Singapore exhibits treasure trove of Peranakan history

Fri Jul 17, 2009 3:57am EDT
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By Sugita Katyal

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - This is one exhibition literally studded with glittering nuggets of history.

"Baba Bling: The Peranakans & Their Jewellery," at one level, showcases the unique hybrid culture of the Peranakans, little known outside Southeast Asia, through more than 300 pieces of gold, diamond and even simple metal jewelry.

But the exhibition at Singapore's Peranakan Museum also chronicles the fortunes of these descendants of Chinese migrants, from the highs of the Industrial Revolution to the lows of World War Two.

"Peranakan jewelry, like many in many cultures served the same functions -- as a store of value, beauty, ornamentation, symbolism and a sign of wealth and status," Randall Ee, the exhibition's curator, told Reuters.

"The jewelry reflects the state of wealth of the community and the rise of the Peranakans in the late 19th to early 20th century and the subsequent decline of the fortunes of the Peranakans after World War Two."

The Peranakans, whose name means "local born" in Malay, are descendants of Chinese traders who settled in Malacca, Malaysia and around the coastal areas of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia, as early as the 14th century.

In the 19th century, the Peranakan Chinese, drawn by commerce, migrated to the bustling ports of Penang and Singapore.

Marrying local women, they formed a hybrid culture that mixed Chinese, Malay and European influences. These so-called Straits Chinese differentiated themselves from later waves of migrants from China with their unique language, arts, foods and dress.   Continued...

<p>An early 20th century silver and mother-of-pearl belt from the Malaysian state of Penang, on loan from Dr Ho Pui Sun, is seen in this handout photo taken March 4, 2009. "Baba Bling: The Peranakans &amp; Their Jewellery" exhibition at the Singapore's Peranakan Museum showcases the unique hybrid culture of the Peranakans through more than 300 pieces of gold, diamond and simple metal jewellery. REUTERS/Singapore's Peranakan Museum/Handout</p>