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Friday September 28, 2007

All things Peranakan Chinese


Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer Prof Dr Tan Sooi Beng, who will be the first to speak during the session, will focus on the culture and music of the Baba and Nyonya. 

“The period before the Second World War was the heyday for the Peranakan culture,” she said. 

Among popular pastimes then was the art of pantun (poem) in the form of dondang sayang (love songs) that was performed in groups. 

“The group members took turns to sing about various themes includ-ing love and traditions. The rhymes were created on the spot and whoever could not continue the song would have to sit out,” said Dr Tan, who plays the rebana, a kind of drum used to accompany dondang sayang sessions. 

She believes Peranakan culture is still essential today as it is an example of cultural mixing. 

Let's dance:A filepic of a dondang sayang troupe, comprising mostly Baba Nyonya,dancing during a Chap Goh Meh celebration at the Esplanade, Penang.
“As Malaysia tries to create a Bangsa Malaysia and its own identity, we have much to learn from the Peranakan culture,” she said. 

Michael Cheah Ui Ghim, a committee member of the Penang Peranakan Chinese Association and the second speaker at the session, will discuss about the evolution of Baba Nyonya clothing which to him is a fusion of traditions. 

“Among others, we can see Chinese, Indian, Thai, Burmese and European influences in the fashion and dressing of the Baba Nyonya,” said Cheah, a fifth generation Baba. 

He said the Peranakan culture largely originated from Malacca where Chinese male traders married local women, some of whom were of Burmese, Thai, Vietnamese and Acheh origins. 

He said the Nyonya women re-tained a lot of their traditional dressing, donning long, ankle-length th’ng sah or long dresses over sarongs. 

“The th’ng sah was usually made of batik and had no buttons which required the women to wear large brooches or kerongsang to keep the shirt in place,” Cheah explained. 

Cedric Tan Chai Kheng, the final speaker of the session, will touch on about Baba Nyonya festivals and practices. 

Among others, he will talk about unique Peranakan practices on auspicious religious days like Good Friday, Thirunal (A Hindu festival) and sembayang keramat (a Muslim custom) that have been adopted throughout the years. 

“The Baba Nyonyas are very open minded when it comes to religion. It doesn’t matter if the religion is not theirs. We always see what good can be absorbed,” said Cedric, a former youth leader of the Pe-ranakan Chinese Melaka Associa-tion.  

He said the Peranakan had also adopted their own practice in certain Chinese festivals like the Tang Chek (Winter Solstice) Festival celebrated annually on Dec 22. 

”The Chinese usually roll glutinous rice balls or kuechee to celebrate for overcoming the harsh winter. 

“However, the Baba Nyonyas in Malacca have the tradition of rolling larger kuechee and sticking them to the house’s doorposts,” Cedric said. 

This was to announce to any passer-by that the family living in the house was blessed and intact, as no one had died during the year, he explained. 

The inaugural conference will be held at Equatorial Hotel Penang. It is jointly organised by the Penang Writers Association (Karyawan), Penang Peranakan Chinese Associa-tion and the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry in co-operation with The Star and the Muslim Welfare Organisation Malaysia (Per-kim). 

Registration fees for participants are RM170 per person that includes six sessions of working papers and discussions, tea, dinner and cultural performances. Registration closes on Sunday.  

For registration, call Dr Jelani Harun (04-6532703), Khaw Bak Kooi (013-4201044) or Johnny Chee (016-4231109).  

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