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BABA HOMES & TERRACE HOUSES
Peranakan Homes were to be found in the regions of Malacca City by the 18th century. Such homes were bought and built on Dutch owned lands that were subsequently bought by the Peranakan Chinese for their own use. Peranakan homes are actually a combination of European, Chinese and Malay Influences. This type of architecture is normally called "Chinese Baroque" architure as it is a mixture of Chinese and European building styles. Such a mixture shows us the cosmopolitan aspect of Peranakan culture itself. When the Peranakans of Indonesia and Malacca came to settle here they made their homes in this traditional style paying close attention to make their homes as similar as it was in Malacca homes.
The layout and functional style of the homes were similar to the very last detail. In the early 20th Century, shophouses in the Straits Settlements began to adopt Western architectural styles with an emphasis on full-length French windows with a pair of full-length timber shutters, an arched or rectangular transom over the window opening, pilasters of classical orders; and plaster renderings. In the early 1900, reinforced concrete was used to allow wider roof overhangs and more elaborate cantilevered brackets which sprung from above the pilasters
The picture above shows us the entrance and exterior of a traditional Peranakan home. The Chinese signboard above the main door way is called a Jee Ho and the ornately carved door fence in front of the door is called a pintu pagar in Baba malay. The two lanterns at the corners of the entrance symbolise the Families origins and surnames in Chinese. The Chinese Characters above the the two windows represent good fortune and prosperity that are supposed to bring much luck and wealth to the members of the household. During Chinese New Year a red cloth known as the "ang chye bunga" would be hand across the entire breadth of the entrance to welcome in the new year.
.Unlike the early and traditional shophouses which have a continuous row of windows, the Straits Eclectic style developed with the breaking of the facade into two or three moulded openings. Such style became popular among the Peranakan Cina community in either Malacca or Penang. In some shophouses, the pilasters placed between openings, the spaces above the arched transom and below the openings were decorated with plaster renderings such as bouquets of flowers, fruits, mythical figures and geometrical shapes. In addition, some of the window or door panels were beautifully carved. These decorations among other things reflect not only the wealth of the owners or tenants but also their status or position in the local community. One of the main differences between a Peranakan Cina shophouse and a pure Chinese shophouse is the presence of these highly intricate ornaments and carvings.
The Peranakan shophouses reached it richest phase with the addition of coloured tiles on either walls or floors. It is not known wheather it was the Dutch or the Chinese who first brought or introduced ceramic tiles to Malacca. Coloured ceramic tiles are not only popular in the Peranakan Cina shophouses of the Straits Eclectic style but they are also used by the Malays to decorate their main stairs. In the shophouses, the ceramic tiles are usually placed on walls below the front windows on the ground floor facing the street. Flowers and geometrical designs are usually painted on the tiles. Furthermore, coloured floor tiles made of terra-cotta are commonly seen in the Straits Eclectic style, particularly in the verandahed walkway and inside the shophouses. One may spot these features on the shophouses along Magazine Road in Penang and Tun Tan Cheng Lock Road in Malacca and Singapore.
Most of the shophouses throughout all stylistic periods were built with a series of gable and pitch roofs; with the exception of courtyards or air wells and balcony. Some have a jackroof which is a raised mini-roof locating at the peak of the main roof. The space between the two roofs is filled with patterned grilles or timber louvres. It provides both cross and stack ventilation which reduces the internal heat build-up especially during day time. Load-bearing walls at both sides of the shophouse support the roof load through timber purlins which span horizontally across the width of the building. The walls are at least 15" thick from ground to first floor and 9" onwards. After attap was banned, Chinese clay tiles of a V shape were widely used. The tiles are similar in origin to those used in the Mediterranean roofs, being introduced to Malacca by the Portuguese. In the early 1900's, the inter-locking French Marseilles tiles were introduced to the shophouses in the Straits Settlements. However, these terra-cotta tiles were later replaced with modern roofing materials including metal and asbestos sheets.
Baba homes in Singapore were just like Baba homes elsewhere in Indonesia and Malaysia. They were extremely ornate structures and were made to display Peranakan culture and to showcase the wealth of its owner. The above picture shows you a Baba Home over at Blair Plain in Singapore. Traditional Peranakan areas in Singapore were and still is at places like Katong, Joo Chiat, Siglap, Pasir Panjang, Blair Plain, Emerald Hill, Tanjong Pagar, parts of Chinatown, Telok Ayer, River Valley, Tanglin, Macpherson and other outlying areas. Baba Homes consisted of 5 areas these will be discussed individually:
The Reception Hall : The Reception hall was the first hall one would see on entering a Baba Home. These reception halls also housed the household altar of the family. The diety found here could be the God of heaven or Kwan Im the Goddess of Mercy. The hall would be decorated with european objects de art, antiques and family heirlooms. Marble tables, chinese ming chairs, rosewood tables inliad with mother of pearl would also have been dsplayed in this hallway. Large venetian mirrors and the portriats of various ancestors would have been hang in this hallway as well.
The picture above shows us the ancestral hall of a typical Peranakan Household at the trun of the century. The rumah abu or house of ashes is the small squarelike box cupboard on top of the table. It was the home of the ashes of the ancestors and ancestral tablets. The porcelain used for mourning and for the reverance of ancestors was always white and blue. Such porcelain was only used for the dead while the other members of the household would use the more colorful and expensive nonya porcelian. Like the Peraankan kebayas, nonya porcelain comes in shades of pink , green , orange, blue, black, brown, lime, yellow and other exotic colors.
The Ancestral Hall : This hallway was only reserved for family members, close relatives and family friends. This was the most sacred hall of the entire home for this was the area were the ashes and ancestral tablets of the family were kept. The sembayang datuk or prayers to the ancestors was held here on feast days and on ching ming. Dishes of food and wine would be placed on tables and offered to the ancestors to sppease them. This was the hall were prayers and offerings of paper money and joss sticks would be burnt. The rumah abu or house of ashes was the place where the ancestral tablets and ashes were stored and revered.
The above picture shows you the layout of the traditional reception hall of a Peranakan Home. On the right is the household diety altar and on the left are the various elaborately carved venetian mirrors, european baroque chairs,family heirlooms, a large marble table in the centre and various paintings and portriats of the ancestors.
The Dining Hall : This hallway as the name suggests was used for the merryment and dining purposes of the household. This hallway was also used to entertain guests and visitors and were tok panjangs or table banquets were held. This hallway was also the area were the unique and beautiful table wares called nonya porcelian was kept. These porcelian pieces were kept in beautifullly carved cupboards known as tok kacha or almeiras.
The picture above shows you the layout of a typical colonial Peranakan Dining Hall. Such Dining halls would have entertained and served household meals for family members. As you can see Peraankan taste and decorative styles reflects Victorian, European and Chinese styles of decoration. It is to all intents and puropses a delightful blend of old Chinese and old European decorative influences. The repertoire of porcelain in a nonya household would consist of kamchnegs for storing rice and soups, chupus, teapots or tekkos, small cups, plates, dishes,religious porcelain, jars, vases, powder boxes and the like.The below picture shows you a typical Peranakan airwell. Such courtyards were designed to allow light and waterinto the middle of the home and promoted good ventalation and much needed coolness in the days before airconditioning.
The Courtyard: Every Peranakan Home of old had an open air courtyard in the middle of the home. Such courtyards had a fountain in the middle to symbolise wealth and prosperity These courtyards were converted into areas of leisure for dining or for gambling as the need arised. It was also the area were the family well was found before the days of plumbing arrived. Here is another picture of the interior of an old Peranakan Home in Malacca. It has since been refurbished and bought over by a Singapore company and made into a sort of company retreat centre. The picture shows us the Dining hall of a Peranakan home in Malacca.
The Kitchen : As in every household the kitchen is the life line of the home. This was the area were the delicous and mouth watering nonya food and kuehs were prepared. The altar to the Kitchen God would be found in this part of the home. It was also called the "perot rumah" or stomach of the house as this was the place were the nonyas and bibiks of the household spent most of their time in, cooking washing, making the various laborious mouth watering nonya dishes, kuehs, together with the cooks and servants of the household. This was also the home and abode of the Kitchen God or the Datok Dapor.
The Bedrooms: The Bedrooms were always found on the second floor of the home. In days of yore bedrooms were very private and personal places were friends and relatives were not allowed to enter. This area was the place where the ornately decorated ranjang kemantin or wedding Bed was kept.
The above picture shows you the ranjang kemanten or wedding bed, as you can see it is richly decorated with gold, silver and beaded accessories. This room was the most important bedrrom in the entire home. Much pomp and peagentry was needed as this was the setting where much of the Peranakan ceremonies and religious rites were performed during the Baba Wedding. On the right you can see a close up of the elaborate fittings of a Peranakan Wedding Bed. On the left we can see the Bridal Cupboard or almerah kemanten. It is usually made of wood from China and be either embossed with gold lacquer and painted over with either black, red or brown paint. The carvings on the cupboard are ornate and tell the story of ancient china, scenes of birds and mythical creatures or are even carved with flowers, trees and the ever legendary phoenix.
Besides the presence of the intricate plaster ornaments, carving and coloured tiles; the Peranakan Cina shophouses are usually filled with antique furniture. During the colonial periods, the interior of the Peranakan Cina house was decorated with Chinese blackwood furniture including the family altar, chairs, side tables as well as ornately carved teak cupboards with intricate mother-of-pearl inlay frames. Porcelain figurines, Nyonya cockery and coloured ceramic wares were finely displayed in these cupboards. This elegantly decorated interior is a portrayal of higher social, economic and political status of the Peranakan Cina in those days.
The red basket on the left besdie the cupboard is called the bakol kamanten , it is used in weddings in the exchange of gifts or lap chye. The ornately carved basin beside the basket is used as a wash basin by the couple. Before the days of modern plumbing and piping such items were neccesary in any Peranakan household of status.Most Peranakans now do not live in such homes nor do their modern homes possess such ornate and exquisitely carved furniture. As most Peranakans live in modern homes and adopt modern westernised lifestyles, such old homes are now home to a new breed of yuppies and expatriates who cherish and love the ambience of old Peranakan Houses.
The cupboard above on the left shows you what a typical Peranakan cupboard of yesteryear looks like. It is ornately carved and gilded in embossed gold and is decorated in the Victorian and Chinese style. The legendary phoenix can be seen on the right hand panel of the cupboard. Such cupboards now are extremely priceless and hard to come by. The above picture on the right shows you another teak wedding bed of a typical Peranakan home at the turn of the century. To the left of the bed is a beautifully carved victorian vanity dresser. This shows that European and Malay and Chinese influences merged to form a united and wonderfully ornate Peranakan culture. Peranakan homes consist of an electic mix of European and Asian influences. Besides terrace houses, richer Peranakans lived in enormous mansions that had 10 rooms and could accomodate 20 family members or more. Such mansions were built all over the straits settlements and Singapore though most sad to say have been demolished in Singapore due to rapid development and rapid urbanisation. Below is the legendary mansion belonging to the Chee family of Malacca.
Such palatial mansions would usually need a whole entire work crew of 5 servants, 2 gardeners, a driver, a cook. a guard house, a masseur, and an errand boy. The Chee Family residence can still be seen along jalan Tan Cheng Lok along Herren Street in Malacca till this very day. Below is another picture of a Peranakan house in Malacca. Notice that the doors and passgeways are extremely ornate and are carved with much detail and attention to design. Sadly most Peranakan houses are modernised and the entire contents are ripped out to make way for modernised interiors. On the left you can see an ornately carved pintu pagar or fence in front of the main door. As Conversation houses cannot be changed externally, a traditional exterior Peranakan Terrace House does not mean that the interior is traditional and filled to the brim with Peranakan antiques at all!! Most are totally renovated and modernised inside !!
The period between late 18th and early 20th centuries can be considered as the golden age of the Peranakan in Malacca, Singapore, Indonesia and Penang. Most of the Peranakan Cina were westernised during the period and many preferred living in European-style villas or colonial bungalows. Generally, a colonial bungalow is a two-storey residential building which expresses the Western and local architectural traditions modified to a greater or lesser degree by the use of local methods of building construction and building materials. Often such building responds to the local climate. This can be seen from the introduction of verandah, front porch, internal courtyard, ventilation grilles, big openings and high ceilings. Such buildings were built in late 19th and early 20th centuries which mostly combined the architectural styles of the Anglo-Indian, Straits Eclectic and Malay.
It is difficult to prescribe a good example of the colonial bungalow which represents the true architectural style of the Peranakans . However, the architectural styles, grandiose scale, decorative building elements and lavish interiors of the bungalows became very much the distinctive characteristics of the rich and elite Straits Chinese communities including the Peranakan Cina. In the early 1900, some of the Straits Chinese elite gave up living in their shophouses and moved in to these ostentatious bungalows. Typical characteristics of the colonial bungalows built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries include raised structures, projecting porches with arches or classical columns, high ceilings, wide verandahs, big openings or French windows with semi-circular fanlights, plastered brick walls and hipped roofs with short ridges. Some have internal courtyards, stables, circular driveways, ample gardens and servants' quarters. In these bungalows there were marble or timber floors, coloured tiles, fine chandeliers, mother-of-pearl inlaid blackwood furniture and teak cupboards filled with Nyonya wares.
The colonial bungalows were basically of load-bearing brick-wall construction. The upper floors of the colonial bungalows were usually constructed of timber including Chengal and Jati while the ground floors were made of either brick, concrete or Portland cement finished with red Malacca clay floor tiles. In some bungalows, marble slabs or patterned mosaic tiles were laid. Furthermore, unpolished granite slabs were used sparingly either as the trimming to floor egdes, airwells and verandahs or as paving in airwells, courtyards and patios. Both external and internal walls which were made of brick were rendered with lime plaster prior to lime-wash painting of white, pale yellow or light green colour. Before reinforced concrete was introduced, many bungalows had timber staircases with timber handrails and cast-iron or timber balustrades. Balusters of green glazed earthenware were usually found on the first floor verandahs. The picture on the left shows you the Baba Nonya Museum in Malacca which is owned by the Chan Family. The picture on the Right shows you the main doorway to a Baba home in Penang.
The colonial bungalows occupied or owned by the Straits Chinese families including the Peranakan Cina were distinguishable from the European residences in terms of their architectural details and uses of the internal spaces reflecting the social customs. For eaxample, the ji-ho or the sign hung above the entrance door, security bars to windows, and the pintu pagar or fence door. The size and number of rooms are also distinguished. More rooms were needed to accommodate the extended family household tradition. In regards to the uses of the internal spaces, the front hall or sitting room area of the Chinese bungalow functioned as the reception hall while the dining room, rear verandah and side rooms formed the private family area. The family ancestral altar was usually placed in the front hall of which the arrangement is similar to that of the shophouses.
Like the shophouses, the colonial bungalows owned by
the elite Straits Chinese suffered immensely during the 1930's and after
the World War II. Ms. Khoo Sin Neo described this situation in her book
:: " Peranakan Houses were looted and emptied of their valuable contents.
Within a few years, much wealth was dissipated to feed the numerous dependants
and hangers-on. The oversized family jewels worn by the Nyonyas were dismembered
and traded for some of the comforts to which the gentle-born were accustomed
to. After the war, some currencies and deposits had become worthless.
The most substantial assets which had not been taken away during the war
were lands and houses including the large family mansions, the holiday
homes, the terrace house properties. Members of large extended households
who lived in harmony under the same roof during better times now came
back to fight over what was left of the family fortunes."
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