Produced by SilverKris for Peranakan Museum
While Singapore has no dearth of museums, the newly revamped Peranakan Museum surely ranks high on the must-visit list. After nearly four years of renovation, the museum reopened to much fanfare in February this year, offering visitors an intimate deep dive into the Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia.
But first, who are the Peranakans?
The term “Peranakan” refers to the descendants of Chinese, Indian, Arab, and European traders who settled in the bustling ports of Southeast Asia – including Singapore – since the 15th century. Over generations, these immigrants intermarried with local Malays and Indonesians, creating a unique fusion of cultures. The Peranakans developed their distinct customs, cuisine, language (Baba Malay) and art forms, making them a vibrant and distinctive cultural group in Singapore.
In his speech at the reopening of the Peranakan Museum on 16 February 2023, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said, “The Peranakan story is also, in many ways, the story of Singapore today. It is a cross-cultural place, a place where cultures, peoples from around the region, all over the world met to create something beautiful and better.”
The new and improved Peranakan Museum
Housed within a beautifully preserved heritage building on Armenian Street, the Peranakan Museum stands out as a bastion of Peranakan culture. Spread out across three floors, there are over 800 objects on display, including intricate traditional clothing, exquisite jewellery, ornate furniture and colourful ceramics. These artefacts vividly depict the vigour and creativity of the Peranakan communities in the region.
Starting at the ground floor, visitors are invited to ponder on the origins of the Peranakan communities through the crafts and material culture of the Malay-Indonesian world and the trade and migration routes that brought other communities to the region. Within the gallery, you’ll also find a vast collection of photographs of past and present-day Peranakans, as well as a video installation where respondents reflect on what being Peranakan means to them.
From there, make your way to the second floor where you’ll find two galleries – one dedicated to the ceramics and food culture of the Peranakans and the other to family and community life. In the first gallery, browse through colourful ceramics and traditional “nyonya ware” and watch videos to learn more about Peranakan cuisine. In the second gallery, get a glimpse into traditional Peranakan homes, with a variety of ornate furniture and furnishings on display – including an elaborately-carved pintu pagar (outer gates) dating back to the late 19th or early 20th century, and a stunning teakwood sideboard from Malacca.
On the third floor, the four galleries pay homage to the distinctive style of the Peranakan communities. There is an entire gallery dedicated to batik, a traditional Indonesian textile that was popular with the Peranakans.
Next, check out the gallery dedicated to Peranakan fashion – apart from the iconic sarong kebaya, this space also showcases over 130 types of menswear, footwear, bags and accessories. Highlights include a batik cheongsam worn by the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo as well as a sarong kebaya donned by Ivan Heng for a Wild Rice 2019 production of Emily of Emerald Hill.
The adjacent gallery offers an eye-catching display of over 180 pieces of traditional jewellery, including a Chitty Melakan addigai necklace, an Arab Peranakan hairpin and a set of adornments from one of the oldest Chinese Peranakan families in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Finally, the fourth gallery showcases the elaborate and vividly-hued decorative textiles of the Peranakans, ranging from table covers and bed curtains to slippers and footstools.
A cultural institution
The Peranakan Museum stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of a community that has seamlessly woven different cultures into the vibrant tapestry of its identity. With its well-curated exhibits and focus on people’s stories, the Peranakan Museum offers you a better appreciation of this rich and diverse culture.
As you step into the world of the Peranakans, you embark on a fascinating journey through time, discovering the captivating stories and traditions that continue to shape Singapore’s multicultural heritage.
For more information on the Peranakan Museum, visit their website here.