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About Baba Nyonya

 

Also known as Malaysian Peranakan or Straits Chinese, Baba Nyonya’s roots reach back to the 15th century. It is a unique blend of Chinese and Malay traditions, first united when Chinese traders began to marry the local women of the Malay Archipelago.

Over the centuries, the Baba Nyonya blossomed within distinct communities that reached their golden age at the turn of the 19th century. Their wealth and traditions paved the way for a unique culture built around colour and ornate beauty

As the world turned and changed, Baba Nyonya traditions, colour and style began to fade and become increasingly wrapped in mystery. 




 

 

Peranakan-Nyonya Kebaya & Lifestyle

Language

As you would expect, the Baba Nyonya language is difficult to truly pinpoint. Most spoke a Chinese-Malay patois known as ‘Baba Malay”, which is still in use today. Others exclusively speak Malay, while in Penang a specific Chinese dialect called Hokkien is largely used. The extent of Malay and Chinese influence depends on each community’s exposure to outside influence.

Image on the left shows a Nyonya wearing the Nyonya Kebaya while beading 'kasut manek' (beaded shoes).

 

Clothes

The costumes and clothes of the Baba Nyonya have evolved from incorporating traditional Chinese and Malay influences, to bringing in tighter more western influences in the early 20th century. The hot, humid climate of the Southern Oceans meant garments continued the Baba Nyonya theme of vibrant colour, while elaborate design was a must on formal wear.  

  

 

 

 

 

 

Food

Packed with colour and spice, Baba Nyonya food (Peranakan Cuisine) is a rich mix of Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Thai influences. It creates a truly unique melting pot of flavours and sophisticated dishes. Preparation is often an intricate and lengthy operation. No feast would be complete without a wealth of sumptuous side dishes, spicy condiments and cakes with many sweet fillings.

 

Porcelain

Specially commissioned to reflect its owner’s wealth and status, Baba Nyonya porcelain was far more than just a functional item. It played an important role in family celebrations, weddings and rituals. The dazzling contrasts, exceptional craftsmanship and elaborate designs truly encapsulate this unique people and culture.  See the scarf collection they inspired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Discover more about Baba Nyonya from the blog

 

 

*Image courtesy of Attractions in MalaysiaLim Soo Peng, Mr-Vin, Nyonya Su Pei, Malaysian Chinese Kitchen

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