Photo: One of Melaka's best museums.

Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum

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Experience the lifestyle of Melaka’s Peranakan culture at the captivating Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum. Peranakans are defined by the intermarriage of Chinese and local Malay also known as Straits Chinese although the term literally refers to the offspring “anak” of any mixed race couple.

Peranakan settlements in the Malay Peninsular were known from the 13th century, but by the end of the 19th century it was not uncommon for Chinese merchants to strengthen business ties by marrying into local families and to adopt Malay social practices and language while keeping a Chinese identity. In this hybrid culture men are addressed with the honorific “Baba”, and women “Nyonya”.

Joining a tour will make a visit far more worthwhile. Photo taken in or around Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum, Melaka, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Joining a tour will make a visit far more worthwhile. Photo: Sally Arnold

The Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum is housed in the ancestral home of the Chan family. Baba Chan Cheng Siew (1865-1919), a wealthy rubber plantation owner, acquired three adjacent shophouses in 1861 and with a rather ostentatious flair combined the buildings into what we see today. Four generations lived in the house until the family opened it as a private museum in 1985. The grand home stretches about 50 metres from the street and as is typical of the architecture of the time has several interior courtyards to act as light and air wells. Rain falling though the airway not only cools the house, but was believed to deliver good luck and prosperity.

The museum is set up predominantly over two of the houses, much as it was at in its beginnings, with elaborately carved and decorated architectural features and an opulent display of wealth and riches in the eclectic and excessive collection of furnishings. Think mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, brightly coloured, lavishly embellished Peranakan porcelain and richly embroidered silks, with much symbolism incorporated in the decorative elements. One of the unique features of the house is an ornate gilt staircase with a folding security cover, built with no nails as the superstition was that nails were only for coffins.

Fashionable furniture of the era. Photo taken in or around Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum, Melaka, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Fashionable furniture of the era. Photo: Sally Arnold

Join a guided tour, free with your ticket, and be entertained and informed as the guides inject humour and insight to this fascinating culture as they walk you though the reception halls, bedrooms, games room, kitchen and ancestral worship hall of the magnificent mansion. If you can’t make it for a tour, a self-guided tour book is available in English, Chinese, French and Japanese. A small gift shop sells a few Peranakan-inspired souvenirs and a good selection of books, including an excellent on one the museum itself. The tour may be a bit much for kids, but a fun way to explore is to grab one of the children’s activity packs (20 ringgit) that allows kids to explore the rooms with activity cards suitable for seven to 12-year-olds. Tours are conducted hourly (but not always) and last about an hour. You are not permitted to wait inside the house for a tour to start. Photography is only allowed in the entrance hall.

To enter ring the slightly obscured doorbell; there is no ticket office, you just pay the attendants directly. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can try authentic Peranakan food next door to the museum at Cafe 1511—this building used to be the servants’ quarters, or if you want to live the life of a Baba or Nynoya, move in upstairs to the guesthouse. Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum is one of Melaka’s best museums and is defiantly worth adding to your itinerary.

To explore more of the Peranakan lifestyle and history, visit the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum up the road at number 108.

Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum
48–50 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Melaka
Mon–Thurs 10:00–13:00 (last tour at noon), 14:00–17:00 (last tour at 16:00); Fri–Sun 10:00–13:00 (la
T: (06) 283 1273
Admission: Adults 16 ringgit, children 5-12 11 ringgit.

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