Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oriental Treasures

Every few years, I return to Malaysia where my father was born. I find that with every trip I learn more about the country and her peoples. Malaysia is mainly populated by three different ethnic groups; the Chinese, the Malays and the Indians.

My father is a second generation Malaysian from Chinese stock, Hakka to be specific. Due to my ancestry I have always been interested in the history of the ethnic Malay-Chinese (The Peranakans) and Chinese in Malaysia.

The Peranakans are the descendants Chinese people who intermarried with the indigenous Malaysian and Indonesians in the 16th century. In Malaysia, a glimpse into the former decadence of the Peranakan people can be gathered from a visit to Melaka.

Nyona in Traditional Dress, Baba in Western Dress Circa 1910s

In Jonker Street, Melaka many replicas and even 19th century Peranakan objects can be attained from the many antique shops along this wondrous street. A Peranakan man is known as a Baba while a woman are known as Nyona, traditionally Nyonas wore a long dress known as a Baju Panjang, with a batik printed sarong and a set of three brooches. These brooches which are known as kerosangs and are usually set made with semi precious stones.

Set of three kerosang brooches

My goal, last year was to track down a kerosang for my mum's birthday as we had greatly admired these oriental treasures at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore. The antique shops I visited in Singapore mainly sold old Chinese jewellery, and in the occasion of them having a kerosang, the price was ridiculously high and far to old and delicate then what I was looking for.

I wanted to get mum a silver one for mum, so that she could wear it without it looking too over the top, and one that was less than 150 years old - I would not feel comfortable in taking a piece of history of another country from where it belongs.
My luck came in Melaka where along Jonker Street, I happened across The One and happily surprised my Mother on her birthday.

Apart from Kerosangs, Peranakan objects are renown for their beauty, especially the shell inlaid furniture and brightly coloured porcelain. If you are interested in Malaysian history the story of the Peranakans is a wonderful vignette to delve into, full of oriental treasures.

Peranakan Mansion in Pinang, Georgetown - notice the ornate shell inlaid furniture

1. Peranakan Wedding Head Dress, 2. Peranakan family in full traditional garb, 3. Peranakan Pottery famed for its bright colours and intricate patterns