The word “Peranakan” is derived from both Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, simply meaning “descendants” or one who is “born of the soil”, “native” and “locally born”. Since this term is very wide, it can simply refer to any person who is a native of one country from a host of different regions.
There has been some general confusion about it, albeit that, it is commonly referenced to Chinese Peranakans, due to their numerical superiority as compared to other Peranakan communities. Other Peranakans include Peranakan Jawi (locally born Arabs), Peranakan Yahudi (locally-born Jews) and Peranakan Ceti (locally born Hindus from southern India that have adopted the Malay lifestyle). However Peranakan in this context and throughout the assignment will simply refer to Chinese Peranakans of Malacca.
The Chinese Peranakans of Malacca are Straits born Chinese. The men of this group are simply referred to as Baba, whereas the women are called Nyonya. Most peranakans are of Hokkien ancestry in China, although there is a decent amount of those who came from Teochew and Cantonese backgrounds. The language of the Peranakan people of Malacca is known as Baba Malay, which is a Malay language dialect that contains mainly loanwords from Hokkien.
Origins of the Chinese Peranakans (Baba Nyonya) in Malacca
According to legend, in the 15th century, some small city-states of Tanah Melayu (currently Malaysia) often paid tribute to various dominant empires such as those of China and Siam (currently Thailand). They had established close relations with China in the early 15th century during the reign of Parameswara.
Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho), a Chinese who had adopted the Muslim religion, visited Malacca and Jawa (circa 1459 C.E.). The Emperor of China sent a princess, Hang Li Po, to Parameswara, who was during that period, the reigning Sultan of Malacca, as a token of appreciation for his tribute.