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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, Malacca, Malaysia

Peranakan, Baba-Nyonya, and Straits Chinese are literally 3 different terms, but these names are all referring to the same unique community - the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to the British Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang, who have partially adopted Malay customs in an effort to be assimilated into the local communities. Baba refers to the Male descendent, while Nyonya refers to the female.

The interesting intermarriage between the early Chinese settlers and local Malay has born a unique culture which is not commonly seen, especially in this modernized and urbanized city. Straits Chinese no longer speak the dialect of their ancestors but a language of their own known as Baba Malay a Malay patois consists of many Hokkien words.
In Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (neighboring to Jalan Hang Jebat/Jonker Street) of Melaka, there a small museum comprising 3 adjacent townhouses called the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum. Appearing to be similar in design with other old houses in the old Melaka Chinatown, this privately owned and managed museum is showcasing the best of distinctive cultural values and lifestyle inherited by the Baba Nyonya community and family. Its not exaggerating to consider this small but comprehensive museum as the gateway of your discovery to the Baba Nyonya cultural establishments.

As mentioned above, this museum comprises of well-preserved townhouses. Thus, you will be finding yourself comfortably uncovering the astonishing cultures as if you are visiting a friend. This is a traditional homey feeling which is very much differing from visiting a conventional museum with items kept inside the cold glasses and enclosures. Housed in a beautifully restored ancestral home dating back to mid 19th century, this museum is a rare treasure which succinctly captures the aura of an interesting era.

The design of this house is influenced by the neo-classical European architecture, with the building mainly framed by heavy Greco-Roman columns. The interior of the house is complemented with a number of priceless old antique furniture made of finely carved hardwood. The furniture is extremely bulky and heavy, but featuring wonderful classic Chinese work of art.

The front area of the interior leads into an open courtyard where sunshine streams into the house on sunny days and raindrops patter during the rainy season. Yes, the olden traditional Baba Nyonya and Chinese village houses are usually having an open-aired courtyard, and some are also complemented with a well to provide water supply for daily consumption.

You will be able to see some of the traditional so-called ‘Nyonya-ware’ or ceramics that were specifically commissioned by the Straits Chinese from the craftsmen in the Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces in China. The Nyonya ceramics come in multi-coloured designs and normally have a combination of green, pink, dark blue and yellow colours.
At the heart of its charm is an archive of costumes and knick-knacks that once served the Baba Nyonya lifestyle.

The entrace rates is RM8.00 for adults, and RM4.00 for children (5-12 years old). For more information, contact Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum at +606-283 1273.

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