Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) teases the reopening of the Peranakan Museum with a pop-up exhibition

Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) teases the reopening of the Peranakan Museum with a pop-up exhibition

A pop-up exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) brings to life the vibrant Peranakan culture which has had an outsize impact on Singapore’s commercial success and cultural heritage.

The exhibition title,Apa Khabair? – Peranakan Museum in the Making, is borrowed from the Baba Malay greeting ‘Apa Khabair?,’ meaning ‘What news is there?,’ and heralds the reopening of the Peranakan Museum in the first half of 2023 following an extensive revamp.

In Singapore, Peranakan usually refers to Straits-born Chinese, who are people born in the former Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang, and Melaka) or British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) and their descendants. Most Peranakans living in Singapore today trace their origins to 15th century Melaka, where their ancestors were thought to be Chinese traders who married local women.

This fusion of Chinese and Malay cultures gave rise to a distinctive society with its own cuisine, customs, and clothing.

Many of the early Peranakans were entrepreneurial traders and shopkeepers. As time went by, a significant number got involved in real estate, shipping, and banking. In the early 1800s, the community clustered around Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar on the edge of Chinatown. Powerful Peranakan merchant Tan Tock Seng, who was an early donor for the construction of the eponymous hospital, owned a nutmeg plantation in the area.

Peranakan way of life_koon_seng__road_shophouses_Peranakan culture
Known as Singapore’s most colourful street, the shophouses on Koon Seng Road were a Peranakan enclave built in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a predominantly residential area with a vibrant business atmosphere. The shophouses were gazetted for conservation in 1991. (Photo: THE TRAVELLER DMC PTE. LTD.)
Peranakan way of life_emerald_hill_shophouses_Peranakan culture
Formerly plantation land, Emerald Hill started to take shape as a residential neighbourhood in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, many houses at Emerald Hill were occupied by Peranakan families. (Photo: Singapore Tourism Board)

By the early 20th century, the Peranakan footprint extended to Joo Chiat and Katong in the East and to Emerald Hill near Orchard Road. The Peranakan style is still visible in the architecture and tiled pavements and walls of these neighbourhoods.

Not all Peranakans are of Chinese ancestry.Non-Chinese Peranakans in the early 20th century included the Bugis, Arab, and Java Peranakans. There was also a small but significant community of Peranakan Indians known as Chetti Melaka or Jawi Peranakan, who today live in Singapore and the Malaysian state of Penang.

While cultural practices may differ from family to family and place to place, there are some distinctive common elements that form Peranakan culture. One is the language. Besides English, Peranakans traditionally speak baba Malay, a patois of the Malay language with a liberal sprinkling of Hokkien.

Peranakan way of life_food_Peranakan culture
Peranakan cuisine in a snapshot. (Photo: Singapore Tourism Board)
Peranakan way of life_spices_Peranakan culture
A variety of spices used in Peranakan cooking, including ginger, candlenut, turmeric, and of course, chilli. (Photo: Singapore Tourism Board)

An outstanding feature of Peranakan culture is its cuisine, also known as nyonya food, which shows strong Malay and Indonesian influences in the use of rempah (a spice paste) and coconut milk (beef rendang, anyone?).

Pop-up exhibition highlights:

1. A Brief History of the Peranakan Museum

Peranakan way of life_Museum_peranakan culture

Take a walk down memory lane with the historical timeline that starts with the beautiful Tao Nan School building and traces its transformation into the Peranakan Museum.

2. Collaborations with Peranakan Communities

On display are the museum’s recent collaborations with various Peranakan communities, which provide insights into their vibrant cultures through valuable intangible cultural heritage.

3. Peranakan Masterpieces

Peranakan_Carriage_peranakan culture
By reaching out to Peranakan communities overseas as well as in Singapore, the ACM and Peranakan Museum have broadened and deepened their collections of Peranakan artefacts. This carriage, gifted by Dr Boedi Mranata of Jakarta, was likely used in central Java in a traditional Peranakan ceremony called Tedun, when a child selects objects which symbolically predict their future personality and interests. (Photo: ACM)

Visitors can appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship and history behind objects from the National Collection that exemplify Peranakan culture, some of them on display for the first time.

4. Related Programmes

Peranakan_Saturdays_peranakan culture

Khabair Baik! Saturdays 
A series of conversational tours and workshops at the ACM led by members of the Peranakan community. Immerse yourself in stories and memories of Peranakan heritage and experience this living culture first-hand on the last Saturday of each month in Mar, Apr, and May 2022. Admission is free.

Peranakan_I Say You Do_peranakan culture

Video series: I Say You Do
Experts impart their knowledge of Peranakan craft to an amateur and, in the process, reveal aspects of Peranakan culture to the audience. This video series introduce living traditions, such as the making of ma’amoul cookies and kopiah, and how to correctly wear the sarong kebaya. You can also watch these videos on Peranakan Museum’s Facebook and Instagram.

Peranakan_Recipes_peranakan culture

Recipes and Stories

Recipes and Stories is an ongoing digital cookbook series sharing delicious recipes from the home kitchens of everyday Peranakans. For each of them, Peranakan food is a nostalgic and delicious link to the traditions and customs of their unique community. Discover the secrets of Peranakan cuisine at Peranakan Museum’s Instagram.

Find out more about and book admission tickets for Apa Khabair? – Peranakan Museum in the Making here.

We can’t wait to share more awesome content with you. This is going to be so much fun.

Give us a heads up on the topics that interest you: