With the rise of Nyonya cuisine in London, I have always been intrigued by the Baba and Nyonya cultures which originated mainly from Malaysia, a tie that I hold so close to. During my recent trip back home, I had specifically planned to visit Malacca, the centre of the culture's origin, the birthplace of Malaysia as well as a UNESCO city.
Malacca, situated along the Straits of Malacca, was once a world renowned port city connecting the East and the West on the maritime routes. The arrival of ships from the West meant that this city was a colony of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. The legacy left from the colonial days can be seen with a lot of European buildings littered around the city, the most significant being the Christ Church, A Famosa Fort and the Stadthuys.
The Stadthuys from the Dutch colonial days
Western footprints aside, the settlement of Chinese migrants here had also left a strong influence in a lot of the buildings' architecture. Although it had been adapted to suit the hot and humid tropical weather here, the essence of Chinese architectures is clearly visible.
This can be seen on a lot of Chinese temples, association buildings and houses with the intricate carvings and delicate calligraphy, mostly of words of blessings or principles of life.
While there, I took the opportunity to visit the Baba and Nyonya Museum to understand the life and cultures of this community. It originated when the Chinese male traders sailed across the South China Sea to Malacca on their trading trips and decided to settle here and married the local Malay women. The cross culture between the Chinese and the Malays was therefore rooted in this part of the world.
The men are referred to as Baba while the women Nyonya. Why Baba and Nyonya? I did question. One of the reasons was that due to the difference in languages between the two races, the children would call their father 'Ba Ba' (father in Chinese) and 'Niang Niang' (mother in Chinese) and this way of addressing the parents had got the community the name.
The houses of the Baba and Nyonya is a blend of Chinese and Malay cultures, from architecture, furniture, cutlery, utensils, clothing items to food. There would normally be a skylight at the centre court for lighting and ventilation purposes. The Nyonyas would need to acquire sewing and culinary skills to serve the family while the Babas made earnings for the household.
With the passing of time, the delicate cultures are not widely practised nowadays. A lot of the Babas and Nyonyas had also adopted modern day lifestyle. Nevertheless, their cultures can still be seen and felt throughout the whole city of Malacca. #ExploreWithTSChang