Peranakan History

Penang in the old days.

Peranakan people are a group of immigrants from China who are more culturally anchored into their new home country than the others who came later.  

peranakan and living history

But not all of them in Malaysia consider themselves as Baba Gina. Today this heritage became a interesting focus point in the Penang tourism and travel industry. Every day plenty of people visit the Peranakan Mansion in Georgetown to have a look how they lived in the old days, the house was built in the 19th Century.

no peranakan travelers around

As it looks some lived quite good when they had money, interestingly in this mansion or rather big villa there was no toilet. The "night business" was done into pots and in the morning the servants cleared them. A great Chinese temple goes with it.

old pulau pinang is still alive everywhere

At that time there was no real tourism going on only a couple of travelers came by ship from far away one of the most busy ship routes where north to Rangoon and from there to British India. They were scattered across the so called Straits Settlements during British rule which were Penang, Malacca and Singapore plus the north-east Malaysian states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

peranakan saloon furniture with style

The main features of these Chinese communities.

This are the assimilation into the local environment which is primarily experienced by integrating local Malay language into their daily usual language and wearing native dresses such as sarong and kebaya.

This integration went on into the local "cuisine" by using herbs and spices native to Malaysia. They show this culturally different forms to other groups in the country. 

After the first generation of marriages, most new immigrants married the persons of the first generation, the women were popularly known as Nyonyas
The first who settled on the island were mostly from Fujian Province and spoke Hokkien. 

Peranakan Museum GeorgetownUnlike their counterparts in Malacca they adopting plenty of Malay words into their native language. One of this can even be heard today when people put "lah" at the end of a sentence which is very common in Malaysia, there are also plenty of other words and expressions, here is Peranakan Museum , 

The Straits Chinese were more on the "British" side,

speaking English at home and wore "western" clothing including hats. While in Penang they show western influence the other of Kelantan and Terengganu got more integrated into rural Malaya that included local sarong style clothing and the men where wrapping a piece of textile around the head which is very common in rural South East Asian Countries.

In terms of architecture they adopted the styles of Malay village houses and here a real difference between the east coast and west coast settlers started to emerge since the style on Penang was typical small brick houses for the normal ones and splendid villas for the rich ones. 

Nyonyas are a good example into adapting.

They blend into the local community including betel nut chewing, which is not done this days anymore but still very popular in Myanmar (Burma). They created their very special food over the years cuisine, cakes, like Kuih Kapit and Kuih Lapis are still very popular at any festivities. They also integrated plenty local herbs and spices into their food which become very tasty, sometimes a bit too tasty when to much chili is used.

The men started to kick off the tin boom in the 19th century as investors and as traders in the Straits Settlements. Rich Baba families such as the Tan clan of Singapore and the Khaw clan of Penang where top investors in this businesses. 

The Khaw's of Penang even built a small trading emporium up to Trang in Thailand, rubber-planting became also a strong business.

While the Straits Chinese as they call themselves in Penang, identified with the British and held British passports, their newly arrived counterparts from China saw themselves as temporary settlers who would eventually return to China. The number of later arrivals began to swell in the Late 19th century and by the early 20th century, it was apparent that they formed the majority in the Straits Settlements. In Singapore, the number of Straits-born numbered not more than 20% of the Chinese population and it is estimated that the situation was similar in Penang.

Despite their Anglophile leanings, however, they contributed towards schools as they still identified with Chinese culture they had formed the Straits Chinese British in 1921, the bilingual people played an active role in the community here is a typical restored Peranakan Mansion of that time.

In 1946, when the Malayan Union was formed,

the Chinese British Association of Penang called for the island to remain a crown colony but was unsuccessful. Following the Malaysia independence in 1957, the difference began to diminish.

Thus the community decided to change the society's name from the Straits Chinese British Association to the State (Penang) Chinese Association and later to Peranakan Chinese Association. Today this is fast disappearing community as the younger find no reason to perpetuate their once unique identity.


  1. Thanks for sharing a nice blog for ! Peranakan History Peranakan History .

    1. The problem is to find this place it is very well hidden, no sign etc. although it is very close to the main road.


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