Feb 2019 - Stories of One Malaccan Family

The MCG was treated to a glimpse of the heritage of a Peranakan family with Henry and Melissa Chan sharing the journey that led to the preservation of their grand family home - the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum in Malacca and their family stories that are now documented in the beautifully illustrated volume Stories of One Malaccan Family. The morning went by swiftly with members absorbing the stories that unfolded and with many questions peppered in between.


The Peranakan Nyonya and Babas are descendants of early Chinese migrants who married indigenous Indo-Malay women, as are Peranakan Chitty and Kristiang descendants of Indian and Portuguese intermarriages respectively. From oral history and documented records plus photos in their Heeren Street ancestral home, Henry (b1934) is a fourth generation baba, with seven generations of Chans now in Malaysia. However observations from ancestral gravestones, indicate that there were at least another two generations that had settled in Malaya. The Nyonya and Babas are famous for their exquisite cuisine (a delicious mix of Malay-Chinese), clothing (baju panjang, finely embroidered figure hugging Kebayas, batik sarongs, kasut manik/ beaded slippers), lavish intan and berlian set jewelry, beautiful Nyonya porcelain and silverware, keroncong music, pantun (poetry) tradition, games (cherki - a mahjong derivative) and last but not least, their language (a patois of Hokkien, Malay and English).


After a decade in advertising, Melissa Chan, in looking for a more meaningful path, was led her to her roots, family and culture. There was the dilemma of how to reconcile ancestor worship with Christian beliefs and the question of how to bridge the traditional past to the digital generation. It started with her curating her great-grandfather’s memorabilia that led to many questions, some gaps which were filled with interviews with Aunts and Uncles who shared their memories. This oral history of the family’s pre-WWII, during WWII and post-WWII, is now documented in Stories of One Malaccan Family that is richly illustrated by Preethi Nair. Preethi herself is a fourth generation Peranakan Chinese on her maternal side, and Indian on her father’s side. I enjoyed the book and you will, too.


By Ket Ti Leong