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THE PERANAKAN STORY
Peranakan Chinese Culture is a unique and vibrant culture found in the South East Asian Region. It is to be found mainly in the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. It is a culture that encompasses the best of old ancient malay, chinese and european influences and absorbs the best of other cultures as well to form a cohesive and united Peranakan identity. The Peranakan Story aims to give you an indepth understanding on how the Peranakans came to be a unique community of their very own. It traces the origins, formation and settlements of the early Peranakans.
The Peranakan community started with the rapid influx of Chinese traders to South East Asia in the early 15th century. As their women folk were not allowed to accompany them out of China due to an Imperial Decree, most Chinese men who settled in the South East Asian Islands had to intermarry with the local inhabitants. They did so by marrying non muslim local malays such as the bataks, balinese, ambonese, the coastal malays and other malay groups. As such malay and indonesian influences were incorporated into the Peranakan way of life and the lingua franca of the Peranakan community became to be known as Baba Malay or Peranakan Malay.On a similar scale, Indian men and Eurasian Portugese men intermarried with the local malay inhabitants as well.These communities became to be known as the Indian Peranakans and Eurasian Peranakans respectively.
Peranakan culture actually encompasses the Peranakan Chinese, Indian and Eurasian communities. The only major obstacle that seperated these Peranakan communities was religion. Inidan Peranakans were staunch Hindhus, the Eurasian Peranakans staunch Catholics while the Chinese Peranakans or Babas and Nonyas were staunch Taoists in the past.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD BABA & NONYA
The term Baba actually evolved from the Indonesian term "Bapak" meaning "Sir". It used only for people of status and stature in society as a mark of respect. After the years passed, the term Bapak was corrupted and became the Baba as we know it today. Similarly the term nonya is also of Indonesian origin and means "Lady" it was laso used only for ladies in the upper echelons of Indonesian colonial society. The terms Bapak and Nonya are still used in Indonesia till this very day.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD PERANAKAN
The origins of the word Peranakan actually come from the word anak or child. The word Peranakan therefore in its full meaning means to give birth to a child. This means that the children of such mixed intermarriages were called Peranakan meaning that they were born locally and were of mixed blood. In the Malay and Indonesian dictionaries peranakan and beranak are used interchangeably and mean to give birth to. After years went by and as centuries passed, the term Peranakan became exclusively used to refer to the Chinese Peranakan community, this was so as the Chinese Peranakans comprised the majority of all other Peranakan groups. The Indian Peranakans now refer to themselves as Chitty Melaka and the Peranakan Eurasians call themselves simply as Eurasian. However in Indonesia, the term Peranakan Cina or Peranakan Chinese is used to refer to children of such mixed marriages.
PERANAKAN SETTLEMENTS & MIGRATION
The first Peranakan Chinese settlements were established in the 10th century in Java. During that time the hindu Javanese kingdom of Majapahit established trade routes with China. China merchants and traders flocked to the island of Java in droves. As women were unable to leave ancient China due to an imperial edict passed by the Emperor, all men who settled in these areas took local Indonesian wives. The first Peranakan Chinese temple was constructed in the early 15th century in the port city of Semarang. It is the oldest Chinese temple in all of South East Asia. As the Peranakan Chinese community increased in size, vast numbers settled in the large cities of Batavia (Jakarta), Suarabaya, Bali, Bandung, Medan, Palembang.
The Peranakan community in Indonesia continued absorbing new Chinese immigrants into their fold thus increasing the number of local born Indonesian Chinese. Peranakans can now be found chiefly in the islands of Java, Sumatra, parts of Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Due to this long process of assimilation with local cultures, most Chinese in Indonesia are still Peranakan till this very day. This is manifested in the language, food and lifestyle of most Indonesian Chinese. Peranakan Culture was influenced by the local culture of the area. For example Peranakans in Bali will be more Balinese in their eating habits and in culture while Javanese Peranakans would be heavily influenced by Javanese culture. Peranakans in Medan will of course be influenced by the Hokkien speaking culture around them and would have used hokkien as their mother tongue, just like the penang hokkiens. The birthplace of Indonesian Peranakan culture is in Semarang.
On a similar scale Chinese traders venturing into the Malay peninsula (present day Malaysia) took local wives as their womenfolk could not accompany them out of China. Chinese traders came to the Malay Peninsula before the davent of colonialism. They traded with the local malays and ultimately absorbed much of the local way of life into their culture. Most of the women they married were also Indonesian women of the Indonesian Archipelago though some were local malays. Many Indonesian Peranakans intermarried with the Singapore, Malaccan and Penang Peranakans as well. Many families in Singapore therefore have Malaccan, Penang and Indonesian Peranakan ancestry. In time the Peranakan communities in this area gradually absorbed new arrivals from China into their fold. The first settlement of Chinese traders was in Malacca. With the advent of colonialism, Peranakans immigrated from this area to other areas such as Singapore, Penang, and other parts of Malaysia such as Kelantan and Kedah. Peranakan communities can still be found in these areas.
The Penang Peranakan community in turn was formed when Medan and Malacca Peranakans settled there. Migration northward took some of these Peranakans into South Thailand. There are still some Peranakans in Patani and Phuket till this day. The culture of the Peranakans in these areas was shaped by the local culture of the area. For example Penang Peranakans who were more influenced by mainstream Hokkien culture dropped the use of Malay in favour of Penang Hokkien which is very similar to Medan Hokkien. In the same way Peranakans who settled in Patani and Phuket began using Patani or Phuket Malay, Hokkien or Thai as their mother tongue though they kept some aspects of the original Peranakan Culture. The birthplace of Singapore and Penang Peranakan culture was from Malacca.
Therefore Peranakan Culture as we know it is very varied and is different from region to region. No one Peranakan Community can claim that they are more Peranakan than the next. As we have seen, Peranakan culture varies from country, locality and even Peranakan culture in the same country varies. It also varies from town to town and city to city. Peranakan Culture is a cultural entity practiced by the descendants of old Chinese families. As the first Chinese to settle in this region hundreds of years ago, Peranakan culture has emerged into the combination and fusion of cultures and colour that it is well known for today. To get to know the lesser known Indian, Indonesian Chinese & Eurasian Communities click on :
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