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THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND ITS EFFECT ON PERANAKAN SOCIETY

Peranakan Culture is said to have declined after the Second World War. It was not actually the Second War itself that was responsible for this decline. For this reason we shall examine the preceeding events that occured before the war that accelerated the decline.

The Great Depression - The Great Depression dealt with it a severe impact on the livelihood of most prominent families as prices of tin and rubber which the Babas relied heavily on began to drop and were proclaimed useless when prices fell rock bottom. Many Baba Tycoons &society leaders were hit hard by this worldwide depression that lasted for a period of 4 years. But they eventually recovered and regained much of their original wealth and status in Singapore Society.

The First World War - The Peranakans then had to deal with another blow immeadiately after the first blow took its toll. War in Europe occured and the Peranakans had to support their colonial masters by providing donations and monies for the war effort in Europe. As loyal British subjects they could not say no or refuse such an urgent cause. This affected the economy gravely and many Babas lost their fortunes as war ravaged on and the economic situations deteriorated.

The Second World War in 1942 was the final blow to the prestige, influence, prominence and wealth of the entire Peranakan community as a whole, The Peranakan community was shattered as they would never dream of working or supporting the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation. Being extremely loyal to the English Crown & The British Empire, They always longed for the return of the British and would not hold even as much as a spoon towards the Japanese. As such most Peranakan families were hit hard during the war as they had to live on whatever they had to survive and sustain themselves. As such many of the old ancestral heirlooms, furniture, silver, porcelian and jewelery went out of their homes and made their way into the black market to be sold. During and after the war inflation was rife and the Japanese currency used at the time known as banana notes was basically useless & utterly worthless after the war. You basically had to take an entire suitcase of Japanese banana notes just for grocery shopping !! Now how worthless is that ?

To make things even worse many Baba households lost their patriachs, Uncles, cousins, sons and brothers to the Sook Ching massacre and most young nonyas were married off hastily to Non Peraanakns as a result in the mistaken belief that the new colonial masters would never ever fondle with a married woman As such Peranaakn culture started its decline,. as the Peranakan community had always absorbed and married amongst their own kind, the war opened up and broke these traditions and opened up new possibilities for the very first time. As more and more Peranakan families fell on hard times, more intermarriages with other Chinese communities took place Intermarriages were given the green light as many young eligible Babas had either been slaughtered in the Sook Ching Massacre or were unable to provide for their newfound brides due to declining forunes. As more intermarriages took place nad became the accepted norm, Peranakan culture, tradition and pratices declined further. The only way to escape the cost and expenses of the old culture and due to declining fortunes forsaking the old was neccessary and could only be done solely through conversion. Many others converted as they found hope and strength in the Gospel.

With the mass conversion of Singapore Babas to Christainity in the 1940's and 1950's Peranakan culture and religion was largely abandoned and forgotten. Most of the younger nonyas started working after the war and the bonds that binded the women folk to the household were broken for the very first time. After the war, the traditional Baba households that had resisted the bastions of cultural change and religious change gave in. After their parents and elders died most young Peranakans of the time converted in droves to either Catholicism or Protestanism, old taoist beliefs and cultural norms were replaced with Christian beliefs and norms, Baba Malay was rapidly replaced with English and Peranakan culture was replaced by a Westernised modern culture.

The Peranakan wedding so ingrained in taoist and Chinese religion died and faded into oblivion, the numerous pantangs and altars to ancestors and dieties that held sway to much of Peranakan religion collapsed, entire contents of homes ranging from grand ancestral altars, the figurines of dieties, the ancestral ashes and tablets were either emptied or sold as they could not be brought or tolerated in the new religion. Gone were the old Peranakan Chinese festivals and the traditions ingrained in Chinese religion, gone too was most of the Peranaakn way of life due to the impact of rapid modernisation and westernisation and religious change..All that happened within a short time span of 20 years after the war. For any society to change that rapidly severe reprucussions would occur later as it always does in most societies that under go rapid change in just a decade.

 

INDEPENDENCE AND PRESENT DAY CIRCUMSTANCES

With the advent of Independence in the 1960's, Peranakan culture took a back seat and discrimination set in. The other Chinese communities bagan looking down on the Peranakans as half caste Chinese and began ridiculing them for their lack of Chinese culture and language and for being more Malay than Chinese. They were scoffed and jokes were made at them inceesscantly. Then came the final blow that would shake Peranakan society to its knees. Mandarin was made compulsory for all Chinese irregardless of dialect group. The Peranakan identity and culture was made irrelavent and was given sub culture status and its priveleges that it enjoyed during the colonial era was stripped away giving all races a fair and equal playing field. Mandarin was imposed on the entire Peranakan community and dialects were not encouraged but tolerated and accepted.. The Malay aspect of Peranakan Culture was ridiculed by other Chinese Groups to such an extent that many Nonyas and Bibiks stopped using the sarung kebaya in public and were too ashamed to speak Baba Malay for fear of being jeered or laughed at. Condescending names such as "Baba Siao" were given to the Peranakans as they were the object of Jokes and ridicule. The Peranakans returned the favour in the form of "Cheena Gerk" meaning China Country Bumpkin. Inspite of this unsettling period of ethnic discord, the Peranakan Community & the Other Chinese Groups memnded relations and such ethnic ridicule so manisfested & ingrained in the past is not present today in this day and age.

The Peranakan activities of Dondang sayng, joget and pantun grinded to a halt and faded into oblivion as it was deemed unchinese in the new societal context. The Peranakan wayang performances stagnated only to be revived in the late 1970's and much of what was left of baba malay dwindled to such an extent that most Peranakan families were no longer conversing in it. Younger Peranakans born in the 1980's and later were mostly ignorant of Peranakan culture and grew up in a society where only the old spoke baba malay. They also grew up in an environment wereby only a parent was either peranakan, half Peranakan or 3/4 quarters Peranakan, making them 1/6 quarter Peranakan. They knew of their distant Peranakan roots and knew that they were unique but they were never exposed to the culture at all in any given way. A drastic Language shift to English became the norm in most Peranakan households as more and more Peranakans adopted westernised and modernised lifestyles indicating their newfound faith in Christianity.

With rapid modernisation and urbanisation Peranakan palatial villas, bunglows and terrace houses made way for new high rises and sky scarpers. The areas left untouched by urbanisation were conserved and earmarked as heritage zones, and were quickly bought up and rented by expatriates due to their new found heritage status. Entire Peranakan heritage areas and neighbourhoods were transformed into pubs, discotheques, restaurants, shops, offices and temporary expatriate homes for foreigners. As the new modern homes were small & could not fit most of the contents of their old homes, most of the furniture and antiques made their way to the karang guni man, the antique shop or ended up in the hands of collectors overseas.

Peranakan identity and culture stagnated and was only revived in the early 1990's and late 1985's. With the establishment of Peranakan Place and the preservation of Peranaakn conversation heritage areas, Peranakan culture under went a revival of sorts. This revival is currently being felt in Singapoire to such an extent that Peranakan restaurants, Peraanakn antique shops and Peranakan Association membership is skyrocketing. More people are now discovering their roots and are proud to say without hesitation that they are Peraanakan be they half blooded, pure blooded or 1/6 Peranakan..

But inspite of this the Peranakan community has lost much of its original culture, around 70% of it has faded with the passage of time. What is left of our culture is merely a facade that cultural experts call material culture. This material culture encompasses Peranakan antiques and artefacts that are in high demand ranging from silverware, the sarung kebaya, beaded slippers, porcelian, nonya food, furniture and jewelery. The second is the interest and revival in using the sarung kebaya and batik shirts, the popularity of beadwork and nonya cooking and the last vestige of baba malay that clings on in only a few hundred or so families and individuals who still speak it and use it as the langauge of the home. With the tremendous & drastic social change that we have gone through do you think that the future is bleak? No it is absolutely Not !! Whats left of peranakan culture is still worth preserving in the modern day !! Go on the next section to find out why this is so !!

 

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