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NOV 2O17

The Peranakan Story — Mysterious in Red

FOREWORD This is ROAM Magazine: every issue explores a different country, commissioned feature-length articles by terrific writers accompanied by stunning photos. This issue serves as a great introduction on Malacca’s rich history and culture. It explores the beautiful UNESCO heritage site and gives the readers a peek on what to expect when travelling there.





ROAM: The Peranakan Story


Peranakan Story

Written by: Ee Lin Wan ( Photos by: Isabel Lee

The Peranakans boasted a heritage deep in history in Southeast Asia forged from a very unique relationship between China and Malacca in the fifteenth century. This gave birth to a distinctive culture which is ingrained in the image of Malacca up to the present day.


The History


n the early fifteenth century, a beautiful princess from the Chinese Ming Dynasty, Hang Li Poh, arrived in Malacca to be presented as a bride to the Malacca Sultan. Part of her entourage included five hundred youths and several hundred women attendants of noble descent, to wait on her and keep the princess company in her new home.

Babas & Nyonyas

This entourage settled down in Bukit China in the Malay Archipelago, eventually inter-marrying with the local Malays. The mixed marriages marked the beginning of a new generation of people in Malaya, the Peranakans or Straits Born Chinese.


n their heyday, the Babas and Nyonyas were wealthy and influential people in the business world. This is evident in their jewellery costumes (sarung kebaya), shoes and embroidery pieces, items of refined workmanship highly sought after by art and antique collectors.

Later on, early Chinese traders from the Kwantung province in China intermarried with local Malay women, adding to the population of the Straits Born Chinese.

The Baba's traditional costume is a Chinese dress, with intricate embroidery sewn using gold thread. The ladies wear sarung kebaya, a heavily embroidered Malay-style tunic with a Western style long skirt. They use silver ornaments like kerongsong (broaches), hairpins, earrings and pendants to decorate themselves. These are some of the designs they adopted to differentiate themselves from the Chinese labourers who came in droves at the end of the fifteenth century.

Theirs is a heritage unique to Southeast Asia, a mixture of Malay and Chinese cultures with a dash of the English way of life.

The Nyonya dishes are an amalgamation of Chinese and Malay dishes, giving it a distinct flavor of its own. Nyonya cooking is about the blending of spices, employing pungent roots


ROAM: The Peranakan Story



ROAM: The Peranakan Story

like galangal, turmeric and ginger; aromatic leaves like pandan leaf, fragrant lime leaf and laksa leaf, together with other ingredients like candlenuts, shallots, shrimp paste and chilies. Sometimes, lemon, tamarind, belimbing (carambola) or green mangoes are used to add a tangy taste to many dishes. Some of the more traditional Peranakan dishes include pongteh (chicken, potato and mushroom cooked in gravy with sugarcane, fermented soya bean and Peranakan spices), ark tim (sour duck soup), bak wan kepiting (crabmeat), otakotak (barbecued curry fish) and chicken kurmah (chicken cooked with spicy prawn paste). Although Peranakan food takes a long time to prepare, traditional Nyonyas are fiercely proud of their unique cuisine, spending a better part of their lives in the kitchen to prepare these dishes.The Peranakan food is one of the most popular contributions of the community to modern day Southeast Asians, as proven by the many Nyonya restaurants that have opened all over Malaysia and Singapore in recent years. Nyonyas and Babas do not speak Chinese, or any other Chinese dialects. They have a language of their own, which is a form of patois Malay. Some inherit a type of sing-song Hokkien that is unique to the Peranakans. When the British colonized the country, the Peranakans were among the first group of locals to adopt the English language. They began to view

themselves as superior to the other Chinese, who couldn’t speak English. During the colonial era, many Straits Born Chinese regarded themselves are the “Queen’s subjects”, a fact that did not endear them to either the Malays or other Chinese, who were against British rule. Yet, despite of the adoption of various cultures in their daily life, they have clung to their Chinese identity in some aspects. They celebrate festivals like the Chinese New Year and Mooncake Festival on a


large scale. The older generation continued to observe Chinese religious beliefs and rituals, though many younger Straits Chinese eventually converted to Christianity.

The Looks


he architectural style of Peranakan homes is very characteristic – being a fusion Eastern and Western designs. The “straits eclectic” styled Peranakan homes and buildings are easily identified even til today.


The most distinct differences are the full-length French windows and colorful ceramic tiles on the floor and wall. These expensive tiles are believed to have been introduced by Dutch traders. Elaborate and striking Chinese carvings adorn the pillars. Being an affluent community, the Babas and Nyonyas spared no expense in acquiring Chinese blackwood furniture, Dutch tiles and porcelain vases to decorate their homes. A typical Peranakan house has a main hall, second hall (tiah gelap), one or two courtyards, bedrooms, bridal chamber and kitchen. In those days, visitors to the house were normally allowed to the first hall. The second hall or tiah gelap was usually used by unmarried Nyonyas (who cannot be seen by members of the opposite sex) to peep through small openings dividing the first and second halls. Now, as the social life changes, the younger generation of Nyonyas no longer hides in the tiah gelap. In Malaysia today, there are still some “straits eclectic” styled buildings in Penang and Malacca, where most of the Peranakans lived during their heyday. The buildings are situated along a number of major roads in Penang including Magazine Road, Sultan Ahmad Shah Road (formerly known as Northam Road), Burmah Road, Prangin Creek and Muntri Street. In Malacca, the buildings can be seen along Tun Tan Cheng

Lock (Heeren Street) and Hang Jebat Road (Jonkers Street). Although the intermarriage between Peranakans and other Malaysians and social developments have somewhat resulted in a more dilute Nyonya culture in day-to-day living, Straits Born Chinese still observe their traditional heritage on special occasions such as Chinese New Year, weddings and birthdays. “Old soldiers”, the maxim goes, “never die, they only fade away” and this sentiment would appear applicable to the Baba and Nyonya heritage culture in Malaysia.


ROAM: The Peranakan Story

‘Ceramic tiles are often seen in Peranakan homes due to the Dutch influence’


Written by: Melaka Review Photos by: Isabel Lee

A visit to Malaysia without visiting Melaka would be incomplete for sure and visiting Melaka without visiting its Jonker Street would be totally insane! This article attempts to give idea to the future visitors about the background and ambiance of this living cultural museum.


ROAM: Talk The Jonker Walk



n the heart of Melaka is a long narrow five hundred meter street flanked by old houses dating back to 17th century. It was merely a row of shacks when it started on the Western bank of Melaka River. The servants and subordinates of Dutch masters used to live at nearby Heeren Street. However, as soon as Dutch left, it became noblemen’s street! Rich Babas and Bibiks started to live and trade here giving the street a deep-rooted ethnic and cultural flavor. Now officially named as Jalan Hang Jebat, it is popularly known as the Jonker Walk. Due to availability of collectible items dating back to medieval times at many shops, it is also referred as the Antique Street. Due to Chinese influences, its also referred as the China Town of Melaka. During Dutch Period, it was known as rich men’s street as rich Baba Nyonya had by that time established their businesses here!

As soon as visitor enters the Jonker Street, crossing over the Sungai Melaka (Melaka River) bridge on any evening of Friday, Saturday or Sunday one would come across a show of Malaysian Chinese Physician, Ho Eng Hui. A banner, ‘Malaysia Boleh’ is set out at the place of this show. He breaks one coconut chosen out of four set out in front of him with his one finger! or if you ask him, he would break it with his elbow! But usually the audience would ask him to His name is entered in the Malaysia’s Book of Records for breaking certain number of coconuts with his one finger in a given time. First he would show all coconuts to the audience and ask someone at random to choose the toughest one for him to break. He goes to audience and shows his index finger, bent cruelly from from previous coconut penetrations! He shows audience a bottle of liquid that he claims eases pain and stimulates muscles.

Whatever the name, it really appears to be a living museum and is a must-see place for anyone visiting Melaka. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, the street is closed for motor vehicles from 6 pm to midnight and roadside stalls are installed by street vendors selling gift items and souvenirs for the visitors of Melaka.

He enthralls the audiences with some other things as well. For instance he can throw playing cards with his hands as high as roof of nearby two story building. He can strike the rope-hunter with such an accuracy that he can tear paper held between two hands of another person at distance of couple of meters away from him, without

harming the paper holding person! He also lights fire on steal rods and puts these in his mouth to extinguish fire. The breaking of the coconut comes last; first he amuses the audience in many ways and sells his product - some pain

So next time you go to the Jonkers Night Market, buy Uncle Ho’s miracle oil. 13

ROAM: Talk The Jonker Walk

killer liquid - and then finally shows his feat of breaking coconut with his finger! Scorkes, a blogger on one web-page very nicely puts it: “You think he eats fire and pokes his finger in coconuts because he loves you ah? Uncle Ho have to cari makan also k? So next time you go to the Jonkers Night Market, buy Uncle Ho’s miracle oil”. As one moves on further jaywalking on the Jonker Street, one can see rows of old buildings on both sides hav-

ing elaborate and ornamented facades of Dutch architecture, with traces of Chinese and English influences in their motifs. Intricate carvings on the pillars and walls adorn these Chinese buildings reflecting the rich heritage of the Peranakan or Straits Chinese community.

‘antique’ shops are either closing or are already closed in the evening time. Those interested to buy some collectible may visit the Jonker Street in the day time. The artifacts from the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial periods can be found in many shops.

Strolling along the Jonker Walk gives impression of Carnival-like atmosphere. There are many shops selling collectable items or ‘antiques’ as old as few hundred years. However, most of these

One can also bargain for invaluable antique furniture from China, centuries-old Javanese and Sumatran wood carvings, intricately carved Chinese rosewood furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl,


indian brassware and tapestry items, porcelain items dating back to the Sung, the Ming and the Ching Dynasties, Dutch hanging kerosene lamps and other curios. Enthusiasts of numismatics can find interesting coins and banknotes as well. Visitors with eagle-eyed looks can even find items made of banned ivory and statues of Buddha! Many reflect the influence Chinese immigrants who sailed to Melaka with Muslim Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho in the 15th century, Straits Chinese and later Chinese immigrants to the then Malaya. Buying something from Jonker Street is just like buying a piece of history! However, before buying one must be sure whether its really an antique or just reproductions labeled as antique! One must be knowledgeable to do antique-shopping. There were only few antiques shops operating at the turn of the last century. However, due to increasing number of tourists in the last decade or two, the number of antique shops has increased significantly. Now a days once can find a dozen and half or more antique shops there. In spite of fact that the number of shops has increased due to increasing number of tourists, the shop owners claim that most of the antique buyers are local Malaysians. According to them,

foreign visitors are mostly in hurry and don’t have enough time to sift through the large variety of antiques to select for few buying. Some shops have on sale some really famous pieces of furniture on sale. Beside majestic Victorian brass beds and Chandeliers, one can find wonderfully carved wooden furniture as well. Once one old Nyonya wedding bed seen there was

more than 120 years old. It is said that the bed was once rented out for a famous movie ‘Anna and the King’. The value of the bed is estimated to be between RM 50,000 to RM 100,000. Antique furniture made in China more than hundred years ago can also be found at many shops. One must note that some authentic antiques may require permission from the Director General, National Museums of Malaysia, for taking the item out of Malaysia. Antique


dealers should be asked to provide information in this regard. For more information, museum authorities may be contacted. On Jonker Street one can find several shops selling posters of old Melaka as well as has several art galleries. The shops selling souvenirs, handicrafts and food stalls are open in the evenings. If it rains, the outdoors vendors have to cover their stalls and some may pack and go. The visitors may not enjoy the real charm of the Jonker Street, if its raining. Otherwise, there are endless options for souvenirs ranging from ornamental jewelry, wooden clogs and toys, old irons oil lamps to cups, bowls, chopsticks and sewing machines! The possibilities are practically endless! It requires lot of time and eagle-eyed browsing to find ‘hidden surprises’. Filigree and repoussé gold and silver ware with blend of Melayu, Indian and Chinese cross cultural fusion and elegance can be demanding on ladies patience in bargaining! Many shops in Jonker Street run multiple businesses. They use one kind of business to boost another one. One can find shops selling souvenirs and antiques at the front and running dessert shop at the back! One can find many aromatherapy and massage products as well.

ROAM: Talk The Jonker Walk


Hand-printed clothes with colorful designs and patterns can be bought from shops selling clothing items. These are done by hands using wax on fabrics. Price comparison would reveal that hand printed Batik is costlier than block-printed batik for the obvious reasons. Malays Kebaya dress (blouse worn with Sarong) and Chinese costumes like Hokkien male attire Cheongsam and Kua can also be bought from shops here.

wMany people would want to try the Chicken Rice Ball, a Melakan specialty made by boiling rice in chicken stock, some chicken oil and salt and flavored with garlic, ginger and shallot. The rice thus cooked is shaped into balls and served with boiled chicken pieces, garnished with cucumber, spring onion, and chili sauce. Spring roll, called ‘Popiah’ can be found here and there in the Jonker Street. Mostly both wet and deep fried varieties are available. Traditionally the contents include scrambled egg, fried onion, lettuce, turnip, bean sprout. The contents of popiah at Jonker Street may include fried pork fat as well. Hence Muslim visitors wanting to eat only Halal food may confirm before eating if the popiah contents are Halal. Chili paste and sweet sauce is provided with popiah.

Another famous category of items sold are the lovely painted wooden and intricately beaded shoes. Beaded shoes are not cheap and often beyond traveler’s budget. Many ornamental items are also available here and there including items like bangles, anklets, earrings, decorative hairpins, necklaces and brooches, mounted with colorful gemstones, etc.Beside these, one may also find many hair dresser’s saloons, acupuncture clinic, Chinese herb apothecaries, smithies and longitivity shops.

Chendol or cendol is one of the popular dessert in Melaka. It consist of white coconut milk, thin worm-like, pandan-flavoured, green-colored pea flour noodles and Gula Melaka (palm sugar). Red beans, pieces of glutinous rice, grass jelly, Durian and shaved ice are optional additions. Jonker Street may be the best place to try cendol.

While walking on the Jonker street on weekends one can notice some places having Karaoke sessions, dancing classes, Chinese classical instrumental shows and other like activities. These are arranged by various Chinese clan and dialect based associations e.g., Hainanese, Teochew, Lwichiu and Hakka, etc. They also have longevity shops which sell Chinese funeral paraphernalia. One may notice many old and retired people participating in dancing, singing, Karaoke and the like activities passing their free time in a healthy way. They also hold calligraphy, musical recitals competitions as well as operas. During colonial period, these clan associations also provided refuge to those Chinese immigrants in Melaka, who came here with neither any money nor any skill.

The aroma of steaming food blends with the sights and sounds of cultural performances. A permanent stage has also been built at the other end of the Jonker Street for cultural performances. Most of evening there would be some kind of activity there. However, on celebrations and eves of important days, there are many cultural performances on the stage. The live bands which were common in Melaka sometimes back are no more in existence, save in few places in hotels and cafe’s. However, year 2006 witnessed the start of live band music in the

Wonderful variety of local and ethnic traditional cuisine, beverages, desserts and Baba Nyonya delicacies can be found in the shops and cafes of the Jonker Street.


ROAM: Talk The Jonker Walk

Jonker Street as the first annual Jonker Walk Music Festival. All kinds of music genre e.g. oldies, blues, rock n roll and folk music were played during the said festival. Mark Ruffin, a live bandleader, who is mastermind behind this music festival wowed to play classic and original genre music only. During festival, the music was played at four different places on the Jonker Street. The participants of the festival included The Boneshakers, Mossie & Friends, Live Bait, Klang River Band, Split Fire, Jonker Walk’s culture division and students from various schools in Melaka. Most interesting performances included Teresa Teng’s Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The moon represents my heart) by 76 years old Roland Pheseira with his saxophone.

signs, additional street lights and other visual clutter detract from the authentic historic character of the area... the influx of stalls lining the street will result in the displacement of traditional activities.” Some people feel the Jonker Street has metamorphosed from quaint and “quiet haunt of antique-lovers to bold and brassy site selling foodstuffs, handphone housings, plastic toys and aromatherapy candles”. Whatever, the changing times does have its its impact on the Jonker Street but again the world is evolving and the evolution can never stop! What is more important is that Jonker Street has not lost the charm it had years ago. Old visitors do complain some loss of its originality but also want to come back again to see this live cultural museum again!

Best time to visit Jonker Street is of course the Chinese New Year and a week before it. As this celebration approaches, the street is adorned with cultural colors, with red Chinese lanterns and the Lion Dance performances, off course, dominating the scene. The changing times obviously has its impact on the Jonker Street. Some visitors to the Jonker Street who came here after decade or two complain that Jonker Street has become more modern now and lost its originality. Some say it represents the culture of today’s Melaka more than the culture of Melaka hundreds of the years ago. An expert at UNESCO, Elizabeth Vines calls the night market concept as “ill-advised and destructive”. In an interview with the New Straits Times back in 2001, Vines described Jonker Street: “Banners, over head street



ROAM: Mysterious In Red

The Stadthuys is the oldest remaining Dutch colonial building in Asia. It currently houses the Museum of History and Ethnography. The inside displays the history, artifacts and traditional costumes of Melaka. Written by: kiwidutch ( Photos by: Isabel Lee


he Stadthuys in Melaka dates back to 1650 and was built by the Dutch as the offices of the Dutch Governor and (say some sources: his deputy) because Melaka was at the time the administrative capital of the region here under Dutch occupation and control.

British who maliciously ordered its destruction while safeguarding Dutch possessions in Asia from the French, during the Napoleonic wars. The Stadthuys is a massive complex. The building’s interior has two floors and it is 30 metres wide. Apart from being the governors’ house, the Stadthuys also includes the Secretary’s office, a prayer room, a dining room, a guest house, servant’s quarters, the home of the Chief Merchant, a prison, trade office, warehouses, courtyards and a detached bakery.

The Square here has various names: “Dutch Square” is one of them and another is “Red Square”. This second name came about because although the buildings here are made of bricks, the British painted over it in a shade of salmon pink for maintenance reasons and then year later the state government tweaked the color to the present day hue of pinky-red for they are now famous.

The spacious records room of the Stadthuys is exceptionally suitable for the preservation of official documents, even though tropical climate is often the cause for the swift deterioration of paper. With massive metre thick walls, a high ceiling and big floor tiles, it provides a cool interior atmosphere and apparently has a dry-cellar effect.

The Stadthuys was situated within the walls of Malacca fort and located opposite the northern gateway into the fortified town, across the river. The fort itself encompassed a considerable area surrounding the hill of St. Paul’s, which accommodated offices and warehouses for the VOC and all the amenities needed by its colony. The fort walls no longer exist today thanks to the folly and vandalism of the

Standing at the Dutch Square, the Stadthuys appears majestically impressive with its big windows, doors and stairs. On the outside, a stone balustrade leads a dual stairway to a


small balcony that is also accessible through a door on the first floor.

painted red to copy the colour of red brick stone houses in Holland. Apparently, the Dutch painted the buildings red to remind them of their homeland. However, this theory is flawed because it was the British, and not the Dutch, who painted the buildings red.

During the Dutch rule of Malacca, the Stadthuys, like all the other Dutch administration buildings in Southeast Asia, was painted white. By way of the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824, Malacca was given up by the Dutch and the town became a British colony. In 1911, the British painted the Stadthuys and the Christ Church a salmon red.

Another theory was that the British wanted to differentiate British built houses from the old Dutch houses. Therefore, the British painted the old Dutch buildings red. However, there were other old Dutch buildings in Malacca that were not painted red by the British. Most amusingly, it was also suggested that the red discharge from chewing sireh (betel)

The actual reasons as to why these buildings were painted red by the British is now lost in time but legends and theories are abundant. One opinion was that the buildings were


ROAM: Mysterious In Red

was constantly spat onto the white walls of the buildings by the locals in venting their hatred and contempt for the Dutch. Later, the British simply decided to cover it up with red paint. A witty tale probably perpetuated by anti-Dutch propaganda and contrived by nationalistic British colonials.

Abdul Kadir, who as a young man worked as a scribe for Sir Stanford Raffles in Malacca, wrote in his historically acclaimed autobiography that there was a tunnel that ran through St. Paul’s hill into the Stadthuys. Abdullah also remarked that the building had a door which gave direct access to the Malacca river, located about 200 metres away. It was thought that the river exit provided the governor with an escape route out of the fortified town, in case there was trouble. Although the rumours of secret tunnels have perpetuated in Malacca throughout the generations, these stories have never been substantiated. Dutch conservation architect, Laurens Vis, in his thorough investigation of the Stadthuys in the 1980s found no evidence of any secret tunnels or hidden pathways. But maybe the building still closely guards its age-old secrets?

A more plausible reason given was maybe due to the lack of maintenance, the red laterite stone used to build the Stadthuys showed through the whitewashed plastering. Also, perhaps heavy tropical rain often splashed the red soil up the white walls. So, the British decided to paint it all red to save maintenance costs. There are also tales of secret pathways and tunnels that were suppose to serve as strategic hidden entry and exit points in the building. The famous Malacca-born Malay scholar and teacher, Abdullah bin



ROAM: Mysterious In Red

Today, the Stadthuys is Malacca’s premier museum, welcoming over 48,000 visitors annually. However, it now goes by the name of Museum of Ethnography and it is used for displaying bits and pieces of the different eras of Malacca’s colourful history and the culture of its people. Unfortunately, the museum provides no information on the architectural layout, historical function and past activities of the Stadthuys itself. The only feature that gives a somewhat true representation of the history of the building is the governor’s room, a single room that attempts to recreate the atmosphere of how it was during Dutch times there.

Whilst I was delighted to be able to see the local Melakian market in full swing on the day we visited, the one downside was that it made getting decent photos of the Stadthuys very difficult indeed. In fact I ended up with more Market than Stadthuys… also probably because of the presence of the market, the front entrance area was rather restricted in space so there were people everywhere, taking photos, coming out, waiting to go in, and my photos didn’t come out well at all. We also saw the queue and knew immediately that there would be no hope of even a super quick tour on our tight schedule… but yet another reason to return one day for a longer stay and a closer look.



Malacca Photos by: Isabel Lee

Malacca is a melting pot of cultures – Malays, Chinese, Peranakans, English, Portuguese and the Dutch. Visual influences from these origins co-exist bountifully and they give the place that unique blend which is hard to be expressed in words. See them for yourself!


ROAM: Beauty of Malacca

‘A trishaw rider along Jonker Street’

‘Chuan Hoe Seng Shop located at Jalan Tokong, Malacca’


‘Batik Painting, Malaysian batik are usually patterned with floral motifs with light colouring.’


ROAM: Beauty of Malacca

‘Clog Making Session’



ROAM: Beauty of Malacca



Isabel Lee | P1740578 | Class 13

ROAM magazine: Malacca  

A travel magazine for the free-spirited travellers. November 2017 Issue. Brief: To design and compile a 32 pages publication based on your...

ROAM magazine: Malacca  

A travel magazine for the free-spirited travellers. November 2017 Issue. Brief: To design and compile a 32 pages publication based on your...