Arts + Culture
Two of the best places to go in Singapore to learn about Peranakan culture are The Intan, a small house museum, and the Peranakan Museum, which display antiques from a community dating back to the 15th Century.
The Intan and the Peranakan Museum in Singapore showcase the furniture and household objects of the Peranakans, a mixed race community of mostly Chinese and Malay ancestry.
The Peranakans are people of mixed race ancestry, resulting from interracial marriages between foreign traders and Southeast Asian women in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.
The Peranakans were usually English educated. As they were generally bilingual or even trilingual, they often served as middlemen between the British and the Chinese or the Malays and the Chinese. They are sometimes referred to as Straits Chinese.
While most Peranakans in Singapore are of Chinese and Malay ancestry, there are also some of Malay and Arab, Indian, or Eurasian ancestry.
Peranakans can be found not only in Singapore and Malaysia, but also in parts of Indonesia. While maintaining many aspects of their Chinese heritage, they also tended to be more loyal to Britain than to China.
Many of the Peranakans amassed large fortunes, and they furnished their homes with furniture and other household objects that reflected their distinctive East meets West lifestyle.
From a distance many of the wooden sideboards and cabinets, for example, would look right at home in a home in England.
When regarded up close, however, the carvings reflect Chinese imagery.
Two museums in Singapore showcase Peranakan culture. I visited both of them during a one week stay in the country, and I would have to include them on my list of the top 10 things to do in Singapore.
The Intan is one of two museums in Singapore showcasing Peranakan culture. It is a small house museum owned and founded by Alvin Yapp, who was born to Peranakan parents.
Located in a quiet residential district of single family homes, the museum houses a remarkable collection of furniture, household objects, and personal effects.
There are tables, chairs, sideboards, chinaware, tapestries, paintings, clothing, the list goes on.
Alvin became interested in his Peranakan roots when he was a teenager. He started collecting Peranakan antiques at the age of 18.
Following numerous requests to exhibit his collection, Alvin decided to turn his house into a museum. It opened in 2003.
My visit to The Intan was arranged by the The St Regis Singapore, which hosted me for two nights. It is the only hotel in Singapore that is arranging such visits. Contact the hotel concierge for more details.
Alvin proved a charming host. He enthusiastically briefed me on the Peranakans and his collection of Peranakan antiques. He also played the violin for me and served me tea and snacks.
The Intan, 69 Joo Chiat Terrace, Singapore. Telephone: (65) 9338-2234. Museum Website: The Intan.
Please note: an appointment must be made to visit the museum.
My visit to the Intan whet my appetite to learn more about Peranakan culture. After moving out of the St Regis and into another hotel, I took a taxi to the Peranakan Museum, one of the two museums in Singapore dedicated to Peranakan culture.
The museum is appropriately housed in the former Tao Nan Chinese School, which was built in 1912.
I would have to rate this museum as one of the best places to go in Singapore if you really want to understand this fascinating city’s colourful history.
Of the several Singapore arts museums I visited during my stay in the Lion City, the Peranakan Museum was my favourite.
Peranakan Culture and Customs
The museum has nine galleries spread across three floors, with sections dedicated to the origins of the Peranakans as well as their weddings, religion, language, fashion, food, and feasts.
Many of the galleries are set up as rooms, demonstrating how objects were actually used in Peranakan homes.
Unfortunately, I had already had lunch before my visit. Otherwise, I would like to have tried one of the Peranakan restaurants that I spotted just down the street after leaving the museum.
According to a pamphlet produced by the museum, Peranakan cuisine draws on ingredients used in Chinese, European, Indian, Malay, and Thai cooking.
Peranakan dishes are served at many restaurants in Singapore.
Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street, Singapore. Telephone: (65) 6332-7591. Paranakan Museum