Unfolding Treasured Peranakan Moments

RISIS pays tribute to the Peranakans by putting a fresh spin on its tradition and translating them into timeless collections with contemporary pieces that still retain the very essence of its heritage.

Each piece in our Peranakan Collections is a fine work of art and has been intricately designed to tell celebratory stories in honour of this fascinating culture.

Unveiling a visual treat like no other, from tasteful blends of luxurious materials including semi-precious stones and jade to the emblems of Peranakan motifs, it definitely sparks a renewed interest in this heritage.

Keeping the Peranakan Stories Alive

We uncover several unknown facts about this fascinating history, from famous Peranakans to inspirations behind their architectures. It is truly a colourful cultural collision to be cherished and celebrated.

P.S. In the meantime, feast your eyes on some behind-the-scenes photos of something new that we're "brewing" up!

Peranakan Heritage – A Fascinating Hybrid Culture

Traces of Peranakan heritage are ubiquitous throughout Singapore. From the vibrantly coloured shophouses to exquisite culinary delights and richly decorated clothing, Peranakan culture is a hybrid blend of traditions, practices, and cuisines. This fascinating community has assimilated so well into the society that it may be hard to spot a Peranakan even if you are next to one.

Who are the Peranakans?
Peranakan heritage is a tale of adaptation. The term Peranakan means ‘locally born’ in Malay. It refers to descendants of mixed heritage whose ancestors are thought to be traders from China who migrated to Southeast Asia during the 15th century and married local women. There are Chinese Peranakans, Indian Peranakans (known as Chitty Melaka) and Jawi (Arab) Peranakans. Today, Chinese Peranakans form the largest group.

Peranakan males are known as “Baba” (an honorific term with Persian roots), and females are known as “Nyonyas” (a word which has Portuguese roots).

Image(s) from Peranakan Museum’s Facebook page

Famous Peranakans

Peranakans have been established in Singapore for several generations, some families even pre-dating the arrival of Raffles, and are among the founding fathers of the country. They have contributed greatly to the success of Singapore. Here are two remarkable Babas that are celebrated in history.

Mr. Tan Tock Seng

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

 Celebrating Peranakan Culture

Image(s) from Peranakan Museum’s Facebook page

Language
The language of the Peranakans, “Baba Malay” is a creole of the Malay language with smatterings of Hokkien terms.

Cuisine
In the past, all Nyonyas were expected to know how to cook as it was seen as an accomplishment for a well-brought up young lady. Peranakan cuisine is a tapestry of Chinese, Malay, and Indonesian culinary influences. Typically aromatic and spicy, it features ingredients that reflect its hybridised roots. Popular treats include colourful nonya kuehs and spicy stews.

Nonyaware
These ceramics in bright pastel shades are decorated with auspicious motifs like peonies and phoenixes. Commonly found in Peranakan households, they have often commissioned pieces, sometimes even bearing the family surname. Even the most utilitarian items like plates, spoons, teapots, and spittoons, were beautifully decorated.

Dondang Sayang (Music and Poetic art)
Akin to a “Peranakan rap”, this distinctive musical form involves the singing of four-line verses accompanied by music. Dondang Sayang was used as a form of entertainment during social gatherings and festivals.

Image(s) from Peranakan Museum’s Facebook page

Furniture
The Peranakans favoured furniture that was crafted from blackwood and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and marble. Ornate blackwood furniture was especially popular among affluent Peranakans in the 19th century.

Nyonya Embroidery and Beadwork
Nyonya embroidery and beadwork is one of the most beautiful aspects of Peranakan material culture. Beadwork is used on shoes, called “kasot manek” as well as on decorative items for the home, such as tablecloths and decorative hangings. Embroidery was most common on clothing and textiles used for altars as well as beds.

Sarong Kebaya
Kebayas come in many forms and are used in many cultures, but a Nyonya kebaya is unmistakable with distinctive, colourful embroidery called “sulam” and delicate cutwork called “kerawang”. Nyonyas favoured auspicious motifs for their kebayas, which were fastened with a set of three brooches called “kerosang”.

Kasot Manek
These handmade shoes worn by Nyonyas consist of thousands of glass seed beads. A single pair of women’s shoes would have about 15,000 individually sewn beads. Nyonyas might have sewn a pair for themselves and their husbands-to-be in preparation for their wedding.

Tali Pinggang
The tali pinggang (chain-link silver belt) has intricate patterns that are totally concealed when worn under the baju panjang. But with the more revealing kebaya, the buckle peeps out at the waist, continuing from the kerosang the ostentatious display of ornamentation. Once in a while, you may spot an outsized gold buckle and wickedly wonder if the nyonya had benefitted from an unknown inheritance.

Special thanks to our cultural consultant: The Peranakan Association Singapore