Melaka Museum Tip :: Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum

The gateway to understand the Baba Nyonya culture

One of Melaka most distinctive attractions is none other than the Peranakan or Straits Chinese, Chinese migrants who intermarried with the locals and settled here during the early 1400s. Over time, they assimilated Malay language and customs into their lives, and created a fusion culture of their own.

The men came to be known as Baba, while the women are referred to as Nyonya. Malay influence is very strong in their clothing and food, but they have also retained their Chinese heritage, especially their religion, name and ethnic identity.

The female members wore the Nyonya costumes, sarong kebaya (Malay traditional attire), slippers which were specially designed and sewn in glass beads and jewelery. Their culture was neither Chinese nor Malay, but a charming combination of both.

Brightly-coloured tiles found at the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, Malacca.

They were of Chinese origin but had few ties with China. They enjoyed Straits Chinese cuisine and the Melaka (and Singapore) Baba spoke Baba Malay, which is a Creole language. In the old colonial days, they sent their children to English schools, and became government officers and professionals. In Melaka and Penang they were distinct from the immigrants who came from China.

Peranakan cuisine came about because these settlers applied the Chinese method to Malay ingredients and recipes. Their food is tangy, aromatic, spicy and also herbal. Perennial favourites include nyonya laksa, kapitan chicken, itek tim, cendol and nyonya kuih.

The architectural style of the Peranakan’s townhouses also borrowed freely from other cultures, fusing Victorian, Chinese and Malay elements. These Peranakan buildings are also found in Penang, but the 17th century Malaccan specimens are among the oldest in the country.

The front of the house is typically heavily embellished with brightly coloured tiles, wooden shutters, large gold Chinese characters on black signboards and elaborate doors.

Those along Jalan Tun Cheng Lock are particularly elaborate because they were status symbols for their affluent owners.

Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum

You can explore the interiors of a typical Peranakan house by visiting the privately owned Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. Chan Kim Lay, 83, the fourth generation of the family who owns the house, gives guided tours and can tell interesting stories about Peranakan culture, architecture and curios.

The entrace rates is RM8.00 for adults, and RM4.00 for children (5-12 years old).

Opening times: 10am – 12.30pm, 2pm – 4.30pm

Location map and photo gallery

Category: Heritage @ Melaka