The Peranakan Culture that has survived the ravages of time and modernity are few and far between. It encompasses only 4 main aspects of the original Peranakan Culture of old. These comprise of the sarung kebaya used by Peranakan women or nonyas, Peranakan antiques and artefacts, the beading of accesories or beadwork and the ever popular nonya food.

The picture above shows you the sarung kebaya used by nonyas today. This picture was taken at one of the events hosted by the Peranakan Association of Singapore. Notice that nonya kebayas are very colorful and vibrant. A kebaya of good craftmanship must be articulate, attractive and pleasing to the eye. The picture below shows you ayoung nonya in her sarung kebaya in the 1930's. The sarung kebaya now and then is basically the same in design and craftsmanship. The only changes made to the kebaya is that it is more colorful and ornate than the kebayas of the past.



Long before the days of bob and permanent wave the Nyonyas sported waist length tresses. Except when she washed her hair and nights when she let her hair down before going to bed she was always seen immaculately dressed with her chignon or sangoay well combed. The chignon of the Nyonya suggests a cross between the Burmese and Javanese hair styles. The coiled bun or sanggul nyonya rests on top of the head unlike the Malay style which wears the bun behind the head.. The bun is often decorated with a string of white jasmine as in traditional Burmese practice. The bulky sanggul is held in place by several hair pins called ch'iam-mah which are graduated in length. The longest, measuring about 5 inches, is the first to be inserted, right in the centre and aligned directly above the nose.

Penang Nyonyas prefer 5 or more hair pins each stuck in a clock-wise direction. They are impressive ornaments made of silver or gold alloy called suasa; some are studded with pearl, gem stone, diamonds or rose cut diamonds called suan puay on the crown and shaft The sanggul nyonya is known by different names: sanggul aeroplane, or aeroplane chignon, even sanggul siput. The younger lady, with buns on either side of the head, was described as wearing sanggul telephone or telephone chignon



The accessories that accompany the sarung kebaya are the "tali pinggang" or waist belt which is usually made of silver, copper or is gold plated and the beaded purse and the kasut manek or beaded slippers A set of 3 brooches called the "kerosang" is used to fasten the edges of the kebaya together. These brooches could be either made of precious stones, berlians, pearls, diamonds and can even be made out of either solid gold or silver. The sarung used by the nonyas is called sarung Pekalongan as it is made in the Pekalongan region of Indonesia. Such sarungs are beautifully decorated with fowers, tulips, roses, butterflies, leaves and are always very floral and colorful in design.

The sarung kebaya actually originated in Indonesia around the 1920's. It was first used by the local Javanese women and was copied by the Peranakan community in Indonesia. With the spread of the popularity of using the sarung kebaya to the British Colonies of Malaya, the Peranakans in these areas started using the sarung kebaya as well.

The kebaya or Blouse is made of silk voile or kain rubiah, its is usually made and embroided with the help of machines but used to be made entirely by hand. The embroidery of the kebaya uses silk thread of various colors to form the borders and the edges of the kebaya. The nonya kebaya is a piece of artwork in itself. It is fashioned in such a way that it appears ornate and appealing to the eye. the cloth used could be of different colors, ranging from green, brown, white, orange, yellow, purple, pink, black, grey, marron, orange etc. Notice that the modern day kebayas of today that the below nonyas are using is almost the same to that of the olden day kebayas.


Before the sarung kebaya became the vogue for Peranakan women, the baju panjang or long blouse was used by all nonya women. This blouse was actually a piece of garment or tunic that strecthed all the way to the person's legs. Another garment would be used at the waist and this was called the sarung. The Baju Panjang started going out of vogue in the 1930's when most young nonyas abandoned it for the more attractive and more likeable sarung kebaya. The baju panjang is actually similar to the malay baju kurUng that is still worn by malay women till this very day. The picture below shows us how the baju panjang of yesteryear would have looked like in the 1890's.

Notice that the nonya above is using a chignon are "rambut sanggul" Nonyas of old used to spin their hair into a bun and would actually use 3 to 4 hair pins to fasten the hair into place. This type of nonya hairdo was called the "ramcut sanggul" or hair pins. The hair pins would be made out of copper and would be decorated with carvings and previous stones. The shoes or kasot that the nonya is using is called the kasot tongkang. This type of kasot was used until it was replaced by the more modern version called the kasot manek of today. The Babas of yesteryear would always be dressed in either western or in chinese attire with a mandarin jacket and planter's hat with trousers.

Clothes and accessories go hand in hand; they complement each other to a great extent. The Nyonya style of dressing (being the baju panjang, baju kebaya sulam and baju bandung and batik or bright floral prints sarong from Pekalongan. The clothes were made from a variety of imported material like voile, organdie, white English lace or silk, and with partial adoption and improvement of style (somewhat similar to those of local Malay women) they became the standard wear for Nyonyas. Malay terms for such imported cloth material ( in general) like batik, renda, batik lesern, sarong, kain songket etc.) were readily borrowed and used by the Nyonyas when referring to such items. Similarly jewellery items or assessories like cucuk sanggol, anting-anting, subang, rantay, cincin, gelang tangan, gelang kaki etc., were familiar terms used to identify such items as the Nyonyas used some of such jewellery items daily.

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