The Complex Task of Being Chinese Peranakan

loading Cedric and his family during Chap Goh Mei 2002. Photo: Peter Soh.

The Baba-Nyonya (or Chinese Peranakan) remains a subject of fascination. Much has been debated about the different nomenclatures – Peranakan, Straits Chinese, Straits-born Chinese and King’s Chinese – but the narrative of this Sino-Malay culture is never far from the popular image of a Nyonya in her embroidered sarong kebaya and her resplendent jewellery. Such a gendered narrative has “frozen Peranakan culture and identity to a specific past”,1 and has led to the Peranakan identity being perceived as nothing more than the clothes she wears. Does the sarong kebaya a Peranakan make, though? What defines this fusion culture, and how makes someone ...

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