At Malacca Baba Street, many house owners are so wealthy that the street is also known as Millionaire Street. That’s where the 2 famous Baba & Nyonya Museum is.
But, wait! Along the same street exists two museums showcasing Baba & Nyonya heritage. They are competitors. The entrance fee for both is the same, RM$15.00. To make a good comparison, I went to both.
Before we proceed further, let’s find out who are the Baba & Nyonya.
A brief history of Baba & Nyonya
Due to Malacca close relationship with China as a tribute state, it attracted a large influx of Chinese traders. These Chinese traders who often stayed here for months due to the monsoon got assimilated with the local culture and customs and eventually inter-married with the local Malays or Indonesians. Over time, a mixed culture in custom and beliefs of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Dutch, Portuguese and British gave rise to a new community. Peranakan Chinese, or Straits-born Chinese, became the collective name of this community. Where Peranakan means “descendant”. But they are more commonly known as Baba, for the man and Nyonya for the woman.
Sometimes, ‘Baba’ is used as the collective noun for the whole community. The emergence of the Peranakan gave rise to a culture never seen before in the Malay Archipelago, and soon followed the trade routes to Penang ( Malaysia) and Singapore.
Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum Malacca
The museum is actually a house belonging to the Ee family, a Peranakan. They had stayed here for more than 143 years, and some 5 years ago migrated to Australia after selling the house for about RM$4.6 million. Today, the settings inside is a collection of antiques from the many Peranakan families as well as the Ee famiy.
The Ee family. Flanking right and left of the owner are his wives, the woman below is their daughter. The elaborate entrance is an eye-opener by itself. The exquisite display of carved furniture is a prelude of what’s next to come. Being the first and only visitor to the museum before it is even open for business, when the tour guide switched on the hall lighting for the first time of the day, I got a big fright upon seeing what lays in front of me.
Wow, I yelled instantly. A hall filled with awesome furniture and glittering jewellery! I felt that I was in a treasure island. It is no wonder that this museum is named as Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum.
The Peranakan embraces a mixed culture of Malay, Indonesian, British and European, though many of their designs and motifs still heavily features Chinese culture influence. Their jewellery are commonly embedded with sapphires, pearls and jades acquired through trading.
The showcase displaying of hundreds of pieces of real gold jewellery was a feast to the eye. The extensive collections of priceless heirlooms was said to be bought or donated from Babas and Nyonyas all over the world. The Baba engaged in spice, tins, rubber and shipping business. Their ability to speak two or more languages in English, Chinese and Malay put them in an advantaged position in those days. During the days when trading with China was a priority by the western powers, the many Chinese who became middlemen made roaring wealth. In fact, Babas & Nyonyas are perceived as wealthy people.
The wedding head gear for the bride. A Peranakan wedding celebrations could last for 12 days. Thereafter the wedding gown was properly kept to pass down to the next generation.
The Peranakan has a unique habit of going to a goldsmith shop, not just to buy the gold, but to engage the goldsmith together with their tools and equipment to their house to customize the jewellery they had in mind. It was one way of preventing the precious diamond which they acquired through trading from being stolen.
Inside this hall exhibits many rarely seen tools and equipment used by goldsmiths then, though the function is similar to today’s.
The Peranakan loves to have all things customized. There is nothing in the house without an elaborate carving design. The Baba & Nyonya are Taoists, strong believers of traditional Chinese gods, such as the Eight Immortals. Many of the things they owned featured the Eight Immortals (picture below).
The altar hall, where they worship the Taoist gods.
A wedding room. Did you notice some lives stock are hiding under the bed?
On the first wedding night, a pair of live cock and hen would be placed under the wedding bed. If the cock walks out the following morning it would mean the wife would labour a boy and vice versa. That’s interesting isn’t it ?
The courtyard which brings natural lighting into a house which has almost no windows.
A well said to be 8 feet in depth was used for generations by the Ee Family.
The guided tour of the museum takes about 30 minutes, after that visitors are on their own to roam. There is no restriction on the time spent. At the end of the tour, they even offered a tasty Nyonya dessert and a cup of mineral water.
They even gave visitors their email address for further queries. The guides and staff were extremely friendly, answering many of my annoying questions. When I discovered that I had missed out some pictures and went again the following day, they willingly waived off the entrance charges.
But what I liked most was the museum encouraged photo taking on anything you could see in the building. A drastic contrast to the other Baba museum I went to immediately after this.
The museum operating hours is 10am – 5pm ( Mon – Thurs) and 10am – 6pm (Fri-Sun). Note, there is no break time in between. It is located just 10 minutes walk from Jonker Street or Chinatown.
Baba & Nyonya Museum
Just a minute walk from Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum Malacca sits their competitor Baba & Nyonya House Museum. This museum has housed the Peranakan Chan families for a long 7 generations. The settings in the house was said to be of originality.
My apology for being unable to show any pictures of it, as the museum strictly prohibits photo taking. The entrance fee is similar to the other Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum, both charges RM$15.00.
What puts me off by the Baba & Nyonya House Museum was the prominent display of the ‘no photography’ signage.
Though the museum has a rich history due to the 7th generations of families stay, an admission looks more like a walkthrough or walk pass, which was quickly rushed off by the guide in 30 minutes, very unwarranted for a cultural heritage this rich.
The guide invites question, but when asked, her answers are either half-hearted or with no elaboration. They have very limited time for each slot of tour group. But the group size seems to have no limit, my group of 22 people were cramped into the many congested rooms and halls.
The tour has 2 packages for the same price. The first is a guided tour, the second is ‘on your own’. Visitors who has chosen to be on their own are given a pictorial guide book with a brief explanation on the displayed artefacts. Do not attempt to join the guided tour secretly, for there are CCTVs monitoring every moves. Unknown to these hidden rules, to get better details I had dropped off from the guided tour and requested a guide book. The staff refused to oblige, and quickly read out the hidden rules. It was only upon my insistence that a guide book was given. But then, he stayed close to me from then, probably ensuring that I do not join the group again. I find this house rule rather ridiculous, after all, the intention of the museum is to showcase a rich heritage and facilitates for a better understanding of the culture. Visitors who had taken pictures were quickly hauled aside to have it deleted instantly.
Perhaps the museum has a pride too strong for many.
Visitors who wish to visit the museum has to pay close attention to the strict opening hours, or even know it before coming. The Baba & Nyonya House Museum is opened from Mon-Sun, 10am-1pm, and 2pm-4.30pm, where 4pm is the last chance to join the guided tour. Many tourists who were unaware of this restrictive opening hours were turned off, as seen in above picture. To a tourist, time is money, I seriously doubt they would come back again.