Sunday, October 9, 2011

So you really want to be Peranakan?

Today on sunday, Sunday, October 9, 2011, Page 10, Column, Speakeasy
Source Website:
Tabitha Wang,, 04:46 AM Oct 09, 2011

PHOTO: So you really want to be Peranakan?
Art by Yen Yok, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd

Ever since the success of The Little Nyonya, 小娘惹 (xiǎo niáng rě), and the opening of the Peranakan Museum, I have noticed more and more people coming forward and claiming to be Peranakans.

Liking buah keluak (even if they can't pronounce it) and owning one kebaya are enough to qualify them as one, they say.

PHOTO: Inspired by the popularity of The Little Nyonya, MediaCorp VizPro presents The Peranakan Ball, a musical play that recreates the emotional highlights of the drama serial as it follows the exploits of a downtrodden Nyonya servant girl in a wealthy Peranakan household who finds the man of her dreams.

These "Cina tok tok" pretenders trying to lay claim to our rich heritage just because it's fashionable? I can just imagine my true-blue nyonya grandmothers - on both my father's and mother's side - turning in their graves.

Listen, people. Being a Peranakan is not as simple as going out and buying kasut manek.

PHOTO: Recognize any of them???

Even being able to unearth a photo of a long-lost ancestor wearing a sarong doesn't automatically qualify you as one.

Baba-ness is a mindset - it is both born and bred.

PHOTO: Xiang Yun, who reprises her role as a mature Yue Niang, chirpily enthused: “I’ve got lots of scenes and singing. It’s a very happy Nyonya show. It’s very cute! I organise a party, at which my friend the Chor Chor will choose a daughter in law. Jeanette plays my goddaughter.”

It is not only in your blood. If you don't know the adat and sopan (go look that up) of the culture, you cannot lay claim to being part of that culture.

PHOTO: The Little Nyonya (小娘惹 xiǎo niáng rě)
Monday, December 29, 2008, Posted by Chris Ting at 8:31 AM

As all my relatives will tell you, a true nyonya doesn't only know how to wear a kebaya - affixed with kerongsang, not buttons - or tie a sarong (none of those modern zips and stuff).

A true nyonya is gentle and soft-spoken, so gentle that she can "pijak semut pun tak mati", or step on an ant without killing it. No rough and tumble hoydens need apply.

PHOTO: A true nyonya is gentle and soft-spoken,10277.html

A true nyonya knows the components of a bunga rampai and exactly how finely to slice the pandan leaves for it.

A true nyonya knows baba Malay - that special mix of Hokkien and Malay with a sprinkling of English thrown in just to confuse.

Well, maybe not enough to hold a long conversation but at least enough to be able to call things and people by their baba names. So not Tua Khor but Mak Koh, not Je Je but Ta Chi.

PHOTO: Old Peranakan houses. by stamporama

Food is, of course, the great decider - because a true nyonya is an instinctive cook.

She never has to rely on recipe books as everything has been passed down to her using grandma's agak-agak (guesstimate) methods. Her taste buds are her guide.

And she knows how to pound sambal belachan with a certain rhythm. In the old days, matchmakers used to be able to tell how well-trained a girl was by just listening to the way she pounded her sambal belachan.

When it comes to food, blood will out.

PHOTO: Penang’s finest Peranakan restaurants

My cousin, who never stepped into a kitchen during her childhood, can now conjure up amazing nyonya curries and sambal udang in her kitchen in South Africa.

Ask her how she does it and she says: "Instinct."

That's her genes talking.

PHOTO: Best Supporting Actress Xiang Yun & Ng Hui (The Little Nyonya - 小娘惹 xiǎo niáng rě)

I know I will get a shelling from people who think that I am being snobbish about my roots. But I don't see it as snobbery; it's just a defence of a culture I love so much.

PHOTO: The Little Nyonya & Olivia Ong

PHOTO: The Little Nyonya & Olivia Ong

PHOTO: The Little Nyonya & Olivia Ong

PHOTO: The Little Nyonya & Olivia Ong

If just anyone can call themselves Peranakan without bothering to know more and be immersed in the culture, then where is the value? Where is the snob appeal of calling yourself one?

PHOTO: Peranakan food

Think of it this way: Why do people want to go to Oxford and Cambridge?

Because the two places have their own culture and norms and are very selective about who they allow into their hallowed halls.

If everyone can buy a T-shirt with the university's logo on it and call themselves Oxbridge, then why would anyone want to be one?

Peranakans are not an exclusive group. Our very culture shows how inclusive we are.

PHOTO: Kebaya
Ella in Anna Avante kebaya.

By javajive Brandon Hoover, this photo was taken on March 20, 2008 using a Canon EOS 5D.

But if you want to call yourself one, then you have to show that you know the customs and traditions of the tribe.

You have to be careful labelling yourself as such.

Because a true nyonya, married or single, will have perfected her bibik stare by the time she's 40. It's the killer stare you see in portraits of bibiks of old, able to stop an elephant at a hundred paces.

All the women in my family have got it.

PHOTO: Nyonya Kebaya

My grand aunt has the scariest. One look from her can send you gibbering in a corner.

Imagine all that concentrated on you when you bring out sambal belachan that has not been pounded "halus" (finely) enough.

Now do you still want to be a Perakanan?
By Tabitha Wang,, 04:46 AM Oct 09, 2011

Tabitha Wang is proud to be Peranakan in all things - apart from having the typical high forehead.

PHOTO: Peranakan costumes

PHOTO: Miss Malaysia 2008 The best pose with baju kebaya sutera....
By Elegant Creative Design Haiman, this photo was taken on January 28, 2009 using a Phase One P 20+.

PHOTO: A Kebaya is a traditional blouse-dress combination worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Burma, Singapore, southern Thailand and some parts of Cambodia. It sometimes made from sheer material and usually worn with a sarong or batik kain panjang, or other traditional woven garment such as ikat, songket with a colorful motif.
mala @ kebaya # 7

By Yon PhotoGraphy, this photo was taken on January 10, 2010 in Taiping, Perak, MY.