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Melaka, Melaka, Malaysia
July 2, 2010
September 24, 2004
Babas and Nyonyas are Chinese descendants who have adopted Malay culture. They are also known as Straits-born Chinese or Pernakans, and practice both Chinese and Malay customs. They are known for their unique furniture, dress style, and food, a marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisine.
The museum is a spacious two-storey home built around open courtyards. The entrance hall is divided into two by an intricately carved wooden screen that provides both privacy and ventilation.
The open courtyard, or sky well, is the main centre of activity as it is the airiest place in the house. All rooms are furnished as they would have been 100 years ago. It is a mixture of Chinese European, Malay, and Chinese elements.
One of the most important spaces in Chinese homes is reserved for the family's ancestors. This is also the case in Pernakan’s homes. In the main room downstairs, there is a small shrine, and, in front of it, a table full of offerings of food and incense. On the walls are portraits of the ancestors.
All rooms are furnished with mother-in-pearl inlaid tables and chairs. There are Victorian clocks, lampshades, and silverware. I especially liked the Dutch tiles and the multicoloured Chinese ceramics: a blend of green, pink, blue, and yellow. The plain blue Chinese pottery is used for ancestry worship and mourning. On the walls there are lavishly embroidered panels. It is only when I look closer that I can see that they are embroidered; from further away they look like paintings.
Upstairs there is a bridal chamber with Pernakan clothes, as worn by different generations, a hat stand with umbrellas and hats, more silverware, dinner services, and tea services of the finest chinaware.
The Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, is the ancestral home of the Chan family, a Pernakan family. That’s why a small part of the house is not open to visitors. If there are enough visitors, there are guided tours, but we did not join one and walked about at our own pace.
The museum is more than an exhibition of objects. It shows the life of a rich Pernakan family in the early 20th century. They belonged to the social elite of those days and gave dinner parties, with colonial leaders as their guests. Silent witnesses of these days are the exhibits of bottles of expensive brandy, the silver cutlery, and the bone china dinner services.
Entrance RM 8
Opening hours:Monday to Wednesday 10am to 12.30pm and 2 to 4.30pm
From journal Traveller in Melaka