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Peranakan Museum, Singapore

19 January 2011 3 Comments

entrance to the peranakan museum

Singapore is one country whose past cannot be separated from the story of migrants. When Sir Stamford Raffles made up his mind about the location of a new colony in 1819, the only form of settlement that could be found on the island was small coastal villages. Prior and up to this point, people were few and far between; unlike the island-city that it is today, large swathes of the island were uninhabited.

peranakan museum singapore

Main lobby of the Peranakan Museum

After the establishment of the British colony of Singapore, large numbers of people from other parts of Asia and other British territories came looking for trade and work, steadily increasing the numbers of inhabitants. Many of these migrants never returned home, instead they settled down and adapted their new ways of life to existing local cultures. The families of these settlers, in particular those who are born and raised in their new adoptive homeland, are commonly called peranakan. The word stems from the root word “anak”, which in Indonesian and Malay languages means “child”. The term peranakan therefore roughly translates to “descendant”. Usage of the term peranakan is not exclusive to Singapore. In many parts of South East Asia (notably Indonesia and Malaysia), the word carries the same meaning.

As with many modern societies around the world, the roles of local culture in Singapore has gradually diminished, replaced by a more homogeneous popular culture. So perhaps it was partly to preserve the heritage and memory of the peranakan people of Singapore that the Peranakan Museum was established.

Old peranakan-style furniture

Chinese peranakan style furniture

Old peranakan-style furniture

The museum building, located on the fringes of Singapore’s old town area, has a history of its own. Designed in the “Eclectic Classical” style, the three storey building (then known as the Tao Nan School) was completed in 1912. During the Second World War, it was occupied by the Japanese Army. In 1982, after Tao Nan School relocated to Marine Parade, the space is available for conversion to other uses. The building was subsequently used as a venue for the Asian Civilization Museum, before finally converted to house the Peranakan Museum.

local students visiting the peranakan museum

Local students visiting the museum

The Peranakan Museum has extensive collection of artifacts, especially those from the Chinese peranakan community. The exhibits cover the lifestyle, customs, and how the peranakan communities have progressed through time. One exhibit that caught our eye was the Chinese peranakan marriage customs. Compared to today’s standard practice, marriage in the olden days is a grand affair, involving hoards of bridal gifts, gold jewelleries, intricately designed gowns, and endless ceremonies that span over twelve days.

display at the peranakan museum

Intricately designed beadwork pouches on display

display at the peranakan museum

Old Chinese storybooks written in Malay language

Overall, our visit to the Peranakan Museum was an enjoyable one. There is so much to learn about the fascinating world of the peranakan people. We would recommend this unique and charming museum to any culture lover. You’ll be in for a treat!

Travel Info

Website http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg/themuseum/abtperanakanmuseum.asp

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  • Marsudi Kristiani said:

    The peranakan museum is a fascinating place!
    I am fortunate to be able to visit on december last
    year. Looking forward to visit the marvelous museum next year.

  • admin said:

    Thank you for your comments. Yes, we also enjoyed our visit there.

    In the coming weeks, we will visit the Peranakan Museum once more to see their current exhibition, ‘Sarong Kebaya’; which will run until early next year. Stay tuned for the review!

  • bluiece said:

    I went to the sarong kebaya exhibition with my classmates for our project. It was AWESOME.

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