilian Tong and Cheng Hooi Yen whipping up traditional nyonya dishes.
Lilian Tong and Cheng Hooi Yen whipping up traditional nyonya dishes.
Lilian Tong (L) assisting Cheng Hooi Yen to wear the Baba Nyonya jewellery. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Lilian Tong (L) assisting Cheng Hooi Yen to wear the Baba Nyonya jewellery. — Sunpix by Masry Che Ani
Anna Ooi Bee Yean and Audrey Lim, with a nyonya basket.
Anna Ooi Bee Yean and Audrey Lim, with a nyonya basket.

email blast