Mathilde HK at the Peranakan Museum, Singapore

You like Decorative Arts,

You are curious about the Chinese minorities in Malaysia,

You want to learn more about the everyday life,

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The Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian St, Singapore 179941,

Last Sunday, I went to the Peranakan Museum in Singapore, a very nice Museum housing a beautiful legacy of artefacts donated, for about 90 percent, by Peranakan families. The Museum provides guided tours with volunteers and I must tell it really made the difference.

Who  are the Peranakan?

The Malay term ‘peranakan’ which means ‘locally born’ also refers to other communities that developed in Southeast Asia. Peranakan Chinese and Baba-Nyonya are terms used for the descendants of the 15th through 17th-century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago and British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore).

The Peranakan culture represents then a unique tradition – fusing ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian elements – indigenous to Singapore and Southeast Asia.

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Picture of a Peranakan family,

 Highlights on a Peranakan Wedding…

The Museum showcases artifacts from Peranakan households, such as kitchenware and bed linen, furniture and table ware. But what I liked the most was the gallery dedicated to the bridal gifts and the weddings processions, having wedding gowns, wedding presents, the couple’s bed and beads works tablecloths on display.



The traditional outfit of Peranakan,

The Peranakan Weddings last 12 days and show similar costumes for Muslim or Chinese Peranakans. The gowns and accessories for such occasion are very well cut and embroidered. For example, the belt of the bride  is in gold with big golden buckles and serves as dowry. She also wears the traditional Melaka, a kind of fine blouse, hold by golden fine broaches. Her head is decorated with Head pins, meant for a specific hair dressing, minimum 100 pins, while she wears many jewels to display her family wealth. Those jewels for the wedding could even be borrowed from another family to show off.

The wedding  ceremony and gifts:

The bride and groom take their meals facing each other, the table is set with a magnificent tablecloth. The Museum showcases a Bead-work tablecloth of 1 million beads, Such pieces were done either  for weddings or for birthday.
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Tablecloth bead work, private commission with exotic birds, beginning of XX th century,

Among the baskets full of presents and the many gifts devoted to the new couple, I noticed one nice detail: the role of sleepers as presents from the bride to the groom… decorated with bead work.

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A pair of sleepers,

The Sireh set:

A very important gift and custom for the Peranakan women is the one of sireh:  Sireh was a popular form of entertainment originally used by by the Malays as a form of past time. Sireh then became part and parcel of Peranakan culture when intermarriages between the Chinese and Malays increased and it soon became incorporated into the Peranakan way of life.

Peranakan households always had one or two tempat sireh sets at home. The sets will be intricately carved and made of either silver gilt, silver or was even gold plated. Such sireh sets would be used to store the sireh leaves, tobacco and chalk needed to complement this past time.

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Peranakan Sireh Set (Tempat Sireh),

So, Peranakans are shewing leaves, cut with  condiment, to get red lips and to mark the acceptance of the bride into the groom family. This plant called Sireh is only for women and sets and boxes containing sireh are on display all around fine houses to show the wealth.

To learn more about it:


39 Armenian Street,
Singapore 179941,
tel: +65 6332 7591

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