Peranakan Museum

Peranakan museum

Peranakan Museum

Where: The Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street, 179941.
Why? To finally find out what Peranakan actually means. To discover more about the history of Singapore.
When? Open daily 10am-7pm. Till 9pm on a Friday.
Cash heavy? Nope! Just $6 per entry, $3 for PR.
Kid friendly? Yes. there were hands on displays to keep them interested. There was a group of school children there whilst I was there and they looked like they were having fun. Strollers allowed in all galleries and there’s a changing room on level 1.
Dog friendly? No, but then why would it be?
Disabled access? Yes, all galleries have wheelchair access and there are disabled toilets and parking spaces nearby.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is City Hall. Alternatively it’s about a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of town and there are bus stops nearby.
Extra titbit. Look out for the poem about how to be a good daughter-in-law. When you’ve finished at the museum have a wander down the street and check out the amazing street art.
Website/Contact: http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg Tel: +65 6332 7591

The nitty-gritty:

The term Peranakan is talked about a lot here in Singapore. For quite a while I had no idea what it actually meant. I knew it referred to something – or someone? – local and that there were lots of lovely housewares you could buy in the ‘Peranakan design.” I figured it referred to the indigenous people of Singapore; the forefathers of this modern city. However, a trip to the Peranakan museum made me realise that there is so much more to it than that.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

This small museum is in what used to be the Tao Nan Chinese School, one of the first modern Chinese schools in Singapore and is right by the city’s business district. With it’s dashing pastel coloured frontage, its arched verandahs and grand entrance way, the quietly imposing building catches you by surprise as you wander along Armenian Street. As you walk though the doors in to an atrium filled with light, you can’t help but notice the two huge symmetrical staircases that lead up either side of the building to corridors and galleries on the upper levels. As museums go, it’s very inviting – not stuffy or library like at all.

So, what is Peranakan? To quote the museum themselves “In Malay, Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.” To put this in to context, years ago, way before Singapore was the high-rise city it is now, it was seen as a place of opportunity for many neighbouring countries due to its free port. This was mainly due to Singapore’s unique location on the major sea route between India and China. It quickly became a hub of trading and many Chinese immigrants came to make their fortune here – and never left. These travellers – although mainly Chinese, there were also Indian and Eurasian Portuguese – married local Malay (non muslim) women and their culture became known as Peranakan.

There are things displayed everywhere.

There are things displayed everywhere.

The first collection I visited in the museum was a series of photographs of modern-day Peranakan people accompanied by quotes about what being Peranakan means to them. There was a strong sense of belonging and tradition in most of what I read. Something that was echoed throughout other exhibits too. At the end of the room is a film showing the early Peranakan history.

I then went up to the first level where you can see art, clothing, furniture, traditions associated with the Peranakan culture. With nine galleries all themed with things such as Weddings, religion, food and feasting, it really does give you an insight in to how life would have been like years ago in Singapore. It also reflected on how this manifests in modern Singapore too.

The colourful Nonya ware.

The colourful Nonya ware.

My favourite exhibits included the amazing display of Nonya ware – the Peranakan design porcelain ware – including a full table laid for twenty plus guests. The fully dressed, parading wedding party was interesting too. There were artefacts all around the museum including at the top of the stairs and hanging above doors.

I'm not sure how far I'd walk in these...

I’m not sure how far I’d walk in these…

I was keen to learn about the Nonya (Peranakan lady), especially the rituals around getting married and was surprised by how many traditions there are. Many women it seems no longer follow these rituals to the book, but some do still survive. The room that focused on religion and in particular the rituals around death was fascinating – if a bit eery – and I can see that these customs are still in play today amongst modern-day Peranakans.

Other displays to look out for include the intricate beadwork, the fashion and the display about the many Peranakans who became cultural and philanthropic leaders.

They even have their own cat!

They even have their own cat!

The museum is an interesting way to spend a morning or afternoon. You can get around it in a couple of hours quite easily. On your way out visit the gift shop and pick up one of their beautiful hand-made cards or find a replica of the beadwork you had previously admired. There’s even a foodie shop where you can pick up some traditional Peranakan treats. A very pleasant way to while a few hours for sure.

Oh, and then have a wander down Armenian Street, there’s some amazing street art on the building just next door and some lovely little shop houses with pots of tropical plants and canaries in cages hanging out front. There’s an interesting looking restaurant that I want to go back to as well serving traditional Peranakan food.

Well worth the visit.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5  (out of 5)

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