I was fortunate to gain a sneak preview of the [new exhibition at the Peranakan Museum](http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg/) along Armenian Street, courtesy of the curator. My family donated some items so we were given a private tour.
We often hear about [Peranakan cuisine](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peranakan_cuisine) but seldom delve deep into Peranakan culture and history. At the museum, we saw artefacts that we never even knew existed. I will not post any photos here, because I’d rather encourage people to visit the museum instead.
Check out the pottery, jewellery, baju (clothing) and beaded articles. The Peranakans bead everything! Some items I felt could be converted to modern-day TV remote control holders and iPod cases (particularly the latter – maybe it will be a new fashion statement). There are also a few brilliant pieces of embroidery which other museums in the world are interested in, so that’s something to be proud of.
There are many displays on the topic of Peranakan weddings. They were an ornate affair, closely mirroring those of the pure Chinese. Newlywed Peranakans had up to 12 days to consummate their marriage (they did things slow in the olden days, eh?).
The bride was usually only 14 years of age. If that wasn’t enough, the other women of the house would inspect the, erm, stained cloth resulting from the consummation. Lime juice can be applied to the stain (erm, sambal anyone? or is this more like CSI?). The mother-in-law, should she choose to be mean, can decide to reject the bride presumably for not being a virgin. I doubt the bride’s family would reject the groom if he couldn’t get if up!
Then I wondered, what if some energetic Nonya girl does gymnastic splits in her bedroom etc and doesn’t bleed on her wedding night? Would she get thrown out of the family?
We were told that the really traditional Nonyas further insisted on going through a ritual that takes places between midnight to 6am before the actual wedding. The bride wears plain clothes and sits on the floor. Her hair is yanked back, tied vigorously and pinned all over. The purpose is to humble her to prepare her for marriage. Apparently this was a custom among some Chinese dialect groups, particularly the Cantonese.
Being the daughter of a partly Baba father and a Cantonese mother, I am relieved that we no longer practice these customs. As expected, the groom gets it much easier and he was also allowed to take more than one wife, though the first wife had more privileges.
Another highlight for my family is a restored painting of Tan Kim Seng, my ancestor. It was left unnoticed and dusty for many years in a storeroom, until the curator discovered it. It is now in very good condition.
Final touches are being added to the museum. It won’t be all static and quiet, as there will be video re-enactments and sound effects in some areas to create a more realistic atmosphere.
The museum will certainly be the pride and joy of many Peranakans in Singapore. Even Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, who’s Nonya, contributed a few items. So do check it out if you have the time! Especially if you have Peranakan blood. The museum opens to the public this Saturday.
Update: This article has been [featured](http://yesterday.sg/detail/sneak_preview_of_peranakan_museum1/) on [Yesterday.sg](http://yesterday.sg/)! Thanks, [Shaun](http://testicular-fortitude.blogspot.com/).