Peranakan delegates from five countries foster closer ties at annual convention
By WINNIE YEOH, KOW KWAN YEE, CHRISTOPHER TAN and JEREMY TAN
Photos by CHIN CHENG YEANG, CHAN BOON KAI and GARY CHEN
IT was a riot of colours when some 500 Peranakan delegates in their striking outfits sashayed in at the opening ceremony of the 24th Baba Nyonya Convention 2011 at the Tanjung Bungah Beach Hotel in Penang.
The delegates, especially the Nyonyas and the Bibiks, were dressed to the nines in their baju panjang (long dress) with elaborate embroidery, batik sarung, manik (beaded) shoes, and exquisite accessories such askerongsang (brooches) and hairpins adorning their outfits.
They were from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Thailand, including a group of Nyonyas from Takhaupa in the Phang Nga province near Phuket who looked prominent in their shorter version of the baju panjang and their elaborate hair acces-sories.
Phuket’s local historian Asst Prof Pranee Sakulpipatana, who is also the Thai Peranakan Association vice-president, said the dressing of the Nyonyas in Takhaupa was modified to suit the local culture.
Intricate designs: Delegates admiring baskets on display
She said the Peranakan community in Thailand, especially in Phuket, was actively involved in events to promote the Peranakan heritage and culture.
The opening ceremony on Saturday also saw the launch of the bookKebaya Tales: Of Matriarchs, Maidens, Mistresses and Matchmakers by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s School of Language Studies and Linguistics Assoc Prof Dr Lee Su Kim.
One of her 13 short stories Never Trust A Man Until He Is Dead, featured in the book, drew cheers and laughter from the delegates during its reading at the event.
The book won the top prize in the Popular — The Star Readers’ Choice Awards fiction category.
Convention organising chairman Datuk Tan Gin Soon said five countries took turns to host the convention annually, and the community had stood the test of time.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who graced the event, said the community was a fascinating diaspora in Southeast Asia.
Themed ‘Peranakan Philanthropy: From Family to State’, the three-day convention started on Friday with a welcome dinner held at the hotel’s beachfront, where the delegates were treated to Penang’s culinary delights.
They enjoyed performances such as a lion dance, Baba Nyonya song performances and the cultural dance joget during the dinner.
An introduction to Sang Jit, which is a prelude to a Baba Nyonya wedding, was also featured.
Rich in culture: Sang Jit, a prelude to a Baba Nyonya wedding, being performed during the 24th Baba Nyonya Convention 2011 welcoming dinner at Tanjung Bungah Beach Hotel
Participants also visited heritage sites and attended a gala dinner featuring a sumptuous spread of Baba and Nyonya cuisine at the Khoo Kongsi on Saturday.
Despite the intermittent rain, the participants enjoyed the live music band performance. Various groups also got on stage to perform the joget.
Yesterday, the delegates brought a distinct Peranakan flavour to the Little Penang Street Market when they put on a treat of music and dances, with some in the crowd swaying and clapping along.
Nicely done: Delegates performing the joget during a gala dinner held at Khoo Kongsi
With the joget featuring prominently, the Sunday morning gathering was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for everyone involved.
Tan, who is also State Chinese (Penang) Association president, reflected on the fruitful convention that brought Peranakan culture to the fore.
“It’s a very good sign that there were many younger Babas and Nyonyas. We will continue our efforts to connect our communities from all over the world, and live happily as one.
“Also, the event is a good promotion for our culture, especially for tourists visiting the state,” he said.
Singaporean delegate Chan Eng Thai said that it was essential for Baba Nyonyas from Penang, Malacca and Singapore especially, to always remain connected.
Fun day: Nyonyas enjoying a morning of dance and music during the special Nyonya Baba showcase at Little Penang Street Market
“We exchange ideas at each conference, and with each community having different peculiarities, we learn to appreciate each others’ special features,” Chan reasoned.
Overall, he found it a fun-filled occasion, which proved that contrary to some views that Peranakan culture were museum pieces, it is indeed alive, kicking and well.
He also expressed a desire to visit Penang more often, not only for conventions, but for leisurely purposes as well.
For Harry Teo from Melbourne, Australia, the convention marked the first time he visited Penang after four decades.
According to him, the Nyonya Baba culture is slowly coming around in Australia, with the three-year-old Peranakan Association of Australia (Melbourne Chapter) now established on a firm footing.
The Sydney Chapter came around three months ago, with another in Perth to be set up soon, he added.
“We’ve been undertaking our own initiatives to try and keep our culture alive. We celebrate all the Chinese festivals, and use them as an excuse to get together,” said Teo.
After the showcase, the delegates went shopping for trinkets at the street market and adjourned for lunch at the E&O Hotel, before bidding farewell and returning to their respective countries later in the day.
The delegates will be meeting up again at the next convention in Malacca, scheduled for November next year.