Peranakan culture has experienced a revival lately, thanks in part to The Little Nyonya, which aired back in 2008. Peranakan, which in Malay means ‘locally born’, refers to the descendants of mixed marriages between Chinese, Malay and Indian and Eurasian peoples.
Its roots can be traced back to as early as the 14th century, when the riches of Southeast Asia brought foreign traders to the region, with some men remaining behind and marrying local women.
“But over the years, the passing down of this culture seems to have come to a standstill,” said Raymond Wong, 34, fashion designer of Rumah Kim Choo, which is a boutique gallery that runs various activities to promote the Peranakan heritage.
“Especially after the Great Depression and World War II, these rich traders lost their wealth and the culture seems to have gone downhill since.”
But the 34-year-old reassured us that Peranakan culture still lives on. Many Singaporeans do not know that some of their favourite snacks, such as kaya and pineapple tarts, actually originated from the Peranakans.
Raymond told us that while studying abroad, he was surprised to see how proud the other foreign students were of their roots. This, in turn, inspired him to explore his Peranakan heritage in greater depth. After returning home, he then decided to channel his energy in promoting the culture with a contemporary twist. “I want to change people’s perception about culture. A culture is not something that is cast in stone and should evolve and progress with time. The Kebaya and Batik I design, for instance, are a fusion of tradition and modern spin-off – a tradition costume with modern design,” shared the fashion designer.
Even the traditional Nyonya beaded shoes have been given a lease of life, as Raymond has decorated them with the Hello Kitty insignia.