Baba and Nyonya Culture in Penang

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Penang Baba & Nyonya
Peranakan and Baba-Nyonya (Chinese: 峇峇娘惹; Hokkien: Bā-bā Niû-liá) are terms used for the descendants of late 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Nusantara region during the Colonial era. It applies especially to the ethnic Chinese populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya(Singapore, Malacca and Penang) and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who have adopted partially or in full Nusantara customs to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities.

The peranakan culture is a unique blend of two cultures, Malay & Chinese, which intermixed into a fascinating synthesis with elements of Javanese, Batak, Thai and British cultures, representing “multiculturalism” and “fusion”(Lee Su Kim, 2008)

Nusantara is an Indonesian word for the Indonesian archipelago. Its base meaning in Sanskrit and Indonesian is "archipelago". Particularly in an historic sense, Indonesians often use the term to refer to the archipelago between the Asian and Australian continents, often referred to as the "Malay Archipelago".

Straits-Chinese were defined as those born or living in the Straits Settlements: a British colonial construct of Penang, Malacca and Singapore constituted in 1826. Straits-Chinese were not considered Baba Nyonya unless they displayed certain Sino-Malay syncretic physical attributes. The Straits Chinese regarded the Straits Settlements as their homeland and while maintaining a basically Chinese identity, they gradually abandoned close links of kinship, sentiment, political allegiance and financial remittances to China so characteristic of the non-Baba Chinese (Clammer 1980).A clear distinction must be made between the Straits Chinese and the Straits-born Chinese. To be defined as a Straits Chinese, he or she had to adopt the exterior markers of a Baba or Nyonya, in language, customs, kinship, dress, food and even occupation(Lee Su Kim,2008). But some group accept Strait Born Chinese as Strait Chinese, and allow into Peranakan association and society.

The evolution of this unique ethnic group dates as far back as 500 to 600 years when Chinese traders arrived in the Malay Peninsula, the nucleus of which was Malacca, the center of the Malacca Sultanate. These traders did not bring their womenfolk along, and many intermarried with local women. The reason was because they have to wait for 6 months for the monsoon changes, to allow their wind powered vessel to continue sailing home. Intermarriage between the Babas and the Malays eventually ceased, and for hundreds of years,the Babas married exclusively amongst their own, becoming an endogamous and elite group(Lee Su Kim, 2008)

While the term Peranakan is most commonly used among the ethnic Chinese for those of Chinese descent also known as Straits Chinese (土生華人; named after the Straits Settlements), there are also other, comparatively small Peranakan communities, such as Indian Hindu Peranakans (Chitty), Indian Muslim Peranakans (Jawi Pekan) (Jawi being the Javanised Arabic script, Pekan a colloquial contraction of Peranakan) and Eurasian Peranakans (Kristang). Note: (Kirstang = Christians).(source: wikipedia)

The meaning of Peranakan
In both Malay and Indonesian, 'Peranakan' is defined as 'descendant' with no connotation of the ethnicity of descent unless followed by a subsequent qualifying noun, such as for example Cina (Chinese), Belanda (Dutch) or Jepang/Jepun (Japanese). Peranakan has the implied connotation of referring to the ancestry of great-grandparents or more distant ancestors. Baba is a Persian loan-word borrowed by Malaysian as an honorific solely for grandparents; it was used to refer to the Straits-Chinese males. The term originated from Hindustani speakers such as vendors and traders and become part of common vernacular. Female Chinese descendants were either called or styled themselves Nyonyas. The word nyonya (also commonly misspelled nonya) is a Javanese loan honorific word from...
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